Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Apple Music on Amazon Echo via Alexa

Posted in Amazon, Apple, howto, music by commorancy on December 17, 2018

AppleMusicThis one’s a quickie. Let’s explore.

Apple Music and Amazon

Apple has recently begun expanding its reach of Apple Music onto non-Apple devices. First was Android. Now, Apple Music has come to Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant on the Echo, Dot and other Alexa enabled devices. Of course, you’ll also need to subscribe to Apple Music to take advantage. Personally, I find Amazon’s digital music selection a bit lacking when compared to Apple’s catalog… part of the reason I chose to buy into Apple Music instead of Amazon Music Unlimited.

That’s not to say Apple Music is in any way perfect. There are plenty of artists who don’t publish digitally on Apple’s or Amazon’s platforms. For these artists, Apple offers a solution. Amazon doesn’t.

Unlike Amazon, who recently shut down the ability to upload songs into its platform, Apple Music allows iCloud upload for sharing music not found on iTunes between all of Apple’s devices. This means that even if you can’t find the song on Apple Music, you can buy a CD, rip it and then upload it to the iCloud platform for sharing and download on all of your devices. You can even buy it digitally, if you can find it, import it into iTunes and upload it for all of your devices.

I actually liked this feature on Amazon before they shut it down this summer. This is other half of the reason I have chosen Apple Music over Amazon Music Unlimited. I have a number of artists in my personal catalog that do not exist on Amazon or Apple’s platforms. I still want to be able to listen to these songs on all of my devices and have them in my Apple playlists. Apple’s iCloud sharing works perfect for this purpose. Amazon no longer has a solution for its Amazon Music Unlimited platform.

If you have music outside of Amazon Music Unlimited platform, you’ll have to figure out some other way to listen to it. You won’t be able to listen to it via Amazon Music Unlimited or by asking Alexa to play it… though, you can play it on your Echo by using your Echo as a Bluetooth speaker.

Installing Apple Music on Alexa

AppleMusic

  1. It’s really simple to enable this. Launch a browser to alexa.amazon.com (intentionally not linkified, select it, right click and then “Open in a new tab”) and login. You can also perform this setup from the Alexa app on your phone or tablet.
  2. Once logged in, click Music, Movies and Books from the left panel. It doesn’t matter which device is currently selected as this skill applies to all devices, but make sure the device can play music.
  3. Scroll down under Music and look for Apple Music and click it.
  4. If you’re in a browser, a new tab will open and take you to an Apple login & password screen.
  5. Log in with your Apple ID. Once logged in with your Apple ID, you’ll need to allow linking between Amazon Alexa and Apple Music.
  6. Done. Time to play some music!

Asking Alexa to play Music

To play music, simply ask Alexa like, “Alexa, play the playlist Fallout 76 Modern Radio on Apple Music” or “Alexa, play the song Pistol Packin’ Mama by Bing Crosby on Apple Music.”

If you leave off the “on Apple Music” statement, Alexa assumes you want to play the song via Amazon’s digital music platform such as Prime Music or Amazon Music Unlimited. Don’t forget to say this.

Alexa will respond by telling you that the song or playlist is playing via Apple Music. Keep in mind that this is a new skill for Alexa from Apple. This means that Apple may not yet have all of the bugs worked out. Expect some problems, particularly if you’re trying to use multiple Dots or Echos to produce stereo. Apple will get all of this worked out, but it may not work perfectly for a while.


Third party Alexa enabled devices, such as Sonos, may not yet support the Apple Music skill. If your device isn’t yet supported, contact your device manufacturer and ask when the skill will be supported. Amazon’s own devices should all work fine.

↩︎

Tagged with: , , , , ,

Theme Park Music Series: AstroWorld

Posted in astroworld, music by commorancy on October 5, 2018

If you have ever visited the now defunct Six Flags AstroWorld theme park which was located in Houston, Texas until 2005, here is the music that set the ambiance of the park. If you came here by accident seeking Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD, click here to listen to his music on Apple Music. Now, a little history…

A Short Park History

AstroWorld was a theme park that began its existence in the late 60s and was the brainchild of a former mayor of Houston, Judge Roy Hofheinz. It was located across the 610 freeway from the Astrodome. AstroWorld opened its doors on June 1, 1968 and operated seasonally each year until October 30, 2005 when it ceased operations.

When the park opened in 1968, it featured a unique sled ride called the Alpine Sleighs that wound its way through a constructed mountain. The Alpine Sleighs were located in the Alpine Valley section of the park and had the same thrill value of a roller coaster. A “sleigh” consisted of an electric powered 4 person cars with rubber tires. A steel roller coaster, called The Serpent, located in the Oriental Village section of the park opened in 1969. Even though The Serpent started out as an adult coaster, because of its relative size and tameness, it would eventually be classified as a children’s ride once Dexter Frebish’s Electric Roller Ride opened in 1972.

In 1975, the park was sold to Six Flags corporation. From 1975 to 2005, the park was owned and operated by Six Flags. In that time, Six Flags grew the park with more and more thrill rides including many large and wild roller coasters.

In 1976, The Texas Cyclone opened. This wooden roller coaster was located in the Coney Island section and was designed to mimic the feel of the original Cyclone located Coney Island in New York, but it did not mimic the track layout. It would be the only wooden coaster in the park. All other coasters built would be steel coasters.

A number of rides cycled in and out of the park from 1968 through to its closure in 2005, but the sections pretty much remained intact with only the occasional rename. Not many were renamed or rethemed. In fact, only one section would actually be rethemed in all of that time, Country Fair became Nottingham Village going from a midway carnival atmosphere to a renaissance fair look and feel including a Biergarten sporting Octoberfest style food all year round. In fact, with the introduction of Nottingham Village, they also introduced alcohol into the park through that same Biergarten.

The park was host to a number of themed sections including:

  • Americana Square (front gate)
  • Modville => International Plaza => USA
  • Coney Island
  • Alpine Valley
  • European Village
  • Western Junction
  • Plaza de Fiesta => Mexicana
  • Fun Island
  • Children’s World => Enchanted Kingdom => Looney Toons Town
  • Pioneer
  • Oriental Village
  • Country Fair => Nottingham Village

Unfortunately, Fun Island would be the only section that wouldn’t last beyond the 80s. In fact, that land would eventually become home to a roller coaster. Also, the Children’s World section would be moved from its original location to a new location near the Alpine mountain after the Alpine Sleighs ride was retired. Children’s World was renamed Enchanted Kingdom, then later renamed again to Looney Toons Town. The Pioneer section housed only one ride, Thunder River. For this reason, it never got separate section marker on the map.

As with any park, every year brought new changes, new additions and new removals. The park also underwent several logo changes. The first logo included 4 globe icons using two different typefaces. The next logo included the word AstroWorld stylized with stars above it (see below). This was my personal favorite logo. A modified version of the stars logo with the stars removed was used for a short period on maps. The final logo included a blocky italicized typeface and six small flags to obviously signify the park was owned by Six Flags. A special logo was used on only on the 1976 map to commemorate the Bicentennial.

Park Maps

Here are various park maps from 1968 to 2004 for you to see how the park changed up until 2004. The 2004 image is actually an aerial view of the park from Google Earth.

1968 1971 1972 1976
1977 1980 1981 1982
1983 1984 1987 1988
1990 1991 1992 2004

Demise

The park ultimately succumbed to a contract dispute between the Astrodome / Reliant Stadium parking lot owners and Six Flags. AstroWorld did not have its own parking lot. Instead, it leased parking from the Reliant land owners. Because AstroWorld was dependent on that parking lot for its attendees, when the contract dispute erupted and ultimately broke down, Six Flags evaluated the situation and the current land values of the ~72 acres of AstroWorld property. Instead of renewing the parking lease, Six Flags decided to cease AstroWorld’s operations, dismantle the park and sell the land.

After all of the dust settled, Six Flags had actually lost money on the deal because they couldn’t get the land prices they expected and demolishing the park cost a lot more than predicted. 120 full time employees lost their jobs and the 1200 seasonal workers hired each year would be lost. It was a sad demise to one of Six Flags’s better theme park properties. Today, that land still sits vacant and is only used as overflow parking for Reliant Stadium.

The then Six Flags CEO, Kieran Burke, was ousted just two months after AstroWorld closed because of his cluster of an idea to close AstroWorld had backfired on Six Flags and failed.

Anyway, let’s get into what you’ve really been waiting for …

The Music

To set the tone of each of the sections above, the park had loud speakers throughout the park playing music. Some were hidden in shrubs or under fake rocks, others were horn speakers affixed to buildings. Over the years, the music changed and updated as the audio systems improved, but many tracks remained the same.

During the 80s, the system used tapes. In the 90s and 00s, I’m sure the system was switched to first CDs, then computer based systems. In the updated systems, some new music was introduced into various sections.

Apple Music Playlists

You might remember hearing a few of these tracks while wandering through the park. Note, you will need an Apple Music account to play the music, but you can see the track names and artists and play short samples even if you don’t have a subscription.

The below playlists include music in use during the 80s, 90s and 00s. Note that I don’t have the playlists for the Country Fair, Modville or Fun Island sections. There was also Looney Toons Town section, but this music is not available on Apple Music that I have been able to find. There was also some incidental music used on rides such as the Dentzel Carousel and The River of No Return / River Adventure Ride that also don’t have playlists. There are also some additional Mexicana tracks which are not on Apple Music, but can be found in this playlist on SoundCloud.

Without further adieu, let’s have a listen to the music that played every operating day at AstroWorld.

Enjoy!


Apple Music Playlists for AstrowWorld
AstroWorld Western Junction
AstroWorld Pioneer
AstroWorld Americana
AstroWorld Coney Island
AstroWorld Mexicana
AstroWorld Alpine Valley
AstroWorld Nottingham Village
AstroWorld USA
AstroWorld European Village
AstroWorld Oriental Village

As always, if you enjoy what you’ve just read on Randocity or heard on Apple Music, please like, subscribe and comment. If you would like to read more about AstroWorld, please leave a comment below and I will consider writing a longer segment about this theme park.

↩︎

Remix Time: I Don’t Think About You (Dazed Mix)

Posted in music, remixes by commorancy on March 28, 2018

Every once in a while, I like to remix tracks. Here’s my Dazed Mix of I Don’t Think About You by Kelly Clarkson. This is dance pop mix of her track of the same name. Credits: A capella vocal by Kelly Clarkson, backing music track by Klearnote.

The original song is on her 2017 album, Meaning of Life. This is a very good album by Kelly. The original mix of I Don’t Think About You has relaxed piano backing track. On this album, there are also a number of other very good tracks including Love So Soft, Medicine and Would You Call That Love.

Pick up your copy of Kelly Clarkson’s Meaning of Life at iTunes or Amazon.

Tagged with: , , ,

Amazon Echo: What is it?

Posted in Amazon, business, cloud computing by commorancy on June 20, 2015

Amazon EchoWhat is Amazon Echo?

It’s an approximately 10″ flat black cylinder with reasonable quality speakers, an led ring around the top, a voice recognition system and a remote. While that may seem a little simple, these are the fundamental pieces that matter.

If you’ve ever used a Roku, a smart TV, Amazon Fire TV or an Apple TV, then you pretty much know what Amazon Echo is (minus the speakers). Except, Amazon Echo is intended to be used with audio programs (i.e., news radio, podcasts, music, prime music, weather radio, audiobooks, speech synthesis for reading articles, etc). Anything you can imagine with audio, the Amazon Echo would be the perfect companion. What Apple TV is to movies, Amazon Echo is to audio programs.

In addition to the Alexa audio assistant (like Siri), with a web, tablet or phone app, you can completely control your Echo with the Echo companion app. There is so much that is required by the app, you really can’t get along without it. In fact, you need the app to hook up the Echo to the WiFi which also asks a series of questions about how it will be used. So, if you don’t have a phone, tablet or computer browser, good luck setting up your Echo.

And no, you don’t need to own an Amazon tablet. You can use an iPhone, iPad or any other Android tablet or phone. In fact, you can even use your computer’s browser. Because the Amazon Echo is hooked to the Amazon eco-system, you will also need an Amazon login and password. But, you likely already have this since you purchased the Echo with it. But, if you’re planning on giving it as a gift, the person you are giving it to will also be required to have all of the above. So, Amazon Echo is probably not the best gift idea for those who are not computer savvy or those who choose not to be connected. Remember that this is first and foremost a cloud player device. The faster the speed of the internet connection, the better Echo will work.

Is the Amazon Echo useful?

That’s a good question. If you’re someone who listens to radio programs or other audio programs like podcasts, then perhaps. Though, keep in mind there are some severe limitations in what you can do with the Amazon Echo. For example, the partners Amazon has chosen for its ‘audio channels’ are limited to Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and Audible. So, like Apple TV has limited video channels, Amazon Echo also has severely limited audio channels. Because of the audio partner limits, you really get a very small selection of content. For example, if Amazon had partnered with Sirius radio, there would be a whole lot more programming choices. Or, for that matter, partnering with Muzak, Soundcloud, Rhapsody, YouTube audio, Last.fm or other audio partners, I would say there would be much more choices in audio. Until then, Echo is nice but somewhat a novelty.

Alexa vs Siri

Alexa clearly has a better voice than Siri. But, other than the voice choice, the functionality is about the same. Like Siri, Alexa has easter eggs, knows what she knows, but what she knows is very very limited. So, don’t expect to be able to ask Alexa complex questions. To activate Alexa, you simply say the key word ‘Alexa’, suffixed quickly by what you want her to do. For example, ‘Alexa, set volume to 5’. Alexa is always listening for the keyword. Once you say the keyword, Alexa will begin listening for your command.

Wording matters with your sentences or Alexa gets quickly confused as to what you’re asking. For example, there’s a difference between asking ‘Alexa, play Frank Sinatra Songs for Swingin Lovers’ or ‘Alexa, play Songs for Swingin Lovers by Frank Sinatra’ or ‘Alexa, play the album Songs for Swingin Lovers by Frank Sinatra’. The shorter you tend to phrase your request, the more likely Alexa is to do the wrong thing or become confused and do nothing. Echo sometimes hears a phantom keyword and activates.

There are many times when you ask Alexa to do something that instead of responding with ‘Okay’ or some affirmative voice response, the led ring at the top flashes in a ‘special way’. So, we’re left to try and decode the R2D2 led responses from the Echo. Instead, I personally believe Alexa should affirmatively or negatively respond to every voice command. Unfortunately, she doesn’t.

Oh, and no, there is not yet a way to change the voice to a male or some other alternative voice. Though, you can change the wake-up word. So, it doesn’t have to be ‘Alexa’.

Alarms, ToDo Lists and Shopping

It is to be expected that you can shop for music through the Echo. So, if you ask Echo to play something that leads to samples, you can buy the song that’s playing. This will then be put into your library for future playback.

You can set up to 1 alarm and up to 1 timer. This means you can set an alarm for wakeup, but you can’t have two alarms. So, if you have a spouse or partner, you can’t have your own alarm and they have one set for a separate time. That won’t work, yet. If you want to time down two different things (important while cooking), you can’t do this either. It supports only one timer.

When the alarm or timer goes off, the audio noise it makes is limited to an internal sound only. Even though you have access to Prime music and radio, you cannot set the timer to use one of those audio sources. So… limited. There are also other limits.

There is a ToDo and Shopping list that you can ask Alexa to manage. You can say, ‘Alexa, add bananas to my shopping list’. When you open the Echo app, you will have your shopping list with you in the store. You can also remote control the Echo app as long as you have Internet on your phone. So, if you have a cat and you like to leave music playing, you can set up playlists, turn the volume up or down, change the music or shut it off.

Music

This is probably where the Echo shines its brightest. With its two speaker system, the audio is bright and vibrant. Not quite as nice as the Bose Soundlink Mini, but the sound is acceptably full and rich for the cylinder design. Unfortunately, it also has no stereo and it needs it. Amazon needs to offer a companion cylinder connected by bluetooth to offer full rich stereo sound. In fact, it could offer several BT connected cylinders to offer 5.1 or 7.1.

Beyond the sound quality issues, having access to Prime music is a necessity here. If you aren’t a Prime member, you really can’t take advantage of what Echo offers. If you do have Prime, then you get access to not only whatever you’ve purchased or uploaded to Amazon’s cloud player, you also get access to the full Prime music library. Still, Amazon’s Prime library is limited. It seems to have a lot of classic rock choices, but not all of it. So, while it has Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, it doesn’t have Supertramp, for example.

Though, Autorip is your friend with Echo. If you buy a CD with Autorip, it automatically becomes available on the Echo as soon as you’ve paid. However, if you purchase a CD at Target and rip it, you’re limited to 250 uploaded songs unless you pay Amazon an additional $25 a year for 250,000 song uploads.

Audiobooks

If you are a big Audible.com consumer, then you have a distinct advantage with the Echo. You can listen to all of your audio books right on the Echo. If your library is vast, you’ll immediately have a lot of content available to you. In hindsight, I should have been buying audio books when offered with my Kindle purchases, but I never really had any way to play them. With Echo, that’s changed. I will definitely consider audio books in the future.

Kindle Support?

In short, no. There is no support for Alexa to read back Kindle book content using Alexa. Alexa would be the perfect companion to the Kindles that do not offer audio voice playback. Considering this is an Amazon product and would be the perfect companion for the Kindle, the integration between Kindle and Echo is non-existent.

Audiophile Quality?

Definitely not. You’re playing streaming music here, in mono no less. So, while the Echo is great for podcasts, news and incidental background music, don’t give up your audiophile gear. Much of the music streamed from Amazon prime has the telltale mpeg haziness. Echo never skips or stutters while playing Prime or library music, so its streaming IO seems quite robust, but it just doesn’t sound high quality. This is definitely not to be considered an HD quality device as it clearly isn’t. So, don’t go into an Amazon Echo thinking you’ll be getting a high quality music experience. The music does sound decent, but it’s not anywhere near perfect.

Though, for news, podcasts and other spoken word programs, the Amazon Echo is perfect for this use.

Speech Synthesis and Browsing

The voice for Alexa sounds great most of the time. However, when reading back a synopsis Wikipedia article, she doesn’t always do a great job. While music is Echo’s strongest area, the article reading is easily one of Echo’s weakest. Instead, of becoming an audio web browser (which is what Echo should become), Alexa only offers page snippets of articles and then encourages you to crack open a browser or tablet and finish reading there. If Echo is going to do this, why bother using Alexa at all? If I can get better results by reading it myself, then Alexa is pointless for this purpose.

Instead, Alexa should provide full 100% article reading. Read me news, wiki articles or, indeed, any other page on the web. If I ask Alexa to browse to Yahoo News, Alexa needs to be able to read article headlines and let me choose which article to read back. Literally, Echo should become an audio based web browser. Echo should set the standard for audio web browsing so much so that Yahoo and Google optimize their pages for audio browsers much like they are now doing for mobile devices.

Kitchen Use?

Echo would be the perfect companion in the kitchen. Tablets and other touch devices are no where near the perfect device in the kitchen. They get dirty and must be touched by dirty or wet hands.  Echo, on the other hand, is the perfect hands-free kitchen companion. ‘Alexa, how do I make Beef Stroganoff’. Seems like a simple recipe request, but no. Alexa has no knowledge of cooking, recipes or anything else to do with kitchen chores. This seems like a no-brainer, but Amazon made no effort here.

Problems and Crashing

After having unboxed Amazon Echo, it had already crashed within 10 minutes of using it. Not the app, but the actual Echo. The app lost connectivity to the Echo until it had rebooted. Though, I have also had the app crash. So, this first incarnation of the Echo is a little beta still. I’m guessing that’s why they cut the 50% off deal with those who were invited to pick them up for testing. Though, when the Echo works, it does work well.

Improvements

The Amazon Echo could benefit from a number of improvements including:

  • Battery backup
  • Full audio web browsing
  • Games (i.e., chess, checkers, etc)
  • Better interactive integration between Echo and its companion app
  • Satellite interfaces (to use Echo in every room)
  • Stereo audio / Multichannel audio (using multiple cylinders)
  • Audio playback to stereo BT devices (i.e., headphones and speakers)
  • Speakerphone
  • Remote control of Amazon devices
  • Check status of Amazon orders
  • Recipes and general kitchen helper
  • Alexa reading Kindle books
  • More audio channels such as:
    • Sirius Radio
    • Police Scanners
    • Custom podcast URLs
    • SoundCloud and similar sites
    • YouTube Audio
    • Last.fm
    • Spotify
    • MySpace Music
    • Amie Street
    • A much bigger selection of Internet radio stations
    • Archives of pre-recorded news broadcasts

Limitations

This first incarnation of Amazon Echo is quite limited. Echo has about 1/10th of the feature set you would expect to offer a complete experience. For example, it should become an audio web browser. Audio is the next evolution in browsers. Sitting at a computer watching a screen is time consuming. But, using an audio web browser, you could browse the web and work on other things. It’s easy to listen and still focus on other tasks. We do it all the time.

In fact, Alexa needs to be imported into every Amazon device including the Fire phone, Fire tablet line and every other interactive device it makes. While Alexa needs to be on every Amazon device, the use case of Echo and all of the audio channels should still be limited to the Echo.

So, while Alexa exists and works as well as Siri, Alexa is simply the input and output device on the Echo out of necessity. The functionality of the Echo needs to firmly focus on all aspects of audio communication including podcasts, dictation, news programs, web browsing, audio books, cooking, music and more. Alexa shouldn’t be overlooked as the home helper, but not strictly on the Echo. I know that Amazon is planning on expanding the Echo to supporting home automation through such phrases as ‘Alexa, turn on the light’. But, that requires a home automation system that interfaces with the Echo. There are probably other uses just waiting to be explored.

In fact, if Amazon were to put Alexa on every device, you could have a unified Alexa system throughout your home. So, each device could learn the types of things you do regularly and share that among all of the Alexa systems. So, if you frequently ask for a specific type of music, Alexa could offer recommendations for new playlists.

Overall, it’s currently an okay device. Out of 10 stars, I’d give it 4 stars. Amazon compromised just a little too much in all aspects of this device to make it truly outstanding. In fact, Alexa should have had white LED lights on the unit so that it could illuminate the room. It also needs a battery backup so you can still use some of Alexa’s basic functions, like the alarm clock, if the power goes out. The next incarnation of the Echo will likely make up for its current shortcomings.

Tagged with: , , , ,

Favorite song of the week: Nuclear by Mike Oldfield

Posted in music by commorancy on March 28, 2015
Tagged with: ,

Lady Gaga: Pop culture turns sour

Posted in art, business, music by commorancy on August 24, 2013

When Lady Gaga hit the scene, like most other early Shock Artists, she pinned herself to the genre of pop music. With songs like Just Dance and Poker Face, she set the tone (or at least we thought) of what she would continue to bring to the table.  Let’s explore.

Early Gaga

In the early days of Lady Gaga, we saw an artist who, not unlike many past pop artists, turned to shock art antics on the stage. Artists who fit into this same mold include David Bowie, The Tubes, Alice Cooper, Madonna, Prince (for his sexcapades on stage), Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson and Tool.  All of these bands had at least one pop hit.

Gaga has taken this same approach with The Fame. She cleverly uses straightforward pop music to rope in her fans. She then treats them to outrageous shock art antics both on stage and off, such as a raw meat dress and matching purse and hat.  Or, her bubble outfit.  She’s very good at both revealing parts of her body and covering them at the same time in a shocking way.

Her label hired a top-notch pop producer to produce The Fame as a classic pop album. In fact, the songs were very danceable with straightforward lyrics that most anyone can understand. Songs like Just Dance, Poker Face, Paparazzi and Love Game. She followed this album almost immediately with The Fame Monster and continued along these same lines changing the pop formula and song tone slightly, but retaining the straightforward pop lyrics with Telephone, Bad Romance and Monster.  Although, by The Fame Monster, you could see hints of things to come, but it was still fun mostly pop music.

Later Gaga

With Born This Way, Lady Gaga took a decidedly different turn. This album saw a drastic change in compositions and lyrics. The music is less straightforward pop delving off into less pop formula at times.  She’s now trying to push the envelope of the pop genre both musically and lyrically.  Unfortunately, pop music has a very narrow range of formula and the boundaries cannot be pushed, not even by Lady Gaga. If you diverge from this narrow range in the pop genre, you are firmly outside of the genre. Meaning, Born This Way really wasn’t straightforward pop music. At best, it would be considered experimental pop.  Born This Way (the album) just didn’t work as pop music as well as The Fame and The Fame Monster (and her charting of tracks from this release proved that).

By this time, though, Gaga had gained a large fanbase because of her two prior releases. Releases that were exceptionally produced and that had mass appeal.  With Born This Way, she had to hope her existing fans would accept it.  Thankfully, for her, they did. Unfortunately, Born This Way did little to rope in new fans as the appeal of the tracks on Born This Way would be limited.

Tracks such as Judas, Fashion of His Love and Marry The Night took a much more serious and darker tone, something which pop is generally not known for. The lyrics could be interpreted in ways that could be considered problematic by many. Unfortunately, this also means that Gaga has unpinned her roots to pop music with this release. Of course, Born This Way is her ‘second’ official album because The Fame Monster was an extension to The Fame. The fact that this album wasn’t as good follows with most artist’s sophomore releases.

Shock Art

For musical artists to utilize Shock Art properly, it requires grounding one piece of the persona to accepted social norms. For musicians, this means pinning the music and lyrics firmly to a common and popular music genre. Not only does this appear to ground the artist to some semblance of sanity, the shock art can be forgiven because of the quality music behind the shock. The pop genre also, when the music gets airplay, guarantees enough fans to continue to drive the artist forward.

Unfortunately, once Lady Gaga unpinned her music from the straightforward pop genre, she now risks losing everything she’s worked so hard to build. If people don’t listen to the music, the shock art has no place. People don’t go to the shows to see what’s on stage or watch the shock, they go to hear the music. The visuals simply come along as the frame around the music.

When you buy a painting, for example, you find a frame that suits the painting. You don’t buy some random gaudy frame that detracts from the art. You buy a frame that complements it. You buy a frame that guides your eyes into the picture and not to the frame itself.  Without good music to back the shows, the only thing left to watch are the meat dresses and gooey concoctions she drapes herself in.

ARTPOP

Lady Gaga is releasing her new album ARTPOP on November 11th, 2013. One track has been ‘leaked’ called Burqa. Listening to this track, it’s clear that Gaga is pushing herself even farther away from the pop genre now than ever. Some claim that it’s a ‘club music’, but I don’t hear it. Club music is danceable. Club music has a beat that continues throughout the song. It is a 120-140 beats per minute track that gets people out of their seats and onto the dance floor. With Burqa, much of the song is devoid of beats. The sections that have beats still aren’t danceable.

The songwriting on the track is not pop formula. Most pop formula has a driving beat throughout with occasional breaks to heighten the track. Pop formula is usually ABAB or AABAABB or ABABBB similar.  Where A is the straight sung parts of the song and B is the chorus or hook. Listening to Burqa, it’s difficult to find the formula because there’s not a driving beat and the chorus that’s there is not enough to get it stuck in your head.  It’s structured, but not in the way that most pop songs are.

The point is that Gaga is now further pulling her music away from the pop genre and placing it into some kind of no-man’s land where it doesn’t fit rock, pop, dance or club. These types of tracks fit in the experimental category. Believe me, there are not many people out there who listen to experimental music. This genre is reserved for eclectic listeners. This is also not the demographic that tends to pay to attend concerts regularly.  This is Lady Gaga’s primary mistake.

Gaga is washing herself out at a time when she could be firmly on top. Her label and her producers are not helping her either. They should be guiding her and keeping her on the pop track, but someone is giving her wrong advice (or no advice).

Ms. Germanotta, if you’re reading this, you need to head back to the studio and make sure your music remains firmly as ‘girl dumps guy’, ‘bad girl attitude’ lyrics wrapped in catchy pop tunes. This is the only way to ensure you can continue your rule at the top of pop no matter what you do on stage. The shock art may keep you in the tabloids, but the pop music keeps you on the charts and fans attending your concerts.  Without The Pop, you won’t continue to have The Fame.

Tagged with: , ,

Create custom ringtones from mp3s in iTunes

Posted in itunes by commorancy on October 10, 2010

You might think that creating ringtones from imported music in iTunes is complex.  It’s not.  It’s pretty simple and it’s free.  Assuming that you’ve imported your music from CD as mp3, it’s easy.  Note, this doesn’t work for AAC files (files downloaded from the iTunes store).  For this reason, it’s really a better idea to rip your music as mp3 format.  I recommend this anyway strictly because not all mp3 players can play AAC.  Yes, AAC may be a slightly better format, but it’s less compatible across the board.  There are no digital music  players that I’m aware of that don’t understand mp3 files.  Should you decide to get rid of your iPhone or iPod and go with another digital player, your AAC files may not work on your new player.  Worse, if you’ve purchased any DRM protected AAC files, these definitely won’t play.  So, buying music from the iTunes store basically locks you into an Apple music player. Anyway,  I digress.

Steps to creating ringtones

  1. Identify the music files you want to convert and ensure they are not in AAC format (use right-click Get Info and look at Where under the summary tab)
  2. Listen to the track and determine the start and end points you want for your ringtone.  You might want to choose the chorus of the song, but make sure it totals less than 40 seconds.
  3. Use right-click Get Info and then under the Options tab, type in the start and end times.  Times are mm:ss.frame format.  If you supply mm:ss only, it assumes the frame is 0 (zero).
  4. Click OK to save your start and end settings on the song.  Double click the song to ensure proper start and end.
  5. Right-click the song again and this time choose ‘Create AAC version’.  If this option is missing from the menu, you will need to change your import settings to import as AAC (to allow creation of ringtones) through the iTunes’ Preferences menu (Edit->Preferences).
  6. Once iTunes is done creating the AAC version, drag the song from iTunes and drop it on the Desktop
  7. Now, rename the song from song.m4a to song.m4r
  8. Move song.m4r into a ringtones folder somewhere on your hard drive where you remember.  Place all your created ringtones here.  From that folder, drag and drop ‘song.m4r’ onto iTunes.
  9. A ‘Ringtones’ folder will now appear in iTunes.  This ringtone will now be available on your iPhone or iPod Touch under ‘Custom’ once you sync.

For example, to create Aqua’s Barbie Girl ringtone, you would set the start to 0:26.2 and ending to 0:41.  Note the .2 frame.  The frame part allows you to fine tune exactly where the ringtone begins and ends.  This part is a little bit fiddly if you want an exact start and end. Note, after you have set the start and end times, you should double click to listen to ensure the ringtone is starting and ending exactly where you want before you convert and rename the file and before syncing with your device.

When you’re done creating the AAC file, renaming it and dropping it on iTunes, be sure to right-click the original song (not the ringtone) and choose ‘Get Info’. Under options, uncheck start and end so the track goes back to the song’s real beginning and ending. You’ll want to do this before syncing your device again. Otherwise, your music will end up clipped on your device as well.  So, don’t forget to reset the start and end times. Yeah, there’s more than a few steps, but it’s easy once you’ve done it a few times and it’s also a whole lot cheaper than buying ringtones.

If you import CDs regularly, don’t forget to change your Preferences back to mp3 when you go to import.  Otherwise, the music will import as AAC.

That’s pretty much it.  If you have questions, please leave a comment below.

American Idol: Failure to launch (artists)

Posted in concerts, music, TV Shows by commorancy on May 31, 2009

While I understand the hype about this series (the competition and all), I don’t really understand why this show continues to exist.  Yes, we go through each season and whittle down contestents to the final two.  But, after the winner is chosen, then what?  Oh yeah, they get a recording contract.  What happens after that?

Spotting Commercial Viability

The ‘judges’ (and I use this term loosely) seem to think they know what’s best in the ‘pop music biz’.  Frankly, if they could discover real talent, they would be working for a record company locating and signing talent right and left and not hosting a silly variety hour show.   But, here we are… and here they are.  So, I must honestly question the sincerity and realism of this show.  The whole thing is staged, yes, to find someone who can sing.  But, it’s really there as a money maker for whomever is producing that show.   The underlying values aren’t to get someone signed to a contract.  The real point is  to put on a show.  And, thats what they do, for better or worse.

Judges

It’s funny that they pick judges who are has-been recording artsts and supposedly A&R people like Simon Cowell.  What’s funny about Simon is that his ability to pick talent has been extremely spotty.  For example, he signed and produced Westlife.  Westlife is a boyband that’s a meager shadow of N*Sync and The Backstreet Boys at best.  What’s even more funny is that THAT is really his BEST claim to talent selection outside of Idol.  Every other artist beyond that isn’t even worth mentioning.

So, how do these washed-up has-beens end up judging a show that supposedly prides itself on selecting quality talent?  Well, let’s examine Idol more closely.

Winning Contestants

Since 2002, there has been (in order), Kelly Clarkson, Rubin Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook and Kris Allen (most recently).  Arguably, the biggest name to come out of the Idol circle is Kelly Clarkson with Carrie Underwood as a solid second.  The rest, well, what about them?  They may have produced records, but few appear to be listening.  This isn’t a good track record for Idol.

Let’s consider Kelly Clarkson for a moment.  Even she has had her ups and downs (mostly downs).  While Kelly has a resonably strong voice, the question remains just how commercially viable it is.  With a name like American Idol, you’d think that Kelly Clarkson would have taken the pop crown away from the likes of Madonna and Britney.  Yet, while Madonna’s star is fading, Britney has taken the crown over and firmly holds it as far as pop acts go.  Britney wasn’t even ‘discovered’ on Idol.  More than this, Kelly has a stronger voice than Britney, yet you see what that gets you.  Kelly isn’t even close to being in Madonna’s league and, while Britney has her own personal issues, her music producers provide a much better music experience than most of Kelly’s efforts.

Outside of these ‘winners’, we also have non-winners like Jennifer Hudson (who’s at least as well known as Kelly Clarkson and she wasn’t even a runner-up) and she’s also an overall more complete ‘star’ than Kelly.  Then there’s David Archuletta, Chris Daughtry and Clay Aikin.  These four people are the proof that the judges cannot pick winners.  In fact, these 4 people should have won Idol, but didn’t.  Yet, they are still successful on their own.

Track Record

Just looking at Idol’s track record, you can see more of the Idol winners have failed to be commercially viable than have been successful (Fantasia who?  Jordin who? David who?  Rubin who? Taylor who?).  The point here, that the judges clearly are not capable of spotting talent.   Even when someone has real singing talent, is young and good looking, clearly that’s not everything that’s needed.  Otherwise, everyone graduating from Idol would have become an instant success… which, of course, has not happened.

I understand the fervor over this show and I understand that the point in watching is more about the competition than the outcome.   But, isn’t the outcome why we come to watch?  Don’t we actually expect the winner to become popular, make great music and usurp the pop crown from Britney?  After all, that’s what Idol started out promising.

Idol is Flawed

The premise of Idol is flawed.  The barometer by which they choose winners is in versatility in singing already commercially successful songs. The real barometer of talent is both in songwriting and performing.  Even though someone has a great singing voice, that doesn’t automatically make them a pop sensation.  Becoming a ‘Pop Idol’  comes with singing unique new songs.  Songs that have not been heard before.  Better yet, it proves talent when the person can both write and sing their own music.  Artists like Prince and Sarah McLachlan are capable of this.  To me, this is talent worth finding.  But, today, commercial pop music is more about the look and voice than it is about songwriting.  Music producers are far too prone to run to Taxi and buy a song or commission their favorite songwriter to write a song rather than having the singer write something.

For me, Idol would be a much more rounded show if they actually required the singers to also write all of their own material.  This would be a lot more time consuming, but requiring this would also show the true talent of the artist.  This premise would show a contestant’s ability to write music under pressure and, at the same time, perform that music admirably.  Using this model in the show would likely have changed both the contestants in the show and the outcome of the winners.  I would also have a lot more respect for the winners of the show.  I also believe the winners would have been far more commercially viable as artists than anyone Idol has, so far, produced.

Idol’s days are numbered

We are now going into the 9th season and I believe this show is wearing out its welcome.  Talent shows like this do come and go, so I expect this show go packing probably in one to two seasons.  If it lasts beyond 10 seasons, I’d be highly surprised.  I’m honestly surprised that it has survived this long with its dismal track record of spotting viable commercial talent.  Yes, the winners can sing, but can they produce an album that people want?  In 8 seasons, I’d say the answer to that question is unequivically no.  The spectacle of the live performance is great, but it doesn’t mean the contestant has what it takes to succeed in the music business. Clearly, Idol has failed at it’s primary goal.

Entertainment Awards: Why so popular?

Posted in awards, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on January 26, 2009

What is it about entertainment awards shows that make people want to watch?  Is it the women’s dresses, the celebrities or what?  Whatever it is, I really don’t get awards shows.  Further, I don’t get why news outlets feel compelled to show us these boring affairs.

What’s the point?

First, think about where you work.  Then, ask yourself if you have ever gotten an award simply for doing your job?  Rarely, if ever.  So, why does the entertainment industry feel compelled to pat themselves on the back by giving out awards?  If someone excels at doing a job well, that’s what the company paid you to do.  They didn’t pay you to do a poor job.  So, do you deserve an award for simply doing your job?

Celebrities are paid to act, sing, dance or whatever.  They’re paid to do it well.  In fact, the point to them paying the actor at all is to make sure the movie or music is done well.  Sure, some of the quality is in the hands of the producer, director, writers and other technical behind-the-scenes people.  But, a convincing performance is the basis for much of the quality of the entertainment.  Again, that’s what they are paid to do.

Red Carpet

So, why do people feel compelled to watch celebrities strut down the red carpet in their latest (borrowed, in many cases) designer fare?  Well, I can tell you that I am not one of those people.  I don’t want to hear about them, I don’t want to watch them and I certainly don’t want to read about them in the news.  For me, news is about events that matter.  That someone was handed a trophy for doing a job they were paid to do doesn’t do anything for me.  Watching someone thank every person who ever mattered to them (and possibly stumbling over their words, or on the carpet) doesn’t interest me overall.

Mutual Admiration Society

For whatever reason, Hollywood (and the rest of the entertainment industry) insists on foisting these annual awards programs on us year after year.  I always dread the start of the new TV year just for that reason.  I really don’t care that someone in Hollywood feels compelled to hand out a trophy (gold or otherwise).  I don’t want to watch them do it.  I don’t want to watch the entertainers who dot these extremely boring affairs and I certainly don’t want to be invited to any of these plastic mutual admiration events.

The Academy allegedly prides itself on its standards.  Yet, year after year it digs itself into deeper and deeper holes by picking only those stars who produced the most ‘popular’ films.  I can understand why some celebrities actually snub awards shows and refused to attend or accept any awards.  Then you have the other side where certain celebrities want nothing more than to be graciously accepted with open arms.  In fact, they try so hard that these awards outfits intentionally snub them time after time.  So, it’s less about how well you do and more about who’s butt you kiss.  And here I thought the awards were about how well you did? 

Awards Shows and their societal significance

Considering that the best thing that movies and music do is fuel more movies and music (by unloading large sums of cash to that industry), this entertainment is simply vacuous forgettable time wasters.  In a rare instance, Hollywood might produce a salient worthwhile work, but these are so few and far between that awards shows don’t need to exist.  These rare worthwhile informative works are the ones that awards are made of.  However, these cheesy Hollywood awards are given out so frequently to the wrong people, the awards themselves are meaningless trinkets.

Good Riddance

If the awards shows disappeared today, I wouldn’t even miss them.  It might put a few people in LA out of business who might otherwise organize such an event.  In time, society wouldn’t even miss them.   As it is now, the media feels compelled to shove these trite affairs down our widescreen plasmas.  However, I’d much rather see an actual educational and informative program than watching an hour and a half  of vacuous boring people serving meaningless trinkets to people who simply did their job (or kissed a butt or two).   I’m just confused by people who don’t understand that that’s an hour and a half (or longer) of your life that you will never get back when you watch these empty shows.  So, why watch?

Songwriting Competition or Lottery?

Posted in music, musician, scam, songwriting by commorancy on October 1, 2008

If you are a songwriter, you want your songs to be heard. However, there are so many web sites and people out there that promise you the world and deliver nothing. This article will discuss songwriting competitions.

Is it a lottery?

Most songwriting competitions charge money for each song entry. Think of the song entry as a form. You might as well have just submitted this form into a barrel. Then, they have judges who are supposed to review the entries and pick winners.

Because listening to a song is based entirely on subjective likes and dislikes, there can be no objective methodologies to pick a winner. Thus, subjective criteria equals random selection. This means that, overall, this is tantamount to pulling a slip of paper from the barrel and choosing winners at random. Because you must pay to enter and because it’s a random selection, it’s a lottery. Don’t fall for lotteries disguised as contests. Worse, there’s no guarantee the judges actually listen to every song submitted anyway… which further makes this a lottery by random selection.

Don’t support pay-for-play competitions

If you are an independent artist, songwriter or musician thinking of entering a songwriting competition, think twice before entering. Many of these competitions are scams. They are there to take your money and leave you high and dry. Instead, use your money to further your career (buy recording equipment, pay for studio time, book gigs to make money). If you really must play the lottery, play the state lottery. It costs less and you have equal odds of winning.

Allegedly, one of the largest ‘competitions’ is the ISC (International Songwriting Competition). They boast industry seasoned judges and lots of impressive things, but overall it’s still a lottery. As far as I know, independent lotteries are still illegal in most states.

What you win

Should you win, let’s put a spotlight on this aspect. If you do enter a competition and by some miracle fluke the judges actually pick your song, what’s next? This is tricky to answer. You need to read the fine print on the competition. You might win a recording contract, but then you might be required to turn over all rights of your music to the contest. Are you willing to part with your music rights just to record or win? These are not necessarily lucrative contracts. On the other hand, you might win a small pittance of cash or some dinky thing and still be required to relinquish your musical rights. You need to read closely to find out what you might be giving up.

Turning over music rights

This is a tricky subject because there’s no right answer. However, consider this. If you’ve written what you consider to be an absolutely fabulous song and other people agree, then you probably do not want to part with the rights to this song. If you turn over all rights for this music to the contest, that means that any money made from that music is no longer yours. If the music, for example, gets licensed to Justin Timberlake or Britney Spears and they turn it into a #1 hit, you still won’t get any money from it. Of course, you can always try to sue, but the contest probably has a reasonably binding contract in place. Thus, you aren’t likely to get very far with a lawsuit.

However, there’s the flip side of that. If you are wanting notoriety, then perhaps it is worth giving up the rights. Meaning, if you’re hungry and willing to lose the rights to one of your songs in order to get your name on the songwriter line that does become a #1 hit, it may actually help your career. That is, of course, assuming the contest has any obligation to put your name on the song as author based on the contest rules.

Furthering your career

If you really want to further your career as a songwriter, you’d probably do better to list your music through an A&R service like Taxi (see below) or another placement service who can get your music out to artists, TV shows, movies or video games. It may cost money to place your music, but it’s not a lottery. It’s more of a ‘music store’ where entertainment industry professionals can find new music for projects.

How about free contests?

By all means, enter as many free contests as you can find. That is, if you can find any. But, ignore contests that charge you money. You have no idea where that money goes… and many charge as much as $25-50 per song! By comparison, you can put an entire CD on iTunes, AmazonMP3 AND Rhapsody for that same $25-35 (the cost of 1 competition entry) using places like CDBaby. So, save your money and invest it into equipment (instruments, recording equipment, computers, etc) or advertising. This will take you a lot further in your career by allowing you to produce your own music. You can self-publish or submit demos right to labels. You can also take out your own personal advertisements for your CD as well.

Careful with your money

Always be careful as there are many musician placement (A&R) services out there that will scam you before they give you any real level of service. Taxi is one of the few that appears to be reputable in this regard, but they will charge you money for each submission on top of a monthly fee (so be cautious even here). Broadjam is another, but they also charge to submit music ($5-15 per song on top of a subscription fee) for placement consideration. When businesses charge you money to submit music for placement, you should be wary. There is no real way to know that they are doing the right thing for you. So, if you submit music without response or get an unexpected (strange) response, don’t spend money for that again.

Bottom line, there are plenty of places out there that can scam you… if it looks like a scam, feels like a scam and acts like a scam, it probably is.

%d bloggers like this: