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Apple Music aims to strike modern lifestyle chord
San Francisco (AFP) June 10, 2015

Les Paul remembered as music visionary 100 years on
New York (AFP) June 9, 2015 - Asked to name music superstars, few in the general public would immediately think of Les Paul. But 100 years after his birth, his many admirers are hoping to promote him as one of modern music's indispensable figures.

Paul, who died in 2009, was an acclaimed jazz guitarist but also a prolific inventor. He paved the way for the rock era by pioneering the electric guitar and revolutionized how artists record music.

On what would have been his 100th birthday Tuesday, a foundation dedicated in his legacy set up a mini-museum for the day in New York's Times Square with a tribute concert in the evening.

"We're reintroducing Les. We sometimes joke around that Les is the most famous person nobody knows," said Michael Braunstein, the executive director of the Les Paul Foundation.

"When you ask children, or a certain generation, they think Les Paul is (only) a guitar," he said, referring to the Gibson instruments that bear his name.

Braunstein -- who, along with his grandfather and father, served successively as Paul's manager -- argued that the guitarist's impact was unique for its wide scope.

"We argue that Les is the most influential and important individual in the music industry ever," Braunstein said.

- Musician and inventor -

Even if one does not rank Paul using such superlative terms, he is the only person enshrined in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Paul's key innovation as a luthier was to create a solid-body electric guitar.

Unlike an acoustic guitar, whose hollow body let the sound reverberate, the solid instrument sustained the plucking of the strings -- which could then be amplified.

"I want sounds that have never been heard on Earth. I want new sounds," Paul said in a quotation on the exhibition wall.

Paul also created his own recording system in the 1940s that allowed him to play along with a previously taped track.

While such mixing is now possible even with basic mobile devices, Paul's technique was groundbreaking by allowing guitarists to record themselves playing multiple parts in the same song.

"Every guitar player should think about him every time they go and plug into an amplifier, that if it was not for Les, there wouldn't be that," said Neal Schon, guitarist of classic rock band Journey.

Schon told AFP that Paul belonged to a rare group of guitarists with "distinctive voices that set them apart," including blues legend B.B. King, who died last month.

"There are so many YouTube videos of guys shredding up and down the fretboard," Schon said.

"It's up to you to try to do it your own way, to where it sounds somewhat new and has some personality to it.

"I think that's the hardest thing for young kids to figure out. It's not the dexterity."

Schon is among musicians to take part in the tribute concert along with blues rocker Steve Miller and harder-edged guitarists including Joe Satriani and Zakk Wylde, who is best known for playing with Ozzy Osbourne.

- 'Wizard of Waukesha' -

Paul was born as Lester Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin, then a small town before white flight from Milwaukee turned it into a major suburb.

One of his first inventions was a harmonica holder worn around the neck, a design that is still in popular use.

Waukesha and Manhattan both declared Tuesday to be Les Paul Day, while the Discovery World museum in Milwaukee is holding an exhibition.

Despite paving the way for heavy metal, the so-called "Wizard of Waukesha" was known for his mild manner and played jazz every Monday evening for 13 years at New York's Iridium club until his death at age 94.

Apple is striking a power chord with a new music service in a bid to drown out offerings from established players such as Spotify, Deezer, YouTube and Pandora.

Even though Apple Music, set to launch later this month, combines on-demand music with a social network for artists and the global popularity of the California company's hardware creations, it will still face a challenge of winning over people from services they already use, analysts say.

"All of these companies have a huge head start on Apple and Apple will have to convince users to switch," said Edison Investment Research analyst Richard Windsor.

Add to that the fact that as much as people enjoy listening to music on smartphones or tablets, they tend to want do it for free.

"Apple has the hurdle of convincing people that their service is worth the money for it in the first place; and then, for people that are paying for a service, to strike a switch," Kantar research chief Carolina Milanesi told AFP.

Leading streaming music service Spotify along with Pandora and others already use software to tune offerings to the tastes of individual listeners.

Apple Music will do likewise, while also adding real people who design playlists based on artists or genres.

A danger for the likes of Spotify is that Apple commands a broad and loyal following, hundreds of millions of whom already have iPhones in hands and credit cards on file in iTunes accounts.

Everyone who updates an Apple device to the coming iOS8.4 operating system will be able to get three months of Apple Music free.

- Late to the game -

While feature-for-feature Apple Music is not dramatically different from rivals, the service comes with a Connect social network where artists can share thoughts or intimate moments with fans and, hopefully, get them to buy songs or concert tickets.

Even given strong relationships built with the industry since iTunes launched more than 14 years ago, Apple will need to keep musicians and labels happy in the face of the fact that royalty money made from streaming online is less than what can be taken in from traditional radio play or album sales.

By sticking to selling songs for digital download at iTunes for more than a decade, Apple let startups capitalize on a trend toward listening to music streamed on-demand via the internet instead of actually owning it.

"Apple comes late to the music streaming business, due in part to Steve Jobs's refusal to believe that music subscription services would ever work," Forrester analyst James McQuivey said, referring to the company's late co-founder.

"But the writing is on the wall: digital downloads don't make sense for consumers that are connected wherever they go."

Even given a tardy start, Apple can still beat industry leading Spotify because it can build the service into hundreds of millions of devices "that its loyal Apple users already love," McQuivey said.

- Big splash -

Apple Music also promises to boost rivals a bit by igniting interest in streaming music overall.

"I think it will make a big splash," Sony Music Entertainment chief executive Doug Morris said during an on-stage interview at Midem in Cannes on Sunday.

"It will have a halo effect on the entire business... a rising tide lifts all ships."

Music industry revenue has sunk to $15 billion annually from twice that amount a decade ago, Morris said.

Services that have popularized this type of music online attract the bulk of their users with free offers financed by advertising.

The world's top service, Sweden-based Spotify claims 60 million users, only 15 million of whom are paying subscribers.

Apple's music offerings will include Beats 1 radio, with ad-free programming streamed globally.

The components of Apple Music set up the potential for listeners to hear new music, connect with the artists at the social network and then easily buy songs for download from iTunes.

"Apple has an opportunity to launch the sort of music platform the industry has been waiting for during the entire digital era but has not yet seen," music sector analyst Mark Mulligan said in a blog post.

"It now has the right materials with which to build it."

Apple declined to discuss how artists were being paid, a sensitive topic in the industry that led singer Taylor Swift to pull her titles from Spotify a few months ago.

The Apple Music social feature dubbed 'Connect' was seen as a spin on Ping, launched years ago by the California company.

"If you're a small artist and you're just getting started, that's a great platform for everything that you do, to connect with your fan base," Milanesi said.

Along with offering a competitive monthly subscription price of $10, Apple added a family plan that allows tunes to be simultaneously streamed to as many as six devices for $15 monthly.

"Having people to spend money, even if it's a pretty good deal -- which it seems to be -- that's been the big challenge in music services," NPD analyst Stephen Baker said while discussing Apple Music.

"If they are successful, it'll be because they have such a strong overall ecosystem."

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San Francisco (AFP) June 7, 2015
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