Are Music CDs Dying? Best Buy Stops Selling CDs ( 295

An anonymous reader quotes Complex magazine: The future of physical music isn't looking good. According to Billboard, consumer electronics company Best Buy will no longer carry physical CDs and Target may be following suit in the near future. Best Buy notified music suppliers that they will cease selling CDs at stores beginning July 1. The move is sure to hurt the already declining sales of CDs as consumers are switching to streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal in large numbers. CD sales have already dropped by a sizable 18.5 percent in the past year, Billboard reports.
Billboard also reports Target has given an "ultimatum" to music and video suppliers. "Currently, Target takes the inventory risk by agreeing to pay for any goods it is shipped within 60 days, and must pay to ship back unsold CDs for credit... Target has demanded to music suppliers that it wants CDs to be sold on what amounts to a consignment basis..."

"If the majors don't play ball and give in to the new sale terms, it could considerably hasten the phase down of the CD format."

Child Experts: Just Say 'No' To Facebook's Kids App ( 84

A group letter sent Tuesday to CEO Mark Zuckerberg argues that younger children -- the app is intended for those under 13 -- aren't ready to have social media accounts, navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy. From a report: Facebook launched the free Messenger Kids app in December, pitching it as a way for children to chat with family members and parent-approved friends. It doesn't give kids separate Facebook or Messenger accounts. Rather, the app works as an extension of a parent's account, and parents get controls such as the ability to decide who their kids can chat with. The social media giant has said it fills "a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want."

But a group of 100 experts, advocates and parenting organizations is contesting those claims. Led by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the group includes psychiatrists, pediatricians, educators and the children's music singer Raffi Cavoukian. "Messenger Kids is not responding to a need -- it is creating one," the letter states. "It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts."


Things Apple's $350 HomePod Smart-Speaker Can't Do: Answer Random Questions, Check Calendar, Work With an Android Phone, and More ( 246

In June last year, Apple announced the HomePod, its first smart-speaker which will battle Amazon's sleeper hit Echo speakers and Google's Home speakers. Apple being late to enter a product category is nothing new, but the HomePod has a few other strange things about it. Apple said it won't begin shipping the HomePod until December that year, in a departure of its own tradition. Then the device's shipment was delayed till "early 2018" -- February 9 is the current shipping date. Bloomberg has reported about the difficulties Apple engineers faced over the years to come up with the HomePod.

At any rate, Business Insider now has more information about the device, and is reporting the things that Apple's first smart-speaker won't be able to do. From the report (condensed): 1. HomePod can't pair with Android phones.
2. HomePod doesn't recognize different people's voices.
3. HomePod can't check your calendar.
4. HomePod doesn't work well with other streaming services besides Apple Music. (Spotify, Tindal, and Pandora users won't be able to use Siri.)
5. HomePod can't hook up to another device using an auxiliary cord.
6. HomePod can't make calls on its own. (In order to make a call using HomePod, you have to dial the person's number on your iPhone, then manually select that the call play through HomePod.)
7. The HomePod version of Siri isn't prepared to answer random questions like Alexa and Google Assistant.


Streaming Services Must Hike Songwriter Payments Nearly 50%, Court Rules ( 88

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: Songwriters will get a larger cut of revenue from streaming services after a court handed technology companies a big defeat. The Copyright Royalty Board ruled that songwriters will get at least a 15.1 percent share of streaming revenues over the next five years, from a previous 10.5 percent. That's the largest rate increase in CRB history, according to a statement from the National Music Publishers' Association. The decision is a major victory for songwriters, who have long complained they are insufficiently uncompensated by on-demand music services like Spotify and YouTube.
"The ratio of what labels are paid by the services versus what publishers are paid has significantly improved," argues the NMPA, "resulting in the most favorable balance in the history of the industry.

"While an effective ratio of 3.82 to 1 is still not a fair split that we might achieve in a free market, it is the best songwriters have ever had under the compulsory license... The decision represents two years of advocacy regarding how unfairly songwriters are treated under current law and how crucial their contributions are to streaming services."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has introduced a bipartisan "Music Modernization Act" to overhaul the rate court, and to create a new governing agency to issue blanket licenses to streaming services and then collect and distribute the resulting roylaties.

A Single Line of Computer Code Put Thousands of Innocent Turks in Jail ( 180

Long-time Slashdot reader kbahey writes: Can a single pixel cost you your livelihood and/or freedom? Apparently, this has already happened in Turkey to thousands of people and their relatives. It all stems from the purge by president Edrogan following a failed coupe. The result is that many innocent people lost their jobs (and source of income), their freedom, their reputation, and more.

The details are frightening. The underlying technology is the use of 1x1 transparent pixels, as most web sites do, to track their visitors. This particular pixel was used by Bylock, a messaging app that the Turkish government deemed seditious, in their purge against Fethullah Gulen loyalists. Pre-dawn raids by police were conducted on those who have this pixel. The long legal proceedings caused a digital forensic expert to challenge those cases, because [the pixel using] the servers for Bylock was also being used by other applications for music streaming, and prayer times/direction of Mecca.

30,000 innocent people may have been swept up among the 150,000 Turks detained, arrested or forced from their jobs under state of emergency decrees since the summer of 2016. One 29-year-old high school teacher "wished the worst" for the revolutionaries accused of using Bylock, "until authorities said he was one of them."

The government eventually exonerated 11,480 of the wrongly accused, but some had already spent months in prison, and reportedly some even committed suicide.

China Is Quickly Switching From Pirating To Streaming ( 79

hackingbear shares a report from CNN: Not so long ago, China was an oasis for pirated music and videos. CDs and DVDs were easily copied and sold for cheap at roadside markets. If you had a computer and an internet connection, top selling albums and Hollywood movies were widely available for free online. That's changing fast as new technologies such as the convenient WeChat payment and a long-running crackdown on pirated content mean members of the country's growing, smartphone-wielding middle class are increasingly willing to pay to stream videos and music online. "When you have to spend two-to-three hours digging up pirated content, users are willing to pay a [small] amount of money to get non-pirated content," said Karen Chan, an analyst with research firm Jefferies. Across major Chinese video platforms, the monthly fee is about 20 yuan ($3); streaming music is even cheaper, ranging from 8 to 15 yuan ($1-$2) per month. Compare that with a basic monthly Netflix subscription in the U.S. at $8, or a Spotify one at $10. The rapid spread of digital payment platforms like Tencent's WeChat Pay and Alibaba-affiliated Alipay has also played a role, according to Xue Yu, an analyst with research firm IDC. The platforms created a market of young Chinese consumers comfortable with buying goods and services for a few yuan online, Xue said.

Jack White Bans Cellphones At Concerts For '100% Human Experience' ( 294

Singer and guitarist Jack White has banned the use of mobile phones at upcoming live shows. NME reports that the policy will be strictly enforced, requiring concert-goers to lock up their smartphones in pouches." From the report: White embarks on a tour of the U.S. from April, with a statement announcing that shows would be "phone-free," confirming: "No photos, video or audio recording devices allowed." "We think you'll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON," the statement adds. "Upon arrival at the venue, all phones and other photo or video-capturing gizmos will be secured in a Yondr pouch that will be unlocked at the end of the show. You keep your pouch-secured phone on you during the show and, if needed, can unlock your phone at any time in a designated Yondr Phone Zone located in the lobby or concourse." "For those looking to do some social media postings, let us help you with that. Our official tour photographer will be posting photos and videos after the show... Repost our photos & videos as much as you want and enjoy a phone-free, 100% human experience."

YouTube's Support for Musicians Comes With a Catch ( 41

YouTube has asked musicians to agree not to disparage the streaming-video service in exchange for promotional support, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: In recent months, YouTube has given a handful of musicians a couple hundred thousand dollars to produce videos and promoted their work on billboards, part of a larger campaign to improve the site's relationship with the music industry. Yet such support comes with a catch, with some musicians required to promise the won't say negative things about YouTube, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private business transactions. Non-disparagement agreements are common in business, but YouTube's biggest direct competitors in music don't require them, the people said.

Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th ( 98

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.

Buying Headphones in 2018 is Going To Be a Fragmented Mess ( 276

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: At CES this year, I saw the future of headphones, and it was messy. Where we once had the solid reliability of a 3.5mm analog connector working with any jack shaped to receive it, there's now a divergence of digital alternatives -- Lightning or USB-C, depending on your choice of jack-less phone -- and a bunch of wireless codecs and standards to keep track of. Oh, and Sony's working hard on promoting a new 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as the next wired standard for dedicated audio lovers. It's all with the intent of making things better, but before we get to the better place, we're going to spend an uncomfortable few months (or longer) in a fragmented market where you'll have to do diligent research to make sure your next pair of headphones works with all the devices you already own.

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? ( 477

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:

1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.


Japan's Latest Sensation is a Cryptocurrency Pop Group ( 57

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: If you're starting a pop group in Japan, where giant rosters and virtual superstars are par for the course, how do you stand out? By tying yourself to something trendy -- and in 2018, that means cryptocurrency. Meet Kasotsuka Shojo (Virtual Currency Girls), a J-pop group where each of the eight girls represents one of the larger digital monetary formats. Yes, you're supposed to cheer for bitcoin or swoon over ethereum (what, no litecoin?). The group played its first concert on January 12th, and naturally you had to pay in cryptocurrency to be one of the few members of the general public to get in. The group's first single, "The Moon and Virtual Currencies and Me," warns listeners about the perils of fraud and extols the virtues of good online security.
"It isn't clear how French maid outfits symbolize cryptocurrency or blockchain technology," notes Quartz, "but they're popular costumes in Japan's anime and cosplay circles."

French Songwriter Kiesza Composes First Mainstream Music Album Co-Written With AI ( 51

dryriver shares a report from the BBC, highlighting "a new album that features everything from cowboy sci-fi to Europop." What's special about the album -- Hello World by Canadian singer Kiesza -- is that it's the first full-length mainstream music album co-written with the help of artificial intelligence. You can judge the quality for yourself: First, view the single "Hellow Shadow" with Canadian singer Kiesza. Next, the BBC story, which seems to think that the album is actually rather good: "Benoit Carre has written songs for some of France's biggest stars: from Johnny Halliday -- the French Elvis, who died last year -- to chanteuse Francoise Hardy. But this month, the 47-year-old is releasing an album with a collaborator he could never have dreamt of working with. It's not a singer, or rapper. It's not even really a musician. It's called Flow Machines, and it is, arguably, the world's most advanced artificially-intelligent music program. For musicians, there's been one good thing about these projects so far: the music they've produced has been easy to dismiss, generic and uninspiring -- hardly likely to challenge Bob Dylan in the songwriting department. But Carre's album, Hello World, is different for the simple reason that it's good. Released under the name SKYGGE (Danish for shadow), it features everything from sci-fi cowboy ballads to Europop, and unlike most AI music, if you heard it on the radio, you wouldn't think something had gone horribly wrong. Flow Machines, developed at Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Paris, does indeed write original melodies, Carre adds. It also suggests the chords and sounds to play them with. But Carre says a human is always needed to stitch the songs together, give them structure and emotion. Without people, its songs would be a bit rubbish. "There were many people involved in this," he says, listing the likes of Belgian house producer Stromae and Canadian pop star Kiesza. "They gave their soul, their enthusiasm. I think that's the most important point of the album, in a way -- that it's a very human one.'"

Pandora CEO Roger Lynch Wants To Create the Podcast Genome Project ( 19

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Variety: Pandora's new CEO Roger Lynch has big plans for podcasts: Lynch told Variety on the sidelines of CES in Las Vegas Thursday that he wants to create "the equivalent of the podcast genome project" as the company plans to add many more podcasts to its catalog. Lynch, who joined Pandora as president and CEO in September, said that the company is working on a deep integration of podcasts that will allow users of the service to easily browse and discover new shows. Describing these efforts as a kind of podcast genome project is a nod to Pandora's Music Genome Project -- a massive database of dozens of musical attributes for every single song in the company's music library that is being used to compile stations and aid discovery. Pandora is also looking to offer podcasters monetization options that will be superior to the current state of podcast advertising. Currently, many podcasters still rely on ads that they read themselves on air, Lynch said. "It is not the most effective advertising model."

Ask Slashdot: What's the Best Media Streaming Device? 206

The network card died on Thelasko's smart TV -- and rather than spend $65 on a new one, they're considering buying a nice, simple streaming box. I am running a Rygel server on my PC, but rarely use it... I primarily only watch Amazon Prime, Netflix, and YouTube for streaming, and am wondering what Slashdot users have found to be the best option. I'm considering Roku or Chromecast because they are well known and supported. However, I have heard a lot of news about Kodi devices being more hackable.
AppleTV? Amazon Fire TV? The Emtec GEM Box? Building your own from a Raspberry Pi? Leave your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

What's the best media streaming device?

SoundCloud Refutes Decreasing Audio Quality, Cites Standard Testing ( 60

cordovaCon83 writes: NestHQ published an article today noting that online streaming service Soundcloud has implemented the Opus codec for its archive of music and started streaming at 64kbps instead of its prior 128kbps streams. Opus has been touted as a more efficient codec than the aging MP3 codec. Whether this will have a major effect on audio fidelity remains to be seen, as well as whether such a move will affect the already ailing music service's business. UPDATE: SoundCloud tells Billboard that this swap in codecs is nothing new and is part of frequent tests it runs with its audio -- just as other streaming services do regularly. "We always appreciate feedback, but these reports are inaccurate," a SoundCloud spokesperson told Billboard in a statement. "SoundCloud has not altered its approach to audio quality. We have been using the Opus codec (among others) since 2016, and we regularly test different combinations of encoding and streaming to offer listeners a quality experience on any device. Furthermore, we store all content from creators at its originally uploaded quality level so we can continually adapt to advances in encoding and playback."

Jimmy Iovine To Leave Apple Music in August: Report ( 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: Look for Jimmy Iovine to leave Apple Music in August. The former Interscope CEO joined Apple in 2014 after selling Beats, the the music service and electronics business that he and Dr. Dre co-founded, to the tech giant for $3 billion. It is believed his departure is timed to his Apple shares fully vesting, sources tell Billboard. Iovine's ties to Apple go back to 2003 when he first met Apple founder Steve Jobs and exec Eddy Cue, and was a key proponent of Apple's iTunes and iPod. Apple Music, Apple's subscription streaming service, has expanded to more than 30 million paying subscribers since its June 2015 launch. That success is, in part, due to Iovine's focus on content, including developing original programming.

Spotify Files To Go Public ( 24

According to Bloomberg, Spotify filed to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, "in the highest-profile test yet of a technique that lets companies list shares without raising money through a traditional stock offering." From the report: With steady cash from more than 60 million paying subscribers, the world's largest paid music-streaming service doesn't need more funding. Instead of an initial public offering, it's trying a direct listing, which essentially lets private stakeholders start trading their shares on a public exchange. That avoids underwriting fees and restrictions on stock sales by current owners, and doesn't dilute the holdings of executives and investors. Spotify, which has been valued at about $15 billion, would be the most prominent company by far to attempt a direct listing, a method that until now has been used by small issuers and real estate investment trusts. It would also be a first for the New York Stock Exchange, which has sought permission from the Securities & Exchange Commission to change its rules for the occasion.
The Courts

Spotify Hit With $1.6 Billion Copyright Lawsuit ( 132

The Wixen Music Publishing company, which administers song compositions by Tom Petty, Dan Auerbach, Rivers Cuomo, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, and others, has hit Spotify with a copyright lawsuit seeking $1.6 billion in damages. The publishing company filed the lawsuit on December 29, alleging the streaming giant is using Petty's "Free Fallin" and tens of thousands of other songs without license or compensation. SPIN reports: Back in September, Wixen objected to a $43 million settlement Spotify had arranged over another class action lawsuit brought by David Lowery (of Cracker and Camper van Beethoven) and Melissa Ferrick, stating it was "procedurally and substantively unfair to Settlement Class Members because it prevents meaningful participation by rights holders and offers them an unfair dollar amount in light of Spotify's ongoing, willful copyright infringement of their works." A judge has yet to rule on that settlement, and in the meantime, Wixen has moved to file its own lawsuit, which purports "as much as 21 percent of the 30 million songs on Spotify are unlicensed," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"Spotify brazenly disregards United States Copyright law and has committed willful, ongoing copyright infringement," the complaint reads. "Wixen notified Spotify that it had neither obtained a direct or compulsory mechanical license for the use of the Works. For these reasons and the foregoing, Wixen is entitled to the maximum statutory relief."

United States

2018 Is the Last Year of America's Public Domain Drought ( 275

An anonymous reader shares a report: Happy Public Domain Day, every-some of you! In New Zealand and Canada, published works by artists who died in 1967 -- Rene Magritte, Dorothy Parker, John Coltrane, and many others -- have entered the public domain; Kiwis and Canadians can now freely distribute, perform, and remix a wealth of painting, writing, and music. In Europe, work published by artists who died in 1947 are now public domain. In the United States, well, we get nothing for the 20th year in a row, with one more to go. Our public domain drought is nearly old enough to drink. American copyrights now stretch for 95 years. Since 1998, we've been frozen with a public domain that only applies to works from before 1923 (and government works). Jennifer Jenkins is a clinical professor of law at Duke Law School, which hosts the Center for the Study of the Public Domain. In an email she explained what changed and why nothing has entered American public domain for two decades. "Until 1978, the maximum copyright term was 56 years from the date of publication -- an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years," she wrote. "In 1998, Congress added 20 years to the copyright term, extending it to the author's lifetime plus 70 years, or 95 years after publication for corporate 'works made for hire.'"

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