Chilly Gonzales on Music of 2014

by Nikolozi Meladze

I've had this article saved in my reading list for over 3 months now. I finally got around reading it and it's great.

I think music is always pushing forward toward the essential – the history of music is largely a process of reduction, and it is a beautiful process to observe. Listeners are increasingly savvy, so the same old gestures become obsolete, and a composer can telegraph a lot of musical intention with very little actually music.

I always enjoy hearing Gonzales' analysis of music.

Apple/Beats vs Spotify

by Nikolozi Meladze

It seems music streaming services are popping up left and right. There has been a lot of news about them recently. For instance, Beatport, that specialises in electronic music, now offers a free streaming service along with digital downloads. I never thought I’d see the day, but I can’t see that taking off now. Also, Jay-Z relaunched Tidal. This post by CDM sums up my feelings about it rather well.

Personally, I love Spotify, but I’m hoping that Apple/Beats will offer a superior streaming service. This NYT article caught my attention:

In a sign of how important Beats is in reshaping Apple’s digital music, the company has made a musician a point man for overhauling the iPhone’s music app to include the streaming music service, as opposed to an engineer. Trent Reznor, the Nine Inch Nails frontman who was the chief creative officer for Beats, is playing a major role in redesigning the music app, according to two Apple employees familiar with the product, who spoke on the condition they not be named because the plans are private.

I’m curious to see how Reznor will transform the music app. I’m a big fan of his music as well as his forward thinking attitude towards music. The current iOS music app could use an overhaul. I can’t critique it too much though, as I haven’t used it recent years. I’ve been using Spotify since its launch in Australia.

According to several music executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private, Apple recently tried but failed to persuade record labels to agree to lower licensing costs that would have let Apple sell subscriptions to its streaming service for $8 a month — a discount from the $10 that has become standard for services like Spotify, Rhapsody and Rdio. That $2 markdown may be small, but Apple’s failure to secure it reflects a shift in the company’s relationship with the music industry. While Apple once enjoyed enormous negotiating power as the dominant force in digital music — an area it helped pioneer more than a decade ago with music downloads — it now faces an array of new competitors and finds itself in the position of needing to modernize its offerings to catch up to the streaming revolution.

Surprisingly, Apple is late to the streaming game. Considering iTunes did a lot of pioneering work in this area and completely ended up dominating the digital music sales, it’s disappointing that they haven’t disrupted themselves yet. In a recent interview, Tim Cook reminded us that Apple is always willing to make bold moves:

Apple has always had the discipline to make the bold decision to walk away. We walked away from the floppy disk when that was popular with many users. Instead of doing things in the more traditional way of diversifying and minimizing risk, we took out the optical drive, which some people loved. We changed our connector, even though many people loved the 30-pin connector. Some of these things were not popular for quite a while. But you have to be willing to lose sight of the shore and go. We still do that.

Apple must have forgotten about the music services. Back to the NYT article:

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, downloads generated $2.6 billion in revenue in 2014, down 8.5 percent from the year before. Streaming made $1.87 billion last year, and overtook CD sales for the first time.

You can no longer deny that the music streaming is the way forward. We have to thank Spotify for paving the way. They are the biggest player at the moment. Indeed, it is the best thing around and I can’t imagine using anything else right now. I hardly come across a music release that is not available on Spotify. It has many great features too. The artist discography pages have a great layout. They showcase the releases quite well. This includes Top 10 most popular tracks by the artist. In addition, there’s a list of related artists the user might find interesting. You can choose to follow the artist by simply pressing the “Follow” button and be notified about new releases. These are all great features for discovering new music. The iTunes store doesn’t even come close.

The Spotify developers have been adding new features consistently to the service and are not afraid to experiment. Continuity is a great example of this. If you are listening to music on one device you can switch to another and continue listening to the song on it. Alternatively, the second device can become a controller for the device that’s already playing music. Giving you ability to pause, rewind or change songs remotely. This works well across all my devices: iPhone, iPad and Mac.

But what can Apple do to compete with all that?

Mr. Iovine has set the tone of the transformation of Apple’s music plans, according to music executives. Mr. Iovine, who reports to Eddy Cue, Apple’s head of software and Internet services, has been leading aggressive talks to secure prominent album releases that will be exclusive to Apple, akin to what Beyoncé did when she released her self-titled album on iTunes in December 2013. One music executive involved in the negotiations described this part of the new iTunes as “Spotify with Jimmy juice.”

I doubt that the curated playlists and exclusive albums alone will be enough to bring the users, who have already switched, back from Spotify. But, I believe, Apple still has time to recover and convert those who haven’t yet experienced streaming services. A lot of people still download files the old fashioned way.

As much as I love Spotify it has a few annoying shortcomings. For instance, the user’s music library management could use a lot of improvements on both OS X and iOS. It would be nice to have iTunes like album management. Another issue, and this is a big one, is the responsiveness. This can be felt across many areas. Often, the music streaming doesn’t start instantly. The lag can be more than 10 seconds long sometimes. Music release and friends message notifications aren’t always delivered on time. Friends activity feed may not load or update at all. I’m not sure if their servers can’t handle the demand or their apps aren’t very reliable, but it needs to be addressed. I tend to restart the Spotify app to get around these issues. It has gotten to a point where I created a “Relaunch Spotify” script which I call from OS X Spotlight.

Another annoyance has to do with making playlists on my iPhone available for offline streaming. If the phone goes to sleep the content download is interrupted. In order to finished downloading you have to unlock your phone and bring the Spotify app foreground. You may have to do this several times if you are downloading a few albums simultaneously. Obviously, this is not Spotify’s fault as Apple doesn’t let third party apps continue downloading content while in the background. But Apple can easily get around this. I never had this problem when I used to use iTunes Match.

Moreover, it's very likely that the iPhone app will have Siri integration. This is very useful, especially when driving. At the moment, if I want to change a track on Spotify I have to hope for a red light at the next intersection.

The way I see it, if Apple was to offer a superior overall user experience, and I believe they can, then their streaming service could become as important as iTunes was for the past decade. I hope, the service is launched in Australia the same day as US.

Update: Apple released iOS 8.4 beta today with the updated music app. This could be the redesign led by Trent Reznor.

If you haven’t infringed copyright you’re probably terrible at music

by Nikolozi Meladze

Peter Kirn on Robin Thicke judgment:

Hilarious. So, that makes essentially all music illegal.

If you make music, I would read this case to say you have almost certainly infringed copyright. In fact, if you haven’t, you’re probably terrible at music.

But see my comments above about Bridgeport. It’s such a stupid precedent, it’d be insane to ever apply it.

This is fucked. Read the whole article.

Taking Logic Pro X 10.1 for a Ride

by Nikolozi Meladze

Yesterday Apple released Logic Pro X 10.1, just in time for this year’s NAMM show. The last update (10.0.7) was over 8 months ago. The developers must have been working on new features during this time. This release doesn’t disappoint. Well, sort of.

I can safely say that my automation feature wish list for Logic Pro X is now complete. The Automation by Region has to be the new feature I'm most excited about. Automation can now be attached to a region. So, when you move a region all associated automaton will move with it. If you repeat a region the automation will do the same. The way I like to work is that all timeline events should belong to regions, whether it's automation, MIDI or audio. So, when you move a region all events in the region’s timeline range should move with it.

In addition to this, we now have Trim and Relative Automation modes. Trim mode lets you reshape previously recorded or drawn automation curves. But, personally, I find the Relative mode more useful for my needs. For instance, in this mode, you can have mixer faders automated and still be able to change the overall volume by moving the fader. There’s no need to adjust its automation curves, because they are relative to the fader's set position. I no longer need to insert the Gain plug-in to work around the problem. Note that Trim and Relative modes only work on Volume, Pan and Send levels and not on plug-in parameters. But that’s OK, as these modes are most useful for the mixer parameters.

The next new cool feature is the Drum Machine. I tested some of the presets and I have to admit, whoever did the sound design for it did a fantastic job. They sound amazing and ready to be used in your tracks. Though, I was hoping for an Ultrabeat facelift.

Speaking of facelifts, Compressor got a brand new retina ready interface. It’s beautifully skeuomorphic. It is an FX plug-in I use the most along with the Channel EQ. So, this is a very welcome update. The gain reduction history display looks great and is very useful. Unfortunately, this is the only Logic plug-in that got a retina display update. There are many more that require similar UI overhaul. But the Compressor update gives hope that they will all get their turn eventually.

If you love wavetable synthesis Retro Synth just became more attractive. It can now create wavetables from imported audio. Designed a great tone that you want to convert into an instrument and mangle with it more? You can simply render it in place and then drag and drop the rendered file from the file browser onto the synth. The Retro synth is not packed with features like the other complex plug-ins, but its simplicity is what makes it inviting.

Finally, you can now organise plug-ins in folders. Not a huge feature, but it will speed up your workflow. You don’t want your favourite plug-ins to be listed along the other 10 you don’t use. That’s just too much scrolling.

There are a lot more new features, including the Logic Remote update. You can learn more about them on Logic’s What’s New page. There you will also find feature demo videos. CDM has a nice overview. And if you have 2 hours to kill why not read the full release notes?

One last thing, the reason I said ‘sort of’ at the beginning of the post is because the bug I wanted to be fixed the most is still not squashed. The arrange view zooming is still terrible on retina display Macs. All you have to do is launch Logic in Low Resolution mode to see how fast and smooth zooming should be.

MIDI HD Protocol? It could finally happen!

by Nikolozi Meladze

KVR News:

The MIDI Manufacturer's Association (MMA) will host an open discussion about the trademark, licensing, and product certification options for the MMA's proposed new voluntary industry standard, code-named "HD Protocol" on Sunday, January 25. The session is part of the MMA's Annual General Membership (AGM) meeting during the NAMM show in Anaheim CA. […]

Developed by consensus of the MIDI experts in the MMA, some highlights of the proposed new protocol's many features and benefits include:

  • Backward compatibility with MIDI 1.0 to ensure wide-spread adoption.
  • Plug and Play network connectivity over USB and Ethernet for easy integration.
  • Thousands of Channels for handling large complex systems.
  • A massive number of high resolution Controllers and Parameters for channels, groups and even individual notes, for unrivaled precision and adaptability to new controller technologies.
  • Precise Pitch Control and Articulation messages for expanded expressiveness.
  • Time Stamped messaging for accurate timing and tight real-time performance.
  • Plenty of room for future expansion to eliminate obsolescence.

After 30 years, are we finally going to see some improvements in MIDI?

Counter Remix EP is Out Now

by Nikolozi Meladze

Last week, Newclear Music released remixes of my track Counter. This EP brings together talented artists from around the world. It consists of interesting and unique interpretations of the original. No two tracks are alike. Here's what Newclear music has to say about the release:

Our last release of 2014 finally sees Nikolozi join Newclear Music as the title artist, after several remix appearances.

Nikolozi kicks off the EP with the “Drinking Blood Mix” – a raw, organic electro rearrangement of the original Counter. NZ/Canada duo Absolute Value & bLazem finally join the Newclear roster with their melodic DNB take on the original. Juan Tellez is back and follows up with more foundation-shaking bottom-heavy techno. Nort returns the line-up with more slick techy house grooves. nsu rounds up the EP with a blend of deep dubstep and proggy breaks.

I have to admit, I love the promo video:

My remix, Drinking Blood Mix, was inspired by the Only Lovers Left Alive movie soundtrack. I highly recommend it. I just loved how over-humanised timing created constant tension and kept you engaged.

You can preview the rest of the tracks on SoundCloud or on Newclear Music’s Bandcamp page:

You can grab the EP from Beatport right now. It will also be available on iTunes and Spotify next week.

Pomplamoose: ‘We are the mom and pop corner store version of “the dream.”’

by Nikolozi Meladze

Jack Conte:

We’re entering a new era in history: the space between “starving artist” and “rich and famous” is beginning to collapse. YouTube has signed up over a million partners (people who agree to run ads over their videos to make money from their content). The “creative class” is no longer emerging: it’s here, now.

Great perspective.

Notes on Creativity

by Nikolozi Meladze

I highly recommend checking out a great essay on creativity by Isaac Asimov. Here are some excerpts that ring true:

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

Cycling '74 CEO on Max 7

by Nikolozi Meladze

David Zicarelli:

One of the biggest challenges in designing software is dealing with what is known as the first user experience. We’ve been looking at this problem for the last four or five years, and I have to say, observing someone else try to use what you’ve designed is a devastating experience. Everything you assumed to be true is exposed as wrong. You can retreat into your shell and declare your work is art and simply misunderstood, or you can try to figure out why your assumptions are wrong. It is an endless process, with well-meaning attempts to be “more user-friendly” usually falling flat for reasons that suddenly seem obvious and make you feel like an idiot. And that’s putting it mildly.

This is very true. Read the whole post to find out the effort the C74 team put in to make Max fun to use.

‘Taylor Swift is intentionally adding inefficiency back into the market’

by Nikolozi Meladze

Philip Kaplan:

When record stores were a thing, there were exactly sixty musicians who figured out how to work within the system to become wildly successful (in that case, selling 100 million copies each).

Specifically, they took advantage of inefficiencies in the market.

How many of those millions of people only wanted one track but had to buy the entire album? iTunes fixed that by decoupling the tracks from albums.

How many of those millions put the album on a shelf and never listened to it? Spotify fixed that—artists only get paid for plays.

By removing herself from streaming services, Taylor Swift is intentionally adding inefficiency back into the market. Like Comcast, her product is popular enough that people will put up with it. And while I believe an artist gets to choose what happens to her art, I still think it’s a dick move to her fans.

Twitter Audio Card

by Nikolozi Meladze

Twitter Blog:

With a single tap, the Twitter Audio Card lets you discover and listen to audio directly in your timeline on both iOS and Android devices. Throughout your listening experience, you can dock the Audio Card and keep listening as you continue to browse inside the Twitter app. We’re launching this new audio card in partnership with third-party streaming services. The first partner for streaming on Twitter is SoundCloud.

Twitter’s dedicated music app didn’t take off, but this sounds like a cool idea. Tried it and it works very well. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work if the Twitter app is in a background mode. Hopefully, that will change in the future versions.

‘Eventually, you’ll figure it all out’

by Nikolozi Meladze

Jason Fried:

During the development of most any product, there are always times when things aren’t quite right. Times when you feel like you may be going backwards a bit. Times where it’s almost there, but you can’t yet figure out why it isn’t. Times when you hate the thing today that you loved yesterday. Times when what you had in your head isn’t quite what you’re seeing in front of you. Yet. That’s when you need to have faith.

MIDI Editor Updated to v1.5, MIDI Import Support Added

by Nikolozi Meladze

Here is what's new in MIDI Editor v1.5:

  • Import MIDI files from the other apps via Open in...
  • If a MIDI file consists of multiple tracks they will be imported as separate clips.
  • Triplets grid support added.
  • It's now possible to create notes in edit mode via a pop-up menu.
  • Edit mode is a default mode now.
  • Bug fixes.

At the moment maximum imported MIDI clip length is 32 bars. This will change in the future versions.