Magnatune

Brooke Miller

Send to Kindle

You know that I love acoustic music, and more specifically, acoustic guitar. I have written about a number of great acoustic guitarists in the past few months, among them Andy McKee and Don Ross.

I had heard that Don Ross’ wife was a musician as well, but I didn’t have the time to check her out. Yesterday, as a result of some of my posts on Andy and Don, I received an email from someone who is associated with Don’s wife (he fully disclosed the relationship in the email), pointing me to her new CD release, including links to a few YouTube videos of her.

Her name is Brooke Miller. You can read an interesting bio of her on her label’s site Candyrat Records. That’s the same label that Andy, Don and a number of the other acoustic guitarists that I love record on. I’ve also written about the label, separately, in this post.

So, the first thing I did to check her out was watch a YouTube video of the title song of her new album, You Can See Everything. A number of things immediately spring to mind when watching it. She has a lovely voice, she plays the guitar beautifully, she’s attractive (no, that’s not important, but it doesn’t hurt either, if you’re watching a video). 😉

But, what’s more striking, is that she’s a wonderful lyricist (that’s songwriter for you folks that prefer my usually lower-brow vocabulary). What I really like is that the imagery is rich and deep, without being forced (like someone looking up rhymes in a dictionary). It flows from her and really works.

As an example (a tiny, but beautiful one to me!), the phrase that immediately precedes the title phrase is (together with the title phrase):

A heart can travel, given the right set of wings, you can see everything

I then watched two more YouTube videos (Two Soldiers and Country From The Dome Car). I think that’s all of the videos currently available. All three of the songs are on the new album.

You Can See Everything is a love song, written for her husband, Don Ross. It seems only fitting that he should respond (OK, I don’t know the order they were written in, so perhaps it was she who was responding to him). His is instrumental though, so you can feel his love for her, whereas you can decipher the imagery in her song more directly. Here’s a YouTube video of Don playing (amazingly!) Brooke’s Waltz.

So, I assumed (I know, I know, don’t assume) that the CD was like the videos, meaning, Brooke singing and playing the guitar solo. That would have been fine, and made for a beautiful CD, but I’m not sure I would have rushed out to buy it. Instead of living with my assumption, I went to the Candyrat page for the CD and listened to clips for every song (the links are on the right side of the page).

While I wish that Candyrat followed the lead set by Magnatune in allowing every song by every artist to be streamed for free, an unlimited amount of times, they don’t. What they do (at least on this album) is give you roughly 60 seconds per song (some even more), which is significantly more than the 30 seconds on Amazon. On each song, it’s more than enough to give you a great flavor of the song, music and lyrics.

Wow! I liked her solo, but on the CD, she has a band behind her (including electric guitar, bass, drums, and occasionally what I believe is a violin). There are also rare snippets of harmony, which I guess is Brooke’s voice dubbed in a voice-over. It’s gorgeously produced (I think by Don!). It’s a lush sound, built on top of fantastic songwriting (both lyrics and music). In other words, more exciting than the solo performances on YouTube, not that there’s a single thing wrong with the solo performances!

Now the dilemma, how to buy it? This comes back to my original post about Candyrat. They are a great label, promoting fabulous artists in creative ways, and distributing their music widely in DRM-free packages. Nothing to complain about. But, to download a CD on their site (yes, I’ve bought from them before, and written about it), I have to pay more than to download the same album from Amazon.com.

On Candyrat, this CD is $9.95 to download. On Amazon, it’s $8.99. I still can’t understand that. If there was a definitive statement that the extra $0.96 went exclusively and entirely to the artist, I might happily pay the difference. But, if it’s going to Candyrat, I don’t see why I should pay more, especially since Amazon packages it better, so that it auto injects the album into my iTunes library.

Candyrat Records

Send to Kindle

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

Send to Kindle

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.

Magnatune.com Totally Nails Music

Send to Kindle

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