Industry Profile: Ty Roberts
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Ty Roberts, chief technology officer, Gracenote.
Thankfully for us all, digital media pioneer Dale "Ty" Roberts was far more adept at computers while a teenager than playing trombone.
While an enthusiasm for music remains, it’s been his fascination with computers and with artists that have underscored his remarkable career in entertainment and informational technology.
One of the inventors of enhanced CD technology, and credited with producing the entertainment industry's first enhanced CDs, Roberts has been lauded as one of the fathers of modern digital entertainment.
Roberts is the chief technology officer for Gracenote, the global provider of music recognition, and digital entertainment services.
Gracenote, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, is a global leader in embedded technology, enriched content, and data services for digital entertainment solutions within the internet, consumer electronics, mobile, and automotive markets.
Gracenote powers such leading services as Apple iTunes, Yahoo! Music Jukebox, Winamp; home and automotive products from Alpine, Panasonic, Philips and Sony; and mobile music applications from Samsung, Sony Ericsson, KDDI (Japan), KTF (Korea), Musiwave (Europe), and others.
The company has offices in Tokyo, Munich, Berlin, Seoul, and Taipei with worldwide headquarters in Emeryville, California.
The Gracenote Global Media Database, with patented technology developed by Roberts, is the largest, and most comprehensive music database in the world with 130 million tracks and eight million albums.
The database, featuring music and video metadata and licensed cover art images, processes more than 10 billion queries per month, and powers smart phones, PCs, automotive systems and HDTV from most of the leading brands.
As Gracenote's chief technology strategist, Roberts provides technology direction, and oversees the creation of products and services.
He joined Gracenote in 1998 when it was still called CDDB—created by Steve Scherf and Ti Khan—which acquired ION Music, a multimedia and music technology company that he had founded in 1993. CDDB was renamed Gracenote in 2000.
ION Music was a leading provider of enhanced CD production tools utilized by recording and multimedia development companies. While at ION Music, Roberts produced the industry's first enhanced audio CD titles, including David Bowie's "Jump" and "Headcandy" from Brian Eno.
While working as a contractor with Apple Computer from 1989 to 1994, Roberts worked with music multimedia pioneers Steve Nelson, Tony Bove, and Marc Canter to help music artists evolve music into an interactive platform.
He wrote the first computer controlled, high quality frame grabber to digitize video. He also connected Apple’s Quicktime team to music artists to get music videos as examples. Among the artists participating were Todd Rundgren, Michael Penn, Juliana Hatfield, and the Residents.
Prior to working with Apple, Roberts was a founder and senior manager of LightSource, a software development company that produced multimedia and graphics editing software.
Previous to LightSource, he was a senior engineer at Pixar, where he created several Apple-based music applications including, "Studio Session" and "Jam Session."
Today, Gracenote is well positioned to play an important part in the success of Cloud-based music. The company powers Omnifone, Pandora, MOG, Beyond Oblivion, Spotify and other services which utilize its content and technology to both fuel and enrich their user experiences.
Gracenote recently unveiled an audio fingerprinting technology to be applied to the television experience that is based on audio content recognition.
The Gracenote Entourage platform, slated for general availability in the spring, will enable consumer electronics (CE) devices to identify movies, TV programs and music by simply “listening” to short sound clips. By making its extensive database available, Gracenote in turn gives consumers access to related content, including advertising brands and links to on-demand services, where they can purchase, stream or download additional content.
Meanwhile, Gracenote’s MoodGrid technology now lets automobile drivers and their passengers find and play songs to match their mood. They are able to navigate music collections and launch mood-based playlists with one-touch or simple voice commands.
What’s your take on the recent protest over the Stop Online Piracy Act?
It certainly was interesting watching the web sites go off. The reality is that I think that it’s (copyright legislation) over for now. Maybe, it will come back in the future. The intention was the right thing, which was to try to do something about piracy. Nobody has a problem with that. The question is, what happens after that? It is a difficult problem. Seemingly, this kind of issue is right on the cusp of how do you allow innovation, and the expansion of the internet at the same time protecting peoples’ creative works? It’s a problem.
[Outrage over the Stop Online Piracy Act legislation introduced in the House of Representatives triggered a one-day blackout on Jan. 18, 2012 by Wikipedia's English-language service, and an estimated 7,000 smaller websites. Protests and petitions led to the bill being effectively derailed. The legislation would have allowed the U.S. Justice Department to target legitimate sites where users share pirated content.]
Other than this, has the music industry finally got its digital music strategy right in 2012? Or are labels and music publishers still leaving money on the table and missing opportunities?
Let me say that they aren’t leaving enough money on the table. The problem is that their business model has been predicated on people needing to license access to their catalogs. So for a (subscription) service like Rara (Omnifone’s Rara.com) that needs to start up and have a business, those guys might have to pay tens of millions of dollars in licensing fees just to get enough licenses together to launch the service.
If you look at this in the past as how CD retail would work; to get some CDs in your stores, you called up a distributor; and you may have paid thousands of dollars to order a couple cases of CDs to put in your store. The entry cost for becoming a retailer of CDs was very small. So the problem is these very, very high fees—that the digital costs of being a retailer is very very high; and therefore they (labels) are choosing to have a small number of large retailers, instead of thousands or tens of thousands small ones. The internet works more like the tens of thousands or millions of small ones than the large ones. It’s great to have a deal with Google, but there are a lot of other people other than Google.
Until iTunes, the labels missed years of opportunity to bulk sell music on the internet.
Yeah. They were always afraid that they would end up with a dominant player who would monopolize their business.
Of course, iTunes does monopolize their business today.
Which they ended up with because they didn’t work with anybody. Somebody figured out how to do it without their help. They did have lots of time to try and figure it out, but it’s been very hard. The guys that are running the record business now are my peers. These guys understand what to do, but those guys weren’t in charge, even five years ago. Let’s see what my peers do now. Give them their five years and see what they can do. Things seem to be improving. I am impressed with what has been happening with the new music services that are online. They are getting to be very exciting.
iTunes set the template for the music industry to follow.
It did. But only as a template for the file download business. Not a template for streaming or enhanced services or any of these kind of things that are coming. It’s a fairly simple product offering in the sense that the current products are organized for storage-based media players. When you are talking streaming, you have a cloud service now; but it’s not really what these other streaming guys are doing. Let’s see what happens.
Unlike films in which distributors or film companies generally own all of the rights, music has numerous rights holders, including labels and publishers.
That’s a huge problem for anybody building a service because tracking some of those people down is expensive. It makes it a real problem. It seems that there is now movement in the world to simplify that licensing regime. I believe that it is going to take another 10 years for that to happen. I think it will eventually happen both internally in the U.S,. and externally. That’s been really a huge challenge. The product itself is so complicated (to license). We know about it at Gracenote just from doing our lyrics product. We had to be in touch with all of those little publishers.
How did you do it?
It has been a long time since we have sent a fax; but we learned how to send faxes again because a lot of these (publishing) guys are only reachable by fax. Really a publishing entity can be essentially a guy in a house with a post office box. We had to contact all of those people. It took us years and years and we spent a lot of money chasing people down to P.O. boxes in the Cayman Islands.
Lyrics can be readily copied, and are used on so many illegal sites.
That’s one of the problems for the lyric business itself. Piracy is a huge issue. There were a lot of sites that compete with the large licensors of ours that were illegal. Maybe they (our licensor) were the #3 site; and the #1 and #2 sites were the illegal guys. There wasn’t much that could be done about that because these guys were often in countries outside our jurisdiction.
It’s a real tough business and the best thing that we can do with the lyrics is to provide a mass of them in a simple way to these applications. So what has worked for us is taking the lyric database and putting it on a search engine for our large partners like AOL and other customers with legal entities that worked. Those are all legitimate businesses. They are not able to go and license from pirate sites. But (the lyric business) has been a change. I really wish there weren’t as many illegal lyric sites.
Publishers still don’t allow lyric sites to let people “cut and paste” lyrics from the site onto their own devices.
The problem with us is that we’d have to go back to all of these little publishers and get the approval. Early on in the lyric business there were so many fears about doing it that a lot of these restraints came about. We would like to get rid of those. Maybe in the next round of lyric licensing, we will be able to do that.
Can today’s artists reach audiences to the same degree as artists in the past?
I think that they can, but they need help. What has been working recently—though I’m not a massive fan—has been television. It has come back to the music business. People are connecting. They are connecting with the personality. It’s not just the music. There’s a person behind the music. That’s what these TV shows are about. Yes, you want to see an amazing performance which I would say that some of these people are providing—there are amazing performances there—but you also want to see their (artists’) personal interaction with each other, with the judges, and with the other people on these shows.
The world is crying out for a better way to understand who artists are; and what they are really about; and to be able to communicate with them. That mechanism is somewhat coming with Facebook and other means; but I do really feel that there could be a better music product that allows the music artist to connect with the people who are listening to music, and facilitate a much better interaction than there is today.
The thing is really finding out a way to bring the exciting world of the personalities behind the media—be it movies or music—how to bring what they are really about to the experience of enjoying their music because the music is only one part of what music artists do and where they live, and/or what they look like or who they hang out with and what they are interested in—what they like or don’t like. That is all a big part of what they are too. That is not really reflected in the current experiences very well.
That interaction is really important to the fan experience.
As much as people like live music, for most people it is really hard to see artists these days. I’m lucky that I live in San Francisco, and there’s good music clubs of a reasonable size that I can go to and see a lot of music. But that’s rare. There’s only a few cities in the United States where that exists. Other than that, you are stuck with these arena (shows), and very few artists can fill an arena. So there’s not very many of those. That really is a problem. Being able to see artists live is not fantastic, and it’s not helping that much. With some artists, live also isn’t really their thing anyway.
Gracenote recently partnered with Twitter, The Echo Nest, and Rovi in order to scale the distribution of Twitter account data for musicians for integration in consumer-based apps. What will be the outcome?
With some artists, with their Twitter thing, they don’t actually do anything on it themselves. It’s where their fans can tweet. But with other artists, their Twitter is their ultimate way of communication. When you are playing a song from somebody, let’s see what they said on Twitter recently or let’s see what someone else said about them recently. That’s real time information about them (the artist). That’s interesting. A person plays a song, “Oh my goodness, Bono is really upset about this thing in Florida. I didn’t even know about that. I should go and check that out.” Whatever that is. A lot of that stuff comes to Twitter as a mechanism. It used to be that these guys (artists) would put it on their blog, on their website, but Twitter is a much more effective mechanism than that these days.
[With the new partnership with the three music data services, Gracenote, The Echo Nest, and Rovi, Twitter developers can now work with partners to integrate @handles from thousands of musicians and tweets into their music and entertainment services.]
Last month (January) Yahoo! Inc. reported that revenue and forecast sales fell short as web users are now spending less time on Yahoo’s pages, instead favoring such social networks as Facebook, and search results generated by Google.
With many of the music services relying on advertising, if we are seeing a bleeding of advertising, is that going to endanger growth of these services?
I think it’s a danger to those who do banner ads which is what their (Yahoo!) business is mostly about. Basically, only an idiot clicks on a banner ad. The reality is that if their whole business is based on that…I have tried not to click on one of them for years. Every now and then I will. It takes a lot more for me to click on a banner ad.
So the reality is that if you are a social network, and it’s really an integrated experience with the brands and the products, that’s what works. That’s what people are going to do. I actually think that it’s a very interesting trend where people who are going to advertise to me, make sure that it is something that I actually like to do; make sure it’s in a context that I am willing to accept. Not just some flashing thing on the corner of a page.
Obviously, there’s an ebbing demand for display advertising, advertising overall is exploding on the internet.
If you are in the advertising world, the number of places to place an ad is infinitely expanding. Every device is going to be connected. What that means is that the cost for placement is going to go way down because there’s a million outlets. But how do you get people to look at it (an ad), and how do you get them to actually care about it. I’ll tell you that music—if you look at advertising over the last 50 years—music works pretty well. That is why music has always been part of advertising, and a lot of things. So music is a great thing and film and music and celebrities and stars are the kinds of things that I will call the basics of advertising which, maybe, haven’t been as well reflected in the internet where it has primarily been about search and banner ads.
Data has become a hugely valuable commodity as companies seek ways of making money from users' web habits with ever more targeted adverts.
There’s a lot of smart people in the advertising business, and I think that there’s going to be a big change in the next few years as people start to figure out how to really reach the consumers.
With its use of meta tagging, Gracenote certainly provides enhancement of the musical experience.
It comes from even the definition of the name of the company. We are kind of like that intro note or that embellishment that adds a little spark to the music. We aren’t the music itself. We are kind of the lead in. We are kind of the thing that tells you about the music, and gets you up to speed. Originally, yes the database was only music and, of course, we have a vast information set for music now global. I think it’s somewhere around over 100 million tracks of information (100 million tracks, actually). It keeps growing all of the time.
What’s happening is that most of the data now comes from record labels—feeds from the labels—but really with digital technology, music has been expanding to the far reaches of the world. So before, maybe, we weren’t having the most master (list) data of African music; well now, Africa is online. People are using these technologies in these regions and we are getting all of the information in there and capturing it all over the planet. A few years ago, we had most of the American and western world (music) and we have really started to go globally. There’s music of all different kinds and languages in there; and people are helping us editorially. Teams that we have sift through that (data) and improve it, collect it, and we have kept working. It is definitely the largest database of its kind in the world.
The music experiences available today via Gracenote hearken back to the music projects you did with CD-ROMs. The experience of viewing graphics and data was there when people started listening to music decades ago.
Yes. It’s been my goal to get back to that, actually. The (experience) curve—I hate to say it—has not been that friendly to music business because when the internet came along, music—certainly on CDs—had really nice packaging, and great information, and there were these box sets. Even though the packaging of CDs was smaller than an album, people were at least provided with a sense of graphics and a visual presentation that went with the music. Back then, you had music television (including MTV) providing the visuals; providing the video component. The internet came along and, unfortunately, the pipe for the internet was so small that when digital music first arrived on the internet it was reduced to purely the sound and the textual information about the music.
The internet really acted as a funnel.
Yes. And if you think about what I was doing with those music artists was that I was making rich, multi-media interactive music albums.
You worked right in the studio with the artists like Brian Eno and David Bowie.
Absolutely. The idea was to create some kind of a multimedia record album. But we couldn’t squeeze that through the internet until about now—until the last couple of years. So what has happened is that we had to add things back to the musical experience. Gracenote started with the textual information. Then we added the album cover artwork. That turned out to be interesting. People wanted to see the artwork and, of course, the creation of these iPods and things that had graphical displays helped a lot with (the popularity of) the album artwork. The album artwork went from the iPod into phones and into cars.
With these new automobile (systems), the album artwork comes up right on the display of the car. Ford, for example, has this. Mercedes as well. It turns out that you can, as a human, pick a song by the album artwork faster than reading the text. In fact, reading the text is kind of dangerous. So putting up a little grid of 6 by 6 of album covers, you can click on that a lot faster. You know what album that is just by looking at the picture. Your brain is a lot better at that than trying to read a scrolling list and trying to find it.
In-car music interfaces had been limited by technology and safety issues but that has changed. But there’s still a long way to go.
What has happened is that we have made it safe to access music services and music collections inside your car. All safely. We got there with voice (voice-activated devices) and other things. But we are just now starting to put multiple people in the car into one useful context inside the cars. This is one of the big challenges right now is that when there are three people inside the car, a lot of these systems are designed to take into account (only) the driver.
But in my car I have my wife, and my 12-year-old son in the back seat. All three people are in the car, and all three people have different musical tastes. How can we make music that we would all listen to? How can I give control periodically to my son because he likes to control things? I don’t want him in control for every song but, maybe, he can pick every third song. How can I devise a system that does that? He would love to subject us to the latest hip hop thing which we will listen to for a song if my wife can subject him to some classic R&B or soul hit which she will listen to for a song. That multi-user experience is what I want. My goal is to get the kid in the backseat to take his hoodie off his head, take his earphones out of his ears, and participate in the car. That would be a miraculous thing.
Instead of having the isolation of wearing earphones.
That’s exactly it. I travel off the freeway and I see these kids slumped against the rear windows everywhere I go.
[While in-car music interfaces have been limited by technology and safety issues, new voice-activated devices have entered the market, breaking open the possibilities for tuning in music while in the vehicle. Gracenote’s Entune system, for example, lets drivers and passengers use voice and touch commands to connect to their apps, and to interact with music on their mobile devices.]
As the internet provided a thin pipeline for music delivery, the music industry was very nervous about the conversion of CDs to music files.
That’s correct. They didn’t really understand how to make money in a world where it was a world of singles. We had people spending on CDs which is a fantastic product that I would even buy when I was just a programmer without any money; I would spend $50 or $60 a month on new CDs. That was amazing when you think about it.
What happened is that that (sales) number went down and down over a period of time because people suddenly had all of these other things. It was just not the internet and music; there were now all of these other things that they could do—video games, for example. Today, you can spend all day just playing around with Facebook. So the reality is that there just became a lot more competition for peoples’ time; along with the fact that the record (album) fractured into singles along with the fact that the exposure of consumers to new music went away to some degree. MTV became a channel about reality TV shows; and there were issues with the concert business and ticket prices. There were so many factors that really made music less competitive.
Also consumers took control. The recording industry tried the wrong strategies to encourage consumers not to copy music across the internet—like the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) and so on. The labels were too controlling. The consumer basically said, “We will work out flexibility ourselves.”
Right. That’s correct. Eventually, I believe that right now that consumers are changing a little bit. They are going to realize that with these new music services that are out there now that the flexibility that they get from those is far greater. The problem is that it requires a re-education process for consumers about how to expose and really enjoy music.
The technology that Gracenote is providing…our goal is to make it so that we can help broaden their tastes, and help them find the music that they want automatically because once you give someone a 26 million song streaming catalog, the average person knows about 10 artists. What do they do then? Even with me, and I am a big music fan, and I know a lot. I have access to these services; and I am often at the gym going, “What am I playing today?” It is surprising that unless you have this (information) technology to assist you—and I will call it your education process—you will play the same old stuff or you won’t play anything at all because that (limitation) is kind of boring.
[Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) began as forum in 1998 composed of more than 200 IT, consumer electronics, security technology, ISP, and record labels with the purpose of developing technology specifications that protected the playing, storing and distribution of digital music. The strategy involved implementing a secure digital watermarking scheme that would allow music to be tagged; and an assurance that SDMI compliant players would not play SDMI tagged music that was not authorized for that device. However, the alliance between recording and technology industries failed. SDMI became inactive in 2001.]
I have a friend in the U.K. who complains that he has 50,000 songs in his computer and has nothing to listen to.
Exactly, and that’s the problem. You need to have this technology. That’s why we have really gone down the path to understand what mood are you in? What are you doing? Are you at the gym? Are you driving to work? Are you trying to go to sleep? Are you trying to wake up? So if we can basically figure out what the consumer is actually doing, then we can start to look around, and say, “A-ha, the last time you went to the gym, you liked this upbeat dance music. You need more ABBA.” We can figure out what they should play.
That’s what Gracenote’s MoodGrid technology is all about?
That’s what MoodGrid is really about which is trying to remove the concept of trying to pick an artist and a song and replace it with, “How do I want to feel?” The system has access to your profile because it can see, for example on an iPod when you play a song. It sees all of the songs that you play. Every time that you play a song on the iPod, it increases a little count in there. So we know if you really like the B-52s and you really like this or that song. We can see that behind the scene and then we kind of ask you how do you feel and try to figure out from how you feel, of the things that you like, what you should experience. That’s kind of how it works.
How does MoodGrid technology deal with the listener information that it gets?
The way that we get the information is that we build a computer-listening algorithm that basically runs across the audio and computes all kinds of different perimeters. What key is this music in? What kind of instrumentation is it? What’s the tempo of the music? Those 32 separate little factors that we compute in there; those factors over time end up describing the music by the feeling and the mood of it—and it causes us to compare on a track level. (Sifting through) tracks of tracks which is not possible to do with humans.
[Mood-based features have begun to become a growing part of digital music services. Rara’s customization by mood is somewhat comparable to Pandora’s personalized streaming, although Rara users are also able to search for individual songs as well. Spotify recently introduced its own radio function that offers streams of music designed to a user’s taste.]
Gracenote Entourage, based on audio content recognition, allows CE (consumer electronics) devices to identify content so content-related information can be provided.
That is really about taking technology that we have and moving into the realm of enhanced experiences for video. What is happening is that the new wave of home consumption of media is to have a second screen device which can be your mobile or it can be a tablet or your laptop, probably—and you have it in the room with the TV set or with the audio system. You push a button on that, and what it does is that it turns on a microphone that listens from 6 to 15 seconds. Then that little sample of audio is converted to a fingerprint and the fingerprint is sent to our server and we come back and go, “Ah-a you are watching ‘Mission Impossible 2’ and you are 3:10 seconds into scene four of “Mission Impossible 2” and this is what is happening. The ‘Mission Impossible' guy is coming down the side of the building, and now there’s a big explosion.” That’s the kind of information that we are starting to put together for video content including film and television shows.
Gracenote Entourage is using watermarking along with fingerprinting.
Yeah. There’s two ways that this is being done today. One is with watermarking which requires you to change the content. We also do fingerprinting and the fingerprint doesn’t require you to change the content which is really good because you might want this application to work with this DVD that you have. That isn’t going to be changing anytime soon. The only things that can really be watermarked are things that come out now or things that you have in a file and haven’t consumed.
Watermarking doesn’t go backwards?
Watermarking only goes forward. There are other problems with watermarking not the least of which is that it has to stay in the whole chain. It can’t be perturbed.
[Gracenote’s automatic content recognition (ACR) technology consists of watermarking and fingerprinting. In the first case, something is inserted into the audio or video content, and then discovered by an agent sniffing for that insertion; in the second, content is examined at some post-production point, the results of which are sent to the Cloud for later matching.]
Watermarking and fingerprinting are important for anyone trying to figure out consumer behavior—say, advertisers.
That’s right. So what I can say about it is that in the video space people are a little bit less sensitive about this. We will see how it goes but we support by ways of doing this and we have done projects with both.
What fascinates technology people like you about music?
Well, I guess that I would say that it’s because the people who do music are interesting people. I think that is the core of it, that they are interesting people. They make music but they also go places and they play with other people and they do things and they say things. The reality is that lends itself to wanting to communicate with people through a lot of different means.
For me, it has always been about enabling that communication channel—from the artist to the fans or the fans back to the artist. Somehow, allowing fans to better understand what the artist is doing and allowing the artist to better understand what people like about what they are doing.
Did you ever play yourself?
I do play horns. I did play in bands, but I wasn’t good enough. I picked the wrong instrument. I played trombone when I was a kid. I was good at mathematics so my entry into music was writing software programs that would let people put notes on the screen of the computer. I wrote some of the very first music intonation and editing software for musicians to use to make music on a computer. Although myself I was not a good musician, I was good enough to figure out things. I could read music; and I could make an (editing) tool that would let people put it into a computer. That was my entry point. Once I had made this editing tool, lo and behold musicians began using it; and lo and behold when there were bugs they would find out how to get to me, and would call me up and make me come over and fix it for them.
You worked on several Apple-based music applications while at Pixar.
Yes, I did do some things there. I was the Mac guy at Pixar. I went to Pixar to learn computer graphics. The company that I founded after Pixar, LightSource was kind of a computer graphics company. We ended up doing computer software for Apple.
You did Studio Session and Jam Session.
That's correct. Studio Session and Jam Session were these original music authoring and playback software packages. And yes musicians used them. Todd Rundgren used it; as did an art band in San Francisco called the Residents.
Bertelsmann Music Group created the first interactive record label in 1993 after acquiring a 50% interest in ION Music which you founded a year earlier.
Yes, Bertelsmann bought about 50% and put five million bucks into the company. That is what allowed us to publish these CD-ROM projects. We got that money and then we went and worked with Todd (Rundgren) and David (Bowie) and Brian (Eno) and a bunch of other artists making these interactive record albums. It was all going fantastic until the internet came along. Then no one wanted anything to do with the disc.
When I looked at the experiences that were on the internet at that time, they were purely informational, which was great because you suddenly had real time information, but they were not rich graphically, and there was literally (little) or no sound whatsoever. So that really limited what I could do with recording artists. If I couldn’t play sound, that was going to be a big problem. And, if there weren’t graphics to go with it, that wasn’t what I was interested in doing. I decided that I would go into the information business. That’s really where CDDB/Gracenote came about. We started out with textual information about music. That worked great and eventually as we get to 2012, lo and behold the internet is broadband, and I can do any kind of graphic thing that I can think of.
Many people working with CD-ROMs then weren’t all that impressed with the internet’s content capabilities.
If I was going to make a CD-ROM record album, I realized that I don’t want to put the CD-ROM stuff on the actual CD. What I want to do is put it on the internet and have the web page recognize, and control the audio CD—so that we are linking the audio with the web page. That’s actually where the idea of recognizing an audio CD came about; and the idea of the content being in the internet and naturally the core of what Gracenote is and what the CDBC service started out doing. So, it all did come from the same place. It was just frustrating to reduce music to text for about five years (due to limitations with the internet).
What music do you listen to?
I am a classic rock kind of guy. I am a massive Pearl Jam fan. But I also like electronic music. I have pretty broad musical tastes. I like music artists of all kinds. Country music artists. I just find music artists to be interesting people.
Where are you from?
I am from the San Francisco Bay Area. I was born and bred here. I was very lucky that I was here as a high school student when the computer industry started. I went to the Homebrew Computer Club meetings (an informal group of electronic enthusiasts and hobbyists who gathered to trade parts, circuits, and information) and I met Steve Jobs, and Steve Wozniak (of Apple) and Bob (Bob Marsh, a founding member of the Homebrew Computer Club). I bought a computer from them (Steve Jobs, and Steve Wozniak) when I was a teenager.
What model of Apple computer did you first purchase?
I tried to buy an Apple I, but they ran out of them. I bought an Apple II (introduced on April 16, 1977), and I wrote games for that. With 16K bytes of RAM.
[Apple was established in 1976 by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne to sell the Apple I personal computer kit. They were hand-built by Wozniak, and first shown to the public at the Homebrew Computer Club. The Apple I went on sale in July 1976, and was market-priced at $666.66.]
Did you put money in Apple stock? You would have done well last month.
(Laughing) I had many opportunities to have Apple stock and I have never owned any of it. I bought a couple of iPhones this Christmas for family members. The iPhone, and the iPad continue to be the gift of the gift season.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”