Column 188 — Simplify-ing music; MAMF Day 1 picks…

Category: Blog — @ 5:39 pm September 3, 2008

I wrote this column on the jet back from New York. While the aspects of Simplify mentioned below are interesting and amusing, it’s technology like this that will further erode album sales…

Column 188: Peeping Tom
Simplify your assumptions.

Funny how we draw conclusions about people simply by peeking into their proverbial closets.

For example, let’s say you’re in someone’s home and they step away to fix a drink or grab a phone call, leaving you in the room with nothing to do but snoop. You notice the bookcase and glance at some of the titles and immediately begin putting two and two together. Jacqueline Suzanne soft-core porn, The Poetry of Jim Morrison, Bill O’Reilly “think books,” your friend may be dumber than you thought. David Leavitt novels, Tales of the City, a biography of Judy Garland –your friend could very well be gay. Philip Roth, The Iliad, Gabriel Garcia Márquez (not translated) — thoughtful, literate, your friend is clearly smarter than you. And so on. Sure, it’s a stereotype, but isn’t everything in life a stereotype, and aren’t most stereotypes, in the end, correct?

The same idea works for music.

About two weeks ago, local music software impresario Jimmy Winter, the inventor and CEO of Music Arsenal, posted an item on his Live Journal page asking for folks to “be his friends” in Simplify Media.

Simplify is a new software (downloadable for free at simplifymedia.com) that allows registered users to make their entire iTunes music library available on multiple computers and mp3 players via the web. That means online access to all your music using your iPhone or iPod Touch just as if you’d downloaded it. So much for that 8-gig flash-drive limitation.

Mac users already could share their iTunes library on a closed network, so if I was downstairs in my home I could always access my iMac’s music library on my laptop anywhere in the house via Wi-Fi. Simplify moves that idea beyond the walls of your home.

Now here’s the good part: In addition to accessing your iTunes library, Simplify allows you to access as many as 30 other people’s libraries. All they have to do is invite you to be their “friend” — i.e., add you to their access list. And that’s where Winter’s LJ plea came in. Jimmy wanted in on everyone’s music library, and in return, he was willing to let us in on his. The caveat, as he pointed out, was that you’d be giving people an unflinching glance into your personal music taste — or lack of one.

Winter could have cared less what anyone thought out his music. “I have some stuff that might look stupid, but it’s nothing to hide really,” he said. “I was already made fun of by the amount of Weird Al records I have. Weird Al was the first album I ever bought! I’m not going to turn my back on him now!”

Winter may be the only person I’ve ever met who can listen to Weird Al without having the barrel of a gun pushed against his temple. To balance this out, he also had a large collection of Rocket from the Crypt albums (über cool), The Pogues (a band I’ve always been curious about, but never got around to listening to, until now) and Randy Newman, who Winter was a bit embarrassed about, even though Newman is one of the finest songwriters to emerge from the West Coast in the past 30 years. For every pop-punk novelty band and comedy album there was a Stnnng, Stiff Little Fingers and Stooges track to counter-act it. Winter’s collection painted a picture of a frustrated punk rocker who grew up watching too much Comedy Central.

I prefaced opening my own music closet by telling Winter that there was a number of albums in my 9,000-song online collection that were downloaded for professional purposes — for review or research — and that I just never got around to deleting the shitty ones. But how would I explain the John Denver and Barry Manilow tracks downloaded for Teresa’s sake? What about the remastered, rereleased Bee Gees greatest hits? And all the Pavement and Sonic Youth albums weren’t going to negate my extensive collection of Pet Shop Boys music.

Winter also subscribes to last.fm, a web service that keeps track and reports online what you’ve been listening to on your computer. Last.fm also recommends and streams music based on your perceived tastes — just as if it glanced at your bookcase. “I narcissistically like to keep track of what I listen to,” Winter said, “but I also like to see what other people are listening to, and check out the recommendations for bands the site predicts I would enjoy.”

Call it research. It’s just another way Winter keeps tabs on trends that could impact his clients. He’s been doing Music Arsenal full-time for three years, boasting 60 customers who use his high-tech contacts and task-tracking software, a number that he says will grow with the release of the latest version that focuses on individual artists rather than only record labels.

Ultimately, doesn’t a tool like Simplify hurt his clients’ business by taking away potential album sales? No, Winter said. “Well, bands won’t get paid from it by their label contracts or digital distributor when I hear (their music) on Simplify,” he said. “It’s similar to when friends used to tell me what they liked, loaned me a CD and then I bought it two weeks later. I still buy plenty of CDs, but I can’t buy everything I like. However when that band comes to town I might go to the show or buy a shirt.”

As for what Winter thought of my music: He was surprised at the Nine Inch Nails, that I didn’t have more Hold Steady, at the hidden John Denver tracks, at the amount of the local non-Creek bands. But in the end, I was a little hurt that he hadn’t mentioned the Pet Shop Boys.

Here are my picks for Day 1 of the Mid American Music Festival being held in Benson. As a reminder, admission is $10 for a wristband that gets you into all the participating venues for one night. You’ll have to buy another wristband tomorrow and for each night thereafter. Tonight’s can’t-miss performances are both at The Waiting Room: Midwest Dilemma scheduled for 10 p.m., followed by Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies at 11:30. Sure, both bands play around here all the time, but it’ll be nice to see them back-to-back. Other performances worth checking out:

— Kansas City’s Far Beyond Frail, a male-female Lilith-esque soft-rock duo, at 9 p.m. at Mia’s Bongo Room.
— New Yorker Matt Pless, an acoustic folk balladeer, at Burke’s Pub at 9:30.
— The Whipkey Three at 10 p.m., followed by Sarah Benck and the Robbers at 11:30, both at PS Collective.

Go here for the full MAMF schedule.

–Got comments? Post ’em here.

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