March 7th, 2008
04:22 PM ET

Review: MusicPass fails to excite

In mid-January, Sony BMG released Platinum MusicPass, credit card-like digital albums that allow music buyers to purchase music in non-disc form, log on to a Web site and download MP3 files to their digital players. The label, which is pitching the cards as a gift or collectible, is selling the MusicPass albums at several retailers, including Best Buy and Target, as well as non-traditional spots such as the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain.

MusicPass is available at several retailers.

CNN Producer Matt West, always interested in the latest technological offshoots (and the producer of the network's Pop Digital segments), sampled the new product. Here's his review:

Because nobody at Sony has yet received the memo that music retail was killed by the music download, apparently the company now wants to me to go to a retail store to pick up something that I could just as easily do without ever leaving my home.

This bothers me on so many levels. First, I should mention that I live in Los Angeles, where driving is considered a blood sport. Now, thanks to MusicPass, I can not only take my life in my own hands in order to get music on my computer - I’m also contributing unnecessary carbon emissions and smog to the atmosphere.

Next, would somebody please tell me what I am supposed to do with this shiny plastic card after I log on to Sony’s MusicPass Web site and download my tracks? Pass it on to a friend and let them download some music? Sorry, only one download to a customer. At least when I bought CDs, I could pass them along to my friends to listen to or copy. (No doubt, the one person/one use situation is part of Sony’s plan.) I wonder if this card is recyclable.

It’s also a clunky system. When you visit the MusicPass site, you are prompted to enter some numbers found on the back of the card. You are then asked if you want to install Sony’s download-manager software. Now, I’m sure this is infinitely more convenient than the alternative, which involves clicking and saving each individual file to your hard-drive and then copying that into your iTunes music library before finally putting those files on your iPod. (Which by the way, before MusicPass, I could do in two clicks.) But given Sony's DRM issues in the past, I’m not looking forward to installing anything from Sony Music in my system. (Editor's note: In 2005, Sony put out CDs that downloaded software on users' computers and included a rootkit. Sony BMG says MusicPass does not contain DRM.)

Then there’s the issue of theft. As someone who used to work in music retail, I can’t even tell you how easy this card would be to steal. If all that’s required to download your music is a pair of numbers from the card – as opposed to a scan or swipe that “activates” the card - then it’s almost as if Sony is asking for kids to pop on down to the local Best Buy and steal their music.

And one final note: cost.

At $12.99 a pop for most releases, this is no bargain. Even with the bonus tracks contained on several albums, I can’t imagine why anyone would be willing to spend that kind of money. iTunes is cheaper – most albums range from $9.99-11.99. And what if I just want the single? Many online outlets allow you to download individual songs for 99 cents.

MusicPass’ press release states that it’s “a great way to bring digital music to the physical retail space.” The catch is the wonder of digital music eliminates the need for the physical retail space. And besides iTunes, there are plenty of places to find music downloads, such as Amazon and eMusic (not to mention, uh, those file-sharing sites).

Thanks for trying, Sony. I’ll just stack the rest of these cards over here next to this pile of MiniDiscs and Betamax tapes.

- CNN Entertainment Producer Matt West

Filed under: Uncategorized
March 7th, 2008
10:34 AM ET

'Miss M' still 'Divine'

Many people know her as the "Divine Miss M," but Bette Midler refers to herself several times during her new Las Vegas revue as "the people's diva." After seeing the show at Caesars Palace, I'd say either title fits.

Bette Midler dazzles as "Soph" in her new Las Vegas show.

From her first appearance on stage, atop a pile of Louis Vuitton luggage, Midler embraces the audience with her warmth and a personality as sparkling as her shimmering outfit (note to Hillary Clinton - if there's any fabric left over it would make for a dynamite pants suit).

At age 62 Midler works the stage with surprising vigor. That's no small feat - the stage is 120 feet long. She manages to make a virtue of the absurd dimensions by pausing theatrically at intervals to catch her breath and even lying flat on her back, declaring she's “exhausted by all the schlepping.”

The 90-minute show zips by, with Midler performing some new material and her best-known songs, including "From a Distance” and "Wind Beneath My Wings." Her voice is most effective in the lower ranges, and tends to veer off key when she starts belting the high notes (at least to my ears). But she seems to derive so much joy from performing that you forgive her anything.

She's joined by her backup singer-dancers, the Harlettes. They're not terribly memorable, nor are the slew of high-kicking chorines (pretty much rhymes with boring) who also try to take up some of the vast real estate on stage.

The show could do with a redesigned set narrowing the proportions of the stage; it was originally built for Celine Dion, who spent five years there in an act that included some Cirque du Soleil-like acrobatics. But Midler is still able to connect with the audience (the arena seats over 4,000) with the help of amusing banter (much of it supplied by veteran comedy writer Bruce Vilanch) and a hilariously vulgar routine in which Midler channels a 93-year-old showgirl named Soph (as in famed entertainer Sophie Tucker).

I often lament that Midler didn't manage her film career more successfully - remember when she was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood? - but setting up shop in Vegas seems like the right move for her now. (She’ll certainly make a mint: the top ticket price is $250.) The title of her spectacular is "The Showgirl Must Go On." The night I was there, the audience wouldn't have it any other way.

- CNN Entertainment Producer Matt Carey

Filed under: Uncategorized
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