Talk About, Slot Music, Talk About

, posted: 23-Sep-2008 17:26

New York, Paris, London, Munich

Everyone’s talking about, Slot Music.

At least, it finally hit the NZ Herald today . Beaten by downloads affecting retail store sales, major record companies inlcuindg  Sony BMG, Warner and EMI have decided to make their music more accessible by putting it on 1GB Micro SD Cards.

They plan to still put them into CD cases and say that with the extra space, they can include the liner, liner notes and other information. They will be DRM free and you can even play your music on your computer by using the Micro SD Card with a dongle. The music will be in MP3 format at 320kbps they say on the info site, which they say is very high quality music. Really?

The say that hundreds of millions of phones, Personal Computers and in the future lots of car entertainment sytsms will be able to listen to this music.

Well hello! Do you think we consumers are thick? Let’s go back to the future and do a different thing in the same way and charge a premieum for convenience.

So here’s the thing. Back in the day we had audio casettes and vinyl. Audio casettes were cheap because they weren’t going to last long, especially on cheap walkman units that stretched the tape if they got dropped, got hot or for lots of other reasons. Vinyl was great, you got big liner art and photos, quite often big inserts with lyrics, interviews and more photos.

Then came the CD, which they said had far greater sound and extra space to put more information on. In the future, they said, they could include music videos, interviews, games, photos and much more. Of course we had to pay more for this amazing technology but it was going to be worth it. In many cases the quality was superior, even the nice ambience of the needle was no longer there.

But the extras? Well they are the exception rather than the rule. In most cases we got less liner information, because of the size. Inserts happened sometimes but not very often and the additional material? Sometimes there was a hidden track, that was fun. Occassionally someone would add a music video and a few like BB King, put out a CD ROM with interviews, games and lots more. I still have mine, it was cool. Of course I don’t play it any more, but I felt I got my money’s worth and was chuffed that an old timer like The King could do something so modern.

So here’s my take on this. I have large quantities of CD’s and DVD’s pressed, not of my music unfortunately, but for car navigation. I also have large quantities of SD Cards duplicated, also for car navigation. Firstly, even at volume pricing SD Cards are much more expensive than CD’s or DVD’s.

Universal Music is going to release about 30 ‘Slots’ to start with, from their eLabs Digital Music Unit. Sounds more like a test to me, but anyway, I do applaud them for trying new technology. I think it’s a good idea to try new technology, given that CD’s are losing ground rapidly to downloads.

Will they add extra information to the SD Cards? Maybe for some of those first 30, but then it wil be the same old story, new media for a premium price (for the convenience) and nothing more. If they had listened to people like me 10 years ago (Netguide wouldn’t publish my opinion), they could have reinvented a format giving loads of extra value, far more than people could afford to download and created a whole new generation of fans and collectors. But no, they just wanted to increase cash flow and profit. After all, they knew far better than we consumers, what was good for us.

In my humble opinion, they created the monster we have today where people download and share music for free. And it is a monster friends, because what is happening is people are downloading music for free and the poor songwriters and performers are getting ripped off.  Sure there are big bands making truckloads of money for themselves and their promotors, but they are the minority. Most of the people in your favorite bands have to work a day job in order to be able to write and perform music at night. This might not be the case if they got fair remuneration for their work.

I ask you this. Do you work for free? Do you expect to go to work and build widgets or whatever you do and expect other people to reproduce them for peanuts and give them to your mates? Will you accept a 90% reduction in your income because people have found a way to clone your products? I didn’t think so.

Anyway, after that minor digression, this is a storm in a slot. Sure they will make some of these. Then they will cry foul when people copy them (if they can be bothered). They will weep when these cards don’t get sold, except on eBay, Craig’s List or Trade Me after people have copied the music onto their computers and shared them with their mates.

I love new technology, but when I can go to iTunes and for a couple of dollars, buy the only song as a track that I like (because I am happy for the band to make some money from it), why would I buy a little SD Card that I will probably lose.

In my humble opinion, the music industry got this one wrong. Can they redeem it? Only if they figure a way to genuinely add value. They want to offer the music on iGB SD Cards. (Interesting that I struggle to even buy 1GB SD Cards anymore.) Why not do something smart and offer us real value. Do what you should have done years ago and you might find a couple of years of legs in this yet. Use 4GB cards. Load it with the music, the live performance video, the interviews, the music video, lyric sheets (the mechanical rights people can still get a share) and a personal spoken message from the band or artist. You could sell that for a premium and create collectors items that people will want to keep.

Of course when real broadband arrives, people are no longer going to buy music in hard copy. I’m sorry but they won’t. Why would you. The other day I sat down in front of YouTube an had a great afternoon watching videos and listening to music of my favourite bands of the past and the present. All it cost me was a bit of internet access (and I do have ADSL 2 from Orcon so speed wasn’t an issue.

I think the future will be:

New York, Paris, London, Munich, Nobody’s talking about Slot Music.

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Comment by grant_k, on 23-Sep-2008 22:23

I couldn't agree more with your sentiments Luigi.

When I saw the article in the Herald about the Slot format, my first thought was that the Music Industry Executives who conceived this idea have rocks in their heads.

Why ever would people want to buy their music on a physical device when they will probably download the contents onto their PC or iPod anyway?

The touted "very high quality" 320kbps is only slightly more than the 256kbps commonly available from legal (and other) music download sites. 

People would be hard-pressed to tell the difference, so where is the added value, unless as you say, they include extra goodies such as videos, etc.  Then again, you can already get those on YouTube so to my mind, this is a product looking for a market.

Comment by Bobbo, on 10-Feb-2009 09:55

Another waste, but the exec who pushed it will get his short term bonus and leave, off to destroy another company.

And by the way, bands get less than a penny for most cd sales. their money comes from shows, so there is a conflict with having live shows no a cd.

Comment by Bobbo, on 10-Feb-2009 10:44

Another waste, but the exec who pushed it will get his short term bonus and leave, off to destroy another company.

And by the way, bands get less than a penny for most cd sales. their money comes from shows, so there is a conflict with having live shows no a cd.

Comment by stolennomenclature, on 22-Feb-2009 11:51

Perhaps the biggest problem with this product is it goes back to the album concept. The consumer is forced to buy a large number of sub-standard c-grade space-fillers just to get the two or three (if your lucky) tracks of good music actually worth having. By comparison music download sites such as iTunes allow consumers to buy individual tracks, and so save a lot of money not too mention wasted space.

I agree with the blogger that the much vaunted extras will never be anything more than a marketing ploy. As is evident from the so called collectors edition DVD's, most extras are not worth having, just bits and pieces of junk cobbled together to justify the collectors edition moniker and grab the extra loot.

Comment by Another User, on 15-Jun-2009 02:31

I actually do see this concept working just because of the convenience and broad compatibility with existing, widespread technology. Just give items nice packaging and voila.

However, what I do not like is the loss of fidelity we'll see. We've had Vinyl (totally lossless audio), 8-track, Cassette and then CD. Although CD in its nature is lossy audio to begin with, since a bit-for-bit waveform can't be replicated, its fidelity comes close enough to the original masters quality without discarding massive amounts of audio. MP3 on the other hand specifically discards a lot of audio information that doesn't need to be discarded. Sure that audio might not be audible anyway, but if you're like me you still want everything retained if possible. That's where Lossless formats should come in.

What comes out on Slotmusic/SD SHOULD be Lossless. There's FLAC, APE etc. 1-4GB SDs will fit a typical album with lots of room to spare even if the format is Lossless and since studio audio can be stored pristine, in bit-for-bit digital copy, transferring to lossless would be simple.

This is the only time that people could truly have unaltered, pristine audio. Audio that won't degrade because of the nature of a digital copy sourced from original studio audio directly to a lossless format.

Author's note by PDAMan, on 16-Jun-2009 21:03

Hey 'Another User' I agree that there are other standards that have higher fidelity but of course first of all iPods and other MP3 players have to be able to support them.
Given that iPods are the most popular portable music players and don't have SD Card slots, there could be a fatal flaw here.
When I copy my CD's onto iTunes, I encode them at the highest level possible, so I don't think there is much difference between the Wav files and the MP3. Certainly my hearing isn't good enough to hear the top harmonics in my music any more, so I probably wouldn't be able to tell. Too much loud music in bands and at home.

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Luigi Cappel
New Zealand

Helping people getting their message to potential customers with blogs and social media.
Futurist and start up founder.
Passionate consultant about all things to do with Social, Location, Augmented Reality and Mobile.
Member of Auckland ICT Cluster
Chair of Computing and IT Industry Advisory Committee at National Technology Institute
Founding member and past president of the New Zealand Wireless Forum.
Past Vice President NZ Sales & Marketing Institute.