Posts Tagged ‘music’

Region restrictions in a globalised world

I think we can all agree that globalisation has won, and we live in a flat world.

However when it comes to consuming media, we still live in a world of regional restrictions. Rights are not issued globally, and rights owners see this as milking every last penny by ensuring that regional restrictions apply. This is not just true for the movie world, but also the music world, and generally the book world. Apparently the entertainment industry is one of the last holdouts in realising that we live in a truly globalised world.

Yesterday I read an interview in the FT with Kate Tempest, a writer/rapper whom I’ve not heard of. I immediately hopped onto iTunes, searched Apple Music and started playing her tunes from her album Let Them Eat Chaos – Kate Tempest. This was a success and I’d discovered a new artist.

A few months back I was in a bar (the recently shuttered La Conserverie) in Paris, speaking to a Japanese friend, and I was telling her that I did know some J-Pop; growing up it wasn’t too far fetched you would listen to some songs that made the mainstream English radio stations. One example was Utada Hikaru’s First Love. The French friend who was there said he’d love to hear it, so I fired up iTunes on my phone, and tried in vain to find the song, and realised its not in the catalogue (don’t worry, YouTube saved the day). This was a failure, and I didn’t get to reminisce properly.

Just last week, I fired up Netflix (now blocking all VPN traffic, an almost impossible thought two years ago, with VPN providers giving up the fight nowadays) and started streaming The Mirror Has Two Faces. I stopped around the half way mark and switched countries only to realise that now I’ll have to wait to be in the same geographical location again to continue watching the movie! I’d mark this as a failure because it hurts the user experience; it isn’t Netflix’s fault, it is the entertainment industry.

I still listen to an old song that I like, that resides on my drive and not in the cloud — Puff Daddy featuring Jimmy Page – Come With Me from the Godzilla soundtrack. It’s not on Apple Music, but it is available with Amazon Prime Music, that comes for free with an Amazon Prime subscription! I’d mark this as a failure since I’d expect my music collection to be available in one place, not scattered across various services.

We’re living in an increasingly globalised world. We have friends from all over the world. We’re travelling more frequently. This is all supposed to be a good thing – exposure to the world. Why hasn’t the entertainment industry caught up yet? Would they prefer everyone just focused on content piracy? Region restrictions do not work in a globalised world.

Music streaming – Spotify has won?

It seems clear that Spotify won the music streaming battle:

Spotify accounts for 86% of the on-demand music-streaming market in the U.S., according to data shared with music publishers. Its share of the international market is believed to be similar.

I’m an ardent Rdio user. However, they’ve lost songs that I want to listen to (in my playlists). And I just noticed that they’ve also killed Amazon Payments as a method of payment. They’re taking much less than 14% of the market, and were costing me USD$9.99/month.

It looks like I’m moving to Spotify. But I’ll hang in there to see what Apple launches in the meantime (you see, sometimes I might want to listen to some Taylor Swift). My major beef is with playlists — I’ve invested time in curating that experience, and I need to find an easy way out.

Taylor Swift & the music industry

Catching up on reading, it’s worth reading Taylor Swift is the music industry. There’s good insight as to why she pulled her music from Spotify (an all or nothing deal; contrast with Rdio that still has her albums except the latest 1989).

Today I learned that a music CD in Malaysia costs RM62.90. When I used to buy CDs they cost around RM40 at most. Swift’s album is USD$13.99 + tax.

I’ve pretty much given up buying CDs. I purchased music from the iTunes music store & Amazon MP3s. When Rdio (& Spotify) came out that’s what I ended up using.

So I asked Sara how she was listening to Taylor Swift’s latest hit, Shake it Off, and she told me it was via a YouTube video. Simple reason is that I don’t believe her apartment has a CD player any longer (save for the externally attachable one that Apple sells you).

My friend Imran (popularly known as narmi) tells me that special CDs cost more money. Turns out some people really like the physical copies of artwork, and want to read the thank you notes. If you read the above article, that was one of Swift’s strategies – re-tweeting fan photos with the photos in her album. Smart.

Sales of the album have worked well for Swift. I am just unsure how many will pull this off successfully. Let’s hope that others don’t follow suit & streaming services become more useful (and pay the artistes a lot more).

Deathwatch: The business of making music compilations

The business of making music compilations are changing. Ministry of Sound. NOW That’s what I call music. 

Today you can make compilations as a playlist, and share it with the world on services like Rdio and Spotify. It’s clear that the Ministry of Sound isn’t too happy with this – read more about how the Ministry of Sound is suing Spotify.

Listen to the quotes from the MoS:

  • “What we do is a lot more than putting playlists together” – Lohan Presencer, CEO MoS
  • “A lot of research goes into creating our compilation albums, and the intellectual property involved in that. It’s not appropriate for someone to just cut and paste them.”
  • “We painstakingly create, compile and market our albums all over the world. We help music fans discover new genres, records and classic catalogues”
  • “Millions trust our brands, our taste and our selection. We give them great listening experiences at a good price.”

I call bullshit on all of this. Yes, people like a curated compilation (I for one enjoy it – like dance hits of the year or something). But everyone can now curate compilations. This doesn’t make the MoS special any longer.

The commercial business of making compilations will go away in time to come. We will soon get to federate playlists so you can take your compilations with you, so it wouldn’t matter if you use Rdio, Spotify or something else. DJs will share their mixes that they played in a club and attendees and others will get to listen to the mix – this will eventually decide how “hot” a DJ is.

This is the future, and compilation manufacturers will find something else to do. MoS has nightclubs to fall back on. Embrace sharing.


I just played with Spotify. I love the idea of streaming music with an unlimited library. I listened to music from younger days – The Verve Pipe’s Freshman, Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony, The Drugs Don’t Work and lots more. I’ve got 20 hours per month in the free account, and I’m absolutely loving it.

I immediately wanted to get a premium subscription (since it allows international playback), but naturally they make it difficult to give them money (PayPal needs to be in the country you signed up in; credit card needs to be issued in similar country).

Streaming music is probably the future. Cloud based storage seems like an extension of files. And why exactly do we need files? Music lockers like Spotify will match many a usage pattern. For me, it means playing back anything I feel like listening to. It means bringing back memories from yesteryear. It means accessing CDs I’ve been too lazy to rip (some are physically in another country).

As usual, Spotify isn’t available for the rest of the world. It launched in some European countries, just got to the United States (in limited availability), and those of us in Asia are stuck, as usual.

Even if I wanted file-based storage (say via the iTunes Music Store or Amazon’s MP3 service) its generally not available. I paid Bimbit a visit again. The site design made me spasm.

Zee Avi is available on Spotify. One Reza Salleh song is available too – Stracciatella. Nothing from my favourite local band One Buck Short or narmi.

Why is it so hard to buy legal music online?

Review: The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic

I’ve had the pleasure of using as my second phone, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, for the last month or so. Let’s take this mostly step-by-step, and this should generally be pretty darn lengthy. If you’re interested, check out the tech specs, and this is broken up into: The phone, the screen, the camera, connectivity, music, video and other multimedia bits (I can highly recommend reading this part), software, conclusion and other thoughts. And I’m told that I shouldn’t compare this with the iPhone, but its hard not to.

The phone

The phone is plastic-based, so if you’re used to the E-series devices (like the E71, E61i, etc), its not quite metal on the back. The back of the phone, is actually similar in feeling to the N73. So it does seem a little flimsy — but you won’t be opening the back cover unless you want to change batteries or remove the SIM card. No one changes batteries any longer (I remember a time when we used to have at least two batteries :)), and SIM card changes tend to be very rare, so I guess this isn’t really a large problem. The battery life seems to be pretty useful – a good day is not a problem, even with music playback.

Nokia 5800 XPM (side view, left)The first snag I found with this phone was related to the SIM card. Typically one inserts the SIM card, and then inserts the battery. Once you open it, you’ll realise that the SIM card fits in by the side, and you’ve got to make use of the stylus to push it out, if need be. This design seemed unintuitive, and took a bit of time to get used to. If I were a first time user, it would have been OK — I’d have followed the instructions at the back of the cover. However, I’ve been using Nokia phones for over twelve years, so, I found it unintuitive.

The introduction of a “Keyguard switch” is pretty cool. Locking and unlocking the phone, is now dead easy – there’s a button, just swipe it down, on the right hand side of the phone, and its either locked or unlocked. One button phone locks/unlocks are way better! This is a marked improvement.Nokia 5800 XPM (side view, right)

It comes standard with an 8GB microSD card! That’s a ridiculous amount of data, for a tiny phone. They should have clearly built a USB dongle (there is a micro-USB port, but you still need a cable), which pops out, and allows you to use it as a thumb drive. One device less, for data-on-the-go, makes so much sense, no? Video cameras are doing it (Flipcam, Kodak’s Zi6, Creative Vado’s), why not mobile phones?

Top of Nokia 5800 XPM Oh, while the power button has always been at the top of the phone, why is the charger also located at the top?!? In fact, the micro-USB port, as well as the AV connector, is located at the top — I’d have preferred this to be at the bottom of the phone, which seems to be a lot more standard.

The software is that of the Series 60, 5th Edition. Lots of changes, have come, but keep this in mind, when you’re downloading third-party software applications. Not everything is compatible…

The screen

This is pretty cool. Its a 3.2″ widescreen display, and when its held horizontally, you’re seeing 640×360 pixels. This is a 16:9 ratio, and the colours are just amazing. Don’t forget that it comes with an orientation sensor, so the display changes as and when you turn it around (very similar to the iPhone).

Nokia 5800 XPM (front)Its a touch screen, and you’re expected to be able to use it with one hand, and you can use your fingers. However, its not so fancy — once you’ve used the iPod Touch or the iPhone, you’ll slowly realise that the touch screen isn’t all that.

Why? The touch screen is resistive, not capacitive, which means that a “click” is only registered when two thin layers of the screen get pushed together under the pressure from my finger (or stylus). AFAIK, the iPhone uses something called “projected capacitive” screens, and you don’t need actual contact (and it works well for multi-touch).

The phone comes with a stylus (reminds me of the days when I was still using Palm handhelds), and I’ve never actually used a phone with one. You’ll be using the stylus a lot — I found that my fingers didn’t really work well with the screen. It turns out there’s a reason for the stylus — Chinese input. I never thought about this, because all I seem to care about is the input of the English language, but it does make a lot of sense.

Because its a touch screen based interface, the interface differs from other Nokia’s. But its not that much different, and its easy to get worked around. Note that you’ll be dialling on the screen, you’ll be “typing” on the screen (the stylus comes in real handy here), and if you’ve used a phone with a keyboard, you’ll miss that. But if you’re a first time user, or in the target market, you’ll be fine.

The camera

A 3.2 megapixel camera, churning out images at 2048×1536 pixels, which also comes with an LED flash light. How are the pictures? Comparable to the E71, but not as good as the Nokia N96. Simply put, its tolerable — I’d use it, but it won’t be replacing my camera, anytime soon. Its got good pocket camera qualities, if you decide to carry one device less.

You can also record video – 640×480 pixels, 30fps, so its good enough for TV playback (take that you iPhone users!). The more memory you have, the better, clearly, but with a whopping 8GB, you should be fine. It also comes with a camera in front for video calls, so will really benefit from being on a 3G network (currently, that’s just Maxis and Celcom that support it). I only mention this, because modern phones like the iPhone, also don’t come with video calling features just yet — so you don’t even need the 3G network in theory, EDGE is fine.

I tried streaming with it, to Qik. It looks OK (I couldn’t notice any difference with my E71). I was hoping to see this in the “Download!” folder itself, but I never saw that. In fact, seeing some applications selling for “MYR 5”, sounds like it costs RM5/application.


The phone comes with Bluetooth and WiFi. It works out of the box, as expected. It wasn’t obvious that it had WiFi though — had to go poking through Settings (OK, it would come up, if you searched for it, via anything that required Internet access).

*#2820# doesn’t work, to tell me the Bluetooth MAC address. Weird? With regards to WiFi, the standard *#62209526# works, and this will give you the MAC address of the WiFi adapter, so that you can filter it at your router, if required.

There is an A-GPS, so you’ll need some form of network connectivity. It comes with Nokia Maps, something I’d rather not pay for or use — go get Google Maps, its free *grin*.

Music, video, and other multimedia bits

I think this is where the phone shines. Its multimedia abilities. My interest with this phone was piqued when I read about comes with music. I had wondered about this, earlier this year, and found out that you still didn’t quite get “comes with music” here in Malaysia, despite the fact that you get 1,000 DRM-free, free of cost songs with this phone.

bimbit However, its provided via a service called bimbit. bimbit is kind of interesting — its like the iTunes Music Store for Malaysia. Its not well publicised, but it does come with either MP3 access or WMA access. They work on a points based system, and to get a song from a popular artiste (say, Jason Mraz), you’ll be paying about “38 points”, per song. 12 points work out to be RM1, so every song really costs a little over RM3.

They have subscription plans, in where you pay RM360 to get 12 months worth of music (4,600 points, not unlimited), and you an also buy reloads, at various different values, but the bottom line is that Nokia Malaysia, is paying bimbit over RM2,900+ of value, everytime they sell one Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. No one is in the charity business, so I wonder what kind of deal Nokia and bimbit have struck.

<aside>If you’re using bimbit, might I caution you that you better back your multimedia up. They don’t endeavour to give you your download back again, so if you change device, keep copies around. In fact, keep copies around elsewhere, so if you’re on a Mac, back it up with Time Machine. Put it in the cloud. Whatever. </aside>

The built-in speaker is nifty – stereo speakers with surround sound, and the quality of the music coming out of it, is simply amazing. I don’t need my headset to listen to music, so I can literally broadcast music from the speakers (and be really annoying, if I were waiting where there were lots of other people around me). What however did annoy me, is the fact that if you wanted to use the radio application, you needed the headset — music player doesn’t require it, but the radio does? Looks like a software error.

Nokia 5800 XPM (Why so serious?)Video playback is gorgeous. While the screen isn’t as big as what you’d see on an iPod Touch/iPhone, it certainly does provide enough clarity. The video that I recorded off the camera, isn’t as clear as you’d expect (but that’s a question of quality of the source), but if you load up something from bimbit or elsewhere (wherever you get your music videos from :-)), you’ll notice that its crisp, and clear. Millions of colours are being displayed, and the clarity, and contrast, is just amazing.


SIP (for VoIP calls) isn’t built-in. I found this to be lacking, since most of the E-series devices come with this functionality. You can get it via installing third-party software, but, a built-in client would have rocked.

Bounce is a game that makes use of the touchscreen. Kind of useful. Its been a while since I’ve played with games on a mobile device — the last time I was excited by a game on a phone, it was the infamous Snake, and it was made more fun, when you could play with another player, via IR :)

There’s also some cool software, like Touch Guitar, Touch Piano, Touch Card Match, and the Talking Dictionary, which you can install for this phone. The S60blog has relevant links to all this software.

Conclusion and other thoughts

I should probably cover what else is in the box. It comes with a nice mini-CD (not full sized, which is cool, but doesn’t work on slot-loading drives, which is what you mostly get today), the headset, with an additional bit to get the music controls, a USB cable, a case, a spare stylus, AV cables, manuals, and the bimbit card to give you 1,000 free songs. There’s also a charger (which I didn’t use) — its one of the modern, smaller ones for Nokia phones (gone are the days where the charger used to be larger ;)).

Would I buy this phone? It doesn’t have a QWERTY keyboard, which I’ve got used to, for the last few generations of mobile phones that I’ve owned. It does break some design boundaries that Nokia phones traditionally had. It does come with 1,000 free songs, that I can download and carry on any device, I like. It does come with a huge amount of memory. It makes me wonder how cheap the phone actually is, to make!

So back to the question. Would I buy it? Not as a main phone, because of the lack of a keyboard (my use case suggests lots of email on the go, lots of typing up notes, and lots of surfing the Internet and heavy input into things like Twitter, and so on). Would I buy it for my seventeen year old cousin? Yes. Would I recommend it to my twenty one year old cousin? Definitely. Would I recommend it to my mom? Definitely, she could use a new device, to replace her ageing Series 40-based Nokia. I think, I could safely recommend this phone to anyone who’s not been infected with Blackberry-itis.

Gets a good 8/10, in my book.
(and boy, can’t I wait to see what else Nokia is bringing out — lots of cool stuff, look at the Nokie E75, N97, and more, all coming soon, all looking rocking.)

Disclosure: All this thanks to David Lian, from Text100 (they get it – nobody should be reviewing a device, just by looking at it — a good review happens after using it, on a daily basis, for some period of time — only then do you get the quirks, et al). I write this, as its almost time to give back the review unit (I just kept it in a draft folder, adding in more text, over time, so I do hope its not too haphazard). I’ve had quite the experience using the phone.