Head Over Feet 

We sip java with Alanis, investigate podcasting and figure out what those concert tickets are really worth

When Alanis Morissette stormed out of Canada with 1995's Jagged Little Pill, she was a bundle of neuroses, screaming about (supposedly) fellating Full House's Uncle Joey in a theater and annoying grammar nerds by misusing the word "ironic." Over the course of the past decade, however, the ex-teenpop queen mellowed into an earth-mother figure -- a happily engaged woman who embraced Middle Eastern-tinged textures and her Magnetic Poetry for Hippies set.

Morissette attempts to meld her yin-and-yang personas on Jagged Little Pill Acoustic, a newly released version of her landmark U.S. debut. Until July 26 the disc is only available at Starbucks stores, although this hasn't hurt its sales: The album broke the single-week sales record at Starbucks by selling 61,000 copies during its first week on shelves. [Editor's Note: A correction ran concerning this paragraph; please see end of article.]

At the same time, the concept of merging Morissette's twentysomething angst with a corporate establishment is a little too Reality Bites for B-Sides. So we visited our local Starbucks to investigate whether listening to the album in its natural habitat enhanced the experience.

Settling in with a tall iced chai and an Alanis-stocked iPod, B-Sides lurked among business-casual-clad men and tourists jonesing for a caffeine fix. We soon discovered that the mid-afternoon lull matched the soporific mood of the disc, which screamed Indigo Girl more than riot grrl.

Our mind wandered to the repairman fixing the fridge and what we needed to accomplish at work during a string-dusted "All I Really Want," while the whirring clatter of the coffeemaker was the most angry-sounding thing about a Zero 7-ish "You Oughta Know." We flashed back to high school afternoons watching MTV while doing algebra during the twinkling "Hand in My Pocket," then marveled at how pissed-off string arrangements magnified the kiss-off "Right Through You."

About halfway through the disc, though, Acoustic's plodding tempos and Morissette's oddly phrased caterwauls started to grate on our nerves. The one-time champion of diary-entry bloodletting became so bland and even-keeled that she may as well have been channeling the Coldplay album also for sale near the register. Her refreshing emotional meltdowns, vibrant yowls and kickass headbanging skills -- all reduced to an album suitable for family-ferrying minivans. B-Sides didn't think it was possible, but Starbucks feels way too hip to be endorsing Ms. Morissette's Acoustic endeavor. -- Annie Zaleski

Correction published 7/6/05: As originally published, this item jumped the gun a bit. Alanis Morissette is engaged, not married. The above version reflects the corrected text.

Rise of the Pod People
Shenida Weave's No-Lye Mixshow sounds like nothing on mainstream radio. Weave, the over-the-top radio persona of a "queer Georgia boy" in San Francisco, spins hot dance mixes from Gwen Stefani to Kaskade. Between cuts he recounts last weekend's drunken escapades: "We went out all over the Castro, raisin' hell, raisin' noise, Jesus Lord -- at least the parts that I can remember." Then he delivers the news from the European Union: "The Euro is a very wonderful thing. It allows you to buy your hash in the Netherlands as well as buy your big fat dildos in Germany, all on the same dollar, honey! It's just amazing! I just love that little Euro thing!"

That goes on for 100 minutes -- too long and too irregularly paced for a radio show, even at a free-form or pirate station. But Weave doesn't have to worry about schedules, station managers or censoring what he says: He produces his show as a podcast.

A podcast is basically defined as a radio-like program that you listen to not on the radio, but by downloading it from the Internet and playing it on an MP3 player. ("Pod" = iPod, "cast" = broadcasting.) You may wonder what the fuss is about: Your iPod's probably already crammed with files you don't have time to play, so why add more? But the real attraction of podcasts lies in making them. Anyone can record one and put it on the Web; there are now 8,000-plus individual shows piling up at sites like iPodder.org and PodcastAlley.com. While the biggest fans of podcasting right now are, well, other podcasters, its proponents believe its messy democracy will deliver a badly needed kick in the ass to corporate radio.

That said, music podcasts usually follow a stricter format than the talk and variety shows. Take Brian Ibbott's Coverville (www.coverville.com), a program that only plays cover songs and just marked its 100th episode.

"When I was a kid, we had a couple of great AM stations here in Colorado that I used to listen to constantly," says Ibbott. "This is probably a clichéd term, but I always wanted to be a DJ, because it sounded like it was so much fun." He tested the waters for a year as a wedding DJ, but playing the same cake-cutting music night after night bored him. Then he discovered podcasting. "I thought, 'Geez, this is something I could totally do. I've got a laptop, I've got a fairly decent microphone -- I'll just do the radio show that I've always wanted to hear,' which was a show based on covers. And then the rest is history."

The show took off through word-of-mouth and namechecks from prominent podcasts. Today it's one of the most popular music podcasts: Ibbott estimates that he pulls between 10,000 and 15,000 listeners per show, and the majority aren't podcasters -- or, at least, "they were not podcasters when they started listening to my show."

Many podcasts cover the same broad swath of independent and imported music you normally hear on college radio. Englishman William B. Swygart, one of the rotating podcasters on a roster created by Stylus magazine (www.stylusmagazine.com/stycast), is a genuine college DJ at the University of Leeds. For his podcast, Home Taping Is Killing Music, Swygart airs UK chart hits from Art Brut and Rachel Stevens, dissecting or eulogizing the artists in a soft voice that makes him sound like he's trying not to wake up a roommate.

"The best part is just getting music that people wouldn't listen to out there and into their ears," explains Swygart via e-mail. "I do want to work in 'proper radio' one day, but the opportunities for that are quite obviously limited given the nature of the medium (limited frequencies, stations, adverts, broadcasting restrictions, lack of ways to get yourself started and so on). The podcasts give you a greater amount of creative freedom, but you have to try and make sure that doesn't spill over into becoming, for want of a better word, wank."

Maintaining a show week after week demands effort and patience. It takes work to stay at the top of the "most popular" lists and to handle the mail, paperwork and hosting issues. Podcasters also have to license -- or get away with not licensing -- the music they play. Some podcasts get permission directly from the artists, and others work with the traditional agencies. For Coverville, Ibbott has stayed in the clear by shelling out $600 a year to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), but even then, he says, "It's still a huge gray area as far as what kind of licenses are required and how much of what I'm doing is legal."

With the hassles and the pressures of running a show -- plus the fact that no matter how many of their friends say they're listening, their grandmothers still don't understand what the hell podcasting is -- one has to wonder: Don't all music podcasters secretly hope to land DJ slots? Would they jump at the right offer, and will the stars of podcasting get those offers before podcasting takes off on its own?

Or is podcasting already a better deal? Instead of hanging around the radio at a certain time every week to hear a show, listeners can download it from anywhere in the world and play it whenever they want. The podcaster gets the creative freedom of acting as boss, producer, talent and editor, and the market can sort the geniuses from the "wankers." But beyond the practical upside, podcasting offers a different and special experience for the listener. Radio was already an intimate medium -- a lone voice coming from an imagined face, whispering in your ear -- but with a homemade podcast, that voice sounds truly alone, as removed from the world as you are in your earbud headphones.

After all, if podcasts catch on strongly enough to launch the next Howard Stern, John Peel or Terry Gross, then why bother listening to the radio? Soon there will be an MP3 player in every car and kitchen in America -- and perhaps a podcast out of every home. -- Chris Dahlen

Dollar Daze
Brokers. Convenience fees. Secure parking. Here in the R&D division of B-Sides Inc., we understand the dilemmas you face when buying concert tickets. So we've developed the Ticket Utility Reality Determination System™ to calculate what those tickets you're about to plunk down your next paycheck to purchase are actually worth. Check it out. -- Ian Froeb

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