What happened to Jennifer Knapp?

That’s apparently the question that drove at least one visitor here. And it got me thinking – what did happen to her? The last album I remember her releasing was The Collection back in 2004, which (in the 2-disc version) was a mix of hits and unreleased or hard to find b-sides, covers, and demos, and was a permanent fixture in my CD player until it was abandoned for my Zen. Gotee apparently also recently re-released Kansas, remastered and with a couple bonus tracks. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about it until I saw the search and realized I hadn’t heard anything about her in years now.

Turns out that in 2004, she announced she was going on a sabbatical of sorts, and then rather disappeared off the face of the earth. Google has brought up dozens of totally unsubstantiated rumors, but the one link I could find was referencing a Relevant magazine article from 2004:

In an interview from the January/February 2004 issue of Relevant Magazine, Knapp stated that she was taking a break from music for a while, leaving the future of her career in God’s hands.

“It was definitely time for a break,” she said. “I was touring Lay It Down while recording The Way I Am, then went directly into touring that record. It got to where I was just doing shows to support the record, rather than having a record support the heart of the people I was supposed to be serving. I don’t want to make and tour another record just because that’s what people expect, or because ‘it’s about that time.'”

Knapp gave no indication of when new material will surface. “Truly, no plans and no promises of when,” she said. “At this time there’s really not enough material, and I don’t want to force anything just for the sake of getting a record finished.”

It’s too bad she’s retired from music, as she remains one of my favorite artists, but I can absolutely understand wanting to have a life back after the chaos that surrounds the modern musician’s lifestyle. I hope she’s still making music, even if it’s just for herself, as it would be a shame to think that so much talent could be left untapped.

Edit 10/28/09: For those of you still stumbling here via Google, commenter sami points out that Jen is back!

Edit 4/13/10: For all you stumbling across this post in reaction to the CT article, I’ve posted some new thoughts.

Obligatory geek post

So I finally got around to getting my mp3 library largely sorted – I say “largely” because I still have a folder full of songs that don’t seem to fit anywhere and I can’t recall the source of half the time – and proceeded to tackle the album art issue I mentioned a few posts back regarding my iPod. I was unable to get anything working in Songbird, but my long-time media player Winamp ended up giving me just what I needed. I feel like I should apologize to it; going on ten years of use and I leave it for Songbird, only to come back like a junkie to his dealer.

Fortunately it is a forgiving mistress and using the magnificent plugin ml_ipod I was able to get my iPod fully loaded with album art and most of the rest of my music. There’s something oddly satisfying about seeing the album art in Cover Flow. It’s almost cathartic.

So how’s that for geeky? I relieve stress by flipping through my iPod music library. Yes, I’m a dork.

Also, I find that PJTV will not allow me to register using an email address containing a plus sign. For those using Gmail (or Gmail for your domain), plus signs are used to create email aliases, which are then in turn used to help fight spam and organize your email easily. Now, this isn’t unique to Gmail, many other providers offer this service as well, although I’d wager Gmail is the largest of such providers. Use of certain ASCII characters such as the plus sign is totally acceptable according to RFC 5322, and so there is no reason that a website should disallow their use unless they want to annoy potential subscribers (like me!) for attempting to sign up with something that doesn’t fit Hotmail’s arbitrary standards. Me being me, I probably will not subscribe to this service on a matter of principle until they get that fixed.

Lastly, this is hilarious. Burger King’s marketing department is full of geniuses.

The internet is killing music sales (by increasing them)

Music sales went up another 10.5% in 2008, largely due to over one billion (yeah, with a “B”) digital song sales. There were 428 million full album sales as well, but as the online market explodes (32% increase from last year) physical CD sales drop accordingly (down 14%). This is not surprising to anyone who can look at this rationally. If you have a potential market of 100 people and they can only buy in one format, then the people who will buy will all buy that format. So let’s say you sold 60 CD’s to those people. The next year you release a second album, and allow the new one to be purchased online as well. This time, 66 albums are sold, 40 hard copies and 26 digital.

Are sales down? No. You sold six more albums, and increased your sales over the last album’s by 10 percent. You should be happy about that, not complaining that you sold twenty less CD’s. In fact, if anything, you would be happier, because you have eliminated the cost of creating those CD’s from the process, which gives you a higher net profit from an album sale (and/or allows you to lower the price, thus potentially attracting more customers).

So when you hear the big labels, the RIAA, and the anti-digital music loons claiming that piracy and online music distribution in general is killing music sales and hurting artists, remember that this screwed-up logic is what they’re using. Also remember that countless artists have spoken out against the harmful (and ineffective) tactics used by the RIAA to “combat piracy,” culminating in the creation of a copyright czar cabinet post under the new Obama adminstration, some artists going to far as to drop their labels entirely and finding great success in doing so. Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead both had incredible and well-documented success with their independent online album releases, and many other bands have dropped their larger labels to found independent labels for artists seeking to leave the stifling, anti-consumer attitude propagated by the RIAA.

In addition to the obvious benefits of online music sales over traditional music sales, what has traditionally been described as “piracy” by lawyers and the media is often one of the artist’s best tools to spread his music around and reach ears he would otherwise be unable to. The classic success story here is Jonathan Coulton, who came out of nowhere and distributed his music via his website (with the option to pay, but not forcing you to) and now makes more money off his music than he ever did as a software engineer. I’ll leave you with a 2001 statement from David Draiman, lead singer of Disturbed, that kind of sums up why even the typical examples of piracy given by the RIAA and its ilk are not quite what they seem:

[I’m] Very positive about the internet, Napster. I think it’s a tremendous tool for reaching many more people than we ever could without it. When you release music you want it to be heard by people. Artists really want to have their music heard. They want to have their creation heard by people. Nothing is going to do that better than Napster. I can’t tell you how many kids have come up to me and said, ‘I downloaded a couple of tunes off Napster and I went out and bought the album.’ Or they say, ‘I want to come see you play.’ I don’t really make money off of record sales anyway.

And again in 2003, on the series of lawsuits brought against file sharers:

This is not rocket science. Instead of spending all this money litigating against kids who are the people they’re trying to sell things to in the first place, they have to learn how to effectively use the Internet. For the artists, my ass… I didn’t ask them to protect me, and I don’t want their protection.

The internet as a method for music distribution is (still) exploding. It’s time to jump on the train, not hold on to the boarding station for dear life.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apple

I got an iPod for Christmas. An iPod Nano, 4th gen, to be specific. This is my first iPod, and also my first Apple product. You see, I hate Apple. I hate Steve Jobs and his black turtlenecks and that whole cult of personality going on over there. I hate Quicktime and iTunes and the monopolies they try to create on your system if you install them. I hate the iMac, the iBook, the iEverything, and that whole cutesy, trendy, overpriced iStyle they’ve managed to foist on the hipster crowd. I hate OSX – not really for any good reason, mainly just because it’s an Apple product and its fanboys are annoying. And I hate that guy that plays the Mac in the Mac/PC commercials – John Hodgeman is so much cooler. So yeah, you could say I hate Apple. Or at least I did. Let me explain.

I’m not a complete neanderthal when it comes to portable music – I’d had a Creative Zen Touch which served me well enough for a couple of years, but the battery had died for good and so I’d been without a player for a while. Even when I was using it, the size and weight of the thing made it uncomfortable to carry casually, and the interface was a bit clunky. It sounded fine and did just what it was supposed to do – play mp3s – but it was about as convenient as an old walkman CD player as far as size. So I just didn’t use it all that much.

This iPod is very different. If you, like me, have managed to steer clear of the iCraze til now, I feel it important to emphasize how incredibly small the Nano is. It’s slightly less long, and about two-thirds as wide as my cellphone (a Samsung u540, for comparison) is when closed, while being about one-fifth as thick. It’s as thin as the door badge I have to get into work, and weighs about the same. The build quality is phenomenal – the metal casing feels solid, and the glass covering the surprisingly-large screen is also very sturdy-feeling.

Another thing about the screen – its about the same size as my cell phone’s – is that it is remarkably clear. At 320×240 we’re not talking about anything earth-shattering here, but it’s much more than I had expected or become used to. That, combined with the incredibly smooth Apple software (cover flow is awesome!) provides a really pleasurable experience. It’s actually fun to use the Nano. Hold it in your hand and see the album art and song playing, and adjust the volume with the click wheel. Tilt it on its side and it shifts to cover flow view, so you can browse your collection easily. I’m really impressed with the software on the device, and this is the one area I’ve always conceeded Apple excels at. They simply have a better interface than anyone else out there when it comes to the iPod line of products.

But that brings me to the point of the software on your computer. No way in hell was I going to install that resource-sucking abomination called iTunes onto my computer, so I needed to figure out a way to easily manage my collection and syncing duties via a third party. Enter Songbird. I’d just started playing around with this on my laptop recently, so it was already installed, and came by default with the iPod plugin. Syncing my music to my iPod was completely painless using Songbird’s interface, and for that I give them many props. My only complaint is that the Songbird plugin does not yet support album art uploading to the iPod, but the Songbird staff has said that they hope to be able to support this feature soon (though they have been saying that for at least six months…), and the loss of album art is just a minor annoyance to me at this point. I don’t really look at the album art on the Nano except if I was using Cover Flow, which I can navigate just as easily by name as by picture. That said, if anyone knows a way to easily upload the album art without using iTunes or messing up Songbird, I’d love to hear it.

So this Apple-hating PC user has finally caved and got an Apple product, and he loves it. In fact, he’s using it right now. I’m listening to Dark Passion Play by Nightwish, and it’s fantastic. This the first gadget I’ve had this much fun with in quite some time. Now don’t expect me to go buy an iBook now and spend all my time in the local Starbucks wearing a stylish black turtleneck, but I’ll certainly be more receptive to Apple’s offerings in the future.

Holiday Potpourri

So, posting has been nonexistant rather than light the last couple weeks. Sorry for that. Work has been keeping me busy, and I’ve been doing a bit more to get caught up around here – not to mention the holidays busyness. In addition to that, politics has just been depressing lately, as have local sports, so I haven’t felt much like writing on said topics, which left me without obvious source material. That said, I’m back to give a quick update on what’s going on in the world of me.

The Cardinals have lost 4 of their last 5 games and now look like a team that doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs. I’m hoping they come back and prove me wrong tomorrow against Seattle, but I’m not holding my breath. If we don’t shape up, it will be a quick first round exit for the boys in red. The Suns lost on Christmas day to the Spurs on a heartbreaking buzzer beater three, and the Celtics have now lost two in a row to break their 19 game winning streak. So color me annoyed.

I also got Mass Effect for Christmas from my brother, but am reluctant to install it due to the draconian DRM scheme put in place by EA. I am not sure whether to look for a crack of some sort, or just install it into a virtual environment, but I’ll certainly update with results of whatever I decide to do there. I also got an iPod (yeah, I know) which will be the subject of its own post later.

I finally saw The Dark Knight – and while I don’t feel it quite lived up to the earth-shattering hype that it was given by my friends and the online reviews, it was a masterful movie. Ledger truly did give a brilliant performance, in that I didn’t even recognize him as the actor in nearly any scene. I felt that Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of Harvey Dent was also genius, perhaps on par with Ledger’s Joker in the method of portrayal, although obviously not given quite as much screen time or opportunity in the script. But I really felt that Eckhart was Dent, and being so convinced is the mark of great acting. With that in mind I think the character and portrayal of Batman by Christian Bale was outshone by the masterful acting of Ledger, Eckhart and the ever-brilliant Gary Oldman (as James Gordon). The movie was less dark than was expected as well, which made it easier for me to recommend to my parents and more squeamish friends. While it’s certainly deserving of the PG-13 rating,  the violence was done in such a way that it was mostly kept off screen, and is thus easier to take. It’s a movie I can absolutely recommend, and strongly suggest viewing twice – it was much better the second time, for me.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Johnny Cash. The man was a genius. I’ve also been actually enjoying some Christmas music this year, which I normally don’t. I suppose that’s a good thing.

Christmas was a small, informal event in which my family got together, watched basketball, talked about life and God and the meaning of Christmas, and ate delicious foods. Exactly as it should be.

Here’s hoping you all had a wonderful Christmas. Now go drink some egg nog or something.