Reflections on Rock Music: The Subtleties of the Playlist

Originally posted 2009-06-22 23:50:42. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

For those who don’t know me, it can safely be said I’m a music dork for the ages.  And so, with that distinction clearly in place, it is with great honor that I present to you an article for the Laptop Sessions new music blog dedicated to what is perhaps my favorite digital innovation:

The playlist.

For anyone that owns an mp3 player and certainly anyone that uses iTunes, playlists offer new and unique ways to group your songs.  Whether you’re making one for yourself, a friend, or significant other, there are countless formats you can use.  Here are the major categories:

1.)  The Artist Compilation

This is the ultimate test of your knowledge and love for a given artist:  Can you create a compilation of a band or artist’s best songs?  Here’s the added twist:  In my personal opinion, I think compilations should adhere either to the length of a CD (about 74 minutes) maximum, or 20 songs at most.  Giving yourself a boundary to work within forces you to nix some songs that just shouldn’t make the cut, even if they do remind you of the first time you kissed your significant other, or whatever.

The trick here is to compile a set of tracks that are both comprehensive and satisfying in one grouping, taking care to order them in an interesting manner that gives the compilation a life of its own.  Sometimes, chronological is okay.  But if you’re just going to choose tracks and throw them randomly into a playlist, then please don’t even try.

These are valuable playlists to have, particularly for more under-the-radar bands like Ben Folds and (until last week’s “Best of” release) the Wallflowers, as well as artists whose greatest hits come in multiple and/or unsatisfying formats, like R.E.M. and (until recently) Bob Dylan.  Even when you love albums like I do, you may just want to hear a mix from time to time.

2.) The Artist Catalog Playlist

Similar to the artist compilation, the artist catalog playlist focuses on one band or artist.  However, this is for true fans only.  The playlist comprises a chronological collection of any and all tracks you can get your hands on.  Oh yeah, I’m talking about all those demos, live tracks, and soundtrack cuts you’ve accumulated over your long career as a fan.

Personally, I drop all the studio albums into the playlist first, ordering them by release date, and then I add all other tracks around those mainstays.  Even when a track has technically come out previous to a studio album during the same year, I put the tracks after the album.  My reasoning?  Hey, the albums are — hopefully — the first, best source for great tracks and provide some great structure to what could be an exhaustive (and exhausting) playlist.

This works very well for bands with popular, lengthy careers — like Pearl Jam — or more under-the-radar artists, such as Wilco (I spent more time than I should have compiling my “Wilco, etc.” playlist, which includes a ton of Jeff Tweedy solo work, Golden Smog, Loose Fur, and more) and Jim Fusco (don’t even ask — of course I included such great rareties as “Parody Writer” and all the bonus tracks on releases like My Other Half and the enhanced CD section of Formula).

3.)  The Themed Playlist

Perhaps the most popular of all playlists, I think anyone who considers him/herself a fan of music or of life in general should have to make at least one themed playlist for someone special, or at least for personal use.  Just last night, my friend Dana Camp was describing the track listing of a “Date Playlist” that he has.

Recently, I’ve made playlists for the drive to the beach, rush hour traffic, the unfortunate bank overdraft/identity theft crisis of a friend, and you better believe that I had a downright melancholy compilation prepared and put to good use while I was broken up from my girlfriend last year.  These sorts of playlists are the most versatile, and the degree to which you take the song choice and track order into consideration say at least as much about you as the tracks say about the artist/band.

4.)  Long Format Playlists

Last but not least we come to the long format playlist.  Similar to the artist catalog playlist (which can be played straight through in chronological order if you prefer), this list is most often played while your iPod or other mp3 device is in shuffle mode.

My favorite examples of this type are the “Albums by Year” compilations I put together recently.  On my iPod, I have playlists titled “Albums – 1990,” “Albums – 1991,” and so on up to the still-expanding “Albums – 2009.”  Because I’ve been spending a lot of time working recently, each day I choose a year and just let it play.  This is fun and fascinating because you can laugh and say, “Wow, I haven’t heard that song in FOREVER!,” as well as begin to appreciate in retrospect the songs and albums that came out during the same years.  For instance, I didn’t really fall in love with albums and music in general until the turn of the millennium.  Now that I’m listening to the 1991 playlist, I’m coming to appreciate the juxtapositon of Tom Petty’s more straightforward Into the Great Wide Open with the more alternative Ten (Pearl Jam) or Temple of the Dog (by the one-off band of the same name), as well as the atypical acoustic format and vocal clarity of R.E.M.’s Out of Time.  What will it be today?  Maybe I’ll go back to the hey day of my early musical roots, circa 1997 or 1998…

…and then remember why I came to love the Sixties music of bands like Bob Dylan and the Beatles!

Seriously, though, I hope you have enjoyed my breakdown of playlist formats.  If you have any of your own, please comment — I would LOVE to be able to think of more ways to effectively utilize the playlist functions of my iPod.

A review: IPod Classic 6th Generation

Originally posted 2009-03-05 23:51:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jeff Copperthite:

A great MP3 player for an average price.  If you run out of room on this thing just storing music, then you have too much music.

One thing that people that know me can tell is this.  I love music.  I love playing it.  I love listening to it.  I love reading about it.  It’s no surprise that, even in my other hobbies, there is a tie-in to my love of music.  So it’s no surprise that, like so many people around the world, I had to have a portable MP3 player.

In 2003, I drove to Greenwich, CT for work, which was a near-30 mile drive for me in one direction.  Thankfully, my car stereo had an auxiliary input (this is a 1/8″ stereo connection that basically allows you to connect any music device to your car stereo), which fit my (at the time) brand new Creative Zen Sleek MP3 player.  Combine that with my Sirius Satellite radio, and I was good to go for those long trips when I was stuck in traffic.

Just over 5 years later, I am inserting the paper clip I have bent specially for the act of resetting the Creative player.  I knew it was on its last legs.  The player would no longer show the title of the song being played, and every time it booted up it had to rebuild the music library.  Furthermore, it was only storing 8 GB of its original 20 GB capacity.

Time to upgrade!

After a long 3 days of deliberation, review reviewing (sounds weird), and asking all kinds of people – including my students – I decided to buy the IPod Classic 6th Generation 120 GB in Black.

I ordered this and a carrying case, and received it from amazon.com (which is really the only store I buy online from) about 4 days later.  Out of the box, I could tell how well it was constructed with the stainless steel backing.  The whole unit felt smooth and sturdy.

Loading songs onto it was a cinch.  I already had all my MP3 files sorted out in Itunes on my laptop.  All I had to do was connect the Ipod, and sync the library to the Ipod.  It did take a while considering I have over 5,000 songs in my collection.  When I was finished, the capacity indicator wasn’t even 20% full.

Now that’s what I call storage!

Listening to the music you’re looking for is just like any other MP3 player.  You can create playlists in Itunes and put them on your Ipod, or you can select by artist, genre, or album.  You can also tell it to shuffle the whole Ipod and play all your tracks in random order.  Remember, this was my first Ipod, but I quickly got used to the controls on the unit.  Center button selects, rotate your thumb around the touch wheel to scan songs, or lower the volume, or scan a track.  It’s very easy to get used too.

One thing I didn’t do immediately was use the included ear buds.  I’ve heard various things about them but I can tell you the sound quality of those ear buds is minimal.  Once I put on my Sony studio headphones, the Ipod sounded fantastic.  It even sounds great hooked up to my surround system.  But please, if you’re an audiophile like me, pick up a better pair of headphones.

This particular Ipod has other features previous Ipod classics didn’t have until recently.  For instance, you can store photographs and view them as a slideshow, or just browse through them with the touch wheel.  You can also store video (although you will need all 120 GB of storage space if you’re looking to put a lot of video on this thing) and watch it.  I myself have not used this feature.  Perhaps if I ever go on a long train ride in the future i’d consider it.  But after all, I did buy this Ipod because it was the best one for music.  I figured if I wanted video and some other games, i’d have gotten an Itouch or even an Iphone.

This Ipod also comes with a few neat games that I discovered sort of by accident.  One game is called Vortex, which is a breakout game viewed like it’s through a pipe-like tunnel.  The paddle rotates around the outer edge of the screen, and you control it with the touch wheel.  There’s standard solitaire, but I wasn’t impressed with the touch wheel controls of this game.  It takes a while to get to different piles and to select specific cards you want to move.

The really cool and innovative game that is included is called iQuiz, and what it does is it makes a quiz show out of your song library.  This was further motivation for me to input as much information about the songs as I could in the ID3 tags.  It’s really need how the iQuiz game does this.  For instance, one question could be “Which album was this song off of?”, and it’ll play the song in the background.  You’ll have to pick from four choices (and for the most part, the choices are albums that are in your library).  It’s a really cool game to play, and will help you remember some of the songs you haven’t really listened too in a while.

I think if you’re looking for a great but straightforward music player, I highly recommend the IPod Classic 6th Generation.  The storage space is more than enough for any music lover, although you will be strapped for space if you plan on storing a lot of video files.  I think this unit will last me a long time, and possibly longer than my previous Creative MP3 player.  It is a greatly priced ($224.95 on Amazon.com, as of 3/5/09) unit as well for the storage space and features it provides.

Buying Music in 2010: Mp3s (Digital Downloads), CDs, and LPs (Vinyl Records)

Originally posted 2009-11-18 01:52:19. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Hello everyone, I’m back with another article, as I still don’t have my HD camera (that’s what happens when you order internationally) and I’m still inundated with work here at FMP Studios.  The Traveling Acai Berries are hoping to get a two-song recording session in on Thursday night, but we’ll have to wait and see.  Those, unless I get the camera tomorrow, would still be in standard definition.

Anyway, onto tonight’s article:

Today at lunch, I told my colleagues at work (who are all much older than me) that I’m loving using my turntable.  A turntable, for those of you who either don’t know or have forgotten, is a record player.  And a record player is a machine that plays 12″ vinyl discs with grooves on them, producing sound.

Everyone at the table looked at me like I had four heads.  I heard, “He isn’t 25 years old- take off the mask, Scooby and reveal the real killer old man.”  But, I told them how much fun it was- having these great collector’s items and being able to just sit back and listen to some great music of yesteryear.

Then, you should’ve seen their faces when I told them I had bought new albums this year on vinyl.  They all couldn’t believe vinyl record albums (or long-players, LP) were making a small comeback.  Most of them had gotten rid of their collections or even their turntables.  What a shame!  I know they take up room, but I’m really loving them.  I thought I would write tonight about the options of purchasing and listening to music in 2009 that led me to my old-fashioned choice for music.

Let me start off by saying that, no, I do not believe that they are somehow superior in sound quality.  For years, it was all I could do to reduce as much hiss as possible from my own music recordings and I love the sound of clean, digital recordings.  I even love when companies remaster albums and take away all the hiss, like they did with Elvis’ #1’s album from a few years ago.  Listening to the remastered, cleaned-up version of “Heartbreak Hotel”, you feel like you’re in the room with Elvis.  And that’s a place I want to be. :-)

So, albums are all but dead now.  I am in the vast minority of people that purchase full albums rather than individual singles.  And, that cross-section gets even smaller because I’m also the type of person that purchases physical albums rather than digital downloads.  You see, I’m a person that wants something for his money.  And purchasing an album online for ten dollars (from iTunes or wherever else you may buy them) just doesn’t seem right to me- you get a FILE?  No jewel case?  No CD?  Nothing you can put in your collection?  Let me tell you something- my father’s vast CD collection is a heck of a lot more impressive than the 10,000 digital songs I currently have on my iPod.

And with physical albums, you actually own something.  I can’t feel ownership of a file on my computer.  Call me old-fashioned, but I want something I can hold, something I can look at in the future without wondering if it’s compatible with my operating system.

So, there are three main ways you can purchase music in 2009, now that cassette tapes, DVD audio, and Super Audio CDs have bitten the dust.  There are digital downloads (mp3’s, usually), CD’s, and new vinyl albums.  Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of each:

Digital Downloads: Well, the obvious reasons are- they don’t take up any space!  Most people don’t want to search through hundreds of CDs to find the song they want, and I don’t blame them.  These things are portable and even I have fallen in love with my iPod portable music player.  But, for my money, I purchase the physical album on CD or LP and then put it into my iTunes for conversion into mp3 or AAC format.  Then, I have a portable copy to take with me, but I also have the physical copy for both my collection and in case something goes wrong with the file.  Plus, they haven’t perfected sound quality of these compressed digital files.  Sure, mp3s don’t sound bad, but have you ever listened to a song in mp3 and then listened to the CD version right afterward?  You’ll really hear the difference.  And, they’re coming out with new, higher quality codecs all the time.  What does that mean?  It means that every time they come out with a better-sounding way of presenting your music, you’ll have to either convert your CD collection again or purchase the songs again in a higher quality.  I like to do the job one time and that’s it, so no thanks.

CD’s (Compact Disc): The best part about CDs is the sound quality.  They are essentially uncompressed and you simply cannot get audibly better sound quality without moving up to surround-sound audio.  CD’s have been our main medium for twenty years now and there’s a good reason.  They scratch, but not too easily.  They take up space, but about a quarter as much as an old vinyl LP.  And they’re really cheap to both produce and to purchase.  Stores often offer CDs for $9.99 when they come out and still make a healthy profit.  I really have nothing against CDs- they seem to be very archival and I feel great about my collection.  There are drawbacks, though- they can skip while playing them if you’re on a bumpy road in the car, they can have digital “artifacts” from not being produced properly, and they’re just a bit too small to reproduce a beautiful album cover with the same effect on a vinyl LP.  Plus, they’re portable…if you’re carrying one at a time…  You can’t put a CD in your pocket or even dream about carrying 10,000 songs with you at all times.  Plus, CD changers are bulky and outdated.

Vinyl Record Albums (LP): “Everything old is new again.”  Again, I’m a collector.  I really don’t buy too much new music anymore, as my back-catalog collection is essentially complete.  So, when my favorite artists come out with a new album, it’s not a big deal to purchase a vinyl copy.  Buying four albums a year won’t take up much space and I’ll be able to see those great album covers and read liner notes, etc.  Plus, the actual vinyl record albums themselves are a sight to behold.  And there’s something strangely serene about playing one- putting the needle on the record and watching it spin while you listen.  It just calms you down.  Plus, I get a nostalgic feeling when listening to records- like I was alive then.  You’d even catch me listening to stuff I normally wouldn’t, like “Sinatra at the Sands”, that I listened to a couple days ago.  It just felt right.  Of course, records went obsolete for a reason.  In fact, most people that used them long ago really don’t miss them that much.  They complain about the dust, the needle cartridges, the scratches, and how easy it was to make them skip.  Plus, they take up a ton of room when you have a bunch.  So, they’re a nice novelty to me right now.  And, most new albums out on vinyl come with either a digital download code or a copy on CD so you can still have the clean version of the album and keep the vinyl as a collector’s item.

There’s only one recording medium that’s dead now that everyone agrees was a good idea to kill: the 8-track player.  I never had one of these and don’t plan to.

I hope you enjoyed this article and hope that you’ll contribute to the conversation- how do you prefer to buy and listen to your music?  Are you considering the switch to vinyl again?  Do you think they actually sound better?  We’d love to hear from you!

WCJM Mobile – Free Internet Radio – Launches for iPhone, iPod Touch, and Other Mobile Devices!

That’s right, folks- a big day is finally here for WCJM Free Internet Radio!

If you have a mobile device such as the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android Phones, etc., then head on over to m.wcjm.com and visit the all-new WCJM Mobile!

WCJM Mobile is a port of the original WCJM free internet radio website that’s optimized for use on a mobile device.  Plus, all the free internet radio shows and hilarious comedy segments are in mp3 format so you can listen to them right on your mobile device!  No Flash or RealPlayer necessary!!

WCJM Mobile features over 30 quality radio shows and over hundreds of great comedy clips.  You’ll have weeks of entertainment that you can listen to over Wi-Fi or 3G service.  Best of all, the music file sizes have been compressed.  So, if you have a limited data plan, you can listen for HOURS each month!  For example, a standard 2-hour radio show only uses up about 20 mb of data.  That’s over 20 hours of programming over 3G service a month on AT&T’s lowest plan!  And of course, you can listen to all you want over Wi-Fi for free anytime, too.

We’d love to hear what you think of the new WCJM Mobile and hope this will finally bring this quality programming into everyone’s busy, mobile lives.  There’s nothing better than kicking back to work or relax with a hilarious, entertaining, and commercial-free radio show.

Click HERE to visit WCJM Moble NOW!