When I was in a London club a while back, I heard this haunting tune called "Velvet" and was compelled to ask who was singing it. Turns out it was the Norweigian pop trio a-ha (yes, those "Take on Me" guys from the 80's pop scene). I was a bit stunned, because I had no idea that they were still around, let alone turning out new material. Apparently, they are still fairly popular throughout Europe, but have disappeared from the US because they don't have a record contract here. Anyway, I added the album Minor Earth, Major Sky to my Amazon wish list and promtly forgot about it. Fast forward a year later, and it shows up in my post box. Turns out when you create a wish list on Amazon, it's publically viewable so people can purchase stuff you want and have it sent to you as a gift (marketing geniuses, those Amazon guys!). And my friend Dave did just that... because I once created a few themes for his amazing Web Photo Album program. Turns out it's one of the best CDs I've heard in a while now, with a-ha managing to overcome their pop roots with these beautifully haunting pop ballads that you just can't get out of your head! I just ran up a $150 bill at Amazon purchasing more of their CDs, and a live performance DVD... thanks a lot Dave!
The rumors have been mounting for months that Apple would be creating it's own online music service, and now it seems the day has finally arrived (as announced in an invitation sent to the press). Apple claims the news will be "music to your ears," and I remain hopeful that it's true... nobody could be happier than me if Mac users finally have a way to purchase music online. The big question on everybody's mind is "what will the selection be like?" Are we getting entire back-catalogs, or just current hits? Because I don't really care about buying current, easy-to-find music online... convenient as that may be.
No, what I want is to be able to purchase obscure music that you just can't get without purchasing pricy imports or dropping a small fortune on eBay. As a for instance: not so long ago I was wanting to purchase the long-out-of-print album "Living In The Background" by Baltimora (which most people might recognize for the "Tarzan Boy" hit from the 80's). Problem is, I couldn't find it anywhere to purchase it. I eventually bid on a copy that was being sold on eBay, but dropped out when it got to $40, which was $35 more than I wanted to pay in the first place. Frustrated that I had done everything I could resonably do to purchase a copy legally, I eventually started up LimeWire and managed to get a few of the tracks illegally. What I don't understand is why the record companies make it so damn difficult in the first place to purchase music you want!! If you have to go to eBay, neither the record company nor the artist is making money. Selling digitally is the perfect solution... resonably priced music for the masses, without the expense of having to print out-of-date CDs that aren't going to get big sales anyway.
Here's hoping that Apple gets it right.
As mentioned in a previous post, my buddy Dave has unknowingly given me an a-ha addiction that doesn't show any signs of letting up! One of my favorite new a-ha merchandise purchases has got to be their Live at Vallhall DVD filmed in the trio's home town of Oslo, Norway. The entire concert is a treat, focusing mainly on the excellent material from their Minor Earth, Major Sky album, but the nifty bonus was the video for one of my favorite tracks, Velvet, which features the band playing the entire video DEAD! Brilliant, brilliant stuff... and just reinforces what a shame it is that the band does not have a record label in the US. If you were a fan of a-ha in the 80's (or just appreciate beautiful music), you owe it to yourself to check out their work (even if you have to buy it as a pricey import!).
Okay then, the day Mac fanatics have been waiting for has arrived... Apple's music store has finally debuted! Is it all I had hoped for? Yes and no. I mean, I've already dropped $50 on music, so they must be doing something right!
PROS: Catalog is fairly deep and growing daily (according to Steve Jobs). Very, very easy to shop (too easy!) and beautiful to look at. Nice feature update to iTunes. ACC encoding supported on the iPod (finally!). Exclusive Apple tracks by top artists like U2, Eminem, and more. Price is fairly reasonable (99 cents per song, $9.99 per album).
CONS: Catalog limited to US releases from what I can tell... all of the domestic releases by a-ha are there, but none of their later releases are there. And there's no International section to purchase tunes from Germany, Japan, etc. Many albums are not complete, but seem to be missing tracks for some reason (Bananarama has ONE track from ONE album as the entirety of their listing??). Albums that ARE complete on the service, are not sold as complete albums (like John Mayer's Room for Squares). Several of the artists I was wanting to purchase are not there yet (Baltimora, Paul Oakenfold, and about 10 others).
Overall, a good effort on Apple's part. I enjoy the service immensely, and look forward to buying more music in the future (assuming the stuff I am looking for ever makes it to their service!). If you are a Mac user, you owe it to yourself to check this out... Windows users have to wait a while, because Apple won't release iTunes/Apple Music for those poor unfortunate souls until the end of the year.
1. Who is your favorite singer/musician? After all these years, I still love Depeche Mode's music above all others. Why? At a time when I was going through a very difficult period, DM's music made my life a little better.
2. What one singer/musician can you not stand? There are so many... most of them country, but I think Garth Brooks is at the top of the list. Why? I hate that twangy crap, and Garth Brooks' popularity made life unbearable for several years a while back.
3. If your favorite singer wasn't in the music business, do you think you would still like him/her as a person? I have seen Depeche Mode in concert a few times, but don't know any of them personally, so I couldn't say.
4. Have you been to any concerts? Many. If yes, who put on the best show? Unquestionably the best concert I have ever seen was Depeche Mode's 101 tour. It was amazing in every way, and sounded better live than most bands sound in a studio. Fortunately, they released the concert on video AND released the soundtrack, so I can re-live the experience whenever I want.
5. What are your thoughts on downloading free music online vs. purchasing albums? Do you feel the RIAA is right in its pursuit to stop people from dowloading free music? I feel that artists deserve to be paid for their work. If they can't make a living at it, then how will they be able to make more music? But the RIAA is full of crap for going after music traders... it's the wrong approach, and they should solve the problem by offering a better solution than stealing. I try to own all the music I listen to, but sometimes it is just not possible, so I find a source to download it. For instance, if I want the album "Living in the Background" by Baltimora, but there is no way to buy it... it's long out of print, and I can't even order it. All I can do is pay $100 to somebody on eBay (of which -$0- goes to the artist) which is absurd (especially since they probably just ripped an MP3 from it before they sold it anyway!). If record companies made their entire libraries available for digital download at a reasonable price, I think that music theft would drop dramatically. But, being the greedy, controlling, bastards they are... they'd rather have the RIAA do their dirty work and go after people who don't really have much choice than to steal tunes they can't buy.
Today deluded Windows users got a taste of Apple goodness when iTunes was released for the Wintel monopoly. It actually works really well and, in a surprise move, has complete functional parity with the Macintosh version. You can shop the Music Store, use AAC encoding, share your music over a network with "Rendezvous" technology, and even mix Macs and PCs in your shared computer list for purchased music on either platform... pretty cool. And if that wasn't enough, Apple has struck up a deal with Audible.com to sell audio books and will be giving away 100 million free songs in a cross-promotional deal with Pepsi come February (sounds like a great way to sell more iPods!).
Every time I hear Chris Martin's longing vocals for the Coldplay song The Scientist on the radio, I don't know quite how I'm supposed to feel. It's an achingly beautiful song that conjures all kinds of emotional imagery, even though the lyrics alone don't seem to make much sense to me. I probably most closely identify the tune with feelings of heartbreak... not from something in my past, but for a heartbreak yet to come (which seems oddly appropriate, if you've seen the video). It would bum me out completely if it weren't such a great song.
"Nobody said it was easy. Oh it's such a shame for us to part. Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be so hard. I'm going back to the start."
I had a lot of work to catch up on tonight because I didn't put in as many hours as I should have over the weekend. As always, I have the television on as background noise, which helps me ignore the distractions that come from apartment living. Anyway, I was working along when all of a sudden I hear Pictures of You by The Cure playing... I look up and see that it's a commercial for HP's new ink-jet printers... one of the rare times that the music being played actually fits the product being sold.
Flash forward. It's now after midnight, and I can't get that song out of my head. The Cure was never one of my favorite 80's bands but there were a few songs by them that I really liked... Pictures of You being my favorite. Knowing that I'm never going to be able to sleep until I hear the complete song, I grab my Apple PowerBook, go to the iTunes Music Store, then buy the song and listen to it three times so I can get it out of my system and get some sleep.
It suddenly occurs to me that this kind of instant gratification is exactly what the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) doesn't seem to understand. If the iTunes Music Store did not have the song I wanted, I would have started up LimeWire and downloaded it for free... NOT because I wanted to steal music (I absolutely do not), but because I've been given no choice in the matter. I live in a rural community where we don't have a Tower Records open 24 hours to go by a CD (not that I would have at 12:30am). Far better to offer entire music catalogs online for purchase than holding out in the hopes that online music will disappear.
Not totally sure who this photo should be attributed to? The band, probably.
Oh well. Luckily I could buy what I wanted and get a nice reminder of the 80's music I love without breaking the law and invoking bad karma! If you have iTunes (it's free!), and want a great song that typifies the sound of the 80's, go grab a copy of Pictures of You, which is well worth the 99¢ price tag.
In the past, I've blogged about what a cool and amazing thing that the iTunes Music Store is. But now that the magic is wearing off, shopping for music there is just pissing me off. After buying a few iTunes by The Cure off their "Greatest Hits" collection, and really getting hooked, I decided to dig through all my old CDs (in storage) and rip their hallmark album, Disintegration, to my iPod for my upcoming month of travel. Well, after finally finding it, I notice that there is a huge gouge on the back of the CD that not even toothpaste will fix, rendering the thing unplayable.
Oh well, I can just buy it again from the iTunes Music Store, right?
Uhhh... wrong. I get the dreaded "partial album" listing yet again. WTF? What could possibly be the logic of not offering the entire album? I can't imagine that this is the doing of The Cure frontman Robert Smith, who constructs his albums like poetry. Hacking Disintegration to pieces like this is tantamount to destroying the mood of the work as a whole, and what artist wants that? So it's got to be the record company. For some insane reason they don't want to sell you the entire album online. But why? Did they whore out the publication rights to line their pockets or something? Is this supposed to encourage me to run out and buy the CD instead?
Well congratulations to whatever dumbass record exec made this decision... I'm just going to download one of the billion copies floating around the internet for FREE!! What a load of crap. The sooner this antiquated music industry we have in place falls apart, and record companies die a horrible death, the better. What's the best way to encourage music theft? Don't give people a way to buy it online.
So now I finally know how tough life can be outside the USA:
The above is what I get when I attempt to load up the iTunes Music Store from Korea. Fortunately, I do have a US billing address, so it's all good for me... but what a bummer this must be for a good chunk of foreign Mac users around the globe!