Pono vs. Wimp

Don’t be an idiot.

My inbox is filling up with critics saying gotcha, implying my endorsement of WIMP is a belated acknowledgement of the superiority and inevitability of Pono.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Pono is merch.

WIMP is a new technology service that will probably be plowed under as its competitors embrace hifi streaming.

Never has something so minor received such outsized publicity.

Yes, 18,220 people pledged Pono. If an album sold that many copies, you never would have heard of it.

But in our money focused culture, he who can dazzle us with a figure, in this case six odd million dollars, gets all the press and an ignorant public blindly accepts it, just like they believe Miley Cyrus is a desirable star, even though she can’t sell out arenas.

So what Neil Young has done is demonstrate that starpower can get lemmings to donate, sight unseen. This is even better than selling platinum tickets to shows. In this case, people are putting up their money and may not get anything. Then again, what they may get is not what they expect, just like at a Neil Young concert, wherein the master is famous for delivering the unexpected, and often unwanted.

That’s right, Neil Young is selling a high-priced souvenir, and has gotten some of his buddies to sell their names too. What you’re buying here is a high-priced paperweight. Because it sure won’t be comfortable in your pocket.

And then comes the issue of the recordings…

Neil is selling files while Apple is cringing, its iTunes Music Store suddenly faltering, with people moving to streaming. The news has been all over, then again, the public doesn’t follow the business press, they just pay attention to the musings of stars.

That’s right, files have peaked. Streaming is burgeoning. As is streaming revenue. But once again, the same people embracing files are pooh-poohing streaming revenue, when the truth is some acts are doing quite well and the more people who embrace the format, the more money that will be generated, just like the mobile phone business. But the public, especially the music press, embraces the future after the unwashed masses anoint it. CDs were gonna endure until your grandma started trading on Napster. MySpace made Tila Tequila a star and then the service was overrun by Facebook, but Justin Timberlake was gonna bring MySpace back! As if JT knows anything about tech. But he is a star, so his efforts get press, without him…no story.

And without Neil Young’s Kickstarter consultant, his effort on the site would not have been so successful. Yup, he hired somebody who made sure his Kickstarter popped and…

Yes, the world is manipulated.

But the truth is Neil Young is gonna sell flies, which are dying, at old CD prices, over ten bucks, and you think this is big business?

Then you’re probably opening a record store!

And where is he going to get these high-res files? The labels don’t have them, they just have the CD masters. Is he going to get every act in creation to go back to Pro Tools and EQ them and deliver them? And who is going to pay for them to service the not even 20,000 people who pledged, who may not even buy them?

And can you even hear the difference? Many experts believe you can’t. That CD quality is good enough, that it’s all in the mastering.

But that’s not the point. Neil Young is demonstrating nothing other than starpower here. If there are artifacts to be heard at better than CD quality, they’ll eventually be streamed. Not because Neil did this Pono Kickstarter, but because increased bandwidth will allow it.

So I write about someone who’s poking the future…

And you insist on jetting me back to the past, in some bizarre game of GOTCHA!

Not everyone. Hell, most people don’t even read my newsletter, but many more than those who pledged Pono!

Meanwhile, the public keeps streaming on the world’s music service, YouTube. Which pays even less than Spotify, et al.

But you don’t see musicians bitching about that.

And as a result, their fans are not complaining about it either.

If only these stars used their power for good.

WIMP

I awoke today and found
The frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky
Then it gobbled summer down

Greetings from Vail, Colorado, where it’s the final week of the season and I’m using zinc oxide on my lips to prevent blisters.

Just a moment ago it was winter. I was wearing my 3.0 underwear and my down mittens, and now there’s bare spots on Pepi’s Face and everybody in town can’t wait until the tourists leave and they can too, for a hard-earned respite in Cabo or Moab…anywhere where it’s hot.

But I still want it to be cold.

Funny this skiing thing. It’s the only constant in my life. I’ve wandered from the faith, but upon my return I find the sensation is still the same, exquisite, sensational…literally, it’s all about feeling, and I tend to live an intellectual life.

And when I want to disconnect from this life I pull up the tunes that mean so much to me but not necessarily to others. Like Tom Rush’s rendition of “Urge For Going.”

You see I’ve been playing all my favorites on WIMP.

It’s kind of like getting a new stereo, only in this case it’s a streaming service, but this is the only one that streams in lossless, i.e. CD quality, and it sounds fantastic.

I went to their office in Oslo and told them I didn’t understand their business model, that online only one service triumphs, there is no number two, Bing has lost billions, but they’re convinced they can make it. They’re part of a much larger company, that owns the Craigslist of Europe, only this one charges, they’re not playing the IPO game, they think a certain number of people will pay for higher quality audio, as well as editorial.

I said Spotify could squash them in a minute.

They said Spotify’s investors would not allow the investment for lossless streaming, that they’re eager to cash out.

And we can discuss business models all day long, all I can tell you is the sound of WIMP is blowing my mind.

The tracks don’t queue instantly. Maybe that’s because the company’s in Norway, maybe that’s because of the amount of data, although they said 4G is sufficient for streaming, that you need very slow broadband to be good enough, I think it was 2.5, which just about everybody has these days, except maybe those still paying bupkes for DSL.

So I put the app on my phone and was instantly astounded. I played all my favorites, all the songs I knew by heart. And I heard stuff I never heard before, or forgot, because I never fire up the big rig anymore, even though it’s right by my computer, it’s easier to play files. But suddenly, with WIMP, everything old is new again.

And I played “Blue,” to hear Joni’s dulcimer is to believe it’s all you want.

And then I pulled up Tom Rush’s “Circle Game,” which contains his rendition of Joni’s “Urge For Going,” for decades it was the definitive statement, before Ms. Mitchell released her own.

I’ll ply the fire with kindling now
I’ll pull the blankets up to my chin
I’ll lock the vagrant winter out and
I’ll bolt my wanderings in
I’d like to call back summertime
Have her stay for just another month or so

I want her to stay away. Not forever, just a few more months. The older you get, the faster time moves. Remember when it was forever to Thanksgiving, and the end of school? Now the world seems like those plates that guy used to twirl on “Ed Sullivan,” you can see time evaporate.

And it’s like we’re all on that platter. And when you’re young you’re in the center and you barely note its rotation.

But then you get older, you graduate from college, and you realize life is not forever.

And then people start sliding off. I’ve reached that age where dinner conversation revolves around health, I know a couple of people with terminal Big C.

And you know you can hasten your demise, or it can be the luck of the draw, but that no one here gets out alive.

So, so long winter 13/14. I know easterners are sick of it, but we Angelenos don’t live in it, we just visit it, and we wish it would last forever.

And so long MP3s, you were always an imperfect medium.

And so long candy music, without meaning. We can’t live on empty calories for long.

Now the warriors of winter
They gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying
And all that lives is gettin’ out
See the geese in chevron flight
Flapping and racing on before the snow

See them? Coming back? Bringing the warm weather with them?

You think it’s a rebirth, but something is always lost as time transpires.

Sometimes it’s your parents, sometimes it’s your best friend.

If you’ve got a lover who stays, congratulations, but eventually one is gonna go.

And on Sunday the lifts will grind to a halt and I’ll be forced to move on.

But I’ve got no urge for going.

WIMP lossless streaming

Tom Rush “Urge For Going”

Joni Mitchell “Urge For Going”

Spotify playlist

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More Flash Boys+

Customers trust the banks.

Fans trust the acts.

Therefore, high speed electronic trading could not be eradicated and we can’t go to all-in ticketing.

You don’t want to believe your banker is ripping you off. But that’s what these big brokerage houses were doing in their dark pools. Selling access to high speed traders. Making trades that were less than satisfactory to the customer.

In order to get people to change, you’ve got to bring them across the divide of disillusionment.

Acts scalp their own tickets on a regular basis. They refuse to go to all-in ticketing because then the price will appear higher, better to have Ticketmaster take the blame.

Actually, the situation with high speed electronic trading and Ticketmaster is very similar. Each developed to fill a vacuum.

I won’t recite the history of Ticketmaster’s development. But I will tell you the fees are so high because they’re a way to prevent revenue from being commissioned by artists.

You see the artists are the culprits.

BUT YOU DON’T WANT TO BELIEVE THIS! You’ve stayed up all night listening to their music, you’ve signed up for their mailing list, you can’t fathom that they’re part of the problem.

But the truth is they want to commission all revenue. But the fees are not commissionable. So, the promoter gets kicked back from Ticketmaster, the fees are his profit, otherwise he would not be able to be in business.

This is the way it works. The promoter guarantees a huge sum to your favorite artist and he’s got to get it back.

The artist could play for a small guarantee and a percentage of the net, but he doesn’t want to, and doesn’t have to, because people are lining up to pay him, unless they’re not. The truth is if you’re nobody, you can’t make any money.

But let’s stay with the hit acts. The promoter takes all the risk and the act makes all the money. No one shows up and the act still gets paid.

But the act wants even more. So this Ticketmaster game was developed in order for the promoter to make a profit. Sure, Ticketmaster takes a bit, but nowhere near as much as you think.

As for the insane fees on developing acts… Welcome to the real world, where blockbuster acts get paid and you don’t make money until you’ve truly broken through. Usually these acts play clubs, and the club has overhead, and winning and losing nights, they want to stay in business. Used to be the labels supported the clubs, but that went out the window with Napster and the Internet.

But you don’t want to hear all this. Or you already know it and see it as the normal way of doing business.

But the point is, fees could be eliminated tomorrow, if only the acts said so.

When a ticket is twenty bucks plus another twenty in fees, it’s really FORTY BUCKS! But the act wants you to believe they care about you, that they don’t want to charge too much, and it’s the big bad boys at Ticketmaster who are to blame. But the truth is, if the tickets were really twenty bucks, the gig wouldn’t happen, because costs wouldn’t be covered, no one could make a profit.

And I’m wasting my breath here. Because I’ve written the above numerous times and my inbox still fills up with people blaming Ticketmaster.

But the point is… Some people know how this world works.

And some people don’t.

And if you’re one of the latter, I hope you’re employed by someone else who doesn’t fire you, because if you’re forced to live by your wits, you’re going to be in trouble.

ADDENDUM

Many people have e-mailed me Jesse Winchester’s performance on Elvis Costello’s “Spectacle.” It illustrates the power of television and also the fact that traditional metrics truly don’t capture the status of an artist.

An artist’s worth is not his sales, either recordings or tickets, never mind merch and sponsorship, but the impression he makes, whether it’s indelible, whether it sticks with people.

Based on the amount of e-mail I’m getting linking to this clip, Jesse Winchester was a star. No joke.