Reporter is Wined and Dined, Feels Refined; Still, Many Things About that Day Linger in Gumshoe’s Mind, Rendering him Blind: My Experience with Microsoft and Its Zune

As many of you know, we at TMT strive to not only report important happenings in the music world, but to shed additional light on these happenings through alarmist, cheap, crass, and often even flat-out nonsensical humor. Hey, it's a delicate recipe, but if you mix it just right — and hire a fat batch of news writers every so often — you come out the other end with dynamite. It's great! It's... supoib.

Truth be told, I don't really know where this intro is leading; I'm actually avoiding the subject at hand because I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how to present it in the best possible way, with all the supplementary details included. I had quite an experience recently, after all.

You see, a few weeks ago a teeny-tiny-tabletop company called FUCKING MICROSOFT — heard of 'em? — invited your hero/adversary Gumshoe and a group of "music bloggers" to its Seattle think tank to... well, actually we weren't supposed to find out until we got there. However due to instinct, savvy, and big-big-big balls, I instinctively knew the whole thing was centered on the eventual release of the nu-iPod, the Zune. (Actually, to its credit, Microsoft isn't trying to supplant the iPod, but we'll get to that later.) I also knew I was in for a treat or two since my amazingly astute neighbor told me earlier the company furnishing my trip is well-known for treating journalists like the highest line of glitterati. As soon as I was made privy to this little info nugget, I resolved to keep my head on straight no matter how many wraps of blow, sedans of hookers, and copies of Halo II were thrown my way...

So M-to-the-Soft booked me a plane ticket to Seattle and promised meals and drinks and a nice hotel room. I was all like, "YOU THINK A SWANKY HOTEL ROOM WILL BUY MY AFFECTION!? WELL, YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. WHOSE TAINT DO I POLISH FIRST???" But before I checked into the hotel after the flight, I found something, or should I say someone, waiting for me in the baggage claim: a dude in a suit with a sign in his hand. What was on the sign isn't important... oh wait, yes it is! The sign read: Purdum. That's my last name! I'll admit I felt a little flattered and expectant once Mr. Beauregard opened the door for me and guided my Lincoln Towne Car through downtown Seattle like a pro. He was bantering about his time in the Army and driving Mick Jagger about town all the while. I checked in at the Hotel Maxxx — a popular porn-shoot site no doubt — and took a long nappy-nap to freshen my senses. (I had stayed up falling in love the night before. Yeah, I hate people in love, too.)

Wiping the hard crust of sleep from my eyes, I headed downstairs for the big rendezvous. I spotted an indie type in the lobby. Being the assuming sort, I walked right up and said, "HEY, WHEN ARE WE GETTING THIS SHIT STARTED!" to the polite New Yorker, who softly said... well shit, I don't remember. In fact, I'm not sure of what I said. Suffice to say, he was from the blog Music For Robots and was thus definitely a member of our "blog" team. Soon the others joined us: the guy from My Old Kentucky Blog, a dude from 3Hive (a great man), and a girl from some blog I can't remember. Fuck it. Also, the managing editor of Stereogum made an appearance or two. (Admittedly Stereogum was the only blog out of these I'd previously heard of, though I keep up with them all periodically now.)

Although I wasn't able to smuggle any stick-icky on the plane, my memory of the day is still a bit clogged, like that bong in the corner you gave up on because the damn thing, you know, clogs. I think we rode over in an SUV, a big one, but I can't really be sure. Who cares anyway!? The most important thing at that time, for me, was to make sure I would be fed. I was ecstatic when one of the project leaders informed me there were to be... wait for iiiiiiiiit... wraps. Hey, that was all I needed. I began dreaming of wraps... multiple wraps... big, beautiful wraps. I'll always be partial to sandwiches, but wraps are damn acceptable.

So we get there and, alas: no wraps. But I did munch on cookies and spicy Hawaiian chips. NAWT TU SHABBY! At first we sat on a table in a large waiting room sipping soda. We all signed large "non-disclosure" agreements. Well, most of us signed them. The dude from 3Hive (pictured on the right with me), being the dope-ass muh-fuh he is, actually snagged his agreement and put it in his bag. Luckily, disaster was averted when one of the M-soft folks noticed, chased down our SUV as we headed away from the soda room and asked him where his agreement was. He sheepishly fished through his bag, found it, signed it, and handed it over. (And in all fairness he seemed like an honest dude; I don't believe he did it on purpose... OR DID HE!?!).

Then we were sequestered in another room. There were a few people sitting in the room, which would delay our meeting. Needless to say, this wasn't going to fly. They scuttled out of the room. Perhaps buoyed by my fancy hotel room and a sudden that-guy-has-a-sign-with-my-name-on-it priggishness, I called after them, "Yeah, well, just see it doesn't happen again!" as they walked off. Why do I do these things? Don't know. I guess I felt at home, which is really a bad thing if you're trying to be an objective journalist.

Which brings me to a salient point: at the end of the night, one of the big-wigs at Microsoft told me, "Hey man, if we do good, let us know! If we screw up, call us on it!" I love this man (though I didn't get his name) because I was thinking the same thing in the back of my head the whole day: wow, these people seem to be happy with me right now, but what's going to happen when I lay it on the line?

So we're sitting in this room, waiting. Soon, a top-of-the-hill-aged gentleman walks in and begins exchanging pleasantries with us. He seemed top notch to me, save one thing: his apparel. Now let me remind you that through all of this I was looking for something, ANYTHING to criticize. Why? BECAUSE THEY FLEW ME OUT AND PUT ME UP IN A SWANKY HOTEL, that's why. When's the last time somebody 'flew you out' and put you up in a swanky hotel and didn't try to snow you over in some way? Being sleep-deprived and full of sweets, my mind pored over the man looking for faults. The suspicious part of me – later rebuked by my fellow bloggers as being paranoid – told me that this guy was trying to dress how he thought indie 'slacker types' would dress.

Then he started to talk about music. At this point, I couldn't help but feel him. He seemed excited about the Zune Media Player and its accompanying campaign, passing around the latest version so we could test it for ourselves. And tell you what, it is pretty nifty! You can store photos and video in addition to an arse-load of music, and — best of all — you can send playlists to other friends, so long as they have a ZunePod. That's shitty, but at this point, we all need to accept the fact that everything isn't going to work with everything else. What can you do? As we were dinking around with the sleek and admittedly iPod-esque Zunes, the man continued to talk about his history and background. Hey, he sounded like a very enthusiastic guy where music is concerned, and he definitely believed in "Project: Zune." Of course, he is paid to be enthusiastic, so... we'll call it a draw.

Then he got into promotion strategies for "indie" bands and suspicion crept into my belly once again. He wasn't the only one who made me squirm, either. The entire Zune team made one fatal error: they talked about two "indie" bands and how much they were going to promote them — which was fine — but they also let it become fairly obvious early on that these two, and ONLY these two bands, were on the list. Or at least they were the only two anyone was going to mention. What about other "indie" bands? What about Cyann & Ben? What about fucking Mark Mallman? What about... shit, I dunno, Eric Alexandrakis?

I mean, really think about this for a second: you're hard at work putting together a promotion push for "indie" artists with your new Zune that will set it apart from other products made by companies that apparently "don't look out for the little guy." You invite some bloggers that obviously don't give a pineapple frappe about mainstream music. Then you proceed to tell them you're "big into" promoting independent artists, and you mention TWO bands that you're going to work with? Two? Only TWO? And both of them are on Sub Pop? Shit guys, this is like the old Grandpa-all-of-a-sudden-listens-to-Pavement trick. Did they really think we wouldn't notice that they seem to have built their entire "indie" marketing campaign around two Sub Pop bands? They would slip those two — and remember, only those two — bands into their presentations like they were part of a long, long list... but I only heard those two bands the whole trip, which were: CSS and Band of Horses. Hey, don't look at me. I'm just calling them on it.

The next guy that came in was also from the UK and also dressed rather casually. He was more of a smooth talker, which again had my radar scanning the room. But this guy's music background was too pristine to ignore. He used to oversee Ministry of Sound, after all. So he told us more about the product as we continued to diddle. He also mentioned — you guessed it! — CSS. But he was pretty sincere and it was impossible, like the first guy, to renege him the benefit of the doubt. Now, when you think about who he works for, maybe the pendulum swings the other way... and come to think of it, the fact that Microsoft was responsible did slip to the background amid talks of music, independent or otherwise.

The next and last leg of our journey took us to a demo room where we were to experience the Zune ourselves, or at least view its features on a large projector screen. And again, the features of the Zune are quite tantalizing, though I doubt I'll be able to afford one for a few years. When you look through a list of songs on a Zune, you don't just see a bunch of bland track titles, you see the album cover, too. This alone is a huge deal to me because, hey, I likes me a good cover. Don't you wish you could turn on your iPod and see the cover of The Chameleons' Script of the Bridge? Of course you do!

The sharing feature is a little discouraging because once you send a playlist to a friend, they can only play it three times before it's deleted and jettisoned from your plater (but, ahem, hopefully the hacker community is keeping its finger on the pulse here). The fact that you can share at all, though, says a lot about the Zune and about Microsoft. It's a very uncharacteristic move. I'm not an expert when it comes to this sort of thing, but I genuinely appreciate the sharing feature in light of all the "digital rights" hoo-haw floating around (mostly on our TMT site). The ad wizards at M-Soft said, "Fuck that noise, we want them to share," and I respect the shit out of that. Seriously, this is not lame indie sarcasm, I really do think this feature will push things ahead where personal media players are concerned.

One of the other features that caught my eye were these mini-promotional cartoons. I knew right away that these were carefully crafted to appeal — mmmcough-pander-cough-cough — to a new generation of listeners, but it also proved just how far things have come. I mean, who ever thought a huge corporation would depict punk-rock stereotypes in its promo cartoons? Wait, maybe this is a step back; I can't tell anymore. What I can say is that despite these seemingly despicable efforts to bond with the underdog, the whole Zune project as a whole really struck me as an authentic attempt to not just appeal to the little guys, but to show them that Zune has them in mind. They even appealed to our second-place preferences by admitting that Zune isn't designed to supplant the iPod as the dominant media device. Rather, Microsoft intends to rank a sturdy second and, to a point, see where the party takes it.

After rolling this concept around in my mind for a few weeks now, I must say I appreciated that in a weird way. Did these people listen to our complaints? Did they really give a shit about what we had to say? I don't know. But I can say they went a long way to assure that we would be informed of their upcoming plans, to an extent. The rich (ha!) writers from mags like Variety may have scarfed down the wraps before we could get our grubby hands on them, but the enthusiasm intrinsic in the Zune project came through loud and clear. I don't know if that was Microsoft's intent and, in fact, I still don't know exactly what they wanted from me, but I do know that they treated me well and respectfully. I'm not going to pretend that I understand business, so for me to feel these people out is pretty much pointless (though I suppose I've spent this entire bloody article doing just that). It's their job, after all, to talk with strangers and be friendly as Flanders, so how can I fault them for being, or at least appearing, stoked to be doing what they're doing?

The answer is: I can't. But that doesn't mean I can't tell the story of my confusing weekend of previews, expensive suites and rides in Lincoln Towne cars and let you all decipher what you believe for yourself. Hey, I'm just putting the info out there; whether you believe in Zune is your problem, though I personally think it's going to be a worthwhile alternative to the constraints of myPods and Napster knock-offs. Until the next time a large corporation shuttles me in and out of a big city like a part-time Vegas stripper, this is Gumshoe signing off and still feeling weird about this whole article...

Allofmp3.com Still Has it All; Russia Too Cutting-Edge for America or WTO

All right!! Russia has caught on to the wonderful world of fast-food chains!!! Now I can live comfortably knowing I can always have a cheeseburger to remind me of home when traveling abroad. Globalization has made it that much easier to be ignorant toward foreign food, which sucks anyway! No more pitas unless they're filled with cut-up hot dogs!!

But even with Mickey D's, Russia has still been unable to join the prestigious World Trade Organization, and the U.S. is one country keeping Russia from getting into the party. One reason is because of TMT's favorite topic: the differences in copyright laws!!! Russia's copyright laws work like this: music may be sold through the internet without any copyright infringement police knocking at your door yelling at you in Russian. Russian police don't yell at you in Russian because of Russian rights agencies, like the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society (ROMS) and the Rightholders Federation for Collective Copyright Management of Works Used Interactively (FAIR). (How do these agencies acronyms-ize into ROMS and FAIR anyway? Probably witches.)

These agencies collect royalties from websites selling music and send a portion of that money (but not as much as in the U.S.) to the record companies. This has created a loophole in which websites are allowed to release anything — because they're paying "rights," but not really as much as the RIAA loves to get — until the record companies exclusively ask them to exclude their works from their licenses. This, of course, cheats out the American recording industry. As the Russians would say in Russian: "We're not selling hard goods, so we don't need permission from the author and do not have to pay for the amount the recording industries ask for." It's Russia; they do whatever the hell they want. What witches!

But, tricky tricky are the witches. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has been trying to shut down websites which use ROMS and FAIR to sell music online, and they're targeting one of the bigger Russian websites, Allofmp3.com. Allofmp3.com allows you to download an album for the price of one of those fast-food double-cheeseburgers they're munching on in Russia right now. (They're fatties, totally!!)

See, this site doesn't charge per-song, but per-megabyte: 2 cents each. So these rates add up to basically $2 max for an album. Oh, and it should be mentioned that music there is generally cheap anyway: albums bought in Russia cost about 100 rubles, which is about $3.

But in order for Russia to be able to join Satan's WTO (that's right, I said it!), it needs to shut down sites that sell music for such cheap prices. Trying its darnedest, Russia has recently passed new copyright laws that allow the government to prosecute owners of websites selling digital music. However, it still cannot prosecute websites like Allofmp3.com that pay rights agencies. That's still not breaking the law. As long as someone is getting paid — no matter how much — it's completely legal.

Jana Hunter Scours Eastern States To Find Out, Once And For All, Who Has Her Money

An anecdote: Last January, I got the chance to catch a Jana Hunter show in the downstairs of a smallish London pub. While the opening band performed, Jana leaned against a pillar near the bar, drink in hand, most assuredly chillin'. When it came time for her to go on, she parted the crowd with a mumbled "'scuse me" and ambled on stage, setting the drink on an amp and picking up her guitar. The audience was silent while she played a short set of songs, and before anyone could get fully comfortable, she had set the guitar back down, picked up her drink, tucked her hair behind her ear, and walked back over to the bar. The music had been nothing but somber and haunting, so we all politely clapped, but I think it's safe to say that amidst the clapping was the tiny sound of a hundred hearts rupturing.

Have your insides ripped apart this October:

10.13.06 - Providence, RI - AS220
10.14.06 - Northampton, MA - Eagles Club
10.15.06 - Boston, MA - PA's Lounge
10.16.06 - Portsmouth, NH - The Red Door
10.17.06 - Bronxville, NY - Sarah Lawrence
10.18.06 - New Haven, CT - BAR Nightclub
10.19.06 - Brooklyn, NY - Northsix
10.20.06 - New York, NY - Tonic
10.21.06 - Purchase, NY - SUNY Purchase
10.22.06 - Buffalo, NY - Soundlab
10.23.06 - Rochester, NY - TBA
10.24.06 - Worcester, MA - TBA

all dates w/ Deer Tick

Did You Hear That Willie Nelson Got Hit By Car? He Was Playing “On the Road Again.” LOL. No, But Seriously, He Got Arrested For Possession.

Is this even news? Willie Nelson with marijuana? Possibly the least shocking story of 2006. The only part of the story that could be considered surprising is the fact that he was able to fit all of his pot on to one bus. The arrest happened to Willie and four others in Louisiana while en route to play a tribute show for what would have been Hank Williams' 85th birthday. The BioWillie-fueled tour bus was pulled over and subsequently investigated after the officer said he "noticed the strong odor of marijuana" when talking to the driver.

So I guess the only surprising thing about this whole ordeal is, well, that the arrest happened at all. It's not like anyone who had ever heard of Willie Nelson didn't know that he dabbled in a bit of drugs here and there. Look at the signs. For me, it was somewhere between watching him host the first annual NORML golf tournament in 2005 (an organization for which he serves on the board) and seeing giant marijuana leaf on the cover of his 2005 album Countryman that I first had my suspicions. "Perhaps this guy smokes pot every once in a while," I think is what I said to myself. For others it might have been the article about him in High Times or the popular legend that he once smoked on the roof of the White House during the Carter years. To each their own.

Furthermore, I am (like Willie) a native resident of Texas, and I can all but guarantee you that this shit would never have gone down in our home state. It's a peculiar situation: the better portion of the state is made up of people who hate long-haired men, hate liberals, hate environmentalists, and above all, hate hippies. But for whatever reason, these fuckers are crazy about Willie Nelson. The man is a legend. Our neighbors to the east, apparently, are not as sympathetic. Maybe they would have been more pleased had they ran into New Orleans native Lil' Romeo? Thankfully, Willie did manage to get off without felony charges, as he and his crew (average age: 62) claimed that all of the over-one-and-a-half-pounds of pot and three ounces of mushrooms was for personal use, and not to be sold.

I guess the question I've been trying to ask in this article is, "why now?" Nelson, now 73, has been an avid drug enthusiast for decades, and during that time has made little-to-no effort to conceal it. To me, the idea of a Willie forced to live out his golden years drug-free is on par with telling Harry Potter to go the rest of his Hogwarts career without any cocaine (just wait for book seven). All we can do is hope that, for the common good, neither of these situations actually take place. But personally, I'm not worried; I have confidence that the U.S. legal system will do its job, and Willie will be able to use his celebrity status to return to his old ways after just a few hours of community service.

Working Class People Grab their Parts and Labor for their “More Rock, Less Money” Tour

Parts and Labor are one of the loudest bands to see live. FACT: when you see smaller, "underground" bands in smaller, "underground" venues, everything is so much louder. OPINION: mainly, it's because the bands don't give a shit or it's part of their music-playing philosophy. FACT: or the venue is so small it doesn't even have a stage, so that puts you that much closer to the amplifiers, which are turned up to the same volume as if you were at a stadium concert. OPINION: in particular with Parts and Labor, their drummer beats the shit out of his drums. FACT: it's amazing.

Anyway, Parts and Labor, from Brooklyn, New York, having just toured throughout England during July, will continue on their tour around the world (i.e., Western Europe). The trio released a new CD, titled Stay Afraid, earlier this year and are soon going to release a new 12-inch EP which, according to their website, is "the three of [them] on electronics doing some beat-heavy, home-recorded experiments." FACT: I'm pretty excited, guys. OPINION: No, I'm not being sarcastic. FACT: I'm genuinely pumped. I saw these guys live and I got to talk with them! FACT: It's a shame that you have no idea if I'm being sarcastic or not because this medium doesn't allow for that type of interaction.

Regardless, check Parts and Labor out if you want to see a good show. They're pretty catchy and you might even be able to bring your non-music obsessed friends with you. OPINION: They might even have fun.

Pirates, zombies, and ninjas, what?:

10.06.06 – Antwerpen, Belgium – Trix
10.07.06 – Brussels, Belgium – Botanique ^_^
10.08.06 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Paradiso ^_^
10.10.06 – Leipzig, Germany – Frueh Auf *
10.11.06 – Bielefeld, Germany – AJZ *
10.13.06 – Malmo, Sweden – Pink Flag at Inkonst
10.14.06 – Stockholm, Sweden – Fritz's Corner ~_^
10.15.06 – Dresden, Germany – Groovestation
10.16.06 – Berlin, Germany – Magnet Club ~_^
10.17.06 – Stuttgart, Germany – Schocken ~_^
10.18.06 – Lausanne, Switzerland – Le Romandie ~_^
10.19.06 – Basel, Switzerland – Das Schiff ~_^
10.20.06 - Urbino, Italy - Makkia
10.21.06 - Pistoia, Italy - Melos
10.23.06 - Paris, France - Le Chiquito
10.24.06 - Brixton, UK - Windmill
10.27.06 - London, UK - The Fly
10.28.06 – Oxford, UK – Zodiac
10.29.06 – Lancaster, UK – The Yorkshire House
10.30.06 – Bristol, UK – Thelka
11.03.06 – New York, NY – Tonic +

^_^ w/ I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness and Hidden Cameras
* w/ Japanther and The Good Good
~_^ w/ I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness
+ w/ Jagjaguwar/Brah Showcase

Working Class People Grab their Parts and Labor for their “More Rock, Less Money” Tour

Parts and Labor are one of the loudest bands to see live. FACT: when you see smaller, "underground" bands in smaller, "underground" venues, everything is so much louder. OPINION: mainly, it's because the bands don't give a shit or it's part of their music-playing philosophy. FACT: or the venue is so small it doesn't even have a stage, so that puts you that much closer to the amplifiers, which are turned up to the same volume as if you were at a stadium concert. OPINION: in particular with Parts and Labor, their drummer beats the shit out of his drums. FACT: it's amazing.

Anyway, Parts and Labor, from Brooklyn, New York, having just toured throughout England during July, will continue on their tour around the world (i.e., Western Europe). The trio released a new CD, titled Stay Afraid, earlier this year and are soon going to release a new 12-inch EP which, according to their website, is "the three of [them] on electronics doing some beat-heavy, home-recorded experiments." FACT: I'm pretty excited, guys. OPINION: No, I'm not being sarcastic. FACT: I'm genuinely pumped. I saw these guys live and I got to talk with them! FACT: It's a shame that you have no idea if I'm being sarcastic or not because this medium doesn't allow for that type of interaction.

Regardless, check Parts and Labor out if you want to see a good show. They're pretty catchy and you might even be able to bring your non-music obsessed friends with you. OPINION: They might even have fun.

Pirates, zombies, and ninjas, what?:

10.06.06 – Antwerpen, Belgium – Trix
10.07.06 – Brussels, Belgium – Botanique ^_^
10.08.06 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Paradiso ^_^
10.10.06 – Leipzig, Germany – Frueh Auf *
10.11.06 – Bielefeld, Germany – AJZ *
10.13.06 – Malmo, Sweden – Pink Flag at Inkonst
10.14.06 – Stockholm, Sweden – Fritz's Corner ~_^
10.15.06 – Dresden, Germany – Groovestation
10.16.06 – Berlin, Germany – Magnet Club ~_^
10.17.06 – Stuttgart, Germany – Schocken ~_^
10.18.06 – Lausanne, Switzerland – Le Romandie ~_^
10.19.06 – Basel, Switzerland – Das Schiff ~_^
10.20.06 - Urbino, Italy - Makkia
10.21.06 - Pistoia, Italy - Melos
10.23.06 - Paris, France - Le Chiquito
10.24.06 - Brixton, UK - Windmill
10.27.06 - London, UK - The Fly
10.28.06 – Oxford, UK – Zodiac
10.29.06 – Lancaster, UK – The Yorkshire House
10.30.06 – Bristol, UK – Thelka
11.03.06 – New York, NY – Tonic +

^_^ w/ I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness and Hidden Cameras
* w/ Japanther and The Good Good
~_^ w/ I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness
+ w/ Jagjaguwar/Brah Showcase

  

News

  • Recent
  • Popular