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Friday, November 13, 2015

Moment of Truth: 8 Thoughts After SF MusicTech

Posted By on Fri, Nov 13, 2015 at 2:35 PM


Moment of Truth is SF Weekly's Hip-Hop column, appearing every week on All Shook Down. 

SF MusicTech descended upon the Kabuki Hotel in Japantown for its 18th Summit this past Tuesday. This was an opportunity to get a snapshot of the crossroads between tech innovation and musical creativity in our unique Bay Area climate. On the surface, SF MusicTech wasn't much different from other tech conferences, pinning together like minds to foster business connections and deal-making. But it was unique at its core, in that it put the music industry at the center of every single discussion. 

I largely looked at the day from my hip-hop lens, but often stepped outside of that to fully appreciate what went down across the board. With that, here's some highlights:

A disconnect exists between tech companies and artists

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Startup MAGNIFI Uses Streaming Music to Pair Touring Acts With Fans

Posted By on Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 12:51 PM

Wayne Skeen (Founder, on the left) and Toby Gabriner (CEO, on the right). - JAY BLAKESBERG
  • Jay Blakesberg
  • Wayne Skeen (Founder, on the left) and Toby Gabriner (CEO, on the right).

is a venture-backed, Bay Area-based music streaming startup that grew out of local indie music label Ninth Street Opus. It focuses on connecting touring acts with fans in various local scenes by allowing fans to stream tracks (for free) by bands coming to town soon. So if you’re looking for a show you can just hop on MAGNIFI, peep some tracks, and then (if you dig the tunes) click a few buttons and you’ll have tickets to see the band live.

We sat down with MAGNIFI CEO Toby Gabriner, who previously CEO’ed (a video technology company acquired by AOL in Sept. 2013 for $465 million) to talk about the launch of the latest dog to enter the music streaming fight.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lil B Talks Apps, Technologization, and Insects

Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2015 at 3:52 PM

Lil B, aka The Based God, recently released his latest app: the TYBG Meme Creator. The new app lets devoted followers of Lil B easily create Based God-approved memes (without any of those annoying tags) to share with their friends.

This isn’t The Based God’s first foray into the tech world – he’s released emoji and vegan food apps in the past – but this new meme creator is perhaps the best (and most fitting) app from the enigmatic Bay Area rapper so far.

One review of the app reads as follows:

"Before lil b blessed us with this ultra-rare meme creator I felt like life had no meaning. I went though the day dreaming about based god memes, but I never got to make them. But now I can make them anytime I want! It is hard for me to articulate how incredible this app truly is. I hope every one in the world is able to get this app. TYBG. PROTECT LIL B AT ALL COSTS."

We used the app as an excuse to speak with The Based God himself about his new app, technologization, and the earth.

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Grateful Dead Original Members Hype Overpriced Pay-Per-View of 'Fare Thee Well' Concerts

Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2015 at 2:28 PM

Never let subtlety get in the way of a good press release. Much like the Grateful Dead's interminable shows, a release sent out yesterday about the band's "farewell" concerts in Chicago (and now also Santa Clara) is overblown hyperbole, to put it mildly. The release goes so far as to suggest those shows will be the biggest concert event "of all time."

Maybe the most costly concert event...

The surviving members announced in the notice — which repeatedly refers to the band as "Grateful Dead Original Members" — that the shows will be broadcast live via Pay-Per-View on cable, satellite, and online streaming devices. It'll also be in movie theaters around the country.

Yup, pretty much anything that has a screen on it can transport you to the last Grateful Dead Original Members concerts, which take place nearly 20 years after the Dead last performed with Jerry Garcia, the band's late lead guitarist, singer, and songwriter.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Sound Advice for a New Gear Year

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 11:56 AM

  • © 2004 by Tomasz Sienicki (Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons)
So, you exited Christmas flush with gift cards and $12 checks from grandma. You poured over all the “Best of 2014” lists and hit up iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc., to cherry-pick albums you missed. As one of your New Year's Resolutions you rededicated yourself to discovering fresh favorites, so consider extending that from downloads to upgrades. In January, as gear announcements flooded social media during the Consumer Electronics Show and National Association of Music Merchants trade show, it wasn’t hard to realize that new music could use some extra get up and go while on the move.

Now it’s a few months later, a lot of the previewed gear has hit the market, a lot of future classic albums have been released and it’s a great time to invest in some full-bodied, full-featured audio accessories. To make sure you’re ready for every surprise midnight iTunes drop and that those playlists never start sounding stale, I’m going to offer up some hardware suggestions for the year(s) to come.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to tell you about personal monitoring devices that can maximize playback, starting with headphones with noise reduction and military-grade specs, in-ear monitors with pioneering crossovers and innovative drivers, plus much more. Before long we’ll get to digital audio converters, Bluetooth speakers, wireless headphones, and that's just the beginning. But before I start running down contenders for your new favorite ’phones I want you to chew on one fact: Dr. Dre was the highest paid “musician” of 2014 according to Forbes magazine, which reports he earned over $620 million before taxes without releasing one song or playing a single show.

The Reason: Beats by Dre headphones (as well as the brand’s speakers and streaming service), and the sale of the company to Apple for $3.2 billion. Say what you want about the exaggerated bass and artificial response of Beats (and over the past few years I have said plenty of negative things), but the demand for its products has cemented higher-priced headphones as far more than the niche hobbyist market it once was.

Banking on a potential sea change as headphones became a $1 billion-a-year market, the Consumer Electronics Association declared 2014 the first year high-resolution audio existed as an officially designated market segment, with “HRA” branded components debuting.

Neil Young pushed for high-resolution audio with his Kickstarter-funded PonoPlayer/PonoMusic ecosystem, finally launching the the high-fidelity music store alongside the 2015 
Consumer Electronics Show (the $399 hardware followed a week later). People are already decrying PonoMusic’s prices, though they are in sync with other similar services. In the recent past the TIDAL subscription service also went live to woo Spotify users away with “lossless,” CD-quality streaming (albeit for twice as much a month as competitors). It held so much potential that none other than Jay-Z purchased the company for over $56 million and has struck a deal with T-Mobile to allow the carrier's Music Freedom plan customers to stream its catalog (including anti-Spotify Taylor Swift) without taking a data hit.

Selections from Pono, TIDAL, HDtracks, etc., definitively provide more rich harmonics and nimble transients. They deliver less tizzy snares and other distracting compression artifacts than the more popular, lossy platforms. You might not think the surcharge for higher bitrates is worth it, and that’s okay; some people think cucumbers taste better pickled.

I’m a believer in high fidelity, but when a company like Sony previews its latest digital Walkman, the ZX2, I see the $1,200 price tag and I recognize they’re feeding the niche not nurturing the market. Luckily, you can get improved sound without such premium prices. Even MP3 can sound better when you optimize your signal chain! So, with CES and NAMM reports and that future of audio talk behind us, let’s look at some sound investments for your listening pleasure.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Now You Can Listen To Spotify in Your Uber While Both Companies Track Your Every Move You Catch a Ride

Posted By on Tue, Nov 18, 2014 at 1:19 PM

  • Spotify
In what we're guessing Uber executives hoped would be big news about the company yesterday — in a week when some at the S.F.-based rideshare company are making the media's job easier by seemingly writing damning stories about their culture of misogyny and lack of regard for users' privacy for us — Uber has announced a new partnership with Spotify. Starting Nov. 21, premium users of the music-streaming service (those who pay $10 a month for it) will be able to sync their music libraries to their Uber accounts.

What does this mean? For one, you never again have to be away from your carefully curated Internet-based music collection (as long as it doesn't include Taylor Swift). That "pre-game" playlist you were listening to while doing Jello-O shots with your girls and getting ready at home? Keep Miley and Rihanna going while you head to the party. Getting a ride from the airport to your parents' house after you arrive for the holidays, but worried that whatever radio station the driver's playing won't sufficiently set the tone for the familial angst and buried secrets that come with returning to your hometown? Cue up that "looking morosely out the window" Elliott Smith/Modest Mouse/Okkervil River mix you've so painstakingly crafted. You can pretend you're in a Zach Braff movie!

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SF MusicTech: Dead Kennedys' East Bay Ray Lashes Out at Internet "Pimps"

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2013 at 4:00 AM

East Bay Ray
  • East Bay Ray

The always-tense discussion of how musicians make money -- and ought to make money -- in the era of YouTube, streaming services, and easy piracy turned into a fiery debate between a diehard punk rocker and a major rock band manager at the SF Music Tech Summit yesterday.

In a packed mid-morning conference room at the Kabuki Hotel, Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray insisted that "society needs to demand" an end to rogue piracy sites, and punish Google and other advertising networks that do business with them. Ray, whose real name is Raymond John Pepperell, held up a screenshot from the site showing links to free downloads of the Bay Area punk icons' music and, next to them, ads for companies like Alaska Airlines and 1-800 Flowers.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Napster-Hating Metallica Comes to Jesus, Er, Spotify

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 9:43 AM

Ulrich and Parker hugging, now that they can make money together. - VIA MAGER/INSTAGRAM
  • via Mager/Instagram
  • Ulrich and Parker hugging, now that they can make money together.

Nearly 13 years after suing Napster, the filesharing site that started it all, the grouchy old men of Metallica have had a come-to-Jesus of sorts with the power of the Interwebz: Today, drummer Lars Ulrich announced that Metallica's music will be coming to Spotify.

He even gave Napster co-founder and Spotify investor Sean Parker a hug. Onstage. In public.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Say No To Beats By Dre: Better Headphones For Your Holiday Giving (and Getting)

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 10:44 AM

Beats By Dre: The NASCAR of headphones.
  • Beats By Dre: The NASCAR of headphones.

The holiday shopping season has a long history with the audio-video sector, but mostly as a time to shave a few dollars off second-tier home theater equipment. There remain plenty of opportunities to trample someone for a $25 Blu-ray player, but looking through this year's Black Friday circulars and Cyber Monday email blasts revealed a new lure being dangled prominently: Beats By Dr. Dre headphones.

Let's give credit where credit is due: There likely wouldn't be as many consumer-friendly headphone options these days without Beats. Previously, headphones occupied a much smaller, older-skewing market of enthusiasts. Then came the iDevice revolution, and, in its wake, Beats, which offered a glossy fashion accessory that put style back in compressed audio. Hip-hop icons, video vixens and extreme athletes -- and therefore younger demographics -- adopted them without hesitation. And in the period leading up to Christmas, various retailers are promoting and even discounting Beats.

But before pulling the trigger, consider that this isn't a case of more for less; it's definitely less for more. Beats By Dr. Dre are the NASCAR of headphones. And not just because of their garish colors and exaggerated branding. Beats are all about rumble: Eventually you'll come to realize that, despite the excitement, constantly turning left can only get you so far.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

OMGig Lets You See the Concert as Ruined By Smartphone Videographers

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 8:30 AM


Here's something we can get behind: A cheeky new site that lets those who shoot endless smartphone video at concerts see just how thoroughly they're ruining them for themselves and everyone else.

Called OMGig, the minisite lets you turn any live YouTube clip into a chiding demonstration of the idiocy of shooting smartphone video at concerts. It's simple: Pick a video on YouTube and replace the "" part of the URL with "" Then you'll see two hands holding up a white iPhone while the tiny video plays inside. Behind the phone you'll see a blurry full-sized video of the show -- mostly obscured by the phone and the hands, just like at a real concert.

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  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"