Tag Archives: music

Airplane Mode: Episode 1

I’ve been a musician since before I owned my first computer. Music will always be my first love. To feed my creativity in this way is beyond exciting. I hope you enjoy:

Airplane Mode Episode 1: Let’s Start a Band

There is much, much more to come. We’ve got the songs written and are in the process of recording all of them to the best of our abilities. Along the way, we’ll be documenting our process, our thinking, and everything in between. We’re just getting started.

A very special thanks to Hover for being our first patron in this adventure. They have always been a great supporter of the tech community; to see them supporting independent music makes me respect them that much more. Don’t forget to use “tidalwave” when you sign up to save 10% on your purchase.

And you too can join Hover in patronizing the arts. Sign up for our Patreon here.

Read more from Dave on why we’re doing the podcast here.

Meet Spin

Spin is an original indie band, formed from the remnants of a cover band that I founded in college with my brother Matt decades ago. Neither Matt nor I are in what became Spin, but I like to think I had a little to do with the guys getting together. My other brother Hank is on lead guitar, and my high school friends Jim and Eric are on keyboards/vocals, and guitar/vocals respectively.

I take no responsibility for Lou, their drummer.[1]

I bring up Spin here on my blog, not only because they’re a cool group that you should check out. They have songs and albums out there you can purchase, and you can also find their music on streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio, etc. They’ve been gaining traction lately and have even sold some of their music for use in various video games and TV show soundtracks (more on that later).

If you’re a Stalker fan, you’ve probably recently heard their rather dark cover of Happy Together

The reason I bring them up is to demonstrate my thinking about the Apple Music free trial. How better to assess the effects this trial will have on indie musicians than to ask an actual group of indie musicians?

When the whole Taylor Swift love letter to Apple thing happened, I decided to ask my brother Hank what he thought about streaming services like Spotify and the new Apple music.

The brief resulting conversation didn’t surprise me, but you might find it illuminating.

Spin made a total of roughly $100 last year from streaming services, give or take. You read that right. $100. For the whole band. For their entire catalog. For the entire year.

Now, Dave Wiskus kindly did the math on what Taylor Swift was bound to lose from the three-month free trial of Apple Music, and he concluded that it would take eleven-and-a-half years for her to make up the revenue she’d likely lose in that three months.

Spin, on the other hand, can skip getting a beer after their next gig and be pretty much caught up on the $25 they’d lose in three months on Apple’s service.

I don’t question Taylor Swift’s motives in removing her latest album from Apple Music. It’s her music, and she’s in a position of power to make that strategic choice. But her claim that “This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt” strikes me as a bit hyperbolic, given what actual young songwriters actually get paid from any streaming service. Indies know that streaming is a bum deal, financially. Only a fool would expect Apple Music to be your ticket out of debt. And she knows that.

The guys from Spin don’t put music on streaming services hoping to make money. Selling your music to the general public is a losing proposition in 2015. Instead, they put their music out there so it can get discovered, to raise awareness, to gain future fans who might spend a little money down the road. Any service you’re not on is lost potential for finding new true fans.

Does that suck? You bet it does. Is that Apple’s fault? The music labels? Yeah, a bit.

But it’s also our fault. We like to talk about how all artists should be compensated for their art, but then we join Spotify and Apple music, rubbing our hands at the prospect of all the music we can eat for free (if we’re willing to listen to ads) or for $5 or $10 a month.

Taylor Swift, knowing full well how bad an idea it is to chastise the masses for not paying for music (see Lars Ulrich) turns her guns instead at the streaming companies, which now include Apple. Smart business move, absolutely. Lots of hearts and minds won. But is it a way to effect meaningful change in how artists get compensated? I doubt it.

Here’s the thing: It’s not like Eddy Cue is going to buy another Ferrari with all that money he’s not paying artists. There just isn’t that much money to go around in the first place with a streaming service. And it’s a long way around. Because remember, the folks at Spotify and Rdio and Apple need to get paid. The engineers, the accountants, the lawyers, the HR people, and on and on. They all need to divvy up your pittance, and rightfully so. And that’s before your own label employees, promoters, lawyers, etc. We can’t expect people to work for free, can we?

By the time it gets to the band, well, you know… There’s simply nothing left.

So if you oppose the three-month free trial from Apple, which is a step up from Spotify and Rdio, where you can listen for free indefinitely, then take a moment and ask yourself whether you should be opposed to streaming music services altogether. Because the economics of streaming are such that there is no way to make a successful service that actually pays artists.

Or else be in favor of streaming services as a promotional tool, and do your part to help out the bands by buying an actual album or two every month, in addition to the measly $10 you’re paying for the privilege of listening to whatever you damn well please 24 hours a day.

Everyone seems to want Apple to shell out the money to the bands for those three months. How about we do that? I’ve got $25 to give to Spin.

As I was about to post this article, Eddy Cue announced on Twitter that Apple will, in fact, pay artists for the free trial months. Sad to think that this red herring will be enough to placate all the complainers. It’s still a terrible deal for indie musicians.

But no doubt, everyone will shut up now, once they’ve congratulated Taylor Swift on winning a victory for the little people.

It’s all good as long as someone else pays, right?

But the indie bands are still in the same boat, getting paid squat and looking for alternative revenue streams. Like they always have.

I told my brother Hank that Taylor Swift is his new patron saint of indie musicians. He was amused. Not in a disrespectful way, but more in a “we’re all missing the point” sort of way.

If you want to help indie musicians, buy their albums. Go to their shows. Get the T-Shirt. Upvote them in every promotional nonsense contest they get dragged into. Be a fan. And tell your friends. Help indies get noticed by someone who has real money and a need for a good tune to place somewhere.

And then they might just sell another one of their tunes to run during the end credits of the next Avengers movie. Or maybe they’ll pen a song for Taylor Swift. There’s actually still good money in that sort of thing.


  1. They have no bass player. Just couldn’t find anyone worthy when I left, I guess.  ↩

Jordan Rudess on Developing for Android vs. iOS

Phil Simon: Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess Talks Music Apps: “There are so many people out there with Android, and I know that it’s a really good system. Personally, I’ve had some problems with it — and that’s why I took so long to get into it and am not anxious to keep working on that platform. First, there’s been an inherent issue with the audio on Android, which has been frustrating to a lot of developers. When you touch the screen to play a sound, there’s a delay, which destroys the reality of the musical experience. It’s a latency issue. Obviously the people in charge of Android’s release overlooked this. It’s a problem that’s definitely preventing some of the music developers I know from wanting to create apps for the platform.

The other problem with Android is, as far as I’m concerned, that the systems aren’t set up to allow for a solid business. Android piracy is rampant. For example, we put out a really cool Android version of MorphWiz Play (even better and easier to use than the one on iOS). But, according to the numbers coming back to our company, it’s being ripped off right and left. Android employees need to create a system that’s fairer to developers.”

(Via huffingtonpost.)

But Android is winning, right?

People think the details don’t matter. But they do. It’s not just about iPhone vs. Galaxy whatever. People say “who cares?” when I talk about how much smoother and responsive scrolling is on the iPhone. Well, here’s a perfect example of why cutting down on latency is extremely important. 

And don’t get me started on the App Store vs. the Android Marketplace. It wasn’t easy to make the App Store a place where both customers and developers could make out well. But that good balance makes all the difference, and it’s obvious when you try and find a good app on the Android Marketplace.

I love all of Jordan’s apps. Love that musicians are finding more and more innovative ways to create music with technology. And I’m happy that he can make some extra bucks on the side from building quality apps. His experience with Android is the reason most of us never bother trying to write an app for Android and probably never will. 

I’ve never liked Lady GaGa. Now I have even more reason not to like her.

And that’s it. As of this posting, I still don’t know specifically what kind of problem she has with the song (obviously I take a few jabs at her, but y’know, it’s satire – that’s how it’s supposed to work). And I’m especially confused as to why she waited until I actually recorded the song (at her insistence!) before saying no. It’s not like there were any surprises in the finished song that she couldn’t have foreseen by, you know, READING THE LYRICS.

A conventional release for the song and video would have also raised a nice chunk of change for the HRC – an organization which I have to assume Gaga supports. Hopefully, if fans enjoy hearing the song online, they’ll make a donation anyway.

My parodies have always fallen under what the courts call “fair use,” and this one was no different, legally allowing me to record and release it without permission. But it has always been my personal policy to get the consent of the original artist before including my parodies on any album, so of course I will respect Gaga’s wishes. However, given the circumstances, I have no problem with allowing people to hear it online, because I also have a personal policy not to completely waste my stinking time.

Seriously. Here’s a tip for all pop culture icons everywhere. Being parodied by the Simpsons or especially Weird Al is how you know you’ve made it to the pinnacle of pop culture in America. It’s an honor. It’s one of the highest honors, in fact, that you can receive as an “artist.” If you don’t understand that, then get out of the business and go flip burgers at McDonald’s or something. You’re taking yourself waaaaaaaaay to seriously.

Maybe, just maybe, GaGa has a legit reason for saying no to this song. If that’s the case, then have the balls to tell him to his face. And tell him BEFORE HE RECORDS IT, at YOUR REQUEST. Not after he incurs the expense and already agrees to donate all the profits from the song to A CHARITY YOU SUPPOSEDLY SUPPORT.

What a loser.

 

Update: Seems the decision has been reversed. According to Weird Al, Lady GaGa’s manager had made the decision without informing her. Once she heard the song herself, the manager apologized, and GaGa’s official “blessing” was granted. Which means the song will appear on Weird Al’s new CD, and the proceeds will still go to HRC. Well done, Miss GaGa. I still don’t like your music, but at least you were smart enough to make this right. 

Ping: Interesting, but who knows?

So Apple threw its hat into the social networking ring yesterday. I signed up, of course, just to see what it was all about.  

The jury is still out on this one for me, but there were a few things I immediately liked:

No browser. I almost never log in to my Facebook account from my computer. Unless someone asks me a direct question, or I want to check out a photo that someone tagged of me. I never go to the Twitter web site, either. I do, however, use Twitter all day long on my phone, my iPad, and in Tweetie for Mac. To me, browsers are for browsing. Literally everything else is better suited to a real app. So the fact that Ping happens in iTunes on the Mac and on my phone is perfect for me.

Sign up was super simple. Apple already has my info, thanks to my iTunes account. So there was literally nothing to do to get signed up, except to agree to sign up.

Privacy. Couldn’t be easier. Either I let anyone follow me, I approve all followers, or I don’t let anyone follow me. That’s it. Three choices. Pick one.

Look and feel. It’s not an ugly web site. It’s iTunes, which is familiar. (iTunes may not be Apple’s prettiest user interface, but it’s Helen of Troy compared to Twitter and Facebook.) The look borrows just enough from the iTunes music store to be easy and familiar. It’s also fairly snappy. Navigating around is about a thousand times easier than a Facebook page.

It’s limited to music only. I actually think this is an advantage. There are certainly things missing in Ping, but I appreciate that Apple isn’t trying to do everything at once here. This is a place to discuss old and discover new music, and nothing more. That’s refreshing, in the way that Twitter is all about the 140 characters and nothing more. Facebook has turned into a convoluted mess.

I found a few friends and a few artists I liked somewhat easily. Most of my favorite artists weren’t signed up yet, of course. I assume that will change in time. But that did lead me to the bigger question:

Is Apple the right company to be doing a social network?

Apple likes control, and it likes to guard secrets about new products. Those are two things that don’t mix with a social network.

One of my friends on Twitter quipped that Apple must think we all like Lady Gaga, because it was suggesting that we follow her. The system should be able to analyze our libraries and pick artists we’re more likely to want to follow, in other words. But that wasn’t the reason why Ping suggested Lady Gaga. It suggested Lady Gaga because she was one of only a handful of artists it could suggest. Apple wanted to keep the details of Ping a secret before yesterday, so they only told a few choice artists about it, just to have some content out of the gate. The price for that secrecy was a bunch of people signing up on day one with few people to follow.

That need for secrecy led to a sour experience for some people, right out of the gate.

As I watched Steve unveil Ping I immediately thought that it would be a good service for artists. What a great way for them to get the word out about their music. Be active on Ping, develop a reputation, have a lot of people like your work, and that will most definitely lead to more sales. You’d have to be a bonehead not to sign up and spend a little time on Ping if your music is sold on iTunes.

I also saw how Ping would obviously lead to more revenue for Apple, as the iTunes store was likely to benefit from all those extra links. In the end, this is all about money, and that’s fine. As long as the benefits to the rest of us are great enough.

But I’m not completely convinced of Ping’s benefits to the rest of us. Sure, I can follow my friends, see what they’re listening to, and find a lot of new music. But that assumes I like the same music a lot of my friends do. And that’s not a safe assumption.

I have a few friends with similar tastes, but most of my friends listen to crap, to be honest. And they probably think what I listen to is crap. So where does that leave us?

I could limit my “circle of friends” on Ping to just those who share my musical tastes. But how are my other friends going to feel about that? Chances are, as with Facebook, I’m going to follow them out of guilt and just let them spew nonsense all over my recent activity. Which means Ping will end up being yet another service where I have to wade through a sea of uninteresting garbage to get to the one or two good recommendations I want.

Ideally, Ping would analyze my iTunes library, find others with similar tastes, and recommend just those people for me to follow. I don’t want to follow my friends; I want to follow other fans of what I like.

I also don’t like that I can’t really just start a conversation about something at random on Ping. I can “like” an album or song and then comment on that, or I can find an album or track and “Post” on it, in which case I suppose I can ask a question like: “Does anyone have this new Pat Metheny recording? What do you think of it?” But everything revolves around those iTunes store links. I can’t ask what people think about Pat Metheny in general, ask when his new tour will kick off, etc., without tying it to an iTunes link. It’s inconvenient, and a bit pushy, if you ask me.

So I’ll keep my eye on Ping. And I’ll of course check it out when I’m looking for some new music. And I’ll try to follow my favorite artists, so that I know when their new stuff is coming out. But Apple has to add more to this musical conversation before I’ll be convinced whether or not it’s going to take flight.

We’ve seen a lot of social networks fail in the last few years. Maybe the world really doesn’t need more than Facebook and Twitter. Maybe that’s all the distraction we can handle.

I think Apple is right to try and make something work here, considering the captive audience of iTunes users it has at its disposal. They have to protect their dominance of the online music world, after all. But I fear that they are getting into this more out of a sense that they HAVE to, rather than because they want to. They can make this happen, but it’s going to take some more thought.