Music

Rhonda Vincent at Joe’s Pub

Send to Kindle

Friends of ours were coming into town this week from Vancouver. They were free Monday night (last night) so we suggested an early dinner followed by a concert at Joe’s Pub at 9:30pm. Rhonda Vincent and The Rage were performing. She’s the queen of Bluegrass Music (which I love). We sent them a link to a YouTube video of her, and they agreed to the plan.

As my regular readers know, Joe’s Pub is one of our favorite places. That said, they are not without their problems, and the cumulative effect is getting a little annoying. This is only the second time that we’ve gone to the late(r) show. We discovered Joe’s Pub when I was looking to see if The Duhks were playing in NYC. They were playing the 9:30pm show at Joe’s, and we didn’t know any better, so we booked the tickets and went.

The doors are supposed to open at 9pm for the 9:30pm show. They never do, because they never clear out the folks from the earlier show in time to do that. That’s not the biggest issue, although on a night as cold as last night was, and with us arriving too early (8:30pm), an extra 15 minutes standing in the frigid cold was less than pleasant.

What’s annoying is that they insist on you ordering dinner in order to reserve a table. That’s not a problem with the early show, because they open the doors at 6pm (well, never before 6:05, ever, and sometimes later), but the shows generally start at 7 or 7:30pm. So, you have time to relax, order dinner, and not be rude to the performers.

For the 9:30pm show, you order at 9:29, and the food doesn’t come out until after 10pm, when the show has been on for 30 minutes already. I don’t mind buying the same amount of money’s worth of drinks in order to reserve the table, but the food part and the slow service is marginally annoying.

Anyway, last night’s plan was to challenge the written policy of dinner only, and have dinner in advance, and only drinks (possibly dessert) at the show. The best laid plans…

Our friends spent the day doing something that sounds incredible, flying around in Zero Gravity! They were part of a five hour program run by this company. The program ended with some kind of food, so when our friends got to our apartment, they weren’t that hungry. So, we hung around our apartment for a while, and then headed straight to Joe’s, intending to eat there.

Since I had had the Seared Tuna twice there in the past 10 days, I switched to a cheeseburger. Excellent as well.

On to the show. The only substitution from the normal band was the banjo player. Kenny Ingram’s wife had some medical problem, and he stayed behind to be with her. Daniel Grindstaff sat in for him (or rather, stood all night), and he was amazing. While all of them (including Rhonda) are excellent musicians, Daniel (on the banjo) and Hunter Berry (on the fiddle) were particularly notable.

Rhonda’s voice is excellent. Unfortunately, they never quite got her microphone level right the entire night. I’ve never had that happen before at Joe’s. Considering that I was closer to her than anyone else (other than the band), having my left elbow on the edge of the stage right in front of her, I was able to hear and enjoy the performance, but it could have been better.

As evidence of how close we were to her, here’s a not-so-great shot, that did not use a telephoto lens. 😉 (as always, click to enlarge):

Rhonda Vincent at Joe’s Pub

One minute before the show started, a guy from the back came up to Lois and told her that there were a bunch of guys from Fort Hood in the back (at least that’s what I heard), and could she (Lois) make sure to ask Rhonda to play God Bless The Soldier (which is a beautiful song, specifically inspired by a female soldier from Fort Hood!). I guess that Lois projects an image of getting things done (which is interesting, since she’s most definitely the get it done person in most groups). She said she would.

Immediately (before they started to play), Lois called over the guitarist (Darrell Webb) and relayed the message. He said he would tell Rhonda. He appeared to a minute later, but for all I know, he was telling her that they needed to call security on Lois, or at least keep an eye on her. 😉

All in all, an excellent show. She’s really wonderful, and so are The Rage. She’s really beautiful, and looks like she’s 30. That’s not likely, as she told the crowd that she’s been married for 24 years, and has two daughter’s, ages 21 and 19! Lois and I need to get some of the water that they have in the Missouri town that she’s from. 😉

When Joe’s Pub personnel signaled Rhonda that she needed to get off, she sang one last song before leaving the stage. To that point, she hadn’t sung God Bless The Soldier. Lois tried to catch her attention before she got off, but I stopped her. I suspected that she was saving that for the encore.

When she came out for the encore, she had a guitar (first time for the night, as she played the mandolin for all other numbers), and only Hunter Berry (the fiddler) came out with her. Lois called her over (have I mentioned that Lois is a get it done person?). Rhonda leaned down and Lois told her about the Fort Hood request. Rhonda said that’s exactly what she intended to play for the encore. All was good with the world, as she did a wonderful version, including telling the inspiring story behind the song, and we all left on a high note!

We had a great time, and would definitely see her again given the chance. We’d also go back to the 9:30 show if the right performer was there, but we’d be gnashing our teeth all the way. I am grateful that the majority of the shows we have been interested in are the 7-7:30 ones, and I hope that it will continue to be the case.

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

Send to Kindle

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!

Bill Cooley Now More Accessible

Send to Kindle

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

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.

Abigail Washburn and Sparrow Quartet at Joe’s Pub

Send to Kindle

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

Send to Kindle

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

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

Acoustic Guitar Update

Send to Kindle

This is another long post, so bail now, while you can, or grab a cup of coffee (to keep you awake). 😉 Actually, the post itself isn’t insanely long, but if you watch each of the videos that I’ve linked it, the entire trip will take a while…

I’ve gone on and on in a number of posts about my long-time love for acoustic guitar music, and my recent discovery of some masters of the genre. I could link to those posts, but if you have an interest, it’s simple enough to type the word “acoustic” in the search box and see the titles and decide for yourself.

This post has been rattling around in my head for over a week, begging to be set free. I was waiting for one of two things to happen before writing it. Neither has happened, but a third (unexpected) event occurred last night, finally pushing me over the edge to get this on paper. 😉

This new adventure was officially kicked off when I saw Bill Cooley live accompanying Kathy Mattea. I wrote that he might be the best acoustic guitarist I’d ever heard. Eric Sink commented that those were fighting words (not really!) 😉 and pointed me to Phil Keaggy. When I reviewed The Master and The Musician by Phil Keaggy, Eric commented that I should check out Michael Hedges and possibly (only if I dare!) Kaki King.

Like I’ve said before, anyone who doesn’t pay attention when Eric Sink speaks is likely a dummy. I try hard not to be a dummy (not always successful), so I checked both of them out. What, exactly, does that mean?

When I was growing up, one discovered music mostly on the radio. Word of mouth was probably second, but then the circle of mouths was relatively small. Third was TV, with shows like Ed Sullivan showcasing some musical group every week. All of that is different today. I’ve had a specific post about Pandora and Last.fm rattling around in my head for months now, and I’ll birth that sometime in the next few weeks (and therefore ignore it for now).

Today, with the Internet (you’ve heard of it, right?), one can purposely or accidentally discover music to the extent that one cares, with extremely little effort and time invested, with little risk of purchasing music that will eventually disappoint. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of sites to listen to music on, but for me, the two juiciest targets are MySpace and YouTube.

An incredible number of bands have MySpace pages, with the vast majority of those offering at least four songs for immediate streaming. If someone mentions a band to you, see if they are on MySpace, and check out whether you like their music or not. For my personal quintessential example (no surprise to anyone who has visited here before), I learned in 30 seconds that I would love Girlyman from their MySpace page.

All that said, lately, I am much more hooked on YouTube. It has boggled my mind how many clips (many of them of reasonabe quality) are available for an amazing number of artists. Since I love live music, YouTube gives much more of a feel of the performance in addition to just the music. With some of the incredible styles that today’s acoustic guitarists have, the video is much more powerful (to me) than just listening to the music.

So, after watching quite a number of YouTube videos (I’ll link at least one to each artist’s name in the coming paragraphs), I have purchased a bunch of new albums, mostly downloaded on Amazon’s MP3 service, with the rest on real CDs.

Following Eric’s advice, I ordered two Michael Hedges CDs. He’s not available for download on Amazon 🙁 so I have to wait for them to show up. Since his CDs haven’t shown up yet, he was one of the reasons that I was waiting on this post.

Also following Eric’s advice, I checked out Kaki King. He was correct, as some of her stuff is out there. Still, even that stuff, when seen, is amazing. The rest of her music is gorgeous. I downloaded both of her albums that were available on Amazon. I can’t tell you how hard it was to boil her down to two videos for this paragraph. The selection is very broad, and most of them are truly entertaining. Check her out!

Bill Cooley himself (yes, he’s kind enough to respond when I email him!) suggested that I check out Phil Keaggy’s Beyond Nature CD. It wasn’t available for download at Amazon (though many others are, including Acoustic Sketches, which I’ve downloaded and really enjoy). I had intended to purchase Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II from Amazon, but on PhilKeaggy.com they had a special bundle.

Three CD’s, Beyond Nature, Acoustic Sketches, and Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II, for a very good price. Unfortunately, I already bought Acoustic Sketches. I bought the bundle anyway, since Beyond Nature was only available on that site, and the price was great, and I’ll give Acoustic Sketches as a gift to some lucky person! 🙂 They haven’t arrived yet, so I can’t review Beyond Nature. That was reason number two for holding off on this post…

On Phil’s site, they mentioned that Beyond Nature was ranked #3 on the DigitalDreamDoor list of the 100 Greatest Acoustic Guitar Albums. In addition, Acoustic Sketches and Freehand are both in the top 100 as well (hence, their idea for the bundle!).

On that list, in number one is Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges. Cool, it’s one of the two of his that I ordered. Number two is 6 & 12 String Guitar by Leo Kottke. I remembered at that moment that I had a CD of his that I hadn’t listened to in 20 years, and hadn’t ripped on to my iPod. I ran downstairs and found it immediately (my CDs are filed alphabetically), it’s called Guitar Music from 1981, and it’s fantastic. I also downloaded 6 & 12 String Guitar from Amazon. Also fantastic!

So, while I owned Leo Kottke already, without the list at DigitalDreamDoor, I wouldn’t have looked for it. I then noticed that the guy in number five, Adrian Legg, had three other top 100 albums listed. I bought two of his albums on Amazon Downloads as well.

What prompted me to finally write this post when I’m still waiting for the Michael Hedges and Phil Keaggy CDs? Yesterday evening, Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation, the portfolio company that I spend the majority of my time with/on) IM’ed me this video of Andy Mckee. It’s the first time he’s recommended any music to me, so, to humor him, I bought all three of Andy Mckee’s albums that were available on Amazon Downloads. 😉

I wasn’t a very careful consumer though. While I think Andy is wonderful, there are four songs that are on both his Art Of Motion and Dreamcatcher albums, so I now own two copies of each of those…

Whew, I think that’s most of what’s been screaming in my head on this topic. One last thing though. I need to contact Bill Cooley one last time in 2007, and ask him (or beg him) to put his music up for sale at Amazon.com, and iTunes as well. It’s very hard to promote him to others when it’s difficult to buy his stuff online. At the very least, his new album (coming sometime in 2008) better be available for download! Now, if I could twist his arm to put up a YouTube video or two… 😉

Roundabout Discovery of Scorpions

Send to Kindle

Technically, this entire post should really be a comment on someone else’s blog (you’ll find out which blog and post in a minute). Given how wordy I always am (this will be no exception), I couldn’t bring myself to even find out if I would be allowed to post such a big comment…

For sure, it wouldn’t be fair to his readers, who want to interact with him, to be taken in an entirely different direction by me.

Buried in this post about watching video podcasts on my iPod Nano was a mention of my dinner at Grand Central Station. Dinner that night was with Jamie Thingelstad (there, I’ve outed you Jamie). Jamie was the CTO of the first company I ever invested in (BigCharts), sold to Marketwatch, which was sold to Dow Jones, which was last week sold to News Corp.

Jamie still works there (though he left for a bit in between). Jamie brought along Jim Bernard who is the general manager for Marketwatch (now under News Corp’s control). Jim joined BigCharts more than a year after I invested, and I had not met him before that dinner, because we sold it to Marketwatch 14 months after my investment.

At dinner, we discussed a very wide range of topics. Among them was blogging (all three of us blog at least semi-regularly). While I’m a VC by profession (coming up on my 10 year anniversary of my first investment in two months!), I only blog about personal stuff.

Jamie mentioned that I should check out Fred Wilson’s blog (at the moment, the site loads very slowly on my very fast Verizon FiOS link, so have some patience, it’s definitely worth it!). This morning, as a follow-up, Jamie sent me an email with the link to Fred’s blog (obviously, he wanted to make sure that I read it) 😉 and to Jim’s as well (linked above).

Trusting Jamie on nearly all matters (the one notable exception is his failed attempt to convert me to a Mac user) 😉 I happily clicked over to Fred’s blog to take a peek. I have known of Fred for a very long time (from his Flatiron Ventures days), being a fellow New York based VC, but have never run into him directly.

The top post on Fred’s blog today (it might not be by the time you read this) is about giving in order to receive. It’s a wonderful thought, and there are some thoughtful comments on it as well, that are worth reading. That said, while I completely agree with the sentiment, and I practice it in all things every single day, in my personal experience, it doesn’t apply as well to the world of VCs as it appears to have worked for Fred.

For a quick disclaimer, you can read the testimonials on my site (they are ancient, as I haven’t bothered to update them in years), to know that I am not a vulture capitalist, and I truly care about and try to work very closely with my portfolio companies. I put in more personal sweat and blood than most people I know, as does my wife and partner, Lois.

My experience is that many (perhaps even the majority) of entrepreneurs aren’t all that interested in advice. That’s too harsh. They are interested in hearing it, so that they can have the appearance of a rounded view, but they became entrepreneurs because they knew best, and by golly, until they fail, they are going to do it their way. This doesn’t make them bad people, just stubborn, and sometimes, assuming ill-motives to advice givers, even when obviously undeserved.

Even that’s not the real reason for this long comment on Fred’s post. 😉

As you can tell from my tag cloud, the two things I post about most often are Poker (I don’t write anything interesting, so if you’re a poker fan, don’t bother looking for advice, I just summarize my personal results to keep myself honest) and Music. Music (in particular live shows) have become a passion (bordering on obsession) for Lois and me over the past few years.

So, while reading through the giving to receive post and the associated comments, I see that John Maloney posted a link to the following YouTube video of the Scorpions. Given my penchant for Music, I clicked on it before reading the remaining comments (which I came back to later). I immediately liked what I saw/heard. I then watched another dozen videos by them and liked every one of them.

Then the big surprise. I see a video called Rock Me Like A Hurricane (performed by the Scorpions). I am plenty old enough to know that song really well. Obviously, not well enough to know it was by the Scorpions. 🙁 In fact, I would have (foolishly) guessed that it was someone like Van Halen.

So I am now officially a Scorpions fan, and definitely want to see them live. I just checked their site for tour dates, and they just finished up a swing in India. Missed them by that much

I am also now officially a fan of Fred Wilson’s blog (the rest of the posts are interesting as well!), and I have now subscribed to it as well.

Thanks to Jamie for (unwittingly) introducing me to the Scorpions (and, oh yes, to Fred’s blog as well). 😉

Of course, this brings Fred’s original post topic into clear view. I gave money to Jamie’s company, BigCharts, and through Jamie, I received the link to Fred’s blog, which led to the discovery of the Scorpions. Cool! 🙂