Tech News September 2010

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1. L.A. Phil encourages micro-donations via texting

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has added jumbo-screen advertisements to its Hollywood Bowl concerts, encouraging people to donate $5 or $10 to the orchestra via text message.  The service, which is hosted by mGive, adds the donation amount to your monthly wireless bill. The L.A. Philharmonic said it receives 70% of the amount donated while the remaining 30% goes toward covering the cost of the service and other expenses.  Mobile donating has become a common fundraising practice for charity and humanitarian projects, such as the earthquake relief effort in Haiti. But now cultural institutions are catching on to the trend, providing the non-profit groups with yet another avenue for raising dollars in the tough economic climate.   (Source: Los Angeles Times)

2. The Music-Copyright Enforcers

A New York Times Magazine article examines the efforts by BMI and other performing rights organizations to collect royalties on behalf of songwriters from the performance of their music in bars and other live performance venues, in an age in which there is increasing resistance to the principles of copyright.  (Source: New York Times)

3. World’s Biggest Record Label Pulls Videos from MTV.com

Negotiations between Vevo and MTV, the two heavyweights of the music video, have broken down, so that visitors to MTV’s websites where music videos from Universal Music Group will no longer appear.  The websites affected include MTV.com, VH1.com and CMT.com.  MTV spokesman Kurt Patat would not reveal the reason for the dispute, only that Vevo — a joint venture between record labels Universal Music Group, Sony, EMI and investor Abu Dhabi with a back-end built by YouTube — was demanding something “outside industry standards.” Speculation is that Vevo wanted control not only of the overlay ads that appear in video windows when MTV’s websites embed Vevo videos, but also over banner ads and other types of advertising on the page.  Vevo, now the number three most popular video site on the internet behind YouTube and Yahoo, is a Universal- and Sony-led initiative to concentrate all major label music videos under one roof, so that websites including YouTube must embed those videos from Vevo if they want to display them, rather than forging deals directly with the labels themselves.   (Source: Wired)

4. Web Plan From Google and Verizon Is Criticized

Google and Verizon have introduced a proposal for how Internet service should be regulated, which was immediately criticized by groups that favor keeping the network as open as possible.  According to the proposal, Internet service providers would not be able to block producers of online content or offer them a paid “fast lane.” The proposal, however, carves out exceptions for Internet access over cellphone networks, and for potential new services that broadband providers could offer. In a joint blog post, the companies said these could include things like health care monitoring, “advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options.” The two companies are hoping to influence regulators and lawmakers in the debate over a principle known as net neutrality, which holds that Internet users should have equal access to all types of information online.   But some proponents of net neutrality say that by excluding wireless and other online services, Google and Verizon are creating a loophole that could allow carriers to circumvent regulation meant to ensure openness.  The proposal also excludes services that broadband providers may create. These services, the companies said, would have to be “distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules.” Mr. Seidenberg said that, for example, the Metropolitan Opera might decide to stream its performances in 3-D through such a service because it would otherwise require too much bandwidth.  Mr. Schmidt said Google had no plans to develop these types of online services. But some expressed fears that this exception could let companies bypass open-access regulations.   (Source: New York Times)

5. What do record labels do now?

Now that the outsized profits of the CD era have disappeared, the music business is rapidly retrenching. With a limited amount of money to make—a sum dwarfed by movies, video games, and sporting events—many bands may figure out that major labels’ publicity budgets are an unsustainable luxury.

The idea of the label as a tastemaker is not dead, though, regardless of size. The major labels will continue to feed hits to radio and, this October, Matador will celebrate its anniversary with an almost entirely sold-out three-day event in Las Vegas called “Matador at 21.” “Record labels aren’t nearly as smart as they think they are, otherwise they’d have found a way to have done away with these pesky artists. Conversely, who is actually thriving without the benefit of a trad record label?”   (Source: The New Yorker)

6. Radio May Begin Paying Performers

After insisting for some eight decades that artists were fairly compensated for radio play by the promotional value of that airtime, the radio industry may be on the verge of voluntarily paying performance royalties to artists. In an arrangement that has a long back story, radio has always paid royalties to songwriters, but not to performers. In the last year, pressure has been building in the financially pinched music industry to change that arrangement. Now radio's major trade group, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), is concerned that Congress could pass legislation allowing the government's Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) to set performance royalty rates that the NAB says “would be devastating to the future of free and local radio." The NAB seems open to a preemptive deal that would set rates low enough so radio could live with them and, equally important, remove the CRB - the wild card - from the picture. The NAB has had "a full and productive exchange of ideas" with representatives from MusicFirst, the music industry organization, though no agreement has yet emerged from those talks. Any deal like this also would likely have wide implications for online music streaming.  But first, the question is whether this gamble will work for radio and whether it can hammer out anything at all.   (Source: New York Daily News)

7. Naxos founder Klaus Heymann on what lies ahead for classical recordings

In an extensive interview, Naxos founder Klaus Heymann claims his company still has a fairly stable market for the sale of physical product classical recordings. “Beyond that of course we all look at where will it happen online - what is there beyond the physical business? And it looks like downloads will not be it."  Heymann believes that monthly subscriptions to libraries of recorded music will be a more viable business model.  (Source: Gramophone)

8. Apple Said to Prepare 99-Cent TV Shows to Fend Off Netflix, Hulu

Apple Inc., seeking to fend off rivals such as Netflix Inc. and Hulu LLC, is in advanced talks with News Corp. to let iTunes users rent TV shows [for 48 hours] for 99 cents. NBC, CBS and ABC/Disney are reportedly in similar talks with Apple.  (Source: Bloomberg News)

9. iPod hits a sour note as apps take over

The latest sales figures for Apple’s iPod for the quarter ending June 30 showed 9m sold—the lowest quarterly number since 2006.  While Apple is unworried—sales of its iPhone and iPad are booming—the drooping figures for the digital music player market are a concern for another sector: the music companies. The music industry had looked to the iPod to drive people to buy music in download form, whether from Apple’s iTunes music store, eMusic, Napster or from newer competitors such as Amazon.  As iPod sales slow, digital music sales, which have been yoked to the device, are likely to slow too. (Source: The Guardian)

10. Can symphonies find new audience with simulcasts?

The Philadelphia Orchestra announced that it has entered into an agreement with the digital broadcast provider SpectiCast to broadcast nine live symphony concerts onto movie-theater screens this season. For a little over a year, SpectiCast — which also carries concerts from the Curtis Institute of Music and talks from the Free Library of Philadelphia — has been simulcasting Philadelphia Orchestra concerts to private theaters of various sizes, focusing mostly on retirement communities. The new agreement takes this arrangement public. Add to this the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s simulcast last week of its opening-night concert to theaters around Europe, and you have, at least potentially, a trend in the making.

Will it be coming to a theater near you anytime soon? Probably not.  The Berlin simulcast seems to have been a one-shot deal, at least for now. And so far only one theater has signed on to show the Philadelphia concerts — the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, which is also a partner in the venture. But Mark Rupp, SpectiCast’s president and chief operating officer, says the company is working to market the series to art house theaters across North America; he believes the total market for the simulcasts is as many as 1,000 theaters.

The question is whether orchestra simulcasts can be as successful economically and artistically as opera simulcasts, when the latter have a visual element that the former do not. “I think most people think of it like C-Span,’’ said Rupp in a phone interview, of seeing an orchestra on video. By contrast, SpectiCast uses 10 cameras and films from a variety of angles that, he said, enhances the total experience. “I think the production and directing style that we use is done in a way that adds to the visual element, beyond what you see at a concert. We’re really trying to capture the element of being there. We put you on the stage.’’ (Source: Boston Globe)

11. Sarasota radio station goes full-time classical

For years, Tampa's radio station WUSF-FM (89.7) has negotiated a careful balance between its classical music fans and a much larger news and information audience tethered to its National Public Radio programs.  The balancing act ends Sept. 15, when WUSF turns WSMR-FM (89.1), a 50,000-watt contemporary Christian radio station in Sarasota, into a full-time classical music station. On the same day, WUSF will change formats to feature NPR programming during the day and jazz programs at night, theoretically satisfying both audiences by giving them each their own radio station.   (Source: St. Petersburg Times)
 
12. Naxos and Warner Classics Announce U.S. Physical Distribution Partnership

Naxos and Warner Classics have announced a partnership for Naxos to distribute Warner Classics' audio content on CD in the United States. Beginning September 1st, Naxos will offer repertoire from Warner Classics, encompassing specialist titles on the Teldec, Das Alte Werk, Erato and Warner Classics imprints, as well as the Lontano and Apex labels. As part of the agreement, Naxos will make available more than 2000 classical products, including a range of titles which are currently unavailable in the U.S.  (Source: Marketwire.com)

13. Pacific Symphony performs 'tweet-cert' at Verizon

The Pacific Symphony found a new way to engage audiences by offering its first "tweet-cert," or, a concert with tweets. Listeners with cell phones and web access could opt to receive real-time program notes during the concert via Twitter, synchronized to the music like subtitles on a foreign film. The audience also had the opportunity – through texting – to vote for the evening's encore, which it did enthusiastically, 1200 votes in all.  It didn't exactly matter, though, because the guest ensemble, the string trio Time for Three, ended up playing all three of the encore options anyway.   (Source: Orange County Register)

14. The Trouble With Amazon

An article by Colin Robinson in The Nation discusses how the success of Amazon as a distributor of books and other merchandise is perceived by some book publishers and manufacturers to be as a result of the very aggressive way Amazon pursues its objectives.  Some have accused Amazon of bullying, for demanding an additional discount under the rubric of it being a "co-op" promotional fee, and on its insistence on setting the prices of e-books it sold on its site, generally at under $10.  (Source: The Nation)

15. The Symphony You Can Take With You

At first glance, it looks like a CD with unusual cover art—maybe the guts yanked out of some hi-fi equipment left behind at a stoop sale. Pick up a copy of "1-Bit Symphony" and inspect more closely. It's not a CD at all. It's a simple electronic circuit glued inside a clear plastic jewel-box case, terminating in a headphone jack on the right spine.  "It isn't a recording," says Tristan Perich, the New York composer who created the device. "It's a performance."   Mr. Perich, a 28-year-old New Yorker, wrote a five-movement piece of music in programming code and loaded it onto a $1.50 chip, added a lithium battery, an on/off switch, a fast-forward button, and a volume knob and—voila: 40 minutes of 1-bit electronic music, the lowest possible digital representation of audio. So far, Mr. Perich and four assistants had put together about 1,000 copies by hand. The Cantaloupe Records release will be sold for $29, although a cheaper digital download of the music also will be available.   (Source: Wall Street Journal)
 
16. For Pianist, Software Is Replacing Sonatas

The pianist Robert Taub has formed a software company, called MuseAmi, that can read and play a printed musical score, and listen to a passage of music and transcribe it, down to the key signature, the tempo and the time signature.  MuseAmi’s first app, Improvox, made its debut on iTunes last month, at $7.99 a download, and has sold a few thousand so far, Mr. Taub said. It is not the photo-and-play app he had dreamed of; he said he expected to introduce that by the end of the year.  Instead, Improvox promises to do much of what a well-equipped commercial recording studio can do, correcting notes that are sharp or flat.   MuseAmi uses different technology to correct pitch, and does so in real time. (Auto-Tune works on recordings that have already been made.)  It can also generate harmonies, chosen by icons on its touch-pad screen.  (Source: New York Times)