Fish Nation Information Station

News from the world of music, entertainment, communications, and technology.

NEWS ARCHIVE 2011

Notes

Robin Gibb is being treated for liver cancer. Gibb says he is “now on the road to recovery” and has promised his fans more concerts soon.

The new deluxe Elvis Costello box set costs $340. It is too much to pay, according to the artist himself. Costello’s web site is advising fans who need an expensive box set as s musical gift to buy the Louis Armstrong box set Ambassadors of Jazz instead. The records in the Costello box set will be available separately next year, in non-deluxe editions, for a noticeably lower total price.

Rick Aster wrote his first full-length novel, Tunnel to the Dark Side, during National Novel Writing Month in November. The science fiction novel is set on the same near-future planet, Jackson, as his other recent fictional works.

The new CD edition of the Bah & the Humbugs12/19/87 live set includes one track that was previously unavailable, a live group-singing version of the song “Round and Round” from the band’s debut album 12/25/01.

A Tennessee court has ruled against Curb Records, which had invoked a tangled web of legal fictions and made-up facts in an April 13 lawsuit that sought to prevent Tim McGraw from escaping from his deal with the label after the delivery of his final album under the contract. As a result of the court order, the singer is now free to record music again. McGraw is probably eligible for several million dollars in damages from the record label, but that is a more complicated question and will be determined at a later trial, set to begin in July. The case will likely deter other record labels that might seek to arbitrarily extend recording contracts beyond their expiration dates.

2011-12-01

Google Music Launches

Google Music is said to be preparing to launch today with two of the three major record labels on board. It will apparently be a cloud-based music service patterned after a similar offering from Amazon. Google may be taking on a more businesslike style for its newest venture, but it continues its practice of releasing services before they are ready for the world, as indicated on the Google Music site by the word “beta.” “Beta” is a Silicon Valley term that means “in the second stage of testing” and describes nearly every Google offering in its first few years.

2011-11-16

UMG Gets EMI

Universal Music Group is purchasing EMI Records for $2 billion.

Citigroup ended up owning EMI nearly a year ago after financing a leveraged buyout in 2007 that failed after business credit tightened in 2008 and 2009. The buyers borrowed $5 billion to purchase a business that turned out not to be worth nearly that much. Citigroup had been seeking a new owner for EMI ever since.

Currently the top artist at EMI is Coldplay. EMI’s catalog also includes the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and Spice Girls. The largest recording company based in the United Kingdom, and noted there for its association with the Beatles, EMI became especially associated with British rock acts.

The EMI sale does not include its music publishing unit, which is thought to be going to a Sony-led consortium, for another $2 billion.

2011-11-11

Notes

November is National Novel Writing Month, when around 200,000 writers attempt the unlikely feat of writing the first draft of a novel in one month. Despite the rigors of writing more than 1,666 words per day for an entire month, more than 10 percent of participants succeed.

Michael Moore is taking an unconventional approach in promoting his new book Here Comes Trouble. He is making a point of visiting independent bookstores and Occupy protests. Last week the New York Stock Exchange prevented Moore from filming a CNBC interview in front of the stock exchange, but Moore found an independent journalist willing to conduct the video interview on Wall Street.

The new Yes live album, due one month from now, looks back at the In the Present tour, the band’s best ever according to many fans, with a show recorded in Lyon, France, on December 1, 2009. The release comes in the middle of a new two-month tour of Europe.

2011-11-01

Notes

Yes drummer Alan White hasn’t had much time to relax between the Yes summer U.S. tour with Styx and the fall tour of Europe that gets underway in a few weeks. He has been promoting the September release of the Levin Torn White album, recorded with two other legends of progressive rock. He also got together with his band White to play the Newcastle Days festival. After the show White went into the studio to sort out the details of some new music that could find its way onto its second album.

The Fixx says its new album Beautiful Friction is finished and will be released in March 2012. The album has been in the works (i.e., mostly finished) for more than a year. Singer Cy Curnin has spent much of this year traveling to remind the world of The Fixx, which hasn’t released anything new since 2003.

Aerosmith has patched up its differences of the last two years and recorded a new album, which singer Steven Tyler told Rolling Stone should be out in March.

After a ten-year chart gap, Roxette is back on the U.S. charts. The song “Radio” debuted yesterday at #30 on the Adult Contemporary chart at Billboard.

Bah & the Humbugs is working on a CD edition of its first live album, 12/19/87. The original was recorded on the date indicated in the title, then rush-released in time for Christmas. With more time to consider the original tapes, not to mention 24 years of advances in recording technology, the new CD promises to better capture the spirit of the original up-close concert experience.

The last 200 Borders Books stores closed in September after very successful liquidations that cleared out most merchandise at discounts of 30 percent or less. After the stores closed, it was competitor Barnes & Noble that purchased the Borders trademarks and web sites. Borders customers who don’t want Barnes & Noble to have their Borders purchase history can ask to have it deleted at http://www.bn.com/borders until October 29.

A new Mike + the Mechanics album, The Road, is set for release at the beginning of November.

2011-10-01

Notes

The new Alice Cooper album Welcome 2 My Nightmare is what you might guess: a 2-LP sequel to his 1975 album Welcome to My Nightmare. Producer Bob Ezrin, who had much to do with the sound of the original, turned up again for the sequel.

Alice Cooper will be touring with a revamped band this fall, most notably including guitar phenom Orianthi. Alice Cooper’s new band makes its first public appearance on the Tonight Show on September 9, and plays its first tour date in New Zealand September 22. That show is followed by two in Australia, then two months in Europe.

cover

For progressive rock fans, the album title Levin Torn White tells the story. For the rest of us, it’s an ambitious collaboration involving three legendary musicians, Tony Levin on bass, David Torn on guitar, and Alan White on drums, delivering an all-instrumental set packaged in black and white. The album is set for release September 13.

An East Coast hurricane that knocked out electric power for 3 percent of U.S. households didn’t stop MTV from drawing the largest viewing audience ever for its MTV Video Music Awards broadcast last weekend — though the cable channel did note that more viewers than ever were watching the program on mobile devices.

Hurricane Irene caused the cancellation of countless music events amid electric outages, safety concerns, and transportation difficulties. One late cancellation is the music portion of the Quiksilver Pro New York surfing festival which starts September 4 in Long Island. It won’t be held because of the extensive damage to the city of Long Beach and its outdoor venues.

In the hurricane, former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach lost his New Jersey house when flood waters carried a bridge into one side of it.

book

Rick Aster has written a new edition of Professional SAS Programmer’s Pocket Reference that covers SAS’s new 9.3 release. The new 6th edition of the book is scheduled to debut September 12, exactly two months after the software release that it covers. Aster says updated versions of his other SAS books will be coming over the course of 2012.

For its 30th anniversary this fall, Tom Tom Club is preparing a short album of three to five songs. The band admits it is “a little behind schedule” on the project.

A new Steve Hackett album, Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, comes out at the end of the month.

2011-09-01

Cloud Storage of Music Files Is Legal

A U.S. federal court ruling paves the way for cloud storage of music files. The court specifically ruled that a cloud storage service does not have to store a separate copy of a CD track or other music file for each user who owns it. If the files are functionally identical, it can store just one copy of the file, regardless of the number of users who upload it.

At issue was MP3tunes’ cloud storage service, which record label EMI claimed was violating copyright by not keeping each user’s files strictly separate. But similar issues apply to cloud storage offered by Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, Google, and others.

2011-08-23

Mac OS X Lion Now on USB Memory Stick

Apple’s newest computer operating system, Mac OS X Lion, was initially released only as a download, but now it is available in an installable medium for those who can’t spare the bandwidth to download a whole operating system. The medium is not the DVD you might traditionally expect, but a USB memory stick, which functions as a boot drive for the purpose of the installation. The USB installer sells for $69, a substantial premium over the download price.

It isn’t necessary to purchase the USB installer to have backup media for Mac OS X Lion; several bloggers have described how to make a bootable DVD that can function as an installer using the download Lion Installer app.

2011-08-16

Music Stage Collapses at Indiana State Fair

It was a horrifying moment at the Indiana State Fair music stage last night when, after a set by Sara Bareilles and around the time Sugarland was scheduled to begin performing, the stage roof separated from its supports and collapsed onto the stage and audience. Five people are known to have died and perhaps as many as 100 were injured. The performers were not on stage at the time and were not injured.

Winds from an approaching storm front lifted the tarps covering the roof, separating one tarp from one of its anchors and beginning to shred it. The force of the wind on the tarp apparently lifted the entire roof enough to separate it from two of its support columns, at the left side of the stage front as seen from the audience, and the collapse happened immediately after.

Stormy weather overnight has hampered rescue efforts, and state police were still looking for additional victims amid the rubble as of this morning. The State Fair will be closed today.

This stage collapse happened just four weeks after a similar incident during a Cheap Trick performance at an outdoor festival in Ottawa. Cheap Trick canceled a September 1 outdoor performance because of concerns about the safety of the stage at that venue.

2011-08-14

Notes

Borders Books will liquidate after book publishers blocked plans to sell the chain intact. Most stores will sell their remaining stock and close around the end of August, though a few could stay open through the fall if building owners make new rent concessions. There is a hope that around 15 stores could remain open after being sold to new owners. Perversely, however, publishers are not permitting these stores’ inventories to be transferred to their buyers, so liquidation sales will be taking place at all stores. The Borders domain names will be sold at an auction, and the buyer of the domains will apparently be free to open new stores with the Borders name.

The songwriter from Oasis is returning to the spotlight. The debut single from Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is due this month, with album and tour to follow in the fall.

2011-08-01

Stage Collapses Under Cheap Trick

The members of Cheap Trick narrowly escaped a collapsing stage during their set at Ottawa Blues Fest yesterday. The band was playing a late afternoon set for an outdoor audience of 10,000 when strong gusts of wind associated with an approaching storm front blew over the back wall of the stage. Five seconds later, the stage itself buckled. The band and technicians on stage moved quickly and escaped without injury. About 10 people standing near or behind the stage were injured, at least two seriously enough to be taken to hospitals, though all were released by this morning, according to the promoter.

Cheap Trick has posted photos and a brief statement on its web site noting that they were “all lucky to be alive.” The band will have to replace some of its equipment before its shows later this week in Ontario and New York.

2011-07-18

Harry Potter Breaks Box Office Records

It was a slow summer at the movies — until this weekend. The final Harry Potter movie opened Friday and had the biggest single-day take of any movie ever in the United States. It also set new records for midnight attendance at its first showings in theaters. Given that many viewers held off to see the film on Saturday, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 has likely, as of early Saturday evening, already surpassed the opening weekend totals of all other 2011 releases.

2011-07-16

Notes

News Corp has sold MySpace to Specific Media and Justin Timberlake for $35 million. News Corp paid $580 million to buy MySpace in 2005, but early missteps confused and alienated users at what was then the leading social networking site. Millions of users also left just because the site was owned by the parent company of Fox News. A series of badly needed technical improvements were not enough to bring users back. Immediately after announcing the sale, MySpace cut its staffing by more than half, reducing to 1/7 of its peak size. MySpace’s traffic stats have seen a similar decline over the last three years.

The new Yes album Fly From Here lives up to its advance notices, with meticulous production and a sophisticated, adventurous sound. It is out now in Europe and Japan and is set for release July 12 in North America. A summer tour with Styx starts with a July 4 pre-fireworks concert in Camden, New Jersey, a ferry ride away from Philadelphia.

Evanescence has been recording in Nashville and is finishing up tracks for its third studio album, with an eye to an October 4 release. Pianist Amy Lee started recording an album on her own, but when it didn’t come out the way she had imagined, she realized she needed to get the band back together. The band plays its first live show in two years at a festival next month in Canada.

Kiss is planning a new album, with singer Paul Stanley producing.

Dwight Twilley has finished recording for a new album, Soundtrack.

Firefox 5.0 was released last month, just three months after the release of version 4.0. The open-source browser project is planning a series of rapid releases with overlapping development cycles to catch up with the backlog of innovations its programmers have been coding.

Apple is releasing its newest operating system, Mac OS X Lion, this month. On “day one,” at least, Mac OS X Lion will be sold exclusively as a download at the Mac App Store. This novel release strategy is apparently seen as a way to promote the Mac App Store. The Mac App Store is new and is only compatible with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, and even then, users have to install the June update of that operating system. Users with older operating system versions will not be able to upgrade until a DVD release is available. Also, as a practical matter, users will need a high-speed Internet connection for the 1-gigabyte download.

Death: Andrew Gold, singer of “Thank You for Being a Friend” and “Lonely Boy,” a prolific musician and songwriter who can be heard on albums by Linda Ronstadt, 10cc, Asia, Art Garfunkel, Eric Clapton, and many others.

Death: Clarence Clemons, saxophone player with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Borders Books is hoping to hold an auction for its business operations on July 19, with a new owner taking possession of the bankrupt bookstore chain on July 29. If that fails, expect to see about half of the remaining Borders stores liquidated during the back-to-school season. Or, if the auction succeeds, Borders’ new owner will almost certainly want to liquidate some additional stores, but perhaps not until after Christmas.

The Borders store liquidations have put pressure on other bookstores, most evidently Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble’s book revenue is declining to begin with, and some customer visits are lost as readers go to liquidation sales instead.

2011-07-01

Notes

The two Hobbit movies will be The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There and Back Again. The movies are scheduled for release in December 2012 and 2013. The stories are based on the novel The Hobbit and cover events that led up to the story of Lord of the Rings, the classic J.R.R. Tolkien novel that became the biggest movie trilogy in history.

For her new album, Vanessa Carlton wanted to write and record without the obstacles that have always cropped up on her previous works. She funded the recording herself and paid attention to details like the vibe of the studio and the band she put together for the sessions. Rabbits on the Run is set for release June 21 on Razor & Tie. A short U.S. tour follows.

Death: Gil Scott-Heron, musician and protest poet best known for the 1970 poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” He was considered by many to be the “father of hip-hop.”

It is an eerie time to be a fan of American football. The NFL web site and the media have to continue to cover the sport as if everything is fine, in spite of a lockout that puts this year’s season in doubt. The one team that will be hit the hardest if the season is called off is the New Orleans Saints, where crews are rushing to complete renovations to the Superdome in time for the first home preseason game August 11.

2011-06-01

Warner Music Group Sold

While the music world was waiting for EMI to find a new owner, it was Warner Music Group that was sold. Subject to shareholder and regulatory approval, Warner Music Group will be sold to Russian billionaire-investor Len Blavatnik for $3 billion. Blavatnik is a director at the company and already owns 2 percent of the shares.

The previous owners have held the company for seven years while reducing its size by a third. Observers expect cutbacks to continue under the new ownership.

Warner Music Group includes the Warner, Atlantic, Rhino, Word, Asylum, Nonesuch, Sire, and EastWest labels, among others.

2011-05-07

Notes

The U2 360° tour is the biggest tour ever, having now outsold the biggest Rolling Stones tours, and it continues for several more months in South and North America.

Two more soap operas are nearing the end of their run. ABC’s All My Children and One Life To Live will be replaced this summer, after runs of more than 40 years, with lifestyle programming. The four U.S. soap operas that will remain average about 3 million viewers, not quite enough to justify their substantial production costs, so they will likely have to cut characters and story lines.

Death: Roger Nichols, a recording engineer most prominently associated with the career of Steely Dan.

Every month more web media services shut down, and shortly, it will be Google Video’s turn. Nearly everyone who used the service to host videos kept archive copies, but for anyone who didn’t, they have at least two more weeks to download their videos from the site. In the meantime, Google is working on a way to move content from Google Video to YouTube.

Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler is taking advantage of his stint as a judge on American Idol by releasing a new single, “Feels So Good,” next week. The video was recorded a few days ago and will debut on American Idol. Recording for a new Aerosmith album is set to begin in summer, with a Japan tour being planned for the end of the year.

2011-05-01

Flip Closes

Flip, makers of the handheld video cameras that nearly broke through to pop culture phenomenon status in 2008, is closing down. The news came in an announcement this morning from parent company Cisco Systems. Cisco bought Flip two years ago for what it thought was a bargain price, under $1 billion, only to face a market saturated with low-end video cameras, most easier to use and offered at lower prices.

The announcement did not specifically say so, but limited availability of parts for Flip video cameras must have played a part in the decision to stop making the devices.

2011-04-12

New Yes Album “Fly From Here” Recorded With Horn, Downes

The new album from progressive rock band Yes, its first in ten years, is called Fly From Here, and the title hints at the story involved in producing the album.

The title “Fly From Here” is taken from the most famous song the band never recorded. “We Can Fly From Here” was a fan favorite on the 1980 Drama tour, during the period when Trevor Horn was the band’s lead singer, but the song was not recorded for the Drama album. A live version of it appeared in 2005, and a rough studio version of it in two parts turned up in 2010 on the belated CD edition of the Buggles’ second album Adventures in Modern Recording, recorded in 1981.

Wanting to include the song on the new album, Yes bassist Chris Squire persuaded Horn to produce the recording of the song. Horn was the producer of Yes’s most successful album, 90125, including the band’s #1 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Horn, in turn, brought in Geoff Downes, who was Yes’s keyboardist during the Drama album and tour and, together with Horn, wrote the original song. Before anyone knew what happened, the song “Fly From Here” had become 20 minutes long, Horn had produced the entire album, and Downes had become a member of the band again.

The one actual new band member on the new album is Canadian singer Benoît David, who joined Yes three years ago after original lead singer Jon Anderson fell ill during preparations for a tour. Yes’s touring keyboard player for the last three years, Oliver Wakeman, played the early keyboard tracks on the album, and it’s possible that some of those might still be present in the final mixes.

Reportedly, tracks for the album are “essentially” finished, and any needed adjustments are expected to be made this month. The album is scheduled for release in July.

2011-04-05

Notes

Once one of the largest retailers of photographic film, Seattle Film Works was reborn as American Greetings PhotoWorks after film fell out of favor with photography hobbyists. Now, even photographic prints are on the way out — you can’t e-mail a print, after all — and PhotoWorks is closing. Registered PhotoWorks customers have one more day (until early evening, April 2) to download their photo libraries or transfer them to Shutterfly.

In bankruptcy, Borders Books is closing an initial list of about 200 stores. A few closed yesterday or last weekend, but for most, the deadline is the end of April, and some, likely including a new list, will close later. The pace of bargain-hunters has been disappointing so far, but most shoppers are likely holding out for steeper discounts in the last three weeks.

Also closing: EQ magazine, the leading magazine on recording for musicians for the past 20 years. Its April issue is its last. EQ was another victim of the three-year frenzy of magazine publishing mergers, a trend that nearly killed off Billboard and its famous pop music charts a year ago. Looking back, the EQ era basically coincided with the era of the ADAT, the multitrack recorder from Alesis. Prices have fallen for professional audio gear, making it hard for sound recording magazines to stay relevant, especially in a period of declining interest in magazines in general.

Amazon.com is introducing a cloud storage service for purchases from its MP3 download music store. Customers can also store other songs there. Music industry lawyers are studying the service to look for possible grounds for a legal challenge.

Filming has begun for The Hobbit, the two-part movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel and some related stories. The production has remained in New Zealand despite two years of delays involving funding difficulties and a labor dispute. Guillermo del Toro was director during preproduction but had to pull out because of the long delays in funding and scheduling, so producer Peter Jackson has stepped in to direct.

Microsoft has filed suit against Barnes & Noble. The suit claims that Microsoft has patents covering some of the software in the Nook ebook reader. Microsoft yesterday also filed a monopoly complaint against Google. It is the first time Microsoft, the most notorious monopoly in computing history, has formally complained of another company’s monopoly practices.

Another major spam operation was busted last month. The botnet was hosted at about 15 locations in the United States and had broken into at least a few million computers worldwide, using them to send e-mail messages a few at a time. At its peak, it sent one third of the e-mail messages on the Internet. Security experts noted a 10 percent decline in e-mail volume as the spam servers were being seized by the FBI. Law enforcement officials say they are searching for probably three or four people who operated the network.

The Apple iPad 2 is in short supply after strong demand at its launch on March 11 in the United States and in 24 other countries on March 25. The launch in Japan has been delayed in order not to distract from disaster recovery efforts there.

Parts for many electronic devices, including the iPad 2, are in short supply because of damage, evacuations, and rolling blackouts in Japan following the earthquake there last month.

Another area of shortages is digital media. Pro video tape formats are most affected, as these are manufactured in just a few facilities in the world. CD-R, computer media, and consumer tape formats are less affected, but spot shortages have been reported, and prices for some items are noticeably higher than they were a month ago.

In keeping with its statements last year, the New York Times has begun charging for news stories on its web site — and not just a token fee. The subscription charges for regular readers amount to $457 per year. The charges will not affect casual readers who access less than one story per day.

The new version of web browser Firefox is its biggest yet, with 40 million downloads in its first week. Its biggest competitor, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, also had its biggest release ever, with more than 2 million release-day downloads and apparently around 5 million in its first three weeks. Comparing the new versions of the two leading browsers in the latest web stats, Firefox 4 is more than twice as popular as IE9 among active Internet users.

Thin Lizzy says it is considering recording a new album. The reunited band, with the founding drummer and guitarist, has been touring steadily since 1996, has written some “killer” new songs, and is nearly done with a series of reissues of its 1974–1983 catalog. The band is currently in the middle of a one-week U.S. tour.

Focus is in the middle of recording a new album. The current lineup of the progressive rock fusion band features the original organist and drummer.

A new Steve Miller Band album, Let Your Hair Down, is set for an April 19 release. The band surprised everyone with the new album release less than a year after its previous release, Bingo! An April tour crisscrosses the eastern United States, with a much larger summer tour to follow.

2011-04-01

Court Rejects Google Books Settlement

A U.S. court has rejected the Google Books Settlement for a second time, saying the proposed deal between the Authors Guild and Google would create more problems then it solved.

Among other problems cited by the court, the proposed settlement would create new and unprecedented monopoly powers for Google, overturn copyright law, and invade the privacy of readers.

The suit, initially brought by the Authors Guild against Google in 2005, was intended to compensate authors for Google’s illegal copying of their books. The Authors Guild effectively changed sides in announcing a proposed settlement three years later, in a deal that would allow Google to scan any book without any compensation to its author or copyright owner. After the court rejected the settlement proposal, token revisions were made and the settlement was resubmitted to the court. Now the revised settlement has also been rejected.

One of the problems the court found with the proposal was that, with the plaintiffs siding with the defendant, there was no party in the case representing the interests of authors. The U.S. Justice Department had opposed the settlement, citing copyright and competition concerns. The ebook industry, technology companies, privacy groups, and individual authors and publishers had also filed briefs opposing the settlement.

2011-03-23

Microsoft Drops Music Player

It was confirmed last night that Microsoft has stopped making its music player. In its five-year life span the media player device, which allowed songs and videos to be shared between one device and another, was expensive and confusing and never caught on with music fans. Some have speculated that damage done by the Japan earthquake to a manufacturing facility where the music players were made may have hastened this move.

Microsoft will continue to develop its media player software for phones and game consoles, but that is a tiny niche that won’t have the visibility of the music player devices.

2011-03-15

Japan Earthquake Delays Musical Equipment

Japan is the country most known for digital musical equipment, so it won’t be a surprise if last Friday’s earthquake there leads to delays in the availability of some equipment. Electric power may be rationed in that country for the rest of the year because of earthquake and tsunami damage, slowing down factories. For now, most factories in the affected areas are simply closed, with transportation too uncertain to bring workers to the factories or to deliver the finished products anywhere.

Another concern is that some components come from factories in the evacuated city of Fukushima. Several of Panasonic’s factories in and around Fukushima have structural damage from water and fire and will not be able to return to operation soon. Other factories in the area produced components for products assembled in the Tokyo area, so some Tokyo factories may remain idea for some time after the streets and ports there are functioning.

Hitachi and Fujitsu, both makers of computer components among other products, are among the companies reporting significant damage in factories. Fujitsu’s offices also have structural damage.

Casio and Sony are among the companies taking mostly a wait-and-see approach, inspecting factories for damage today and waiting for word on transportation and electricity. Yamaha, by contrast, seems to be operating for now, but may have to shut down after tomorrow because of transportation concerns.

Musicians worldwide may have to delay purchases of some new equipment or upgrades because of shortages this year. Price decreases that were planned for this year may be postponed until next year. There is particular concern about the availability of semiconductors for audio processing and of computer memory, both of which may sell at noticeably higher prices for the rest of this year.

Musical equipment is just a small part of the manufacturing picture in Japan, and similar problems are seen in the automobile, camera, and cellular phone industries.

2011-03-14

Notes

The new band Beady Eye, formed by the remaining members of Oasis, has a new record label, Beady Eye Records, and a new album, Different Gear, Still Speeding, out yesterday. The album was produced by Steve Lillywhite and represents less of a departure from the Oasis sound than some fans had expected. It shows more of singer Liam Gallagher’s musical personality, with songs that are more emotional and a sound more Beatle-influenced, if that’s possible, and perhaps more subdued than an Oasis album. The rose-colored glasses are still on, though, as the songs depict a world in which nothing uncomfortable ever happens, and anyway, if it did, you could just ignore it. The band is in the middle of two months of touring Europe, which will be followed by a week in Japan and at least seven summer festivals.

There is a new port on the new MacBook Pro models. The Thunderbolt interface, developed by Intel with significant contributions from Apple, will connect a computer to a high definition display, video devices, multichannel audio, and hard disk arrays. You could think of it as the new SCSI, but it is, of course, much faster and simpler. Thunderbolt connections and cables apparently will cost slightly more than USB 2.0 hardware, but with 21 times the data throughput, might do away with the need for internal expansion of desktop computers, allowing a much smaller Mac Pro design. It uses the same connector as the existing DisplayPort interface for video displays and is largerly compatible with that existing standard. Thunderbolt runs on conventional copper wires but is designed to be compatible with optical cable connections when those become less expensive. In its copper-wire configuration, the total length of connections to any one port is limited to about 3 meters. With optical cables, it is thought that the distance could be extended to about 100 meters. The dual nature of the interface, with both light and electricity, is what inspired the Thunderbolt name.

In support of his new Classics Live CD, Roger Hodgson is going out on a world tour that will keep him busy at least until July.

Paul Nordquist and Rick Aster were among the thousands of well-known and unknown songwriters participating in February Album Writing Month this year. Both completed the FAWM challenge of writing 14 new songs during the month, and several of Paul Nordquist’s new songs, including the last-minute entry “Incentive to Rock” recorded just last night, can be heard on the FAWM site.

It can now be said that Microsoft killed the Sidekick. The e-mail phone sold by T-Mobile had its data stored online by a company that was bought out by Microsoft. Engineers there deleted this entire database on October 2, 2009 — apparently an unintended consequence of a server software upgrade, though Microsoft never disclosed details of the service outage. After several months, Microsoft restored some parts of the lost data and promised to keep working until all the data was restored. But the lost data was a technical challenge that Microsoft couldn’t overcome, and the announcement came from T-Mobile yesterday that Microsoft is canceling the Sidekick data service at the end of May. T-Mobile hopes to launch a new generation of Sidekick devices before then, using technology from Google.

Yesterday’s announcement may also be a hint that Microsoft is preparing to exit the phone business. Microsoft canceled its Kin phone, which was essentially a Sidekick in a different skin, almost before it was officially released last summer. It then saw a tepid reception for its latest phone operating system, and has been embarrassed by a series of high-profile software glitches in that release.

It’s one of those bits of rock trivia: Bob Seger recorded the song “Downtown Train” back in 1989, but decided not to release it after the song became a big hit for Rod Stewart. Now Seger has recorded the song again, and this time, the single is out. An album (title still pending) will follow, along with a tour that will run at least through the spring.

2011-03-01

Activision Axes Guitar Hero

How bad is it in the video game business? Barely a year ago, we mentioned Guitar Hero as one of the new-generation video games that were making most of the games in the industry obsolete. But now, apparently, Guitar Hero is obsolete too, with Activision announcing that the Guitar Hero business was being “disbanded.” As far as we know, that means all the employees are looking for other gigs. A 2011 edition for the game that was under development over the last year has been scrapped. Guitar Hero III games and controllers will continue to be sold, and a new version may come along in the distant future, but if so, it isn’t likely to have much resemblance to the current game.

At the same time, Activision axed another game that was midway through its development and, according to reports, cut staffing on a third game.

Activision is one of the oldest video game companies, with a huge catalog of games on the market. Industry watchers consider it one of the most mature and businesslike companies in video games. It has operated as part of Activision Blizzard since a 2007 merger with Vivendi’s video game businesses.

2011-02-09

Huffington Post Folded Into AOL

A conservative pundit’s bold bet on the “blogosphere” has fizzled out, with Arianna Huffington agreeing to merge Huffington Post into AOL. AOL will pay $300 million in cash to acquire the aggregator site in a deal worked out during yesterday’s Super Bowl and announced this morning.

Huffington Post started out in 2005 deriding the mainstream media, only to turn into the “MSM” in less than three years. It has run into various difficulties in recent years, with readers and privacy advocates criticizing its several bungled attempts at Facebook integration, and a coordinated attack by well-funded culture war groups that ultimately forced it to mostly take down its comments pages.

The Huffington Post site will continue as part of AOL’s content offerings, but its new form will surely be unrecognizable to early fans who saw it as an alternative to corporate-controlled media. As part of the deal, founder Arianna Huffington will serve as a member of AOL’s board.

Analysts have characterized the merger as a desperate move on AOL’s part, which has to find a profitable business model somehow following its spinoff from Time Warner. AOL has also been trying to buy Yahoo, though that deal seems unlikely now that Yahoo is showing signs of profitability.

2011-02-07

Notes

It’s February, which means it’s February Album Writing Month, which poses a simple songwriting challenge: write 14 songs in 28 days. The songs are counted (and often heard) at the FAWM.org web site. As of noon Eastern Time this year’s “fawmers” had already written more than 100 songs.

The new James Redfield book The Twelfth Insight describes the calm after the storm. The book is in stores starting February 15.

The Saw Doctors’ new album The Further Adventures of the Saw Doctors, with a couple of new band members, is out now. Tours will follow: U.S. in March, U.K. in April, back home in Ireland on the days in between.

Death: Gerry Rafferty, singer best remembered for the song “Baker Street.”

2011-02-01

Album Sales Fall Off in 2010

Album sales fell between 5 percent and 30 percent in 2010 compared to the year before, depending on genre, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The one exception was Nielsen’s hip-hop and rap category, which was up 3 percent. The success of rap, though, was largely provided by one record, the Eminem comeback album Recovery. This album, which sold more than 3 million copies, should probably be considered the biggest hit in the history of hip-hop. Among every eight hip-hop albums purchased in 2010, one of them was a copy of Recovery.

In total, album sales have declined by more than half since 2000, and digital sales may have peaked. Previously, it seemed that online sales might save the industry from its decline, but in 2010, they barely held their ground.

2011-01-07

Notes

The new Roxette single “She’s Got Nothing On (But the Radio)” is ready for worldwide release January 7. The album Charm School follows five weeks later. Roxette said they would try to record something after reuniting for a few limited concert appearances over the past two years. Their last album release, Room Service, was nearly ten years ago.

The new CALM Act requires U.S. television broadcasters to adjust the sound level of television commercials to be consistent with the accompanying program. The idea is to eliminate the sonic jolt of a commercial break that is twice as loud as anything else coming out of the television.

Now that 3D video has become a fad in games and television, experts are cautioning about the possible health effects. 3D content should be monitored in children and generally avoided in children under 6 years old, eyesight experts say, because it could cause difficulty in real 3D vision. Even for adults, too much 3D can cause nausea and visual difficulties.

The new Tim Ferriss book The 4-Hour Body will have people experimenting with diet and exercise the same way The 4-Hour Workweek inspired people to experiment with business models and lifestyle.

2011-01-01
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