The Next Track, Episode #101 – Radio Paradise

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxBill Goldsmith of Radio Paradise joins us to talk about programming a free-form, internet radio station, listener support, and the future of radio.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #101 – Radio Paradise.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

The Next Track, Episode #100 – How We Listen to Music Today

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxFor the 100th episode, Doug and Kirk discuss how they listen to music today, and how their music listening has changed in the two years they’ve been producing this podcast.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #100 – How We Listen to Music Today.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

Why Apple’s HomePod is Failing

In a Bloomberg article, Apple’s Stumbling HomePod Isn’t the Hot Seller It Wanted, Mark Gurman points out that Apple’s HomePod is more or less a failure. This device that was slated to be revolutionary – combining a smart speaker and “excellent” audio quality – is not flying of the shelves as Apple had hoped.

At first, it looked like the HomePod might be a hit. Pre-orders were strong, and in the last week of January the device grabbed about a third of the U.S. smart speaker market in unit sales, according to data provided to Bloomberg by Slice Intelligence. But by the time HomePods arrived in stores, sales were tanking, says Slice principal analyst Ken Cassar. “Even when people had the ability to hear these things,” he says, “it still didn’t give Apple another spike.”

The device was released later than Apple had announced, missing the important Christmas holiday season. It’s overpriced; at $349, it is much more expensive than other smart speakers, and more expensive than decent sounding standalone speakers. (Heck, you can buy a decent amplifier and bookshelf speakers for that price.) And the sound isn’t as great as Apple had advertised. The main problem is an excess of bass, and there are no equalization controls so listeners can tune the sound to their tastes, and not to Apple’s.

I immediately realized the device’s limitations, notably that the audio quality is good at times, but crappy at others. But,

I did find that, playing music from iTunes, with the Bass Reducer setting on the Equalizer, much of the music sounded better. There was less booming bass, and more subtle sounds. But no matter what, the midrange is weak on a speaker like this.

And the whole Siri thing? Trying to get Siri to recognize what music I want to hear? It certainly hears my voice, but any song, album, or artist names that are a bit obscure get converted to some weird sound-alikes, making it useless to control it by voice.

It does have some very good features, such as its variable loudness, that adjusts the bass and treble as you change the volume, and with the appropriate EQ, it sounds okay, but I’d get similar sound from a speaker at half the price. As is often the case, Apple uses a lot of buzz words to describe the technology in the device – and there is some cool technology – but these smarts don’t do much for the sound.

Apple may be hoping for a sales boost when they finally get around to releasing AirPlay 2, which is several months overdue, and which will enable the use of two HomePods as a stereo pair, but I can’t see a lot of people paying a total of $700 to have mediocre sound, without any EQ controls, and a flawed personal assistant.

Apple clearly doesn’t understand the market. They thought that they could convince people to spend more for a speaker that combines smarts and sound, but offered neither. Siri is limited and flawed, and the sound just isn’t good enough for a speaker at that price. I use mine in the bedroom, with Siri turned off, for occasional listening, and I don’t regret buying it, but I wouldn’t recommend the HomePod to anyone.

Record Labels Splitting Long Tracks into Multiple Tracks to Maximize Streaming Income

The music streaming payment model is optimized for popular music: short songs, three, four, five minutes long. Record labels are paid by song streamed, not by the amount of time the music plays. An hour of a three-minute song counts as 20 plays, whereas if it’s a four-minute song, it only gets paid for 15 plays.

In an attempt to hack this system, some record labels – notably for classical music – are splitting music into multiple tracks. You won’t see this on, say, your standard symphony, where, while it would be possible to split four movements into ten or more, but you will see it on other works, ranging from long vocal works to non-standard classical pieces.

Here’s on example: Max Richter’s eight-hour Sleep. If you buy this from the iTunes Store, you will get 31 tracks, ranging in length from 2:46 to more than 33 minutes. But if you stream it on Apple Music, here’s what you see:

Sleep

That’s right, it’s 204 tracks, most of which are under three minutes. By splitting the music this much, the record label – Deutsche Grammophon – gets more than six times as much money than if it were in the original 31 tracks.

Each of the original tracks is named, with a part number at the end of the name.

This is a cynical way to hack the music streaming payment process, but I do feel that this system unfairly handicaps classical and jazz labels, along with some jam rock and other forms of music – Indian classical, for example. Streaming income should be paid by duration rather than by song, or there should be multiple tiers according to the length of tracks. It’s a shame that record labels have to resort to this sort of system to get paid fairly.

The Next Track, Episode #99 – Radio, Radio

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxRadio has long been the first way that people have discovered and listened to music. It is still very powerful, in spite of the ubiquity of music streaming services. We discuss how radio works, how it’s changed over the years, and where it may be going.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #99 – Radio, Radio.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.