What She Said

December 13, 2001
11:43 AM
So I got the AIWA CDC-MP3. It kicks ass. It's got a hell of a lot more power than the little guy that was in the car already (so much so that I had to invest in "speaker savers") and it of course plays MP3's. Plus it's got these cool blue colors happening. The wife and I headed to Whataburger bumping Garbage, Mick Jagger and the KISS box set while we fiddled with the dials and crap. It's got the whole detachable faceplate dealie and I put it in the case and took it with me to work - not sure how long I'll continue this practice, but I figured someone might want this thing.

It's ironic - this MP3 player was the second car deck on the market, after a $750 entry friom Kenwood. This is now the affordable entry. There's one from Jensen but I've been warned away from that brand. There's also a Sony one that's more expensive, but this one looked fine. The irony is that Sony stands to lose out on the MP3 deal - they do own a few record labels after all. Then again this is the same mega-conglomerate which put DVD playback in the PlayStation 2, which then went on to compete with Sony DVD players.

MP3 is a "lossy" compression scheme - it obscures or removes the sounds you don't hear in favor of the ones you do hear. Normal audio CD's use a lossless scheme - every sample/sound is represented. Picture yourself at a rock concert in the 99th row. What do you hear? The music and crowd noise. Now pretend you're right in front of the wall of speakers. What do you hear? The music - no crowd noise. The crowd noise is still there - but you can't hear it, the music is too loud. MP3 in a sense removes the crowd noise. However, if you have, say, the best stereo setup in the world and your ear is trained to hear what others don't, MP3 sounds awful to you. For the other 99% of us however, it does just fine.

MP3's been around for a decade now but it didn't start becoming popular until a utility called AMP in 1997 made it accessible to most people. MP3's numbers show on average a 90% drop in the amount of data needed to represent an audio track. Whereas an audio CD averages 10MB a minute, MP3 averages 1MB a minute at 128 kbps, 44.1 KHz. Consequently a 700MB CD can hold an average of 11 and 2/3 hours of music - considerably more than the 80 minutes an audio one can hold. The main exploit of the size, of course, has been in the trade of MP3's online, and the basic invention of music piracy.

MP3 came together more or less in 1998-9 with the convergence of several key technologies, most of which grew completely independently of each other:

  1. Winamp - the Windows port of AMP, it was the first feasible MP3 player for Windows, the most popular operating system. Winamp was small, it was fast (didn't require too much CPU) and had a ton of features - still adds more every version.
  2. Broadband - back in the 14.4 days it was still a chore to download a megabyte - now it's a breeze to download hundreds of them.
  3. The CD-ROM Drive - laugh if you will, these things were a rarity when MP3 was unveiled, and ripping a CD directlyis impossible without them.
  4. The large hard drive - hard drives used to be small, now they're huge. One reason for consumer demand for these things exploded was software bloat (larger versions of Windows, Office) but the other reason was for a place to hold MP3's.
  5. The CD Burner - now you could turn your MP3 collection into a set of audio or data CD's. Or both.

And this isn't taking into account Napster. MP3 was and is complicated, what with FTP rights negotiation and the intelligence factor neccessary to operate all the terms involved - Napster removed a lot of these barriers. Some people were furious over Napster's introduction because it seemed to bring to the foreground something which had been silently occuring in the underground for some time. However were MP3 never brought into the mainstream we probably wouldn't have products like we do today.

In late 1998 Diamond Multimedia introduced a player called the Rio (geddit - Diamond Rio?). It had 32MB of memory and it could play MP3's stored in that space. Instantly the RIAA sued Diamond to take it off the market but Diamond successfully defended the player - noting that there's nothing to say that people couldn't use it to play MP3 files of songs they had ripped off of their own CD's or MP3 files obtained from legal websites. This set a precedent, and soon other MP3 appliances followed. APEX, an obscure DVD player manufacturer whose name came to prominence when it was "discovered" that their DVD player, the AD-600, could do some dodgy things, also had the first MP3 playback capability in a home stereo component. Today hard drive-based MP3 players allow you to take your entire audio collection with you. Coming soon will be CD players with hard drives to rip your entire CD collection onto. And of course Kenwood was the first to have MP3 playback from CD-R's in automobiles.

I've been backing up my MP3's to CD-R's for about 2.5 years now - before I even had a burer I finagled others to help me out. Many times I would make a CD of the MP3's and then make audio CD's of the albums I downloaded. This meant a lot of CD's. However I'm glad I backed up the MP3's now. I even have "themed" CD-R's - a CD of every Led Zeppelin song ever, one of every Nirvana song, one of all the GWAR material, two of Aerosmith, three of Insane Clown Posse (they're busy).

In any event, it's neat to pop in a CD, hit shuffle, and forget about it for 11 hours.

December 10, 2001
9:05 AM
So I've listened to the KISS boxed set now and I have to say - I never realized how corny and crappy KISS is. Still I feel compelled to listen to them. Is that wrong?

KISS is of course the same group that was born out of the "glam rock" days that gave us Ziggy Stardust and any number of makeup-clad bands. Coming from Detroit (ironically the same town that gave us makeup-clad rappers Insane Clown Posse) they appealed to both the musical and commercial side of the record industry. When their popularity slumped in the early 80's they ditched the makeup and outfits and became another 80's hair band. In the mid 90's when the hair band bit played out they took a much harder edge, becoming a true heavy metal band. Along the way some of the original members left the group (and one replacement member died of heart cancer), but in 1995 the producers of MTV Unplugged got the original four members back together. The popularity of this event, coupled with a Star Trek-like surge of KISS Conventions prompted the original four members to reunite, put the makeup back on, and do a reunion tour and album, Psycho Circus.

A short while back I heard KISS was hanging it up soon and I thought how sad that was - that I never got to see them in concert. Not that I like KISS or ever really did - I just figured a KISS concert was something you were "supposed" to do (like how you're "supposed" to go see certian movies). I got over that as soon as I saw a very blantant PEPSI ad with them singinging on stage about PEPSI with that little girl from the PEPSI ads in KISS makeup and I decided they couldn't break up fast enough for me. However I have since amended my position - KISS was always about marketing. Witness all the crap they've released over the years. Today some parents think video games are evil, how in the hell was there a market for a KISS Lunchbox? In any event, I'll just settle for the DVD of Detroit Rock City - it's even got a KISS commentary track!

But yeah KISS is pretty much responsible, it turns out, for most of the "bad 80's" songs I've ever heard. I recall back in the early 90's I went through a phase where I wanted to get all the vinyl records I could. Of course by then vinyl records were all but extinct (same story these days), so on one trip to an out of town mall I settled on the one record I could find - a copy of Kiss My Ass, a KISS tribute album. As it turns out there have been a few of these. I remember hearing the covered versions of KISS tunes by Lenny Kravitz, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and even Garth Brooks and thinking to myself these were harmless songs. But then I remembered how I recently saw a video for the much harder song "Unholy" and thinking to myself that I must be mistaken - the same group that did "Christine Sixteen" couldn't have done that song - but sure enough the last track on this red vinyl disc was a German cover of "Unholy" - truly KISS was a band with an identity crisis.

Then there was the aforementioned video game - owing more or less nothing to KISS but that's OK - KISS doesn't owe much to themselves anyways, apparently. Kinda like a Final Fantasy movie which has nothing to do with the Final Fantasy games, it's acceptable since the Final Fantasy games have mostly nothing to do with each other.

In any event now we have a KISS boxed set. I just figured with the number of greatest hits compilations (seven or so) KISS has released over the years, this would be another rehashing. And I was sorta right. As it turns out KISS fans have fantasized over the years over a boxed set - one that would define KISS' career (which surely defied definition). It comes in at least three different configurations, each of which has the same exact five CD's and the same book. One comes in a standard box for $75, one of which comes in a mini guitar case for $195, and one of which comes in a full sized case complete with gold album for $750. Surely if the fans want to get hosed they can get hosed as much or as little as they want.

Boxed sets are tricky affairs. On the one hand they have to be an all-encompassing retrospective of a band's career. It helps, to this end, if the career is finished. On the other hand, it has to go comb the vaults for rare and unreleased stuff, since the hardcore fans demand and deserve it. The hardcore fans of course already have all the albums from which this material has been culled, so you have to put unreleased material to appease them. The conundrum of the boxed set is that they are habitually low sellers. The best selling boxed set of all time is the first Led Zeppelin boxed set at six million copies - after that boxed sets drop off dramatically. On the one hand you have to focus on general greatest hits to appeal to the casual fan who is probably picking up the set because they've never purchased an album from the artist in question. However, if the artist is popular enough to demand a boxed set in the first place, then how many fans of this type could possibly be out there? (Bear in mind we're eliminating the "casual" boxed sets - the "we did a concert and here's a video and CD in a box" sets.) For that matter the casual fans will just go to one of the dozen or so greatest hits albums you've released. So the hardcore fans are the target audience, so it makes sense to include more of the unreleased stuff than the set. But this is another stumbling point - usually unreleased material consists of things like demo tapes or songs that were never finished. For these reasons these items are usually not in the best repair - recording conditions for four guys in a garage are never as good as in a studio. Some of the tracks on this KISS set are in near-unlistenable condition. The casual fans who would buy a set soley of this would probably take it back. A proper balance of these sorts of elements are what the art of the Boxed Set consists of. The KISS boxed set does a decent job at it.

Hopefully by the end of this week I'll get my MP3 CD in my Car on...

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