Category Archives: music

Looping technology

In his new book “The Shallows,” Nicholas Carr frets that technology may be making us more stupid as we frenetically search the Net for fads or ask Google to fill in our memory blanks. Steven Pinker counters that in a world of vastly scaling knowledge, we need technology to be smart, solving problems with engines that pull in data we can’t possibly retain ourselves. Clay Shirky parries most optimistically, suggesting the 1.8 billion humans now using the Internet have created a cognitive surplus that gave us Wikipedia at first, and perhaps leaps in creative output in the future.

All we can say about technology is: damn, KT Tunstall can jam with it.

Pandoracars and tigers and bears, oh my

Want a signal that the broadcasting world may soon face the troubles newspapers do today? (Um, that’s losing audiences and advertisers.) The Wall Street Journal reports:

“Pandora Inc. has struck a deal with electronics maker Pioneer Corp. that promises to make it easier for drivers to listen to its personalized radio service in cars—bringing Internet radio one step closer to snagging a built-in spot on dashboards. The development represents a direct challenge to broadcasters of satellite and traditional radio, who have long dreaded the arrival of Internet radio in cars.”

Apparently it works like this: If you have an iPhone that receives the free Pandora music streaming service, a $1,200 auto navigation gizmo will detect the settings and pipe the music into your car. That’s a lot of dough for “free” music, but expect the prices to fall (GPS systems once cost hundreds of dollars and now are $99 from dedicated device-makers or free from Google). What happens to the world of advertising-backed radio when you can stream any songs via an interweb for free? Um. Trouble.

Image: Valentina Photography. WSJ story behind the Murdoch paywall here.

We Are Hunted: Top tunes from social media

If you read The Wisdom of Crowds, at least the first 10 pages, you get that groups of people tend to be really smart in picking correct answers. So why not use the millions on social media to find the best music for your iPod playlists?

We Are Hunted is a perfect search engine for music, compiling the top 99 most-wanted tunes from internet peer-to-peer networks, Twitter, MySpace, and other online networks where people with better haircuts than us hang out. Wired has a complete writeup.

Holiday music and consumer memory

The first song was probably Yo, Yo, Yo, that Plant is Poisonous.

McGill psych professor Daniel J. Levitin has a theory about why we endure the same holiday songs year after year. It seems that music helps human minds remember data because the words associated with it are tough to forget; so for millennia, long before Gutenberg and hieroglyphics, songs were employed to pass along data vital to our survival. Levitin notes that because holiday tunes must appeal to the broadest possible audience as they encode tradition, they also tend to be the most insipid — unnuanced oatmeal for the ear. Human minds wear out when they hear the same message.

Marketers should listen up, because the “please stop the madness” trend to not like repetitive music affects them as well. Levitin writes “We are living in a time of unprecedented nonsocial access to music. The average 14-year-old will hear more music in a year than his great grandfather would have in a lifetime.”

Same goes for marketing messages. The growing trend of profanity, nudity, sex, and manufactured scandal could be marketers’ way of trying to find new melodies that stick in a world saturated by old advertising tunes. Not that it’s right; but expect more noise to come.

Video: Klip Collective.

Of dying blogs and living creation

What if saving your content no longer matters? What if in our rush to embrace new technology for live performance, old stuff is only worth tossing away?

The two biggest trends in tech are moving this way: social networking which connects people and cloud applications that make it easier to create anything. Consider “the cloud” — the push by Google and Microsoft and others to move software from your computer hard drives online, where everything you need for writing or accounting or layout or data backup exists in the ether (and where providers can make money by selling advertising impressions or ongoing subscription fees). It’s all a logical extension of data becoming a commodity, the move of information to the free, where we all access communication utilities via a simple web window and get going.

We dug this idea until DAMMIT! Sunday morning our blog disappeared from its usual online domain Nothing. More than 900 posts gone. Suddenly we were really p*#&(#d at the cloud. We eventually fixed it, of course, learning the vulnerabilities of anyone who trusts their data online.

And then it hit. Who cares? Saving content is passé.
Creation has become the consumer mode of choice. Writing content is now more important than reading it, and those who read want interaction like this brilliant online writing-puzzle-game by blogger Jeremy Freese. (It’s pretty cool; you imagine it’s noon, you have 1,000 words to write for a dissertation, and your girlfriend is about to leave if you blow the deadline.)

Humanity is approaching the pinnacle of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: We need data to move in faster and we want to contribute out more, until we really can’t listen because we’re too busy doing all the talking. Advertising results are down in newsprint and other traditional media not because of web migration, but because consumers’ modality has changed from reception to creation. Communications may soon be nothing but live acts on stage. If you have the right talent, that may not be a bad thing.

(Performance by Ana Vidovic.)

Why some memories stick: Jingles all the way

Sometime on Jan. 1, 2008, the radio networks of the United States will switch from a five-week rotation of holiday Christmas classics back to regular music programming. Which makes us wonder: What is it about some traditional music, and some repeat impressions, that can be so compelling for humans?

This is no trivial question, given the trend in advertising to constantly barrage consumers with the latest, and often loudest, new concept. Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist best known for being portrayed by Robin Williams in the film Awakenings, has studied the effects of music on memory and found that, somehow, music is rooted in the most primitive parts of our minds.

In simple terms, music combined with communications hits the brain with a form of double impression — the message sinks in deeper, and once in, the music replayed can accurately withdraw it. This is important, because our minds often have trouble processing or recalling memory accurately without strong cues.

Sacks tells of his own memory slipping when he thinks back to a North London bombing during World War II. He vividly recalls seeing two bombs fall:

On another occasion, an incendiary bomb, a thermite bomb, fell behind our house and burned with a terrible, white-hot heat. My father had a stirrup pump, and my brothers carried pails of water to him, but water seemed useless against this infernal fire-indeed, made it burn even more furiously. There was a vicious hissing and sputtering when the water hit the white-hot metal …

Trouble was, Sacks never saw the second bomb explode; his brother Michael told him recently that his memory had deceived him.

I was staggered at Michael’s words. How could he dispute a memory I would not hesitate to swear on in a court of law and had never doubted as real?

“What do you mean?” I objected. “I can see the bomb in my mind’s eye now, Pop with his pump, and Marcus and David with their buckets of water. How could I see it so clearly if I wasn’t there?”

“You never saw it,” Michael repeated. “We were both away at Braefield at the time. But David [our older brother] wrote us a letter about it. A very vivid, dramatic letter. You were enthralled by it.” Clearly, I had not only been enthralled, but must have constructed the scene in my mind, from David’s words, and then taken it over, appropriated it, and taken it for a memory of my own.

This is extraordinary — one of the most brilliant men in the study of neurology can’t recall accurately seeing a bomb explode, and admits it. It points out that advertisers and communicators need far more the CPMs and GRPs to make an impact on the consumer’s mind; they need something heavier to make the impression stick, and be recallable.

Music is one powerful tool, and advertisers have long used it. If you think back to the 1970s, many TV and radio commercials had musical narratives — Oscar Mayer had a way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a, Coke taught the world to sing in perfect harmony, and Burger King sang about having it your way. Even the famed early outdoor signs of America had a musical cadence: Around the corner, lickety-split, beautiful car, wasn’t it? Burma-Shave. Our dad saw that in the 1940s, told us the rhyme in second grade, and we still recall it. For some reason, the use of music jingles in advertising has faded. Perhaps the market was oversaturated, and like the 1970s moustache music just went out of vogue.

Musical communication reaches something primitive in all of us, tied to deep memories and our desire to survive. However annoying, we can’t get some tunes out of our mind. Soon, we bet, some clever marketer will bring the jingle back.