Category: digital music packaging


content packaging tech explosion

September 1st, 2009 — 7:21am

Things that are closely related: ebooks, the CMX and Cocktail music packaging formats, the offline features of HTML 5, and single page web apps. And maybe Adobe AIR.

Except that epub, the open format of ebooks, usually doesn't support Javascript.

If I had to bet, I'd put my money on epub. The model of providing a zip file of HTML with an XML manifest is an easy evolutionary step which has been invented independently many times. CMX/Cocktail could easily migrate in that direction.

Epub uses an XML manifest, not something developed under the microformats.org umbrella. My experience with the XML is that it's a bit cumbersome and could be simplified by using more plain old semantic HTML in its place. But whether a microformat.org production is more useful than plain old XML is a different question.

15 comments » | digital music packaging, ebook

playlist about winter in a climate without real seasons

October 6th, 2008 — 3:37pm

for Cloudy Days is a really good playlist that just appeared in the wild. Compare it to what you could do using any XSPF-based method like XSPF Musicplayer, JW player, and EasyListener, using any all-in-one solution like Muxtape, Mixwit, Playlist.com, Myspace Music, Rhapsody, or iMeem, or using an iTunes playlist.

Here is that page within an iframe for easy inspection:

There's a big piece of artwork splashed across the top of the page, and this playlister takes advantage of that big expanse of pixels with a landscape photo. Imagine the 640 x 450 pixels of that peaceful open landscape crammed into the 64 x 64 square for album art in any Flash widget -- it wouldn't be on the same level.

Underneath the art is a long text annotation about the playlist, 265 words in all:

This past weekend reminded me why I love the winter months coming up ahead; however, here in California there’s not really a true winter season. To me winter is just a reminder of those calendars in elementary school with the image of the snowman and leaves being swirled up with a bunch of lines symbolizing the cold wind.

It's only after that big piece of art and expansive explanation that the songs start. At that point the capabilities of all the other playlisting providers kick in. I bring this up because it a really great example of why it is that the HTML-based playlisting solution in goose (which he uses in that page) is better than any Flash-based one. This is a new and better generation of playlisting technology.

Comments Off | digital music packaging, goose, playlists

pure AJAX audio formats now a reality

October 4th, 2008 — 12:32pm

The best hack I've seen since Brad Neuberg did AMASS in 2005: Arek Korbik implements Vorbis in Flash, with no dedicated Vorbis support provided by Adobe as part of Flash. It's a god-level piece of hacking.

What Arek's hack means is that new sound formats can now be implemented in pure AJAX and deployed with browser-borne technology. This breaks the logjam at MP3, where new audio formats could never reach wide deployment because the only one that Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe could agree on was MP3. The result of the logjam was that innovation related to audio file formats was over in about 1998.

That innovation can now start up again. We can expect growth of patent-free codecs like Vorbis and FLAC. I'll bet there will be a JSON-based audio format based on Vorbis. And in the long term, freaky Big Daddy Roth audio files with chromed metadata, embedded blenders, etc.


Upate: I'm getting a little pushback from people who feel that (1) there's nothing new here because it has been possible to do Vorbis using Java applets for a while and (2) this method doesn't support video.

Java is not a viable option. Most people don't have Java installed, and the people who do have it installed won't tolerate the slow and ugly startup. About the need for video, let's not get ahead of ourselves. One thing at a time.

6 comments » | digital music packaging, free software, hacks, webdev

song pages at bandcamp

September 19th, 2008 — 1:27pm

The song pages at Bandcamp are very good. For an example, see the page for the song "Mercury Vapor."

They give the song a full page worth of real estate, which lets them elevate the song title to the page title and give the album art enough emphasis; that's a great use of plain old semantic HTML for media metadata. The song title is also in the URL, which is good for search engine rankings; the pages have excellent search engine optimization overall, which allows musicians to capture search results for their own works. There are lyrics and a commentary by the musicians. You can download or stream the song. There is a link to the album containing the song and links to other songs on the same album.

And notice that the page isn't empty. Giving the track a page of its own doesn't waste space. The opposite -- it lets the track have enough space for once.

2 comments » | digital music packaging, musician sites, xiph

benefits of song pages

July 17th, 2008 — 5:51pm
Reblogging elemental-consulting on how dedicated pages add value to single songs:

while I buy digital music on a regular basis, I still love the idea of CDs- something tangible that gives me more than just the music - liner notes, pictures, lyrics, all the writing/production credits etc. There’s no doubt in my mind that the advent of digital music has devalued music and the consumption of it. Quantity has overtaken quality in many cases - how many free songs can I download, how much can I fit on my iPod, how many new artists can I find today. Nothing inherently wrong with any of that, but it just means that, in these terms, a single, solitary song is seen as disposable and barely worth paying for.

...

1) Additional SEO-able content for your site

2) With the addition of comments, you can create community around one song and further engage your audience.

3) Adding all this value for one song adds an additional emotional appeal to your music. Not only can fans see the amount of care and attention that has been invested on the part of the artist but it broadens their experience of the song and their emotional attachment to it.

4) By using a Creative Commons license and encouraging derivations, the life of the song is extended.

What I take from this is that it gives reasons why musicians and their designated rights holders would want to create dedicated pages for songs. Given that you've invested in a song, you can enhance the value of your investment by giving it a page. The situation is a lot like music videos, except that the content type is anything that goes in a web page rather than strictly moving pictures.

The comparison to music videos is natural, and it gives a simple explanation for why you'd give a song a page. In the old days television was the medium for culture. These days it's the web. So the existence of song pages is a straight transcription of music videos to the new medium.

But this way of thinking about song pages is in opposition to the perception of song pages as packaging. Are song pages more like big-ass gatefold albums or music videos?

9 comments » | business, digital music packaging, music, xiph

song page manifesto

July 9th, 2008 — 9:07pm

The place for a dedicated song page is in the media player. Media players need to be extended to have the ability to show a web page associated with a song; they should always show the web page, and shouldn't require the user to take action. Listening to media in a media player should come with a series of auto-loaded web pages, one per song.

Manifesto

Bare audio files are pretty crappy. All they have room for is bytes describing waveforms. Waveforms are part of music, but not all of it by any means. To come alive a piece of music needs a lot more.

Of course, a song needs a title, and the name of the musical act, and some more facts like the name of album and the length of the song. But even though these facts are part of music, they also aren't enough to bring it alive.

What every song needs is a web page.

The web page might be anything. It might be a single graphic, similar to how album art is currently used. It might be a series of images, like a slideshow. It might be song lyrics. It might be guitar tab. It might be a list of Myspace friends. It might be Creative Commons licensing information. It might be a pledge drive for future releases or a tip jar for this release. Who the hell knows that the web page is; what's important is that a web page is powerful and flexible enough for the demands of the music.

Application flow

So what does the software look like?

There would be a chunk of HTML associated with an audio file. It could be saved for offline usage or -- easier to implement in the first generation -- it could just be a link that was loaded when the user was online.

The HTML would be used everywhere album art is used. In offline media players like the iTunes client-side software, here would be a pane in the media player which displayed it while the song was on. iTunes cover flow would display a screenshot of the page while you're flipping through your collection and switch to a live grab while the song is playing.

Non-graphical offline media players like VLC would have a button to open the web page in a browser window. They might also be able to enslave a browser window which would be constantly updated during the course of a playlist. Console mode players would display the link for easy copy and paste.

Online media players (in the browser) would give a section of screen real estate to the page. A player like FoxyTunes would give the entire document window over, while a player like XSPF Musicplayer would only give a badge-sized portion of the window. The JW FLV player, for example, would put an HTML window where the video is.

How would the HTML be associated with the audio file? The easiest way to start is with an ID3 tag in MP3 files. (Leaving the issue of how to do it in other media formats aside). There already exists a standard tag designed for this purpose -- the WOAF field, which is defined as The 'Official audio file webpage' frame is a URL pointing at a file specific webpage. This is very easy to implement, adoption is the only hard part.

What would be in the page

Romancing the music. Providing esthetic context with imagery and text, poems, animations.

Factual information. Song title, copyright data, album name, a list of performers.

Social features. A friend list, a signup for the mailing list, fan chat.

Advertising. Musicians could release a free download and earn ad revenues on a page view per play.

Performance resources. To play along, sheet music and tablature. To sing along, lyrics. To remix, source files. These would encourage listeners to pull the music into their life.

Upsells. Concert listings, merchandise like t-shirts and hoodies, ability to purchase a high-res version of the audio file, ability to purchase the entire album. (Imagine how the ability to purchase the whole album would work: you grab a single song from a filesharing network or pay per download site; you're listening and digging it; there before your eyes is a big link to get more music from the same artist -- go!)

It matters

There is a lot to gain.

Listeners would enjoy the music more because the musical experience would be better. They would have better metadata; for example, context-specific data like the featured soloist in a concerto could be given. They would have a ton of artwork, rather than a little postage stamp. They would have interactive and social features. They would be able to see concert listings auto-generated by geolocation. Rather than a media player that is a spreadsheet for metadata, the media player would an explosion of web experiences.

Commercial musicians could turn free downloads into money much more easily. Right now they rely on a user noticing a song, taking action to do a search, and following links in search results until they came to one that could convert the listener into a customer. With the new way, the user would just have to notice the song and glance over at the web page being displayed. The old way is ten clicks, the new way is zero clicks.

Record companies could develop branding for baby bands, and they could own the URL for their artists rather than letting Myspace have it. They could turn casual listeners into customers by making sticky services like a mailing list one click away from the listening experience.

Avocational musicians could get connected to lead sheets and remix sources more easily.

Developers could extend the musical experience much more easily and to much better ends. It is nearly impossible to extend MP3. It is easy to build on web pages, and the frontiers are being extended every day.

What next?

In the comments on the post that started this, Ian asked: where does this go next? And how do I package/distribute the end result? The answer is to start working on broad adoption of the WOAF ID3 element in MP3.

  1. You could sketch out wireframes of application flow. Help to visualize the user interface. Help create the conventions of this new functionality.
  2. You could do a Songbird plugin which loaded the contents of the WOAF field into the document window. Songbird was frakkin born to do this job and would excel at it.
  3. You could do a VLC extension which opened a browser window to the URL in the WOAF field.
  4. You could document how to do this functionality in the Ogg container format.
  5. You could figure out how to get the contents of the WOAF field in an AJAX app without needing standard media plugins to be changed.
  6. You could evangelize this method to the developers of standard media plugins like Flash, Quicktime and Windows Media Player, and convince them to expose the WOAF field to AJAX developers.
  7. You could evangelize this method to leaders in the recording industry, and get them to help apply pressure to vendors of leading media players.
  8. If you're on the artist development side, you could make sure that the WOAF field is set in your free downloads.
  9. If you're a client-side software developer, you could make an easy tool to set the WOAF field.
  10. If you're a blogger who knows why this is retarded, you could spell it out and help to fix the problem.

To summarize: a web page for every song, a page view for every play.


Background conversation

Here is relevant conversation from the comments on my post about a dedicated page for a song.

Jay Fienberg:

Someday, I’d like to be able to just put http://soupgreens.com/froginthewell/ in my “music player” and have it all in my library–which needn’t be just a collection of music files on one computer, but could be a very multi-medium, multi-source, multi-network, multi-device interlinked library of and about music.

[...snip...]

For Err or Man, besides album covers and the lyrics for each song, each song itself also has 2+ pieces of visual art. And, more a/v may come in the future. So, for each of these songs, I need to create not only a song “page,” but a song “(mini) site.”

But, this is the web, so it’s straightforward to create these kinds of multifaceted / relational collections of the mixed-medium info that make up what we call a “song.” What’s missing is the music player / web browser hybrid that understands the song as existing in this kind of interconnected context.

Crosbie Fitch said:

Let the page be the AUTHORITATIVE source for that work. Ensure the URL has the ISBN, or if that isn’t relevant, the MD5 digest of the FLAC (for integrity checking). Would be good to have a standard for indicating authoritative URIs for digital works.

Make the page the PermaLink for the work.

That page (with the artist’s domain in the URL) is gospel for the work. Encode the page’s URL in all metadata for all files.

Bung metadata in the page’s HTML.

As for a tip jar “I would have gladly paid $n.nn for this, let me rectify that now”, yes, you could put that on this page.

Pledging is a matter of chipping in a small amount contingent upon the production and release of future work, either any work or a specific work. So you could have a pledge button on the artist’s page “I’d like to pledge a quid to you for your next work, hopefully to be released soon” (qv http://www.quidmusic.com). You could also accept requests, and create pages for frequently requested works not yet embarked upon “I think you could do a great rendition of song X, there’s $N from me upon that fine day”, or for your suggestions of things you could do “Yup, I think your ideas of doing work along those lines would be worth exploring, I’ll chip in 50 cents for that”.

NB Pledges are not tips or charitable donations, but commissions/bargains/purchases/patronage, the new deal: art for money, money for art.

Your audience wants to pay you - you do not need to charge them for ‘possession with intent to supply’ on penalty of copyright infringement with 5 year jail terms and million dollar fines.

23 comments » | ad-sponsored music, business, digital music packaging, manifesto, music, musician sites, xiph

packaging zeitgeist

June 11th, 2008 — 7:20pm

This novelty page is an interesting form of music packaging. It has a full-page esthetic similar to Muxtape and (in a sense) goose. The layout is purely decorative. The object is a hybrid of graphics, music, and motion. The visual elements are HTML rather than Flash.

There's something happening but I don't know what it is.

Comments Off | digital music packaging

more blogs as digital packaging: label as blog

June 2nd, 2008 — 8:28pm

The packaging for releases on the Inman Street Records netlabel is a blog post with links to individual MP3s and to a zip file containing all of the MP3s. The blog as a whole is the label and the post is the album.

For example, this is Shrinking Islands - “The Slow-Moving Aftermath EP”.

3 comments » | digital music packaging, musician blog

Vess Ossman playlist on Soup Greens

May 15th, 2008 — 1:23am

Over on Soup Greens I have posted a playlist of pre-1923 recordings by a banjo player named Vess Ossman.

The playlist is a standalone page of hand-coded HTML. The design is influenced by Muxtape. The blog post over there is a stub to enable comments and channel blog visitors into the playlist.

The blog post is at http://soupgreens.com/2008/05/14/vess-ossman-playlist/. The playlist is at http://www.soupgreens.com/vessossman/.

My goals in terms of my own music were to provide context and to keep the flow of fresh content up. Context gives notes a back story and cultural kick. Fresh content creates momentum.

My technology goal was to explore playlists as a form of album packaging. I wanted to do such a tight job on the page that it would give the same kind of experience as opening a new CD and listening while you read the liner notes and look at the pictures, so I really sweated the graphics, writing, song selection, outbound links, and usability. I don't want people to download the MP3s; I do want them to listen with the page open, and ideally to return to the page when they want to hear the music again.

I couldn't figure out how to give the playlist social liveliness of the kind that Greg Borenstein articulated in his comment on the Jon Udell piece. Ideas are welcome.

Comments Off | digital music packaging, music, playlists

Portishead packaging

April 22nd, 2008 — 6:14pm

Check out the packaging for the new Portishead release. It feels a lot like an expensive hotel or a spa, and not at all like an MP3.

There's no CD at all. Instead there is a big-ass 1GB USB key. This contains the music file collection formerly known as an "album" or "CD" or "release". The remaining free space contains videos of some kind (but what the videos are isn't said). I love the idea of pre-ripped files, because having to rip my own CD purchases feels like I'm paying for a DIY project, but CD players are still convenient for me sometimes so I want *both* a CD and pre-ripped files.

There is a double vinyl album and, listed separately, an etched 12” vinyl of ‘Machine Gun’. Are these really separate things? Vinyl etching is way cool, anyway. The way it works is that you get the actual wax mold they will pour the vinyl into, then cut a picture out of the wax rather than cutting grooves for a phonograph needle to read. This vinyl etching deal is a way of emphasizing the physicality of what you're getting for your money. The message is that you're not buying *bits." This product is not a crappy way of files onto your iPod, it's a way of getting close to music you love.

Visuals along the lines of album art in the form of a Limited edition print from Nick Uff. Again, this isn't a crappy MP3, it's a whole other thing.

The major economic factor for this release isn't anything in this listing though; it's the ten years it took the band to make the music, and the amazing staying power of their prior music. If they only make a release every ten years, the cost of luxuries like vinyl etching is relatively unimportant.

(Thanks to export5000 for the link).

4 comments » | business, digital music packaging, music

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