Dec 14 2011

2011: The Year In Music

For those who truly choose to recognize it, three major shifts happened in 2011.  The first, as is apparent during this year’s Listmas (and will be apparent on my year-end lists as well) is the resurgence of irreverent, smart hip-hop and what is half-mockingly referred to as PBR&B.  The introspection of 2010’s hottest rappers (you know, when Eminem got all mature and serious and junk) has caused a shift in the landscape.  As rap has been semi-tossed aside in the pop world in favor of the Eurodance craze, rappers have become more….sad.  And real.  And risk-taking.  And progressive. And brilliant.  Drake crooned, the Weeknd swooned, Big K.R.I.T., Danny Brown, Kendrick Lamar, and A$AP Rocky all impressed.

The second one is more important to the industry as a whole: Spotify.  Its launch in the US has caused nothing short of a revolution: millions have signed up for the service, initiating a preference for a streaming-based distribution model over downloading iTunes files.  Spotify isn’t the first of its kind, but certainly its connections and marketing have made it the poster-child for what many are calling the next pivotal shift in how we listen to music.  A vibrant, passionate discussion has formed from the company’s popularity; the service has caused its share of controversy and criticism regarding royalties and high-profile artists like Coldplay and the Black Keys opting out.  Certainly the model isn’t perfect, but could it be the new blueprint?  One thing is for sure: the business of digital music is crazy exciting right now.

The final shift in 2011 happened to me personally, it really wasn’t an event, more of a realization.  I became aware of my adulthood, I suppose, probably for the first time ever, and it has affected my listening habits and preferences.  Not that I’m listening to “mature” music now….quite the opposite, in fact.  I guess I just finally decided life is too fucking short to be pretentious, and that we should just listen to whatever we want.  Though I suppose I’ll always have these so-called “hipster tendencies,” I’ve begun to embrace my love of escapist music, of pop, of rap, of dance, of strong melody, of hooks.  Because, to me, music is probably the most important thing in my life, and it is meant to be stimulating, challenging, but also, prominently, and this is the part we forget in college, kids, it is meant to be enjoyed.  And if I sit around listening to shit I don’t like all the time because I was told it was awesome or groundbreaking, I will die a sad, pompous, stuck-up old man.  So live your life, and stick to your guns. And dance if you want to, damnit.  And listen to music that makes you feel good.  Because this is your life, and you only get one.

One other thing I would like to mention that 2011 will likely be remembered for, but is of no consequence to me: this is the year Adele took over.  And so emerges another AC-friendly artist that the world adores, but I am left all by my lonesome to proclaim: “Meh.”  And look at that: I’m bored already just talking about her.  Damn, there I go again! Hipster tendencies… steps.

So here is the blog schedule for the remainder of 2011.  Stick around and be prepared to disagree!  Should be a grand old time.

December 15: My Year In Live Music
December 16: Most Overrated Albums of 2011
December 17: Most Disappointing Albums of 2011
December 18: Top Music Videos of 2011
December 19-23: Top 200 Songs of 2011
December 24: Top 20 Remixes of 2011
December 25: Honorable Mention Albums of 2011
December 26-30: Top 50 Albums of 2011
December 31: Top TV Shows of 2011
January 1, 2012: Quarterly Review

Oct 5 2011

Sharing Without Caring? Facebook’s Open Graph/Timeline

We’ve all seen the Ticker and the News Feed updates, and we either love them or hate them. I find it particularly amusing when people get so fed up with Facebook’s incremental changes they whine and moan about something they can simply opt out of. It’s like complaining about how bad smoking is for you when you continue to smoke a pack a day. That analogy works well, unfortunately; it could be argued social networking is just as addictive. Probably now more than ever.

Because where are you gonna go? Google+, huh? The only friends I have on Google+ are the early adopters, the techies who were going to join anyway, no matter what. The Reddit readers, the iPad buyers, etc. Everybody else? Still on Facebook. And it’s not like those early adopters deleted their Facebook accounts, either.

If anyone should bitch about anything Facebook does, it’s not the layout changes, but their stance on privacy, which started off awful and has only gotten worse. The new Open Graph, in particular, pretty much makes you as a Facebook user vulnerable to every third party that wants any sliver of info about you. And to customize it otherwise is already a hassle, but at least for now it’s optional. Take Spotify, for example. All of us who use the service have seen what we were listening to broadcasted to our friends whether we wanted it to or not. At least currently, there are ways to opt out (the new “private listening” function should have been included initially – seems a bit obvious), but it made a lot of regular joes mad, for the short term anyway.

Those of us who follow tech, who are keen on new apps and features and software, we knew something like the Open Graph and Timeline was on the way. We knew Facebook’s history of wanting to share and share and share. We had an idea of the hidden algorithms; how else can Facebook attract advertisers? Third party apps? Zynga? Spotify? Every person and company in the world? This was a long time coming. But just because you see the train doesn’t mean it’s good when it hits you. And it hurts even worse for the average joe, who wasn’t really aware, or intuitive, about how exactly Facebook operates. Who had never heard that old cliche about free sites – if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

That old adage is now truer than ever. But at least Facebook is being more transparent and gradual with their rollouts and intentions this time around. It seems they may have learned a thing or two from the “Like” button scrutinies.

But users should be more aware of what’s getting out there, because it just might be something you don’t want. We all have an individual responsibility to control our digital spaces and perceptions, and we can’t expect, or trust, Facebook or any Big Web entity to necessarily incorporate acceptable defaults. This has ALWAYS been the case.

Facebook is taking a large leap with the Open Graph – an enhanced marketing tool that aggregates data enrichment and progressively precise analytics.  There are several things Facebook can do to adapt to our privacy concerns, and once they roll out the Open Graph for all, this will become more apparent.  The question is, will they do them?  In the meantime, users can adjust their Web social habits accordingly and still enjoy what I deem as necessary for the 21st century – personal, business, or otherwise: a social media presence.  Abandoning it altogether hurts you in the long run.  Facebook is rock and roll – it’s hear to stay. You can jump ship, but the world turns without you.

Jul 18 2011

Spotify: The Future of Music Commerce?

I’ve heard about Spotify for years now.  Mainly that it was this “celestial jukebox with every song and album you could ever want,” which is somewhat true, and that it “wasn’t available in the US,” which was totally true.  That is, until now.

This whole thing is pretty brainless to use – basically it’s your iTunes plus millions of other tracks, all at your disposal, and for free (but currently invite-only – Klout.Com might be able to help you out.)  Connect it to Facebook and share tracks and albums with your friends.  It’s ad-supported, but you can pay up to 10 bucks a month to get rid of that, and with offline synching and mobile features.  Which seems reasonable.  I mean, we already pay upwards of 18 bucks a month for every movie and most TV shows via Netflix, why not for every song ever?

While browsing the Spotify website, learning about the product and all its features, I stumbled upon what the media outlets have said about the product.  There was the usual: “Spotify is revolutionary” and “it will change the way you listen to music” and all that jazz.  But the one that got me thinking was a comment from Stuff.TV – “the only jukebox that might make you give up music ownership for good.”

This is one of the things I think, initially, people might be reticent about in regards to Spotify.  With an entire library of music with you at all times, synched to your mobile device, that you can listen to however you want, with no restrictions, what’s the point of the iTunes store? Of downloading torrents? Digitally speaking, why would you pay for another individual track ever again?  Why would you ever open iTunes again?  I mean, you can do pretty much everything you do there with the Spotify application – make playlists, put them on your iPod or phone, take your music everywhere you go.  Some, including myself, might be hesitant to completely convert to the Spotify lifestyle – to having everything, yet none of it is yours.

The Village Voice recently wrote about Spotify and how it might affect popular music in the next decade.  It’s a great article that goes in depth about the past decades and what chart-topping tracks began the trend for that particular decade, and how we’re due for another track to turn the tides.  With Spotify added to charting stats in the future, what people stream vs. what they download could produce that track.  But will people eventually STOP downloading altogether?  Ownership purists like me enjoy having an organized iTunes library, filled with mp3s we have on our hard drives, that we can call our own, similar to the traditional ownership of vinyl, cassettes, and CDs.  But will future generations, immersed in the “Spotify culture” or whatever, see the point?  Why waste hard drive space when it’s all there to stream whenever you want it, however you want it, as many times as you want it?

Certainly Spotify could curb pirating, but I could also foresee it putting the iTunes store, as well as Zune and others, out of business, though I can’t imagine that happening anytime soon, and it hasn’t happened in other countries that have had Spotify for years.  But Spotify has certainly started the wheels turning for the music business and the consumer alike.  There has never been a product like this, and now that it’s finally in the US, I think we might start seeing it slowly making its mark on our musical lifestyles, the same way Napster and iTunes did not too long ago.