Tag Archives: music

Rune Audio media player

I’m always interested in tinkering with alternative audio usage of my Raspberry Pi devices. As standard, I’m using them as Squeezebox substitutes, running the minimalist OS piCorePlayer, though I’ve also tried Squeezeplug and Raspbian for this. Rune Audio, which I think is derived from RaspyFi as a fork at the time RaspyFi became Volumio (though I may have that the wrong way round), recently released a version 0.3 beta for the Raspberry Pi, so (being naturally curious) I decided to try it out.

Runeaudio's UI is elegant, clear and simple
Runeaudio’s UI is elegant, clear and simple

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2013 – My year as a music consumer

2013 was the year that I started to take music streaming seriously. I embarked upon a premium subscription to Spotify around February (largely  for playback via an old iPad while training in the garage), and it has revolutionised my music habits. Not only have I experienced music that I wouldn’t normally have encountered, but it gave me opportunities to share music that I’ve not been able to take before. I’ve taken quite an interest in how Spotify may or may not impact on the music business, and I do believe that there’s a lack in understanding how it does affect individual expenditure on music. As Dave Allen points out (Musicians versus Spotify: It’s about scale), Spotify itself is still a relatively small player in terms of numbers of consumers. My view is that too little information is available out there on how Spotify impacts on cash flow within the music business. I’m quite prepared to accept that I’m unusual in not stopping buying music in favour of streaming, but I’d like to see some decent information on this. I can’t believe that these studies haven’t been conducted as part of basic market research. Here’s one writer’s take on Spotify as a replacement for a music collection: Spotify, you’re wonderful, but I have to quit. Here’s a clue – it’s not a replacement!

For my part, I’ve shifted far more towards buying downloads rather than physical media – mostly because I live in a small house. There are some exceptions, notably the extravagantly produced Deluxe edition of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ album Push the Sky Away, which includes CD, vinyl and a reproduction of Nick’s notebook. Unfortunately I missed out on the autographed edition!   The Velvet Underground’s second album White Light/White Heat gained its 45th anniversary Super Deluxe Treatment – with stereo and mono mixes plus a live CD housed in a hardback book, it was a little less over the top than last year’s VU and Nico 6 x CD reissue, but still nice. In particular, some of the out takes and the mono version of the album are rather good.

The upshot of subscribing to Spotify has been a substantial increase in the amount I’ve spent on music. And mostly this isn’t the big name acts that get all the press as Spotify “high earners”. At the same time, I occasionally buy hard copies from the very excellent Norman Records in Leeds.

Having bought into the Squeezebox system of streamed audio a few years ago, it was disconcerting in August 2012 to find that Logitech had ended the line. Squeezebox users have ended up in a kind of ‘phony war’, where the Logitech maintained server mysqueezebox.com still continues, and the various devices in my house still run my local music collection via Logitech Music Server running on a small QNAP NAS. At the moment I have a fair variety of players – a Squeezebox Touch, a Squeezebox 3, two Squeezebox Radios, software that turns my two iPads into Squeezebox music players (iPeng and SqueezePad), and the software player SqueezePlay (which emulates a Touch on my laptop). So there’s life in the system yet. There seems to be considerable open development of hardware and software out there to keep a similar system up and running for some time yet – Daphile, Squeezeplug, Wandboard, Raspebrry Pi and others frequently pop up for discussion in the Squeezebox forums.

Of course, I’ve been looking for commercial alternatives in case my Squeezeboxes start conking out. I’m attracted by Bluesound, but its appearance on the market seems to be rather slow, and I don’t see how it can gain traction against the likes of Sonos. It doesn’t appear to have an equivalent of the Squeezebox Radio. Sonos is probably the market leader, but also has some limitations (for me, a major issue is again the absence of an equivalent to the Squeezebox Radio), including file data types and, for those with rather larger music collections than I have, an upper song limit of 65,000 tracks. I also find the superior and evangelical tone in the Sonos user forums rather off-putting, in the same way as one sees in Apple forums (and I’m OS-agnostic, I use OSX, iOS, WinXP, Win7, several Linux distros and Android). But that the plug and play ethos of Sonos and (I expect) Bluesound would win at the expense of the more flexible Squeezebox system was perhaps inevitable.

I’m gratified that HiFi makers have stepped up to the mark with their streaming systems, though from my perspective it shouldn’t take much in the way of hardware to stream bits accurately to a HiFi: the quality sound experience must surely be derived from downstream analogue processing. Hence the profusion of software packages aimed at utilising budget computing platforms such as Raspberry Pi and Wandboard.

Some of my top albums of 2013:

Interesting collaboration between Teardo and Bargeld.

The dear old blokes just keep on hitting the spot with their excellent new album.

Modern guitar-psych, and strangely reminiscent of Suicide at times.

Immensely entertaining surf-punk from Leeds.

Excellent soundtrack to the eponymous film released 2013 using the original footage from the ill-fated Mallory-Irvine Everest expedition

Crashing noise-fest from Brian Chippendale. Excellent on the turbo trainer.

I’m not the world’s greatest NIN fan, but I did like this. I have both the regular and audiophile versions, but on my iPod the difference is marginal!

Reissue of the year : The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat super deluxe 45th anniversary reissue.

I also caught up with some other albums I’d missed out on in previous years, and discovered an affection for ‘near-ambient’ music!

Spotify, its business model and its future

Prompted by an article in The Guardian (Spotify opens up analytics in effort to prove its worth to doubting musicians), I visited a Spotify website which seeks to de-mystify the periodic brouhaha around Spotify’s business model and whether or not artists are paid properly for their music which is streamed via Spotify. The article by Spotify is really a series of mini-blog articles on a new site (www.spotifyartists.com). Continue reading

My month in cycling (soundtrack of my training) – October 2013

Been a while since I posted about cycling – the explanation is that I’ve mostly been in the garage pounding the turbo. To deal with the tedium that is turbo-training, I’ve been listening to a variety of music via Spotify (via an old 1st generation iPad). In no particular order, here’s some recent training music:

Loud, fast, noisy – just what’s needed. You can’t listen to gentle ambient when you’re trashing the turbo!

On the other hand, a bout of mid-70s nostalgia led me to It’s Alive, a double live album by the Ramones. I mean, what can you say beyond One Two Three Four!

Sadly, It’s Alive seems to be unreasonably expensive as a download, presumably because many sites price albums on the basis of the number of track. And when most songs are about 2 minutes long, there are a lot of them!

And an Oblivians album:

Related to Mindflayer, and in a very similar vein is Lightning Bolt:

On the other hand, recovery sessions on the turbo don’t demand such an aural assault, and the latest album from Wooden Shjips fits the bill.

This is billed as “psychedelia” – to be honest it sounds to me at times like Suicide but played with guitars.

As ever, you can view my listening habits over at last.fm.

And how is the training actually going? I’ve returned to the training programme that has served me well in the past, the Black Book (a.k.a. The Annual Manual) by Pete Read. This training manual seems to have achieved mythical status and appears to be hard to come by. Essentially, it describes a month by month progressive turbo training programme, based on heart rate. I guess it pre-dated the advent of affordable power meters. In any event I still prefer to train using heart rate over power, on the grounds that HR better reflects my physiology and the effort I’m putting in. I use the power meter data to better understand how a particular turbo session went and to estimate my fitness level as I move through a training plan.

I do have a bit of experience with turbo training and, with a bit of work-life balancing, now train on the turbo early in the morning before cycling to work. This gives a good balance of higher intensity work with easier recovery style riding. The big hope for this winter is that I can make it to the 2014 season without a Christmas cold, or a recurrence of my lower back problems – both of which had a dire impact on my racing last year.

The metrics as analysed using Golden Cheetah seem pretty encouraging, and I’m looking forward to the club’s New Year’s Day ’10’, about 6 weeks away. At the moment, I’m optimistic.

More objections to Spotify

Here’s a BBC News page with a segment from a recent Newsnight programme discussing Spotify and whether it does artists a disservice –
Spotify – friend or foe of musicians?
We still see the issue of low royalty rates for the musicians, but increased ticket sales as a consequence of exposure via Spotify is mentioned as a bonus. But, at the risk of sounding like a stuck record (!), why has no-one actually looked into the effect of music-streaming services on music purchases? Perhaps I am an oddity who buys more because I can listen first, and extensively before buying an album?

The internet offers a hugely diverse route into finding music, particularly the social aspects of last.fm, Spotify, Bandcamp and Soundcloud (all of which I use), and many others I don’t have time for. Maybe this isn’t all about piracy, lost sales and the like but is a new way of business that needs to be grappled with.

Spotify. Good or bad?

I’ve been a Spotify subscriber for about 9 months now, and I view it as a really exciting and useful way to listen to new music. But some in the music industry view it more darkly – see for example comment articles by David Byrne and Thom Yorke. These two articles provoked a response from Dave Allen, who takes a different view.

Personally, I think there’s a fundamental problem with the discussion (though I think I tend towards Dave Allen’s view): that is that none of these articles really contain hard data on music purchasing within the Spotify subscribers (and indeed comparing those people with non-subscribers). Continue reading

Louie Louie

Here’s a playlist of all 40 versions of the classic garage song Louie Louie that I could find in Spotify, after removing a few duplicates. It makes for great listening while training. The original version (or as close to it as makes no difference) is in numbers 9 and 10 on this list, while the version that really got the ball rolling is by The Kingsmen, number 3 in this playlist.

Astonishingly, this song was the subject of a 31 month FBI investigation into supposedly obscene lyrics. The FBI concluded that the lyrical content couldn’t be divined from listening to the song. More at Wikipedia’s page on Louie Louie, and the web page devoted to Louie Louie.

Music I never listened to back in the day…

Way back in my late teens when I was first exploring the world of music, the usual way I would choose LPs would be browsing the inky music papers and by judging an LP by its cover. Shallow perhaps, but both avenues left me liable to be misled by the general scorched earth policy of punk and post-punk, particularly when informed by the NME. I particularly recall seeing albums by the three bands below in the racks at the Ezy Ryder record exchange in Greyfriars Market.

The first of these, by the then London-based Ghanaian/Caribbean band Osibisa, was characterised by a Roger Dean cover, which naturally (if unfairly) led me to think this was some kind of ghastly Yes style prog rock. I say unfairly because, as the Wikipedia page on Osibisa observes, these covers predated Dean’s work with Yes. I took advantage of my explorations on Spotify to have a listen to Osibisa’s eponymous first album. I think I can safely say my younger self would have hated it (though partly to keep up with the prevailing taste of the era). Now, being a bit more broad-minded I actually quite like the record – at least enough to give it further listens (but probably not enough to buy it).

Van Der Graaf Generator are one of those bands which one definitely couldn’t like by the time 1977 rolled round. Unfortunately, one of the things that determines whether or not I like something is the vocal. And I must say I didn’t much care for this record too much.

Punishment of Luxury‘s Laugh Academy is an LP I definitely recall from EzyRyder’s racks. Goodness knows why I never gave it a blast at the time. Listening in 2013 (34 years after its original release!), it’s definitely a record of its period. But given that’s an era I am particularly fond of, it’s perhaps no surprise I rather like it. More listens forthcoming.