MATTEO DALL'OMBRA

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Backup Memory

October 10th, 2015

Have you ever woke up with a song stuck in your head? A song that you know very well. You know exactly who the artist is, but for some reasons the title just doesn’t want to appear in your mind.

That is exactly how I woke up this morning. And as always is terrible, because unless I could find a way to get that title I would’ve ended up going crazy. I didn’t want to go through all the discography of Alicia Keys before finding the song I needed, so I started to enlist different technologies to come to my rescue.

I started with Shazam. But my vocal qualities were not enough to bring any result. Shazam just stared back at me with an empty look as of saying, come on man, really?! At this point I was already super frustrated because the chorus of the so kept hammering in my head, but I wasn’t any closer to a result.

Introducing Google. Yes, you know, that small search engine. I didn’t start from there because I had no idea what to type into the search box. I couldn’t remember much of the lyrics, mostly the melody of the chorus was my only point of reference. Turns out, you don’t need to know what to type. You just need something and Google will plug into your brain and get exactly the result you were looking for as you can see below.

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How is it possible that simply by typing ah ah ah ah… it got the song immediately?? I know that this piece may sounds stupid. Of course Google knows everything. It’s what the media keeps telling us. We always tend to forget how of a commodity Google has become over the year and you also tend to forget how good it is, because it is always so good.

It’s when it comes to those edge cases that the small lightbulb in your brain goes off and you realise that Google really is your backup memory.

P.S. Since I’ve now found the song, I can link it for your listening pleasure.

Writing’s On The Wall

September 25th, 2015
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Today marks the release of the theme song for the upcoming James Bond movie SPECTRE. Recorded by Sam Smith, the song just dropped on the main streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify and company.

 

I just had a listen to it.

 

The first listen is always the most difficult one. My first reaction is that this song doesn’t sound like a Bond song. There are few factors that contributes to my assessment.

 

First, Sam Smith’ style is very peculiar, you either like or you don’t, I don’t think there’s much middle ground. Secondly, is setting a very specific mood. You can always tell a lot from a Bond theme song and this one is a confirmation that a cycle is coming to a close1.

 

Have a listen for yourself and let me know what you think.

 

Full disclosure: I still prefer Adele’s take on 007.


  1. The end of Daniel Craig as James Bond. 

The First Numbers Are In For Apple Music

August 17th, 2015

Ben Sisario writing for the New York Times:

 

In Apple Music’s first major test, the answer is a qualified yes. Dr. Dre’s album “Compton: A Soundtrack” — a loose tie-in to the film “Straight Outta Compton” — had 25 million streams around the world in its first week, and also sold nearly half a million downloads through Apple’s iTunes store, Apple executives said on Sunday.

 

These numbers are of course great, but I think we also have to consider the major stars alignment that came to be for the release of this album. We are still currently within the free trial period for all the Apple Music users (and there are still questions on user retention when the first bill will come in) and the album was released perfectly timed with the opening of the movie Straight Outta Compton.

 

To me this is a demonstration of the quality of the media machine within Apple, rather than a real test for Apple Music. It would probably be a more realistic test to do another count toward October-November with a new album release and there we’ll be able to see the real power of Apple Music.

 

This is not to say that Apple Music is doomed, far from that. I’m a big fan myself of the new system, I’m just trying not to get over excited.

 

Toward the end of the article there is a passage that also confirms how this is more about the big Apple machine:

 

Made in secret by Dr. Dre, one of hip-hop’s most celebrated innovators, it came out on Aug. 7, a week before the release of “Straight Outta Compton,” which tells the story of Dr. Dre’s group N.W.A. and had $56.1 million in ticket sales in its opening weekend.

The album very likely benefited from the promotional push for the film. But for the music industry, it also demonstrated the reach and marketing power of Apple’s system. Dr. Dre, who like Mr. Iovine is now a top consultant to Apple, was working on the album until just days before its release. By keeping its existence closely held within Apple, the company was able to prevent it from leaking online, a fate that damages the release impact of many big albums.

 

Plus it’s interesting how years of hard work to achieve a super level of secrecy are paying off in such an unexpected way.

My Thoughts On Apple Music

July 27th, 2015

It’s been a month almost since the initial release of Apple Music, so I thought it might have been a good idea to weigh in with my own impressions. This is not going to be a review, just a flow of thoughts and personal experiences with this new Apple service.

 


 

A new design

The first notable change when you update to iOS 8.4 is going to be the new icon on your home screen. I’ve been a fan of the orange Music app icon since the launch of iOS 7, but I feel like they’ve done an extraordinary job with this new one. It definitely sets Apple Music apart and looks beautiful on the iPhone dock.

The icon is only a small part of the overall redesign that Apple gave to its music app. With iOS 7 and then later with iOS 8, the music app has been slowly but surely streamlined, in order to better fit with the overall flat trend of iOS.

Among all of them, the inside album view is definitely the aspect that I like the most about it. I like how the entire UI picks up the dominant colors of the album art so to blend in and give a much better experience to the user.

The new design unfortunately is not always helpful. There are many cases in which the new UI becomes an obstacle when trying to understand what’s going on. One classic example is the offline availability of tracks. First of all, why by default Apple Music is not showing the streaming-only tracks? That doesn’t seems to be a good implementation choice. Also, the switch to change this behavior is hidden in the last place you would be going to look for it (the menu where you can switch between album/artist/song view).

In addition to that, it’s very difficult to exactly know which track is available and which one is not. Usually next to the offline track you would get a small phone icon which should signal that the track is saved locally. In reality this system seems to be a bit of a hit and miss. I have one playlist where I put all the songs that I like (a kind of Best Of). This is the first playlist I wanted to save locally, so that no matter what I always have some good music with me. You can save the entire playlist, but only some of the songs have that little offline marker. All of the tracks are actually stored locally, but simply by looking at the visual clues, you wouldn’t be able to tell that.

On a single playlist is not a major issue, but if you start managing a bigger offline library, things may get ugly pretty soon.

 


 

There are now five main tabs within the new Music app: For You, New, Radio, Connect and My Music. My Music is basically all that the Music app used to be before the introduction of Apple Music, so I won’t spend too much time on it. As a matter of fact, if you decide not to subscribe to Apple Music, the My Music tab is all you’re left with.

 


 

For You

This section quickly became my favorite part of Apple Music. During the initial setup of the service you are asked for your musical taste. This and favoring tracks while playing them will help in making sure that the service can deliver the best music experience for you.

So far this has been working almost magically for me. What you get from For You is a mix of playlists and albums, which so far has been a mix of things that I already know and love but also quite a lot of new stuff that made me discover such great music.

I particularly enjoy the playlist side of For You. You generally have a mix of ‘songs inspired by X’ where x might be an artist already in your library and these are the ones really useful for discovery; ‘deep cut of Y’ where is all about a specific artist and then depending on the time of the day you also get contextual playlists: something relaxing for the morning or a party compilation for the Friday night.

Then there’s also another type of playlists which I’ve seen a few times already: the geo-location playlist. I’m not sure if this is a real thing or it’s just chances, but I do get lots of lists London-based. This seems a great way to discover local music. I haven’t changed my regional settings to see what you get in the US or other European countries, but if it’s really location-based it would be another great feature of Apple Music.

 


 

New

As the title of the section suggests, you would think that the ‘New’ tab is all about new music releases and the hot tracks of the moment; and you would be only 50% right. Indeed there’s new music and new releases, but there’s also a lot more. The first thing that you’ll notice is that in there you can find many celebrity-curated or magazine-curated playlists, alongside the ‘mood-playlist’ (are you outdoor? do you want BBQ music? it’s a dinner party? that kind of mood).

It is for this reason that I find this section a bit confusing. Mostly because I only look at the label and I think to myself, ‘here I’ll only find new stuff, so it’s not worth to check there daily’. I always forget that there’s a lot more going on in there, so I end up missing a lot (even if I rather prefer the dynamism of the For You section anyway).

 


 

Radio

Radio is the new big thing of Apple Music. Beats 1 is live 24h 12h a day (is about the same 12 hours repeated twice every day) with three main hosts and a number of a-list musicians hosting their own smaller shows. I love Zane Lowe, I used to listen to him all the time when he was at BBC Radio One and I was extremely pleased that Apple brought him on board for their radio. He’s always been on top of the new music scene, bringing to the wider audience so many great artists over the years.

Now on Beats 1 he keeps doing the same show as ever and therefore he keeps being the best way of discovering new music. I like Julie Adenuga’ show as well although sometimes it goes outside my comfort zone in terms of musical tastes, but it is still a good listening exercise. With Ebro Darden instead I’m almost always lost. I’m not into the kind of music that he regularly plays (lots of rap and hip-hop) and he also makes cultural references that are escaping me since they are very US based.

All in all I think this is a very good mix of hosts and diverse music backgrounds to appeal to such a wide audience (Beats 1 is live in more than 100 countries as we are often reminded during the broadcast).

The celebrities shows are also great, I especially like the St. Vincent Delivery Mix Tapes; not just for the music (which is always great) but also for the stories and how the music blend in so perfectly. Despite having lots of great shows, Beats 1 has a discovery issue. Yes there’s a Tumblr blog where you can find the schedule, but you can only look ahead about 12 hours and the times there are not always 100% correct, making it sometimes difficult to tune in at the right moment.

Myke Hurley (of Relay.fm) makes a good point of saying that Apple should have an iCal ready for user to download and integrate within the calendar app. I would even go as far as saying that they should give an option online where you can pick and choose which show you want to add to your personal calendar, so you can be reminded of the shows you really care about.

Another possible improvements could be to serve this music shows as downloadable podcasts after the facts. Right now, once the show is over you get a playlist with all the songs played during a specific show (not for all the shows and not always straight after the show is over). The interesting parts of those shows are the DJs interaction, which are currently lost once the show as aired twice. I know that by doing so, you may lose a bit of the appeal of listening live, but I still think it would be a great improvement for Beats 1.

 


 

Connect

Now comes the only bit of Apple Music of which I have nothing to say about. The premise would be of a revamped and improved Ping (remember that??…me neither…), the reality is that is just about the same. You can follow artists which are more or less regularly posting materials on there. To help you populating the Connect section, Apple Music will make you follow all the artists which material you add to your Music, a behaviour from which you can opt-out from the app settings.

 


 

Is it worth the jump?

I’ve been a Spotify Premium subscriber since the very beginning of Spotify. Last week I’ve cancelled my subscription after replicating all my playlists onto Apple Music, which itself was a very painful and manual process.

So far I’ve been pretty satisfied with Apple Music, it has offered me a solid service. For me the biggest advantage is to have a service that is full system-integrated so that it allows me to use Siri for example.

It definitely might not be for everyone, but I think that Apple is moving in the right direction.

Interstellar

November 8th, 2014

After months of waiting since the first announcement, yesterday marked the release date for Interstellar, the latest Nolan’s movie. With a brilliant cast as usual, humanity is ready for its next biggest step.

I’m not going to spoil the movie in any way, because it’s simply impossible. Instead I’ll just leave you with a quote from Interstellar that represents the essence of this movie.

That’s relativity, folks!

This is by far the best way to describe the massive amounts of feelings and emotions and connections that are explored during almost 3 hours of beautiful images couple with terrific music (Hans Zimmer’s magic strikes again).

Do yourself a favour. Go and see Interstellar today.

Sonic Highways

October 27th, 2014

Foo Fighters are (almost) back with their 8th studio album, Sonic Highways. To celebrate the release and the 20 years together as a band, they’ve put together an 8 parts documentary with the same name of the album.

You can catch the documentary on HBO in the US or BBC4 in the UK.

Behind the documentary (directed by the band leader Dave Grohl) there’s the intention to show the creative process that stands as the foundation of the album. Each of the songs in the new album was recorded in a different studio across the U.S. and each song is consequently a tribute to the place it was recorded.

Not only a tribute to a physical place, but mostly a tribute to the people living and playing on the local scene.

So far the first two episodes have given us an inside look at the punk rock scene in Chicago

and Washington D.C.

What I found most fascinating about this project is that we can really take a peek behind the scene, observing first hand how the creative process brings the song from inception to final product. Specifically you can make a clear connection between the lyrics of a song and the place it comes from. When I first heard “Something From Nothing”, I couldn’t get all the references. After seeing the first episode of Sonic Highways I know all the homages made by Grohl & Friends.

For me this documentary is also a way to learn something new about music. I always try to find new groups or rediscover old ones and already these first episodes gave me places to look at. I have to be honest in saying that punk rock is not my no. 1 genre, but I do appreciate it and hearing the direct experience of the people who basically invented it, made me reconsider it.

I think that Sonic Highways is a very ambitious project but at the same time something that I would like to see from many other mature bands. As a music listener I’m always interested in knowing how my favourite band thinks and comes up with all that great music. As a fan having this look behind the curtain gives me a different and special bond with the final product.

I can’t wait now to receive my vinyl copy of Sonic Highways.

God Only Knows

October 11th, 2014

I love music. Everybody that knows me, knows that. Music is a big part of my life and it is literally the sound track of my life.

Everywhere I go, almost everything I do can always been associated back to a specific song. I support music by buying in many different formats, each album has a better way to be enjoyed.

That’s why I immediately bought the re-edition of God Only Knows by the BBC. As they did already many years ago when BBC Music was at its beginning (that time using Lou Reed’s Perfect Day), they took a super line-up of artist to sing this song together.

I believe the choice of the song has been unbelievably great.

God only knows what I’d be without you
If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me

I couldn’t definitely live without music and possibly neither could you. Enjoy the video below and maybe consider buying the song on iTunes to support the great work that BBC Music does!

Re-Discovering The Pleasure Of Physical Media

December 16th, 2013

While I’m writing this post, I’m listening to the latest vinyl that entered my collection: Retrospective – The very best of e.s.t..

Slowly rotating on my old school turntable, dissipating soft Jazz melodies in the air, I find myself re-evaluating the meaning of the physical media. I’m an avid music listener and to this day I still believe the Spotify is one of the best thing ever happened to mankind. By allowing you to consume as much music as you wish, Spotify will erase the meaning of the word “silence” from your vocabulary.

Despite that, if you stop for a second you’ll realise that Spotify is also very much ephemeral. As soon as you stop paying the monthly fee, or if you are not connected to the internet ((I know, there’s a free version of Spotify but the ads injection feels like a restriction to me. At the same time there’s an offline version of the service but it’s based on the assumption that you are a subscriber and you’ve remembered to enable this function)), your listening experience will be drastically limited.

On the other hand, if you own a vinyl, a CD or a cassette, it’s your possession and it will stay with you as long as you don’t sell/lose/exchange it.

One of the best advantages of having a turntable is that I can now time myself using the length of a side. Because I know my records very well ((My collection is still limited in number. Currently I own 10 vinyls, so it’s easy to remember how long they last approximately)), I can use them to time some activity. If I decide that I want to read for half an hour before going to bed, I can put a nice jazz on and once the needle goes up I know it’s time to retrieve to the bedroom.

In general I find that a physical interaction will give me a better sense of time. If I start a playlist on Spotify, I can literally spend weekends daydreaming on my sofa while I’m transported in a parallel dimension!

Then of course there’s the “fidelity” argument. I like having access to music everywhere, but it’s also true that nothing will ever beat the scratching sound of a good old record. There’s a sense of intimacy and warmth that we are irretrievably loosing in favour of the always on access to music ((Neil Young is trying to solve this issue of the digital world with a new initiative called Pono. You can learn more on Wikipedia)).

I guess it’s probably a nostalgic feeling that brings me back to my childhood when my cassettes were my proud possession. I still remember the joy of putting Michael Jackson’s Thriller in the stereo, trying to skip at the exact moment of my favourite track, always loosing the battle against the tape!

It’s surely a feeling that will disappear with future generations (if it hasn’t already disappeared), but it’s something of a great importance for me.

A direct link with my roots, a real link in an always more digital world.