Why We're Not Worried About Apple Music

It’s a week or so since Apple announced their new streaming music service called, err, Music. As expected it’s an all-you-can-eat music service priced at $9.99 per user in the USA. No UK price has yet been announced but if previous history is any guide Apple will just to pounds for dollars, £9.99 over here.

As a CD ripping service we’ll be blown out of the water, right?
Have we been Uber-ed by Apple?

I don’t think so, and here’s why.

First, history is on our side. Over the last twelve years all sorts of technology has assailed us, each one (I have been told) is defined to consign CD ripping to the dustbin of history. Remember Limewire, the MP3 sharing system? Pirate Bay? AllofMP3? Each service supposedly offered ways of accessing your music in digital format.

Then in Europe we were treated to Spotify. Today that’s the music streaming service most people think of, and many people use it. Even among my clients less than 50% actually pay for it, so are interrupted by adverts, which puts them off. Rumours persist that Spotify will pull its free layer - it still pays royalties even if the listener isn’t a paying subscriber, and if you’ve been a user for 12, 24 or 36 months and haven’t opted to pay up, you’re not likely to - ever.

Apple may have learnt from all those who went before, their offer will be better, but not “killer”.

Second, it’s a cloud based streaming service. Is that a problem I hear you ask. Well not for Dropbox, Evernote, Microsoft, Amazon or other players but be honest - when it comes to the cloud Apple is dreadful. I’ve been an Apple user for over 25 years. I signed up for their internet service (after months of technical failures they “sold” it to AOL). I’ve been with .mac, with iCloud and iDrive. All have significant issues both at the “top” level and at the device level. iPhone to iPad to Mac synch services across Apple’s platform is horrible compared to Dropbox for example.

Suddenly, Apple is actually going to deliver a high capacity, high data content music streamer when it can’t synch my contacts?

A second feature under second, I don’t think users will love music streaming. Your music will comprise some pretty big files, sent from Cupertino across to your ISP then down a physical line (or your mobile phone line) to your PC or your phone handset. Yes, you get to pay for that with your data allowance. Prepare for eye watering bills. Wait for the complaints about breaks in service, streaming that cuts in and out, and ISPs bleating that they never signed up to be radio stations.

Third, artists and labels hate it. Already the music moguls and the small labels are laying into Apple. The payment to them is minuscule, Apple are offering a three month free trial during which no payment will be made for streamed music. Independent music industry figures are lining up to tell artists not to sign up for reasons that cover commercial and contract issues.

This leads to one of the biggest reasons why streaming falls down. The minute someone says “Have you heard that album?” and you find that artist / label isn’t on Apple Music so relevance of the system fails. Believe me, there’s a lot of music, both old and new, that won’t be on the Apple platform. If you need to sign up with Spotify and Apple and A N Other then the cost rockets and the bother of finding a track you want increases exponentially. Nobody wants that.

Fourth, as I’m very fond of saying, metadata matters. That’s essentially the key to cataloguing music and doing so in a way that enables users to find what they’re looking for. Let me assure you CDDB (the database service that Apple use for iTunes) is riddled with inconsistencies. This is much more of an issue on the classical side but it leads into the issue that people lose faith in a music service if they can’t find what they want to listen to. With CDDB as untidy as it is that is a problem.
Still with me? Good, here’s number five - social. Apple’s launch presentation majored on the social element of their system, a feature which will allow performers to be in touch with their fans. My little heart sinks. How many issues will this create. I’ll toss in some of my favourites - Karajan, DuPre, not to mention Beethoven and Mozart. All passed away.

Does Apple really think top name artists, even those still with a pulse, are going to take time out from their hedonistic lifestyles to post genuine content to their fans via Music? Do you even think their record making machines will let them? No, they will be “helped” by the social media gurus hired by the labels, treating fans to the typical synthetic slush they churn out now for Facebook and Twitter.

Remember that nice gesture by U2 a few months ago? They made their new album freely available via iTunes, and created a tsunami of complaints as everyone found the new tracks forced into their iPods, iPhones and computers. Stand by for more of the same.

Given my tirade of negativity is it all bad news for Apple Music? No, of course not. The strongest feature of any streaming service is the opportunity it gives you to discover, enjoy (and then probably forget) new music and new artists. Speaking as someone who predates The Beatles and The Stones, history shows there are few gems amid the dross. Commercial experience shows that forcing fans (and I speak from bitter experience) to buy a whole album when it contains only one or two decent tracks is counter productive. Artists who produce great albums are outnumbered by those who are either one hit wonders or whose albums hold one or two specks of gold. A streaming service can highlight the newcomers, let you enjoy their best music, then move on when you’re bored.

Over the world millions of people will use and enjoy Apple Music. But rest assured we’ll continue to be ripping CDs for a good few years to come.
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Is This The Most Dangerous Box in iTunes?

"Can you fix my iTunes library for me?"

We're asked this a lot, usually it's pretty easy, just sort out album art, composer names, tidy some genres, an hour or two. But experience shows you need to ask why, these things can come back and bite you. The answer was a bit odd - "I've run out of space on my hard drive". That was puzzling as the client has a computer with an inbuilt 1Tb drive, and his journey started when he added a considerable photo library. Although the system was creaking it wasn't completely full so offloading his music to an external drive should have made matters better.

And there's no way a music library that runs inside a 1Tb drive can fill up a 2Tb external USB drive.

When we got the drive back the structure of the drive was OK (no physical hardware issues) and logically it was showing as a 2 Tb unit. Looking inside the drive the file structure seemed unusual. I could see many folders with artist names, then another folder which is the main music library folder iTunes creates as a default place for digital music. Looking inside that folder there was a sense of deja vu, the same names as I'd just seen. Looking inside each of these folders there were, as expected, sensible album names, but inside those folders the issue became clear.

For some reason each track seemed to be duplicated six times, and taking into account the duplication of those folders on the drive, he had two copies of the whole library. Indeed when I rang the client he said he'd given up when he got the "disc full" message. How did this happen? Let me show you a picture.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 08.39.53

If the box you see on this screen capture is ticked - copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library (you'll find this under Advanced in iTunes Preferences) - then each time you try to add anything, then iTunes will faithfully make a copy. Even when the "source", the files you're adding, are in the same folder as the "destination". Each time you do that you'll double the size of your library.

My client has a music system that monitors the iTunes library from its own controller software, in the same way that Sonos is structured. My guess is that this is what happened.

Client plugs in the hard drive. Sets up his controller software and in essence points it at the USB drive, but the wrong folder. His music doesn't show up. So he goes into iTunes to use that to move his music to where he thinks it should be. Misunderstanding the function of the box above he ticks it and then Finds his music on the local hard drive and lets the process run. Even when complete the music doesn't appear in the other app so understandably he thinks the process has failed, so he does it again. He probably tries to copy the music to another location on the drive, thinking that's the issue, tries that a time or two. Each cycle iTunes is doing what it's been told, merrily copying files to the drive.

Finally, drive full, no music in other controller app he gave up. Actually the library should be .4Tb and our de-duplicating program took a whole day to find and clear our the surplus music files. Then we could get onto the substance of improving the metadata, adding album art and so on.

If you're looking at your own library should you tick this box? In my opinion
NO. It can create more problems than it solves. Instead, adopt a two step process when adding tracks.

First, use Add Folder to import the new tracks into your iTunes database. Take a look at what you've done and make sure you're happy with what's happened. When you are, step two, go to File / Library / Organise library and tick the box for Consolidate. That will then copy the file(s) you've added from their source location and put them in your music library.

If you have a system such as Sonos the automatic update cycle will then find the new music when it runs next, or you can usually force an unscheduled update if you need.

And you won't need to call on us to rescue your music.

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New iPod on the Horizon

Every so often I've predicted the demise of the larger hard drive based iPods and their replacement with flash memory based units. Well, I was half right - Apple did kill the Classic last year, leaving it without any high capacity portable music device. I was wrong in thinking that at the same time they'd release a new iPod with, say, 128 Kb of flash memory.

Good news, I think it's time to revive the forecast. I'd like to say I'm doing that on the basis of my perceptive analysis of Apple's digital music strategy but actually it's on the basis of a little personal observation and a comment from one of the Apple watching newsletters.

They're suggesting that Apple will shortly announce a new iPod - a super iPod Touch. It would have more storage capacity, and the range needs that. In the absence of the Classic users need a portable device with a respectable capacity, not everyone is able or inclined to be connected to the internet 24/7. Interestingly the new device would be either showerproof or waterproof. I don't think either is a "must have" but given the lives we lead a portable unit that scared of a little damp is rather 20th century. Also rumours suggest a very powerful processor. Playing music isn't greatly CPU intensive but one of the drawbacks of the rest of the iPod range (compared to the Classic) is the decidedly inferior Digital Signal Processor. Let's hope the new unit has enough horsepower not just to play music but also to make it sound great too.

The other pointer? We went to Lakeside last week and of course I went in to the Apple Store where I noticed a shiny new display of iPods. It has seemed to me that Apple were neglecting the iPod range in favour of the iPhone product line. Perhaps having achieved world domination in that area Cupertino are confident enough to dust off the music player line. Anyway, it shouldn't be too long before we find out.
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How to Videos

When we designed and launched the new version of the site we found we had a little problem. The tiny bit of code that, we thought, enabled us to display our How To videos worked on our Macs here but sadly that didn't translate to the online version. Result, something of a blank page. Sorry.

Good news!

We've fixed it so you can now see our "How To" videos.
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The New Site

This is a great time to look back and reflect on the last twelve months. Before I turn my thoughts to the coming year a couple of things stand out about 2014.

The first is the decline in highly compressed music. We spent much of 2013 persuading clients that Apple Lossless was the way to go, but last year little persuading was needed. Lossless is now the standard people are asking for and I can't remember the last time I had to even debate the issue, Apple Lossless it is and that brings me to the first "farewell" from 2014 - the USB memory stick.

Ok it's over ten years since we started ripping CDs for people but the first batch of music went back on some CDs. Then we took the step up to DVDs, wow, seven times the capacity of the humble CD. For some years DVDs did us proud but as collection sizes grew and small disc drives became affordable that's been the standard way to get music back to our clients. Yes, there have been one or two people with collections small enough to fit onto a USB thumb drive but we've never really found a need for the 8Gb and 16Gb units although we've used a couple of 32Gbs.

So, at the end of 2014, it's hard to think we'll be using any memory sticks for CD ripping in 2015.

bluetoothspkrThe second observation concerns the type of units our clients are buying. At the start of podSERVE all our clients wanted their music on Apple iPods. Although that remains a strong thread so many of our clients now focus on Sonos systems. And that's what I've been thinking of when returning music to clients. The units they're buying now are predominantly wireless. Even the once ubiquitous Bose Soundock has gone Bluetooth. Who needs a mess of cables when it can be avoided?

In 2015 I'm expecting to see fewer hardwired systems in clients houses. I'd also like to see the back of all those wires we have festooned about our houses to charge and sync our portable devices.
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Gone and Going

This is a great time to look back and reflect on the last twelve months. Before I turn my thoughts to the coming year a couple of things stand out about 2014.

The first is the decline in highly compressed music. We spent much of 2013 persuading clients that Apple Lossless was the way to go, but last year little persuading was needed. Lossless is now the standard people are asking for and I can't remember the last time I had to even debate the issue, Apple Lossless it is and that brings me to the first "farewell" from 2014 - the USB memory stick.

Ok it's over ten years since we started ripping CDs for people but the first batch of music went back on some CDs. Then we took the step up to DVDs, wow, seven times the capacity of the humble CD. For some years DVDs did us proud but as collection sizes grew and small disc drives became affordable that's been the standard way to get music back to our clients. Yes, there have been one or two people with collections small enough to fit onto a USB thumb drive but we've never really found a need for the 8Gb and 16Gb units although we've used a couple of 32Gbs.

So, at the end of 2014, it's hard to think we'll be using any memory sticks for CD ripping in 2015.

bluetooth wireless speakerThe second observation concerns the type of units our clients are buying. At the start of podSERVE all our clients wanted their music on Apple iPods. Although that remains a strong thread so many of our clients now focus on Sonos systems. And that's what I've been thinking of when returning music to clients. The units they're buying now are predominantly wireless. Even the once ubiquitous Bose Soundock has gone Bluetooth. Who needs a mess of cables when it can be avoided?

In 2015 I'm expecting to see fewer hardwired systems in clients houses. I'd also like to see the back of all those wires we have festooned about our houses to charge and sync our portable devices.
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Vinyl for Sonos

Right from day one we've been asked if we can rip vinyl LPs to digital files. Yes, we've tried, no we can't do it economically with decent quality. In the early days our clients just wanted to listen to music on an iPod. Today so many of our clients want to stream their music to in-house systems such as Sonos.

So how about a turntable that plays vinyl albums and can connect to your Sonos?

Flexson, an accessory maker for the Sonos range, has introduced a record turntable which will stream music direct into your Sonos network. Called the VinylPlay it costs around £330 (cheap for a decent turntable) and apparently it will also rip music from albums into digital files - good luck with that. And they have a YouTube video which explains all, enjoy.

http://youtu.be/s6hUDBzJ3cA
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The Worst Data Grooming Case Ever?

Last week I collected a Western Digital MyBook Live from a client who has been experiencing major problems with their music. Let me paint the picture - a busy family, husband, wife & children, they have a "family" Mac along with a wired home featuring Sonos music streaming through their home. Sensibly they have a NAS drive installed to store their music and most importantly make it available through Sonos when the family computer is switched off or otherwise engaged. In my opinion, it's a sensible set up.

Yet its gone wrong, the whole thing has become a mess which is why the NAS drive is here with us while we try to unpick the problems and put it all right.

We have been through the NAS, along with three large folders of music copied off their Mac. We've put a first pass of the entire collection into iTunes on one of our Mac Minis and this is what we've found. The total music library is just over 1.2 Tb in size and iTunes has found 3,115 albums. That's a pretty big music collection.

There are 58,619 tracks - sadly a large number which are either not labelled other than some sort of track name, tagged with an album name such as Unknown or Untitled or something that isn't right. There's a fair sprinkling of missing artist names, and one family member has tried to tackle the problem with classical music composer names by replacing the proper artist / performer field with the composer's name.

Our software has made a first pass to tackle the issue of duplicated tracks. As soon as you look at the library in iTunes you can see duplicates and the first count is 16,493 duplicate tracks. Around 25% duplicated. No wonder they've been complaining that "Sonos has gone wrong, it keeps playing the same track over and over again". Actually Sonos is fine, they are so many duplicated tracks in their library it just sounds like its playing the same one over, and over again. You can see the same track listed four or more times.

So the nest step is to remove the duplicated tracks. Our software deletes the tracks from the main music library and deletes it from the hard drive at the same time, rather than empty trash after the operation. Although this sounds simple we're erasing some 400 GB of data and that's going to take a long, long time. So what do we do tomorrow?

Once the music library has been shrunk down we'll go through the album names. We have to do that more or less manually and already we can see yet more duplication. Someone has added a chunk of CDs and helpfully added the word "NEW" before the album name, despite there being many of the same albums in iTunes already. You can see many more examples of duplicated albums being added by someone not checking to see if the music was there already. Actually iTunes does check if an album is in your library when you insert the CD but it can't if the tracks have been ripped already and added as files with a different album name.

Once we've brought some further consistency to the album names we'll take a look at performer names, another area of rich potential for duplication. Tidy up album and performer names then again look for duplicates and that will probably weed out another 500 - 600 tracks.

I've also made a note to look at Genres. This library has 98 entries under the genre heading. That's not in itself a problem but there are some typos - Hip Hip for Hip Hop, Opera and Operae - so we'll fix those. In terms of time, not a big task. What will take longer is fixing the classical composer names and examining the consistency of applying genres to classical music. If you're going to split-off some tracks from Classical into Chamber or Opera you've got to be consistent for the whole of the work in question. No point in having the first album of an opera in "Opera" if you leave the rest in Classical.

And yes, when we've done all that we run de-duplicate again. Why? We operate a pretty tight definition of a duplicate track - we remove only those tracks that have the same name, same track number, genre and appear on the same album. As we tidy up more tracks fall into the clutches of the de-dupe sweep.

Then we're on to checking for album art (on a library this size, filling gaps could be another afternoon's work) and trying to fill in the gaps in artist and album names using some of our "secret sauce". When this is all done we'll have a simplified and slimmed-down library, primarily one without duplicated tracks. The final step will be to delete the originals from the MyBook drive and copy it all back. Sounds simple, but that in itself can be a 48 - 72 hour chore. At least next weeks tube strike has been called off so we'll be able to take the drive back on Monday or Tuesday.
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Pirates, Players, Music Lovers, Thieves and 24 Bits


cd ripping service
Today's Times has a brief announcement suggesting that very soon there will be a major announcement from Apple. A new music file format. One that cannot be copied. Really?

Just think about that, and wonder if there might be a grain of truth behind a different story.

If there's going to be a new music file format Apple are going to be spending money - in all probability a lot of money. Why? To confound those dratted pirates? Well they might be, but piracy is hardly Apple's problem in that it doesn't really impact their revenues. If anyone takes a hit it's the music labels. This is an area I follow closely and I haven't heard any squawks, neither parrot nor pirate, from the industry for ages. It may all be happening behind the scenes but I don't see any evidence that the industry is trying to get Apple or anyone else to do more to control piracy. I think it's an issue whose time has come and gone.

Would it even work? I remember when labels issued CDs that supposedly couldn't be copied or wouldn't play in a PC. You might also remember the trouble Sony got into for injecting code onto peoples PCs when they played a music CD. As a CD ripping service we've worried about our business being abruptly curtailed by some techno sleight of hand that rendered our service invalid. There's been nothing so far.

So I don't think Apple are spending money to protect tin pan alley, nor wipeout those of us who are left in this market. But I do expect, and very much hope, Apple are working on something and if it's what I suspect it is, then it would need to be very secure.

High quality digital music that goes beyond CD quality. Specifically 24 bit music.

At the moment whether you rip your own CDs, use an outsourced CD ripper, or buy music from iTunes Music Store (or Amazon or Spotify etc.) you get music that is recorded using a calculation based on 8 bits of data storing each part of sound. If you could make that sound using more data, using 24 bits, then think how much better the sound would be. It would take digital music into a new league of high quality audio. But ....

But one, the files would be huge. The trend over recent years has been to move to much less compressed music as storage costs have fallen. Bigger drives abound in laptops, home PCs, network attached storage and bigger portable devices like the iPod Classic. But haven't Apple just killed the Classic, leaving only the iPod touch and the iPhone as portable devices? They have, and of course some while ago Apple introduced iTunes Match which for a modest cost gave you 256 kbps music stored on Apple's computers and probably streamed to your player over the internet.

Imagine the impact on Apples server farms if they had to hike their hard drives up by a factor of three or four to handle 24 bit music.

Imagine the cost of having to stream from Apple HQ files that are hogging three times as much bandwidth.

But two, where do you get source 24 bit music files? Not from the CDs you buy from Amazon or your local music shop, even if you still have one. Existing CDs are all 8 bit and you can't transfer from 8 to 24. The only place you'd get that high quality music is from the labels who have the original tapes. Remastered you'd then have a source of 24 bit music.

But three, the music industry loves money for old rope. Remember when we went from vinyl LPs to cassette tapes, and how we were expected to buy tiny plastic boxes of music to play in the car or on our Sony Walkmans? Remember when CDs came out, and the industry hoped we'd all be replacing vinyl and cassettes with CDs? All of these were happy days for the labels, tsunamis of cash from the music loving public without the need for anyone to troupe back into the studios to re-record all those millions of tracks we know and love.

The stars are combined in heavenly aspect. Better quality music via 24 bit files is the next big thing. The labels would love another excuse to urge us all to re-buy all that music we know and love.

But four, they'd go ape if they thought there was anyway we could copy that music or use it to create super-CDs to share, and in so doing defeat their revenue hopes. Equally Apple would keep their place at the head of the music quality queue.

However - for this to work for Apple they would ideally want a music file that squared the circle. A format that would be 24 bits in quality, but equal to or ideally even smaller than current iTunes Music Store / Music Match files (8 bit, 256 kbps AAC). I can't see the labels allowing access to their source material without a technological guarantee that the new files couldn't be copied.

So, my conclusion is that Apple will shortly announce a new music file format that is higher quality and more compressed. Maybe they're even talking to the nice folk who made all those DVD / CD drives we used to have in Apple systems. Sony. They have a technology called ATRAC.
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How to Download the New U2 Album - Songs of Innocence

First you'll need to have an iTunes Store account. Opening an account is free so if you don't already have one, that's your starter. Assuming you do have an account it's pretty simple.

Open iTunes and hit the Store button on the right of your screen.


U21



Look for Quick Links, arrowed above, it's on the right of the screen.
U22


After you've clicked that, as well as anything else you've purchased, you will see that waiting for you is the new U2 album. So click on that and it will start to download from Apple to your computer. To get the new album onto your iPod or iPhone simply sync with your computer in the usual way and you'll be ready to enjoy U2.
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