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by Jason Gross

2 Mar 2009

Though Slate is (in)famous for their whole contrary ‘tude, scribe-maven Jack Shafer is pretty astute about the beat that he covers.  In a recent column where he tried to tackle the problem that’s driving the news industry nuts (‘how do you get online users to pay for content?’), as he looked for some answers, citing some places that had good models for it.  One of them was Apple, who’s now the numero uno music retailer.  I took issue with using that as an example that the news trade could follow and had this e-mail conversation with him.

JG: “Interesting column but you leave out a few things about Apple.  Jobs and company make their real money off of selling iPods and not the music, where they get razor-thin profits after the record companies take out their cut.  The iPods are the important component because they’re a sleek, sexy device that has status, which is why the Zune couldn’t beat it out, even if they were making a superior product.  If an enterprising publication wanted to follow that model, they’d have to come up with their own hot digital toy that captivates consumers and that might not be the most productive use of their time right now.”

JS: “How much do you think they’ve made off the 6 billion tunes they’ve sold through the store?”

JG: “I’ve seen pie-charts which detail how much goes to labels, publishers and Apple (which say that Apple gets the short end) but doing a quick search, this is what I came up with :

JS: “I’ll take 10 percent of $6 billion any time. That seems like a great profit!”

JG: “Right but the point isn’t the amount but the percentage.  Newspapers can’t hope to get that kind of total profit and thus, they’d get pretty skimpy money from a similar model, assuming that it would work for them.”

JS: “10 percent is an excellent margin for just selling something somebody else manufactured. Grocery stores get like 1 percent of sales.”

JG: “There’s this too from Business Week: ‘But the iTunes metaphor cannot be extended to news. Music fans have long paid for small chunks of artists’ work­think singles or ringtones. There is no such analogue for news or print products. And for over 10 years companies that have tried to set up online micropayment services for content sites have gone bust.’”

Later, I also found this column by the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz who sounded like he agreed with me that iTunes isn’t a good model for newspapers, even if former Time editor Walter Isaacson seemed to think so:

“People keep songs for a lifetime; news stories are ephemeral. And why would readers pay anything for, say, a Los Angeles Times piece on Hollywood when they can read Tinseltown news on Yahoo, Google, AOL, Huffington Post, Drudge and a thousand other Web sites? (Yes, most of these sites recycle and pontificate on the original reporting done by newspapers, but that distinction is lost on many folks.)”

So who’s right?  Shafer and Isaacson or Kurtz/Business Week?

by John Bohannon

2 Mar 2009

I’m about 100% positive that I’m not the only sucker out there for some vintage psychedelia. Radio Moscow is the type of down-home bred band we all imagine. You know, the no name town (Story City, Iowa), the direct influences (Peter Green, Nuggets compilations, really any psychedelic guitar god), and the boy prodigy (insert Parker Griggs). But make no mistake, these boys are the real deal, and the proof is coming on their upcoming album, Brain Cycles, releasing April 14th.

Having the backing of the Black Keys and Alive records, the band has recently been able to find themselves in a perfect position to stone minds all around the country and have a little fun in the process. But hear, hear! Don’t come into this with a nasty attitude against psychedelic music, because if you do, then a band like Radio Moscow will never be for you. But if you want to sit back and let the wah-wahs and blues-driven guitar solos blow your mind, do yourself a favor, and check out the new single “Broke Down”.

Radio Moscow
“Broke Down” [MP3]

by Sarah Zupko

2 Mar 2009

Justin Townes Earle’s tunes have more of an old-timey classic country feel than those of his father Steve. Blending Hank Williams style honky tonk with a little bit of ragtime, swing and bluegrass harmonies, Earle is on his way to becoming one of roots music’s young stars. Earle sings of being like his dad on “Mama’s Eyes” and twangs through a sweet country shuffle on “What I Mean to You”. Both of these songs appear on Midnight at the Movies, out this week on Bloodshot Records.

Justin Townes Earle
“Mama’s Eyes” [MP3]
“What I Mean to You” [MP3]

Justin Townes Earle - The Good Life

by Chris Catania

2 Mar 2009

In the work of British emcee/visual artist Kid Acne, two elements of hip-hop culture—emceeing and graffiti art—converge to calibrate and stimulate the eyes and ears of hip-hop heads, punk rockers and visual art lovers. And on his latest album Romance Ain’t Dead (2008) the evolution of his work is even more sly, personal and urgent.

Making full use of his skillful this-is-my-life reporter rapping, Kid Acne takes you through a sophisticated trip racing over a seamless production mix of old school hip-hop and punk rock riffs (Req One and Ross Orton). Front to back, the journey is just as fun, vivid and engaging as flipping through his portfolio of t-shirt designs and street art.

Song to song, he might be happy, sad or mad; but whatever the emotional undercurrent, Kid Acne’s sonic aesthetic celebrates the banging pleasure of old-school hip-hop drum machines while splicing in mangy guitars riffs that bleed the beautiful brevity of punk rock’s cut-to-the-chase credo. The production and careful study of his crafty comical rhymes demand repeat listens as he pokes fun at himself via “the two phones of drug dealer” on “Worst Luck”. The swift and sweet romance of Kid Acne’s idiosyncratic storytelling is clearly still in full effect since his first releases in 2001, and it’s also safe to say that this entry way into his perpetual world of visual and recorded art is wide open and demands jumping into.

by Thomas Hauner

2 Mar 2009

The Watson Twins and Ben Kweller. Both equal parts Nashville and hipster. Both singers and songwriters of heavy harmonies and simplified melodies. But only Kweller, however, came away from Town Hall with a commanding and energetic performance, aided towards the end by a dancing infant.

Starting off with poor sound didn’t help the Watson Twins. What sounded muddled with overwhelming bass drones in the balcony sounded more balanced in the orchestra. But the twins’ vocals got lost in the shuddering bass.

During “Only You”, keyboard played the high-pitched guitar strums that appear during each chorus. But it failed to emulate the electric guitar’s other quavering and haunting holds. Instead a nylon-string guitar was innocuously thrummed. This same guitar didn’t suffice for their popular “How Am I to Be”—during which they suggested shoulder dipping as a substitute for actually dancing; be careful what you wish for.

All this begs the question: Where was the strikingly bright guitar that provides such a pivotal counterweight to the twins’ soaring harmonies?

They floated through the Bill Withers standard “Ain’t No Sunshine”, but as people they’re too sanguine to seem heartbroken or lonely. (Maybe because they always have each other around?) In general their vocals were soft and beautiful, but too light. They exuded no energy in their 45 minutes, leaving behind a pretty banal set.

In contrast, Ben Kweller showed up to play his heart out. He prompted the light tech to turn up the houselights so he could size up his excitable crowd and then pursued a relentless setlist covering all the bases. Charging through old favorites like “Walk On Me” and “Falling” Kweller was urbane and sincere, his voice easily seizing the hall’s wide space.

Buttery smooth, his band (drums, bass, pedal-steel guitar) infused Kweller’s country roots into his indie lyricism and punk ethos to form a powerful and cohesive musical synthesis. Whenever Kweller added throwback vocables to a verse it pointed to a past era of pop.

While Kweller sampled material from his latest fare, Changing Horses, its lead track (“Gypsy Rose”) was surprisingly the best song of the night simply because of its delicate balance and Kweller’s sonorous tenor praising love as the saving grace.

His new song “Fight” was a stellar showcase of his band’s three-part chops and unleashed an unshakable melody during the encore.

I found the ending a little awkward, though, as everyone in the crowd decided to get up and dance for the last three minutes of the show. I couldn’t stop thinking, why didn’t they just get up and dance the entire show? Was the setting too intimidating? Too reserved? But what really stole the show was Kweller’s toddler son, Dorian, upstage, rocking out to his daddy’s big finale at the end.



//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

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