Calculate your chances...negative...negative...negative!

Friday, June 05, 2009

eMusic, SonyBMG and how not to roll out a service change

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know I've been a huge fan of eMusic. The service, for those who don't know, is a subscription based music service that offers very low rates and a fiercely independent catalog. Earlier this week, eMusic causally announced changes to both of these core features.

From the official statements, the most heralded change is the addition of SonyBMG back catalog. This is a fairly major coup for the service. In the past, the major labels have avoided eMusic due to their low label payouts so for SonyBMG to join up is a pretty radical change of thought on their part.

Or is it? The second announcement was an across the board (a New Your Times article called it "slight") rate increase. Technically, rates are staying the same, but the number of downloads that same money buys is going down. And here's where the story gets really interesting.

The way this was rolled out could be a text book example of how not to handle service changes or how to piss off nearly all your loyal customers. Rather than sending an eMail to subscribers, users would have to log into the site and notice the link on the homepage announcing important changes to your account. For a company that has tried to build a large sense of community, this came as quite an affront to many subscribers.

The SonyBMG announcement, a blog post ironically titled "More of the good stuff" is rather ambiguous and worded heavily with corporate speak. The addition of a major label is certain to change the face of a service that has always been a feisty independent, a fact downplayed in the official word. And one would have to do a bit of leg work to see that this deal is for "selected" SonyBMG back catalog without mentioning what or when it's coming. Neither of the official statements to subscribers mention this, but this LA times blog post fills in some gaps.

Most importantly are the rate changes, which were rather casually tossed in near the end of the statement. A while back, eMusic raised it's rates and sent out an eMail assuring current subscribers they'd have their current rates as long as they remained members in good standing. Two years later, these most loyal, longest subscribing members are seeing their rates more than double without even a proper eMail alerting them to the changes.

Needless to say there's been a healthy sense of outrage at eMusic over these changes and the way they were handled. On eMusic's message boards, the consensus is overwhelmingly negative mostly for the rate changes but the way this was handled and SonyBMG itself isn't exactly popular either. While I think this was really carried out in the worst manner possible, especially for a company that needs customer loyalty in the form of long term subscribers to survive, after the shock has worn off, I'm cautiously optimistic about what lies ahead.

Let's get this out of the way first; I'm not happy my rates are going up. I was grandfathered in on a plan and I'm now paying about double what I was per track. One of the major things I liked about eMusic was the low cost that made experimenting with music rather painless. the new rates are going to make me, and seemingly all other users, a bit more cautious about what I'm downloading.

But, I'm also a musician with music on the service. Our per track take from eMusic is less than half what it is from iTunes or Amazon. In the last couple of years, eMusic has lost major indies like Epitaph and Drag City over these lower per track payments. As an artist without a label selling through TuneCore, the lower payments aren't as big a deal as they may be to a real label with overhead.

I've had arguments with other eMusic users on this point, but I just don't see how the service could have continued to keep the labels they have, let alone attract new ones, with the rates they were charging. There was an unofficial statement now buried on the message board from the site's editor, and public face of eMusic to many of it's subscribers, Yancy Strickler which sounds to me like eMusic was looking at the potential of a mass exodus of labels if they didn't find a way to increase the payouts.

The problem is, they tied this in with the SonyBMG announcement, which was a huge mistake. While the arrival of SonyBMG is certainly related to the rate increase, I don't think it's the only reason for the increase. I can understand why many users feel it is. I did too for a while. But, knowing what little I know about the behind the scenes and label side stuff, I really don't think it was just luring SonyBMG that was the reason for the hike.

But the bigger problem is the way this whole thing has been handled. Most of what I've written is speculation as both a subscriber and a music provider, I know very little other than rates are going up and some SonyBMG back catalog is coming. I'm not trying to suggest my situation entitles me a seat at the board meetings or anything like that. I do think I, and every other subscriber, am entitled to better communication than we've been given.

I find myself very conflicted about everything right now. As an artist, I'm cautiously optimistic that the new rates will mean better payouts. The big question is, will users be as adventurous with fewer and more expensive credits? (This is an issue I addressed a few years ago when Epitaph left.) This may end up going much like iTunes new $1.29 price point where the increase in per track rates doesn't make up the shortfall from users choosing not to download things they would have at the older rates.

As a subscriber of the service, I'm really hoping my hunches are correct and the increased rates mean keeping the quality labels they have as well as adding new ones. Many users feel that Sony is the entire reason for the hike, which, if true, would be a pretty drastic swing in what eMusic is all about. I don't think that's the case, but the rate increase will be much easier to take knowing the money is going towards courting more labels I care about than attracting the back catalog of one I don't.

Whatever the case, the way this was handled has given me some serious doubts about the future of eMusic. Hopefully this was just poorly planned and isn't a sign of the way changes to the service will be handled in the future. But the silence from the top since all this exploded doesn't exactly do much to make me hopeful.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Review: Zachariah (1971)

Spoilers ahoy, if you care.

Zachariah and his friend Matthew (played by a very young Don Johnson) decide to go off and be gunfighters. They meet up with an inept game, have a few heists, then Zach gets the big idea to meet up with Job Cain, the fastest gun in the west. For some reason never really explained, Zach gets cold feet and he and Matthew split up. He then meets up with a mystical old coot who takes him for a romp in the desert that somehow fills in all the blanks. Matthew guns down his boss Job then comes looking for Zach. He finds him, they don't have a shoot out but instead wrestle and then when Matthew realizes the ridiculousness of it all, they ride off into the sunset together. The end.

Zachariah is clearly a product of it's time, and by that I mean the post-Woodstock, post-Easy Rider era. The movie just reeks of the tail end of the hippie era. That in itself isn't necessarily bad, but the problem comes in when Zachariah tries to be both a deep, loner looking for the greater meaning of life movie and a comedy and a head trip movie and a western. It succeeds at none of these things.

Simply put, this movie is a mess.

Part of the problem is that it is trying to be all those things I mentioned above and succeeds at none. The comedy (written by the Firesign Theater, who I always find the definition of hit or miss) really isn't all that funny. The drama isn't that compelling. The mystical stuff is clearly in the who cares category. Very little of this movie makes sense, motivation for any of the characters is really hard to figure out.

It's clear that this movie was trying to be a hip drive-in flick, so the fact that I'm watching it 35+ years after the fact with no chemical enhancements seems to be the rest of the problem. I have to say though, I'd be curious to know what combination of drugs would make some of these sad sack jokes funny. This movie wasn't for me, so maybe I just don't get it.

However, there are two shining moments in this film and I'm using this review as an excuse to post them. First, you get a totally gratuitous (and nonsensical) opening sequence featuring the James Gang. (They return later in the movie as Job Cain's house band.)

Next, and this is truly the highlight of the film, Job Cain is played by none other than Elvin Jones! And Elvin is truly awesome in his role. This is the best scene in the whole movie, though the beginning is truncated a bit.

I mean, damn. He just shot a man and then he busts out a crazy Elvin Jones drum solo. It really doesn't get much cooler than that.

Well, I just saved you the trouble of seeking this one out as there's really nothing else redeeming about it. Unless you are a hippy western completest, stay far away. If you do get it, do yourself a favor and skip to Elvin's scenes and revel in his awesomeness.

(Here's an alternate viewpoint that goes way more in depth than I think this movie deserves. Two points he makes are especially interesting to me: one is the gay overtones between Zachariah and Matthew, which I noticed but thought it was just my imagination. The second is the film's relationship to Siddhartha, which I missed but find myself slapping my forehead about now.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


not having a job where you're in front of the computer all day gives a person a lot less time/motivation to blog.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Yuki Show Diary: 4/18/09 Luna Music

We got asked to play Record Store Day at Luna Music. They've been pretty good supporters of us, so it was kind of a no brainier. Of course, playing at 2 pm on a Saturday afternoon was kind of early for us, but we were helped by beautiful weather and people were out and about in good numbers.

It would seem that we had a good number of people there. I really am not sure because I wasn't looking out at the audience much. I think we had a lot of people listening outside. Yeah, we're a little loud for a small shop like that.

(Photo by Jen Hughes)

Anyway, I feel pretty confident in saying that performance wise, this is the best we've done in a while. I really felt good about it on the way out and I rarely do. I usually hear the mistakes (especially mine) but I really didn't hear many. I hope a video of this show turns up somewhere as this would be the time I didn't see anyone filming.

Fun day though and I go to finally meet Scott, who I've known online for ages, and Koven was there as well. That was the coolest, just having people I've never or rarely see around.

(Photo by Scott Bolderson)

And I got to play my new drums. They rocked, but I'm still not happy with the snare.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Yuki Show Diary: 4/4/09 Zaines Too

Even though this was pretty close in genres to the line up at the basement show last week (we even played before Stand and Deliver,) I felt more out of place last night. Or maybe it was playing a bar with no band beer that put me in a bad mood. Whatever the case, this was a night where as hard as I tried, I was just not feeling it.

Again we were filmed and I'm not looking forward to seeing this one as much. I felt like I was really sluggish with the tempo (probably compensating for last Saturday where I'm sure everything was way too fast.) I will say this, I had enough stage to set up the entire Vistalite kit, which was pretty cool. I'm not sure how much more I'll be bringing all that out, as it's really a lot to lug around (and it needs reheaded badly.)

I don't know. I guess there isn't much else to say. Not a disaster but just a slightly less than average night.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Links and stuff.

I've been meaning to get to this forever, but keep forgetting, so here it is now. First off, I'd like to recommend you check out Jeff Rothe's blog for awesome stuff about golden age arcade games. It's become one of my favorite sources for information on restoring and history of machines of the pre-crash era.

Also, I'd recommend you check out my friend and the keyboard player/singer in Yuki Gwynn's blog Cult of Domesticity. She's also making handmade bags and other stuff, so you can check that stuff out there as well.

Alright, I think that gets me caught up. :)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Yuki Show Diary: 3/28/09 Basement Show

I felt kind of out of place as I knew very few people and it was a basement show with hardcore bands and whatnot. However, it was a show for a good friend of Jason's who passed away recently, so I was more than happy to do it. It was kind of a rough evening though as it was raining a lot and we had to park half way across town, it seemed. Plus there were a lot of people there and that always wigs me out a bit. Luckily Bob Fouts from Stand and Deliver was loaning me drums, which made the night a hell of a lot easier.

So we got there and I think we were all anxious to play and kind of figured we'd go over pretty poorly as we were kind of out of place. It all worked out though. After the line up stopped changing around, things got better. Of course, when we actually got to play, things came together in a big way. I guess I was steaming and I'm amazed I didn't catch pneumonia. I felt our playing was better than in Chicago. Probably looser, but the energy was stronger. I don't know why. Maybe it was the whole basement show vibe.

Oh and yeah, people seemed into it. It was really pretty nice. I'm sure there were people who didn't care for us at all, and that's fine, but we had a pretty packed room from what I could see. I forgot that people at these shows tend to be supportive of all the bands because you don't usually get asked into someone's basement if you're going to really suck. So that was nice.

Anyway, this has been kind of hard to type as I'm in pretty poor shape. I think I was slamming the hell out of Bob's drums (sorry about that.) My left hand especially is blistered and I'm missing a chunk of skin on my pinky. How that happened is a mystery.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Yuki Show Diary: 3/27/09 Darkroom, Chicago

(I just realized I forgot to do one of these for a show we played earlier in the month. Oops. Well, the 11th, we played the Melody Inn. A good time was had by all and the turnout was strong for a Wednesday. The end.)

Anyway, Jason has been on a booking frenzy and got us a date at this bar in Chicago called the Darkroom. Originally, it was to be a different date, but something fell through and we ended up with this night instead. Worked out better, I think, as this was a monthly show called The Equalizer sponsored buy The Onion and KEXP. Kind of cool, as we're all big fans of The Onion.

I'm still kind of amazed we landed a Friday night as a pretty hip bar in Chicago being that we really don't have a name for ourselves. I guess the power of Yuki is just too strong.

I'd gone back and forth about bringing my own drums since Kristen and I were going up early and are driving a Canyonaro right now. Ultimately I was talked out of it, as Tiger Spirit, who we played before, said we could use their gear. Nice folks and an enjoyable band.

So, I got to play on this old Slingerland kit with large drums. It was fun, but I walked the line between getting things set right and knocking things out of whack for the drummer who's kit is was. Plus I felt like an idiot for forgetting my pedal and throne. The drums were fine, but my playing on them was a bit off because of that.

But I had good monitor for a change and, for the most part, I think we played well but not particularly inspired. The show was taped, so I'll get to hear it, but I'm guessing that it's going to be tight and mostly correct but missing some of the fire we've had in practice lately. So it goes.

The audience was bigger than what I expected and they were polite and more attentive than I'd expected. However, we only sold two shirts, both to family, so I guess the proof is in the pudding.

ADDENDUM: Two things I almost forgot. One, we were interviewed by KEXP and I'm sure it will be absolutely embarrassing. Two, upon entering the club, I was told that if I wanted some moonshine, it was $10 for a jar. Sure enough, a couple hours later, I got a Ball canning jar wrapped in newspaper with a clear liquid in it. I waited until I got home to sample it, but it's fairly smooth going down, but once it hits, it burns all the way up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Warner Movies On Demand/Made To Order

Read about it here:

Summary, if you didn't click the link, Warner is offering films from the vault going back to the 20s not previously available as on demand downloads and made to order DVDs. I have to wonder what's taken them so long, but whatever. It's a good idea at any rate.

Except the downloads won't play on Mac, which leads me to believe they're going to be WMV files DRM encumbered with Microsoft's Plays For Sure. And they'll cost you $15 for the privilege. Want a DVD? It's $20.

I feel like a broken record but, here's another example of just not getting it. The idea, while good, is a bit late. They may think these films are "unarchived" but it's really not that difficult to find tons of "unarchived" movies for free online, if you're not troubled by the legality of it.

In a time when even the control freakish record labels are finally realizing DRM doesn't work, they're bringing out something with it? And, naturally, they've chosen the path which excludes Apple users, who I know are a minority. But they're a minority with money.

And $20 for what I'm assuming is going to be a bare bones DVD might have flown five years ago, but it isn't acceptable today. DVD prices are in the tank and you can get new Blu-Ray releases for $20. While I recognize there's additional cost with to order type services, Something Weird Video has their to order DVDs priced around $8-$10, which is a much more reasonable cost.

So, once again, I'm finding myself writing close, but no cigar. Sometimes I feel like one of those people who just won't be satisfied no matter what. It just irritates me to see time and time again when these companies do something that they should have been done ages ago, but make mistakes so obvious and then complain about how it didn't work and piracy is ruining everything etc., etc. It's especially irritating because, with something like this, I really think it could work, but not the way they're going to do it.

I'll still be interested to see what films they offer up and how long they keep at it. But this also goes back to the "too little, too late" thing because I really can't think of too much from the WB vaults I'd want to see that I couldn't get my hands on if I wanted. Maybe for the people who are as resourceful as I am, this will be a great thing. Who knows?

Hi, I am still here, promise.

I realized the other day, I'm really slacking on the blog. I meant to post when I got back from school, but never did. Anyway, I am back and school was pretty amazing. I just posted a bunch of pictures of where I lived and you can see them here:

Really, I've been spending more time of Facebook as I guess I haven't felt I have much to say that can't be summed up in a few hundred characters. Still, I hope to hit the movie stuff again soon. I've seen a bunch of stuff recently, nothing has really inspired me to write about it.

So there you have it. I'll be back more though. Promise. :D

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

DRM free at last...but wait...

I'm sure you've heard by now, but the iTunes Music Store is finally going all DRM free with higher bitrates and variable pricing. As always the case, there's good and bad here, though for me I'm seeing more bad and indifferent than good.

First off, it's a good thing that Apple and the rest of the majors finally got past their logjam to offer all the tracks DRM free. Nice to see Apple finally catch up with the rest of the world, even if they still are offering tracks in their proprietary AAC format (no surprise) which not all media players support.

Then there's the mixed blessing of variable pricing. The way things were worded, it's implied that most of the catalog will be going to 69 cents a track. New releases are scheduled to stay at 99 cents and might go as high as $1.29 a track. I see this as a mixed blessing at best.

The lower price on the back catalog only makes sense, but the higher price on new releases strikes me as an attempt to break the 99 cents standard, which the majors have been trying to do for ages. We'll see if this higher price rolls out in Amazon and other stores. Since Apple is going to be at a disadvantage here if everyone else is selling new tracks thirty cents cheaper, I can't imagine they'd have agreed to this unless that was in the plans.

Now, like last time, Apple is making the option to "upgrade" your old iTunes purchases that are now iTunes Plus...for a fee. That fee is 30 cents a track. Although this may affect a small number of people, this is the part of the plan that really irritates me.

OK, I know there's no upgrades given or implied with iTunes Music Store purchases. I get that. However, there is a prescient for free upgrades. When some of the other stores converted from DRM encoded WMA files to mp3, users were given tracks in the new formats. To be fair, there's a slight difference here; the WMA files would be useless once the DRM servers were turned off. But, that was a risk the user was expected to assume, yet after the outcry, they were switched over for free as an act of goodwill.

Let's look at the money here. Assuming you paid 99 cents a track, adding the 30 cents upgrade puts you at $1.29. Now, we've also learned that most of the catalog is supposed to drop to 69 cents. If you upgrade your tracks, you've just about paid double for them, based on the information that back catalog is going to drop in price.

The most infuriating thing is that, once again, the upgrades are presented in an "all or nothing" form. Meaning, to upgrade that out of print Quincy Jones album I really like, I'm also going to have to pay 30 cents a pop to upgrade dozens of tracks don't want. While I can at least see where the upgrade fee is coming from, forcing users to convert all their purchases rather than letting them choose the ones they want is completely ridiculous.

While I think it's good that Apple and the labels have worked out their differences, I'm still finding much to be skeptical about. The lowering of back catalog prices is good (assuming it happens,) but I fear the trend is going to be aimed more at raising the price on new releases. And while the option to upgrade is nice, forcing consumers to upgrade everything is not, especially considering they'll have almost paid double for back catalog items once the price drops happen.

Of course, as long as people's old purchased tracks still play, I doubt many are going to care about any of this anyway. And, until new release prices go up, I'd imagine most iTunes Music Store users will continue to make purchases, not really even aware of the changes.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Guilala Gets a Job

Kevin at WTF films linked this and I had to repost it. You may remember Guilala from The X From Outer Space. Seems he has a new gig:

Clever little ad. Kudos to whoever made it for using real kaiju instead of creating a generic one. (Of course, if memory serves, there's a remake of X From Outer Space in the works, so perhaps this wasn't that much of a stretch.)

Friday, January 02, 2009

Now I'll have an Excuse for the Infrequent Updates

2008 was not one of my better blogging years. Mostly this is because I wasn't at a job where I was in front of a computer all day, watching crappy movies on the sly. (Nothing quite like viewing a sleezy exploitation film on the clock.) Well, at least for the next couple of months of 2009, I'll have a better excuse for being so lazy.

I'm heading off tomorrow for the Recording Workshop in Chillicothe Ohio. Basically, I'm following through on a long time promise to myself to learn how to be a recording engineer. Though part of me worries I've picked the wrong time to embark on such an endeavor, I don't know when or if there really will be a better time.

So, that's where I'll be until the end of February. I'll still be back in Indy from time to time, but I don't know yet how often. Obviously, I'll have the laptop with me, so if I get a chance to throw up a blog, I will.

But yeah, so happy new year everyone and wish me luck. And if anyone has some recording gig they need filled after February, let me know. I'll be ready to get it on.