MP3 pricing war erupts between Apple and Amazon


Today, Apple finally implements the variable pricing that has been promised since label renegotiations in January, but the company must be seething a little that Amazon grabbed all the headlines yesterday with an offer featuring chart-topping MP3s for just 30p.

The deal, featuring artists like Lady Gaga, Kings of Leon, Coldplay and La Roux, will tempt yet more consumers over to Amazon’s DRM-free, easy-to-understand platform from the bloated iTunes ecosystem.

But the funny thing here is that we’re not really talking about music fans. We’re talking about mums and dads, people who buy the occasional track but don’t really keep up with much new music or go to gigs.

The kind of people who buy albums in Tesco, not independent record shops. They’re the people that the record labels successfully marketed CDs to in the 90s, but who are now switching to casual gaming and television since music is so omnipresent in everyday life. They simply don’t need to buy it any more.

Amazon’s strategy seems two-fold. Firstly it wants to steal customers off iTunes – that much is clear by the timing of yesterday’s announcement. It also wants to grow the digital download market, though, by marketing MP3s at people buying CDs, books and DVDs from the site.

Ultimately the whole thing is futile, though, as the general public follows the early adopters from ownership of MP3s to access to vast streaming libraries. Already, pretty much everyone who’s interested in listening to music on their computer has tried Spotify.

Personally speaking, my music listening within the last couple of years has already shifted entirely from my MP3 collection to Spotify and The only time I go back is to listen to obscurer stuff that Spotify doesn’t have, and even then I sometimes don’t bother – I just listen to something Spotify *does* have.

At Christmas, I showed Spotify to my Dad. I’ve never seen him so enthralled by a bit of software – he spent a solid four hours playing with it. Whenever I show it to people are resolutely not early adopters they’re amazed by it too.

That’s why I’m so sure that the pricing war doesn’t matter. As soon as the general public properly discovers Spotify, and when Spotify sorts out its mobile clients, then they won’t need Amazon, iTunes or anyone else. They’ll be converts to “access”, and they won’t go back.

Spotify, iTunes, Amazon,

Top five dream digital music partnerships

This morning, Spotify and 7digital announced a ‘strategic partnership’ that’ll let Spotify users click straight through to buying MP3s on 7digital. Although I’ve awarded both of them an official Tech Digest badge of awesomeness in the past, the tie-up isn’t much more than the sum of its parts. Let’s have a look at five other dream partnerships that could really rock the world of digital music.

Pink Floyd and Guitar Hero

Once, not long ago, that would have read “The Beatles”, but the Fab Four’s estates have now given the thumbs up to Beatles Rock Band, so the net has to be cast a little wider. There are still a few digital standouts – most notably Pink Floyd but also Led Zeppelin – that haven’t worked very much with the Guitar Hero or Rock Band developers.

Other holdouts – Metallica, Tool and AC/DC have reneged on their digital hesitancy to get more heftily involved with the series. Tool provided artwork and several songs to Guitar Hero: World Tour, and Metallica are producing their own version of the game.

Top of my list, though, is Pink Floyd. As a massive fan of The Division Bell, I can’t think of anything more awesome than twiddling my way through “Coming Back to Life”. Blasting through ‘Money’ on bass in 7/4 time.

Major labels and Bittorrent

This might be a bit of a contentious one, and it’s probably the least likely of the lot, but it’s also the one that could prove the most fruitful. The major labels have the content cracked – the one thing people don’t say about them is that they have bad taste in bands – and Bittorrent is one of the most efficient distribution systems that there is.

If a major label set up a subscription-based Bittorrent tracker, where for £5 or a month or equivalent people were free to download and share playlists of as much as they like of that label’s content, then there’d be umpteen different benefits for the label.

Firstly, people in the community would emerge as tastemakers, who’d be great for the label working out which acts can sink or swim. Secondly, they’d not have to worry about distribution at all – the more popular an act, the faster everyone’s downloads would be. Lastly, they could easily track the relative popularity of different bands and allocate the revenues accordingly.

Audiosurf and Mobile Phones

Last year, I met with a senior staff member at Namco Mobile over my allegations that ‘mobile games are almost always awful’ – a view that I generally still hold. We had a good chat, and respectfully differed on a few things. But then I told him that he should convert Audiosurf to mobile.

He looked confused – ‘what’s Audiosurf?’. I explained that it’s a game where you load in whatever MP3s you like, and then it generates a track for you based on that song, where fast bits slope downhill, slow bits slope uphill and obstructions appear in time with the beat. You then race along the course, picking up blocks and lining them up in a grid.

It’s basically a bit like iTunes playing Tetris at WipEout. It’s absolutely perfect for mobile – short games, low graphics requirements, and global high scores uploaded via internet connections. Plus that compulsive ‘must beat the high score’ factor that’s seen me listen to far more Girls Aloud songs than anyone ever should.

If you want to see what I’m on about, then the game costs just £6, and there’s a free demo available too. Go check it out, and then think of how cool that’d be to play on the bus.

Ninjam and Freesound

Thanks to @filiphnizdo for the tip on this one, because I wasn’t aware of the awesome-looking Ninjam until this afternoon. It’s crazy collaboration software that lets musicians jam with each other.

Think that’ll result in a latency mess? You’d be right, except that it delays the playback of your tracks to other musicians until the end of a bar. You’re playing along, therefore, with what the other musicians were playing during the last bar. As a result, it doesn’t work so well for pop music, but works brilliantly for more ‘jam’-y genres like jazz and post-rock.

Freesound, on the other hand, is a database of samples with creative commons licenses that anyone can use. A tie-up between the two, therefore, would be fantastic for the creation of sample-laden, gently evolving tracks – a bit like Lemon Jelly or Boards of Canada. It’s got to be moddable into the software, right?

Spotify and

But I’ve saved my absolute favourite for last. A tie-up between Spotify and, with the former supplying music and the latter supplying the social network and recommendations functionality, would be the best thing since sliced bread.

Spotify knows this, and founder Daniel Ek has publicly stated that he’d love to license’s recommendations engine.’s weakness is that it doesn’t do much in the way of full-track on-demand streaming. Spotify’s is that it doesn’t do radio very well. Surely, a match made in heaven.

Will we ever see it? Despite Spotify’s advances, has been a little tight-lipped on the subject. Part of that is that it’s got its own problems to deal with at the moment. Part of that might also be that it thinks it can replicate Spotify’s functionality itself without their help. Whether that’s true or not, Spotify has the buzz right now – and doesn’t. You can’t disregard that factor.

Your turn

What would be your dream matchup? Drop us an email – [email protected] – and tell us, and we’ll showcase the best of your suggestions in a future post.

Tech Digest Podcast #1


So, this morning, Dan and I got on Skype and had a go at recording a podcast. We chatted about the big stories of the week – Twitter and trying to monetise their services, and the big media companies approaching Google to try to get their content higher in search rankings.

I’m a bit of a software person, whereas Dan’s into his hardware, so as a central feature, we thought it’d be fun to try to convince each other of the joys of a bit of software and a bit of hardware respectively. I plumped for, whereas Dan tried to convince me I need Canon’s EOS 500D DSLR in my life.

Lastly, we took a brief look at some of the stranger news stories of the week – the 60ft penis on the roof and the CC all your emails to Jacqui Smith campaign. I wanted to talk about a few other stories here too, but we ran out of time.

Download the podcast as an MP3 here, or subscribe via RSS here.

It’s a little clunky, still – my voice buzzes a bit thanks to the cheap headset I’m using. We’re very much feeling our way around how the whole process works, so any recommendations and advice are more than welcome. Drop us a tweet at @techdigest or email me or Dan. bans third party mobile streaming applications

Thumbnail image for lastfm_logo.jpg has had rather a bad day for PR, making two very big, very bad announcements for its consumers. First of all, the company announced in a forum post they’re removing access to their API for third party mobile applications. That means that users of Mobbler on S60, Pocket Scrobbler on Windows Mobile, and FlipSide on BlackBerry devices will soon find themselves without a way of listening on the go.

The ‘official’ applications for the iPhone and Android will remain in action, which seems a little odd. If this is a licensing problem, surely the same rules are in place for whatever platform the content is delivered on? Relatedly, the service will also be stopping non-subscribers from accessing the radio APIs, simply because wants more money.

Secondly, the company also announced in a blog post that it will begin charging for its previously free service outside of three countries – the UK, the USA and Germany. Customers anywhere else will be charged a fairly slim €3 per month for the service.

The company admits that the reason for this change is because it’s having trouble selling ads outside of these markets. The UK, USA and Germany all have relatively mature ad markets, where funding the service through advertising alone is possible. Outside of these countries, though, the company is having trouble.

What will remain free for all users is the scrobbling aspect of the site – where it charts your music taste and allows you to compare taste with friends and other users, as well as the social network that sits on top of everything. Although I’ve never pushed very hard to fill out my friends list on, it’s grown incrementally over the years and now it’s not too bad.

I’m deeply disappointed that I’ll be losing access to Mobbler, even if it was a little rickety and didn’t work properly on the bus. Let’s hope that services like Slacker make their way over this side of the Atlantic sooner rather than later. forum and blog (via Gizmodo)

The Revolution Will Be Streaming


This is my 1,000th post on Tech Digest. My first was about Robopong, and I have no idea what my last will be about, but this one’s about the economics of free music, which is a subject that I’ve touched on many times while writing here. It’s about how a free download turned me into a massive fan of a band.

Yesterday, personalized streaming radio site announced on Twitter, that its free downloads page was back. It’s a page, which can be found here, that lists a bunch of tracks that bands have decided to give away, for promotional purposes. According to the old thinking prevalent among record companies, a download = a lost sale. In this case, a download led me to a whole lot more than that.

The download in question is a song called, wonderfully, “The Revolution Will Be Streaming“, a nod to Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971 classic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised“. It’s by an American post-rock band that I hadn’t previously heard of called Saxon Shore.

My eye was caught by the title, and I downloaded it on the off-chance I’d like it. I did like it, a lot, and after a few listens, I headed over to Amazon. The band’s got a few tracks available on the download store, but the album featuring “The Revolution Will Be Streaming”, “The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore” wasn’t. So I bought the CD instead. On import.

Because the album has to be sent over from the states, I’m looking at a couple of weeks before I can listen to the damn thing. So I checked Spotify. The band isn’t there, sadly. I realized that when it does arrive, all I’m going to do is rip it to high-bitrate MP3 and put in on my Zune, so my next step was to head right over to the Pirate Bay and see if I could find it.

Turns out that the site doesn’t (at the time of searching, anyway). Luckily I’ve got other sources, so I grabbed it from another tracker and this morning on the bus on the way into the office, a bizarre and unexpected diversion around the back roads of King’s Cross was made all the more lovely by Saxon Shore’s wonderful album.

The band doesn’t seem to be touring at the moment, but when they show up in London, I’ll definitely be there and I’m fully intending to drag down as many of my post-rock-friendly friends as I can. I might well buy a t-shirt, and when I’ve fully digested this album, if I’m still loving it then there’s a good chance I’ll buy some of the older ones.

Now, I’m not pretending that there’s millions of people doing what I did above. Nor am I pretending that this would work just as well if every band in the world started giving away tracks. But if Saxon Shore hadn’t given away that song, then they wouldn’t have gained me as a fan. That’s why free music works, why music blogs are the best way to find new bands, and why free music isn’t the devaluing of art that some claim it is.

I welcome your comments and thoughts on the above, but before you do, go listen to the track in question. You can stream it from here. The revolution will indeed be streaming, it would appear.

VIDEO: Spotify iPhone application in action

Digital Buzzard’s managed to get hold of a video of a Spotify iPhone application in action. We’ve been aware of the iPhone app being in development for a while, as well as an S60 app, and presumably an Android one, but we haven’t seen it running before now.

As you can imagine, it looks fantastic. It promises to give you access to over-the-air streaming of Spotify’s entire music library, as well as playlist access. Best of all, you’ll be able to cache playlists while in Wi-Fi areas so that you’ll be able to play them back when you’re on the go. Initially it’ll only be available to Premium users (presumably because it’s tricky to work out how to serve ads in cached mode).

But the big question here is “will Apple let them do it?”. This service completely replaces everything that the iTunes store does on the device, offering on-demand access to songs. We’ve seen what happens when companies try to improve existing iPhone functionality.

That said, exists happily on the device. The difference might be that the application won’t let you listen to tracks on-demand, just offers you various radio stations based on your listening habits. It won’t cache songs, either.

Proper streaming mobile music is the holy grail for a lot of people. Already I barely listen to my MP3 collection on my PC any more, relying almost totally on Spotify. If I could get it on my mobile phone, too, reliably, then my Zune might end up totally retired.

(via Digital Buzzard)

Top 10 Tuesday Wednesday: Free, Legal, Music on the Internet


I’m going to take a break from gadgets today, like Dan did yesterday for Technology Deathmatch, to tell you about some of my favourite sources of free, legal music on the internet. It’s entirely possible, contrary to what major record labels would have you believe, to live completely free of paying for recorded music.

Not all offer downloads that’ll work on your MP3 player – some just stream – and not all these sites are going to be around forever, due to the turbulent nature of the digital music market around now, but if you can live with both those caveats, then click over the jump for my top ten sites where you can get free, legal, music.

NOISE GATE: How to create an awesome office jukebox in five easy steps


If you work in an office, then how does the music work? Is it a tinny radio in the corner blaring out Radio 1? If so, I feel sorry for you, and I suggest you take control.

We moved offices over Christmas, and switched from a benevolent musical dictatorship run by Stuart from My Chemical Toilet to a much more democratic approach using communal playlists in Spotify. It’s very simple, and all you’ll need is some speakers, as well as someone volunteering to take charge. Click through to the post to find out how. releases Android client application


Personalised radio service has launched an Android version of its software, meaning that T-Mobile G1 owners will be able to get streaming music recommendations on-the-go. Previously the application was only available to iPhone owners and on’s website on a computer.

That’s all well and good, but where’s my Symbian client? I want to use on my N95!’s biggest threat right now, Spotify, is recruiting for an S60 engineer with the aim of building a phone client. With the 5800 just launched, and the N97 just around the corner, now would be a great time to develop an alternative to Nokia’s egregious “Comes with Music” service. Android App (via @fakesensations)

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