January, 2008:

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub Featuring Rascal Flatts Songs

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In November, we attended our first CMA Writer’s Series event at Joe’s Pub, and covered it in this post. As mentioned in that post, we purchased tickets that night for the next in the series, which was last night.

Whenever we can, we reserve the same table for two, and last night, we had been told that we had our usual table. Unfortunately, when we arrived, they apologized and seated us right up at the stage (knees touching the stage, literally). We had previously discussed trying that particular table out in the past, but never bothered. Except for the fact that we were right under an electric piano, which obscured the view a bit (more for Lois than me), it wasn’t a bad spot.

Perfect chocolate martini – check! Perfect Seared Tuna – check! Perfect French Fries – check! Perfectly boring me, sticking to my usuals – check! 😉

Last night was a celebration of Rascal Flatts music, though they played a number of other songs as well (which were all great!). It was meant to coincide with Rascal Flatts playing at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. Yes, Lois and I have tickets. 🙂

Bob DiPiero was the host (I think he’s always the host). The other four (one more than last time) were (in seating order): Danny Orton, Steve Bogard, Tony Mullins and D. Vincent Williams (Bob sat in the middle).

In closing the November show, Bob mentioned that at the end of January, he was going to visit the troops in Iraq with Kix Brooks. A while ago, a good friend of ours gave Lois a book called Dear Soldier. Lois decided then and there to get some copies and give them to Bob at the next show.

So, last night, before the show started, Lois went backstage and asked someone to get Bob to come out. After a bit, he did. They chatted briefly, and she gave him two copies to bring along with him to Iraq. She told him that if it seemed to resonate with the soldiers, that we’d be delighted to buy many more copies and get them delivered over there.

In closing last night’s show, Bob said that a wonderful woman from the audience gave him a couple of copies of Dear Solider to deliver on his upcoming trip. It was extremely nice of him to recognize Lois publicly, and yes, she’s a wonderful woman, in all respects. 🙂

On to the show. It was excellent. As I’ve mentioned before, half the fun is hearing all of their stories (they’re writers, after all) 😉 and last night was no exception. They are fun, interesting people, who tell the tale of their lives through their songs. Then, famous artists make those songs famous, and we associate the words with their lives, but it’s the writer’s life that created those songs.

We had a blast, and will definitely continue to support the CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub when they’re next in town!

Lost Season 3 on DVD

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Well, mid-January has arrived, and as predicted, we found some time to hunker down and watch Lost Season 3 on DVD.

We started on Sunday, and with a push to stay up much later than we typically do, finished the entire season at midnight last night. There are 23 episodes in season three, roughly 45 minutes each (since there are no commercials), so total viewing of roughly 17 hours. Whew. 🙂

The bottom line is that I thoroughly enjoyed it (I believe more than Lois did, but she enjoyed it as well). That said, the details aren’t as simple as that.

I had heard the following complaint from a number of die-hard Lost fans, who watched season three on TV last year: “Too many repeats!”. I didn’t know exactly what to make of that comment when I heard it (over and over). I didn’t want to ask for clarification either, because I’m one of those people who love to be completely surprised, whereas Lois loves to know exactly what’s going to happen.

Now I can guess what they meant, but I still can’t be sure, because I didn’t watch it on TV, waiting a week for each episode. Originally, I thought that perhaps they meant that season three was delivered with lots of full-episode repeats throughout the year, making it painful to keep the story fresh and connected week-to-week. Now I think that people were complaining that in each individual episode, there was more repetition of previously viewed scenes.

I don’t mean the inevitable “Previously on Lost” mechanism that nearly all serials have to use, but rather flashback scenes that were 95% identical to previous flashbacks, only shown from someone else’s point of view. It’s a legitimate complaint. But, on DVD, when watching in marathon sessions, it’s not as bad.

I think the real frustration with that technique in a weekly serialization, is that you get less new stuff, and then have to wait another week for a dose. On DVD, you plow through the repetition, pick up the new 5% in the scene that they were trying to convey, and find out the new new thing minutes later anyway.

Another complaint (that we had) is that the show meandered a bunch in season three. Not in the sense that they had no ideas, but rather that they crammed in too many ideas and plot twists. Some were truly mind-bending, but I believe that this is due more to the fact that they hope to spin this franchise out for so long, that they want to plant as many seeds and hooks as they can. If they told a deep, but simple story, they’d be under pressure to wrap it up more quickly than otherwise.

As with the past seasons, the finale is a two-hour action-packed frenzy. They introduced a new technique in those episodes that hadn’t been used before in the previous 69 episodes, and it was horribly executed (in my opinion). I won’t ruin it, for those who are like me, and won’t want to know. Trust me, I didn’t give away anything with the above.

Both Lois and I felt that the writing in season three was a bit “Lost” (sorry, couldn’t resist). That said, I still loved it, will absolutely watch season four, and will continue to praise the show to newcomers, searching for something they can obsess about, lose themselves in, and soak up tons of entertainment time on, for relatively little money.

The only argument in our house will be whether we agree to suffer the weekly episodic wait (Lois is leaning in that direction), or skip this season and wait for the DVD (my preference). Lois wins nearly every argument on every subject matter, so you can guess what the outcome of the above dilemma will be. 😉

As with the past seasons, I am continually impressed with the ingeniously simple explanations that they often come up with when solving a previous puzzle/conundrum. Many times, you wait for a fantastic (as in fantasy!) explanation, which would be fine, but perhaps not as satisfying as a clever explanation that you just hadn’t thought of.

Bill Cooley Now More Accessible

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I am very happy to announce that Bill Cooley now has a MySpace page. I have raved about Bill ever since seeing him live with Kathy Mattea at Joe’s Pub.

The only problem was that spreading the word about how great this guy is was difficult, because his CDs weren’t as easy to purchase (or listen to online) as some of the other people that I’ve been writing about lately.

Some of that just changed, and hopefully more will as Bill gets closer to delivering his next CD sometime this year.

On the MySpace page (linked above), you can hear four tracks from his existing CDs. They are all beautiful. As opposed to the Candyrat guys (who are all awesome as well), Bill has a much wider range of styles, including playing with other instruments accompanying him rather than just pure guitar (which I also love, but variety is nice too) 😉 and Bill is a master of all the styles he plays!

On a personal note, I was really happy to see the MySpace page, because I saw his upcoming concert schedule. On April 1st and 2nd, he’s playing with Kathy Mattea (the Coal tour) at the Barns at Wolftrap.

We’ve never been there before, but people say it’s one of the best places to see a concert. We have tickets to see Girlyman there on March 26th already (we’re experiencing withdrawal as we haven’t seen Girlyman live since November 4th). Given that we’ll already be in VA that week, I just snagged tickets to the April 1st show for Lois and me. Yippee, a chance to see Kathy and Bill live again!

Candyrat Records

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I have written twice now about Magnatune as a real leader in the new age of publishing music. I am completely impressed with their business model and operation, and if you missed the first post, here it is.

Candyrat Records is another cool online music label, but they don’t quite measure up to Magnatune in my opinion.

First, let’s cover what makes Candyrat Records cool.

  1. They have some amazing artists on the label
  2. They actively promote many (not all?!?) on YouTube
  3. Those that they promote, are very high quality videos (specifically, the audio is very good quality, so you really get a good sense of the artists capabilities)
  4. They offer DRM-free downloads (320Kbps MP3’s)
  5. They sell some/most (not all?!?) albums on Amazon.com MP3 downloads also

I’ve been threatening for a few posts now to tell how I discovered Magnatune and through them Jeff Wahl. This is as good a time as any. 😉

In this post, I mentioned that Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation) had introduced me to an Andy McKee video on YouTube. That video was posted by user “rpoland”, who I believe is the owner of Candyrat Records. He has 108 videos posted. Most of them are for a variety of acoustic guitarists that Candyrat represents.

At the time, I didn’t pay attention to that, but I did fall in love with Andy McKee. Instead of going to Candyrat’s site, I searched for Andy McKee on Amazon’s MP3 downloads site. I found three albums and bought them all immediately.

A few weeks after I bought those albums, I was listening to Pandora. I have six different stations that I’ve created on Pandora, and one of them is mostly acoustic music. On January 2nd, 2008, I heard a song that I thought was fantastic, so I made sure to write down the artist’s name: Don Ross. I went to YouTube and found tons of videos of him as well, and noticed that it was the same “rpoland” and Candyrat Records.

This time I went to the site. I saw on the front page of the site that a few days from then, Don Ross was releasing a new CD with Andy McKee. Cool! I went to Amazon.com and checked for Don Ross, and sure enough, they had something like five of his CDs available. I decided to wait to see if they would pick up his new CD when it was released.

When the day came, I checked, and Amazon was not carrying the new CD. They still aren’t, over a week after release. So, I decided to investigate Candyrat a little further. I searched for Candyrat DRM. I found a very interesting blog post here. As you’ll see if you read that post, he makes a lot of the same points I make here (or will make, shortly). 😉

When I clicked on Magnatune, I listened to Jeff Wahl (and watched a bunch of his YouTube videos as well), and ended up buying all three of his CDs (as previously reported).

Now that I was sure that Candyrat music was DRM-free, I decided to buy the new Don Ross and Andy McKee album from them, which I did. While everything worked, and the experience wasn’t bad, it wasn’t Magnatune quality either. Here are the material differences:

  1. Music is available in one format only, 320Kbps MP3 (or you can order a physical CD). Magnatune is just awesome in offering a variety of download formats
  2. You can only pay with PayPal. I happen to have a PayPal account, so I personally don’t mind. I know that you can use a plain old credit card through PayPal, but there are still many people out there who will likely be nervous about new-fangled services like PayPal. It should be an option. They should get a Merchant Account and accept credit cards directly.
  3. All music costs $9.95 per CD. (OK, I didn’t actually check all the music on the site, but all of the albums I checked were $9.95.) There are two separate problems with that. The first is that as I mentioned previously, not all music is created equally, and therefore shouldn’t necessarily be priced equally. But, the bigger problem is that when the same CD is available on Amazon.com, it’s cheaper, so it would appear that they are driving you to purchase on another site. Perhaps that’s their intention.
  4. When you purchase on their site, the zip file you download has horrible naming conventions for the files inside. Magnatune unzips into a perfect directory tree for direct import into iTunes (and most other naturally organized music player software). I had to create my own directory structure and rename and move all of the individual MP3 files in the Candyrat download. Not a huge problem, but annoying nonetheless. Another reason to buy their albums from Amazon.com when available!
  5. All Magnatune albums (over 441!) are available on Amazon.com. Some (many?, but not all) Candyrat albums are. Why?
  6. On Magnatune, I can listen to every album, for free, completely. On Candyrat, I can hear 30 seconds of each song. The saving grace is that for the artists I was interested in, there are a plethora of YouTube videos, but Magnatune still gets it more correct on this feature.
  7. Pricing differences! Aside from the fact that Magnatune lets you name your own price (with a $5 floor), they suggest a price for each album. Their suggested price is the same price they’ve negotiated on Amazon.com. Candyrat sels their albums at a fixed price (that’s fine), but charges more than Amazon.com. How can their costs be higher to deliver directly when they don’t have to pay Amazon?
  8. Transparency with the artists. I love knowing exactly how much money that I spend is going to the artist with Magnatune. If I knew for sure that spending the extra $1 with Candyrat over Amazon was putting that $1 directly in the artist’s pocket, perhaps I would pay it happily. But, for all I know, that extra $1 goes only to Candyrat, in which case the Amazon experience is better, so why not save the $1 as well?

There may be some other differences, but those generally cover the big points for me. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing evil, or even wrong with Candyrat, but they don’t get it, quite like Magnatune does.

As for artists, I’m in love with the Candyrat acoustic guitarists, of whom they have a number of superstars! Since discovering Don Ross on January 2nd, I have bothered to look more closely at Candyrat, and have purchased one album by Peter Ciluzzi, one by Craig D’Andrea, and two by Antoine Dufour. All of them are spectacular, and all have amazing YouTube videos available. I have linked one to each of their names, but you should check them all out, and then buy their music (I bought mine on Amazon.com, not Candyrat.com).

In addition to the above, Candyrat also represents Kaki King, who I’ve written about before. I bought two of her CDs from Amazon as well, and a third is available on Candyrat, which I may buy in the future.

So, I’ve supported Candyrat and their artists quite a bit lately. I’ve purchased two more Don Ross CDs from Amazon, the Don Ross and Andy McKee one from Candyrat directly, the two Kaki King, the three Andy McKee, and the four mentioned above (Peter, Craig and Antoine), for a total of 12 CDs in a short period of time.

I know this is crazy long already, but I need to add one more story to the mix. When the Don Ross and Andy McKee album was announced, a quick search showed that they were touring together. I was really excited to see them. Unfortunately, they are touring in Hawaii and the West Coast only (for the time being). I mentioned to Rob Page that I really wanted to see Andy McKee live, and he said that he too had looked at his site and couldn’t find anything on the East Coast.

When I went to either Don Ross’ or Andy McKee’s MySpace page (I can’t remember which), I noticed that the top friends linked were all Candyrat artists. I think it’s really cool that they support each other so well, and it’s one of the benefits of the label I guess. That’s how I first discovered Craig D’Andrea. Then, on his MySpace page, I saw that he was playing in NYC on February 17th at the Canal Room.

When I clicked over to their calendar, I saw that Andy McKee was headlining that show, and Craig was the second guy listed. The third guy listed was Antoine Dufour. By the end of the day, I had tickets to see the three of them (I can’t wait for Feb 17th!), and had bought Craig’s CD and both of Antoine’s. I love them all, but even though Antoine is listed third on the bill, I may actually be most impressed with him. I’m listening to him on iTunes now as I type this post. 😉

Whew. Another mega-post, sorry, but I had to get this all out of my head, and I finally did. 🙂

Jeff Wahl on Magnatune

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In this post, I wrote about a wonderful online record label called Magnatune. I mentioned that I had downloaded three albums by a specific artist, but wouldn’t mention that artist in the post.

His name is Jeff Wahl, and he’s another great acoustic guitarist. In my next post, I’ll finally tell how I discovered Magnatune, and therefore Jeff Wahl. I have written a fair bit about acoustic guitar music in the past two months, with a drop more to come in the next day or two (then possibly silence on the topic for a while).

Jeff isn’t as flashy as some of the others that I have written about (and that I will write about shortly), but he’s rock solid, and I really like his music. I liked it the first time I listened to it, but it has grown on me (considerably) each time I’ve listened to it.

He has three albums, all good, but I’ll list them in the order that I like them (at the moment):

  1. Guinevere
  2. Guitarscapes
  3. Meditative Guitar

To repeat one of the great things about Magnatune, you can listen to full albums, for free, an unlimited number of times. So, by clicking on the link of Jeff Wahl’s name above, you can hear all three albums at your convenience. When you’re on that page, right under his name at the top, are the names of the three albums, and to the right of each, links to play them in hifi, lofi, etc.

Another wonderful thing I’ve already mentioned about Magnatune is that I am encouraged to give away three copies of the music I purchased and downloaded. As opposed to the Phil Keaggy CD that I am giving to Sally in three weeks (sorry folks, you snooze, you lose!) 😉 this one won’t be in the form of a contest. The main reason is that anyone can listen to all of Jeff’s albums any time they want, for free, as long as they’re online.

So, I don’t feel I’m denying anyone by not giving them a chance to get one for free.

My biggest decision isn’t who to offer it to (I have some ideas already), but rather how. I can give all three albums to just three people, or I can spread the love and give one album each to nine different people (not the same album, three different people get three different albums). I’ll make the decision and distribute the music (or rather the links!) this week.

Jeff also puts up a lot of videos of him playing on YouTube. Here’s one example. He also responds to users who comment on his videos. Seems like a very nice guy, and I wish him the greatest success with his music! Since you can listen to all of his music at Magnatune, having YouTube videos is a bonus, but not a must-have, since his style is less visually compelling than some of the other acoustic guitarists featured on YouTube.

Rethinking Online Poker

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I started playing online poker in September 2004. It instantly became an obsession. For the first 10 months, I believe that I missed only one single day where I didn’t play.

I still play a ton, but it’s definitely well beyond the obsession stage. In the past year, I have gone two weeks in a row without playing a single game, at least a few times. That would have been unthinkable in the first year.

I enjoy it immensely. It’s great entertainment, distraction, escape, etc. I have come to accept the incredibly bad beats that I regularly experience with a clamness that I could never have predicted earlier, which I’m hoping is a sign of maturity with regard to the nature of the game.

It satisfies my inherent nature to gamble, without really being a gamble. First, I consistently make money (albeit a very tiny amount). But, even if I were to lose, that too would be a tiny amount, certainly less than I pay for our more regular entertainment (concerts, new TV’s, restaurants, etc.).

So, why am I rethinking online poker? For the first three years, the only real glitches that I had were connectivity problems, and on rare occasions, server overload problems. They were certainly frustrating, especially when it happened in the midst of a tournament that was otherwise going well, but they were understandable.

When the US passed the idiotic banking laws to try and thwart online gambling, most of the online poker sites that I had an account with turned away all US citizens. That included the site that I played on 95% of the time. I shifted 100% of my play to one site that was my second favorite anyway. For 14 months, I had virtually zero problems with them.

Now, for the past month, it has been one problem after another, all administrative, not table related. I have reported on a few of them. While they have made it right each and every time, I don’t feel like being ever vigilant about my account, and then chasing them down when I spot a problem, and waiting too patiently to hear back and eventually get it fixed.

There is enough mystery about the online experience, that trust has to be a big part of the proposition. This particular site is quickly losing my trust. In the past, reporting a problem typically yielded some sort of response within a few hours. Now, it can take days. Something is wrong.

As I reported recently, I had a credit (called Tournament Dollars or TDs) for an entry into the big Sunday tournament. Last night, I settled in and was ready to use that credit. At roughly 3:20pm, I tried to register for the 5pm start time, using the credit. The menu only allowed a cash entry fee. I double-checked my account, and indeed, the credit was there, just not available during the registration process. This had never happened before.

At 3:30pm, I used their highest level of customer support, a form which reports live play problems (presumably bringing much quicker help). It is now nearly 19 hours later, and I haven’t heard a peep from them.

I had promised myself that I would not pay the $215 entry to the weekly tourney. But, since I was settled in, and geared up to play, and believed that the site would eventually do the right thing (take away my credit, and put back the cash), I decided to pay the full freight entry fee last night for the first time.

1069 entrants, top 110 paid. I’ll spare you the details of the incredibly bad luck I had on my last hand, but I finished 471. I don’t care about the lost money (though the lost credit would have been nicer). I do care about the problems, and the lack of swift service.

So, what are my choices?

  1. Suck it up, ignore the problems (perhaps, even expect them), and continue on with this site.
  2. Move my money from this site to a new one (there are still a number of top sites that welcome US players).
  3. Take a break for a while (leaving the money in my account, so I can take it up again).
  4. Withdraw my money, and not think about online poker for a while.

I honestly have no idea what I’ll end up doing, but I’m seriously considering all of the above, for the first time in three years of nearly non-stop playing. If you have any insightful suggestions, feel free to leave them as comments here.

HDTV Transition Continues

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In September, in this post, I reported that we finally broke down and bought our first HDTV. As predicted, after watching the new TV for nearly four months, I started presenting all of the holiday deals on HDTV’s to Lois, whenever I saw them. I know she considered it nagging, rather than presenting. 😉

Finally, she said “just do it”. Her rationale (and I’m not kidding) was that we’re more generous with our friends than we are with ourselves (generally speaking), and that it was a shame that I didn’t splurge for these new “toys” for myself.

So, we took the plunge and bought two new HDTV’s for the apartment (bedroom and living room). One is the identical model that we have in the bedroom in the house. It cost $300 less than it did in September, at the same Sam’s Club. The other one is slightly larger (47″) which was the perfect size for the living room. It’s a Philips.

We brought them to the apartment on Thursday. While Lois was dreading getting them unloaded and up in the apartment, it turned out to be relatively hassle free, with the help of the building staff. Both TVs were set up in a very reasonable amount of time. The only problem was that we didn’t have HD capable cable boxes. I also had two HDMI cables on order that were scheduled to arrive the next day.

The HDMI cables showed up at 6:37pm yesterday. This morning, I walked over to Time Warner Cable’s store, and exchanged our two DVRs for HD DVRs. When I got back, I wired everything up. When I turned it on, I got a mini heart attack. There was zero sound through the HDMI cable. It had worked perfectly in the house, with FiOS, with the same cable, and the same exact TV. Oh oh…

Since both TVs got zero sound, I knew it wasn’t the TV. A single Google search yielded a forum thread from 2005 where people complained about this exact problem, only with Time Warner (so it wasn’t the box, it was the software on the box). The solution turned out to be trivial. There is a software setting (available through the settings menu) where you can direct that the sound be sent through the HDMI interface. Whew. I have concluded that the Internet is a good thing. 😉

One last thing for the near future (just didn’t feel like hassling with it today). While these DVRs come with 160GB disks, the FiOS one comes with 320GB, and it is puny when it comes to recording things in HD. In particular, with our travel schedule, the disk can fill up fast. So, I bought an external drive the other day that supports eSATA. The FiOS boxes have an eSATA connector, but do not yet support that port (they claim that eventually, a software update will light it up).

Time Warner (supposedly) supports eSATA, so I can turn my 160GB into 660GB when I plug in the new drive. I’ll get to it in the next week or so, no rush since the disk is empty at the moment, and we’re around for a while to watch whatever we record.

This leaves only one TV that remains non-HD. That’s the downstairs TV in the house, which is an ancient 60″ rear projection Mitsubishi. We’re rarely down there any more, and the thought of moving that beast out is not interesting to either of us, so it will be a while before it succumbs. It will happen, no doubt, but not just yet…

Abigail Washburn and Sparrow Quartet at Joe’s Pub

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At the bottom of this very long post, I mentioned that Lois and a friend were going to see Abigail Washburn at Joe’s Pub, on April 3rd, 2007. I went to see the Allman Brothers Band on the same night with that friend’s husband, so I didn’t blog about Abigail, even though Lois gave me a complete update.

Lois really enjoyed the show, which was Abigail playing banjo along with Ben Sollee playing cello. She bought two of Abigail’s CDs after the show. One thing that makes Abigail different is that she’s fluent in Mandarin, and writes and sings a good portion of her repertoire in Chinese!

I listened to both CDs while exercising, and while I liked both of them, I got a little tired of the Chinese (which I enjoyed on the first cut) after the third or fourth song that was in Chinese.

Her life story is fascinating, and well worth the read on her site (click on Bio on the bottom left of the screen).

Last night, she played at Joe’s Pub again, this time with her new quartet (Sparrow Quartet). In addition to Ben Sollee (mentioned above), the quartet includes Bela Fleck and Casey Driessen.

Bela is considered by many to be one of the greatest banjo players in the world. Casey is an extraordinary fiddle player. I had never seen Bela, and wasn’t familiar with his music, but I certainly had heard of him, in particular Bela Fleck and The Flecktones. His bio is fascinating too. Among many interesting facts is that he holds the record for most categories of Grammy nominations. In other words, he’s an exceptionally talented person!

I was particularly interested in hearing them, because I love banjo playing, and hearing two banjos on the same stage is unusual.

Whew, lots of background…

A quick word on the meal. Chocolate Martini was perfect, as always. Seared Tuna was as delectable as always (done to perfection). Joe’s Fries were yummy too! Absolutely perfect meal, which ended seconds before they took the stage, perfect timing on that front as well.

The concert was excellent. They are a talented group of people. Abigail had a cold, but she sounded great anyway, so I guess she sounds better on other nights, but I wasn’t disappointed.

That said, they only played one purely instrumental number (about 2/3 of the way through), and to me, it was by far the best number of the night. That’s not to take anything away from her voice, which is excellent. There is just a ton more energy in the group when they are jamming together, rather than accompanying Abigail.

While listening to a half dozen songs in Chinese was much more interesting live than on CD, it was at least a tad over the top (to me). A little more so for Lois.

Thoroughly enjoyable evening, and I would see them again live without hesitation. That said, I wouldn’t likely listen to a CD of last night’s performance, so (to me) this is more of an immersion experience than a just listen one.

Here is a YouTube video of them playing together in Shanghai. They sat in the same order (Fleck, Washburn, Sollee, Driessen) last night as well. I found it slightly ironic that this is a song done in English to a Chinese crowd, while we heard a bunch of Chinese delivered to an American crowd. 😉

Here is a much longer YouTube video, which includes music and interviews with all of them in Beijing. If you haven’t lost interest to this point, I found it quite enjoyable.

If you’re reading this today (Saturday, 1/12/2008) and you’re already in NYC, they are playing again tonight at BB King, so you can catch the show and decide for yourself! 🙂

Phil Keaggy Beyond Nature

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In this post, I mentioned that I intended to buy Beyond Nature and Freehand – Acoustic Sketches II by Phil Keaggy. Then, in this post, I explained how I was going to get it, namely, in a bundle from philkeaggy.com (including a repeat of Acoustic Sketches, which I had previously purchased as a download from Amazon.com).

It took a long time for those CDs to arrive, but due to our travel schedule, it’s possible that they were sitting here waiting patiently for over two weeks. I finally got to unwrap them and listen to both Beyond Nature, and Freehand – Acoustic Sketches II.

Both are excellent albums, and Beyond Nature is likely better (at least on first listen). Thanks to those who recommended it, including Bill Cooley and DigitalDreamDoor’s top 100 Acoustic Guitar Albums List.

As mentioned in the previous post, I now have a shrink-wrapped CD of Acoustic Sketches by Phil Keaggy. Even though that’s higher quality than the download I purchased from Amazon.com, I am going to give away the CD to one lucky friend.

If you’re reading this, know me personally, like Acoustic Guitar music and are interested in owning this CD, don’t hesitate to let me know (publicly as a comment, or privately in an email, IM or phone call). I haven’t decided whether I’ll give it to the first person that asks, or whether I’ll give everyone a few days, and see whether something else prompts the decision (proximity for ease of handoff, need, level of begging, etc.). 😉

For the moment, I’m done collecting Phil Keaggy music. I like it a lot, but I’ve accumulated so much new acoustic guitar music in the past two months, that I’m close to done in general (at least for a while), not just with Phil. That will be the subject of a different post, in the next few days.

I feel a flurry of posts coming on over the weekend…

Magnatune.com Totally Nails Music

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I’ve had a number of music-related posts kicking around my head of a while now, and I’ve even threatened publicly to finally birth my Pandora and Last.fm post. It’s coming, as are a few other music posts in the next week.

However, I just discovered an online music label called Magnatune this past week. The story of how I discovered them is interesting (to me at least) 😉 but I will save that for another post, as Magnatune is special enough to deserve at least one post purely about them.

You can learn more about them from them than you can from me, by reading each of the entries on their information page. I certainly encourage you to do so. That said, I’d like to highlight what’s so special for me.

First, you get to hear 100% of every song that’s available through Magnatune for free, online, an unlimited number of times. That’s right, if you don’t care about listening when you’re offline, you don’t ever need to pay for a single song from Magnatune. Say goodbye to ever purchasing something that disappointed you, because you didn’t get to hear all of it in advance.

Next, pay what you think it’s worth, with a minimum of $5 per album. I thought that the Radiohead experiment, which included the option to pay nothing, was interesting, but also stupid. The fact that they discontinued it, and now sell through normal channels, is also interesting.

Not all music is created equally. You and I may have different tastes. We might both like artist A, but she might be your favorite, and way down on my list. You should happily be willing to pay more for her music than I would be. Furthermore, we can’t all afford to pay the same amount, whether that’s fair or not. But, if there isn’t a bottom line price, it devalues the asset (in my opinion).

Next, download it any number of formats, or purchase it on CD. Holy cow batman, this is just right and cool. Want the CD instantaneously, and have the bandwidth for it? Download the WAV files directly, and burn the CD (or don’t!). 😉 Want high quality MP3 with VBR? Prefer Ogg Vorbis? You get the point. This is absolutely right.

You and I may want to buy the same music, and we may even want to pay the same amount, but we might want it in a different format, for our own convenience. Geeks (myself included!) can certainly always grab the WAV files, and convert to their hearts content. Many more people don’t want to think about the hassle, even if they’re capable of doing so.

Next, (sit down, and get ready for this one) give it away to three of your friends, completely for free, completely legally! Yes, that’s right, they encourage you, not only permit you, to give away copies of what you buy to three different people. You say that’s cool, and obviously it is, but wait, it’s even cooler than that.

Cooler? How could that be? Well, aside from me being allowed to copy and distribute the music (however I want, burn a CD, email the files, etc.), that might be inconvenient for me (emailing 100+ megs might not even be possible for many people). Running to the post office to send off my newly burned CD, etc. So, Magnatune permits me to forward the email that I received with my special login/password combo so that my friend can download from their site!

Wait, not only do they permit me to share the music for free, but they spend their resources delivering it to my friends for free? Awesome! Even more awesome is that now my friends can pick their desired format. If I downloaded WAV files (for example), they could choose FLAC, MP3, etc. I don’t have to guess, or convert for them, etc. Amazing.

Next, they also sell through Amazon.com MP3 downloads. This is smart. Not everyone wants to create new accounts or give their credit card to a new merchant, when they already trust a particular service. They also worked hard to negotiate the pricing on Amazon. I’ll have more to say about that in another post, but for now, let’s just say that Magnatune got this part right too, in that they can’t expect to be the sole distributors of their music.

Finally, and this one is really important to me too (and I’ll elaborate in another post about another label that mostly gets it right, but not as right as Magnatune!), they are 100% transparent about the economics between them and the artists. This affected my behavior (in a positive way toward the artists!), and I bet it will affect other people’s behavior (as the founder of Magnatune explains well). In a coming post I will explain how the other label didn’t get this part as right.

Those are the biggies. To review:

  1. Listen to entire albums for free, as often as you like
  2. Pay what you think it’s worth, with a floor price of $5
  3. Download in any number of formats (or order a real CD)
  4. Share it for free with up to three friends
  5. Distribute as widely as possible (while making your site preferred)
  6. Be 100% transparent about how purchases benefit Artists

There are a number of other things about Magnatune that are cool. You can use their music in your podcasts. You can license their music (in a hassle-free manner!) for use in commercial projects. Check the information page linked above for more cool things.

Basically, they totally get it, 100%.

I’ve already bought three downloads from them. I’m sure there are many more to come. I don’t want to mention the artist in this post, because this isn’t about the music itself, but rather about a label that gets it.

Here is their banner, linked to their site, as requested by them in helping to spread the word!

Magnatune.com