MyPlay: Why customer experience matters

MyPlay: Why customer experience matters

In my last post I talked about a truly wonderful customer experience I had with Polyvinyl records. I have since made a second order and they continue to give a marvelous customer experience. They have won my heart.

However, I wanted to use this post to talk about the flip side of that coin, a company called MyPlay, which delivered the exactly wrong experience.

My order actually started off with Amazon, which is fine. They deliver fast and everything is generally well packed (which is key with vinyl). I can also easily download MP3’s of most of the vinyl I get from Amazon directly from them as part of the package.

However, Amazon usually offers a lower quality MP3 than most of the download services used by the labels themselves. So I tend to just find the download code included with almost all modern LP’s … except Pete Yorn’s “Music for the Morning After”, for which Columbia Records can burn in hell, but I digress…

Anywho… I put on a new copy of Sia’s “1000 Forms of Fear” and I am liking it. Great voice, great songs and arrangements. I am about two tracks in, when I decide to go download the MP3s.

After a bit of searching on the record sleeve (everyone prints this stuff in mouse type for unknown reasons), I find the download code, which was for the previously mentioned MyPlay website. I was able to go to the site and enter the download code, but this is where things pretty much came off the rails.

By default, the download code attempts to open a new downloader application written in Java. This is without question, the stupidest thing I have encountered in recent memory.

First off, if you don’t have the java plugin installed, you now have to go download it first. Not running the right version? Go download a new one. I actually went ahead and loaded Java, and still got the “missing plugin” error, so the coding is not first rate either. I would point out that at this point, the novice user has gone away.

Being made of stronger (though not necessarily brighter) stuff I tried a few other things (different browsers and such) and finally managed to get a message which basically said, “Hey, you seem to be having problems, would you like to download manually?”

Why yes I would. In fact I am wondering what in the name of Sweet Buttered Jesus possessed you to write a Java application to download files in a web browser. Web browsers have been downloading files since the Mosaic days. What massive improvements over “Click to Download” did you believe you could offer me? Perhaps a new toolbar for my browser? A new set of tracking cookies to monitor my shopping habits? A root kit?

MyPlay is beginning to remind me of that annoying guy that wanders up and pretends to be part of your group conversation, even though nobody in the group knows him. He doesn’t say anything beyond “Yeah” and “I know, right?”. He laughs too loudly and at the wrong times. He has inserted himself into your life and delivers nothing except and oxygen deficit and a general sense of creepiness from every female in your group.

Dimly I am aware that I am liking the Sia tracks playing now, a little bit less.

Clicking the “Manual Download” link leads to page where every track must be downloaded individually… at this point I am annoyed. So I begin clicking my way through the individual links only to find out that the first 10 tracks will download but the final two return “File Not Found” errors.

At this point the record is starting grate on me.

Next stop, the customer service form, where they have replicated the marvelous technology of the phone support tree. This is where you choose an option that almost, but  doesn’t quite fit your issue, which leads to a new set of options that also don’t quite fit your issue, and then to a set of options that are so far removed from what you are looking for that you lose consciousness and begin bleeding from the ears.

At this point, I get up and take the record off, put it back in the sleeve and move it to the back of the pile. I am afraid if I continue to listen, the experience with MyPlay will actually lead me to hate this record.

I was actually prompted to look at some of the other artists listed with MyPlay (linked under the vomit inducing title of “Brand Directory”). These are people who’s records I will avoid. Seriously people, you will be judged by the company you keep. If your partners see you as Brands and not Bands, you are hanging out with parasites.

I need to wash the taste of this one out of my mouth. And so I pop open a new copy of Spoon’s “Ga Ga Ga” and out drops a simple download card from Merge Records that begins with “Dear Honored Listener.” Some people get it, and some people never will.

Posted by John in Music
Tonight on The Turntable: American Football

Tonight on The Turntable: American Football


In today’s mail I got my copy of “American Football” from Polyvinyl and all I can keep saying is “wow.”

Let’s leave aside that fact that this LP was originally released in 1999 and I never knew about it. This 15 year anniversary release is a study in how to create an experience with craft.

For starters, it’s expanded from one to two LP’s, with the second one being a collection of “rare live recordings, demos, and practice sessions.” The vinyl itself is a lovely marbled red and the cover and record sleeves are designed around some very nice photography.

There is also an enormous booklet that includes lyrics, brief stories about each song and (be still my beating heart) the guitars tunings used for each song. That last one almost made me weep. Somebody wanted this music to be enjoyed on every possible level.

In addition, Polyvinyl the record label really has won my heart as well. This order contained a complementary single from the upcoming Alvvays LP (which I had already pre-ordered). Evidently this is a Polyvinyl tradition, in which they occasionally include a little something extra in an order. These extra singles are created specifically for mail order customers and are never sold. They just get slipped into random orders or included with special edition releases. That is pretty awesome.

Oddly, they also included a piece of “Air Heads” taffy with the order. Thankfully, this was well sealed. — I suspect this Champaign-Urbana, Illinois company has little experience with a Georgia summer, where asphalt can actually be rendered into a liquid state from the heat. 🙂 That said, this has to be the most pleasing package I have received in a very long time.

The music itself is a marvelous blend of math-rock and airy melody, which is perfect for the light rain falling outside. Reading through the stories on each track while the music plays is such a treat. It’s more like a conversation. I think this weekend, I will reserve some time to put on the head phones, lay down on the couch with all the lights off and just listen.

This is kind of what I was talking about in my previous couple of posts, what I will term an “heirloom experience.”

For the crafter, it’s considering how what you make will be experienced, touched, heard or whatever. What you make is not simple utility, it is how you pass on an experience to someone.

For the person who encounters the craft, the magic lies in the “aha moment,” when you  realize that someone thought about your experience when they were building or designing. This can be anything from the art and presentation of a great album like the one I am listening to right now, the smooth gentle curve on a nice piece of furniture, or the surprise you feel when a piece of software does what you were hoping, instead of what you expected.

There is a sudden appreciation of the Crafter behind the Craft, the thought behind the experience. So much of our experiences in this vein are negative, rather than positive. In fact, I am fairly certain the the creators of the “blister pack” have likely been atomized at this point by the sheer power of psychic rage directed their way.

The drawback to Craft has always been two-fold: time and money. Craft takes longer and tends to cost more. Everyone is busy and everyone wants to get a bargain. So much so this has actually become the sum total of American industry; the corporation that can shave 3 minutes off a production process or lower the cost of each widget made by 40 cents will succeed and amass tremendous wealth.

These corporations deal with millions of people, so the math makes perfect sense for them. Sadly, most individual humans have bought into the idea that life is a business. We cut 5 minutes here and save 20 cents there, all in the goal of succeeding the way a business succeeds.

The problem is that the math doesn’t work at our level, or even at the level of a small business for that matter. In our lives, we deal with small numbers of people, so the time we shave off of our interactions with them doesn’t benefit us significantly, nor does it benefit them. But still we shave that time and save those pennies, and the only one’s who gain a wealth of experience are the corporations we buy from. The math works for them, but not for us.

What if we took the time, spent the dollar and invested in ourselves and the small group of people we encounter every day? We could take the time to sand down that rough edge on whatever we are making, or spend a little extra money on that bottle of wine to share with a friend (even if they might never notice the difference). What would happen?

Given the amount of stress we inflict on ourselves every day, maybe we should try to bring a few more heirloom experiences into our lives.

Posted by John in Life, Music
Old Habits II

Old Habits II

This is a followup to Old Habits, my first post about getting back into vinyl.

What is it about vinyl? Skips and defects don’t seem to matter the way they did when CD’s first came out.

CD’s were so amazing for the clarity, but I hated the smaller package. Not enough room for art, not the same physical experience. I could overlook it because a lot of my vinyl had been worn to a frazzle. Bad needles, multiple moves and play after play after play. There were days I could have sworn I was born in a set of headphones. The ability to disappear inside of music, not passively absorb it, not use it as background, but actually listen.

This is not about nostalgia, otherwise I would still be stuck firmly in the punk rock of high school. Not to say that “Never Mind The Bollocks” doesn’t still melt my brain. I still play the older records, but I am buying new stuff; Matt Pond, Nada Surf, Fu Manchu, Pinback, Alvvays and Pete Yorn. I am also hitting the “Way Back Machine” and using Amazon/Ebay/Discogs to order things like Camel, John Coltrane, Queen and Supertramp on vinyl.

Nada Surf: "The Weight Is A Gift" and "The Stars Are Indifferent"

Nada Surf: “The Weight Is A Gift” and “The Stars Are Indifferent”

Tonight, while drinking a bit of Chianti (drinking and shopping is evil), I found that Sunny Day Real Estate had a re-issue of “Diary” (Ordered) and Polvo has a release from 2013 that I had never heard of called “Siberia” which will be ordered shortly. I pulled up a bit of “Siberia” on Spotify and decided about 2 songs in that it needed to be in my life.

I think that’s the key here… digital music is around my life. I can tap a button and hear anything, but I mostly listen when I am at work, and then it’s mostly background while I code. It’s about $9 a month and I have almost no connection to it. I throw stuff in the playlist, it plays, I like it and it’s gone. There are a lot of songs on Spotify that I really love, but I have no idea what the name of the song is, who the artist is or what album it’s on. It flows past, ephemeral, accessible, repeatable and without any tangible experience.

Now comes the part where I am going to sound like some old gummer telling kids to get off my lawn… but it’s really not about that. It’s about the concept of an “heirloom.”

The Dictionary defines heirloom as “a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations.” I think there are two key parts to this and they apply to more than just music.

A single of Syl Johnson's "Could I Be Falling In Love?

A single of Syl Johnson’s “Could I Be Falling In Love?

The first part is a “valuable object.” Digital objects are by their very nature infinitely copyable, sharable and also ephemeral. This is not to say they have no intrinsic value, but their value is lessened by their ubiquity. At the same time, they are not actually owned by the actual consumer. If you forget to pay your Spotify monthly account charge, you lose access to the music. However, if you pay the fee again, it’s back as if nothing ever happened. There is no real risk of loss, but there is also no real ownership, no investment.

This brings us to the second part of heirloom: “belonged to a family for several generations.” If I give you the MP3s from a new album I want you to listen to, I still have my own copies. There is no incentive on your part to listen and get the physical item back to me, and no anxiety on my part to giving this item to you. My copy is still intact and I can still listen to it. While this is a huge benefit to me, it also diminishes the value of the music. There is no risk, no ownership. The electrons don’t actually belong to anyone. Music becomes a Tamagotchi pet. You forgot to feed it? Oh well, start over. No worries.

Camel's "The Snow Goose"

Camel’s “The Snow Goose”

This is not to say that digital music has no value. I have sampled more musical styles and genres than I ever would have with physical records. When there is no risk, you can listen to anything. This is hugely powerful and liberating. However, I also came across a lot of music that I wanted to connect to, keep and pass on. Giving someone and MP3 or a link to a stream was always a bit unsatisfying. A month later, they still had never listened and why should they? Those electrons where going to be there forever.

This is the odd contradiction with digital music; It’s permanence, it’s persistence makes it less urgent. If you where going to live forever, why rush anything? At the same time, it’s transient, you don’t actually own it. It’s loss is less meaningful.

I think a digital life is easier, but an heirloom life is better. Does that make any sense?

Posted by John in Music
Old Habits

Old Habits

I restarted an old habit these past few weeks. Vinyl records.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I already have about 1000 vinyl albums. I got out of the habit when CD’s got big (about 500 of those) and I dropped CDs for the most part when audio streaming went mainstream.

I have a Spotify account and a Pandora account, but increasingly music has become a background thing; something to listen to while doing other things.This is probably the way most people listen to music.

However, there was a time for me when music was the thing.

Not an addition to, but the thing. An album was a treasure,  a direct link between me and a band. They had something to communicate to me and I needed to stop and listen. Anything less would just be rude.

I lost some of this with CDs because I could cram 5 of them into a changer and just play. I got even farther away from it when digital music became the norm. There’s something about access to every track ever… It’s a little like Ikea: when it’s cheap and pervasive, it’s easier to take for granted, just passively absorb like background noise. No attachment and no history.

It’s especially odd for me as a wood worker. There is a huge movement right now around hand tools and heirloom furniture. The idea that the thing you create is important enough to pass down, not just use and discard. It’s not just utilitarian ephemera, it’s an expression of it’s creator. It’s a moment in time.

It seems to me that there are pieces of history that are just simply transitional. They get us from point A to point B. They serve a purpose, without question, but they are not the stories we tell our children. They are the things that happen between History (big H).

And then there are pieces of History; expressions of self, slices of time and moments of wonder.

Stop right now and think. Which of your moments are the heirlooms you will pass to your children and which are just transitions and ephemera.

I am listening to Matt Pond PA’s “Several Arrows Later” on 180 gram vinyl. What are you doing?

Posted by John in Life, Music

September From eMusic

brendonbensonBrendon Benson – My Old Familiar Friend: Why is it that this man is not worshiped as a god? Seriously, give him whatever he wants as long as he continues to make music. This release has some wonderfully genre bending synth work on it. The first track “A Whole Lot Better” made me go back and double check the iPod to make sure one of my Camel tracks hadn’t somehow slipped into the mix. Benson quickly pulls the tune back into familiar pop territory and delivers a marvelous tune. He continues to tip toe through genres with such extraordinary ease; from the cheesy strings of Garbage Day to the prog rock of “Gonowhere” and yet he never seems to mock. He also manages to pull each genre in interesting new directions, introducing us to his old familiar friends.

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Posted by John in Music

August From Emusic

This is my first try at writing a consistent monthly article. I am going to write up a list of what I downloaded from emusic this past month and a brief review of each. This was the take from August. Enjoy.

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Posted by John in Music

Jeff Kelly: The Swan In The Hallway

Jeff Kelly’s latest release, The Swan In The Hallway, is a melancholy collection of songs, which manages somehow not to come off as sad or sappy. Kelly has managed to avoid the introvert-alterna-pop cliché of “Oh woe is me.” Instead he appears to wink knowingly at his situation. It seems like he is actually celibrating his isolation and finding odd little facets to being alone.

It took me a while to warm up to this release. I listened through once or twice and it didn’t seem to grab me. I stuck it in with a bunch of other music in iTunes and kind of forgot about it. Fortunately iTunes didn’t. Every time a song from this release would pop up, I would find myself humming along and checking iTunes to see who was playing. So I went back and grabbed the CD out of the stack and it’s been in my player for the last week.

Fans of Green Pajamas may miss the more noisy psychedelic sound of the full band, but the toned down arrangements lend themselves to Kelly’s voice. When he does finally kick up the intensity a bit on The Girls Of The Ford it seems more urgent because of the contrast. That contrast comes right back on the very next tune where Kelly drops things back down to a haunting piano tune called, The Depth Of My Desire.

This is a very good release from start to finish. I would definitely recommend it.

Hidden Agenda

Posted by John in Music

The Knack: Round Trip

The Knack are most famous for their 1979 hit My Sharona. For those of you too young to remember (and those too old to care) My Sharona was one of the most bouncy pieces of musical bubblegum to ever hit the air waves. The rest of the album was filled with brilliant pop song, good harmonies and tight arrangements. That first release, called Get The Knack, propelled the band to almost instant stardom, followed by a “Nuke the Knack” backlash which seemed to catch the band off guard.

They played it safe on their second release, But The Little Girls Understand which was mostly a rehash of what they did on the first album. Listening to the album, you can almost hear the record exec’s saying “Yeah! gimme more of that ‘My Sharona’ thing.” As it turns out this was a disaster. Little Girls was chock full of bouncy pop to be sure, but the lyrics had all of the depth of “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire.” The band had one hit off of the album, Good Girls Don’t whose title reflected the titillated frat boy feel of the album. By the time Third World was released, it was greeted with a universal yawn.

This is a shame.

Third World found a band beginning to mature. The innuendo was still thick as a new york phone book, but the band broadened its range with songs like Africa, a funky world beat exploration and slow piano ballads like Pay The Devil. Just Wait and See and Another Lousy Day in Paradise provided die hard fans with a tasty dose of pop, while Art Wars (My personal fav) found the Knack making a personal statement on the popular/political nature of art.

The early 80’s really have a lot to answer for. Some of the most putrid dreck since Starland Vocal Band made its debut in this era. While the Knack may have launched a hundred skinny tie bands, they also produced some really good music, the kind of music that makes me drive faster than I should and sing even when I know I’ll never hit the note.

The Knack continue to release music worth listening to, including their most recent release, Re-Zoom which contains a fantastic version of Elvis Costello’s Girl’s Talk. I would ask any fan of pop music to give them a try.

Posted by John in Music

Green Pajamas Greatist Hits

It’s no surprise to my friends that I like this release. Green Pajamas are one of my favorite bands and after 17 years, this band deserves a Greatest Hits CD. The selection of songs is first rate and provides a good overview of the band.The CD opens with the 2003 version of Kim the Waitress. While this version does not hold a candle to the live version on the band’s Lust Never Sleeps, it’s a good opening for the CD. They also manage to include 3 of my favorite songs She’s Still Bewitching Me, Rattlesnake Kiss and Just Another Perfect Day.

Usually I am not a big fan of Greatest hits, because they take the tunes out of context and tends to lose a lot of the nuance of a release. The other reason is that these releases tend to focus on the radio hits and ignore many of the turning points in the bands career. As this band has no radio hits, the first point is moot. The second point is still valid for long time Green PJ listeners. I find myself waiting for the song that came after the one I was listening to, only to find that it didn’t.

Anyway… If you don’t know the band, this is a good place to start. If you already have all of the releases, rip them to MP3, stick them in iTunes and play them all in order.

Hidden Agenda

Posted by John in Music