Tag Archives: streaming music

The Last DJ: SiriusXM

12 May

As they say about anything addictive, the first taste is free.

When we bought a new car a few months ago, it came with a three-month trial subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. Since it wouldn’t be my primary ride, I didn’t think this would matter much to me, but once I realized 1) we were going on a cross-country vacation and this could save me from 20+ hours of radio hell, 2) I could also access the stations via the web and a phone app and 3) there is a station dedicated to playing repeats of Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure 24/7, I knew it would spell my doom.

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Paying for satellite radio seems practically un-American

I am not a fan of the concept of satellite radio. I believe that, like schools and security, radio ought to be a free service existing for the public good, providing listeners a quality listening experience with as much variety and as few commercials as possible. Following this logic, I should cut my Comcast cord, slap the round antenna back onto my television and be grateful for the times I can get PBS without too much snow on the screen … and turn off the TV during pledge drives.

Many problems exist with this model now, particularly for rock enthusiasts. There are only so many channels on the dial, and that sorry few have to balance popular taste (which is often an oxymoron), the sheer quantity of rock songs produced since “Rocket 88” started the fad, and the overwhelming competition from more flexible streaming options that serve every possible taste.

Streaming sites have their advantages, particularly the fact that anything that’s ever been recorded is right there, a few keystrokes away. If you detest commercials or crappy loading speeds, you can pay for their services, meaning that instead of being completely ripped off, signed artists might make minimum wage once their songs get played approximately 1.1 million times. (Check out the amazingly depressing infographic to see how the streaming sites stack up in terms of how well they pay their artists … if at all.)

But what if you have lousy taste and want to expand your horizons? What if you don’t have a patient older brother (or cool mom) to take you through the milk crates or playlists? Who’s going to tell you what’s worth your time? The answer is DJs: music geeks with robust personalities, vast musical memories and voices with a bit of grit. That’s what’s missing from the streaming sites, and that’s what got me hooked on SiriusXM good and quick.

Little Steven's Underground GarageThe E Street Band’s Steven Van Zandt is a pillar of SiriusXM as the leader of his namesake Underground Garage channel. In addition to his own show, he’s got a passel of DJs “spinning” a great mix of gritty rock classics, recent pop punk and little-known gems including a weekly Coolest Song in the World. My favorite is Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators NYC – check him out here and on tour:

I’m sure the other 964 channels have their charms, and one has Tom Petty 24/7, which I may have mentioned already (ahem). I’ll have to find out before my six-month fix subscription runs out …

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Need a beach read? Love and Other B-Sides is the perfect paperback for summer: breezy, romantic, and holds up in the heat!


Beats Music: does it beat iTunes?

30 Jan

My blood pressure has equalized and my breathing is back to normal. The pounding in my head has stopped and my optimism has returned. All is right with the world once more.

In short, I’ve fixed my iTunes account.

Anytime I get an update message from Apple, I wince. I am a technological dinosaur, dependent on an 160GB iPod and an aging PC to protect and play my substantial library of songs. I don’t store my music in the cloud, my iPhone has maybe two songs on it, and I still mourn iTunes’ original, virtual brushed steel design. I’m terrified that I might delete my entire library with one misplaced click of the mouse.

My worst fears were realized when I restarted after the most recent upgrade – and this little box popped up six times in quick succession:

iTunes error messag

To fix this I had to uninstall every whiff of Apple technology and reinstall iTunes from scratch. (Luckily I had an open bottle of pinot noir to steady my nerves.)

I gotta say, Beats Music is looking real good right now.

Debuting last week, this streaming service is backed by Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, the legendary music producers who created the best reason to spend a car payment on headphones. Trent Reznor is the outfit’s chief creative officer. As you can see from the “vision” video he narrates, Mr. Nine Inch Nails/Oscar-winning composer/Grammy ranter can’t wait to get in between our ears to burrow into our very souls:

The press has been considerable (with feature articles in Time, Rolling Stone and New York Times to name a few) and overwhelmingly positive. This is because in addition to offering access to pretty much any song ever recorded, the killer app of Beats Music is human beings. The recommendations and playlists rely on curators rather than algorithms  It sounds like being an eighth grader hanging out with your older brother’s cool high school friends: they flip through LPs or tap into SoundCloud to expand your horizons without rolling their eyes at your limited taste. (I can’t imagine how this actually works: do they employ armies of crate-digging hipsters or is Reznor chained to a laptop somewhere?)

At the moment you can only subscribe through AT&T, but I’m sure they’ll branch out to other carriers very soon so that world domination can follow. At that point I may switch to a streaming service and for the first time pony up a monthly fee to discover new tunes and revisit old favorites … leaving iTunes collecting virtual dust. So now, your opinions, please: 


See you on the flip side …

P.S. Want to read some good rock and roll? My first novel, Love and Other B-Sides, is on the e-bookshelves now – and Amazon Prime members can read it for free!

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