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Sifting Through Allmusic Essays

Quite probably, you have already browsed through the encyclopedic section of musical genres and styles (and sub-styles) available at Allmusic, and saw all the descriptions and lists of top artists, albums and songs, right?

Just in case, I want to highlight the ‘related essays’ they keep at the bottom. It’s quite a mixed bag, with more than 110 essays in the pop/rock section (last time I checked) sorted alphabetically from various different authors. And, to add to the confusion, the essays are not dated. Many essays in this long, unordered list seem less than vital today (“Rockabilly Women” or “New Jack Swing“, anyone?) and the double entries for Rock Records: A Beginner’s Guide and History clearly sugessts that no one has been taking much care of this place recently. But there is great stuff there to:

Remastered CDs: Why Care, and Why Buy Them by Bruce Eder is just outstanding. A long, very well-written and knowledgeable account of the evolution of CD mastering techniques, it serves as fundamental account of history of the CD business:

In Japan, by contrast, the record labels had a different philosophy, especially where western pop/rock was concerned — they recognized the potential for the format and insisted on using the best possible sources from the beginning, on albums such as Born To Run. And as the different divisions of the same labels in various countries adopted digital technology and began building their catalogs at different times — Japan was about three years in front of the United States — there wasn’t a lot of coordination or consistency around the world. Because Japan had a huge head-start, a surprising number of early CD releases sold in the United States were pressed there, so much so that Columbia Records made a point of labeling its American-pressed CDs as “Now Made In The USA” as soon as they were available.

But the Japanese release of Born To Run sounded distinctly better than the first US pressing. And the American-released Capitol-EMI release of Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love, derived from the domestic LP production master, sounded like a shadow of the EMI-UK version, which came from the first-generation studio master tape. Put simply, a lot of American-mastered CDs, even after the format had taken off, sounded flat and indistinct, and especially, in some instances, when compared with their overseas counterparts

The other good news is that there are more Bruce Eder pieces in there, and they are all worth-reading. I also enjoyed many articles by Richie Unterberger, such as the simply-titled Box Set:

The introduction of the compact disc, along with the increasing spending power of Baby Boomers eager to assemble collected works of classic rock and soul musicians, began to spur the production of rock box sets in the mid-1980s. In 1986, Bob Dylan’s five-LP Biograph set became the first rock retrospective of such size to reach the Top 40 album charts. More importantly, its mix of classic hits, key album cuts, rarities, and previously unreleased material, as well as a lavish booklet, became a model of sorts for the hundreds of rock and pop retrospectives that would follow. Later that year, a five-album box set of live Bruce Springsteen material went to number one. Multi-album live boxes didn’t sprout in its aftermath; hardly anyone, after all, has as fanatical a following as Springsteen What it did prove was that fans were willing to pay for such big, lavish packages in much greater force than most people expected.

For the truly comprehensive box sets, listeners often need to look to Europe, where reissue labels are truly fanatical about their music. Germany’s Bear Family is particularly legendary for its almost humorously exhaustive retrospectives, such as their five-CD Lesley Gore compilation, their four-CD Marvin Rainwater set, and its eight-CD Lonnie Donegan project. These can be just as exhausting as exhaustive — do you really want to hear that Gene Vincent alternate take, or over 200 Fats Domino songs?

sion Musicians by Richie Unterberger
Singer/Songwriters by Richie Unterberger
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Recording studios are being left out of the mix

Although nobody officially tracks the number of recording studios, the consensus among industry experts is that the big commercial facilities have taken a major hit. They estimate that as many as half of the L.A. area’s commercial studios have closed or been sold to artists for private use.

Any place that was built as a studio, there’s a lot of money that’s spent, a couple million dollars maybe,” Sorkin said. “People are spending $20,000 to $100,000 on home studios. There’s a big difference in cost.”

As reported by LAT last october

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How iTunes Genius Really Works

Finally we have some light:

Basically, your library of tracks is compared to all the other Genius users’ libraries of tracks. Apple then runs a set of previously secret algorithms, which Goldman described as straightforward recommendation algorithms similar to those used by other services like Netflix when it suggests movies for a user to watch now or add to his quene, to generate statistics for each song. “These statistics are computed globally at regular intervals and stored in a cache,” notes Goldman, because data on the similarity of any two songs changes slowly–it’s assumed the only reason it changes at all is because of the changing tastes of the listening public, and the introduction of new tracks and artists.

Goldman jokes that if he told you how Genius works, he’d have to kill you (or at the least, have a squad of police officers raid your brain to retrieve Apple’s rightful property), but he continues to describe how the program works anyway.

via Technology Review: Blogs: Guest Blog: How iTunes Genius Really Works. (via Glenn Peoples @ Billboard)

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Katrina And The Waves: ‘Walkin’ On Sunshine’ With The Winning Lotto Ticket : NPR

” ‘Walking on Sunshine’ was the crown jewel in EMI’s catalog,” says Jarrett Mason, who worked for EMI Publishing from 2004 to 2008. He says that of the roughly 1.3 million songs in EMI’s catalog, “Walking on Sunshine” was one of its biggest earners — and that advertisers would pay $150,000 to $200,000 to use it for one year.

via Katrina And The Waves: ‘Walkin’ On Sunshine’ With The Winning Lotto Ticket : NPR.

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NPR has become a major player on the indie rock scene

Through its blogs, news articles, lists, podcasts, videos and album and concert streams (including a number from Washington venues), the site has attracted a steadily growing following, averaging about 1.6 million visitors a month. The site’s nine-member staff also feeds some of its audio features to NPR’s news shows; recent segments of “All Things Considered” have featured NPR Music’s ongoing “50 Great Voices” series and a report on the 25th anniversary of Katrina and the Waves’ megahit “Walking on Sunshine.”

In turn, NPR Music has attracted the attention of the music industry. In its relatively short existence, it has scored some notable coups, thanks to industry cooperation. Radiohead and Tom Waits played exclusive concerts. Bruce Springsteen made his album “Working on a Dream” available for streaming before its release. When Bob Dylan’s “Tell Tale Signs” album went up on the site before its release in late 2008, visitors streamed it 300,000 times in under a week. “They’ve made a really aggressive push to be a go-to place for music,” says Dan Cohen, vice president of marketing for EMI, the giant record label. “They’ve done a great job of becoming that place.”

via NPR has become a major player on the indie rock scene. (original link from All Music Guide)

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Why don’t rock stars trash hotel rooms anymore?

In London, the K West has become the 21st-century equivalent of the Columbia – the Hyde Park pit-stop that was so rock’n’roll Oasis wrote a song about it.

The era of stars treating hotels as a combination of drug den, brothel and racecourse (Led Zeppelin‘s John Bonham once rode a motorbike down the corridor of Los Angeles’s notorious Continental Hyatt House – one of the more printable Zep hotel stories) has been superseded by a much more businesslike attitude. These days, Saffer says, what your typical act wants is blackout curtains so they can sleep during the day, a late check-out (ditto) and somewhere safe to park the tour bus.

Polystyrene balls? If Bonham were still here, he would surely tell the artists of today they just aren’t trying. In the hedonistic 60s and 70s, hotels were more than just a home away from home – they were places where musicians did things they wouldn’t dare do at home, and throwing TVs out the window was practically de rigueur. In his 1974 book Billion Dollar Baby, Chicago Sun-Times writer Bob Greene’s account of a month on the road with Alice Cooper, there’s a pungent description of a wrecking spree instigated by drummer Neal Smith at a motel in upstate New York. After trashing several rooms, Smith ended the evening by toppling over a 7ft-high Coke vending machine. The damage came to $5,000 – a hefty whack in the early 70s.

via Why don’t rock stars trash hotel rooms anymore? | Music | The Guardian.

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Chris Blackwell, Island Record Founder, remembers signing U2 and Bob Marley

Business Week’ Diane Brady reports (via Lefsetz) Mr. Blackwell recollections:

I didn’t get U2’s music—the sound was too trebly for me—but I signed them because I loved them as people. I talked to Richard Branson at a party and liked him so much that I helped him start Virgin Rec-ords. I met Cat Stevens when he was trying to do a musical on the Russian Revolution, and even though I wasn’t interested in the musical, I loved his passion. I told him to rustle up his hair, look a little crazed, and tell his label that he wanted to do his next record with the London Philharmonic. He was released from his contract and came to work with me.

In 1972, I got a lot of criticism for giving Bob Marley money—without a contract—to record an album. Everyone said I was crazy. Marley was known as a rebel; he had a reputation for being difficult, and when I met him, he was totally broke. I fronted him some 4,000 pounds—a fair bit then—which effectively said, “If you want to screw me, screw me.” There was something about him, though, and I think he did trust me. But it helped that I trusted him first.

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Quick Twitter Note

Follow me on twitter.com/musicfacts2

Quick comments, aleatory posts, miscellaneous links will be more at home there than here. (I don’t want this site to look cluttered and randomic.)

In other words, when I want to tell how great a song is and how you really must listen it, I wil do it only on twitter)

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Quick Blogroll note

Do people still use blogrolls? Or are they so 2002? Anyway, I am starting one. Only two links for now, both for the same guy, as it happens. Bob Lefsetz is a L.A.-based attorney who was been writing about the music industry for some 25 years.

He has a very “stream of consciousness” way of writing and sometimes is really going for the controversy, but he knows this stuff and can be oftenly very insightful.

And so I have a blogroll. I will try to make it more substantial in the future.

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‘Music Facts’ old URL

For the record, Music Facts was previousy located at http://musicfacts2.blogspot.com/

There are 13 posts there which will not be migrated to here. The relevant data some of them contain will eventually reappear here in some form.

For your curiosity, I highligth two of its entries with some nice facts:

(“QVC may conjure visions of late-night, drug-fueled purchases of vacuum cleaners, but Wolfson cautions people not to mock. “The boxed set sold 5,000 copies the first hour,” he says.)