If music is social, why can I only hear noise?

When U2 met with Steve Jobs in 2004, they came away with a deal for a rather baffling piece of cross-promotion. Apple would produce a piece of hardware designed to reflect the band’s latest album at the time, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. With 30 GB and the signatures of all four members of U2, the special edition iPod was priced at US$349. Source: Wikipedia)

But it wasn’t just the kit that fans could love – if they bought the U2 iPod, they would also get a different version of the album to anyone buying it the old way, in the shops.

U2 iPods gave the owner special privileges, such as downloading songs for free, they also scored a US$50 coupon for a US$149 collection of U2’s entire back catalog.

Together, the band and the brand appeared were redefining the music industry. But if they did, where are all the follow-up music/hardware integrations? Why can’t I buy a Foo Fighters album pre-loaded on an iPhone or even a Ben Folds LP on a USB stick? The whole plan stalled at the starting line, leaving us buying CDs and downloading MP3s, occasionally with bonus videos or imagery in a ‘digital booklet’. This is not awe-inspiring stuff.

The biggest movements since then have seen Radiohead offering their song in your choice of format and at the price you think its worth. Beck offered his album in sheet music only in 2012 (hoping for a mash-up that never came), while last week, David Bowie was lauded as an innovator for streaming his album for free. Oh please.

While streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora may already have rendered the purchase of an album irrelevant for the next generation, I still like to have a physical object to show for my money. I make exceptions to this rule when the digital offering is far better than what I would get from a CD with its inserts. But this remains rare, and so, record stores still have kilometers of shelving dedicated to popular bands and their back catalogs. I am certain the CD wil not phase out until a new replacement comes.

Here’s one way things might play out, according to Bono…

Music apps – sounds good right?

The App as Music

I decide to buy an album … I download an app to my smartphone or tablet … I get a preview of songs and a teaser video of what else is on offer … I can then opt-in for the album (together with bonus extras, just like a DVD) or just select some singles to download and be done with it.

Sounds good so far.

But what if the app took me even further? Perhaps it could unlock a back-catalog of videos, or a list of demos and b-sides that took me into the studio like a producer, watching as the band developed each track and sifted through snippets, hooks and riffs to find the gold?

Here’s how Bono describes it, speaking, as he does every few years, of the band’s need to reinvent themselves.

He shrugs off the fact that the band have just recorded the biggest-grossing live tour in the history of popular music and wonders whether U2 can still be relevant. “We can play the big music in big places. But whether we can play the small music, meaning for the small speakers of the radio or clubs, where people are living, remains to be seen,” he says. “I think we have to go to that place again if we’re to survive.

“There are so many U2 albums out there. We need a reason for another one. The whole point of being in U2 is that we’re not here to be an art-house band. Our job, as we see it, is to bring the art house to the mainstream; our job is to puncture the mainstream.”

Earlier, he was using an iPad with the Achtung Baby songs and videos on it. “That’s probably what our new album will look like,” he says. “I’ve been talking about this for the past four years.

“Our last album was the first album to be made available as an app with BlackBerry devices, but it didn’t work: the functionality was not what it could have been. New formats are going to happen. I’m always banging on about this. The app format brings you back to that world of gatefold sleeves, of being able to read lyrics – and [now of] being able to play the album at home on your plasma TV.”
(c) Irish Times, 2011.

Socially, an app as an album could lift the experience to another level again. Imagine if, while listening, I can read other my friends’ comments on the songs, just as I should be able drop comments into the stream for others to see, if they so choose.

An in-built forum should also capture fans’ debate of the lyrics or the band’s missteps.

I should also be able to share it with a group of friends, having a virtual listening party, helping promote the songs to my friends.

I don’t really see why this is all yet to happen. I guess it could have something to do with the all-powerful triumvirate of record labels.

Right now, Spotify tells me – via Facebook and ad nausea – what some of my friends are listening to. But this form of socialised music listening fails at the first turn.

If I have never heard of the song or artist, there ends my interest… I’m done. I know I said I’d like to find out music recommended by my friends, but it turns out an automated feed of what they are listening to right now does not equal useful recommendations.   (Now, please leave me alone to continue sifting through the already mindless landscape of posts from ‘friends’ I barely know.)

Moreover, Spotify makes me annoyed not just at the technology but even at my real life friends who should know better. This is all little better than Apple’s Ping – an ill-fated foray into social music sharing. Nor is it any more user-friendly than the Washington Post ‘social reader‘ – a Facebook experiment that gained massive notoriety for increasing traffic then even more infamy following the mass exit of millions of users who felt violated by its sharing of all articles they had read.

Turns out we don’t need Bono or Steve Jobs. I am simply longing once more for music parties, where your friends came over, you put on a CD and you just discuss it; You tell why you like it, who it reminds you of, or you tear it apart because it’s rubbish.

If an app or online service can deliver that, sign me up.

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Apps beat tasks, but not taste

Smartphone apps – mainly free ones, bless them – continue to change my everyday routines, enhancing once mundane duties into short, fun tasks.

For instance, I can find and launch apps to change channel on my TV and adjust my stereo quicker than I can locate the remotes needed to do both.

I use an app to record wine labels and tag how enjoyable they were much more easily than I can recall them.

And with nifty little Instagram I can enhance photos and share them much quicker than I could ever launch Photoshop and email pictures of my coffee to a bunch of strangers.

But I am running out of worthwhile things to share. And I am asking myself more and more, why are we all sharing photos of our coffees? Sure you might be excited by the smell and the unique design doodle in the latte froth, but all we see is a coffee. Like a meal, it’s a multi-sensory experience, not a visible moment. You’ve dumbed it down and crowded my feed – pardon the pun.

An occasional, extraordinary meal, sure… Tell me all about it so I might cook it or visit that restaurant. But snack food? A good espresso?

Then comes new app EVERNOTE FOOD. (link: http://blog.evernote.com/2012/06/07/everyone-to-the-table-evernote-food-for-android-has-arrived/)

“With Evernote Food we’ve created an absolutely beautiful way to preserve every dish, every table, and every bite you’ve ever had.”

Now you can capture the time, location, menu and photos of your favourite culinary experiences.

This app will even link your meal with other items you have saved in generally awesome notebook app, Evernote.

(It’s free and seriously good. Get it.)

“For example, if you used Evernote Hello at a lunch meeting, the faces of the attendees may be associated with the Meal.”

What a hideous thought.

And as you will find if you put all this effort in with Evernote Food, your meals are now shareable. So not only can you record every meal in detail, the menu, service, location and attendees, you can also tell everyone who wasn’t there!

Here’s an idea. Don’t.

Why I don’t bother with Tweetdeck

I cannot fathom what is going on at Twitter.

Millions of dollars flowing their way, adulation, sponsorships and the chance to recruit masters of user interface design and HTML5.

Yet the app they bought, Tweetdeck, is floundering terribly.

In my job, I train TV staff and recommend to a range of journalists and TV producers on what apps they hsould use for navigating Twitter.

My first comments are;

1) Don’t use the Twitter website if you can help it.

2) Don’t download the latest version of Tweetdeck.

Yet, as a social media manager, I have no great option with which to use Twitter on a PC desktop machine.

Yes, Hootsuite.com is getting ne by – and saves anyone who can’t install an app on their work PC – but my point is that Twitter, by purchasing Tweetdeck, was supposed to improve it into the killer app it should be. Instead it is has faltered at nearly every turn.

Oh how I despise it. Let me count the ways…

1) I can’t trust the schedule function, It regularly posts tweets immediately, not at prescribed times.

2) I cannot add someone to a list (this was available in a previous version)

3) I must add an entire column/feed of an user in order to access an individual tweet’s details.

4) The black background is not everyone’s cup of tea. It was cool for a while but now the contrast makes me squint and my OHS advisor agrees. So there.

5) The Chrome version fails to link to it’s own extension in the left-click option ‘Share this via Tweetdeck’

6) I cannot remove some accounts I no longer use. They reappear every time I reopen the app in some kind of mystical syncing debacle I am not privy to.

7) I cannot choose from which account I am favouriting a tweet or following a user.

8) The iPhone app has always been intolerable and the latest iteration does little to help it comete with stable, speedy options like @tweetbot

9) All these people agree with me

10) No threaded conversations? Or, only when it wants to show them. Pfft

11) I’m given a set number of columns or to get to the adjacent column I have to switch to a new three? No.

12) Adobe Air. It’s a daft idea to think I should keep approving updates to a secondary program I don’t really need. And its adds substantially to Tweetdeck’s reputation as a ‘memory hog’ slowing down your whole computer.

But like in the Bible and in all good Harry Potter books, there is hope….

You can download the old Tweetdeck!

Or, as I mentioned, try Hootsuite, a web-based version that actually does a lot more – perhaps too much – and it does it efficiently. There are many reasons to switch, but as I tell staff who are new to Twitter, don’t even try Tweetdeck out to begin with.

Is it salvageable? Of course. If they stripped it back to what it could do well to begin with – multiple feeds that are searchable – and add on features that other top apps now include, Tweetdeck could bounce back.

Is this likely? I don’t think so. Have you seen the latest range of changes Twitter brought to its own website? Connect/Discover/Whatever…

Instagram – Brands and big names worth following

Instagram – the only social network which rewards creativity with more followers – is my latest iPhone app addiction and may soon become essential for news junkies.

Where else could you get a photographic insight into presidential debate just minutes before it went LIVE to air.

Twitter, you say? Ah, but Instagram makes the photos the medium, not the caption, and you can search by tags, places or even GPS.

This enables me to instantly see who else and what else is being posted at a certain location, be in the Vatican City as the pope appears, an earthquake in Indonesia or at a protest in Time Square. Of course, it works locally too as more people join up and tag posts with your favourite cafe, park or club.

As I write this, #OccupyWallStreet has 6612 photos under that tag. Even #occupysydney has 130 (not including those added by me)

It’s also becoming a nice way to tap into the US presidential campaign.

Check out what @CNNSITROOM (Wolf Blitzer’s weekly political – The Situation Room forum on CNN) posted this morning….

There is quality content here, and the feed keeps getting bigger, especially from US TV networks hitching a ride on this new photo-sharing app.

@TodayShow is leading the way starting hashtags for each musical act to join their concert series.

@Starbucks is offering deals if you follow their posted pics.

And despite a few big-name signups, Instagram is still largely under the radar.

Perhaps it’s because the media hasn’t been mentioning it on air. There have been no security breaches, and no epic milestones of users signed up (although it is pushing 7million users – not bad for just 4 employees) and that’d always a good time to join.

You know, before it was popular.

Part of the app’s appeal is that it makes real people the most popular when their skill has wide appeal. Meet the Top 15 Photographers – most of whom are relative nobodies until Instagram.

That said, here are a few familiar names and faces you will know if you sign up…

News
@nbcnews
@npr
@abcworldnews
@decision2012
@Time_magazine
@washingtonpost

Real Time Reporting
@cnnireiport
@breakingnews (AWOL? just a handful of posts)
@CNNPR

TV Shows
@sunriseon7 (of course)
@todayshow (NBC)
@GoodMorningAmerica
@MTV
@NatGeo
@MeetThePress
@BackStory

Tech news/views
@LeoLaporte
@Mashable
@Zuck (Mark Zuckerberg – only 3 photos)
@Jack – creator of Twitter Jack Dorsey
@evanwilliams – entrepreneur behind blogger & twitter
@bizstone – co-founder of twitter

Other Brands
@wikileaks
@YouTube
@RedBull
@Starbucks
@YouTube
@WeatherChannel
@BillboardDotCom
@generalElectric
@SXSW
@NASAgoddard
@VH1
@Burberry
@Gucci

Screen-shot-2011-05-16-at-21.15.22.png

Aussies
@maddogsullo – Eamon Sullivan
@adamboland

Celebs
@SnoopDogg
@jamieoliver
@TonyHawk
@justinbieber
@selenagomez

Go the NRL’s #StateOfOrigin #apps

I’m a pretty jaded observer of our nation’s footy codes. Since high school – the last time I counted myself as a fan – I have seen very little in NRL or AFL that has inspired me.

Frankly, most of it just makes me cringe.

But the NRL’s forward-thinking in building and releasing paid iPhone apps in time for the annual State of Origin series is a very savvy move.

More below…

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The apps appear pretty simple (stats and bio content), running costs would be low (mainly serving videos) and the audience demographic is wide-ranging.

Plus, they get a free national platform in Games 1 & 2 to promote the hell out of them.

I imagine they had both apps made for less than $40,000 total and they could expect over 80,000 downloads. At $1.19 each, that’s about $50,000 profit and greater audience engagement in a part of NRL jaded fans like me used to love.

Check out the application:

http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/nsw-blues/id436086858?mt=8

Cheers, Luke

me tweeting

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