The Digital Disenfranchised

userpic=verizonA number of articles I’ve read in the last week have highlighted an increasing digital divide in our society. This subject and these articles have been running around my head all week, so while I eat lunch I’d like to share them with you and get your thoughts.

What triggered the subject was Harry Shearer’s Le Show. Its host station, KCRW 89.9 FM in Santa Monica, abruptly yanked the show off the airwaves and moved it to be Internet-only. KCRW believes that growth is going to be on the Internet side, and those that listen to the show will find it there. Now a number of broadcasters have done this in the past — think Adam Corolla or Tom Leykis –but arguably the audiences for those shows is very different than the NPR/Public Radio audience. I think Shearer captured my concern very well:

People are sawing the legs out from under the idea of radio as we speak. Television, when it came to prominence, was supposed to kill radio outright, and it didn’t. The question is: Will online audio kill radio broadcasting? I listen to about 80 percent of my audio content online, and I look at a lot of my video content online, so I’m not a Luddite in any sense of the word. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in radio broadcasting.

A lot of people driving in their cars don’t have the facility or haven’t mastered yet getting online audio into their car’s audio system. A lot of poorer people don’t have the wherewithal for broadband everywhere that they might want to hear something, and older people don’t want to mess with that stuff. Radio better be around, because in any kind of emergency, my experience has been the first thing that goes down is the electric grid, and the second thing that goes down is the telephone grid. And if you don’t have a portable battery-powered radio, you are seriously out of luck. People who are trying to dismantle this system are way in front of themselves, and may not be doing the public a service.

I, too, have seen a growing number of articles predicting the demise of terrestrial radio. NetFlix is predicting the death of the TV channel. The problem is that the movement to Internet  based approaches for TV and Radio are not available to all — due to either the financial or intellectual cost of the new technology. Do we have the right to disenfranchise these people?

But the problem is not just radio. Look at music in general. iTunes is turning 10, and there are numerous articles on the changes iTunes has brought. One article notes the following:

The iTunes store dominated by downloads “is on its last gasp,” says Bob Lefsetz, a former music industry lawyer and blogger at the Lefsetz Letter. “YouTube is where most young people listen to music now.” (More than 1 billion people visit the site each month.)

“When iTunes turns 15 years old, we won’t be talking about downloads, because Apple won’t be selling them,” he says.

Here’s another quote from the same article:

Ten years ago, Apple’s most popular iPod was the largest-capacity model with 80 gigabytes of storage. Now the top seller is the 32 GB iPod Touch starting at $299. The entry-level iPhone comes with 16 GB of storage.

“If downloads were still important, we’d all need more storage,” Lefsetz says. “Apple knows which direction this is going.”

Yet again we are creating a community of digital disenfranchised.  Not everyone wants to stream media — they may not know how to do it; they may not be in a location that permits it; they may not have the signal to do it; they may not be able to afford the cost of doing it. Yet the assumption seems to be that it is something the public wants. What this is really doing is hurting the public: no longer can you own a personal copy of your music you can listen to at any time in any place. You become tethered to the (for profit) streaming service, who can dictate if you can listen to your music and where and when. Is this the right direction for society?

We all know technology is everywhere, and in increasing cases, it is not serving to help but to hurt. What used to be broadcast is now exclusively on the web, eliminating as a potential audience those lacking the financial or technological wherewithal to find it. Others are starting to embrace a return to old media.   We need to make sure that in our rush to embrace the latest and greatest technology, we don’t cut off those not quite as nimble.

Disclaimer: Even though I know how to listen to podcasts, I still like the radio sometimes. I like to physically own my music (in fact, I’m looking to buy some LP storage crates and a media center), even as I have over 31,000 songs on my iPod (160GB). Further, I do not have a smartphone. I feel cut-off everytime I see a QR scan-this discount code.

Music: Destry Rides Again (1959 Original Broadway Cast): “Overture” [recorded from LP to MP3 using Roxio Easy Media Creator, loaded into iTunes, currently playing on my iPod]


Entertainment News to Chew On: Music Spending, Carrie in Los Angeles, Veronica Mars

Staring at the collected links today while eating my salad over lunch identified two distinct themes. The first brings together a number of entertainment items of interest:

  • Money for Music. Some interesting numbers out of SXSW 2013 provide a picture of entertainment spending: Serious music fans spend over $442/year on music. Specifically, Neilsen has identified three core consumer categories. The “aficionado” is willing to spend more than $422 per year on music, concerts and artist merch, and does so via sites such as iTunes, Amazon and indie outlets. The “digital fan” was determined to spend about $363 per year and views a smartphone or tablet as the entertainment hub. Finally, the “big box” fan shops at mass retailers, is partial to pop and country and spends, on average, $196 per year on music. Those who can be classified as music fans account for nearly 75% of all music spending in the U.S. The bad news? The most avid of fans in Nielsen’s sampling of 4,000 consumers downloaded the most tracks for free, approximately 30 in a year. What’s more, those classified as “music fans” account for just 40% of the music-buying public in America. Based on these numbers, I’m in the aficionado group — about 3-4 times per year, I’ll do a $100+ music buy — usually a mix of used CDs, new CDs, LPs, and digital music. I go to lots of concerts and musicals during the year, but don’t buy that much merch. I also listen to my music — I’ll note my Music playlist on the iPod is at 30,888 tracks, and nearly two-thirds of those tracks have been listened to at least 8 times.
  • Blood on the Stage. This is some exciting news. Playbill has announced that the Transfer Theatre Company will be mounting a production of the musical “Carrie” this fall. Transfer Theatre Company is what used to be known as the Neighborhood Theatre of Palos Verdes. In that guise, we saw truly excellent productions of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Parade” (the latter even better than what the Mark Taper Forum did). So I’m really excited about TTC’s production of Carrie. The original production was a notorious flop; the revival redeemed the musical’s reputation, and I can’t wait to see what TTC will do with it.
  • Veronica Mars Lives. Now I’m not into TV that much, except for a few guilty pleasures (cough, Dallas, cough, Survivor, cough, Smash). But I have been having fun with Kickstarter lately, so an article in EW about the brief UPN/CW series “Veronica Mars” being revived for a movie was interesting. Why? Because the only way it will happen is if a $2 million, 30-day Kickstarter succeeds. I’ve seen Kickstarter used for lots of things — cast albums, theatre productions, and some specialized movie projects, but this is the first time I’ve seen it for a major-market product with a major studio. It is also a gigantic amount they need to raise. It will be interesting to see if they can do it. [Note: In less than a day, they’ve raised over $800,000; if this pace continues, reaching $2,000,000 is clearly possible.] [ETA: In less than 8 hours, they are up to 1.84 million. I expect them to reach their goal in under 24 hours. Amazing!] [ETAA: They made it, in less than a day. Expect to see funding efforts for movies like this again.]

Music: The Wedding Singer (Original Broadway Cast): “If I Told You”


The Dead, The Living, and The Zombies

userpic=zombieToday’s lunch-time news chum collection brings together stories about life and death:

ETA: Last week I wrote about the piano on the beach, slowly disintegrating. Today’s news brings word that it has been cremated.


Crossing the Line

Well, I’ve crossed the line again. My music playlist on my iPod has 30020 songs; my overall music tracks (which also includes stand-up comedy and spoken word) stands at 30214 tracks. I just did another Amazon Marketplace binge, adding music from all sorts of different artists, from Barenaked Ladies to Seth MacFarlane to Rachel York to Capathia Jenkins to Mumford and Sons to The Dunwells to Louis Prima to The Eagles to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to Robert Simon to Kate Baldwin to Jerry Lee Lewis to Dolly Parton to the usual cast albums. As always, my iPod is a careening wild ride, and I have no idea what I’ll do if Apple ever stops offering a large capacity player.


Coming Clean

I’ve written before about how I love to put music on my iPod. I obtain the music in many ways: digital downloads (usually from Amazon), ripping CDs, and recording vinyl LPs directly into the iPod. I typically do the latter via a process I call “slurp, split, spit” (try saying that fast!). Basically, what I do is play the LP on my turntable with my normal Phono amplifier, and run that into my sound card’s LINE IN. Using Roxio Media Creator (I’m using Roxio 10), I slurp that in as a single WAV file, using the Roxio sound editor capabilities to clean the tracks, repair skips, and such. I then split the file into distinct tracks, and then spit it out in MP3 format (or WAV, if I’m burning to CD).

I mention this all because of (spoiler alert) something I saw in this week’s CSI (“It Was a Very Good Year“). In the story, a vinyl LP is cleaned using wood glue. I looked up the technique… and guess what… it is real. There’s a full and long discussion about the approach at AudioKarma, with a good updated followup as post #507 and #508, although much of what is on page 34 is good (starting at #507).   I’ve even see the technique mentioned on some hip-hop sites. You need to make sure you only do it on vinyl records, and experiment with it first.

To me, this is intriguing. I used to record wet (i.e., cover the record with distilled water), but that sometimes left odd background noises (thumps), although it did reduce skips (I’ll note I’ve never had the problem of “once wet, always wet”). Later, I took to cleaning the records with a mixture of distilled water and 97% isopropyl alcohol. Yes, this can damage things, but once I get a single clean recording, I rarely go back to the vinyl unless there is a problem. Of course, this is just my approach. There are lots of different techniques out there (here’s another discussion). This wood glue technique is something I might try for some of the worst cases — I have some mid-1970s vinyl with almost unrecoverable skips or incredible scratchiness. If they are that bad, what do I have to lose by giving this a try.



Entertainment News You Can Use

Today’s Rosh Hashanah news chum brings some entertainment related articles:

  • Bringing Back the 1950s. A couple of years ago, a dear friend, Stuart Schaeffer, introduced me to a group called “Big Daddy“. Big Daddy’s conceit was that they went to sleep in 1959… and just woke up. Their albums of versions of modern songs (the songs from “Sgt. Peppers”, “Like a Virgin”, “Star Wars Theme”) done in a late 1950s style. Really good stuff. They haven’t recorded for a number of years. I recently learned that Big Daddy has a Kickstarter project to fund an album of stage and screen songs. I recently became a backer of the “Now. Hear. This.” CD being done by the folks behind “[title of show]“, so I’m seriously thinking about doing this.
  • Musical on Internment. I’m sure everyone is aware of the awesome George Takei. George’s latest project was just written up in the LA Times, and it sounds fascinating. George is involved with a new musical — potentially Broadway bound — called Allegiance — A New American Musical”. It is currently at the Old Globe in San Diego. In it, George portrays Sam Kimura, an elderly U.S. Army vet who looks back at the internment and how it changed his life and those of his father, grandfather and sister, Kei. The show, which also stars Tony winner Lea Salonga and Telly Leung, follows the Kimuras as they leave their Salinas farm for the barracks and barbed wire of Heart Mountain in Wyoming. Young Sammy (Leung) fights in Europe with the celebrated Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Kei (Salonga) falls in love and sides with internees who resist being drafted. When Sammy returns home and finds out about his sister, he feels he must choose between his devotion to his family and to his country. This sounds like a fascinating story, and given the people involved, is likely to be done well (it would be interesting to see an East-West production of it).  The musical does have a web site, but no cast album yet.
  • Closing of a Legend. I read today in the San Francisco Chronicle that the famed “Purple Onion” club in San Francisco is closing. The club was the starting ground of many famous comedy acts — Phyllis Diller, Richard Pryor, Smothers Brothers &c — as well as musical groups such as the Kingston Trio. We’ve already lost the “Hungry i”; the club closed many years ago and the name was leased to a topless joint. Hopefully those in the Bay Area can do a last visit and remember the Onion’s glory. Alas, I don’t think there are clubs today that have the same impact. Instead, we’re reduced to TV Reality competition programs. It is nowhere near the same thing.

Music: What a Wonderful World (Willie Nelson): Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive


Revisiting a Musical Friend

In addition to theatre, I’m a long-time folk music aficianado. So naturally, every time Tom Paxton comes to town, I’m out to see him. Last night was no exception: It was Tom’s second show at McCabes in Santa Monica. It was supposedly a sold-out show, yet there were a fair number of empty seats (I’d say the room was at 85%-90% of capacity) and the store was not as crowded as usual. It could be that the drizzily Saturday evening kept some folks in their homes.

The show itself was good, although looking back, it was roughly the same program as last year (this seems to be a common problem with artists–Erin noted that Bernadette Peters’ recent show repeated 80% of the show (including jokes) as her previous show two years before). Tom was accompanied last night by Zack Sokolow, Fred’s son, a regular performer in Los Angeles (he was out to do a Rockabilly show in Burbank after Tom’s show), and an instructor at McCabes. The show consisted of the following songs (* indicates new for this show):

Act I Act II
How Beautiful Upon The Mountain
Your Shoes, My Shoes*
Lament for a Lost Election
What Did You Learn In School Today?*
Getting Up Early*
Passing Through Tulsa*
My Pony Knows The Way*
And If It’s Not True
New Song – Central Square
Bottle of Wine
New Song – Buffalo Dreams*
New Song – Finding Ireland*
Jennifer’s Rabbit
Jennifer and Kate
Marry Me Again
Last Thing on My Mind (Parody)
Last Thing on My Mind
Ramblin’ Boy
The Bravest
Comedians and Angels

What was new this year was a collection of “Oklahoma” songs, starting with “Passing Through Tulsa” and going into songs from characters that just showed up in Tom’s notebook. This replaced the set of songs Tom did previously with Joe Frazier. In the second part of the show, there were some new songs that, to my knowledge, are not on any of Tom’s albums (“Central Square” is also new, but (a) Tom did it last year, and (b) it is available on an album by Geoff Bartley)

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: This coming weekend sees the beginning of April, as well as the beginning of Pesach. We may go to the Southern California Renaissance Faire on Easter Sunday (or perhaps the following Sunday). Friday the 13th sees us at the Pantages for Billy Elliot” and I”m hoping to get tickets for the new small-theatre production of “Spring Awakening” by Over The Moon Productions at the Arena Stage (curious to see this in a small production, runs 3/14-4/22) on that Sunday (they aren’t on Goldstar yet). The following weekend brings student-directed plays at Van Nuys HS (Erin is in one of them), plus I’m judging an ethics competitation at UCLA, and hoping to book tickets for the new production of “Working” at The Production Company in Hollywood (haven’t seen the show in years, opens 3/16). The last weekend in April sees us out in Thousand Oaks for “Once Upon a Mattress” at Cabrillo; I’m also hoping to book tickets for “The Heiress” at the Pasadena Playhouse on that Sunday (heard it on LA Theatre Works and it sounds good). May begins with “Dames at Sea” at the Colony.  It also brings the senior dance show at Van Nuys HS, the Spring Railfest at Orange Empire, “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” at REP East, and it may also bring “Follies” at the Ahmanson. Oh, and May also has my daughter’s HS graduation. June is more open, but does feature both “Addams Family” and “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Pantages. As always, open dates are subject to be filled in with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.

Music: Je m’appelle Barbra (Barbra Streisand): Free Again


Formats of Music

Today has been a long day, with a telecon that started at 430am and just ended. Being on a telecon means that I can’t play my iPod in the background. Speaking about iPods (how’s that for a leadin), there have been a few interesting articles of late regarding digital music. The first, which I listened to as a podcast last Friday, was a segment from Science Friday on LPs vs CDs vs MP3s. This is well worth listening to: it talks about the relative sound qualities of each, and even illustrates what you lose going to MP3. I’ll admit that I’ve never noticed that much audio degradation in MP3s. As for LPs vs. CDs, I generally prefer CDs simply because they have less background noise, but I’ll take either. I do record from LPs to MP3s, and do clean up the audio, so I’m not a 100% purist. Speaking of cleaning up audio, another interesting article I’ve run across (from Ars Technica) has to do with how sound engineers are slightly tweaking masters so that they encode with less audible loss. In the SciFri podcast, it was said that they didn’t do that, but it does make sense. Just as sound engineers in the LP days tweaked the dynamic response to best fit the vinyl (including reducing bass so the needle didn’t jump out of the groove, or compressing the range to fit more music), I’m sure they are tweaking to get MP3s to sound better (given that is now the dominant sales form). What I don’t know is whether they are generating different masters to compress for Amazon to be sold as MP3s vs. a master for Apple to be sold as an M4A (AAC).

What about you? Can you hear the difference between formats? What formats of music do you prefer? Do you record in order to convert formats?

Music: Trio (Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt): I’ve Had Enough