Archive: Miscellany

Introducing the Musicwhore.org collection …

[Collectorz Music]I made a New Year’s Resolution to write more, particularly in my blogs, but a data clean-up project pretty much distracted me for the last few weeks.

Collectorz.com released an upgrade to its Music Collector database software that finally includes support for Unicode. It’s been a highly-requested feature but one that’s been difficult to implement. I’ve been using the software to track my music collection since the late ’90s, and I would have loved Unicode support at the peak of my Japanese music craze.

This upgrade pretty much set me on a course to clean up my data, which in turn allowed me to explore features in Music Collector that I’ve never used.

One such feature is an account on Collectorz Connect, an online version of the software maker’s desktop products. Here’s the Musicwhore.org collection.

I used to keep track of my collection online with various other services, such as Rate Your Music and Discogs, but given my particular … eccentricities, I would end up adding a lot of titles to these services. All that duplicated data entry strikes me as wasteful, if not tedious.

The Connect account allows me to stroke my ego without having to keep adding the NUMBER GIRL discography to dozens of databases with conflicting schemas and style guides.

I’ve also been using the Collectorz Music mobile app to organize shopping lists. I just sync my desktop database with the app through wi-fi, and I have a handy reference during my crate digs.

I’m pretty sure all this centralized organization has contributed to an increase in expenditures. The vinyl bug that bit me last summer has morphed into land grab for CDs. They’re going out of print, and what happened to vinyl in the early ’90s is now happening to compact discs. People can’t get rid of them fast enough, which means ripe picking for those of us who still like to own music.

If you browse my most recent purchases, you’ll find very few titles from new artists.

Yup. I’ve become one of those music consumers — stuck in the past and disconnected from the zeitgeist.

Amazon prices major label CDs lower than digital? For some titles …

Now that I’ve fallen into the black hole of vinyl collecting, I rarely ever visit the CD sections of the local music shop. My penny-pinching tendencies have pretty much made Amazon my default for the now-rare instance when I want to buy CDs. (Or, as I like to call them, “high quality audio backups.”)

I’ve noticed something happening on Amazon — prices for some major label titles on CD are lower than their digital counterparts.

[Amazon prices of Purple Rain by Prince]

A few weeks ago, I decided to get Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution. My first instinct was to use part of my eMusic quota to download it, but I did a price comparison between eMusic and Amazon and discovered the most economical way to buy the album was to order it on CD. On Amazon MP3, the album cost $9.49. On eMusic, it was $6.49. But to order a CD on Amazon: $4.99.

I ended up buying it at Everyday Music for $5.99. I didn’t mind paying the convenience fee.

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Rest in peace, Foxytunes plug-in

When YAHOO! announced it was shutting down a number of its services, tech reporters and geek commentators focused on pioneering search engine Alta Vista. But buried in that announcement was the most heart-wrenching news for me personally — the end of Foxytunes.

When YAHOO! acquired it, Foxytunes was starting an evolution from browser plug-in to music encyclopedia. Maybe someone somewhere thought Foxytunes usage could be leveraged to funnel users to YAHOO!’s music properties.

But development on the plugin languished, which wouldn’t have been an issue if it weren’t for the death knell of the accelerated Firefox release schedule. The Firefox plugin architecture is structured in such a way that plugins must report which versions they support. When a new version of Firefox gets released, plugin developers have to ratchet the version number in a configuration file, even if the code itself doesn’t change.

YAHOO! would update Foxytunes just in time for Mozilla to release yet another version of Firefox, thus ensuring the plugin would never be compatible. After a while, YAHOO! just gave up.

And the world is a sadder place for it.

Foxytunes was the perfect aid against clueless music site owners who insisted on setting the autoplay attribute of their embedded Flash files to true. Because, really, who would be listening to their own music while visiting their site? When such an obnoxious site would blare its cacophony, I could pause my player with Foxytunes while I stashed the offending autoplay file in my AdBlock Plus black list, then resume my player without switching windows.

One thing I missed when I switched from Firefox to Chrome was Foxytunes, but by then, the lag in releases had already started to wean me from dependence on the plugin. CTRL+TAB came back into my muscle memory, and Foxytunes became a distant but fond memory.

I’m hoping someone would rescue the plugin code from YAHOO! (Unlikely.) Of course, cracking open the source of a Firefox plugin is as easy as changing the .xpi extension to .zip and unzipping the file. I don’t have nearly enough gumption to wade through the code that powers Foxytunes, but I have faith someone with more fortitude would do so.

Honestly, I would rather there be a Foxytunes-like plugin for Chrome. I ought to look.

In the meantime, rest in peace, Foxytunes plugin. Like Homesite, the Tweetdeck Android app and Google Reader, you were a useful piece of technology ravaged by the demands of a fickle marketplace.

 

Analog is the new mid-life crisis

Kronos Quartet, Wayne Horvitz, the Replacements, R.E.M. on vinyl

I knew it would happen eventually, despite my best efforts to resist. One thing I try to bristle against is fashion, even if on some level I agree with said fashion.

And right now, vinyl is fashionable.

It’s a fast-growing format, according to the New York Times. Though only 1.4 percent of the total market, vinyl record sales has seen an 18 percent growth since 2011. Manufacturers, however, say they press far more than sales indicate.

But my resistance to this resurgence is rooted in memory. I bought records when I was the age of the young people snatching them up now. From 1985 to 1989, I built a collection of nearly 90 some odd records. Then the demands of convenience encroached on my purchasing habits.

A cassette tape Walkman was easier to bring on a bus ride than a turntable, and eventually, a portable CD player offered a better listening experience than a Walkman. Back then, compact discs were priced higher than records and cassette tapes because they were considered the “premium” format.

The industry transitioned away from those analog formats and trained consumers to accept premium prices as baseline.

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Grandpa’s violin

While I was visiting family in Hawai`i earlier this month, my mom asked me to help her find a repair shop to fix a violin my grandfather used to play.

I knew him for all of two weeks. He moved to Hawai`i with my grandmother when I was four years old. One night, he had a heart attack, and before I knew it, he was gone. I was too young to develop much of an emotional attachment. All I remember was the would tickle me all the time, and I didn’t like that.

After he died, his violin became a point of contention among his children — my mom and various uncles and aunts. I won’t get into the details of the various spats that have occurred with this violin, but one such recent spat landed the violin into my mom’s hands.

And it was in bad shape.

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The year in numbers: Last.fm statistics for 2012

I crossed a pretty big threshold a few days ago: I logged 100,000 listens on Last.fm.

I’ve been a member since Feb. 28, 2006, so it’s taken me nearly six years to reach this point. My Top 10 artists account for roughly 13 percent of those 100,000 listens, and the list isn’t terribly surprising:

  1. Tokyo Jihen
  2. Cocco
  3. Duran Duran
  4. Shiina Ringo
  5. Eponymous 4
  6. Kate Bush
  7. Emmylou Harris
  8. John Adams
  9. Philip Glass
  10. Steve Reich

One thing to know about my listening habits is the fact I still consume entire albums. As a result, my statistics indicate I listen to a few number of artists but with great frequency.

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J-Pop in the USA: Where to find it

When I lived in Austin, Texas, I had only one way to sate my addiction to Japanese pop and indie rock — order it through the Internet.

If I wanted to head to a store and pick up an Utada Hikaru album or a Cocco DVD, I’d have to visit a city with a large enough Asian population to justify the existence of a retail location. That usually meant I would have to wait till I visited Hawai`i to head to Book-Off in Shirokiya.

But you can bet your arse that if I went somewhere with either a Kinokuniya or a Book-Off, those places would be my first destinations.

Now I live in a city with a Kinokuniya, so I no longer wait nearly a month for Internet orders from Hong Kong or Tokyo to arrive. (Special orders still take about a week to fulfill.)

All the traveling I’ve been doing in the last three months got me thinking of the nooks and crannies I search to get my J-Pop fix. I’ve already compared Seattle record shops and two of three Amoeba Records locations. It’s time to fix my gaze on the stores where Japanese popular music can be found in the USA.

Kinokuniya

Kinokuniya could be considered the Barnes and Noble of Japanese bookstores. It’s the largest chain in Japan and certainly the first place I think of when I want to find Japanese books and music. I’ve so far visited four locations in the US: New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and, of course, Seattle.

I visited the New York City location in 2005, but I’ve since learned the store moved near Bryant Park in 2007. Still, that visit set the bar for the others to follow. I found a Shiina Ringo band score at that store, the only one to stock such items.

Every trip to the Bay Area means a visit to the Kinokuniya in Japan Center. If I were into manga (I’m not), the first floor of the San Francisco location would be a wet dream. Instead, I spend most of my time on the second floor, browsing the shelves on the off-chance I might find a title on which I’ve had my eye.

By comparison, the Los Angeles and Seattle stores are more like satellite locations. I patronize the Seattle store regularly, but the shopping experience isn’t really great. The music inventory doesn’t move much, and it’s haphazardly organized. More care is put into the books. I think the Los Angeles store is slightly smaller than the Seattle store, which mean its CD selection was even more limited.

Book-Off

If Kinokuniya is Barnes and Noble, then Book-Off is Half-Priced Books. Book-Off specializes in used stock, and I’ve so far only visited two locations in the US: Honolulu and  New York City.

There isn’t much of a comparison between the two locales: New York City is a complete store, whereas the Honolulu location is a corner in Shirokiya. (I’m not considering the Pearlridge location because I saw no Japanese CD inventory when I visited.)

The nature of used stock, however, means gems can be found at unexpected times. The Honolulu store has yielded some rare finds for me, including some WINO albums and Parasitic People by SUPER JUNKY MONKEY. Yes, Holidailies readers, those are real band names.

On my most recent visit, I walked away with nothing. But I could find something else on my next trip.

I would, however, love to visit the New York store again. I’m pretty sure I spent an hour just browsing when I visited in 2005.

Oh, and remember that trip to Vancouver with the outdated guide book? It mentioned a Book-Off location, but it had shut down long before I arrived.

Other

A side effect of having a Japanese bookstore in town is finding used Japanese CDs in general interest music shops.

Here in Seattle, used J-Pop CDs can be found at Everyday Music and Silver Platters, but only the latter has its selection neatly — and surprisingly accurately — organized. In San Francisco, Amoeba Records has a very tiny corner devoted to J-Pop, and it too is organized to the point where the staff leaves recommendations in the placards.

I would like to mention one more place in Honolulu: Hakubundo. Unfortunately, the news is bad. The store recently relocated from across Ala Moana Center to Ward Warehouse. The smaller space has pretty much squeezed out its music selection, which was small but well stocked.

 

Chasing Edwin Outwater: A tale of music distribution in a post-CD age

My friend Andy flew up to Seattle back in September for a visit, and we took a day trip to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. It was my first time there, although Andy visited many years back.

Pretty much every trip I’ve taken has some sort of music shopping mission attached to it, and this one would be no different. I figured if I’m going to Canada, I would try to find a CDs by some Canadian artists: one by Royal Wood, another by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony conducted by Edwin Outwater.

How hard would it be? As it turned out, quite difficult.

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A tale of two Amoebas

Back in October 2012, I traveled to Berkeley, Calif., to see the touring production of Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach. I’ve been to San Francisco twice before, but this trip would be the first to Berkeley.

When it comes to record stores with international reputations, Amoeba Records is on the short list, along side Waterloo Records in Austin.

On my first trip to San Francisco in January 2010, I got all the tourist stuff out of the way so that my subsequent trips would pretty much revolve around visits to Amoeba, and the trip to Berkeley would be no different.

In fact, I would end up visiting two locations: the one on Haight St. and the original location on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley.

I didn’t really know much about Berkeley before I arrived, save for the fact there’s a college campus in town. I also didn’t delve too deeply into the history of Amoeba Records itself. I just knew it was a must-see destination for music junkies.

So I was afforded the opportunity to compare the two Amoebas — one I’ve visited twice before, the other for the first time.

In terms of square footage, the Telegraph Ave. store is at a slight disadvantage than the Haight St. store. The San Francisco store is fairly cavernous, whereas the Berkeley store optimizes as much space as it can.

As a result, the classical section in Berkeley isn’t as expansive, and modern composers aren’t given specialized real estate as they are in the San Francisco store.

There’s also one thing that edges out the San Francisco store over the Berkeley store — a small but dedicated section to J-pop.

That’s not to say the Berkeley store is the boonies. The stock is still incredibly thorough, and surprises lurk when you dig deep.

I do have to give the Berkeley store a point for location — it’s not the Haight. I’ve gone on record many times saying the feral children of San Francisco (read: homeless people) strike more fear in me than the ones in New York City. Those crazy motherfuckers will cut you, and they’re teeming all over the neighborhood of the San Francisco Amoeba.

On Telegraph Ave., you have to contend with hippie street vendors and slow-paced sorority girls reeking of white privilege.

Still, I’m going to have to cast my vote for the San Francisco store if I were forced by threat of garage rock to pick one.

All that’s left to do is visit the location in a city I like less than San Francisco — Los Angeles.

 

SEA Change: The Visitor’s Guide to Seattle Music Stores

(This post originally appeared in my relocation blog, SEA Change.)

When I moved from Austin to Seattle, I was concerned about whether the music stores in Seattle could compare to Waterloo Records. What I’ve since discovered is collectively, the best Seattle record shops equal, and in some ways surpass, Waterloo.

Seattle has a lot of music shops, but the four that get mentioned the most are Easy Street Records, Sonic Boom Records, Everyday Music and Silver Platters.

I have my own preferences, but each have their individual strengths. I mention classical music in these reviews because a store that sweats the details of its classical section usually takes care good care of the rest of the store.

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