Monday, July 30, 2007

Record Labels Try MySpace, Other Sites to Sell Music

Record labels are desparate to recover some of the money lost to lower CD sales, and one option they're checking out is selling tunes through social networking sites. An article today in iPod Observer looks at how the labels are seeking options to compete with iTunes, which they have long complained charges too low a price (99 cents per track)... and of course, iTunes takes a cut out of that amount.

One leading choice for the record labels, the story notes, as been SnoCap, which runs a service on musicians' MySpace pages. I've seen these SnoCap "MyStore" options on more and more MySpace pages, and I recently bought a new single from The Donnas via SnoCap. When it first appeared on the band's MySpace page, the SnoCap store didn't work. Clicking on buttons for "register" and "buy" didn't take me anywhere. A few weeks after that I tried it again and, presto, it worked flawlessly, and I had The Donnas' latest single for 99 cents. The tracks are in MP3 format, so they'll play on iPods and just about any other music player.

I'm all for SnoCap and similar ventures, especially if they mean more of my payment goes to the artist (which I'm not sure about).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jonatha Brooke Rocks Weehawken Waterfront

Though it's accurate to call Jonatha Brooke a singer-songwriter, the term doesn't really do justice to her. Though she usually plays acoustic guitar on stage, she can rock out (and often does) on her CDs and especially in her concert appearances, as with her free performance on the Weehawken, New Jersey waterfront Wednesday night.

Brooke became known in the 1980s as part of the acclaimed folk-pop duo The Story (with Jennifer Kimball), which featured innovative variations on the tradition pop song. Brooke has been forging her own solo career over the course of more than a half-dozen albums. She puts on a great show, especially with her tight four-piece band. Catch her on tour if you can.... here is her upcoming schedule of U.S. gigs (all dates, including European shows, can be found at her Web site (above):

The Stephen Talkhouse / Amagansett, NY
08/02/2007, 8:00 PM / Band

Ridgefield Playhouse / Ridgefield, CT
08/03/2007, 8:00 PM / Band

Foy Hall - Moravian College / Bethlehem, PA
08/04/2007 / Solo

Copley Square / Boston, MA
08/16/2007, 5:00 PM / FREE!

U. Of Hartford, Millard Auditorium / Hartford, CT
09/07/2007, 7:30pm

Belcourt Theater / Nashville, TN
10/26/2007, 8:00 PM / Band

Varsity Theater / Minneapolis, MN
10/27/2007, 7:00 PM / Solo

The Tangier Cabaret / Akron, OH
11/03/2007, 9:00 PM / Solo

Lyric Theatre / Stuart, FL
11/04/2007, 8:00 PM / Solo

Tampa Bay Peforming Arts Center / Tampa, FL
11/05/2007, 7:30PM

Sellersville Theater 1894 / Sellersville, PA
11/10/2007, 8:00 PM

Rams Head / Annapolis, MD
11/14/2007, 8:00 PM

Barns at Wolftrap / Vienna, VA
11/15/2007, 8:00 PM

Rubin Museum of Art / New York, NY
11/16/2007, 'Naked Soul' acoustic un-amplified series

Tupelo Music Hall / Londonderry , NH
11/17/2007, 7:00 PM & 9:15 PM / Solo

Stone Mountain Arts Center / Brownfield, ME
11/18/2007, 8:00 PM / Solo

Joni Mitchell Signs With Starbucks' Record Label

In another sign that conventional music labels are seen as inflexible and out of step with the times, legendary singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell has signed with the new record label started by the Starbucks coffee house chain.

Mtichell becomes the second high-profile artist to have recently signed with Hear Music, the label that Starbucks and Concord Music Group formed. Paul McCartney's latest album, "Memory Almost Full," was released on the new label.

McCartney was said to be unhappy with the sales of his last few CDs (which were on a major label), and so was willing to give the upstart Hear Music label a try. "Memory Almost Full," which came out last month, has been McCartney's bestselling CD in years. Starbucks says that the disc has sold nearly 450.000 copies, and that 45% of those sales have come in Starbucks stores.

Mitchell's new CD, "Shine," is to be released on September 25th and will be her first new album of new compositions in almost a decade.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Podcasters Seek System for Using Ads

Nobody likes to hear ads on podcasts, but let's face it, ads can give podcasters the income they need to get a return on the time and money they spend on podcasting.

An article in today's New York Times examined some initiatives to help standardize and track ads on podcasts, so advertisers can get a better idea of how much exposure their ads are getting. This in turn will give advertisers more of a reason to place ads on podcasts, and thus bring more income to podcasters, so they can keep doing podcasting. (It's always sad to see a good podcaster stop because he or she couldn't keep spending the time and money to produce their program while holding down a regular job.)

Several developments are in the offing, including improvements in delivering and tracking ads, and the formation of a new industry group, the Association for Downloadable Media, which seeks to "help executives improve methods for creating, distributing, and tracking advertisements in podcasts." About 15 organizations are said to be in the new group, including Apple Inc. and National Public Radio (NPR), which produces dozens of podcasts based on its programming.

Podcasting, and advertising, has a lot of room to grow, as the article points out: only a little more than 10% of all Internet users have listened to a podcast, and the amoutn of money spent on advertising on podcasts was only $80 million last year, a research firm reported.

Let's hope these initiatives mean a long future for podcasting, and some remuneration for podcasters for all the hard work they put into creating their programs.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Podcasts to Satisfy Your Harry Potter Fix

In honor of the publication of the final Harry Potter novel, and the release of the latest movie, it's time to look at some of the podcasts out there devoted to the fabulously wealthy boy wizard.

I haven't listened to these, but they are the best-reviewed ones I'm aware of (and the first couple have won awards):
* Pottercast, hosted by the popular Harry Potter fan site The Leaky Cauldron
* Mugglecast, hosted by the creators of Mugglenet
* Hog's Head Pubcast, from the creator of the Web site Sword of Gryffindor
* Snapecast, dedicated soley to the menacing Hogwarts professor Severus Snape--"All Snape, all the time"
* Spinnerscast, whose slogan is "Lighter talk on darker matters"

You can find these and others by doing a search for "Harry Potter" in iTunes or other podcast programs.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter, Boy Wizard, is King of All Media

A few facts and tidbits about the Harry Potter-mania, building toward a crescendo this weekend:

* says it has received 1,383,311 pre-orders for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as of 7pm Wednesday night.

* In addition, Amazon has named Falls Church, Virginia as the "Harry-est town" in the U.S.: it has bought more copies of Deathly Hallows per capita than any other town in America. It lists the "Harry-est" state as District of Columbia (even though it's not a state). (The five top actual states are: Vermont, Utah, Washington, Massachusetts, and Maine.)

* While it might not be the "Harry-est" town in America, Crawfordsville, Indiana may be the country's Harry Potter Central. It's rumored that that's where the book is being printed. Employees of the RR Donnelley & Sons printing plant have been instructed not to comfirm or deny questions about whether Harry Potter is indeed in the house.

* The film of the fifth Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," has pulled in more than $159 million dollars... in just seven days.

* Lots of bookstores and other places are holding Harry Potter parties on Friday night going into the wee hours. (My almost-17-year-old niece in New Mexico will be one of them.) Perhaps the biggest one will be in New York City, where a block-long street fair will be held in front of the headquarters of Scholastic, Inc., Harry Potter's publisher, in trendy Soho. The party goes from 5 to 11 pm.

With all those late-night Harry Potter parties taking place Friday, be prepared to run into a lot of bleary-eyed young people stumbling around on Saturday. And if there's a teenager behind the counter at your local coffeeshop or convenience store, be sure to count your change twice.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Elvis Costello Podcast Looks at his First 10 Years

A number of musicians have created their own podcasts, and now Elvis Costello has joined in. As its title suggests, "The First Ten Years" takes us back to Costello's early days in the music business.

So far there are only five episodes, each about 8 minutes or so, but they are a good start. Costello talks about the music he listened to as a child, his musical influences, the recording of his first album "My Aim is True", the origins of the song "Allison," meeting Nick Lowe, and even how he chose his name.

It's not clear how many episodes there will be in this podcast, but there seems to be enough events in Costello's first 10 years for quite a few more episodes. Such podcasts can suffer premature deaths, however, if funding runs out or the producers or artists find themselves without sufficient time, interest, or momentum to continue the project.

Oldies Are Back in NYC Radio as Jack Hits the Road

It wasn't too many years ago that radio programmers thought that the "Jack" or "Bob" music format would be the magic bullet that would lift sagging ratings. The format, which often calls itself an iPod replacement (playing many types of pop hits without regard for genre or continuity between songs) and sometimes replaced human DJs, has succeeded in some markets but suffered a big blow in the Big Apple.

Just two years after Jack FM replaced beloved oldies station WCBS-FM at 101.1 on the radio dial, the station announced it was booting Jack and returning to the previous oldies programming. The change took place last Thursday, July 12, amid jubilation from some of the returning DJs and many messages of support received from fans (and from the likes of Franki Valli and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys).

The new WCBS-FM has more of a focus on newer music than the old version. While the original station played tunes from the 1950s through the 1970s, the latest incarnation covers the 1960s through the 1980s (but not the entire decade; it seems to play music as late as 1985 or so).

While I sometimes listened to Jack FM, I'm glad to have WCBS-FM back.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Jesse Malin, Eleni Mandell, and More on SMtv Podcast

When I reviewed singer-songwriter Samantha Murphy's SMtv podcast recently, I mentioned that she hadn't had a new episode up in recent months. Either she'd been very busy producing new episodes since then or was motivated by my comment (not likely), because in the last couple of weeks she's put up not one but three new SMtv epi's.

The first is with Jesse Malin, a New York-based punk rocker turned singer-songwriter who I've been a fan of for several years now. His new CD Glitter in the Gutter is getting some welcome attention because of a duet Malin does with Bruce Springsteen on one of the tunes.

The next episode features Eleni Mandell, who I also like. Can't wait to listen to this episode as well. The most recent SMtv program features Mere Mortals, a band I haven't heard of. But Murphy has a great ear for good new talent, so I'm curious to hear this program also.

You can listen to Samantha Murphy's SMTV podcast or subscribe to it.

CD Sales Still Down, But Vinyl Rebounds

CD sales continue to fall, but there's actually a small bit of good news for the recording industry: people are buying more music in vinyl. Yes, you read that correctly, vinyl.

You would have thought that downloads killed the music star, but an article in the July 16 Guardian newspaper in the U.K. says that young music listeners have sparked a revival of the vinyl record. Sales have increased notably in the first half of 2007, and the boost is coming not from older listeners but from young music fans, many of them buying 7-inch singles.

The article says that two-thirds of all singles in the United Kingdom now are issued in the 7-inch format, with sales coming in at more than one million. The White Stripes' Icky Thump is the best seller.

Buyers apparently like the idea of having tangible copies of their music, rather than just a collection of thousands of songs on a hard drive, while music companies are attracted by putting out limited numbers of vinyl recordings that quickly become valuable collectors' items.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

American Uprising Tour Brings Hardcore Rock to 50 Cities

As a middle-aged guy I haven't really been familiar with the rock genres known as emo and hardcore. Yes, my friends consider me somewhat hip because I listen to a lot of obscure alternative bands, but I got a taste of something new when I chaperoned by 16-year-old niece to a show in the American Uprising tour, a barnstorming series of shows featuring young, up-and-coming hardcore rock bands.

Finding the venue in Milford, New Hampshire wasn't easy, because the concert was held in a Knights of Columbus hall set back from the street, with only a small sign identifying it. As for the half dozen bands on the bill, they reminded me of some early punk, some old hard rock, and pioneers such as Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins. The was basically hard rock (one band's riffs reminded me of Deep Purple), but the vocal style was what was distintive. Though it's often called "screamo," the vocals are actually in more of a low gutteral growl.

Most of the bands were far from home--one from Chicago, a couple of bands from Cincinnati, and a couple from California, including Sacramento-based Catherine and headliner Winds of Plague from Los Angeles. Also on the bill were Born of Osiris, Beneath the Sky, and At The Throne of Judgment.

I'm sure at least some of these bands are featured on podcasts somewhere, and I'll include links to those if I find them. I thought some might have been played on Martina Butler's Emo Girl Talk pocast, but these are not emo, I guess (I'm still not sure of the exact distinctions between the two).

The vocal style wasn't really my taste, and I probably wouldn't be too enthused about listening to the bands on CD or radio. But hearing them live and up close--literally from a couple of feet away, in most cases--made this an exciting show.

The American Uprising tour is still out on the road. It's a loud, high-energy show, so make sure you bring your earplugs.