Irish music download site launched (SBP – 17th September 2006)

I’m a week late; this article was published in the Media & Marketing section of the Sunday Business Post last Sunday:

With the digital download market providing companies like Apple with huge financial gains in recent years, it’s no surprise to see other companies attempt to mimic their success. However, while most online music start-ups tend to follow the same format as big players, a new Irish site, Downloadmusic.ie, is hoping to use the internet to promote independent local artists instead of mega-stars.

‘‘There has always been a high level of support for independent music in Ireland,” said Sean Beirne, head of the website.

‘‘We’re offering people decent music that may not be chart-topping, mainstream stuff but that is as good in quality as anything else.”

While starting a music download site is nothing new, Beirne says that until now many Irish artists found it difficult to get involved with the bigger services: ‘‘We’ve found that while places like iTunes don’t stop independent artists from joining it can be very difficult to get music on the service.

“Some people I’ve spoken to have been waiting months.”

Launched in late August, the site already boasts over 100 artists.

Visitors can listen to 30-second previews of each song available and customers who have downloaded tracks are able to leave a review. The site also features a gig guide.

The main focus of the site, however, is the Top 30 singles chart, which is updated every Friday to reflect the most popular artists and songs of the week before. ‘‘The chart introduces some healthy competition between bands. It will also benefit the artists at the top because of the curiosity factor many viewers will have – they’ll want to see what made the song sell so well,” says Beirne.

Each download costs 99 cent, the same as a track on services such as iTunes.

One of the more important selling points of the service is that none of the tracks features DRM (Digital Rights Management), which is software built into a file that can limit its use.

Some music-file DRMs limit the type of portable music player the device can be used on, or how many times the track can be copied to CD.

‘‘We don’t encourage piracy, obviously, but artists have said to me they’d rather have 100,000 listeners than 10,000 sales. This way makes it easier for the music to get heard,” said Beirne.

At present, the site only accepts PayPal for purchases.

However, there are plans to introduce an SMS-purchase scheme eventually that will allow users to text the name of a song and have it downloaded to their account; there is even the possibility of it being sent directly to their mobile phone.

While the Irish charts were recently updated to include digital downloads, artists featured on Downloadmusic.ie are unlikely to enjoy the benefits just yet.

‘‘We’ve spoken to IRMA and there are a number of issues, one main one being that artists need a physical CD in a shop in order to be considered,” said Beirne.

‘‘We’re hoping to show that there are many Irish artists who cannot put out CDs nationwide but who have a following.

‘‘From the artists’ point of view, it’s unfortunate. It would be a pity to see someone selling hundreds of tracks a week without getting a chart spot for that. We hope IRMA will eventually change their policy.”

Ireland has high percentage of millionaires (SBP – 24th September 2006)

An article of mine from Today’s Sunday Business Post:

One in 50 Irish households are millionaire households in dollar terms, according to a new report on global wealth.

The report – by Boston Consulting Group – found that almost 2 per cent of Irish households were dollar millionaires, putting Ireland in 13th place in terms of its percentage of millionaire households in the world.

Ireland ranked above Britain and Japan in the top 15 – about 1.7 per cent of households in those countries are dollar millionaires.

The United Arab Emirates topped the list, with 6 per cent of its households in the millionaire stakes.

The global average was 0.5 per cent. While Ireland has a high percentage of millionaire households, it did not rank in the top 15 in actual number of households.The report found that there were 7.2 million millionaire households across the globe.

Almost three million of those – or about 40 per cent – were in the US.

Japan had the second-highest number of millionaire households in actual terms and Britain was in third place.

London has 225,000 millionaire households, the highest concentration of millionaire households in Europe.

A new report on national income and expenditure released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) last Friday showed that gross national income last year was up 5.4 per cent on the previous year’s figure.

The report showed that there was a 5.3 per cent rise in gross national disposable income, which was on average almost €32,000 per head of population.

Busy month ahead

I’ve been very distracted over the last week or two for numerous reasons and as a result blogging has taken a back seat; unfortunately there’s more of the same to come in the next few weeks as my spare time is cut dramatically short; (something I’m not un-happy to see happen by any stretch of the imagination).
Tomorrow I am due to begin the first of four weeks work experience in The Sunday Business Post, something I am extremely excited about (if not a little nervous). I hope that over the course of my time there I’ll be able to get a feel for working in a real news environment, get the chance to work on some political/business stories and at the very least learn a few do’s and don’t do’s for the long road (that is my career) ahead.

I have no intention of ‘blogging’ my work experience so to speak but I do hope to talk about the learning curve and the differences between college/university and the real world of journalism at some point in the not-to-distant future. I won’t be abandoning the blog either, I just doubt I’ll find as much time as I had before to waffle away on it.

And now to begin my preparations for tomorrow; this generally involves me freaking myself out about what to expect and worrying that I’ve forgotten to do something, even though I know I almost certainly haven’t. Or have I?

Joni Mitchell’s The Fiddle and the Drum

I recently noticed a serious lack of Joni Mitchell music in my collection, despite my love for the one piece of her work I did have, Blue. I’ve set about remedying that and in doing so I realised that a song I first encountered on A Perfect Circle’s eMOTIVe, The Fiddle and the Drum, was in fact her work all along.

Released in 1969 on her second album ‘Clouds‘ the song is an overt reflection on American foreign policy in places like Vietnam however like all great songs of it’s type, and to some degree regretably, it has just as much potency in today’s climate:

And so once again
My dear Johnny my dear friend
And so once again you are fightin’ us all
And when I ask you why
You raise your sticks and cry, and I fall
Oh, my friend
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum

You say I have turned
Like the enemies you’ve earned
But I can remember
All the good things you are
And so I ask you please
Can I help you find the peace and the star
Oh, my friend
What time is this
To trade the handshake for the fist

And so once again
Oh, America my friend
And so once again
You are fighting us all
And when we ask you why
You raise your sticks and cry and we fall
Oh, my friend
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum

You say we have turned
Like the enemies you’ve earned
But we can remember
All the good things you are
And so we ask you please
Can we help you find the peace and the star
Oh my friend
We have all come
To fear the beating of your drum

Get your hands on it some way or another; it is musically bare but extremely powerful all the same.
As an aside, I had to smile a little bit when iTunes, on its completely random ‘shuffle’ mode, lined up Outkast’s ‘Bombs Over Baghdad’ after it recently.

Huh?

Apparently I’ve just won a Nokia N80 phone as a result of my advice to Roam4Free… wow… I really wasn’t expecting that to happen!

I’m one of many that threw my 2c in to help with their site design and probably like the others I thought nothing of it since then, that said this couldn’t come at a better time; my soon-to-be-ex-phone (a SE T630) has seen better days; currently the little joystick doesn’t respond (which makes navigation and predictive texting impossible) and in an amateur attempt to fix it I pulled the outer screen off as well as the buttons… which didn’t help. It’s currently operating with a mixture of sellotape, blind hope and a tiny amount of magic.

Many thanks to Pat & co., I’m really flabergasted; I’ll be sure to blog all about it once I get to grips with the thing, but going by all accounts around the web (and the spec sheet) I’m in for a real treat.

I hope my advice to them came in handy too, and the best of luck to them as they bring their product to market!

Phantom to launch on Halloween

Phantom FM have announced today that they will finally launch their fully-fledged FM service on 105.2FM, starting on the 31st of October. The station will be available to Dublin city and council listeners and will naturally be available online for anyone outside of it’s range.

The launch has been coming a long time; Phantom FM have made numerous attempts at securing a full-time licence and finally won one in 2004 only to face major delays while Zed FM, the consortium that lost out to Phantom, took the BCI to court over its decision.
That issue was resolved earlier this year and the staff have been busy organising the finer details that a launch entails; studio, staffing, marketing etc.

As an aside, the very best of luck to everyone who will be called in for interviews in the next few weeks; hopefully we’ll see Phantom giving plenty of new talent an opportunity to get their foot into the Irish media scene (as it has done for many while broadcasting as a pirate) and hopefully that new talent won’t disappoint.

Normal service resumes

Just back from a short but very enjoyable trip to Amsterdam for the IBC; I had hoped to blog from there but the hotel’s wifi was pricey and my laptop died at the event before I got the chance.

Anyway; I’ll hopefully be able to get the That Was The Week That Blogged feature out tomorrow; I had hoped to get it done on Sunday/Monday morning but that didn’t happen.

Back to work we go!

Over before it began

Don’t bother yourself with the ifs, buts and maybes of today’s Sunday newspapers, RTÉ.ie has just confirmed that Michael McDowell will be the next leader of the Progressive Democrats and there will be no party vote needed to confirm this.

Tom Parlon will become party President, something McDowell was apparently aprehensive to offer while Liz O’Donnell will become Deputy Leader.

While the victor is certain to divide opinion the fact that the party avoided a bloody contest is certainly of benefit to them; now the question is what McDowell will do next.
It may be fair to think that he will push the party to the right in an attempt to take support from immigrant-scepticism in the country at the moment. His ID card for non-nationals and idea of deporting immigrant criminals have been quite well recieved so far and the uneducated fears over further EU enlargement are sure to increase in the coming months.

Not to mention that the Irish political scene is currently lacking a party on the right with centre-right parties being the closest available.

Leadership race should be a matter of how, not who

Politicos from every corner of the country are currently busy holding their collective breath as the PD leadership race sways unpredictably between being a huge personality-based civil war and a complete non-starter; by Monday afternoon the party may have already found itself a replacement for Harney but it may too have found itself at the beginning of a potentially divisive inward debate on its own future.

Interestingly the soundings from political and media circles on what will or could happen next seem to be missing the point as to what actually should be going on. In reality it doesn’t matter how the next leader is found, be it by vote or default. In the same regard it doesn’t really matter who that leader is, be they person-of-the-people or enemy of the state #1. The only issue that does matter and that no one seems prepared to discuss just yet, is what the eventual leader is willing to do to pull their party back from the brink of an electoral catastrophe and possible extinction.

Mary Harney’s resignation has been met across the board with little more than surprise. Everyone, even the PD’s, were taken off guard and as the soon to be ex-Tainiste failed to give a clear and obvious justification for her decision the whispered rumours began to fly around thick and fast.

Her decision not to quit earlier this year was a ruse; the decision was delayed so it seemed that she was jumped rather than pushed. Or she did it to deflect attention away from another damning report on the Irish health service. Maybe there was a story about to break that would destroy her and the party, so she took a hit for the greater good. Or was it that she knew quitting now would be the only way her preferred succesor could have a chance of winning?

Perhaps one reason was that she has been paying attention to the regular polls that pain an increasingly bleak picture for the PD’s in the next general election. The last SBP/Red C poll (pdf) saw the PD’s grab a disgraceful 2% of the vote (with a 2% margin of error), which equates to just 3 Dáil seats. If this poll was an exact representation of the political situation in the 30th Dáíl then the PD’s would have been at the lowest point in their relatively short history.

While these poor poll results are unlikely to be the sole reason for Harney’s resignation they are sure to have played a role in making up her mind. It may be a case that she is attempting to jump from a sinking ship and pass blame for the party’s collapse to someone else or even that she sees the only chance of an electoral turn-around coming under a new leader but either way she feels her leadership at this difficult time is not the solution.
At this stage, whoever takes the leadership of the Progressive Democrats, and it really doesn’t matter who it is, needs to think hard about how they can save the party, and they must do it quickly.

An easy solution, but one fraught with risk, is to pull out of the coalition. This will allow the PD’s to distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular government and claim that the work being done there is not represenatives of the real PD agenda (even though Harney was willing to put up with it for so long). This would simply give the PD’s enough time to jump on the ABB (Anyone But Bertie) bandwagon and try and cut a patch that takes them out of the shadow of Fianna Fail.
If they did to this however they would probably find themselves extremely isolated in the Dáil as a result. Besides this many voters believe that the PD’s are the real problem in Government, and a dislike for FF only comes by association. In this case pulling out of the coalition may benefit others more than it does the PD’s.

The truth is the party needs to shake the image it has gained as the bad-guys of Irish politics and this won’t come through symbolic gestures. Many voters have little time for the party’s policies even if they don’t know them all that well; the idea of privatisation seems to be an instantly negative one amonst most people for whatever reason. The party needs to either communicate itself better, somehow endear itself to the public more or else change policy towards something more acceptable (which would probably be equally suicidal).
There isn’t much time until the next general election, and there isn’t much time for the PD’s to turn themselves around. Changing the leader won’t do much, especially not if you just replace one unpopular member with another so it will be interesting to see what new direction the next leader promises to take the party on and if that new direction will be a change in policy, a change in attitude or an attempt to get the public to understand the party better than they already do. Either way it doesn’t matter who does it, it only matters what they do and how they plan to pull it off.