Pandora and Last.fm Move Over

Here comes Vault Radio.

If someone decided to create a radio station that would capture and keep my attention to the exclusion of most other musical endeavors, they could not do a better job that this.

Here’s the skinny from the Vault Radio page:

Bill Graham and his concert promotion company, Bill Graham Presents, produced more than 35,000 concerts all over the world. His first venue, the legendary Fillmore Auditorium, was home to many of rock’s greatest performers – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Prince – and the list goes on and on.

Graham taped thousands of live performances and stored the tapes in the basement of the BGP headquarters.

These tapes and the concerts they captured lay dormant until the Bill Graham archive was acquired by Wolfgang’s Vault (Bill Graham’s given first name was Wolfgang) in 2003.

Vault Radio is now playing selected tracks from these concerts in an FM-quality, 128K digital radio stream. Songs will be added to and removed from the radio show on a regular basis. We will be broadcasting unaltered live performance music from many of the greatest bands of the last 40 years. The music you hear on Vault Radio has not been sweetened or polished. You’ll be listening to what the band played that night – nothing more, nothing less.

Cheers!

Cheers indeed.

Steve Newson on Pandora

Steve Newson posted about his love for Pandora recently, setting forth why he likes it better than Last.fm.

I found two things interesting about his post.

First, he gets to the central difference between the two applications. Last.fm is based on what people who listen to the same artists you listen to like. It’s a social recommendation thing. There’s nothing wrong with that- it just is what it is. Pandora, on the other hand, actually plays songs with the same musical structure as songs you have indicated you like.

It reminds me of a running debate I have with another songwriter I know. I believe very deeply that someone with a nice voice could sing any lyrics at all, even nonsense, and if the melody, arrangement and playing are great, the song will be generally considered a good song. I know that when I hear a song on the radio that grabs me, 95% of the time it’s because of the melody and arrangement and the playing- not because of the lyrics. My friend thinks that’s hogwash and that a song needs strong, well crafted lyrics to be good.

He’s a Last.fm guy and I’m a Pandora guy.

Second, Steve mentions Howie Day. Here’s a small world moment: a good friend of mine (who grew up in Maine) is a friend of his. I heard about Howie long before he became popular. I still haven’t heard much of his music, but I’ve heard a lot about him from my friend.

I enjoy both Last.fm and Pandora. I just find that the new music I hear on Pandora is consistently closer to what I like than the new songs I hear anywhere else.

Fred's Radio, Annotated

Don’t it make you want to rock and roll
All night long Mohammed’s Radio
I heard somebody singing sweet and soulful
On the radio, Mohammed’s Radio

Several of us have been talking about the relative merits of Pandora vs. the Last.fm player as a way to find good music you’ve never heard. Fred Wilson really digs Last.fm. I like Last.fm, but so far I’m more sold on Pandora.

Fred’s one of my Last.fm “friends” so I thought I’d fire up his Personal Radio and see what songs played and what I think about them. Here are the first 10 that played and my thoughts about them:

1) Ween – Take Me Away. Though Fred and I like a lot of the same music, his tastes are chronologically broader than mine. I know everything about music prior to 1990 and almost nothing about music after 1995. Ween is sort of in between- I’ve heard a few of their songs, but not many. This one doesn’t do much for me.

2) Cat Power – Willie. My God, what a beautiful song! It sent a shiver up my spine. Perfectly beautiful. Great use of horns. A 10+.

3) M. Ward – Paul’s Song. I’ve read about M. Ward on Fred’s blog, but this is the first song of his I’ve ever heard. Fred, if you like this guy, go check out Bill Morrissey’s first 4 records. Good writing. I like it, but I’ve got Cat Power on my brain now.

4) Nirvana – Where Did You Sleep Last Night. As a general rule, I’m not big on the whole grunge thing. But this song actually has a melody, perhaps because it’s a cover of an old blues song. I’m no Nirvana fan, but this sounds good.

5) Rolling Stones – Stop Breaking Down. Fred and I share a love of Exile on Main Street. I love this song.

6) Peter Green Splinter Group – Running After You. Peter Green, the original force behind the first and better incarnation of Fleetwood Mac was one of the greatest guitar players in the world until he basically went mad. Peter Green average is better than just about anyone else’s finest moment. Not an earth shattering song, but any Peter Green is good.

7) Billy Bragg & Wilco – Airline to Heaven. Fine song off of the second Mermaid Avenue record. Good 12 string guitar.

8) Kings of Convenience – Misread. Never heard of this band before. Mellow indy sound. I like it, but I don’t love it. This would be a good song to listen to sitting on a deck overlooking some water on a fall day.

9) The Flaming Lips – Fight Test. I assume Cat Stevens got co-writing credit for this song, because it is virtually identical in melody and close in lyrics to Father and Son, one of Cat’s best songs. I like it a lot, but I keep thinking of the original song when I hear it.

10) The Zutons – Moons and Horror Shows. Never heard of them either. Great folksy number, that actually turns into an even better song half way through. I like it a lot.

All in all, I am pretty impressed by Fred’s Radio. Last.fm will become a significant part of my music listening experience. But I still slightly prefer Pandora.

Let's Trade Music Ideas

One of the many things I like about Fred Wilson’s blog is his musical tastes and the way he writes about music. The best new song I heard last year (Josh Rouse’s Dressed Up Like Nebraska) was discovered via Fred’s blog.

So the other day I noticed those new, red song and artist charts on the left side of his blog. I went and dug around the Last.fm site a little and decided that sharing playlists this way would be a great way to learn about new music. So I signed up, downloaded the plug-in that allows Last.fm to track what I listen to on our music server (other than the occasional A-Teens song by Cassidy, I’m the only one who ever uses the server, so almost all of the music on there is mine). I added Fred and a couple other people I know as “friends” and am looking forward to sharing playlists and discovering some new music.

You can see my Last.fm page here and via the link in the left hand column of this page. Check out my playlist- it’s alternative country, classic rock, blues and blues rock focused. If you share my musical tastes, sign up at Last.fm and add me as a friend. I’ll reciprocate and we can start mining for new music.

XM Passport

Gizmodo has a short post and photo of the forthcoming XM Radio Passport, a tiny portable chip that lets you easily take your satellite radio with you. XM receivers and stereos will soon have a slot that will allow you to pop in the Passport and access your XM account over more than one receiver. Yes, I know you can lug around the Ski-Fi unit and do that now, but the Passport looks small and easy enough to carry and use that someone might actually do it for longer than a week.

I hope the Passport will be a welcome solution to this mobility problem that has required people (like me, for example) to maintain multiple XM accounts just to easily get XM in the car and at home. At one time, I had three accounts, but the headache and cost ultimately lead me to let 2 of them expire- meaning I can only get XM in my truck at this point. Someone at XM is making smart, consumer-friendly decisions that will help XM move from the car to the living room, which is exactly what it needs for long term growth and stability.

This is another example of how XM is making some good strategic decisions. I am starting to think of XM as the anti-TIVO when it comes to strategic planning and execution- and that’s a compliment to XM.

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Pandora – Discover Music You Like

pandora

I saw a link this morning for Pandora over at Ken Leebow’s blog. Ken had great things to say about it so I checked it out. Pandora is a web service that takes the name of a band or song you like and plays similar songs you might like. I’ve tried this before with other music services and have never been all that impressed. But this time it was different.

I used Whiskeytown as my starting point and Pandora preceeded to play a bunch of songs, most of which I had never heard, that were very good. I heard songs I liked by Grant Lee Buffalo, Peter Case and even a couple I hadn’t heard by Whiskeytown.

After a few songs you have to register for either a free, ad supported, account or a paid, ad free, one. I’m going to check out the free account and if I keep hearing good new music, I may upgrade to the ad free version.

Pandora is part of The Music Genome Project, which maps songs by melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, etc. to create groups of similar songs. Based on my listen today, it seems to work really well.

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DJ Jazzy Bob

There’s a lot of stuff on XM Radio. 90% of it is of no interest to me, though I gladly subscribe for the other commercial free 10%. Today comes news that Bob Dylan is going to host a weekly radio show on the Deep Tracks channel (Channel 40, which is on the pre-sets in my truck).

This is going to be worth tuning into. I am interested to see if Dylan has aged into the engaging and very down to earth type like Paul McCartney (who also has a special on XM-40 right now) or the fan-hating arrogant type like Van Morrison (whose mild dislike for his fans grew into some sort of enraged hatred). It will also be interesting to see what songs he picks to play and how free and candid he is with his commentary.

XM has to add a lot of different stuff to appeal to a wide range of people. Dylan will hopefully join Whispering Bill Anderson (whose XM-10 talk show on Thursdays is my favorite talk show ever) as my favorite shows on XM.

Ed Bott is fired up about it too.

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XM Radio Making the Right Moves

C|Net is reporting that XM Radio has surpassed the 5 million subscriber mark. It is on track to have 6 million subscribers by the end of this year. Additionally, XM has invested in WorldSpace radio in order to facilitate expansion overseas.

I have been an XM subscriber for a couple of years now. I have not listened to one second of traditional radio since the day I got XM in my truck. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would return to traditional radio. The mindless banter and, more importantly, the ads are simply unacceptable to me in the days of XM and, at least for a while longer, TIVO. As of a few months ago, you can also access many XM stations over the internet (as long as you are already a subscriber).

I expect XM will do very well over the long haul, as long as it doesn’t overpay for sports broadcasting rights. Eventually there will be a crossroads between more music channels (which I want) and more sports (which I’m sure XM believes many of its target audience wants), but until that time, I expect to be very happy with XM.

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…and Somebody Else’s Favorite Song

With the rebirth of Rancho Radio, I’ve been thinking about radio, and internet radio in particular. I believe, as others have written, that traditional radio is dead. I haven’t listened to an over the air radio station, even for a few seconds, in over a year and a half. Like most people I listen to music mostly in my car. These days, I either burn a bunch of MP3s on a CD-R or listen to XM Satellite Radio (Particularly Webb Wilder‘s shows on Cross Country). I’ve talked to a lot of my friends about this and it seems most people who care about music even a little are trending the same way.

Why? Two reasons. First, traditional radio has a rotation that is both too narrow (being generally set by some suit at the home office of Clear Channel or some other corporate entity) and too broad (there is only rock, alternative, classic rock, oldies and country, whereas XM and internet radio have many subcategories of each). The other reason- the ads. I use a TIVO (which while not as dead as traditional radio, is dying on the vine due to DirectTV‘s failure to fully embrace it) to watch TV and always (and I mean always) fast forward through commercials. My 7 year old does the same thing (which doesn’t bode well for TV advertising’s future). I simply cannot stand to hear or see commercials anymore. That makes traditional radio highly unattractive to me. And from what I can tell, a lot of other folks feel the same way.

So, that leaves MP3s on a CD-R (except for long airplane trips, no one over 40 uses an iPod and headphones as their primary music source) or satellite radio in the car and my own music collection (often on shuffle play) at home. But part of the love of music is the joy of finding a great new band or song (I still remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Uncle John’s Band). Internet radio has, I imagine, become the primary venue to mine for new music. A long time ago, a lot of it was free, but internet radio stations have to pay the bills too. So now you have to pay for it, which is fine and appropriate, but unless you’re filthy rich, you have to choose which stations or services you pay for. Personally, I like Rhapsody (though the fact it was bought by Real Networks will eventually be its ruination) and MusicMatch (owned now by Yahoo, a slightly better bet). I also enjoy independent stations, like the ones you can hear (for free if you can tolerate a few ads) at Live365.Com, the service that hosts Rancho Radio (Update: No more) . These stations, created and operated by people who last century would probably be ham radio enthusiasts, provide an almost unlimited number of sub-genres and mixes.

Cost prohibits these stations from getting too big or too popular, so if they are successful they become little listening communities that enjoy the same sorts of music. Nobody is going to get rich off of an independent radio station, but it is a way to connect to others and share (legally) music you enjoy.

At least I hope that’s how it will develop. I’d like to see independent internet radio stations follow Blogging (which is only a better executed version of the mid-ninties “internet journal” craze) and Podcasting (more on that later) as the next big internet thing.

More on this later. In the meantime, tune in to Rancho Radio and let me know if you like what you hear.