Category: blogtech

(Re)Searching The Cloud:
On Streaming, Bandwidth, Music Apps, and Other Blogger Nuts and Bolts

January 5th, 2011 — 09:14 pm

Confession time, folks: though Sunday’s return to the world of video coverage made for a solid feature, I had an ulterior motive to eschew the usual mp3s. Yes, thanks to a curious combination of both ongoing bandwidth theft and the high demand for cover songs during the holiday season, I’ve been out of bandwidth since Thursday. And my clock doesn’t turn over until the 8th, which means right now, I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to serve the usual demand for coverfolk in ways which best support your needs as fans without costing me a bundle in overage fees.

And though it’s a subject I’ve avoided for a long time, I can’t help but think that maybe – as an experiment of sorts – the best way to balance the books this time around is to tackle the stream head on.

My preferred approach here on Cover Lay Down has always been to provide content in whatever format has the highest potential for you to truly fall in love with the music and artists we feature. And until recently, that has meant a reluctance to utilize streaming technologies, even as most other blogs have long since added those tiny triangular buttons that let you sample before you download. As our Play! page, where you can choose to download a browser-based tool that will let you play our tunes directly from this or any page, notes:

…this preference [for the download-only format] stems from my support for artists first and foremost; these artists work hard to craft songs as entire experiences, and skipping around does their art a grave disservice. As such, rather than encourage folks to make the call based on the first few seconds of a given track, I encourage you to download the music you find here on Cover Lay Down, and let it seep into your consciousness through your preferred listening method.

I recognize that this is an unusual stance. But I know more than most people what I’m talking about when I say that how we listen matters. In my day job, I’m a media and communications teacher, specializing in new literacies, and in the social and personal habits that surround the various modes of communication which different eras of technology have engendered.

My classes spend a full week each semester looking at the rise of the mp3 player and the remix culture, and exploring the broad changes which this has made to everything from how we create music to how we define ourselves through our listening habits. And invariably, year after year, we find that ownership is stronger when we have the most power over where, when, and how we listen.

As a professional, though I still believe that, residually speaking, we are still more likely to think of an mp3 as more “ours” than a mere Soundcloud stream or internet radio station, it’s undeniably true that the margin of experience between streaming and mp3 “ownership” grows smaller every year. Three years ago, when we started this blog, it took downloads to truly make music ours to play with at any moment, but today, streaming on the go is on the rise – and the growing incidence of web-enabled everything-boxes such as the iPhone mean that more and more, we can and do integrate streaming technologies into our daily walkabout experience.

Which is to say: just as the way we use video is changing the audiophilic spectrum, so is the increased ubiquity of the cloud, and our increased access to wireless technology in our hands and ears and pockets, making it possible for us to play music we do not fully own on demand, in the car and in the earbuds. And if we can do that, whether we own the bits and bytes that represent that music or not is increasingly moot when determining how it matters.

To be fair, not posting mp3s did mean a slight drop in readership over the past week – music blog aggregator Hype Machine, which brings us much of our drop-in traffic, doesn’t pick up songs in video format. And it is true that adding play functionality to the blog would raise the demand for bandwidth – studies show that people are much more likely to try everything if they can skim than if they have to download.

But the world of apps seems to be finally catching up with us here. Though I continue to be frustrated about my inability to access Hype Machine on my new iPad, as Duke over at The Late Greats noted earlier this week, the recent appearance of the iTunes app MusicMaven has made it possible for you to take the music posted by your favorite blogs on the go with your portable device – a far better option for those who prefer to surf on the go, too, than having to plan ahead by downloading songs before they leave the house. And MusicMaven lends some pretty nifty functionality to the process of blogsurfing, too: for example, it’s very cool to be able to make playlists directly from your favorite blogs, and play them as you use other apps, without having to use iTunes as a passthrough.

Cover Lay Down is honored to have made the select list which MusicMaven gathers in, though I think you’ll also like the overall set – these guys have great taste in blogs. And as a thank you for all of us, the folks behind the app have given me codes for up to five of you to download the app free of charge – so if you have an iPhone or iTouch, and you’d like to give it a shot, let me know, and I’ll give the first five responders a chance to test it out.

Of course, we’re still left with our little problem of bandwidth limitations – an issue which will only be exacerbated by serving the iPhone community. But I’ve always said that every problem is an opportunity, if approached properly. And today, the challenge provides us an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade twice over.

First and foremost, the daily emails from our wonderful, solar-powered hosting company iMountain remind me that Cover Lay Down depends on the kindness of strangers to cover its costs. And although I dropped the ball a bit on our last pledge drive – yes, folks, I have your names on the right list, and will be sending out this year’s bootleg series as soon as I get the bandwidth back – we’re a bit overdue for our bi-annual reminder that it takes your donations to keep this place going.

So here’s the deal, folks: it’s winter, and there are plenty of families in my area and yours still struggling in the sluggish economy. So from now until the end of the month, I’m opening up the coffers to pay it forward: donate any amount to help keep our faucets running, and I’ll give 20% of all donations to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, a stalwart group of local heroes who are just now watching the cupboards grow bare after the usual holiday rush.

As always, all donors to the cause will also receive a secret link to a homemade live bootleg mix of covers, with songs taken from this past year’s Grey Fox and Falcon Ridge Folk Festivals, and from the numerous house concerts which we have hosted here in rural America. All tracks on these bootlegs were recorded by yours truly, and are available nowhere else. Featured artists on the 2010 bootleg include Sarah Jarosz, Tim O’Brien, Tracy Grammer, Dala, Chuck E Costa, Eliza Gilkyson and Jimmy LaFave, Red Molly, We’re About Nine, and more.

But for whatever the reason – be it in support of the artists, the writing, the food bank – please, give if you can. And thanks in advance for your support, of us, and of the music.

Second, and back to where we started today, our little bandwidth outage has caused me to consider experimenting with other methods of service. There’s several, but my favorite so far is Soundcloud, which hosts music on its own servers; we’ve used it here and there a bit, and though it, too, comes off as a blank space on the ol’ iPad and on Google’s Feedreader, it does show on Hype Machine, and I’ve yet to hear any complaints.

Today, then, we present part two of our little experiment in delivery methods: a set of songs which have been sent to me via Soundcloud within the last few months, most of which, oddly and unintentionally, speak to the larger theme of need and change which runs like a wire through today’s feature. As part of our little test, since the ability to stream and listen “live” online makes it much easier to sample, I’ve decided to let the songs speak for themselves, rather than go on about them textually, though I hope you’ll remember that we only post that which we think you should pursue here on Cover Lay Down, and act accordingly.

Links below the tracks go to artist and label pages for purchase, as always, and we hope you’ll enjoy both the songs and the foray into new posting territory, as much as I have. And although Sunday will bring us back to the usual mp3-based setlist format, I hope you’ll also let me know in the comments how the switch from privately-hosted mp3s to streaming technologies over the last two features has served your listening needs.

Clare Maguire: Hope There’s Someone (orig. Antony & The Johnsons)

Benjamin Francis Leftwich: Rebellion (orig. Arcade Fire)

Clare Burson: We Used To Wait (orig. Arcade Fire)

Terry Edwards: Lulu’s Back in Town (orig. Thelonious Monk)

Nicole Atkins: Vitamin C (orig. Can)

The Good Natured: For The Widows in Paradise (orig. Sufjan Stevens)

That’s a Freight Train: I Can Change (orig. LCD Soundsystem)

Ruth Bewsey: Sal Paradise (orig. Futures)

Love Darling: Closer (orig. Kings of Leon)

Liam Bailey: I’d Rather Go Blind (orig. Etta James)
Liam Bailey: Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want (orig. The Smiths)

Pickingsplinters: Cocaine (trad.)

John Velghe: I Wanna Be Your Dog (orig. The Stooges)

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and song sets twice weekly in a neverending quest to connect artists and fans for the betterment of culture. Wanna help?

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