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Archive for October 22nd, 2007

Geezer: Soldier of Fortune (LB)

David Coverdale / Richie Blackmore

imageimageThe heavy metal pioneer Deep Purple, one of the still surviving name of Metal today (All the original group members have changed since its inception in 1968) (etc one of surviving great include Def Leppard), produce one of classic songs of all time in their best-selling Stormbringer album in 1974.

Soldier of Fortune is a memorable and stunning melancholic acoustic song with vocal perfectly matched by the weary and time-battered voice of David Coverdale and dramatic guitar play by song co-writer  Richie Blackmore, one of the most distinguished guitarist in history.

This song is especially popular with those Malay in Singapore in 1980s. I still recall Malay youth gather in group and wearing black T-shirt with picture and logos of their favourite metal band imprinted (etc Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath), playing this song with guitar with the same sadness in their voice.

Indeed I do find this a very depressing song and the songs’ lyrics and mood say it all. My own interpretation of this song as about someone feeling hopeless and helpless, struggling and gripping within the demon himself, feeling lost and commit himself to fate.

Would I want to be a soldier of fortune ? Definitely not. I rather create my own destiny than commit myself to luck and fate. As such, I find this song significant and relevant because it is ironically a song about the ‘modern’ society, of people with unfulfiled dream and challenge, who passion for life has been lost and the struggle within to find meaning for their life. Indeed for a affluent society like Singapore where business as usual, these realities seem ‘cruel’ just like David Coverdale find out when business replace passion.

It is no secret that Coverdale wanted out of the business at that point, he’d grown uncomfortable with the corporate, image driven entity he felt that Whitesnake had become. In a candid period interview Coverdale sums it up in one sentence:

“It got louder and louder, and so did I, to the point now where I have to get dressed up as a “girly man” and tease ones questionable pants or hair and it’s all getting a bit … boring.”

Coverdale felt that he’d lost the passion for music, it had all become business. [From Wiki]

Whatever it is, we just have to help ourselves in anyway, and persistently find ways to overcome any adversity just like David Coverdale, Richie Blackmore did in charting their own future and their never ending quest to find the meaning in their life with music.

So here it is, for those whether they are Soldier of Fortune or not …

 

Original rendition of Soldier of Fortune as in 1974

I really like the voice of David Coverdale in this classic because it uniquely expose the vulnerabilities of a growup. That’s very appealing ! Been vulnerable has its own attractiveness as it seem.

 

Unplugged version sang by ‘modern’ David Coverdale

The voice amazingly hasn’t change that much, grow even more weary with time ! That’s really magnetic.

 Soldier of Fortune by David Coverdale & Richie Blackmore

I have often told you stories
About the way
I lived the life of a drifter
Waiting for the day
When I’d take your hand
And sing you songs
Then maybe you would say
Come lay with me love me
And I would surely stay

But I feel I’m growing older
And the songs that I have sung
Echo in the distance
Like the sound
Of a windmill going round
I guess I’ll always be…
A soldier of fortune

Many times I’ve been a traveller
I looked for something new
In days of old
When nights were cold
I wandered without you
But those days I thought my eyes
Had seen you standing near
Though blindness is confusing
It shows that you’re not here

Now I feel I’m growing older
And the songs that I have sung
Echo in the distance
Like the sound
Of a windmill going round
I guess I’ll always be…
A soldier of fortune
Yes, I can hear the sound
Of a windmill going round
I guess I’ll always be
A soldier of fortune


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There is a interesting article today, Yes, some blogs are profitable – very profitable,  from SfGate that talk about how Techcrunch and other tech blogs (VentureBeats, BlogHer etc) make money. One reason is that they keep low headcount and another is that they leverage on brand equity to use site for advertisement and for venturing into event hosting (etc Techcrunch 40) etc

Today, TechCrunch has a full-time staff of eight. This year, it hired a CEO. In August, 1.25 million people visited TechCrunch or its affiliated blogs at least once, according to comScore Inc. It brings in $240,000 per month in advertising, according to Arrington, and pulls in additional revenue from conferences and parties.

TechCrunch illustrates the new blogging math. It sells sponsorships that allow advertisers to display on the home page at $10,000 per month. It also uses Federated Media to sell display ads, keeping 60 percent of the revenue. And it charges $200 to list in its Cool Jobs section, getting about five or six want ads per day. Parties and conferences add another income source. Last month, TechCrunch organized a two-day event at the Palace Hotel that gave 40 startups a platform to tout their wares.
And, as far as spending goes, “our costs are only headcount,” Arrington said.

Wow, that’s cool ! Fancy making huge sum of money from his hobby.

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image

Jonathan Benassaya(left) and Daniel Marhely(right) of France, the two founders of image ,  relentlessly bring the world to listen to free legal music online.


Introduction

What doesn’t kill you only make you stronger.
At least that is what happened to France-based Deezer which is a reborn of Blogmusik.net that is forced to shut down in Feb2007. Read about this here (PDF).

Deezer claimed to be is the first website for music on request that is free, unlimited and legal. The site was created in France in June 2006 by Daniel Marhely and Jonathan Benassaya”. What Deezer achieved is a miracle consider that music label company tend to be very protective of their intellectual property.


Somehow, Deezer manage to convince some major music companies to join in the fray which is good thing consider the music industry need to revamp itself to keep up with the digital world.

“This deal is experimental,” says Christophe Lameignère, chairman and CEO of Sony BMG France. “The model seems to have a promising future, and one of the main interests to us is to see under which conditions it works or not, how we can give greater satisfaction to our customers and how we can make the model more interesting to us.” Read more about it here

So what exactly is Deezer ? Put simply, Deezer is a “web-based iTune” with access to large collection of free legal music. Perhaps the only important features missing are radio support and syncing to iPod/portable music player.

This time round, Deezer offers free, unlimited full-version music which not only can be played in its site but one can also play through its embedded its flash-based audio player and playlist straight into your own site legally. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t test this features as I using free WordPress hosted service, read my previous post). The audio seem high quality comparable to 128kbps.

So what are the highlights of this service ?

  • 250,000+ free, unlimited access of full-playback high quality music (128kbps) that sure to keep one awake.
  • Embeddable audio player and playlist using Flash widget to deezer your website with audio
  • iTune-like interface that is intuitive and easy to use (If get used to it)
  • Able to upload personal audio and place in playlist (Think about streaming podcast in your own website!)
  • work entirely on Flash technology so user don’t have to wait for lengthy AJAX html code initialization.
  • User determine the song to play which diferentiate it from station/radio-based service (etc Last.FM , Pandora)

Deezer run entirely on flash-based interface which is a good thing because the user-interface is very cool, highly interactive and seamless. Everything happened quickly in one single screen. Its layout design remind me of iTune, which to say, is very intuitive to use. User can also browse through list of singers by first name at the bottom of the screen.

That’s to say, Deezer is distinctly different from other station-based’ audio service, and suit audience who want control rather than ‘suspense’. In station-based service which work similarly like radio, the user has no control over the specific song he want to play, rather the service play song randomly from ‘subscribed’ station that determine the type of song to play (etc by genre, popularity, singer ). In contrast, Deezer allow user to determine their own particular song which they could add to playlist or play directly using point-and-click interface.

Deezer Main Site

For a start, to take full advantage of the service, user can simply register an account with the service though they still able to search and play song without an account. Having an account allow one to create unlimited playlist and upload own personal audio (One cannot just simply add the audio and share it to community, it has to go through some approval, which seem to me just a matter of changing mp3’s tag information ?) subject to the following constraint.

All the tracks available to the users of Deezer have been thoroughly analysed by our song recognition engine. Each title you’ll upload will be analysed, if a track matches an official release then it will be available to the community. This process takes a bit of time and is mandatory to pay the artists. If a track is not recognised, it’ll only be available for you through the My MP3″ section. You’ll be able to share these songs through the “Blog & Share” section.
[Quote from Deezer]

Playlist View

And from there onwards, user basically can do whatever things just like iTune. The left panel show the playlist created, and user can start searching song and adding to playlist. The temporary playlist is uncategorised/default playlist that cannot be deleted and stored whatever song you thrown in. When user create the playlist, it will appear on the left panel, and as user click on the playlist panel, the songs for the playlist will appear.

When using click on Blog button (This is badly named as it does not mean to blog about song, but mean to include your song in your blog ! Perhaps, should have say Add To Blog instead), user can copy the code into your html to show the flash playlist widget ! That’s cool.

So the basic functionalities are all there, like playlist management, song arrangement through dragAndDrop.

Beside, it also has some interesting features like:

Inline Editing which eliminate crumblesome dialog

User select the Plus button and playlist droplist will appear. In the same way, user can click on the X button (not show) to remove song from playlist. Unfortunately, there is no way to rename the song even for those you upload (Perhaps it has a bug ?). And when one click on the > button, it will lead to Album View.

Album View
The album allow user to select song available from the album (not all song availabe from the album), and user can further select other album from Discography list.

SmartPlayList in Action

Based on current song, it will recommend other similar song, and user can choose to like it by click on + button to assign to playlist, or skip to next song (->) or hate it to make sure it never come out again (Love).
Notice the speed of 530kbps achieve using Singapore StarHub cable as the audio is streamed. This is only possible early in morning where everyone is sleeping. Normally, the speed is around 25kbps during the daytime, resulting in choppy audio.

 Blog&Share allow copy of code to embedded song into site and email friends

One can further customize the embedded player with different colours, and then copy the code and paste it into your html page where you want the flash audio player to appear. Cool !

Quantity of Song

Still the ultimate deciding factor is still the quantity of quality songs in its repository. I have to admit it exceed my expectation but still the reaction is mixed. There aren’t any latest song, probably most song date few years ago. Most album contains only subset of songs.

Nonetheless, it is still an impressive list. This is what I found,

  • Suede’s Beautiful Ones but not Everything will Flow
  • Metallica’s Black album is the full collections of song (Ironically, Metallica is one of the non-supporter of free digital music years ago ! How times change !)
  • George Michael’s careless whisper but not the song Heartbeat nor Last Christmas
  • For Final Fantasy, it spawned many tracks.
  • Complete songs for GunAndRoses’s Use Your Illusion 1 and 2, Appetitie for Destruction.
  • Faye Wong only produce one track. there’s no Jacky Cheung at all.
  • Def leppard’s search produce 180 songs alone (Pretty amazing !)
  • Jay chou’s few Chinese old songs appear but the album view show a black singer instead ! There basically no chinese song with chinese wording appear. Search have to use singer’s english name and even then no guarantee to work.

Yet overall, it is really admirable of Deezer to develop a free service consider that they may need to pay the artist for each song’s play.

Caveats:

There are still some caveats to sort out though

The interface does really take time to understand and use though because the help system is non-functional, everything has to learn through exploring. However, there is a PHP-based forum which is quite active.

I also meet a situation where the song is played in fast mode, sounding like chipmunk singing as a result. Probably a bug because there is no fast forward feature that I known of.

Beside, its search function is rather mundane and pathetic as user can perform neither exact, singer nor title search. I find this a serious shortcoming consider how hard to find a needle in haystack, it should have make the search more powerful and flexible.

There is currently no way to sort the playlist which make searching for song difficult should the list expand. The only way now is to manually move the song position tediously.

Deezer might also like to include random function for playlist. Currently, the playlist only play sequentially.

Most importantly, I quite wary of such free service though. There are many such service that come before it, and if history is any indication, the service might be sustainable but not scalable in the long run. This is because streaming audio service is a relatively a high bandwidth and expensive business (If really is a profitable business at all) and should Deezer gain traction and popularity, it will place extreme demand on infrastructure which the investor might not willing to inject millions of capital to further improve it because lack of profit and insustainable business model. Advertising does not help it since majority tend to ignore the advertisement.

A case in point is Soundpedia, anther free music site, which over the past few weeks, user has unable to access the streaming audio and instead receive the message Sorry, We are currently unable to provide streaming at this time, we are working to resolve this issue. There is still no news of what happen to Soundpedia but I really fear the worst.

So why is it sustainable ? It is indeed a paradox. If the service gain traction, it may not handle the increasing load, and choppy audio is been served. So many user get disappointed and actually avoid the site in the end. However, the service improved due to lack of usage. And so people continue to blog about how the service perceivedly improved and no longer serving choppy audio (Of course, it is false,  it just that less user uses it), and this actually encourage other to use the service again. So the whole cycle continue again and again.

Only time will tell whether this will indeed be the future of music industry. In fact, this is just experimental approach by music label company and still no guarantee they revert to old ways of doing business should this approach fail.

Conclusion

One don’t have to wait for web version of iTune, they already have one in Deezer. In fact, when I use Deezer, I begin to see the future of music industry and audio player. If you want a glimpse of future web-based version of iTune, Deezer will definitely be a good example.

Deezer is definitely not for all audience though. It appeal to users who choose their own song to play, even to the point of uploading their own song should it not available from Deezer’s collection. It therefore lack the ‘suspense’ of a radio-base audio service due to its inherited design.

However, for those user that fit Deezer’s description, Deezer is highly recommended Thumbs-upfor its large collection of free popular songs and the ability to embed the player and playlist widget (Note: Please read Deezer’s embedded single audio player don’t work, but its playlist widget do !)  into a website. With this service, one surely can easily mashup his own site with ‘deezering’ audio.

Note: Interestingly, the three compositions by Kevin Kern in my previous post can be found in Deezer, and surprisingly that’s the only three songs they have for the singer ! Talking about coincidence ! Just simply search for Kevin Kern in Deezer. Those music composition is sure to be soothing to the ears.

For those who want to know how I use Deezer to zest up this site, read my subsequent post, GeekyCoder’s site is now DEEZERlized ! Cool.

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