Thursday, 28 April 2005

Amaz(on)ing freebies

I know this will come as no surprise to many, but surfing through the American Amazon site as I don't usually do, I happened upon an area called "free downloads" under the rather well hidden music menu.

Normally sites like this that feature freebies feature freebies noone has ever heard of or have them wrapped in so much DRM you can never listen to them. Kudos to Amazon that neither of these factors are true. On the front page of the downloads page today is an exclusive Moby b-side, a couple of new Aimee Mann tracks and a track off the Bloc Party album.

Further digging and I found two MP3s from VHS or Beta, a band who opened for Duran Duran recently in North America. Now whether Amazon planned this cunningly or not, having downloaded the two free MP3s, I now have to own as many VHS or Beta CDs as I can find. Damn you Amazon.

The one complaint I do have about the site is it's American-centric offerings. That said, it is the US site, so it can't really be helped.

I just don't know how they can offer over 200 free MP3s without any recompence from the record labels. However they did it, my hat is definitely off you Amazon.

Link: Amazon's Free Downloads

Monday, 18 April 2005

Nail in Singles coffin a little deeper

This weekend saw the first official singles chart to include Internet-downloadable music.

As much as it's a big confidence booster for the emerging distibution method, it's a worrying nail in the coffin for the venerable single - 7", 12" and CD - that's been a mainstay in the British record industry for over half a century, in one form or another.

Sure the format has taken it's knocks and the CIN - those people who officially make chart rules - don't seem to be able to figure out how to get more people to buy singles, but I'd like to think we can rescue the physical distribution model before the singles chart ends up being just like the States.

Link: NME story

MY VIEW: Just a side note, why does the CIN insist on music fans buying a single spanning two or three very very short discs at variable cost? I can end up spending more on a single than I do on the whole album, usually with the same version of a song spread over three or four formats.

Case in point being the new Nine Inch Nails single, "The Hand That Feeds You" released today. There's actually three pieces of music available - the single version, and two remixes. For some reason, it's taken Island 3 formats to release all these tracks (including having all three on the CD single), including 2 mixes on a 9" vinyl single, and 2 on a DVD single.

It's ludicrous when you get examples like Japan and the US where the few singles that are released are jam packed with enough goodies to sway fans to make the purchase.

Sunday, 17 April 2005

Drum up interest with gimmicks?

With the release of the new Nine Inch Nails albums mere days away, the promotional stints to drum up interest in the album are coming full whack.

Not only will With Teeth be released on the new DualDisc format, lead nail Trent Reznor has now released lead single "The Hand That Feeds" in Apple's Garageband format, so fans can remix and deconstruct it to their liking. According to the readme file that comes with the .sit download (told you it was Apple-only), Reznor explains a few things:

"I've been interested in the idea of allowing you the ability to tinker around with my tracks - to create remixes, experiment, embellish or destroy what's there. I tried a few years ago to do this in shockwave with very limited results."

And here's info on what you can expect in the download:

"What I'm giving you in this file is the actual multi-track audio session for "the hand that feeds" in GarageBand format. This is the entire thing bounced over from the actual Pro Tools session we recorded it into. I imported and converted the tracks into AppleLoop format so the size would be reasonable and the tempo flexible."

Giving fans loops and samples isn't anything new, but it's always nice to see a band offering fans a little more than the usual remix, b-side, video, dreaded limited edition digipak combination for releases.

Now only if these bands would realise that the Mac population is really, really small that would be a cool thing.

Link: File Download An early remix

Monday, 11 April 2005

Not surprised

Music could be consigned to the rubbish tip of recent memory if a recent report is to be believed.

Research group Nielsen Entertainment have released a study outlining where various entertainment products fit in the purchasing priority list for men and music comes in a paltry third. Leading the charge are video games and DVDs. More worrying for the record industry is that a large chunk of these game players are now over-40s.

Economically, of course, we will always spend more on video games and DVDs, as they are roughly £30 and £15 each respectively, whereas a CD can be had for about £9.

It's almost odds on that the RIAA and the BPI will use this red rag to issue more calls for lawsuits and to cry foul that piracy is killing the music business.

Nobody likes competition, but the least these two ostriches could do is take their heads out of the sand and realise that the entertainment landscape is not where it was in the 90s, when the competition was low-rent video game consoles with lacklustre games and the VCR.

These days, the PS2, X-Box, GameCube, DS, PSP, Gameboy and PC offer amazing value for money and the top name video games like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" and "Halo 2" are making waves across the board, not just to the geeks who sit in their parents sitting room for weeks on end. They're also commanding advertising budgets that many indie record label would salivate over.

The other accomplice in the music downgrade, DVD, has revolutionised the way we view entertainment. Fuelling an explosion in the sales of Dolby Digital and DTS enabled home systems, the discs also feature a myriad of bonus material and extra features that makes a CD's bonus offer - a lyric booklet or pictures of the band, maybe - just that more pathetic.

Some record labels have attempted this by offering value-added bonus DVDs with CDs, but these efforts are as value-bare as a lyric-less CD booklet. A video, two or three live tracks and not much else. The DVD's 4.7GB limit barely gets a seeing to on many of these discs.

Sure the governing bodies of music can cry foul and sue everyone and anyone, but if they actually decided to see the competition for what they were and try to find ways of embracing the forms of entertainment people actually want, they'd be much better off.

Wednesday, 6 April 2005

What's in a word?

Late last week, ex-Happy Monday Bez was quite ecstatic because yet another Happy Mondays greatest hits album was being released on Monday and he was hoping the proceeds would lift him out of his bankruptcy.

So, Monday came and much to the surprise of probably everyone except those at London Records, "Greatest Hits" appeared on the shelves in shops across the land.

What's so odd about this? Well, given that the Mondays haven't released anything of any importance in over a decade, the decision to weave together a new collection of hits, mixes and misses seemed to be a strange idea for the record label.

Suffice it to say, the released that appeared on the shelves this past Monday was actually the same desperately released "Greatest Hits" that London released in 1999. Need more proof? Well, there's the 1999 copyright. How about the dead giveaway? NO RINGTONE ADS!

I'm torn between what is the most interesting element here. Either this reissue trying to be pawned off as a new release or the fact that it was reissued in the first place.

The Mondays played a gig with the Farm a couple of weeks back in Brixton and Bez was on some reality show months ago. The timing just doesn't seem to correlate with anything. It's almost like London were cleaning out their warehouse and decided it was high time to get rid of a load of Mondays Greatest Hits albums. Not even at budget price!

To add insult to injury, the original Mondays best of disc "Loads" (along with the bonus disc of mixes entitled "Loads More") was a much better deal than this recent (I'm talking 6 years ago here) release.

At least those of us that bought "Greatest Hits" six years ago don't have to fork out again for what could have been a disc "with new mixes" or "previously unreleased tracks" or "something new worth forking out for".

My money's safe this week.