Another DRM Update: Apple and EMI Join Forces to Bring a Software Licensing Model to the Music Industry, and the Industry Reacts

Growing up with 8-bit video games and Saturday morning cartoons as main sources of entertainment generally leads to a short attention span -- and a lack of patience. This new generation raised on the virtues of "right now dammit" are even worse. To combat this increased lack of patience, a "hot" story was put onto the back burner last week to soak in the sweet flavours of the inevitable information fallout. In short, I've been busy.

Last week, EMI announced that it would soon be offering its entire catalogue in a DRM-free format. You read that correctly. The entire catalogue, even Dirty Vegas and Everclear, will be sampled at a rate of 256 kilobytes per second, and will be completely unencumbered. Those a little fuzzy on this whole digital music thang may be content with that much information, but EMI has more to offer.

The music will be sold on iTunes (Stevey J was at the announcement shindig -- shown in the above picture) and will be provided in the AAC format. Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) is a standardized format that is similar to MP3, but claims to offer better sound quality at a lower compression rate (laymen: more bang for your buck). Purists cry fowl, as the accepted standard for digital music is MP3, but Apple has its reasons. MP3 is a licensing nightmare, with many different companies claiming the rights to the encoding (ripping), decoding (playback), and file structure (shit you don't care about). On the other hand, since AAC is a proper standardized format, there are no royalties to pay and roughly 60% of the devices capable of playing digital music today support AAC, so it's not a bad business choice.

Now, normally iTunes music is released at 128 kbit/sec, so the jump to 256 pleased SOME audio enthusiasts. The rest bickered and whined that the music is still in a lossy, compressed format and therefore unacceptable. These are the people who own nice/expensive audio equipment and have a properly tuned ear that can pick out tiny discrepancies between the original recording and the lossy version. Quickly: lossy means that the original music has parts of it stripped away that cannot be "heard" by a human ear, and the remainder of the music is squeezed into a tiny format that gets turned back into music at a later time by a decoder such as your iPod. The jump in quality is essentially worthless because one group of people won't notice the difference, and the other would claim the difference is not good enough. These purists want uncompressed, lossless files such as the FLAC format, which will probably show up later in another "upgrade." Which of course will cost more, but will probably only upgrade the tracks to 360 kbit/sec, with another upgrade planned to FLAC for the second quarter of 2008.

The catch to this good news is the price increase from .99 to 1.29 for DRM-free music. It's not a huge jump for small-scale purchases, but with EMI offering to upgrade your entire catalogue of their music at 30 cents a track, it could get pricey. The increase is a victory for the label, but sets a terrifying precedence for the consumer, as the price for a single song has risen 30 cents and there is absolutely no way to justify it. Without DRM, there are reduced software development and licensing costs to Apple and EMI, the encoding process requires fewer CPU cycles to downgrade a CD-quality recording to 256 kbit/sec, and fewer cycles to NOT add DRM at the end, which is a huge bonus for Apple.

Some would argue the increase in file size, which is small to begin with, would amount to a greater amount of bandwidth consumed, and while true, does not justify a 30-cent increase (bandwidth is cheap these days). It could also be argued that since EMI is removing the DRM, they're protecting their investment with a higher price, but with the money they're saving on software development, licensing, and customer lawsuits pertaining to DRM restrictions, they would of already come out on top without the increase. In short, the price increase is absolutely unnecessary.

So while the removal of DRM is the first step in creating a viable business model for the 21st century, it still puts the business ahead of the consumer. The major labels can tweak their business model all they want, but the up-and-coming generation was raised on the freedom provided by the internet, and half-baked schemes like this one just ain't gonna fly in their eyes. But with WMG's shock at EMI's decision (especially during a high-profile takeover) and Microsoft's knee-jerk announcement of its intent to also release DRM-free music, the formerly out-of-step EMI has added tremendous pressure to the rest of the industry to play catch up.

NOW! That’s What I Call Selling Indie Rock at Wal-Mart, Volume 1!!!

You know Vice Records? Right, right, it's the record label arm of everyone's favorite nihilistic hipster publication, Vice Magazine. Since the whole Vice empire is known for its haughty irreverence, one wonders whether the day has come for the magazine to start making fun of the label. I may as well save them the awkwardness by beginning the ridicule right now. Here's the deal: Vice Records has announced plans to team up with other big indies, potentially including Matador and Sub Pop, to release a series of compilations akin to the nauseatingly popular Now That's What I Call Music series. Targeted to what Vice's general manager Adam Shore called the "very casual record buyer," the albums will include such crossover (oh man, if there was ever a word to make you barf, that's the one) artists as Bloc Party, Silversun Pickups, Bright Eyes, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, as well as erstwhile indies like Sonic Youth (say it ain't so, Thurston!) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Shore, who may just be considering a switch from crotch-hugging jeans to Armani suits, risking unfavorable photos in Vice Magazine's "Dos and Don'ts" section, further explained: "We're partnering with MTV2, and the focus is going to be Wal-Marts, big box stores, red states, and TV advertising — to really go beyond.... We don't really expect indie-rock stores to support this record." Hey, don't worry about biting the hand that feeds you, dude. And while you're at it, let's hope no one reads into your statement and realizes that what you're really saying is that you're dumbing down indie rock for a mainstream audience -- a proposition that's insulting to both the genre's current audience and the faceless masses for which the compilations are intended. Let's go one further and think about what it means that Wal-Mart and red states represent the kind of audience that indie labels are trying to reach. The word "indie," derived from the word "independent" and carrying the connotation of difference and iconoclasm, has died infinite deaths in the past few years, but that doesn't make this one any less gruesome. On the bright side, I can't wait to see the TV commercials.

The Flaming Lips Play Interstellar Baseball Using Live DVD And Tri-Color Mitts Made Of Wizard Powder And Togetherness And Milk

Wayne Coyne and those other two freaky freeformers are lighting a Pyre to the Supreme Being of No-Pain and Light with their first-ever live DVD, called U.F.O.s at the Zoo: The Legendary Concert in Oklahoma City, and if the stars align and the planet we call Home keeps turning and churning and giving the illusion that the Sun has left us when really it's just saying Hello to the rest of the world and will be back soon to shower us in more Tenderness and Secular Renewal, the DVD will be coming out sometime (Time?) in July. Starting April 6, the band will be selling Limited Edition posters through their store, which is so fitting, because given enough time, everything ultimately comes in a Limited Edition, even our own corporeal forms.

The Flaming Lips also have some seriously Eldritch tour dates coming up in Far Off, Far Out places like Myrtle Beach and Pompano Beach. Coyne explained, "When the records come out, we hit everywhere as quick as we can to be out on the circuit. The second summer, you try to go to all the weird, cool places where you want to shop and eat exotic food." This is just a guess, but I bet when they play at Brown University, everyone will be throwing around Giant Balloons of Mellifluousness and then Robert Coover will get up on stage and give a speech about the possibilities of the Digital Medium to advance Metafiction and Art, and then Brian Evenson will get up on stage in a Rabbit costume and warn against the Dangers of Mormonism, and then Wayne Coyne will take back the microphone and launch into "The Supreme Being Teaches Spider-Man How To Be In Love," which will be on the soundtrack to Spider-Man 3, and then the whole crowd will form a Human Spiral that looks like it spirals into Nothingness but really, at the very center will be The Answer To The Question and that Answer will Level all Buildings and Heal all Wounds and pluck the Final Guitar String.

See you there:

The Andrew Bird and Apostle Of Hustle Unofficial Power Hour Presents: The Whistle While You Tour, Hotel Tour of Death

Warning: The following account is violent, sexy, and a little misogynist. It is based on truth.

The still suspiciously named Andrew Bird just flew over my Ford Fiesta last month and dropped a giant splotch-of-an-album, Armchair Apocrypha (TMT Review), all over my windshield. Rather than get pissed and curse the sky, I took a listen after stealing a car stereo from a Camaro. While rocking out to the soothing sounds of the "Bird Man," I made my way to my drugs/arms dealer, who was having a shoot out in front of his house with gang members from the South Bronx. I was baffled and shat my pants. It dawned on me that my friend, Chance, from the popular VH1 crime-drama, I Love New York, had never listened to Andrew Bird's haunting violin. I ran into his house, dodging bullets, and handed him the CD. He said "thanks" and handed me a gat.

I shot the .45 while running (I am very amazing at running and shooting) toward the car of gang people. I found that underneath a red bandana, covering his face, was my old school mate "Skeet Dawg." We put our guns down and both laughed aloud. We did the special handshake and then I hopped in his ride. I was in the back seat eating a chicken chimichanga and shooting up when I heard space-y guitars facing off against rampant drums droning from Skeet's speakers. "Man, who is this?" Skeet, who was canoodling with a hooker in the front while driving, told me that it was a bootleg copy of the new Apostle Of Hustle album National Anthem of Nowhere, released March 6 on Arts & Crafts. I questioned his knowledge and preference of Indie Rock due to his stereotypical thug physique. He told me that he was a fan ever since he met Andrew Whiteman at a Broken Social Scene concert last year in Harlem. He explained to me how Whiteman is the 30th guitarist and MVP of BSS and how Apostle of Hustle is an underrated band.

It was then that Skeet said that Apostle Of Hustle would be touring with Andrew Bird. I called bullshit and threw a brick at his face. We swerved into a ditch where the car exploded. We all made it out alive, except for the hooker. Skeet made a few calls on his iPhone. He said he'd prove to me that the tour was real. I told him something that ironic was impossible. Within a half hour, an SUV pulled to the side of the street, and in the driver's seat was Andrew Whiteman himself. I felt embarrassed, as if my mouth was full of testicles. Skeet was right! Skeet and Whiteman told me that the "Bird Man" was giving a lecture on heretics at Illinois' Northwestern University, where Bird graduated with a bachelor's degree in violin performance. When we got to campus, I saw my TMT news editor, Matt Weir, who kicked me directly in the abdomen. He shouted at me to stop pointlessly name-dropping and writing weak articles for the scholarly journal, Tiny Mix Tapes. I told him he was mean, and then he drop-kicked me like '80s Jean-Claude Van Damme while saying, "Life is mean, asshole."

After cleaning off the blood, we watched Bird's thrilling lecture at a local Wendy's near campus. Before sundown, Bird had showed the crowd of seven people how to properly convert a Frosty into fossil fuel. At the end of the lecture, he announced that he would in fact be going on tour with Apostle Of Hustle. I was shocked at the night's events, and once again I felt those familiar testicles in my mouth. I met Bird that night (Larry Bird, not Andrew Bird -- he left with Skeet, Whiteman, and Weir to get hookers) and he taught me that life isn't about demeaning women, using drugs, or listening to hipster music. He taught me that life was about being clutch, like him, and that once you overcome the extreme pressures of others, you will succeed in life. That was when I shot him and said, "Life is mean, asshole." I left him for the dogs and caught up with my homies. That night underneath the stars, Skeet, Andrew Whiteman, Andrew Bird, and I learned that life is unpredictable and that Ice Cube has gone soft on all of us.

I forgot what this was all about. Oh, yeah! Andrew Bird tourdates:
04.11.07 - Grand Rapids, MI - Calvin College - Ladies Literary Club
04.12.07 - Detroit, MI - Majestic Theater
04.13.07 - Columbus, OH - Southern Theatre
04.14.07 - Newport, KY - Southgate House Ballroom
04.16.07 - Nashville, TN - Mercy Lounge
04.17.07 - St. Louis, MO - The Pageant
04.18.07 - Urbana, IL - Canopy Club
04.20.07 - Chicago, IL - Riviera Theatre
04.21.07 - Milwaukee, WI - Pitman Theater *
04.22.07 - Columbia, MO - Blue Note *
04.23.07 - Omaha, NE - Sokol Underground *
04.25.07 - Boulder, CO - Fox Theatre *
04.27.07 - Tucson, AZ - Rialto Theatre *
04.28.07 - Indio, CA - Cochella
04.30.07 - Hollywood, CA - Amoeba Records
05.01.07 - Francisco, CA - Fillmore San *
05.02.07 - Sacramento, CA - Harlowe's
05.04.07 - Portland, OR - Crystal Ballroom *
05.05.07 - Seattle, WA - Showbox Theater *
05.06.07 - Bellingham, WA - Viking Union Multipurpose Room, Western University
05.11.07 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
05.12.07 - Grinnell, IA - Herrick Chapel, Grinnell College
05.16.07 - Boston, MA - Berklee Performance Center
05.17.07 - New York, NY - Webster Hall
05.18.07 - Philadelphia, PA - Theatre of Living Arts
05.20.07 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club

* Apostle of Hustle

Live Earth Concert Lineup and Location Revealed; Right-Wingers Chop Down Trees and Go For a Roadtrip Across the Country in Stretch Limo SUVs to Celebrate

If you're among the group of people who did not happen to see former U.S. Vice President (some say former President) Al Gore's documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, then you may not have any idea what this whole Live Earth concert is all about. See, a few years back, Gore put together this documentary about a thing called "global warming," which some people believe is a myth. The film was Gore's attempt to bring the problem to a larger audience to invoke positive environmental changes. It has since become one of the most popular documentaries ever released.

Now, Gore has placed his brand on a worldwide, 24-hour long concert dedicated to global warming called Live Earth. The show will begin in Sydney, Australia and will move around the seven continents until arriving at the final show in the U.S. Al Gore is quoted as saying, "Live Earth will help us reach a tipping point that's needed to move corporations and governments to take decisive action to solve the climate crisis." A noble concept indeed, which, like all other political topics, has its critics.

The U.S. leg of the concert, which was previously planned to occur in Washington, DC, has now been moved to a more leftist-friendly location at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey and will happen on July 7. Tickets for the event are set to go on sale at 10 AM EDT on Monday, April 16.

The U.S. show will feature performances from a James Iha-less Smashing Pumpkins, Roger Waters, the recently reunited Police, the recently immortalized Bon Jovi, Fall Out Boy, John Mayer, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Ludacris, and many other TMT favorites.

You can also expect to see acts such as Beastie Boys, Bloc Party, Madonna, James Blunt, Keane, Black Eyed Peas, and Duran Duran if you are living in the fabled Englands. Just for the record, Neutral Milk Hotel will not be playing at this or any of the other Live Earth events.

All of the concerts are set to be streamed thanks to your good friends at Microsoft/MSN and NBC in the U.S. More than 120 other television networks are also set to participate in airing the live event throughout the world. Here's to hoping that people can simply put down their ridiculous politics (including Gore's) to simply focus their collective energies on affecting positive change. Who really needs to drive an SUV anyway?

Help Donate to Geologist’s Walk for Parkinson’s

With such contagious euphoria, it's easy to get sucked into the clouds by a group like Animal Collective. So, sometimes it takes sad news to ground us back to reality. Suffering from late-stage [?Parkinson's Disease], the grandfather of Animal Collective member Brian "Geologist" Weitz has been in the hospital for the last two months due to surgery unrelated to Parkinson's. And now Weitz' grandfather is unable to "fully wake up or recover."

In an effort to support his grandfather and promote research initiatives for Parkinson's Disease, Weitz and his mom have joined the Parkinson Council's 2007 Walk for Parkinson's in Philadelphia. The sixth-annual Walk will be held on April 21, starting at the Philadelphia Art Museum and lasting for roughly ten miles.

You can help Weitz raise funds by donating to his personal Walk webpage.

Of course, the fight against Parkinson's Disease won't end after the walk, so bookmark those links and do what you can for future walks and fundraising projects.

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