All Magnatune music previews now announced with a computer voice
As of today, all the 128k mp3s on Magnatune end with a computer voice saying:
"That was track number 5 from the album "album name" by "artist" from magnatune.com"
This change can be heard anywhere Magnatune is heard for free, namely:
1) as playlists on the web site,
2) on the shoutcast radio stations. As part of this change, I've removed all the every-3-songs musician's advertisement that previously appeared on the shoutcast radio stations.
3) and from other web sites such as webjay.com and iRate, which point users directly to the mp3s on our web site.
And obviously, the computer voice only appears on the free previews. There is no computer voice on any purchased music.
Why the change?
1) in many places where our music is heard, the player doesn't show what's playing. This includes realplayer, windows media player and (until recently) itunes radio.
2) I get many emails weekly asking "what were you playing on tuesday around 11 am?" Clearly, if people are constantly asking us what they were listening to in order to buy it, what magnatune was doing to indicate what was playing wasn't working very well.
3) itunes imports the playlist files from magnatune directly into a user's library, mixing from-your-hard-drive music with on-the-internet-music without distinction, as if you bought it. The net result is that many people have a huge collection of music in their itunes library which they play all the time, which is unpaid for, and which the user doesn't even realize isn't on their hard drive. This eats up a lot of bandwidth and is not perceived as try-before-you-buy since the user usually doesn't notice the difference.
4) the original intention of the free mp3 previews was "try before you buy". Unfortunately, I am aware that many users listen to Magnatune music on a regular basis, many of whom rarely--if ever--buy anything. While I would love to be able to support this, frankly, magnatune can't afford it. It doesn't support Magnatune and, worse, it doesn't support the musicians. The complete tracks are still available for free preview, but the computer voice hopefully will encourage people to buy the real albums, much like the nag reminder in shareware. The idea behind Magnatune is still to have you listen all you want, in order to find music you love and to make a fully informed purchase.
I've heard some complaints that the computerized speech program mispronounces things. Depending on the genre of music, this can be more or less severe (classical isn't so good, but rock is generally pretty good). In fact, the voice quality seems to be the main complaint of the change. I'm going to give the current voice a little more time to "settle in" and see how people feel about it, and if it's still a problem for many people, I'll put the work in to have human beings read the description instead.
For those of you who listen and frequently buy from us, I thank you and hope that the 5 second "what you just heard" is helpful and not too distracting. I really dislike DRM, and think this is a much better solution than what other music web sites do.
Someone is giving my radio stations free bandwidth
Because sales and web site hits are up 40%, I've restricted access to our shoutcast radio stations (which are also available in itunes) and the past few days the stations have been maxed out for listeners (my server maxes out at 150 listeners on the classical channel).
Then, yesterday, the number of max listeners we're capable of went magically up, then today it went up again. I investigated, by getting the shoutcast playlist file:
root# curl "http://www.shoutcast.com/sbin/shoutcast-playlist.pls?rn=1185&file=filename.pls"
Title1=(#1 - 174/500) MAGNATUNE.COM Classical: renaissance and baroque (try before you buy)
Title2=(#2 - 77/100) MAGNATUNE.COM Classical: renaissance and baroque (try before you buy)
Title3=(#3 - 149/150) MAGNATUNE.COM Classical: renaissance and baroque (try before you buy)
and see that there are 3 servers providing Magnatune radio station bandwidth. Only the last one (#3) is actually me.
I used Sam Spade, an incredibly useful anti-spam digging tool, and found that the two servers are from two different Hong Kong companies, namely Hutchinson Global Communications and HK-Top Internet Company.
What they're doing is relaying the Magnatune classical feed, and the shoutcast software automatically then picks them up as available listener slots. I tapped in, and indeed the slots are available to the general public, not just Hong Kong residents.
I'd love to know what the intent is... bandwidth costs money, but maybe this is their way of providing music to their customers. At any rate, I have no problem with it at all, and in fact think it's fabulous -- Magnatune radio listeners without cost!
Anyone with theories, I'd love to hear from you...
Magnatune giving Coral CDN a try
A few days ago, I wrote about the open CDN "Coral" which allows me to send mp3 file playing requests through Coral's bandwidth, rather than using Magnatune's bandwidth.
Today (sunday), as a test I've switched over all Magnatune .m3u files to point to mp3 files through Coral.
Please let me know if you have any problems.
One reason for me to give Coral a try now, even though I'm not low on bandwidth, is because non-USA users sometimes find Magnatune slow to use, presumably because the transatlantic bandwidth links between their ISP and Magnatune's ISP is all clogged up. So, perhaps using Coral's bandwidth, which may be better (differently?) wired to the Internet, may help those people.
Another reason is that if Magnatune gets slashdotted, we won't have enough bandwidth to handle the load, which would be a shame, and in a slashdotting case, I'd switch over to using Coral to weather the storm.
My plan is to switch back to not using Coral if there are problems, and I expect the fact that Coral uses port 8090, rather than the standard http port of 80, will cause some people behind firewalls problems, but we'll see.
Magnatune hires new PR agency, Rainmaker PR
I recently hired Rhonda Kelly, who runs Rainmaker PR, which only does indie artists. Though I'm pretty burnt out on PR firms (I recently received [and declined] an $8000 bid to do 15 hours work, inviting press to an Artemis house concert I'm giving) she really impressed me so I'm giving her (and PR) a chance.
I really like Rhonda's in-your-face, authentically excited approach. She'd approached me about a year ago, telling me what a fan she was of Magnatune, and I blew her off (as I do almost all PR come-ons). Then, 2 musicians of mine voluntarily recommended her (unsolicited) and a phone call with her found me thinking that she had a great attitude, and she really deeply groked Magnatune. I also like that she has a mail room staff just for sending review CDs out, and uses stamps.com, which shows that there's a repeated process going on (it's not like we just invented the idea of music PR, is it?).
I've also been too busy to burn all the CDRs needed to send to reviewers, so I bought Rhonda a Primera Bravo II CD burner/printer. I already own two of these, and they work very nicely, cranking out a CD every minute or so, byte-by-byte verified, with a terrific on-the-silver-media color printout (though you have to use special, more-expensive inkjet-printable CD media).
Very flexible, very handy of her to take that duty on.
Also, I liked that when I was trying to convince my previous PR agency to send CDs out for review, Rhonda commented that their proposed approach of sending several CDs to each reviewer was likely to backfire and alienate the editors, as they're too busy and sending many CDs is insensitive. That advice resonated, as that's how I feel when a musician sends me 6 CDRs of "miscellaneous tracks" as a submission for Magnatune rather than one album of their best stuff. Makes sense.
Rhonda's first press release for Magnatune is now online ("Magnatune Sticks IT To The Record Industry"), and shows her gutsy style. Yer gonna hear more about Magnatune, ya hear?!!?
Sales and licensing way up, why?
For the past 6 weeks, things have been great for Magnatune. We did 36 music licenses in September, an all time high, with almost all of them going to films or video production houses, which is wonderful as this is likely repeat business. Also, weekly sales are up 40% over the flat-no-growth that we've experience the past 12 months before that.
Why? Impossible to be sure, but some ideas...
One thing that changed is that I fired both my PR agencies (UK and San Francisco). The SF PR folks wanted a less-negative sounding Magnatune, replacing the slogan "we are not evil" with "everybody wins" and not bashing the evil music business any longer, emphasizing the positive. Also, a great deal of effort was made manufacturing "nice news" such as charities.
Since saying goodbye to them, I've launched
a) copy your purchased music for your friends
b) the "we are not evil" recruiting cards (10,000 given out already, in just 3 weeks)
c) the podcast-us-for-free license
d) as well as some significant improvements to the web site thanks to some free time I now have.
We've also gotten a full page article in The Economist which is great for our reputation (thanks go to the UK PR agency for getting that) though few web hits came from that, since The Economist web site content is subscriber only.
It could be the "back to school" crowd, but I don't think so, as sales have been flat for well over a year.
Web site hits are up about the same about, about 40%, which probably accounts for a large amount of the new increased daily purchase rate, but my web logs don't show those hits are coming from any particular site: it's mostly people typing in the http://magnatune.com url directly into their browsers.
All good news so far, we'll have to see if this positive trend increases, stabilizes, or passes. So far, we're on 6 weeks of this.
amarok live music player launches with Magnatune songs
A few months ago, the developers of amaroK (the amazingly gorgeous music player for Linux and Unix, that really does give iTunes a run for its money) asked me about Magnatune cooperating on their new release of their version 1.3. Their idea was to make a self-booting linux image, that boots into a linux desktop, with amaroK running and some Magnatune music included. I suggested that their developers each choose their favorite Magnatune songs, and we'd make that into a compilation, and include the songs with amaroK live. Because we want to be open source friendly, the songs are in the Ogg Vorbis format, which is patent-free, as opposed to mp3.
Because each of the open-source developers picked their own favorites, this collection includes a wide variety of genres, from goth-age artist Shiva in Exile to medieval harpist Cheryl Fulton to the thrashing metal of Skitzo and the rock of Arthur Yoria, this is a great cross section of what's on Magnatune. Note that this new version of amaroK uses last.fm to make "other things you may like" recommendations, yet another example of the open source community producing great things through a culture of a openness.
Coral CDN - free bandwidth?
Someone pointed me toward Coral, an open and free CDN (content delivery network), which is at http://www.coralcdn.org/
A CDN is a network, like Akamai, where a web site such as Magnatune can offload high-bandwidth static files to another network, so that my web site doesn't need to have such huge bandwidth to run. Since bandwidth is a major expense for Magnatune, especially as we grow or when we get slashdotted (in which case we run out of bandwidth), a CDN has looked interesting. Unfortunately, Akamai and others are quite expensive, though several open CDNs are springing up to handle high load requests to non-commercial sites (the idea being that popularity shouldn't cause a web site to shut down).
Since I sold my company Lyris back in May, I can no longer mooch their unused bandwidth, so Magnatune is now running on its own 100mbit feed at Hurricane Electric. I've cut the shoutcast radio stations down to 500 listeners max, and that uses about 50mbits. The other 50mbits I leave for the .m3u playing from the magnatune web site, as well as purchaser's ZIP file downloads. So far, I've been ok, and am leaving about 20mbits of unused headroom to handle daily spikes. However, as Magnatune grows, I'll need to shell out more for bandwidth unless I can offload the .m3u playing to a CDN.
To change Magnatune's .m3u files to use Coral, I did a simple search and replace on one of my .m3u files (for Chris Juergensen) changing this:
A typical delay in starting each mp3 file was 4 to 6 seconds, though this dropped to 1 to 2 seconds after several requests to the same file (probably, as it caches it locally rather than proxying it live). Twice, during my 30 or so attempts, the mp3 never came and I had to stop/start. I'm not sure if that was my player or the CDN -- more testing is needed on my part.
So Coral looks great, the only problem I have with it is that it's running on a high port, so that people behind proxy servers that don't automatically support http over anything bug port 80 will have problems.
They seem to know about this problem:
Why don't you use port 80?
The use of port 8090 is largely a relic of our beta deployment on PlanetLab, given that it is a shared test-bed. We hope to switch to using port 80 as soon as possible. Sorry for any inconvenience; in the short-term, if you can't access port 8090 due to a local firewall and still wish to use Coral, try finding an open web proxy running on port 80. For example, Google for the search term "cgiproxy start".
So, I think this would work well for my ZIP file downloads, but not so good for the m3u playlists today, at least until they move to port 80.
Please let me know if you learn know any other open CDNs!
last.fm & web services & magnatune sounds-like search feature
I visited the last.fm/audioscrobbler folks today, to catch up with them (it's been a year since I last went over there). They've added several more people, and I was happy to hear that they've got several revenue sources (ads, premium services, research data) so they're staying afloat (growing, in fact) without taking in evil investor types.
I had asked them last year if they could give me "people who like (name of magnatune artist) also like (names of major bands)" so that I could input this data into a soon-to-be-released search engine on Magnatune.
Well, they've done that, and a lot more, with a beautiful implementation of a web-services API, all based on REST. I had argued strongly a year back to avoid doing complicated SOAP services, as these are a pain for the client side, instead allowing simple parameters-in-the-url and returning simply formatted XML docs. That's exactly what they have, and it's gorgeous.
For an example, visit this URL which returns XML sounds alike for Magnatune artist Brad Sucks.
Why Everyone Hates The Music IndustryTechweb.com has an excellent article today by Fredric Paul titled "Why Everyone Hates The Music Industry". He's commenting on a recent Forrester Research piece about the music industry, and finds it lacking the obvious point, namely that no-one wants to do business with the music industry. His summary: "If your vendors and customers hate you, you're dead."