Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In Defense of Cultural Elitistism

I just came across this interview with Last.FM's Martin Stiksel in Wired's Listening Post blog. As I was reading through it, I came across this passage:

The site [Last.FM] differs from its competitor Pandora (he called it a "friendly rivalry"), because Pandora hires experts to classify music, while Last.FM tracks users' collections in order to generate associations between songs. Stiksel compared Last.FM's system to democracy, and Pandora's to aristocracy. He also said this approach makes Last.FM more scalable than Pandora, and that the inspiration for this feature came from the way the original Napster let you search for a band liked, and then browse the other songs shared by users who had that song.
I'm going to revisit Custom Radio in a future blog entry, but given that one of the points I wanted to make has been explicitly stated, I thought I'd quickly seize the moment.
While I agree that the democratic process makes sense in politics (well, if you live in a wealthy secular country with a large middle-class). But when it comes to the arts, I'd have to say it flat out sucks!

I could go on and on about the reasons for this, but there is a much simpler explanation. For those of you living in the US or Canada, tonight is the night of judgement for American Idol. From this day forward, we will be blessed through an intensely democratic process (one that has more participation than the US elections themselves, I might add) with a new "Idol". We even have 6 idols already, and there is no doubt that when the history books are written, they will all stand head-and-shoulders alongside: Mozart, The Beatles, Bob Marley, Can, Charlie Parker, Nirvana, and Radiohead.

And hey, if you don't believe me, just go ask any 12 year old boy or girl. They're sure to have an opinion.

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Stay TUN3D.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Daily Session channels the New York Underground

It's been a while, but today I've got an interview blog. Btw, if there are any stations out there that would like to participate in an interview, please contact me at: neil@tun3r.com.

I've been looking for a station like Daily Session for some time now - a station which channels a large city's underground into a 24/7 stream. So when Jonathan Schippers contacted me to add Daily Session - a station which profiles and exclusively plays New York's underground (based out of Brooklyn) - I was thrilled!

In my mind, this is a big part of what Internet Radio is about. This is the true grass roots stuff which normally you need to get off your duff and walk into a club reaking of stale beer and cigarettes. To be sure, there is no substitute for going out and experiencing live music (more on that in the interview), and it could take weeks or months before you hear something genuinely groundbreaking on the level of Nirvana or Fatboy Slim. But for the music geek, I strongly encourage regular visitations of Daily Session.

Case in point: A couple weeks ago, I was surfing around the techno stations. They all seemed to be in a rut that night, but I was hungry from fresh electronic sounds, and nothing was sating my appetite. I zipped over to Daily Session, and there was this brilliant set playing which I can only compare to something from Wendy Carlos' A Clockwork Orange soundtrack (one of my favourite films and soundtracks). The piece was electronic, but seamlessly morphed to and from uptempo trumpet playing. I had felt as though I had gone from downing a Burger King combo, to chewing on a nice fresh piece of ginger. It's a great feeling.

But if I was to level a criticism against Daily Session, it would seem to play a lot of "Live Set" inspired material. I like Live Sets, but quite often I feel that I'm missing the physical setting's context, and that the artist is not making the same connection with me that she might if I were physically present. I guess that's why I prefer to hear the sound of the crowd, to get a better feel of the interplay. But these are minor quibbles. If you want to keep your hand on the pulse of new music, a site like Daily Session will please you.

Btw, before getting on with the interview, if you've never been to New York City, I highly recommend it. I've been to NYC four or five times, and each
visit I come away more impressed than the last. I hate to say it, but it makes our own Toronto look like a hick town in comparison (but a nice and friendly hick town).


Now on with the interview...

Q1 Neil: Who came up with the idea of Daily Session, and how long has it been around for? What's the story?

Jonathan: I conceived the idea for dailysession in the summer of 2007 and spent about six months in development. We officially launched in January 2008! I think our press release best describes the motivation for pulling it all together:

In recent years, New York City has undergone a physical change, losing many of the cultural institutions that helped provide its creative edge to high priced condos, velvet ropes and block after block of national corporate chains. Most of the enduring independents have fled Manhattan, leaving behind a heavily fragmented community. Not surprisingly, the artistic ethos that these places helped sustain has suffered a similar fate; drowned out by banks and bottle service, it has been forced into a disjointed existence. As a result, for the first time in its colorful history, New York City is without a cohesive underground culture. As the city concedes its remaining character to corporate America one question can be heard echoing throughout its streets, ‘Has New York Lost its Soul?’

The good news is that New York’s soul is alive and well just beneath the surface but because of the rapid changes that so many neighborhoods have undergone recently, it’s a little harder to find these days. Our mission at dailysession is to reunite the city’s fragmented underground community and support the businesses and individuals that are playing such a vital role in keeping New York City on the world’s underground map.


Q2 Neil: Are there other stations out there which cover other city's undergound scenes that you're aware of, and do you have relations with them?

Jonathan: I’m not aware of anyone doing internet radio in the hyperlocal sense that we are.


Q3 Neil: How would you characterize the New York underground, as compared to other cities' underground scenes?

Jonathan: New York’s underground music scene is unlike any other in the world. A quick glance at our events calendar this week shows Louie Vega, Kevin Hedge, DJ Premier, Brand Nubian, Carl Craig, KRS-ONE, Turntables on the Hudson, Tony Humphries, Danny Krivit, Francois K, Joe Claussell and Danny Tenaglia all playing in the next few days - and that’s pretty standard! However, it is true that the once unrivaled energy that pervaded our music and nightlife scene has been somewhat watered down by current trends like bottle service and the bar mitzvah style of DJing that compliments it.


Q4 Neil: How do you select new material to play. Are you hanging out in clubs and approaching artists, or do they come to you?

Jonathan: A lot of the surviving record stores here in New York host weekly shows on dailysession.com. They have relationships with many of the city’s prominent DJ’s and routinely book them on their shows. As a result, we have a constantly expanding network of underground contributors here in NYC that helps us inch closer and closer to our goal of one day accurately representing the city’s underground music scene.


Q5 Neil: How much material do you plow through before you play anything? Are you tossing out a lot of crap, or is most of the source material you're reviewing decent?

Jonathan: We do receive a steady stream of submissions, most of which is just average. Of course, there is the occasional demo that stands out (and not always for the right reasons).


Q6 Neil: What is the worst thing you've had to listen to? How about the best?

Jonathan: Thankfully, the worst things aren’t that memorable. The best mixes we’ve received came from DJ Monchan who now hosts Monday’s dailysession at Zakka, NYC!


Q7 Neil: Have you "discovered" any artists that have gone on to sign with a major label?

Not yet. We haven’t been around that long and a lot of the music that we broadcast isn’t on the Major label radar.

Q8 Neil: Do you have ties with local clubs. Are you mainly active in Brooklyn, or do you venture into the other burroughs?

Jonathan: We’ve been speaking with many local clubs about broadcasting some of their events live on dailysession. In the upcoming weeks and months, we plan on integrating these live broadcasts into our regular programming.

While we are based in Brooklyn, we broadcast everything live, on-location to emphasize the community aspect of dailysession.com. A few of our regular weekly shows are broadcast from record stores in Manhattan (A-1 Records, Fat Beats) so we venture out of Brooklyn regularly!


Q9 Neil: Are there different "scenes" in each NYC burrough (e.g. how might Brooklyn differ from Queens), or is the entire city fluid?

Jonathan: If you just look at the city’s underground music scene, it’s pretty fluid. Parties tend to pop up wherever there is available space! The outer boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens) generally host more warehouse parties thanks to the greater availability of space while Manhattan is known more for its clubs and lounges. But, as more and more people are priced out of Manhattan, you see more and more clubs and lounges opening up in the other boroughs.

Q10 Neil: What does the future of Daily Session look like?

Jonathan: In the short term, we plan to continue diversifying our programming by involving all of New York’s major underground contributors. Beyond that, we’ll begin exploring the possibility of expanding to other cities with strong underground music communities.


Q11 Neil: If Daily Session had some theme music or a theme song, what would it be?

Jonathan: I’m going to have to simplify this one by narrowing my choices to music that we’ve featured on dailysession thus far. With the options narrowed, the answer is simple: Nina Hagen "New York, New York." Check it out at 11:42 on Session 84 Hour 2: A1 Records, mixed by K.Life Walks!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tuning your mood.

I just made a weird discovery that I thought I'd share with you.

Today was a busy day with lots going on a ton of different angles. My wife was out, and my kids were all over me, when they were supposed to be in bed. I was feeling a little antsy and sat down to do some work. Since I was feeling a bit frazzled, I decided throw on the 'ole TUN3R ;)

Normally when I can't think, I just go for guilty pleasure. In this case, one of the Euro Dance channels. It's pure fast-food, but you're talking to a guy whose favourite meal is Kraft Dinner and a Coke. At any rate, this music wasn't helping me. I got up and started pacing around the room. I needed to do some boring admin work, and just couldn't focus. So I started fiddling around in Live Mode, and eventually landed on a classical station. Within a few seconds I started feeling more sedate and focussed. It was like I took a dose of Ritalin.

One of our ideas with TUN3R is to allow you to play off your mood, and I've had similar experiences like this in the past, but this one was very pronounced.

If any of you have had similar mood altering experiences through music or radio, I'd love to hear about them.

Stay TUN3D,
Neil.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Is TUN3R the perfect tuner? / S&P 500 of Radio / Sponsor a City Dial

Hi folks,

As you now know we've made some big changes to how the stations are organized and presented. We've also made it possible to browse the live streams by switching to "Live Mode" (you can toggle modes just below The Dial).

Is TUN3R the perfect tuner?
Is TUN3R perfect now? I would say yes and no. It's not perfect because the controls aren't intuitive to new users (especially the dual audio modes), and the thumbnails themselves do not explicitly show what the station plays. Furthermore, "Live Mode" directs sound to either Winamp or a pop-up browser window, and may be confusing to some. While I could go into the reasons for this, it all comes down to the fact that we were not willing to compromise on quality of stations, and quality of audio. We refuse to be beholden to a streaming format, and therefore had to make a trade-off between quality and user-friendliness. This could very well be our death knell, but for now we're hoping there are people out there who value quality, and are willing to reach for it. If you are a novice user, struggling with TUN3R, and are frustrated even after reading the updated FAQ, please e-mail me (neil@tun3r.com), or even call me on my cell (+1-416-315-5514). I am confident I can get TUN3R working for you to your delight.

However, for Power Users (i.e. nerds) and City Dial residents, TUN3R is pretty darn close to being perfect because once you've taken the time to orient yourself around the Dial, there is simply no faster way to zoom around within and between genres, and actually find music or talk that grabs you. I would say the one big shortcoming, is that you can't yet add your own stations. If TUN3R ever gets off the ground, this will come.

If you're willing to give TUN3R a chance, and you've got the right software (i.e. IE on XP or Firefox, and Winamp ), you will quickly develop a sense of control and power over The Dial that is akin to driving a car, or playing a video game like Audiosurf. Which leads to my next point.

The S&P 500 of Radio
One of our objectives with the new TUN3R is to present a definitive index of Featured stations. For now, we're deliberately biased towards English based content - especially talk. We do have quite a few non-English music stations, but admittedly the talk portion (with the exception of the national media bureaus) is all English. This bugs me, but there are so many trade-offs we've had to make to get this far, and this is one of them (another is the fact that we're optimized for broadband users - sorry dial-up guys). It's on our to-do list to have national versions of Featured stations.

So, with that said I'd like to put out a challenge for anyone reading. Namely, what would an S&P 500 of Radio look like? For those that don't know the Standard and Poors 500 is an index of [American] publicly traded companies which represent leaders in their respective industry. The S&P 500 is used as a baseline for comparison, and is a bellwether for the US stock market's overall performance. What I like about the S&P 500 versus other indexes, is that the companies are all hand selected by a committee of human experts, and is not strictly rules based.

So getting back to radio. We've tried to select stations which are leaders in what they do with respect to the various genres and formats. The selections have largely been informed by popularity. But I prefer to look at as many factors as I possibly can. Take for example a station that we recently added to the featured list, KPFA (http://tun3r.com/?hp=kpfa). The reason I upgraded it to Featured status, was that a TUN3R visitor (Barry Brooks) put forth a compelling argument (based on the station's history) as to why it should be featured. After reading through KPFA's history, and learning about the Pacifica Foundation I became convinced that KPFA was deserving of a spot alongside the NPR Internet stream. This is not to say that there aren't other similar stations out there which deserve to be highlighted. I fully suspect there are, but I would first like to understand why, before including them. So, if you know of a station that is deserving inclusion on the TUN3R Featured short-list (or can point to a station which should not be featured), please contact me at: neil@tun3r.com as I'd love to hear about it. As far as I'm concerned, debate and discussion is still one of the best tools we have to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Sponsor a City Dial
On a slightly different note, we have effectively stopped selling Dial Space. Originally when starting TUN3R, we thought we had this great idea that the "invisible hand" of the free market would self-select the best stations. Alas, this never happened (I won't go into all the reasons for this now, but if you're curious e-mail me, and maybe I'll blog it). So, we decided to organize the Dial ourselves. We soon realized that so many of the radio stations people love and know are strictly local. I may love CBC Radio 1 Toronto, but I'm less interested in hearing CBC Radio 1 Winnipeg. I don't have anything against Winnipeg, it's just that I have no frame of reference for its local affairs and personalities. So, we figured that anchoring the S&P 500 of stations to the local AM/FM stations is the way to go. I still feel it's the way to go, since I regularly use the Toronto Dial as it has everything I need. If I was to change one thing, it would be to allow the addition of peronal stations, and as I've already mentioned.

However, as you may have gathered, putting together a City Dial requires some effort. Namely, we must do the following for each new city:

  • Gather and cleanse all the station data.
  • Properly classify the stations' various attributes.
  • Prepare and touch-up thumbnails for each station.
Once that is all said and done, we then need to capture audio samples, and maintain the station streaming and pop-up URLs on an ongoing basis, as they tend to drift over time.

The end result however, is something you can actually use, so I genuinely see a sponsored city as something more than just a vanity license plate, or pixelboard advertising. Furthermore, since we currently don't have banner advertising (and I like to keep it that way), a colour sponsorship logo is likely to receive a distinguished amount of attention, not to mention association with the city in question.

If this is something that interests you, or someone you know, you can indicate your interest here, or you can just call me on my cell at: +1-416-315-5514. I suspect local stations, ISPs, and community portals may find that there is a lot of value in having their logo and link branded into their respective city.

Stay TUN3D,
Neil.

Monday, May 5, 2008

New major press release sent out

Hi folks,

We've just sent out our second major press release. I have pasted the contents below.
I have some interesting interviews lined up for the next couple of posts.
Stay TUN3D!
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TUN3R Launches City Dials for Internet Radio; Introduces Profit-Sharing for Webcasters
TUN3R Responds to Royalty Rate Increases

Toronto, ON – May 6, 2008 – Internet radio aggregator TUN3R today unveiled major changes to its service
and business model, in a bid to break the “willing buyer / willing seller” logjam that is forcing some popular
webcasters to shutter their service.

Listeners visiting TUN3R.com will now be able to visit any one of the ten new “City Dials”. Each City Dial
displays a tiled mosaic of all Webcasting AM/FM stations for the given city. Stations are ordered as they
would be on a traditional AM/FM tuner. The cities featured are: Toronto; New York City; Nashville; London;
Paris; Glasgow; Stuttgart; Rome; Seoul; and Buenos Aires. Each City Dial can be accessed via a dedicated
web address (e.g. nyc.tun3r.com, london.tun3r.com, paris.tun3r.com). For some cities, all AM/FM stations
are available as streams. Additionally, over 350 Internet stations are featured adjacent to the local AM/FM
stations. For the first time, listeners will be able to seamlessly browse between terrestrial and Internet radio.

For the Internet portion of the City Dials, TUN3R provides links to up to 30 stations for each of the 29
genres. TUN3R has found that listeners prefer to casually flip between stations instead of searching by
keyword. TUN3R’s genre-based organization allows listeners to quickly find a song or program playing that
satisfies their mood.

“When the stations are properly organized and presented, DJ-mixed web radio provides far greater
satisfaction and enjoyment than any of the custom radio services we have evaluated,” said Neil Hepburn,
TUN3R’s co-founder and general manager of marketing. “Listeners enjoy the very act of flipping around
stations, browsing the various music genres, talk, sports and news as their moods change. TUN3R acts as a
‘meta-DJ’, mixing the very best stations to match most moods and personalities.”

Listeners can browse stations in Discovery Mode, or in Live Mode. Discovery Mode is TUN3R’s traditional
means of tuning, and is analogous to an old-fashioned radio. Discovery Mode is ideal for finding new
stations, and allows listeners to rapidly flip among audio samples taken recently from the stations’ Webcast.
Conversely, Live Mode is ideal for flipping between the live streams of a listener’s favourite stations. Both
modes allow listeners to discover stations through the artist/song track search feature, or station homepage
search feature. Listeners can easily navigate back to their favourite stations by saving them as a Dial Preset.
Because each station tile is an image, stations are instantly recognizable regardless of language or literacy.

Currently, all City Dials feature the same 350 Internet stations. Over time, the mix of Internet stations will be
localized to accommodate regional tastes and preferences, and to comply with national content regulations.
Webcasters will then have the opportunity to create regional versions of their streams to support targeted
local advertising.

Profit-sharing for webcasters

For webcasters, TUN3R is proposing a new subscription profit-sharing program. Designed to address the
difficulty individual Internet radio stations face in obtaining paid subscribers, this business model allows
listeners to subscribe to all 2,000+ TUN3R-listed stations via a single subscription. TUN3R will manage
these subscriptions and allocate the fees to the stations that are providing the content based on actual peruser
listenership. Any Webcaster that participates in the Profit-Sharing Program will have these variable
costs covered through subscription revenues, and will earn additional revenue per Internet-based listener.
Stations may participate in the Subscription Profit-Sharing Program without offering exclusivity. As TUN3R’s
overall subscriber base increases, TUN3R will increase the margins it pays out to Webcasters, in order to
further strengthen goal congruence.

“We have relationships with dozens of DJs, producers, and station owners from all over the world,” said
Hepburn. “We are committed to preserving their independence and creative control. Our consumer
subscription model embraces that principle and rewards the talented DJs and producers that make Internet
radio such an exciting domain.”

TUN3R will build out its Internet radio subscriber network infrastructure by developing software on existing
wireless devices, consoles and set-top-boxes, and through strategic partnerships that will further distribute
premium Webcaster content and provide a range of billing options. In particular, TUN3R will design a
custom application for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.

About TUN3R

TUN3R is an early-stage partnership between founders Peter Gray and Neil Hepburn. TUN3R
launched in July 2007. Since its launch, TUN3R has had over 250,000 visitors from over 200
countries, all through word-of-mouth. TUN3R is owned by Conalgo Incorporated. Conalgo was
established in 2002, and is based out of Toronto, ON.

TUN3R would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their assistance in assembling the City Dials:
S├ębastien PETIT; Alex Hood; Victoria Bemibre; Paolo; Samuel Hilsheimer; and Jinsuk Shim;

-30


Media Contact:
Neil Hepburn
Co-Founder and GM of Marketing for TUN3R.com

(416) 315-5514
neil@tun3r.com