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Amazon and Pandora to release new music streaming services

Each will offer versions of their service for $5 per month

Amazon and Pandora may be looking to up the stakes in the music streaming marketplace. Both companies are reportedly looking to release their own music streaming services in the near future to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music.

Both companies will also be looking to provide versions of their services for under $10 per month – something that is virtually unheard of in the industry today.

New music services

While $10-per-month subscriptions will still be offered by Amazon, users will be able to cut that price to $5 per month if they own the company’s Echo speaker. Subscribers can expect to have access to a wider catalog of music than what is currently available under the company’s Prime membership.

It isn’t yet clear whether Prime members will have automatic access to the new music streaming service, but critics have argued that they will more than likely need to pay the extra $5 or $10 per month.

Pandora made a name for itself by providing easily accessible internet radio to consumers. It plans to expand on its current $5 subscription platform by giving users the ability to block unwanted ads, skip more unwanted songs, and save more online playlists.

The company will also be offering a $10-per-month version of its service that more closely mirrors services provided by Spotify and Apple Music.

Potential for streaming services

The new services provided by Amazon and Pandora should provide a bit of a gut-check to the industry. The lower prices could potentially redefine the value that consumers put on music in the Internet Age, where you can find almost any song for free if you really want to.

The current $10-per-month subscription plans have been likened to the original 99 cents that Apple charged for downloading music when it revealed iTunes back in 2003. However, at an annual cost of $120 per year, many casual music listeners have been unable to justify the price. Some industry experts believe that there is still room for streaming music services to make money, though -- despite the presence of so much free music in the digital space.

“Even with the presence of free, you can still get tens of millions to pay for streaming services – and possibly much more – in the event that you get the price much lower,” said former digital music executive David Pakman.

Whether Amazon or Pandora will find that magical low number remains to be seen. Pandora may launch its service as soon as next week, while Amazon will likely release its own later in September.

Amazon and Pandora may be looking to up the stakes in the music streaming marketplace. Both companies are reportedly looking to release their own music str...
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Apple seeks to cover all the music bases with Apple Music

Music service to compete head-to-head with Spotify and Pandora

Apple revolutionized the music business with iTunes. Now, with the introduction of Apple Music, it wants to own the space.

Steve Jobs brought about the 99-cents-per-song download, giving consumers the freedom to purchase just the songs they liked. That's great if you know what you like but many consumers frankly aren't sure what they like.

That's why apps like Pandora, Spotify, I Heart Radio and TuneIn have been so successful. With Pandora, you enter the name of an artist or a song and the app puts together a playlist of similar tunes.

With Spotify, consumers may browse music titles or search by artist, album, genre, playlist, or record label. I Heart Radio and TuneIn are collections of radio stations around the world – some Internet radio only – that can be accessed on a digital device.

Apple Music, unveiled this week at the World Wide Developers conference, seeks to encompass all of that, and maybe a little more.

Music streaming

First, it's a streaming service giving subscribers access to the entire Apple Music catalog on all their devices. Consumers who have a personal collection of digital songs from iTunes or ripped from CDs can store them in their Apple Music library and play them on any of their Apple devices.

People spinning records on the radio used to be called disk jockeys. Now they are called "curators." Apple says it's hired top curators around the world to suggest songs to individual subscribers, based on their preferences.

The app will also present a wide range of new Internet radio stations, each one programmed to meet a particular music niche. The new stations range in genres from indie rock to classical and folk to funk. But unlike traditional radio, when you hear a song you don't like, you can change the tune without changing the station.

Beats 1

Apple Music's flagship radio station is Beats 1, a live station dedicated to music and music culture and will be available in more than 100 countries. Beats 1 will feature influential DJs Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York and Julie Adenuga in London. Listeners around the globe will hear the same great programming at the same time, regardless of time zones.

Apple Music has enlisted Siri's help as well. She might not be a music expert but she does know how to find things. If you're in the mood to relive a certain era, just ask Siri to play the tops songs from 1985.

The service launches June 30 with a 3-month free trial period. After that, an individual subscription is $9.99 a month and a family plan, allowing as many as 6 individual users, costs $14.99.

Competitors in the space are preparing for Apple's ambitious entry into their space. If they are concerned, they aren't saying so publicly. Spotify's CEO says the company has 20 million paid subscribers and doesn't expect to lose many to Apple.

Meanwhile, Spotify and Pandora both have free, ad-supported music services and I Heart Radio and TuneIn are both free.

Will consumers pay for Apple's music service? Apple is betting they will.

Apple revolutionized the music business with iTunes. Now, with the introduction of Apple Music, it wants to own the space. Steve Jobs brought about the ...
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The Who releases 50th anniversary music collection

And naturally, it's on vinyl

Rock music in the 60's and 70's was all about youth and rebellion and was the soundtrack of a generation. So it must come as a shock to Baby Boomers, and even younger fans, to learn that the legendary rock band The Who is observing its 50th anniversary this year.

Fiftieth anniversaries are what your grandparents celebrate, not your rock idols. But the surviving members of The Who are grandparents, or at least old enough to be. Roger Daltrey is 71. Pete Townshend is 70. But many fans consider their music timeless, not to mention ageless.

Radio programmer and one of the pioneers of the “classic rock” format, Gary Guthrie, says no rock group other than The Rolling Stones has endured generational hand-offs, from older fans to younger fans, like The Who.

Impact

“I might even go as far as saying that The Who made an impact on more genres and conceptual thinking with their punk'y ‘mod’ sound and what they did with 'Tommy' and 'Quadrophenia,'” Guthrie told ConsumerAffairs.

"Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" came after the band had earned worldwide fame. But to celebrate the 50th anniversary The Who is re-releasing its early work, when it was competing with dozens of other British groups invading America.

As part of the ongoing celebrations the band is releasing a series of 7-inch singles box sets containing work it produced while hopping from one record label to another. The first collection is "The Brunswick Singles 1965-66."

The follow-up is "The Reaction Singles 1966," a 4-part set of classic Who singles by labels Brunswick, Reaction, Track and Polydor. It contains five 7-inch singles from the Reaction label pressed on heavyweight vinyl with paper sleeves  and reproducing the period graphics front and back with die-cut center holes.

The singles come in a rigid lid-and-tray outer box that features a 7-inch sized color booklet with liner notes about each release by Who biographer Mark Blake.

Controversy

The period of time covered by the initial products are not without controversy. The rock music world was something of a Wild West environment during those years with performers routinely walking away from record labels in contract disputes. The Who was no exception.

During one such dispute The Who released a song called “Substitute,” which had to be recalled over a rights issue. After its second release was successfully challenged in court The Who released it a third time, eventually hitting number 5 on the British charts.

"The Reaction Singles 1966" collection includes “Substitute,” “Instant Party,” “Waltz For A Pig,” I’m A Boy,” “Ready Steady Who,” “Disguises,” “Circles,” “Batman,” Bucket T,” “Barbara Ann,” “Happy Jack” and “I’ve Been Away.”

Rock music in the 60's and 70's was all about youth and rebellion and was the soundtrack of a generation. So it must come as a shock to Baby Boomers, and e...
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Chimps prefer silence to most kinds of Western music

Strong, predictable rhythms are perceived as threatening

Humans are always wondering what animals would say if they could talk. If chimps could talk, they might well say, "You call that music?"

Researchers from Emory University and elsewhere found that chimpanzees prefer silence to music from the West but apparently like to listen to the different rhythms of music from Africa and India, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

"Chimpanzees may perceive the strong, predictable rhythmic patterns [in Western music] as threatening, as chimpanzee dominance displays commonly incorporate repeated rhythmic sounds such as stomping, clapping and banging objects," said study coauthor Frans de Waal, PhD, of Emory University.

de Wall said that the researchers were not trying to act as music critics. 

"Our objective was not to find a preference for different cultures' music. We used cultural music from Africa, India and Japan to pinpoint specific acoustic properties," de Waal said.

"Past research has focused only on Western music and has not addressed the very different acoustic features of non-Western music. While nonhuman primates have previously indicated a preference among music choices, they have consistently chosen silence over the types of music previously tested," de Waal said.

Previous research has found that some nonhuman primates prefer slower tempos, but the current findings may be the first to show that they display a preference for particular rhythmic patterns, according to the study.

"Although Western music, such as pop, blues and classical, sound different to the casual listener, they all follow the same musical and acoustic patterns. Therefore, by testing only different Western music, previous research has essentially replicated itself," the authors wrote. The study was published in APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.

Study details

When African and Indian music was played near their large outdoor enclosures, the chimps spent significantly more time in areas where they could best hear the music. When Japanese music was played, they were more likely to be found in spots where it was more difficult or impossible to hear the music.

The African and Indian music in the experiment had extreme ratios of strong to weak beats, whereas the Japanese music had regular strong beats, which is also typical of Western music.

Sixteen adult chimps in two groups participated in the experiment at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. Over 12 consecutive days for 40 minutes each morning, the groups were given the opportunity to listen to African, Indian or Japanese music playing on a portable stereo near their outdoor enclosure.

Another portable stereo not playing any music was located at a different spot near the enclosure to rule out behavior that might be associated with an object rather than the music. 

Psychological research with chimpanzees like Tara, above, has found chimps prefer silence to Western music. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Yerkes National...
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Apple buys Beats -- good news for music lovers? How about musicians?

Recording artists may face slow starvation as streaming services displace download sales

Maybe it's a little embarassing for Apple, the company that pretty much invented legal online music downloads, to have to pony up $3 billion to buy its way back into the business, as Apple is doing with its purchase of Beats.

Some of the talking heads are saying the purchase will make Apple cool again -- whatever that means -- while others are saying the company acted out of desperation as it watched the likes of Pandora and Spotify take large bites out of iTunes day after day.

OK, fine, so it goes out and spends $3 billion on a headphone company that bought MOG, a failing music streaming service, and changed its name to Beats. Of course, it's also buying Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, who are officially cool and thereby good for Apple's brand.

And so?

But what, if anything, does all this commotion mean for music lovers? 

Well, assuming that iTunes remains more or less intact, it means they'll still be able to buy downloads of individual songs and entire albums. Of course, that's something you can also do at Amazon, Google Play Music and lots of other places.

In fact, at Amazon you can sometimes buy a physical CD and also get a download as well as the option of streaming it through Amazon's player. 

Perhaps Apple will offer some kind of bundle that combines iTunes and Beats that is a little more than the sum of its parts. It doesn't get a lot of attention but iTunes already has something iTunes Radio, which offers not just radio stations but streams of assorted musical genres. It's not quite clear how Beats differs from that except we're told it's cooler. Of course.

Trying to stay on top of things, I signed up for Beats when it displaced MOG, which was an excellent service with far better audio quality than its competitors. I was promised a few free months and a transfer of all my playlists, neither of which happened.

Beats so far has not even come close to figuring out what kind of music I like to listen to and bombards me with stuff that is wildly off-key. So maybe it's the coolest thing ever but then again, maybe not.

No gain, no pain 

So, except for those of us mourning the loss of MOG, it doesn't look like consumers lose anything in this deal, at least for the short term, and they will perhaps gain a few notes around the edges as new packages are assembled.

What about musicians? They are, after all, where the music comes from and, as a group, they regard streaming as something akin to the plague. Bloomberg today tells the tale of Zoe Keating, a cellist who made more than $70,000 last year on royalties from iTunes and other download services. That's money she uses to pay the mortgage and keep the lights on.

Pandora, Spotify and all the other streaming services paid her a total of $6,381 for the year. That's not enough to do much of anything.

The music industry as a whole is having the same experience. Revenues are falling steadily as download spending declines and streaming services fail to make up the difference.

Big-name artists are increasingly relying on concert tours to make up for declining CD and download sales. Lesser-known artists -- who, after all, make up the vast majority of the performing universe -- wind up playing in bars and on street corners, where unemployed ex-newspaper reporters may throw a few coins at them. 

One artist quoted by Bloomberg estimated that Pandora would have to play a track 312,000 times for him to make as much as a single CD sale. 

So this may wind up being the day Apple became cool again as well as the day the music died. 

Maybe it's a little embarassing for Apple, the company that pretty much invented legal online music downloads, to have to pony up $3 billion to buy its way...
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Dr. Dre's Beats Music goes toe-to-toe against Spotify

More competition in the streamng music field

Stockholders and CEOs may not like it when their businesses face competition, but consumers almost always benefit. So even if you're not a fan of Dr. Dre the hip-hop artist, you should be glad that Dr. Dre the businessman introduced Beats Music to the online streaming music streaming field.

Beats by Dre started out as a company offering physical merchandise, mostly headphones, earbuds and other personal audio paraphernalia. Only on Jan. 21 did Beats Music branch out into the more ethereal realm of selling online streaming music subscriptions.

Meanwhile, companies like Spotify are doing the exact opposite: as of Jan. 20, Spotify expanded its offerings beyond music streaming to offer T-shirts, vinyl records and other physical merchandise related to its various artists.

Unlike most online streaming services, Beats offers no ad-supported free-to-the-end-user option; a Beats subscription will cost you $9.95 per month. Spotify promptly responded by offering unlimited, free (though ad-supported) mobile streaming.

Genres

A word, here, about the various types of online streaming music options. Spotify and Beats let you play music on demand — they have songs available, you pick which ones you want to listen to, and when. Services like iTunes radio and Pandora have more in common with traditional non-satellite broadcast radio: you can choose from a variety of stations (“playlists”) dedicated to the genre of your choice – rock and roll; rhythm and blues; country/western, Top 40 – but you have no say over which specific songs a given station plays when you listen to it.

However, the iTunes radio and Pandora differ from traditional radio because the latter is not personalized – when you're listening to your local Top 40 station, for example, you hear the exact same songs as everyone else tuned in to that station at that time.

And, of course, even personalized on-demand services do more than merely play back the songs of your choice; they also have algorithms to suggest other forms of music you might like, based on your previous choices.

The various music services do share one problem more in common with old-school cable or broadcast TV networks rather than radio stations: in some cases, the works of various artists can only be had through a given company.

Going back to the traditional radio analogy: if you want to hear the latest song by your favorite Top 40 singer, her music is probably on the playlist of every Top 40 radio station in the country. But if you want to watch the latest episode of your favorite TV show, usually only one network has the right to air it — so if you don't get that network, you're out of luck.

When a USAToday tech blogger did a pros-and-cons rundown of current streaming services, for example, he noted that Spotify is the only platform offering on-demand streaming of Led Zeppelin's music library.

(This illustrates yet another way streaming radio differs from the old-fashioned variety: any rock fan old enough to remember pre-Internet radio knows that not only did every rock station in America keep the complete works of Zeppelin in its library; each one played Stairway to Heaven at least 40 times a day. It wasn't an FCC requirement or anything; they all just did it. Nobody knows why.)

Even if you're not a fan of Dr. Dre the hip-hop artist, be glad Dr. Dre the businessman introduced Beats Music ...
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Beats launching new music streaming service

Beats bought MOG last year to get into the streaming music business

Beats is launching a new music streaming service, Beats Music, in the U.S. “within the next few months,” President and COO Luke Wood said today.

Beats acquired the MOG streaming service for $14 million in July 2012 to help develop Beats Music, which Wood said will aim to be different by focusing on "a very specific idea,” namely, the curation of music.

“We’re talking about real depth of personalization and knowing who I am, who you are, what we’re listening to, what we like, what we’ve listened to before and then offering up music that is highly relevant to our taste profile,” said Wood.  “If you really love music, we want something that can go deep with you for a really long time. And that requires a perfect harmony between the algorithm and human curation. Between the man and the machine.”

Beats Music will be accessible from iOS, Android, and the Web. Windows 8 support will arrive after the initial launch, he said. He didn't say what will happen to MOG after Beats Music launches.

Many diehard music fans are addicted to MOG, which streams at 320 kbps, said to be the highest of the streaming services. It has a library of 16 million songs. 

Beats is launching a new music streaming service, Beats Music, in the U.S. “within the next few months,” President and COO Luke Wood ...
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If you're an independent musician, there might be a new web site for you

All Def Music says it'll only use YouTube to build its roster

If you're a musician who's been putting videos and performances up on YouTube, and you feel like you're not getting anywhere, there might be a little help in store for you.

Music executive Russell Simmons, who introduced the world to acts like Run DMC, the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J has teamed up with Steve Rifkind, who founded Loud Records back in the 90s, to create a record label that searches for acts on YouTube.

The duo, along with Brian Robbins, a TV and film producer and star of the 80s sitcom "Head of the Class," says the label -- called All Def Music -- will be the first of its kind.

We are, "the first major label-affiliated music company created specifically to sign, develop and promote artists on YouTube," said the group.

A new outlet

All Def Music, which will be under the Universal Music Group (UMG) umbrella, will also develop and promote artist through YouTube. The founders say they want to tap into the vast array of artists who have used the popular video site to get their name out.

"The exponential growth of Internet-based video has created a powerful new outlet for music and music-based content, and the launch of All Def Music is a part of our broader strategy to partner with some of the most experienced entrepreneurs in media and technology to identify future stars and develop powerful content on the world's fastest growing media platform," said the CEO of UMG, Lucian Grainge.

In the last decade or so, the path for musicians to be discovered has changed dramatically. Once, the game plan for most artists was to hone their craft, create a series of demo CDs and then go to every record label, hoping their music wouldn't end up in the demo-junk-drawer.

But once surfing the Internet became synonymous with searching for new music, places like YouTube became the new radio of sorts, not to mention a place where artists could provide visuals for their music.

The landscape changes

In the beginning, the marriage between independent musicians and sites like YouTube was a fruitful one, because both parties in the union gained a lot of attention.

Unknown artists could instantly promote their music on the site and YouTube benefited as well, because more and more consumers turned to the video site to discover up and coming musicians.

But then, that particular avenue became saturated and once a few musicians were actually discovered through YouTube, the flood gates opened to the point where posting a video on the site was the same as blindly mailing a demo CD to a record label.

Breaking new ground

However, that didn't stop people from posting content to YouTube and it didn't stop record executives from going to the site to look for new talent. But this is the first time a major label is using digital media as its main source to build its roster. 

Simmons, who has been a fixture in urban music since the early 80s, with his Def Jam label, says he still looks at YouTube as new territory to conquer, although it's been in full swing for quite some time. 

He compares the relative newness of YouTube to the newness of rap music back in the 80s, when he was trying to get the genre recognized on mainstream levels.

"I look forward to working with the extraordinary talent from the vastly creative YouTube ecosystem in the same way I've worked with musicians, poets, comedians and designers all my life," said Simmons. "This is the most exciting new terrain for me, to move talent across media platforms."

All Def Music will be coupled with All Def Digital Management, launched earlier this year, which develops and promotes new shows, comedians and poets, as well as other acts.

A new management approach

Simmons says although the Internet is a great place for artists to promote their material, there's really no organization to it and he really wants to change that.

"In terms of just taking artists and broadening them across different media, I think that there's no one really there managing them properly," said Simmons. "I just think there's a hole in the market."

The announcement of All Def Music will most likely delight many independent artists, especially the ones who feel like they might be creating and posting videos on YouTube in vain.

But a word of caution for those who think their chances of being discovered on the video site just became a whole lot easier.

If record industry history repeats itself, All Def Music will look for artists with the most YouTube popularity instead of the best music, so they'll have to do a lot more than post a good song to be discovered need thousands -- if not millions -- of hits to even get noticed by folks like Simmons and Rifkind.

Musicians should also take the whole artist-development-thing with a grain of salt as well, because labels don't develop artists anymore. They simply latch on to an already successful person who already has a loyal fan base. But Rifkind says All Def Music will be different and the label will actually nurture talent. 

"Tapping into YouTube's fertile creative platform, we intend to identify, develop and nurture music's next generation of superstar talent," he said.

Independent artists shouldn't hold their breath because All Def Music will probably be just like any other record label. It'll only want to work with people who already have some kind of fame or popularity.

If you're a musician who's been putting videos and performances up on YouTube, and you feel like you're not getting anywhere, there might be a little help ...
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Why certain songs go viral and others don't

Is there a science to it? Is it luck? Or are some songs just that good?

Have you ever wondered what makes a song go viral? Why do some songs get passed around the Internet and some don't, especially when so many songs seem to have the same level of quality?

The online music distribution company Indigoboom.com answered this question.

According to research the company conducted, there are several things that can make a song go viral, but it starts with the listener having an emotional response.

"Music is most shareable when it provokes a strong emotional reaction," wrote the researchers. "The most commonly used emotional triggers are funny, sexy, random and shocking."

In addition, researchers said if a song sounds similar to one that's already been released, or if an artist uses a similar approach, the chances of that song going viral will dramatically decrease. 

Imaginative and creative

The researchers said there's a strong correlation between capturing people's imagination with a song, and that song being heavily shared. And once a particular concept, idea or sound seems to borrow from another song, most folks will become far less interested in it.

Fred Santarpia, co-founder of the video site Vevo, says if an independent musician wants his music to catch on, he'd better release a few videos and not just a bunch of songs.

And he says forget about trying to get your video on cable outlets like MTV and BET. You're better off going the Internet route.

"Distribution is going through a massive upheaval," he said in an interview with Mashable. "Cable TV is not the primary paradigm for the format. Rather, tens of millions of fans actively seek out and share their favorite music video online each month, and with the explosion of the video-enabled smartphone market, we at Vevo believe that music videos will go viral even faster than they do today, as more fans turn to the screen in their hand to discover new music."

How do you do it?

But how do you get your music video to go viral? Especially since there are practically just as many videos from independent artists as there are songs on the Internet.

Media consultant Eileen Winnick, told The New York Times that if you want your video to be heavily shared, it needs to convey to the viewer why he should be watching it. And if you can pull that off, you'll have a far better chance of your video and your song going viral.

"Your only concern should be how it's going to benefit who is watching," she said. "When you do that, you take the focus off yourself and put it into what you want to get across, which changes the way you communicate."

The folks at Indigoboom say music that's relatable to a particular memory or situation has a good chance to be highly shared. And even though a lot of music today is made in a cookie-cutter kind of way, quality is still of utter importance.

In other words, if you want your music video to have a lot of YouTube hits, the video just can't be great; the song has to be made well too. So make sure it reaches a certain level of excellence before you decide to shoot your visuals.

Know your audience

In addition, industry experts say it's important to know who your audience is if you're looking to go viral -- that trying to create a song or video that appeals to every single taste out there just won't work. 

It's important to determine who your audience is, what they may like or dislike and base your material on that, experts advise.

Stephen Murphy,  founder of Get Busy Media, said making a song, video or any product that you want to go viral is all about sparking curiosity, nothing more.

"Showcase your product in a surreal way by making a video that goes above and beyond your benefits," he said in a published interview. "The point of the video isn't to be realistic, but instead to create curiosity while highlighting your product or service."

Lastly, Indigoboom says if you want your song to be an Internet sensation, it's important to first put in the work. And if you're looking to simply jump in front of a camera and perform something you've created on the fly, it probably won't get much attention.

"Creative and unique ideas often require a great deal of effort to execute," the company wrote. "Do the work. Nothing good ever came from nothing."

Have you ever wondered what makes a song go viral? Why do some songs get passed around the Internet and some don't, especially when so many songs seem to h...
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The return of CDs and vinyl records

There are still millions of folks who enjoy a physical album over a digital one

If you're over a certain age, then you probably remember purchasing music way differently than you do now.

Remember going to your local music store? If you were like most music lovers, going to a cool mom and pop shop to buy vinyl, a cassette tape or a CD was just as enjoyable as listening to the music at home.

Then before you knew it, everything changed. Vinyl became more of a collector's item than anything else; cassette tapes died an abrupt death, and CDs hung on for dear life competing with digital downloads and streaming sites.

Down but not out

But according to Nielsen, CDs are hanging on quite well, because people are still buying them.

In 2012, 193 million CDs were sold compared with 118 MP3 albums, which may be surprising to some. And according to market researchers, The NPD Group, CD sales have increased for the second year in a row -- making a 2% sales jump.

Russ Crupnick, the senior vice president of industry analysis at NPD, said CDs are still a go-to for some music lovers and for some casual music listeners too.

He says many consumers feel they're getting more bang for their buck with a CD purchase, compared to buying an MP3. "CDs are the gift that keeps giving, which proves that even in an increasingly digital age, consumers will respond to quality content and strong perceived value, even if it comes in a physical package," Crupnick said.

"The CD still has a powerful attraction for both older, mainstream consumers who listen in their cars, as well as to super fans who enjoy owning the package and assortment of songs from their favorite artists," he added.

In addition, The NPD Group says CDs are being made a lot better today than years past and many consumers feel the overall quality of the sound is better on a CD than on an MP3.

Help from streaming media

Another thing that's keeping CD sales going is all the streaming sites that are now available.

Experts say sites like Spotify, Pandora and MOG give people the chance to check music out for free, and if they like what they hear, many consumers will buy the physical copy since they already know what to expect.

This wasn't possible in the 90s, when buying a CD was like taking a shot in the dark. Sure, you heard samples of an album through radio singles, or you might have listened to a CD at an in-store listening station. But outside that, you really weren't sure if the entire CD was good.

Another thing that's drawing people to purchase a CD is the current state of music, say experts. Crupnick believes today's pop music is better than it was just a few years ago.

"The quality of pop music has been better recently, from Adele to Lady Gaga to Katy Perry to Susan Boyle, and people are responding to that, he explained." And 10 years after the advent of Apple's iTunes, far more people buy CDs than downloads."

Customer service

Apparently, online stores like Amazon are catering to those folks who still like CDs, as the company has recently added a feature called AutoRip. 

Right after you purchase a CD, Amazon sends you the MP3 version of the album so you get both versions for the price of one. And it's not just the new albums that you can AutoRip, you can use the feature for any album made from 1998 on.

Those who prefer to keep things modern and just buy the MP3 version of an album, might be better off purchasing the CD.

For example, legendary Hip-Hop group Outkast's CD "Aquemini" CD goes for $8.79 and you get the MP3 version for free. But if you only buy a digital copy you pay about $10, so from a price standpoint, you get much more with a CD purchase.

Amazon added the AutoRip feature to vinyl purchases too.

Back to the future

When it comes to vinyl, some may believe only a small portion of consumers are still buying it, but that's not the case, says the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

In April of 2013, IFPI announced there were $177 million in vinyl sales in 2012, an 18% jump from the year before. And that's the highest level of vinyl sales have been since 1997.

White Stripes front man Jack White scored the most vinyl sales in 2012, with his solo album "Blunderbuss." In all, he sold 34,000 copies.

And why are so many people buying vinyl these days?

Nick Catalano, the owner of Beatnick -- a throwback record store in Montreal -- says people come to his store to buy vinyl because they want the real thing, not a modernistic watered down version of an album.

"We're like the curators of a museum," said Catalano about his store. "Why would you want a print of Picasso when you can get the real deal? It's the same thing with records."

In addition, Catalano says that a good portion of his customers will ask about a certain album, and then go online to check it out. If they like it, they come back to his store and purchase it, which is a popular way people are buying music these days.

So if you thought CDs and vinyl had died a final death, think again. And if you feel you're an alien because you're still interested in physical albums, you clearly aren't alone.

And lastly, digital downloads don't provide the cool artwork or liner notes that most music lovers enjoy taking in, which is another reason people are still buying CDs and vinyl in relatively large numbers.

If you're over a certain age, then you probably remember purchasing music way differently than you do now.Remember going to your local music store?If y...
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Google releasing new music service

How will the new music site compete with the Spotify and the Groovesharks of the world?

Music lovers are getting a new way to access their favorite tunes online. Google is launching a new music service, to supplement its current music site that's associated with the Google Play digital media store.

It's priced at $9.99 a month after a free one-month introductory trial, about the same as other streaming services.

The new service, Google All Access, will differ from Google's current music store, as it will allow users to stream music to their MP3 players, smartphones, computers and so forth, just like Spotify, MOG, Pandora and other streaming services. 

Things have gotten a bit crowded in the world of online music stores, which is different from just a few years ago when people were still skeptical about paying for music online.

After downloading songs for free on sites like Napster and Limewire was halted for legal reasons, people were still used to either downloading songs for no cost or just streaming them. But as laws clamped down on illegal downloading, many people waved their white flags and just started paying for their music again.

24 million

Since then Spotify has been the go-to site for music lovers, as the company currently has about 24 million users and 6 million of those users pay for extra features.

Just last month Spotify announced a collection of new tabs that adds a social component to the site and allows users to get recommendations on new music and new artists.

The site's new "follow tab" allows users to connect with their favorite artists and get an idea of what music that artist is listening to.

So if you're a Shakira fan let's say, you can get a basic idea of what music she's loving at the moment and get information on things like future album release dates or new songs that she's working on.

And even though the streaming site Grooveshark is still dealing with its fair share of legal battles against record companies, the company is still trying to spruce up its site.

Recently, Grooveshark announced the release of its "Broadcast" feature that allows you to send music to all of your friends and followers in one quick shot.

The feature does other things too.

Be a broadcaster

By selecting the "Start Broadcasting" option users can actually become a virtual DJ by putting together playlists, recording their voice in-between songs and being able send out those playlists to all of their followers.

Many critics and reviewers think that the-adding-your-voice-feature is extremely cool and separates Grooveshark from its competitors a bit.

Apparently, the company is aware that many music lovers want other people to listen to what they're listening to. And the broadcast feature allows them to do that quickly and easily.

And of course we can't talk about online music stores without mentioning Apple. 

The company just inked a deal with Universal Music Group to offer a free online radio service.

Although Apple is still waiting for Sony Music and Warner Music Group to jump onboard, it looks like the company's radio feature will eventually happen, but no word yet as to when.

However, Sony and Warner have signed deals with Google.  The record label giants will be a part of Google All Access.

Jim Cady, CEO of Slacker, which is another music site, believes that Google's new music service will be good but not perfect, since there's a chance you won't be able to access it on multiple devices.

"We expect that it's going to be platform-specific and focused on the Google ecosystem," said Cady in an interview with Mashable

"We're huge supporters of Netflix's belief in the power of ubiquity and we think it's incredibly important for consumers to have access to their music across a variety of platforms and devices, whether it's in the car, on their Sonos, Roku or iPhone."

In addition, Cady says the fact that more online music stores are popping up and existing stores are adding new features, only proves how much the industry of online music is growing.

"We've seen several new players enter the space recently and we believe the growth and competition only validates the industry that we're in," he said.

"While there's a lot of attention on on-demand listening, we're seeing our users spending the majority of their listening time with our curated radio experience, which is a major differentiating factor for Slacker."

By the close of this week, music lovers may have a new way to access their favorite tunes online.It's rumored that Google will be launching a new music s...
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Classic Beatles Vinyl Remasters Headed for November Release

In the digital age, will music fans embrace the past?

Beatles fans were no doubt thrilled a few years back when Apple -- the record label, not the electronics company -- released the Beatles' remastered studio albums on CD.

Then a year later the albums were made available for digital download through iTunes. But for many old school Beatles fans, it probably just wasn't the same.

Not to worry, the record label is rectifying that with the November 12 release of the entire collection on 180-gram, audiophile quality vinyl. Not only will you hear them the same way you did when you brought them home from the record store -- remember those? -- but all 14 albums will come with replicated artwork, including the poster in The Beatles (The White Album), the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band's cutouts, and special inner bags for some of the titles.

Boxed set available

The albums will be sold individually as well as in a limited edition boxed set.

The titles include The Beatles' 12 original UK albums, first released between 1963 and 1970, the US-originated Magical Mystery Tour, now part of the group's core catalog, and Past Masters, Volumes One & Two, featuring non-album A-sides and B-sides, EP tracks and rarities.

Since it was recorded, The Beatles' music has been heard on a variety of formats -- from cumbersome reel-to-reel tapes and eight-track cartridges to invisible computer files. For many music fans -- including some born long after albums had mostly disappeared -- there is a certain romance to listening to music on vinyl.

More than a piece of cardboard

Then there is the cardboard sleeve containing the vinyl disk. For many, it added to the whole music experience. Rather than a merely functional object to protect the disc, it was elevated to a stylish accessory.

With the advent of the cassette tape in the seventies and the compact disc in the 1980s, album artwork was reduced in size and importance, losing much of its charm.

Maybe that's why vinyl LPs have not, as predicted, been discarded. Below is a list of the Beatles albums included in the collection. Some albums were released in the U.S. under different names:

  • Please Please Me "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You" are presented in mono (North American LP debut in stereo)
  • With The Beatles (North American LP debut in stereo)
  • A Hard Day's Night (North American LP debut in stereo)
  • Beatles For Sale (North American LP debut in stereo)
  • Help! Features George Martin's 1986 stereo remix
  • Rubber Soul Features George Martin's 1986 stereo remix
  • Revolver
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Packaging includes replica psychedelic inner sleeve, cardboard cutout sheet and additional insert
  • Magical Mystery Tour Packaging includes 24-page color book
  • The Beatles (double album) Packaging includes double-sided photo montage/lyric sheet and 4 solo color photos
  • Yellow Submarine "Only A Northern Song" is presented in mono. Additional insert includes original American liner notes.
  • Abbey Road
  • Let It Be
  • Past Masters (double album) "Love Me Do" (original single version), "She Loves You," "I'll Get You," and "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" are presented in mono. Packaging, notes and photographic content is based on the 2009 CD release.
Beatles fans were no doubt thrilled a few years back when Apple -- the record label, not the electronics company -- released the Beatles' remastered studio...
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Done Deal: Universal Buys EMI -- What it Could Mean For Music Consumers

Critics of the merger say it could raise music prices and harm online companies like Spotify.

Last week both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission (EC) approved Universal Music Groups (UMG) takeover of EMI, making UMG even bigger giants in the music industry, now owning the catalogues of mega acts like the Beatles and Pink Floyd.

In the buyout that went for a cool $1.9 billion, UMG had to let go of some of its own major acts like Coldplay and the Gorillas, which was a stipulation  European regulators set in place to better ensure fair competition.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of UMG Lucian Grainge, was obviously thrilled at the closing of the deal, as he believes it will better allow his company to provide a much-needed jolt into the current music industry.

“It will enable us to continue to invest in more music, to create investment opportunities for the entire Universal group,” he told the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview. “It will give us the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs in different genres and it will give us a cushion through this crucial crossover period as we hurtle toward a primarily digital business.”

40%? No problem

The deal gave UMG ownership of 40 percent of the music industry, after the FTC voted 5-0 and said that approving the deal would not harm or threaten the level of competition within the music industry by any measure.

“Commission staff did not find sufficient evidence of head-to-head competition to conclude that the combination of Universal and EMI would substantially lessen competition, said Richard Feinstein, FTC’s bureau of competition director.

Critics of the merger disagree that music industry competition wouldn’t be threatened and say that it truly would negatively impact the consumer. And with now only three record labels in Sony, Warner Bros. and UMG controlling 90 percent of the industry, it could drive prices up for music buyers considerably.

Detractors also say the merger could harm the way digital music is licensed and distributed, which can also potentially damage the way consumers receive their tunes.

And now with UMG having the most power in the music industry, critics also say the deal could potentially allow the record label powerhouse to restructure digital music prices and impact how songs are able to be downloaded or shared.

Also, with one record label owning the lion’s share of the market place, it could  change the rules of  posting music to social networking pages and how we're able to use songs as ring tones.

Will streamers still be streaming?

Furthermore, music providers like Spotify, Jango, or Pandora could be forced to pay even costlier licensing fees, as all of these companies are currently agreeing to some hefty pricing to host the music they provide consumers.

The merger also gives fewer options for those subsidiary labels under UMG and those formerly under EMI, particularly in the way these smaller companies are able to sell and release music.

The deal also gives less wiggle room to independent and signed artists that want to negotiate or re-negotiate fair contractual terms. However the EC feels the provisions set in place will keep these potential occurences from ever happening.

“The Commission had concerns that the transaction, as initially notified, would have allowed Universal to significantly worsen the licensing terms it offers to digital platforms that sell music to consumers. To meet these concerns, Universal offered substantial commitments. In light of these commitments, the Commission concluded that the transaction would not raise completion concerns anymore,” it said.

The FTC gave no such stipulations and honored the merger as it was requested.

Opponents warn of negative impacts

Previously, ConsumerAffairs spoke to Jodie Griffin, an attorney for the watchdog group Public Knowledge based in Washington D.C, who is strongly opposed to the merger and feels it could harm the current way digital music is provided to the consumer.

And having fewer record labels compared to more of them, threatens to negatively impact both the music lover and the casual music consumer.

“This merger gives Universal increased incentive and ability to discriminate against digital music services that challenge their business models,” she said. “We think that the FTC should have done more to protect competition in the U.S.”

Last week both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission (EC) approved Universal Music Groups (UMG) takeover of EMI, making UMG even bi...
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HypeTree: A Cool and Unique Way to Listen and Post Music

The artist-friendly site is what MySpace should have evolved into years ago.

Many of us tend to dream.

I'm not talking about the kind where you're flying above earth during your deepest part of slumber; I'm talking about the type of dream that usually occurs in the middle of the day, with your eyes wide open, while you’re in the middle of doing some unwanted task or job.

And a good portion of those dreamers imagine themselves jumping around a stage in a packed arena, or accepting that gold statue of a phonograph at the Grammys.

However there are also those people who don't daydream at all all, they simply plug in their headphones while they're working, or crank up the speaker nob to escape their day-to-day drudgery through music.

Democracy in action

Now there's a new website that serves both the aspiring musician and the music listener, and it's called Hypetree.

What's cool about this site is that it allows the Internet community to vote on independent music, which can grow a song's popularity and buzz among consumers.

The website has something it calls the “battle player” which allows users to vote on two songs, and whichever tune receives the most votes, it goes up in both score and chart rating, giving the independent artist more exposure.

Hypetree also provides the artist with statistical information about which song is being listened to the most and which is garnering the heaviest online buzz.

Musicians using the site also fill out a profile page which lists their social networks, their personal websites and other background info. The company is what Myspace should have evolved into quite some time ago.

For some reason Myspace chose not to focus on how popular its site used to be among independent artists.

Hypetree seemingly does a good job of catering to up and coming bands by allowing them to post three songs for free, and only charging a fee — not exceeding 99 cents — to upload each song afterward.

Yes, MySpace is free for artists, but the site provides no detailed statistical data and more importantly, it lost its cool factor a long time ago. And what's a musician without a little cool factor in their midst?

Artists can also sell their music through Hypetree as the site uses PayPal to accept payments.

Casual listeners welcome

Hypetree is also for the casual music listener, especially those who had their fill of traditional radio. The site allows users to create their own radio station, which is made up of songs the user selects.

As the listener chooses which song they prefer in the battle player challenge, Hypetree saves that song for you, while suggesting other music based on your preferences. You also have the ability to select a song as a favorite that eventually will be saved to your personal playlist.

There's also no charge for accessing songs and users can listen to and rate a tune without signing up or becoming a member of the site. But if you want the ability to rate and save a tune you'll need to sign up, but there's still no charge.

Hypetree appears to be better than, say, Pandora because it allows you to personally choose the songs your radio station consists of. It's especially different for independent musicians compared to sites like Spotify where artists  have a harder time getting their music posted.

No red tape

Independent artists that want to get on Spotify usually have to go through a digital distribution company like Ditto Music or Tunecore, but on Hypetree there is no red tape to contend with and offering your music to the public is pretty fast and painless.

The company also says it will abstain from working with a large amount of advertisers in order to keep the site free, and avoid its users having to deal with intrusive pop-ups.

Although there have been other sites that help independent artists, Hypetree seems to be using this particular niche to its fullest advantage.

Today, the Internet and advancements in home recording studios have increased the number of independent artists from as recently as 15 years ago.

In previous times, an independent artist or band had to possess a substantial amount of money to pay for necessities like studio costs, marketing and printing up CDs. Today, most of these things are low-cost or free, which has increased the number of people making and offering music to the public.

It's safe to say there are a good number of indy artists today that wouldn't have taken the musician’s leap if costs weren't so dramatically reduced by technology.

Community radio

And for the music listener, Hypetree further pushes the current trend of community radio and consumers using their taste and purchasing power to determine which songs should be getting recognized and heard.

The site says it will not turn away any song based on the company's musical taste or personal preference, and will only reject something if it has poor sound quality or violates one of the company's rules. If a song is rejected, it can still be appealed by the user.

Many of us tend to dream.I'm not talking about the kind where you're flying above earth during your deepest part of slumber; I'm talking about the type o...
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Mom and Pop Stores: How Do The Succesful Ones Survive?

There's still a spot for some kinds of local stores, but they need to be digitally savy

A record store. Remember records? Remember stores? Photo credit - Sirylok, Fotolia.com


Even with all of the technology we have at our disposal today, the earth still holds its fair share of mysteries. Like how come water can't be duplicated? Or how high does the sky really go?

Another earthly mystery — although more solvable — is how do mom-and-pop stores survive in today's world of big store chains and giant franchises?

This question always plagues me whenever I see a small storefront window in the midst of large shopping centers with their brightly lit windows and multitudes of people. It's baffling to me. How do they stay in business?

Take record stores for example. Between the double whammy of the Internet and big-box retailers, mom-and-pop record stores have pretty much spun their last. 

Not so long ago going to a brick-and-mortar store to thumb through rows of vinyl, cassettes and CDs was a joyful part of the music listening experience. Today consumers seek out music with the expectation that it should not only be received immediately but also for free, or close to it.

Newly-released music is treated almost as if it's disposable, which has even made large retail stores suffer. I mean think about it, when was the last time you went to Best-Buy to purchase a CD? It's probably been a while, which shows that all stores — big and small — are suffering in this particular area.

But somehow not all mom-and-pops are hurting, which brings me back to my point of being amazed whenever I see one wedged between two chain stores. I always think it's beautifully defiant.

It's like seeing an older person at a music concert full of twenty-something’s. It's like two people from completely different cultures finding common ground or even falling in love despite social norms.

It's a way of small family-owned businesses saying, "Hey, we're still here and we're providing a type of service you big guys can't."

Some mom-and-pop stores have learned through the years that a certain number of consumers just won't deviate from the way they use to purchase things. This has helped many independent store owners stay competitive, especially in the area of music sales. Others have harnessed the Internet to turn their brick-and-mortar store into a real community that exists both offline and on.

Digital hurts and helps

Amoeba's Hollywood store

Although both retail chains and the Internet have hurt mom-and-pop stores, Johnson Lee, owner of  Joe's Record Paradise, a D.C.- area store, says successful stores are using the web to their advantage as a way to bring their niche consumers together for proper advertising and community-building.

“At this point digital is big for us, i.e. Facebook, emails, lists, groups. You go on the Internet you find jazz vinyl lovers [for example], where all they do all day is talk about is 1950s jazz,” says Lee.

“If you can get into that, and say, hey guys we got lots of that, then promoting has become a little bit easier. You used to have to pay a newspaper to print something for you and now you can sort of get around that a little bit,” he explains.

One of the most spectacular examples of using digital media to sell older forms of music and entertainment is Amoeba, the California stores that have expanded beyond the mom-and-pop category but are still essentially local retailers surviving in a category that's supposed to be obsolete.

Amoeba operates stores in Hollywood, Berkeley and San Francisco and sells nearly every conceivable kind of music and movies "from the top 40 to the best in underground rock and hip-hop, soul, electronica, new and classic jazz, world music, roots music and experimental music," as the stores' website proclaims.  Amoeba sells and buys mostly vinyl LPs, CDs and DVDs, both new and used, but it also stocks turntables and other gear, sells downloads of some recordings and sponsors all kinds of in-store and around-town activities.

Inside Amoeba's Hollywood store

"We're more than just a record store-- we're a 21st century music outlet, a website, a popular live performance venue, and together with our customers we're a meeting place for California's most colorful community of progressive and creative minds," Amoeba says. 

My colleague Truman Lewis, an Amoeba fan, says that Amoeba is "what Borders Books was trying to be -- a community gathering place that attracts a wide range of consumers looking for a shopping experience and social outing that amounts to a little more than sitting in front of a computer screen." 

Besides buying and selling records, CDs and DVDs, you see live performances, listen to poetry readings, go to a cookbook party, meet recording artists and even register to vote. 

At the Amoeba store on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, you also have a shot at running into some of the actors and artists whose work you admire -- not to mention bumping into actors and artists whose work you may admire a few years from now. The place is routinely packed right up until its 11 p.m. closing time each night.   

Niche market

Johnson Lee, Joe's Record Paradise

“It's a niche market that really never went away," said Johnson Lee. “A lot of people thought vinyl died when it just hibernated for a bit. There was always the core group of people that would never switch to a different format because they're addicted to vinyl.

“They love the sound, the feel of it, the artwork,” and the liner notes he said. “Big business corporate guys, they don't want small businesses around because it challenges their supremacy.”

Lee also said that mom-and-pop's survival sometimes depends on consumer trends returning from the past and younger generations being exposed to the buying ways of yesteryear.

“For at least ten years kids thought that's all there was, [digital music]” he says. “I've got young kids now and you turn on Nickelodeon and there will be a waffle commercial and the kid is DJ'ing a waffle, so the kids are being indoctrinated again to the vinyl side of things, which may be an industry move after all.

“At least the industry is somewhat supporting this move because you can't download vinyl, he adds. “If they [the music industry] print a vinyl record, they actually get to sell it instead of having the new Britney Spears album get spread to the millions of teenage girls that have Dropbox.”

Lee notes there is practically a universe of content that has not yet made it into digital form, and perhaps never will. 

“There's so much music from the 50, 60s, 70s, 80s, that never made it to CD,” says Lee. “So you come in here and you spend two or three hours, you're going to find 150 new artists that you never heard of that may interest you and lead you to other bands that they were in.”

Original form 

Lee also says people of the older generations are bringing their kids and grandkids into mom-and-pop stores not only to introduce them to products of the past, but also to introduce them to the way things were bought in previous times. “It's a cultural point to come and check out American soul,” he says.

Lee took over the music shop, located in Silver Spring, Md. from his father Joe back in 2008, and the 36-year old says the family-owned business actually started in Los Angeles on Hollywood Boulevard, under the name Platypus Records.

After Lee's parents wanted to settle down in a more residential area, they decided to return to Joe's childhood stomping ground within the Washington, D.C., area.

Despite taking over the store around the time the current recession hit, Lee says he's been able to expand his location twice over and at the moment the store is in good financial standing.

What advice does Lee have for people starting small businesses in today's risky business climate?

“You just have to be smart, work hard, make good decisions and hopefully you'll survive, he says. “No one here is getting rich, but it’s a tradeoff. If you've got enough luck you'll make it.”

Even with all of the technology we have at our disposal today, the earth still holds its fair share of mysteries. Like how come water can't be duplica...
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Beats Electronics Partners With MOG

First major expansion move by Beats since it split from Monster Cable

 Dr. Dre

Beats Electronics, co-founded by music biz honchos Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, just purchased the digital music site Music on The Go (MOG).

This is the first major expansion move for Beats Electronics since announcing its split with partners Monster Cable Products earlier this year. The two companies had an incredibly successful run with their Beats by Dre headphones, which made purchasing $300 headphones quite normal for today's consumers.

MOG, based in Berkeley, Calif., is a music site and blog that allows users to access a vast number of releases by paying a subscription fee. It also lets members stream music on computers, handheld devices and TVs if they choose. 

Songs can also be stored and transferred to any mobile device, and users can download songs instead of just being able to stream them. MOG is sort of a combination of Spotify and iTunes that claims to be an "all you can eat" music site.

MOG is sounding on-key to consumers. A ConsumerAffairs sentiment analysis of about 160,000 postings to social media over the last year finds the service running up and down the scales to wind up at an 89% approval rating in July.

Compare this to the much larger iTunes. We found 11 million postings by consumers in the last 12 months, with net sentiment nearing the bass clef with a 27% positive rating in July.

MOG is also absent from the ConsumerAffairs review section, not yet piling up any negative reviews, whereas Apple's iTunes is something of a complaint engine.

Consumers rate iTunes

"I have been charged $99 for iTunes which I don't even use," said a ConsumerAffairs reader, who received a suspicious looking charge from Apple, but received no help when trying to speak with a company representative to remedy the problem. "Obviously, Apple doesn't care or they would have safeguards in place," the reader said.

Rhapsodizing

The independent company grew in popularity in 2007, when it partnered with Rhapsody and gave members access to all of Rhapsody's music files. MOG expanded even further after creating a vast array of music apps in 2010, allowing users to access the  site on Android phones, iPhones, and the iPad Touch.

Beats Electronics says it wants to be an A-to-Z music service for consumers, and the company's headphone collection certainly turned out to be a good start. According to reports, the Beats by Dre headphones made up 53 percent of headphone sales in 2011 and also sparked the beginning of many imitators.

Apparently 2011 was a great year for Beats Electronics, as 51 percent of its shares were purchased by HTC for a hefty $300 million, making the company a major player in the realm of electronics and music accessories.

The Beats company says it believes that music has taken a turn for the worse since going largely digital, and wants to be catalysts in repairing the way music is now listened to and experienced.

This sounds pretty good to the consumers who were part of our sentiment ananlysis, as shown in this graph:

Again, MOG makes much prettier music than iTunes, which sounds downright discordant to many listeners:

Degradation of sound

"Beats By Dre was born out of a need to restore the emotional connection with music that was lost by the degradation of sound from the digital music revolution, starting with the weakest link in the experience at the time --  headphones, said Luke Wood, Beats Electronics President.

"But it was never about just headphones. We've since expanded the Beats mission to every other link in the music experience chain-speakers, mobile phones, personal computers and automobile sound systems. With MOG, we are adding the best music service to the Beats portfolio for the first truly end-to-end music experience. With their talent and technology, the possibilities around future innovation are endless."

That's a philosophy that sounds familiar to MOG, which claims to offer the best  sound available, streaming at 320 kbps. 

To informally test this assertion, we cranked up the ConsumerAffairs PylePro amplifier feeding a couple of Klipsch Reference speakers and did a quick A-B test between Spotify and MOG, listening to the Delfonics on each.

First and most noticeably, the level was much higher on the MOG feed, for the simple reason that with a higher sampling rate there's more sound there. More importantly, we were able to listen to MOG at levels high enough to be painful, not something we'd recommend for Spotify, iTunes or most other streaming feeds. OK, it's not a CD but it's closer than the other guys. 

Whether the partnership between MOG and Beats Electronics will take consumers away from similar companies like Spotify remains to be seen, as Spotify recently stepped up its efforts to match GrooveShark and iTunes for digital music supremacy.

Quincy Jones, International DJ Tiesto, Punk music heroes Rancid, and the metal band Disturbed, are all working with Spotify to release artist-designed apps.

Fans of the artists will not only be able to listen to entire catalogues, but they will also be able to hear background stories of the musicians, as well as read bios, join contest, and get exclusive content.

Spotify says it will also work with other major artists to produce new apps, so the music consumer can get a wide and full music experience that goes beyond just being able to stream songs.

"The Spotify Artist App is a wonderful opportunity to share some of the behind the scenes stories of a few of the memorable recordings that I have been fortunate enough to make," said legendary producer Quincy Jones in a statement. "I think this App will give entertaining insight and value for these recordings to both music fans and aficionados."

A great time

It's truly a great time for music consumers, as now people have a plethora of ways to access the music they love, while being able to better cast out music that doesn't meet their tastes.

It will be interesting to see just how Beats Electronics' new venture with the social music site will really benefit the music consumer.

MOG feels Beats is the ideal company to help them expand its brand, and pull in those millions of customers that have already bought a pair of Beats By Dre headphones.

"We're thrilled to be joining forces with Beats, a company that's committed at the highest level to the experience surrounding music delivery, the fit feels perfectly natural" said David Hyman MOG's CEO.

The company also says the merger will not change any of the current functions of its site and will still remain independent.

"MOG subscribers can expect continued excellence from the best music service in the market, and we look forward to putting premium experiences in the hands of millions of music lovers everywhere," said Hyman.

Beats Electronics which was co-founded by music biz honchos Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre just purchased the digital music site Music on The Go (MOG).This is ...
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The Universal/EMI Merger: How Will It Specifically Impact The Music Consumer?

Consumer Federation experts outline risks to consumers if takeover goes through

Last week ConsumerAffairs discussed a possible music industry takeover by Universal Music Group (UMG), as the megalabel announced its attempts to purchase EMI, which would make Universal one of the most powerful record labels in the business.

Both public interest groups and music industry insiders alike believe the potential merger would negatively impact music consumers by leading to higher prices for digital and physical music releases. Universal would also gain more ability to control when new music is made available, and have more power to influence the overall sound of popular music by withholding content.

In their report "The Role of Antitrust in Protecting Competition, Innovation and Consumers As the Digital Revolution Matures," Mark Cooper, Director of Research for the Consumer Federation of America, and Jodi Griffin, Staff Council for Public Knowledge, discussed the potential consequences of the merger, and how it could threaten competitiveness within the music industry.

ConsumerAffairs talked with Cooper and  Griffin, and they spoke specifically about what's in store for the music consumer if the UMG/EMI merger is finalized.

Piracy overstated

In the report the authors state that record companies currently over-estimate how much piracy and digital sales impact market power. In our interview they expanded on that.

"The paper shows that there is a huge amount of spending on digital music," the authors said. "So much so that the industry is shipping 50 percent more units that they ever did. The question for the antitrust authorities is whether piracy would prevent a major with much more market power from raising prices by 5 percent or more."

"Consumers are paying $2.4 billion for legal digital music. Raising the price of a digital album, for example, by 50 cents would not turn people into pirates or increase piracy substantially. The majors know this because of their own studies of elasticities of demand and marketing strategies."

The authors fear that improvements on digital music distribution could also be harmed, since Universal would have the power to govern a disproportionate amount of music that would be needed by distributors to further improve serviceability.

Less innovation

"Innovation could be reduced", the authors explained. "Because the combined UMG/EMI would be able to withhold must-have content that digital distributors need to build successful new services, or only license that content on onerous terms, like disproportionately high royalties, enormous advances, or requiring an ownership interest in the new service. As a result, innovative new digital music services will be unable to launch or unable to compete."

The detailed report contains a section entitled "Pricing Patterns: Illegally Fixing the Price of CDs." The section shows how record labels historically manipulated CD prices when technology allowed CDs to be made and distributed at cheaper costs. Both Cooper and Griffin believe that if the merger goes through, the same thing would be done to digital sales.

In addition authors say, the UMG/EMI label would be so powerful that it would eventually set an industry trend, influencing other labels to heavily manipulate content in terms of pricing, availability, and new music consumers have access to.

Push prices up

"Universal could lead the effort to push prices up or they could withhold content from business models they do not like, or demand equity shares in those that they do. The other majors would be more likely to follow, since there ar fewer of them. This reduces competition and innovation in the space," the authors detailed.

But, you may ask if the consumer will truly be impacted by price manipulation since many listeners pay small amounts for downloads, or listen to music for free on sites like Spotify, or GrooveShark.

"The initial and primary benefit of digital disintermediation (combined with two consent decrees) was to force singles back into the market, which labels do not prefer but have yielded huge consumer benefits," the CFA researchers said, adding:

"The growth of digital albums has been strong of late. The fact that market power has been reduced by law and economics does not mean it cannot return. At $10.41 for a digital album, the price may still be too high. The industry remains concentrated and the majors control the flow of product through licensing. The major labels have begun to exercise control over prices. The purpose of antitrust merger review is to preserve competition."

Universal will face a Congressional hearing on June 21, as it tries to explain why the merger with EMI won't be harmful to the music consumer and the overall industry. Stay tuned for the results.

Last week ConsumerAffairs discussed a possible music industry takeover by Universal Music Group (UMG), as the mega label announced its attempts to purchase...
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Big Four Records Companies May Become the Big Three

Universal Music Group plotting an industry takeover?

Pink Floyd

What's interesting about the music business is that on the outside looking in, it appears there are many record labels around the world. Everyday a new a record company pops up, naming itself such and such records, or whatever catchy name its owners can think of.

But in actuality, there are only four record labels in the world, and the rest are merely subsidiaries. Some smaller labels are subsidiaries of other subsidiaries, and it goes on and on. It can get kind of tricky.

The four record labels, often known as the "Big Four," are Sony BMG, Universal Music, Warner Music Group, and EMI. These four root labels contain branches upon branches of smaller labels that of course get a smaller cut of the profits. In most cases, the smaller the label, the smaller the cut. And never mind the artist getting their fair share.

Last November it was revealed that the Big Four may turn into the Big Three, as Universal Music said it had strong interest in purchasing EMI.

If the $1.9 billion deal is finalized, it would make Universal Music, which is owned by Vivendi, one of the most powerful record labels in the world, or as critics say, just about the most monopolistic record label in the world.

Watchdog barks

On June 14th, two consumer watchdog groups, the Consumer Federation of America, and Public Knowledge, released a report that encouraged government regulators to halt the $1 billion deal, or at least look into the possible negative repercussions.

The report, The Role of Antitrust in Protecting Competition, Innovation and Consumers As The Digital Revolution Matures, makes the claim that the buyout would ultimately cause a major blockage in the competitive world of digital record sales. It's possible the deal could impact physical record sales too.

With huge artists including everyone from Diana Ross to Rihanna, Universal Music Group doesn't really need a corporate power boost.

But if anyone knows anything about the music business, they know record companies leave no financial stone unturned, and will do questionable things to maintain the bottom line first,  everything else second.

The two consumer groups also believe the buyout could negatively impact the music-buying public. If one label owns the lion share of the decision making, it could unfairly dictate prices for albums when your favorite music is released, and possibly control the amount of song freebies consumers get through downloads or promotions.

Congressional hearing

On June 18, authors of the report will give a briefing on Capitol Hill to explain the specific potential dangers of allowing one label to posses a disproportionate level of authority.

Just to really put the buyout into perspective, Universal would have the rights to the music of not only its own impressive artist catalogue, but that of Pink Floyd, David Bowie and The Beatles, all EMI artists.

Back in May of this year, it was reported that over 30 employees at Universal made a yearly salary of $1 million or more. The report of the ultra-high salaries came at a bad time for Universal's parent company Vivendi, as the deal drew unwanted attention to Universal's overall finances. Vivendi sent a financial regulator to Universal in order to clean house.

The European Commission has already filed an antitrust complaint against Universal, and in the U.S., the Senate Antitrust Panel will hold a hearing to look into possible problems with the colossal sized deal.

How much will the possible deal actually affect consumers? It's hard to estimate at the moment, but one should apply the same possibilities of any other global company possessing an abundance of power and influence.

Worst case

The worse case scenario for any one record company having majority say, would be a level of musical control that gets to the listeners. Historically, record labels have been known to force annoying trends and musical perspectives onto the public.

In the past, record labels had a desire to develop artists and release music that was groundbreaking. Today, there is too much money to be made for labels to be solely interested in art for art's sake, which is why a lot of the popular music you here today sounds similar to all the other popular music.

The debate on whether the Universal deal should go through or not, is just in its beginning phases. After the Capitol Hill briefing next week, and the upcoming panel hearing, we'll have a better idea on which way this road of battle will shift.

ConsumerAffairs reached out to the authors of the report in attempts to get additional insight into what the potential deal could mean for music consumers, and the music business at large.

Upon their response, more of this story will be forthcoming.

What's interesting about the music business is that on the outside looking in, it appears there are many record labels around the world. Everyday a new a r...
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Samsung Competes With iTunes For Download Dominance

Music Hub houses 19 million songs in a cloud catalog

Companies dueling it out to win the dollars of consumers are similar to little kids on a playground vying for a vacant swing, or a place on the monkey bars.  Usually there is one playground king, or sometimes bully, that gets first dibs on all of the cool playground attractions.

But after watching from the sidelines, there's always one kid who is brave enough to face down the playground king and compete for dominance. Well, Apple is the playground king when it comes to offering downloadable music, and Samsung is the once uncertain kid that is now completely certain that it's ready to go to battle.

Samsung has just began a service that lets users purchase songs onto their Galaxy S III smartphone. The new service has been rolled out to 28 countries in Europe and will be released to other parts of the globe in the near future. The service called "Music Hub" houses 19 million songs from a cloud-based catalog, and users can also stream music on to their devices for a monthly fee, if they choose not to purchase individual songs.

Following in the digital footsteps of Apple's iPod device and iTunes music store, users do not need an internet connection to listen to songs, unlike Sony Corp., which also released a music service in order to win over some of iTune's loyalists.

mSpot

Samsung recently partnered with mSpot, a mobile content provider to provide a wide musical catalogue for today's music listener, who typically isn't loyal to only one genre or brand of music.

"When you ask yourself, 'what do I want to listen to?' there is now one simple answer, for every mood, every place and everyone," explained TJ Kang, Senior Vice President of Samsung Electronics' Media Solution Center. "With the new Music Hub, we're bringing the joy back to music -- listening, collecting and sharing."

Customers can either download a free version of the Music Hub, or purchase a premium  version in Europe for £9.99 (about $15), where users have access to an unlimited amount of streams for a fixed amount.

In June 2011, it was reported there were 1 billion iTunes customers, which seems like a huge consumer hill to climb for Samsung.  But as previously reported by ConsumerAffairs, Samsung has been making its way up the mobile device ladder, by beating out the Amazon Kindle for the number two spot in first quarter device sales.

With Apple still holding the number one spot, Samsung's Music Hub could be all the leverage it needs to really make a run for the top tier position and finally get its turn on the swing-set.

Here are the included features of Samsung's Music Hub:

  • Scan & Match Cloud Locker: Upload your music to the cloud so you can play it anywhere. Music Hub utilizes scan & match technology to decrease upload time and ensure high-quality playback. Any unmatched songs are directly uploaded from your library so you can access rare or personal recordings (100 GB of storage for all unmatched songs). When you edit playlists or purchase music, your collection stays automatically updated across all authorized devices
  • Radio: Listen to the music you like with personal radio and programmed stations. Create personal stations based on songs and artists you love, or browse genre stations recommended and tailor-crafted by the Music Hub team. Hear a song you like? Tag it so you can find it later and play it again whenever you want.
  • Optimized for Mobile: Music Hub is optimized specifically for the Samsung device. Advanced streaming and downloading options let you save storage space, play music when offline, and cut down on cellular data usage. Audio settings are designed to prolong battery life and ensure smooth streaming even under spotty network coverage.

Companies duling it out to win the dollars of consumers are similar to little kids on a playground vying for a vacant swing, or a place on the monkey bars....
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CD Sales Decline, Downloads Rise in 2008

8 million more purchases of digital music in previous year

In the 80's, compact disks replaced vinyl LPs as the preferred medium to listen to music, and now, nearly three decades later, digital downloads threaten to make dinosaurs of CDs.

According to market research firm The NPD Group digital music purchasers increased by just over 8 million in 2008 — to 36 million Internet users. Purchases of online digital music downloads increased by 29 percent since last year; they now account for 33 percent of all music tracks purchased in the U.S.

NPD's Digital Music Study, an annual tracking study covering the music industry, also revealed that there were nearly 17 million fewer CD buyers in 2008 compared with the prior year.

The decline in CD buyers cuts across all demographic groups, but was particularly focused on teens and consumers age 50 and older.

"Rising incidence of paid downloads is a positive development for the industry, but not all lost CD buyers are turning to digital music," said Russ Crupnick, entertainment industry analyst for The NPD Group.

NPD also reported that there were 13 million fewer music buyers in the U.S. last year, compared to the prior year, led by a 19 percent drop in CD sales. Only 58 percent of Internet users reported purchasing CDs or digital music downloads last year, versus 65 percent in 2007.

Consumers' primary reason for not purchasing CDs was that they were spending less on entertainment overall, because of the recession. Consumers were also concerned about the price of CDs, and expressed satisfaction with the collection of titles they already own.

Among the reasons consumers cited for preferring digital music over CDs was that they could choose only the songs they wanted to purchase, and could immediately download and listen to their purchases.

NPD says it has found evidence that music listening is increasing. For example awareness and usage of Pandora, a leading online radio station, doubled year over year to 18 percent of Internet users; one-third of those who were aware of Pandora report using the service.

Similarly, the percentage of consumers claiming to listen to music on social networks climbed from 15 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007 to 19 percent in the year-ago period.

Nearly half of U.S. teens are engaging with music on social networks, which is an increase from 37 percent a year ago; among college-age Internet users, the percentage increased from 30 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in 2008.

"The trends we're seeing in our consumer tracking studies are evidence of the continued transformation of the music industry," said Crupnick. "Just as music piracy and the advent of digital music ended the primacy of the CD, we are beginning to see new forms of listening challenge the practice of paying for music. The music industry now has to redouble efforts to intercept and engage these listeners, so they can create revenue through upselling music, videos, concert tickets, and related merchandise."

CD Sales Decline, Downloads Rise in 2008...
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Consumers Revolt Against High-Priced Media

Getting Movies, Music Like Turning on a Tap

A new age in the Internet was marked recently by a user-revolution at www.digg.com when a disgruntled hacker posted a 32-digit code that enabled tech-savvy consumers to copy DVDs on their home computers.

He had hacked the code in a fit of anger after learning that the DVD hed bought wouldnt play on the monitor he owned due to compatibility issues. Digg immediately received cease-and-desist orders from the movie companies and, letters from corporate attorneys being rather terrifying, they took down the post.

Thing was, the Digg users wouldnt stand for it.

They at once began to inundate the website with thousands of posts containing the 32-digit code somewhere in the text. Digg closed for a couple of days and eventually reopened, admitting defeat and vowing to stand by the wishes of the Digg community.

Rhetoric about internet democracy aside, the point of interest was that such a huge number of people had no problem with copying and sharing movies, that they regarded it almost as a right.

The hacker in question had tapped into a widespread resentment against the prohibitive pricing of the entertainment industry that has been exploiting its consumers for decades.

Anyone over the age of 25 will remember the days when the music charts were based on sales of 45 rpm vinyl. You actually had to stand up, take the record out of its sleeve, put it on the player and then repeat the process with another disc just 3 or 4 minutes later. It seems almost as surreal now as telephones where you had to wind the numbers around with your finger.

Similarly, anyone over the age of 20 will remember when VCR recorders were the technology of the day, meaning that you no longer had to miss vital moments of the movie when you went to the bathroom. That pause button seemed like a big deal at the time.

Sharing Seems Natural

Of course with albums retailing for $15-20 and videos for $20-25, not many of us could afford to listen to or watch all the media we wanted. It seemed natural to share what we could. I remember taking entire evenings to make a tape of my favourite songs for friends as birthday presents. Videos couldnt be copied so easily but no one thought anything wrong in lending them out to friends and family.

Then the music companies made their greatest and perhaps worst-ever strategic move, one that would soon be followed by the movie industry: they went digital.

At first, it seemed like a marketers dream. Consumers were urged to replace all their aging collections of records and tapes with the new-fangled compact discs that would last a lifetime, give superior sound and where tracks could be selected at the push of a button.

Such was the naivete of those days that I recall taking the first ever CD I bought a compilation of Wham, Im embarrassed to admit back to the store because a friend had stubbed a cigarette out on the disc at a party and it no longer worked.

You told me it was indestructible, I protested and, unbelievable as it sounds now, I got my money back, along with a little lecture on the advisability of buying more ashtrays for my room.

In any case, the music companies got to sell all their back collections again and the future of conning the public seemed rosy.

The movie industry followed suit with the launch of DVDs and enjoyed the same kind of response, though by now people understood that discs got scratched easily and began to wonder what was wrong with the old days of video cassettes.

Along Came Napster

God bless the internet. It set us free in so many ways.

Suddenly, free information wasnt limited to the shelves of your local library but was available to anyone who had a net connection. Websites learned to their cost that there was no point in trying to charge surfers to read their content theyd just go elsewhere. So alternative economic models evolved featuring advertising and sales of products and the world became a richer place.

Slowly, we also understood that information includes all media -- such as movies and music.

Napster came along and across the world people began to hesitantly download music they were unable to afford, wondering just what was the catch. Computers allowed people to burn their own discs and it began to dawn on the public that it was really a rather cheap and simple process. If a blank disc could be bought for 30 cents and the music downloaded for free online, how come a CD cost $20 in the store?

There was some concern that downloading music was stealing from ones favourite artists but it was an open secret that musicians only ended up with about 10% of the retail price anyway so why make all the middle men rich?

Napester was soon assassinated by Hollywood's hired guns but peer-to-peer technology meant that illegal downloads were here to stay, despite the plethora of lawsuits issued by music companies against random downloaders and the P2P providers.

But even as unfortunate users were obliged to pay thousands in damages for all the music theyd downloaded and services like Kazaa and Grokster were shut down, there was no stopping the trend. Last year P2P users in the US grew by 7% with illegal downloads up by 24%.

Of course, according to the music companies, that makes us all criminals. Lumped together with counterfeiters and commercial piraters, its suddenly become illegal and allegedly immoral to share.

The movie industry has even tried to motivate patriotic responses by alleging that piracy of films has close links to worldwide terror organisations. This film was brought to you by Al Queda? Hardly.

Not that the revolution in the sharing of media doesnt represent a significant economic challenge.

While trying to write this article, I was repeatedly bumped off the computer by my girlfriends teenage brother who wanted to check on some hiphop tracks he was downloading. When I asked him if he felt guilty for taking music without paying for it he looked at me like I was crazy.

What difference does it make to RZA if I get to listen to his music or not? Its not like I can afford to buy it anyway.

Like Turning on the Tap

For the rising generation, downloading music has become like turning the tap and getting water. No one really cares where it comes from, just as long as they can get it.

In my research for this article, the most interesting point of view I came across was from an economics analyst called Peter Dicola who observed that:

When one person hears a musical idea, that idea is still 100% intact for the next person who experiences it. None of the idea goes away when someone consumes it.

Dicola goes on to suggest that digital music and movies now have the properties of public goods like parks and the fire department. Its problematic though because the latter are paid for by taxes and administered by government.

Can anyone imagine a government department responsible for allocating funds to up and coming rap artists?

In a way, the irony is beautiful. The media companies cashed in on reselling their stock in a digital format and, in doing so, inadvertently made it available to the world for free via the internet. If theyd only known.

Not that the companies are taking this lying down. Theyve gone to war with consumers on various fronts, cranking out legal, moral and economic arguments against the sharing of media. In essence theyre desperately trying to justify their own existence.

Shamefaced Hypocrisy

The strongest moral card they hold is that illegal downloaders are ripping off the artists. This, however, is the most shamefaced hypocrisy imaginable.

Media companies have historically been the biggest sharks going, pressuring artists into exploitative contract deals that cut them out of most of the money and limit their creativity. Their argument seems to be, "Buy the disc or else your favourite singers and actors will be sleeping in the gutters."

But we live in a world of changing media and the old economic models have to change along with it. Consider if you could buy the latest Madonna album direct from her website for $2 would you really bother trying to download it for free from an underground P2P site?

I pick on Madonna because she recently took on the P2P services by flooding spoof tracks from her latest album where after a few seconds the track stops and she starts to cuss you for cheating her out of her royalties. Amusingly, a few creative users have made remixes of her words and made them available as creations in their own right.

In a way, digital media products are like alcohol and drugs. Restrict their sale and you create a new class of "criminals" who sell -- and buy -- the product underground.

Talent Scouts

The companies have also argued that they find new talent. But what they really do is find the same kind of talent again and again, washed-out acts that are easy to market to teen audiences.

Real talent tends to shine through by itself these days on sites like Myspace and Youtube and popular content spreads itself around consider the band Ok Go whose video was watched by 1 million people within its first 6 days on Youtube.

The High-Tech Lock-Up

The next move by the media companies to justify their role as prohibitive middlemen is to try and control the technology itself.

Tunes downloaded from Itunes will work on one Ipod but may not be shared to another mp3 player. Microsofts Zune will allow sharing of tracks from one player to another but the track will cease to function after a few days.

These are all examples of the dinosaurs trying to hold the world back. Information is rapidly becoming free and just about everyone wants it that way. Thats why we download music like turning on the tap, wishing there was a way to compensate the artists but refusing to be denied cool music and media in the meantime.

Trying to control the technology itself only breeds resentment and the kind of reaction seen on Digg as a hacker took the power into his own hands and shared it with the world.

Since Napster, music sales in the US have fallen from $14.6 billion a year to $11.5 billion. Thats a complete nightmare for the company executives but no skin off the noses of the consumers who illegally download around 1 billion tracks a month.

The real issue here is not that artists can no longer make money. Music can be licensed in any number of formats including movies, advertising and events, not to mention artists selling directly to a loyal fan base from their own websites. No amount of movie piracy will ever be able to match the thrill of seeing a new release at the cinema with the giant screen and surround sound. Box office sales are healthy, only DVD sales are being hurt.

The real issue here is just how much money do these companies need to make?

The right to make a buck is sacred in America but the right to free access to information comes first. There's a reason the First Amendment comes first in the Bill of Rights, after all.

Expecting the consumer to feel pity for multi-millionaire movie and music stars is a joke. In any case if I see Tom Waits panhandling in the street Ill be the first to buy him a coffee.

Critics point out that illegal downloads hit smaller, independent companies the hardest as they depend on direct sales. This may be true but it only suggests another economic model. Maybe artists should be selling for themselves directly. And if an artist has a song thats downloaded illegally by 5 million users, they now have 5 million fans. That translates into lots of concert tickets.

Canadian artist Leslie Feist was shocked to hear American audiences singing along to her new songs the album hadnt yet been released in the US. When she asked her fans how they knew the words they yelled back:

Illegal downloads!

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Tom Glaister is the founder and editor of www.roadjunky.com - The Online Travel Guide for the Free and Funky Traveller.

Consumers Revolt Against High-Priced Media...
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