Tag Archives | Digital Music

Sean Parker Says Music Industry Poised to Rebound

It seems almost odd: the very man who has played a large part in the decline of an industry is now the one most bullish on its future prospects. At the e-G8 conference in Paris, Napster co-founder Sean Parker said that a “bottom” was ahead for the music industry due to new services on the horizon.

Indeed, the industry has lost three-quarters of its value, falling from a $45 billion annual business to about $12 billion. Clearly, a new business model is needed.

Parker is an investor in music service Spotify, and said that the back catalogues that are being made available through services like it are helping to drive growth. While traditional digital music stores were good for selling top-40 hits and singles, they so far have not done well in selling most back-catalogue tracks.

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Google’s iTunes Competitor Might Be In Trouble

Google’s plans to take on Apple’s dominance in digital music may be hitting a snag. AllThingsDigital’s Peter Kafka is reporting that discussions with music labels have “stalled,” apparently over the Mountain View, Calif. company’s desires to change some of its terms.

Kafka said that talks may have gone “backwards,” and Google could be reconsidering its plans. At the same time, Kafka wrote that he had also heard earlier from those in the music industry that talks were going well, so there seems to be a bit of confusion as to actually what is going on here.

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Tunebug Turns Tabletops Into Boom Boxes

A little smaller than a hockey puck and triangular in shape, a Tunebug turns pretty much any hard surface into a decent speaker for digital music from any device it can connect to via a standard audio jack or, depending on the model, Bluetooth.

While David Pogue at the Times recently took a look at Bluetooth speakers, they were (as I understood it) conventional speakers. Tunebug’s SurfaceSound technology makes the surface part of the speaker.

The company offers a wired version, the $70 Tunebug Vibe, that connects to a digital audio source (e.g. iPod, laptop, MP3 player) with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Tunebug says the Vibe’s internal rechargeable battery can power the device for up to 5 hours.

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Sony's Sony-Centric Music Service Goes Live in the US

Music Unlimited Powered by Qriocity, Sony’s music service, reaches the United States today. It’s launching with six million tracks from all the major music companies, plus independent labels. A $3.99-a-month version lets you listen to music channels themed by genre, decade, and mood, and scan the playlists on your computer and reconstruct them within Sony’s service; a $9.99 version allows full on-demand listening to every song and album in the catalog. Judging from a demo that Sony gave me yesterday, the whole thing has an attractive interface, with nicely-done cover flow-like album art.

What you can’t do just yet is listen to the service when you’re not in front of a TV set or a computer. For now, Music Unlimited is available on the PlayStation 3 and recent Internet-enabled Sony Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players, and there’s a Web-based version for PCs and Macs. Sony has plans for an Android version later in 2011. And Shawn Layden, executive vice president and COO of Sony Network Entertainment, told me that “nothing is off the table” regarding versions for Apple’s iOS and other platforms. (Of course, with Apple’s new rules for iOS content providers, it’s not clear what’s going to happen to non-iTunes music services on the iPhone, period.)

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Borders Goes Bankrupt

Borders, the second-largest bookstore in the United States, has filed for bankruptcy and will close 200 of its 642 stores. It may close another 75 if the company can’t get concessions from landlords.

You might think Borders was the first major casualty of the digital book boom, but the store’s problems may actually be tied up in the previous digital revolution. An Engadget commenter who claims to be a former Borders employee makes a good point to that end:

“Borders made a big commitment to selling CDs & DVDs — large sections of the stores were devoted to this content in the 90s and early 00s. new stores were designed and built in an effort to give multimedia a large segment of the store space.

“In the end, Borders has failed because [its] stores got too big and the demand for CDs and DVDs dropped — there was just no way to pay the bills.”

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Has Zune Finally Met Its Inevitable Demise?

With Microsoft’s Zune conspicuously absent from the Redmond company’s lovefest with Nokia last week, the Microsofties are abuzz that the company’s answer to Apple’s iPod may be on its way out. Paul Thurrott noted that the company talked about every Microsoft service practically but Zune at the Nokia press conference; Mary Jo Foley chimed in later with a statement from a Microsoft spokesperson which only seemed to raise even more questions.

We’re not ‘killing’ any of the Zune services/features in any way. Microsoft remains committed to providing a great music and video experience from Zune on platforms such as Xbox LIVE, Windows-based PCs, Zune devices and Windows Phone 7, as well as integration with Bing and MSN.

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Rhapsody Isn't Rhapsodizing Over Apple's New App Store Rules

How are content providers going to react to Apple’s new App Store rules, which mandate that providers of music, video, e-books, and other stuff sell their wares using Apple’s in-app purchasing and subscriptions–at least as an option–and give Apple a 30 percent cut when they do? Music purveyor Rhapsody is the first company I’ve seen to respond in public. And it’s taking an almost-hard line–it doesn’t say it’s pulling out of the App Store, but it does call Apple’s 30 percent fee “untenable” and says it “would not be able to offer” Rhapsody under Apple’s new terms.

It issued this statement by Rhapsody’s President, Jon Irwin:

Rhapsody is the leading digital music subscription service in the U.S.,with 750,000 subscribers.  Music fans can access the service using free apps from any Internet-connected device, be it on an Android, Sonos, Tivo, BlackBerry, iOS or personal computer. Today, Rhapsody subscriptions are available for purchase exclusively via Rhapsody.com.

Rhapsody offers a content-based subscription service that makes millions of tracks available to fans pursuant to longstanding partnerships with thousands of rights holders, all of which then distribute revenues to artists and other creators.

Our philosophy is simple too – an Apple-imposed arrangement that requires us to pay 30 percent of our revenue to Apple, in addition to content fees that we pay to the music labels, publishers and artists, is economically untenable.  The bottom line is we would not be able to offer our service through the iTunes store if subjected to Apple’s 30 percent monthly fee vs. a typical 2.5 percent credit card fee.

We will continue to allow consumers to sign up at www.rhapsody.com from a smartphone or any other Internet access point, including the Safari browser on the iPhone and iPad.  In the meantime, we will be collaborating with our market peers in determining an appropriate legal and business response to this latest development.

Sounds like someone’s going to have to call someone’s bluff here: Either Apple reduces the fee, or Rhapsody pulls out (unless it chickens out and stays in). That’s assuming that the reference to “appropriate legal…response” doesn’t turn into a lawsuit.

Apple says that content companies need to abide by the new policy by June 30th. It’s going to be an interesting four and a half months…


Sonos for Android is on Its Way

Sonos, maker of those neat networked music players, offers a touchscreen remote control for its systems, letting owners choose local and Internet-based music and route it to one or more Sonos boxes in their home. But the most popular touchscreen remotes for Sonos aren’t Sonos touchscreen remotes–they’re iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads running the company’s iOS app.

Starting soon, owners of Android phones will be able to get on the fun. Sonos is readying the Sonos Controller for Android, a free app for Google’s operating system. A Sonos representative told me that it’s generally similar to the iPhone version, but with a few new twists: For instance, it’s designed to take better advantage of the larger screens on many Android handsets. And when you’re running it, the volume buttons on your phone will control the Sonos system, not the phone itself. (Apple doesn’t provide a way for developers to grab control of the volume buttons on iOS devices.)

Sonos says that it plans to release the Android app in late March.

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Please Don’t Touch the Musical Instrument

Last Gadget Standing Nominee: Beamz C4

Price: $199.95

I gotta tell you that I call this thing the Digital Theremin. Musicologists may recall that the Theremin was one of the early electronic instruments that played music as you passed your hands past radio antennae. Well now the Beamz lets you pass your hands through lasers. As you pass the points you make glorious sound.  Coupled with synthesized background beats, you sound good even if you’ve never played a note before. Beamz connects to a PC via USB and includes Beamz Player, an application that lets you play fifty Beamz songs, including works by Grammy-winning artists and independent musicians.

So how cool is it to pas your hands through laser beams and “play” light?