Pandora Starts Charging For Music But I Don’t Mind


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Pandora.com, for those unaware, is a site that allows you to listen to the music you like while suggesting new music. The only downside is that I had to go out and buy a bunch of new music I ended up liking. They even have an iPhone app, so I can listen in the car and jack it right into my auxiliary input. It’s a great service and it’s free (mostly) until now.

pandora charges for music

Thanks to some new(ish) royalties legal magic, they’ve had to dance around with Capitol Hill to find a decent solution that involves money exchanging hands for this copyrighted material. To summarize the email below, you can either pay for the $36/yr premium (ad-free, high-quality) service or pay about a buck if you listen to more than 40 hours in a month. Really? Seriously? That’s not bad. I’m fine with paying the $0.99 for being a power listener. Are you?

Hi, it’s Tim –

I hope this email finds you enjoying a great summer Pandora soundtrack.

I’m writing with some important news. Please forgive the lengthy email; it requires some explaining.

First, I want to let you know that we’ve reached a resolution to the calamitous Internet radio royalty ruling of 2007. After more than two precarious years, we are finally on safe ground with a long-term agreement for survivable royalty rates – thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our listeners who voiced an absolute avalanche of support for us on Capitol Hill. We are deeply thankful.

While we did the best we could to lower the rates, we are going to have to make an adjustment that will affect about 10% of our users who are our heaviest listeners. Specifically, we are going to begin limiting listening to 40 hours per month on the web. Because we have to pay royalty fees per song and per listener, it makes very heavy listeners hard to support on advertising alone. Most listeners will never hit this cap, but it seems that you might.

We hate the idea of capping anyone’s usage, so we’ve been working to devise an alternative for listeners like you. We’ve come up with two solutions and we hope that one of them will work for you:

* Your first option is to continue listening just as you have been and, if and when you reach the 40 hour limit in a given month, to pay just $0.99 for unlimited listening for the rest of that month. This isn’t a subscription. You can pay by credit card and your card will be charged for just that one month. You’ll be able to keep listening as much as you’d like for the remainder of the month. We hope this is relatively painless and affordable – the same price as a single song download.

* Your second option is to upgrade to our premium version called Pandora One. Pandora One costs $36 per year. In addition to unlimited monthly listening and no advertising, Pandora One offers very high quality 192 Kbps streams, an elegant desktop application that eliminates the need for a browser, personalized skins for the Pandora player, and a number of other features: http://www.pandora.com/pandora_one.

If neither of these options works for you, I hope you’ll keep listening to the free version – 40 hours each month will go a long way, especially if you’re really careful about hitting pause when you’re not listening. We’ll be sure to let you know if you start getting close to the limit, and we’ve created a counter you can access to see how many hours you’ve already used each month.

We’ll be implementing this change starting this month (July), I’d welcome your feedback and suggestions. The combination of our usage patterns and the “per song per listener” royalty cost creates a financial reality that we can’t ignore…but we very much want you to continue listening for years to come.

Please don’t hesitate to email me back with your thoughts.

Sincerely,
Tim
Founder

Sansa Fuze Is Almost The iPod Nano Killer


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As much as I love my technology, my wife is pickier about hers. I just love trying new gadgets, but she wants to buy a gadget once and she wants it to work perfectly, or I’ll hear about it. She has an iPod Nano that I gave her for Christmas in 2005. It’s engraved and it has a special place in her heart, but now she has a new portable music player. SanDisk sent a new Sansa Fuze my way and I had it long enough to get some photos and some first impressions before she snatched it away from me, claiming it as a wifely benefit. Of course, she then asked politely if she could have it, but I knew how much she wanted it, so now it’s hers. Before I let her keep it, though, I took it back long enough to play around and regret giving it up.

Sansa Fuze 8GB Review

The hardware
In my Sansa slotMusic Player review a few weeks ago, I noted that I was pleasantly surprised with the hardware. This time, I expected to like the hardware, and I did like it. The physical controls felt very familiar, having used an iPod Nano for so long, and the home button on the front is nice to have, too. Many of the phones I review have it and I think any product that lets you navigate more than a couple steps away from the home screen should have a home button. The right side just has a power/hold switch and the left has a slot to insert a microSD card for additional storage. The player I received came with 8GB internal storage, but they included an 8GB card to drive home the power of additional storage via microSD. Just in case you’re not sure what I mean, my wife’s whole music collection fits on the nearly 16GB usable storage space. Better still, we can buy a new 16GB or 32GB card in the future as the need surfaces. While they offer 2GB and 4GB models of the Fuze at lower prices, it just makes sense to buy the 8GB as more and more of our media is stored and carried digitally.

Sansa Fuze 8GB Review Sansa Fuze 8GB Review
Sansa Fuze 8GB Review Sansa Fuze 8GB Review
Sansa Fuze 8GB Review Sansa Fuze 8GB Review

The bottom of the Fuze has the docking/charging connection and a standard headphones jack. A charging/syncing cable and a pair of decent headphones were included, along with a soft carrying pouch. The color screen is 1.9″ which isn’t very big for playing videos, but it’s pretty decent for everything else. The bonus feature I got excited about was the FM tuner. So many players pack in features for digital music and forget the FM tuner. This wasn’t a big deal until I showed up at my local gym and couldn’t watch the news while I worked out because I didn’t own a portable FM radio with headphones. Seeing this function on the Fuze was refreshing. The Fuze is available in blue, red, pink, black or silver, but I only got one of them, so you’ll have to hit the site to see it in the other colors. The battery is said to give you about 24 hours of music or 5 of video, though I haven’t fully tested the battery life yet. Finally, the Fuze has a microphone for the built-in voice recorder software.

Using the Fuze
The first thing I tried to do was copy movies, pictures and music to the Fuze to jump in and start playing with it. Much of it didn’t work, complaining that I needed to use the provided Rhapsody software to transfer content to the device. This was a disappointment to me because I like to be free from the ties of additional software. If you don’t mind installing more software, the Rhapsody software can help you manage everything, but it would be nice to have the option. The package included $50 worth of music from Rhapsody, but that’s only if you sign up with a credit card. I was generally disappointed with the Fuze’s ability to easily bring in my existing music. As I said, though, this was mostly because I have to be tied to software I don’t think I need. That has always been by big complaint about the iPods and the same holds true here, it seems.

Sansa Fuze 8GB ReviewThe software on the player, itself, is a pleasantly different story. Navigating to and through the various menus and options was as simple as a flick of my thumb on the navigation wheel. The user interface doesn’t offer anything too crazy or overcomplicated. It’s just simple and gets you where you’re looking to go. Selecting media is a familiar experience in that I was able to drill down by artist, album, etc. The FM tuner has another nice surprise, too. I can record radio with it! The critical missing feature, in my opinion, from radio is the ability to pause and rewind like I can on my TV system. The ability to record radio and play it back on my music player is a nice feature and a step closer to perfect.

Can it kill the Nano?
Apple has a good grip on the industry, but wherever there is an industry leader, there’s an invitation to try and unseat them. I’ve seen a lot of companies try and some have made good products, but many just didn’t bring anything new to the table. The Sansa Fuze offers three things many players don’t. It offers voice recording, expandable storage via the increasingly popular microSD format, and FM radio with 40 presets. It’s nice to see a player on the market that could make the Nano sweat a little for under $100.

Harnessing the Twitter API for an Online Radio Station


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Some of you already know about things I do aside from this blog, and one of those things is a radio station I run called GotBlack Radio. The station plays gothic, industrial and electronic music and is mostly automated. I won’t get into all the details here, but the station is essentially just an ever-changing one-song playlist that is randomly re-generated via a PHP script that grabs a random track. I had a colleague modify an existing flash music player to my tastes and built the rest on my own.

Previously, I had gone with a couple different community-based platforms, but they either wanted to run ads or I had to run the station from a PC in my house or they just didn’t offer the level of control I wanted. Because of this series of cons I experiences, I decided to build my own radio platform, as simple as it is, giving me all the control and making it easy for me to add any feature I wanted. The best examples of this new-feature control have come recently in integrating the station with Twitter.

Why I integrated with Twitter
Some people still don’t know what Twitter is, and that’s understandable because people seem to have a hard time trying to explain it. Technically, it’s a micro-blogging platform. What that means is that a user writes just a snippet rather than a whole post like this. It’s like telling a whole bunch of people all at once what’s going on in one or two sentences. This seemed to me like the perfect place to let existing listeners know about radio updates while letting new people know about the station.

A little birdie told me
Every five minutes or so, GB Radio plays another track. While people could always sit and listen 24 hours a day to know what’s playing, most people don’t have the time. I took a little of the code I use in TwitterTech.com and plugged it into the custom PHP radio server code and in about 15 minutes, @gbradio was serving up updates on what was playing live. Now, instead of having to visit the site to see what’s playing, anyone on Twitter can simply follow the station for live updates.

Tweeting radio tracks

More than 40,000 updates later, it’s still running on its own without me having to even check up on it. Sadly, I hadn’t even logged into the Twitter account in months or told many people about it, but the account seems to be working for me. The updates have created searchable content for Twitter. This means that when someone searches for an artist’s name or a song title on Twitter and it’s an artist or track that I have in the music database, there’s a decent chance that person will come across a tweet from gbradio, finding a new station to listen to.

Tweet your request and hear it played
Sometimes you want to hear a particular piece of music and you just don’t want to wait. Before, I didn’t really have a request system in place because I just haven’t built the whole web interface for requests. Luckily, the Twitter API is dead simple, so I slapped together a request system in about 15 minutes and after another half hour of debugging (oops!), the request system was live.

Twitter radio request

The station doesn’t have a ton of followers yet, but as more and more join, it becomes clear that not only will my listeners benefit from the added functionality, but so will my follower (and listener) numbers.

Will code for followers
What happens when you add useful functionality to the web? Sometimes people notice and you reap the rewards. While my gbradio Twitter account isn’t exactly swimming in followers, it’s clear that the live updates are helping get it there.

Twitter stats for gbradio

Just to put things in perspective, when I created the account, I searched for and followed maybe 100 people who showed some interest in the music that’s played on the station. Like I noted above, though, I hadn’t even logged into the account in months. Looking at the graph above tells me that followers didn’t come in when I went looking for them, but with the new functionality, they’re just coming in on their own.

What’s next?
If you want to succeed at something you need to not only recognize your failures, but you must also pay attention to what works. What works here is programming to the wants and needs of the people who listen to the station and are also on Twitter. I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I’m open to ideas, especially since the API makes everything so terribly easy.