Music

Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th (theverge.com) 53

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.
Businesses

Buying Headphones in 2018 is Going To Be a Fragmented Mess (theverge.com) 270

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: At CES this year, I saw the future of headphones, and it was messy. Where we once had the solid reliability of a 3.5mm analog connector working with any jack shaped to receive it, there's now a divergence of digital alternatives -- Lightning or USB-C, depending on your choice of jack-less phone -- and a bunch of wireless codecs and standards to keep track of. Oh, and Sony's working hard on promoting a new 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as the next wired standard for dedicated audio lovers. It's all with the intent of making things better, but before we get to the better place, we're going to spend an uncomfortable few months (or longer) in a fragmented market where you'll have to do diligent research to make sure your next pair of headphones works with all the devices you already own.
Music

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 477

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

Music

Japan's Latest Sensation is a Cryptocurrency Pop Group (engadget.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: If you're starting a pop group in Japan, where giant rosters and virtual superstars are par for the course, how do you stand out? By tying yourself to something trendy -- and in 2018, that means cryptocurrency. Meet Kasotsuka Shojo (Virtual Currency Girls), a J-pop group where each of the eight girls represents one of the larger digital monetary formats. Yes, you're supposed to cheer for bitcoin or swoon over ethereum (what, no litecoin?). The group played its first concert on January 12th, and naturally you had to pay in cryptocurrency to be one of the few members of the general public to get in. The group's first single, "The Moon and Virtual Currencies and Me," warns listeners about the perils of fraud and extols the virtues of good online security.
"It isn't clear how French maid outfits symbolize cryptocurrency or blockchain technology," notes Quartz, "but they're popular costumes in Japan's anime and cosplay circles."
AI

French Songwriter Kiesza Composes First Mainstream Music Album Co-Written With AI (bbc.com) 51

dryriver shares a report from the BBC, highlighting "a new album that features everything from cowboy sci-fi to Europop." What's special about the album -- Hello World by Canadian singer Kiesza -- is that it's the first full-length mainstream music album co-written with the help of artificial intelligence. You can judge the quality for yourself: First, view the single "Hellow Shadow" with Canadian singer Kiesza. Next, the BBC story, which seems to think that the album is actually rather good: "Benoit Carre has written songs for some of France's biggest stars: from Johnny Halliday -- the French Elvis, who died last year -- to chanteuse Francoise Hardy. But this month, the 47-year-old is releasing an album with a collaborator he could never have dreamt of working with. It's not a singer, or rapper. It's not even really a musician. It's called Flow Machines, and it is, arguably, the world's most advanced artificially-intelligent music program. For musicians, there's been one good thing about these projects so far: the music they've produced has been easy to dismiss, generic and uninspiring -- hardly likely to challenge Bob Dylan in the songwriting department. But Carre's album, Hello World, is different for the simple reason that it's good. Released under the name SKYGGE (Danish for shadow), it features everything from sci-fi cowboy ballads to Europop, and unlike most AI music, if you heard it on the radio, you wouldn't think something had gone horribly wrong. Flow Machines, developed at Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Paris, does indeed write original melodies, Carre adds. It also suggests the chords and sounds to play them with. But Carre says a human is always needed to stitch the songs together, give them structure and emotion. Without people, its songs would be a bit rubbish. "There were many people involved in this," he says, listing the likes of Belgian house producer Stromae and Canadian pop star Kiesza. "They gave their soul, their enthusiasm. I think that's the most important point of the album, in a way -- that it's a very human one.'"
Businesses

Pandora CEO Roger Lynch Wants To Create the Podcast Genome Project (variety.com) 19

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Variety: Pandora's new CEO Roger Lynch has big plans for podcasts: Lynch told Variety on the sidelines of CES in Las Vegas Thursday that he wants to create "the equivalent of the podcast genome project" as the company plans to add many more podcasts to its catalog. Lynch, who joined Pandora as president and CEO in September, said that the company is working on a deep integration of podcasts that will allow users of the service to easily browse and discover new shows. Describing these efforts as a kind of podcast genome project is a nod to Pandora's Music Genome Project -- a massive database of dozens of musical attributes for every single song in the company's music library that is being used to compile stations and aid discovery. Pandora is also looking to offer podcasters monetization options that will be superior to the current state of podcast advertising. Currently, many podcasters still rely on ads that they read themselves on air, Lynch said. "It is not the most effective advertising model."
Media

Ask Slashdot: What's the Best Media Streaming Device? 206

The network card died on Thelasko's smart TV -- and rather than spend $65 on a new one, they're considering buying a nice, simple streaming box. I am running a Rygel server on my PC, but rarely use it... I primarily only watch Amazon Prime, Netflix, and YouTube for streaming, and am wondering what Slashdot users have found to be the best option. I'm considering Roku or Chromecast because they are well known and supported. However, I have heard a lot of news about Kodi devices being more hackable.
AppleTV? Amazon Fire TV? The Emtec GEM Box? Building your own from a Raspberry Pi? Leave your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

What's the best media streaming device?
Communications

SoundCloud Refutes Decreasing Audio Quality, Cites Standard Testing (billboard.com) 60

cordovaCon83 writes: NestHQ published an article today noting that online streaming service Soundcloud has implemented the Opus codec for its archive of music and started streaming at 64kbps instead of its prior 128kbps streams. Opus has been touted as a more efficient codec than the aging MP3 codec. Whether this will have a major effect on audio fidelity remains to be seen, as well as whether such a move will affect the already ailing music service's business. UPDATE: SoundCloud tells Billboard that this swap in codecs is nothing new and is part of frequent tests it runs with its audio -- just as other streaming services do regularly. "We always appreciate feedback, but these reports are inaccurate," a SoundCloud spokesperson told Billboard in a statement. "SoundCloud has not altered its approach to audio quality. We have been using the Opus codec (among others) since 2016, and we regularly test different combinations of encoding and streaming to offer listeners a quality experience on any device. Furthermore, we store all content from creators at its originally uploaded quality level so we can continually adapt to advances in encoding and playback."
Businesses

Jimmy Iovine To Leave Apple Music in August: Report (billboard.com) 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: Look for Jimmy Iovine to leave Apple Music in August. The former Interscope CEO joined Apple in 2014 after selling Beats, the the music service and electronics business that he and Dr. Dre co-founded, to the tech giant for $3 billion. It is believed his departure is timed to his Apple shares fully vesting, sources tell Billboard. Iovine's ties to Apple go back to 2003 when he first met Apple founder Steve Jobs and exec Eddy Cue, and was a key proponent of Apple's iTunes and iPod. Apple Music, Apple's subscription streaming service, has expanded to more than 30 million paying subscribers since its June 2015 launch. That success is, in part, due to Iovine's focus on content, including developing original programming.
Businesses

Spotify Files To Go Public (bloomberg.com) 24

According to Bloomberg, Spotify filed to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, "in the highest-profile test yet of a technique that lets companies list shares without raising money through a traditional stock offering." From the report: With steady cash from more than 60 million paying subscribers, the world's largest paid music-streaming service doesn't need more funding. Instead of an initial public offering, it's trying a direct listing, which essentially lets private stakeholders start trading their shares on a public exchange. That avoids underwriting fees and restrictions on stock sales by current owners, and doesn't dilute the holdings of executives and investors. Spotify, which has been valued at about $15 billion, would be the most prominent company by far to attempt a direct listing, a method that until now has been used by small issuers and real estate investment trusts. It would also be a first for the New York Stock Exchange, which has sought permission from the Securities & Exchange Commission to change its rules for the occasion.
The Courts

Spotify Hit With $1.6 Billion Copyright Lawsuit (spin.com) 132

The Wixen Music Publishing company, which administers song compositions by Tom Petty, Dan Auerbach, Rivers Cuomo, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, and others, has hit Spotify with a copyright lawsuit seeking $1.6 billion in damages. The publishing company filed the lawsuit on December 29, alleging the streaming giant is using Petty's "Free Fallin" and tens of thousands of other songs without license or compensation. SPIN reports: Back in September, Wixen objected to a $43 million settlement Spotify had arranged over another class action lawsuit brought by David Lowery (of Cracker and Camper van Beethoven) and Melissa Ferrick, stating it was "procedurally and substantively unfair to Settlement Class Members because it prevents meaningful participation by rights holders and offers them an unfair dollar amount in light of Spotify's ongoing, willful copyright infringement of their works." A judge has yet to rule on that settlement, and in the meantime, Wixen has moved to file its own lawsuit, which purports "as much as 21 percent of the 30 million songs on Spotify are unlicensed," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"Spotify brazenly disregards United States Copyright law and has committed willful, ongoing copyright infringement," the complaint reads. "Wixen notified Spotify that it had neither obtained a direct or compulsory mechanical license for the use of the Works. For these reasons and the foregoing, Wixen is entitled to the maximum statutory relief."

United States

2018 Is the Last Year of America's Public Domain Drought (vice.com) 275

An anonymous reader shares a report: Happy Public Domain Day, every-some of you! In New Zealand and Canada, published works by artists who died in 1967 -- Rene Magritte, Dorothy Parker, John Coltrane, and many others -- have entered the public domain; Kiwis and Canadians can now freely distribute, perform, and remix a wealth of painting, writing, and music. In Europe, work published by artists who died in 1947 are now public domain. In the United States, well, we get nothing for the 20th year in a row, with one more to go. Our public domain drought is nearly old enough to drink. American copyrights now stretch for 95 years. Since 1998, we've been frozen with a public domain that only applies to works from before 1923 (and government works). Jennifer Jenkins is a clinical professor of law at Duke Law School, which hosts the Center for the Study of the Public Domain. In an email she explained what changed and why nothing has entered American public domain for two decades. "Until 1978, the maximum copyright term was 56 years from the date of publication -- an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years," she wrote. "In 1998, Congress added 20 years to the copyright term, extending it to the author's lifetime plus 70 years, or 95 years after publication for corporate 'works made for hire.'"
United States

Can the FCC's 'Net Neutrality' Decision Be Overturned in Congress? (newsweek.com) 186

"Cancel the funeral and get ready to fight: Net neutrality is far from dead," argues Evan Greer, the campaign director for the pro-net neutrality group Fight for the Future in Newsweek: Our elected officials in Congress have the power to reverse what is swiftly becoming one of the U.S. government's most unpopular decisions ever. And if they don't, they'll pay for it come election season... 26 senators have already signed on to a Resolution of Disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a vehicle to overturn the FCC's net neutrality repeal with a simple majority vote in both the Senate and House. [UPDATE: 28 Senators have now co-sponsored the resolution]. It's not going to be easy, but it's increasingly within reach with Democrats in lock step against the FCC rollback and half a dozen Republicans already publicly criticizing the move.

Outside of Washington, DC, net neutrality is not a partisan issue. Voters from across the political spectrum overwhelmingly agree that they don't want their cable companies controlling where they get news, how they stream music and videos, or which apps they use to pay for things, get directions, or communicate with friends and family. Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T poured money into misleading advertisements, ghost written op-eds, and astroturf campaigns, to fool customers into thinking that they would voluntarily abide by the principles of net neutrality... But after all of that, they've completely failed to build any real grassroots support for their attack on net neutrality, from the left or the right. And every member of Congress knows that. 75 percent of Republican voters support the net neutrality protections the FCC just slashed... No matter how hard they try, telecom lobbyists will just never convince a meaningful number of Republican voters that killing net neutrality, and ending the internet as a free market of ideas, is a good thing. And that's what gives us a unique chance to get our normally gridlocked Congress to take action and overrule the FCC's politically toxic order.

Lawmakers in every state have been getting hammered for months with millions of phone calls, emails, protests, constituent meetings, media requests, and pressure from small businesses at volumes that just never happen. Net neutrality is becoming one of the most talked about political issues in recent human history... The FCC did something that a supermajority of people in this country oppose. Our elected officials have to decide whether to rubber stamp that betrayal or overturn it. The internet makes the impossible possible. If we harness our anger and direct it strategically, we can get the votes we need to restore the net neutrality protections that should never have been taken away in the first place. Any lawmaker who refuses to listen to their constituents will have to go on the record right before an election as having voted against the free and open web. They would be wise not to underestimate the internet's power to hold them accountable.

Businesses

Amazon Music Ending Cloud MP3 Storage, Streaming Option (billboard.com) 107

Amazon is planning to retire its Music storage subscription service, the plan that enabled Amazon customers to upload their own music to the company's servers. From a report: Amazon Music Storage subscription plans, which let users upload music from their Mac or PC and stream them alongside the in-app on-demand and radio options, will be accepted until Jan. 15, 2018. Then, the service will run until January 2019, when it will be removed entirely. As of Monday this week, free plans -- which allow for 250 songs to be stored in the cloud -- are no longer able to upload new music to their MP3 locker.
Music

PSA: Spotify Now Available As a Snap For Linux (betanews.com) 66

BrianFagioli shares a report from BetaNews: Speaking of Spotify, the most popular streaming music service in the world has long supported Linux-based operating systems. Installing the official app was not an easy affair, however. Today this changes, as installation gets much simpler. You see, Spotify is now officially available as a Snap for easy installation on any Snap-supporting operating systems such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint. Canonical, the creator of both Ubuntu and Snaps, explains, "Snaps are containerized software packages designed to work perfectly and securely in any Linux environment. As well as supporting all major Linux systems from a single build, snaps can be also updated or rolled back automatically to ensure that users are always benefiting from the latest version of the application. Since their launch last year, close to 2,500 snaps have been released by developers as they adopt the format for its reliability and security."

Jamie Bennett, VP of Engineering, Devices & IoT, Canonical says, "In launching their own snap, Spotify has ensured that their users in the Linux ecosystem are now able to enjoy the latest version of their leading music streaming application as soon as it's released regardless of which distribution they are using. We're glad to welcome Spotify to the snaps ecosystem and look forward to unveiling more leading snaps in 2018."

Music

Plexamp, Plex's Spin on the Classic Winamp Player, Is the First Project From New Incubator Plex Labs (techcrunch.com) 209

Media software maker Plex today announced a new incubator and community resource called Plex Labs. "The idea here is to help the company's internal passion projects gain exposure, along with those from Plex community members," reports TechCrunch. "Plex Labs is also unveiling its first product: a music player called Plexamp," which is designed to replace the long-lost Winamp. From the report: The player was built by several Plex employees in their free time, and is meant for those who use Plex for music. As the company explains in its announcement, the goal was to build a small player that sits unobtrusively on the desktop and can handle any music format. The team limited itself to a single window, making Plexamp the smaller Plex player to date, in terms of pixel size. Under the hood, Plexamp uses the open source audio player Music Player Daemon (MPD), along with a combination of ES7, Electron, React, and MobX technologies. The end result is a player that runs on either macOS or Windows and works like a native app. That is, you can use media keys for skipping tracks or playing and pausing music, and receive notifications. The player can also handle any music format, and can play music offline when the Plex server runs on your laptop.

The player also supports gapless playback, soft transitions and visualizations to accompany your music. Plus, the visualizations' palette of colors is pulled from the album art, Plex notes. Additionally, Plexamp makes use of a few up-and-coming features that will be included in Plex's subscription, Plex Pass, in the future. These new features are powering functionality like loudness leveling (to normalize playback volume), smart transitions (to compute the optimal overlap times between tracks), soundprints (to represent tracks visually), waveform seeking (to present a graphical view of tracks), Library stations, and artist radio.

Google

Google Reveals the Most-Trending Searches of 2017 (google.com) 49

"Google's annual list of the most popular searches is here, offering a peek into what people are really thinking about," writes CNN. An anonymous reader quotes their report: This year, you wanted to know more about one of the most powerful storms on record, the devastating Hurricane Irma. But you were also curious about [hip hop artist] Cardi B. and Unicorn Frappuccinos... Like 2017 itself, this year's top searches skew a little darker than usual, but are punctuated with some whimsy and positive moments. The top trending searches in the U.S. were Irma, Matt Lauer, Tom Petty, the Super Bowl and the Las Vegas shooting.

To determine the most popular trending searches, Google looked at its trillions of queries, filtered out spam and repeats, and identified searches that had the highest uptick in traffic compared with the previous year. It breaks them into categories like news, memes, and recipes (beef stroganoff was a hit).

Surprisingly there were more searches for 'iPhone 8" than for 'iPhone X," though those were the top two most-searched consumer technology products. (Followed by Nintendo Switch, Samsung Galaxy S8, and Xbox One X.) Other top searches this year included "What is net neutrality?" as well as questions about what bitcoin is, how to buy it, and the latest bitcoin prices. And one of the 10 most-searched phrases of the year was "fidget spinner."

Google uploaded an inspiring video to YouTube stating "This year more than ever we asked how." To dramatic music, the examples it gives include "How to calm a dog during a storm," "How to help Puerto Rico," "How to make a protest sign" -- and "How to move forward."
Science

The Environmental Cost of Internet Porn (theatlantic.com) 302

An anonymous reader shares a report (condensed for space): Online streaming is a win for the environment. Streaming music eliminates all that physical material -- CDs, jewel cases, cellophane, shipping boxes, fuel -- and can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 40 percent or more. Scientists who analyze the environmental impact of the internet tout the benefits of this "dematerialization," observing that energy use and carbon-dioxide emissions will drop as media increasingly can be delivered over the internet. But this theory might have a major exception: porn. Since the turn of the century, the pornography industry has experienced two intense hikes in popularity. In the early 2000s, broadband enabled higher download speeds. Then, in 2008, the advent of so-called tube sites allowed users to watch clips for free, like people watch videos on YouTube. Adam Grayson, the chief financial officer of the adult company Evil Angel, calls the latter hike "the great mushroom-cloud porn explosion of 2008." Precise numbers don't exist to quantify specifics, but the impression across the industry is that viewership is way, way up. Pornhub, the world's most popular porn site, provides some of the only accessible data on its yearly web-traffic report. The first Year In Review post in 2013 tabulated that 14.7 billion people visited the site. By 2016, the number of visitors had almost doubled, to 23 billion, and those visitors watched more than 4.59 billion hours of porn. And Pornhub is just one site. Using a formula that Netflix published on its blog in 2015, Nathan Ensmenger, a professor at Indiana University who is writing a book about the environmental history of the computer, calculates that if Pornhub streams video as efficiently as Netflix (0.0013 kWh per streaming hour), it used 5.967 million kWh in 2016. For comparison, that's about the same amount of energy 11,000 light bulbs would use if left on for a year. And operating with Netflix's efficiency would be a best-case scenario for the porn site, Ensmenger believes.
Music

Apple Buys Shazam To Boost Apple Music (bloomberg.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple agreed to acquire music-identification service Shazam, taking ownership of one of the first apps to demonstrate the power of the iPhone, recognizing songs after hearing just a few bars of a tune. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but a person familiar with the situation said Apple is paying about $400 million for the U.K.-based startup. That would be one of Apple's largest acquisitions ever, approaching the size of its 1996 purchase of Next Computer Inc. which brought co-founder Steve Jobs back to the company. That transaction would be worth more than $600 million in today's dollars. The Shazam app uses the microphone on a smartphone or computer to identify almost any song playing nearby, then points users to places they can listen to it in future, such as Apple Music or Google's YouTube.

"Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users," Apple said in an emailed statement on Monday. "We have exciting plans in store, and we look forward to combining with Shazam upon approval of today's agreement. Since the launch of the App Store, Shazam has consistently ranked as one of the most popular apps for iOS," Apple also said. "Today, it's used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, across multiple platforms." The acquisition would help Apple embed that capability more deeply into its music offerings. The company's digital assistant Siri gained Shazam integration in 2014, so users could ask it what song is playing in the background.

Music

Apple Is Reportedly Buying Shazam For Nearly Half a Billion Dollars (phonedog.com) 60

Apple is close to acquiring Shazam, one of the most recognized services for music recognition. While the exact amount is unknown, the service may be purchased by Apple for around $400 million. PhoneDog reports: Apple is close to acquiring Shazam, say sources speaking to TechCrunch. The deal will reportedly be signed this week and could be announced as early as next Monday. A report from Recode echoes the news of Apple acquiring Shazam, adding that Shazam will likely be valued at around $400 million. Apple -- and other companies -- already offer a music recognition service, but Apple must see something in Shazam's services that it thinks can help improve its own music recognition if it's going to drop nearly half a billion dollars on this deal. Shazam is able to identify TV shows, films, and advertisements in addition to music, so perhaps Apple sees some benefit to these abilities, too.

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