Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review: Uvumi

Uvumi.com is a music web site with a focus on artist promotion and social networking. According to their About page, "Our mission is to empower artists, promote widespread creation and consumption of art, and add value to the artistic community." It's geared at helping artists get a platform, boasting a "clean and useful social profile that is highly optimized for search engine indexes." [1]

Since I'm not a musician, however, I can only rate the site fairly from a listener's point of view. So for an easy guide, I've narrowed down my criteria to six categories: appearance of the site, ease of finding music, ease of buying (or, if the artists provide free music, downloading) songs or albums, tech support for problems, general community, and extensiveness of the music library.


Appearance. Uvumi is a cleanly designed site, with categories like "Charts" and "Music" accessible from the main page. The word uvumi is Swahili, and "means low sound, rumbling noise, murmur, or hum." [2] For a new user, the main page seems to toss a lot of information on the screen at once, and can be a bit confusing to navigate at first. Once listeners start to get into the site, however, their friends' activities (making new friends, becoming a fan of bands, favoriting songs) show up, drawing them into the site's various features.

Artist and listener profiles are very functional; artist ones provide a bio, photos, songs, contact info, and more in a visually appealing way. There's a space for other users to leave comments on profiles, and the site gives artists the ability to create professional-looking press releases. Users can also start a blog on the site within seconds.

To sign up, artists must first register as themselves, and then create an account for their band. This resulted in some confusion at first, but seems to work out quite well in the long run.

Finding music. The charts and search functions make it simple to find one's favorite artists, and listen to similar music by genre. Users can favorite songs by adding a star to them, or earmark them for use in their playlists.

Buying/downloading. Currently, it's not possible to buy music directly from the site, but with contact info readily available on artists' pages, users can click through and buy music from other sites. There is an option for artists to allow a free download of a track. Some users have expressed the desire to upload their music for sale or buy it from the site, so whether or not it'll be implemented in the future remains to be seen.

Tech support. The tech support at uvumi is phenomenal, the best I have ever seen from a company. The staff answers their e-mails promptly, and users can send a twitter to @uvumi if they need help, and often receive a response in minutes. The staff outlines plans for the future and necessary maintenance work openly and well in advance. [3]

Community. There is a vibrant community going on at uvumi from "thesixtyone refugees." It's simple to request friendship, become a fan, or leave a comment. The ability to upload multiple photos and contact info makes this site a contender to be the Facebook for music lovers.

Music library. As little as a week ago, the site didn't have very much to offer, but multiple new artists are appearing every day. Right now some of my favorite artists aren't on it yet, but as word spreads about the site, that could change.

Overall, uvumi.com seems to be a great resource for community-oriented musicians and listeners to gather. It's obviously still a young site and is rather small right now, but the staff seem dedicated to making users happy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An open letter to thesixtyone.com

Hey there, thesixtyone.com. I know you're a bit sensitive to criticism, but ... I've been with you for two years, so hear me out. I joined in February of 2008 and fell in love with you at first sight. The music! The community! Everything was so vibrant and new and fresh.

But then you changed. One day I logged in and all I saw was Emily Haines filling the screen, with her armpit the size of my cell phone. I couldn't find my friends on the site, and my playlists stopped after the first 10 songs. You don't play the songs I like smoothly anymore; you change them around like a bad date who keeps fiddling with the car radio. You didn't think of my needs; you only thought about high school hipsters.

Here is what you can do to set things right, or I'll be flipping through my 50 ways to leave you.

1. Bring back walls, and let us talk to artists and other listeners again.

2. Make playlists of a reasonable size again--would, say, 25 songs be too much to ask?

3. LET US KNOW when you're going to radically overhaul the site, and provide an FAQ or tutorial to ease the transition.

4. Give us a way to view the classic setup (white background, small pictures) when we want to view the site in public. (And don't relegate me to a site without a security certificate when I just want to flip through my music.) You can leave the tabs; just give us a way to minimize images. As it stands, it's not work-safe.

5. Acknowledge your users. Lots of people have invested time and money in your site, and are not pleased to be ignored when they have questions or concerns. Give people a way to contact you from your site, and respond, even if it's just something like "I'm sorry, we can't address your concerns at this time." I mean, you just got all that funding from Creative Commons and Linkedin, and you can't hire an intern to answer messages?

Friday, January 22, 2010

It was the best of times ... no, no, it WAS the worst of times

Seems the powers that be at thesixtyone.com, in their infinite might and wisdom, have disabled music embedding. I'll be editing the blog over the next few days (weeks?) to get rid of all the white spaces, and unless the old layout is restored, I'll no longer link to any pages there. If artists give me permission, I'll upload music straight to the blog (and I'm looking at sites now to let me do that).

So for the next few weeks, I'll focus directly on artist spotlights and interviews, as well as reviewing your other options for music listening on the web--including Last.fm, Pandora, Lala, Stereofame, Bandcamp, Cherrypeel, and a few more sites I have tucked away in bookmarks somewhere.

Also, someone told me to start doing book reviews, since I'm a writer and I have a different novel or how-to book on my desk every day, so why not? I also might get into more science or health topics, since I'm in nursing school and all. Stay tuned. I may change the layout of the blog, but you won't ever see an image of your album cover blown up 4x4 all over the screen.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thesixyone unveils site redesign

Updated 1/22/10.

It's just my luck that a few days after I release a FAQ for thesixtyone, they unveil a beautiful (and puzzling) site overhaul. The site was a combination of Internet indie radio mixed with a massive multiplayer game, and now ... well, I'm not quite sure what it is. It's gone viral on Twitter, where people rave it's stunning and original, but it's leaving artists and listeners alike up in arms. Users have announced a black-out day tomorrow (Friday), opting not to sign in to the site.


The new thesixtyone.com.

The redesign puts an emphasis on images and a slick look, but users and artists are puzzled as to how to search for music or send comments to other users, and the site doesn't provide an FAQ to ease the transition. It also features a new section on "etiquette," or how users should behave, in which it calls artists who asked for the site's leaders to be more transparent about how songs reach the homepage "insecure and/or jealous."

Artists such as Hollis Smith, axisONE,and State Shirt have put up songs protesting the layout change, and others have also expressed their disapproval. "You could have had the greatest music site in the world, at one time you did, but for whatever reason you have chosen to destroy this once beautiful thing," wrote user mathmanmrt on the page of one of the creators, Samuel Hsiung.

The old layout is still available at http://old.thesixtyone.com/, but many users aren't satisfied. They've started a Facebook group and web site, both titled I Used to Like TheSixtyOne, and have posted open letters protesting the change. Blogger Lona Nicholle posted her open letter on her blog Too Many Characters, Not Enough Plot:

"The site has lost almost all functionality with this design. If there were drop-down menus, if there was still a comments section, if a thousand things you took away were still available in some form, the design would be perfectly fine. But you have removed all ability to use the site other than to simply stream music. If I wanted that, I’d use any number of other sites. Your site was unique and perfect. If it’s not broken, you don’t fix it. You have rendered the site unusable, and are ignoring your user-base’s complaints."

Well said, Lona. Everyone, use the tag #BoycottTheSixtyOne to get your voice heard on Twitter.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

thesixtyone FAQ

I've taken it upon myself to write up a quick FAQ for Internet radio site thesixtyone.com, since I see a lot of people with the same questions. Check out the site FAQ first, but this has a few tips. And if you're a new artist, check out Color Theory's great guide here.

I'll update this post whenever I see any changes or new questions people have. (This post itself is an updated FAQ from my old Heartstorm blog).

I’m a new listener. Walk me through the website.

Thesixtyone.com is a music site with an emphasis on gaming. (That will make more sense as you get used to the site.) To get started, click around the site and listen to the songs. If you like a song and want to see it get more attention, click the gray heart next to it.

Whoa, hearts? What are those?

Hearts are like points; you’re given a certain amount every day depending on your level, and you can spend them on songs. The more hearts a song gets, the better it does. If a lot of people are "hearting" a song, it will show up on the most active page. If it does well after a minimum of 7 days, it will "post," and move to the recently posted page. If it does really well, it will go onto the hot right now page, also known as the "homepage" (because that's where it originally was). You can sort any of these pages by music genre, or just look at all the songs together.

The homepage, at a glance.

Can I heart a song more than once?

Yep. Used to be it correlated to your level (i.e., level 2 = can heart a song 2 times), but you need to be at least level 5 or so to start doing it now.

What is a "RB" or a "listen"?

A "radio bump" and a "listen" are the same thing--clicking someone’s "listen to radio" button on their profile to hear a random song they’ve saved. Your profile keeps a count of how many times people listen to your radio, and people often bump each other’s radios as a courtesy (and one quest requires it). The name "bump" hearkens back to when there were no hearts, just "bumps" made from points.

What’s this "rack" thing? Sounds painful.

The rack contains songs that haven’t yet posted. You can get extra reputation and hearts for listening to those songs. Usually you can find something really nifty in it; other times it’s ... well, painful.

What’s reputation?

The amount of points you have. You gain reputation by hearting songs that other people later heart, by listening to the rack, and by doing quests and such.

What are quests?

Click the red circle next to your user name, and you will see a list of daily quests. Do those, and you'll get points and hearts.

So what are achievements, then?

Just like in certain video games, achievements can be unlocked by accomplishing something in the site--whether that's listening to a certain number of songs, reviving a song, whatever. You get points (reputation) for doing them.

This band has 112 listeners. How do I become a listener, too?

Just favorite one of their songs, and you'll automatically be added to the tally. It doesn't really change anything for you, but it factors into how popular the band is on the site.

How do I first heart (discover) a song?

Be the first person to heart it, silly. It’s not easy, but the recently submitted page is your friend.

The site swore at me! How do I get it to stop?

If you max-heart a song, the site will yell "Holy s---" at you, by default. Go to your settings and preferences, and check "filter not safe for work content," and it won't do it any more.

(And while you're messing with your settings, go to preferences, and unclick "block messengers from strangers." If you leave that checked, no one can comment on your user page, unless they're in your group or you've subscribed to them! So keep it open.)

Should I join a group?

Yes. It's a great resource, and a good way to chat with people who like the same types of music that you do. (I recommend Max Bumps, though I may be biased.) Groups have their own particularities, including their own page of songs that members are hearting, saving, or featuring a lot.

How do I feature a song on my profile?

Save a song and click “feature” under it. You can feature up to three, and can unfeature them at any time.

How do I revive a song?

The song needs to have already posted, at least 60 days ago. Reviving a song is a huge deal--it sends the song straight to the "recently posted" page.

Revives recently underwent a change. Now, to revive a song, you will need to submit a “bid” from your reputation--that is, an amount of points that you’re willing to spend. The bid must be at least 1,000 points, and you can’t see what other people have wagered. If your bid is highest at the end of three hours, you win and your song is picked. So be prepared to bid high.

Someone gave me this tip: to see what some winning bids were, find a recently revived song, and click on the band name. You can see that user's winning bid by looking at the "hearts" tab (or clicking on it if there are patrons listed) on the profile page.

Generally speaking, it's not really well-liked when someone revives a song that has, say, 12,000 hearts. The point of reviving is to get people to see a song they may have missed the first time around, not the tired old song everyone's heard before. Also, a blockbuster song will stay on the homepage for a long time and keep good new stuff off it.

What is "veg"?

Just a screensaver type thing. Click it (hover over the song you're playing, and a little panel will show up) and see for yourself. Ooh, ahh.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Indie Rewind: Alamo Race Track, "The Northern Territory"

I love minimalistic music videos, because sometimes people just want to see cool shots of the band playing, with sparkly backgrounds and random shots of a kitten. Oh, and great music helps.

Voilà, Alamo Race Track's "The Northern Territory." It was released way back in 2006 on the album Black Cat John Brown, after their Youtube vid for the title song went viral. Apparently they're also popular in Paris.

"The Northern Territory" has been firmly wedged in my "awesome" playlist for awhile now, but a recent revive brought it back to the spotlight on thesixtyone. Dutch indie rock? Yes, please:



They're still touring, but no new music as of yet. Come back to us, Alamo Race Track! We love you.