Monday, August 18, 2014

Spotify Vs Deezer - Which One Will Win My Ears?

I am HUGE music fan. I have been one all my life. I own approximately 750 CDs and last time I checked I had over 5000 mp3s. You get the drift. I used to buy a lot of music instead of streaming it as services like Songza weren't really available until a few years ago. Since Spotify and Pandora were not able to operate in Canada due to copyright constraints, I first started streaming through Last.FM and I made the switch to Deezer's Premium+ Plan ($4.99 per month) a few months back. If you are interested in trying Deezer now is the time to do it. You can either choose to join with their free "discovery" mode (ads are present) or to get the Premium+ plan at 50% off which is quite a bargain compared to their competitors' prices. Another advantage of choosing the premium plan is that you get access to higher quality audio and unlimited streaming on your web browser and mobile.

If you haven't streamed music before I recommend that you give it a try as it will enable you to listen to countless hours of ear pleasing beats while allowing you to discover new artists and sounds you would have otherwise never been exposed to. Most streaming services these days also allow you to create your own radio stations based on a specific song or artist and to even sort music by your current mood or by the activity you are engaging in. As you can see the options are endless.

In this post I will review two of the services which became recently available in Canada: Deezer and Spotify. As I mentioned earlier, I joined Deezer as soon as it became available in Canada as I was eager to find a service that would allow me to stream music both online and through my smartphone. Deezer's interface is very user friendly and it's dashboard is strictly operated through their website and Android/iPhone apps. I wish they would release a native Mac OS client but so far they have not. I listen to a lot of Spanish music and I was glad to see that Deezer could find even the most obscure songs I'd be searching for. I also enjoyed a function known as "flow" in which Deezer will just play music based on your previous choices and favourite artists. Flow is a nice feature when you are unsure of what to play or when you'd like to discover something new.

Deezer's Flow Feature
Another thing I like about Deezer's interface is that it is quite intuitive - it is very easy to heart a song or to share it with another Deezer friend or through social media sites. 

Deezer's Dashboard
Deezer also offers offline mode in case you will be travelling or unable to reach an internet connection. It is easy to discover new music on Deezer as they have professional music curators who create playlists and they also feature users' playlists on their landing page. 

Overall, I was satisfied with my Deezer membership until I checked my inbox one day to find an invite from Spotify to join their pre-launch in Canada. I immediately stopped what I was doing and used my invite code. Please note that if you have a Spotify account with a U.S. address and you'd like to use their services in Canada you may need to contact +SpotifyCares in order to get them to switch your primary country. Alternatively you could just delete your old account and start from scratch. I chose the former option in order to preserve my playlists, followers, etc. I contacted SpotifyCares via Twitter and I got help extremely quickly - bonus points for them! 

The first thing that impressed me about Spotify was the fact that it prompted me right away to download a native Mac OS software. This is a feature I had been wanting from Deezer but it never became available. Not only did Spotify have a mac version, it is also very sleek and user-friendly (for the most part - you'll see why).

Spotify's Mac Software

Something I enjoy about my Spotify experience is that a lot of my friends are already using their service (I think only two or three were on Deezer). Spotify integrates seamlessly with Facebook (only if you want it to - which I did being the social media addict I am) and it allows you to see what your friends have been listening to and to therefore discover new music you may like. I also like how instead of "faveing" an artist like you do in Deezer (kind of impersonal), you actually "follow" artists on Spotify so that you can keep up with their posts and new releases as they happen. 

Spotify's software also has the ability to add "apps" - in other words you can incorporate services like your Last.FM scrobbling account right on the navigation bar. My personal favourite app is called PartiQ through which you can collaboratively create a playlist while being at or hosting a party. I recently did this at one of my events and my guests seemed to really enjoy the ability to add a few songs to the party's playlist. 

Spotify can also keep up with my love for 90's music, synth-pop and Spanish hits. Overall, I am very satisfied with Spotify except for a few things. In a recent release they substituted their "starred tracks" feature with a "+" sign. The "+" sign is a button which allows you to add songs to your library. The starred tracks were basically your favourite tracks on Spotify. This seems a bit redundant (since both features achieve the same result) but the newer "+" feature seems a lot less intuitive for new users. It also seems that on the Android app the starred tracks playlist is available but I cannot seem to find a way to access the songs I "plused" - hopefully that's a feature they are working on - UPDATE: I have now found that "plused" songs can be found under "My Music" in the Android app.  

Notice the + sign at the bottom left?
It would also be great to be able to airplay Spotify to my remote speakers directly through their client (see update below) - I am using Airfoil as a workaround at the moment. My last concern about Spotify versus Deezer is the price. Deezer is currently offering new users a $4.99 monthly package whereas Spotify is still charging $9.99 per month for their upgraded plan without ads. I personally hope they will offer a student discount in Canada like they do in the U.S. and that they'll have some sort of introductory price offer for new Canadian users in order to gain momentum and new accounts.

UPDATE: Here's how to stream from Spotify using Airplay

Overall, my decision has been to cancel my Deezer Premium+ plan for now and give Spotify's 30-day trial a go. My decision may change in the future depending on price and new features. Which streaming service do you prefer and why?

Leave a comment below if you are in Canada and would like an invite to Spotify's pre-launch. I may be able to give you one. 

Thanks for stopping by and happy listening!~

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blythe Dolls 101 - An Introduction To True Love

When you come across something really special you feel the need to shout about it at the top of your lungs so the rest of the world can also know about it - that's exactly how I feel about Blythe dolls. Most of you have probably come across one of these dolls without even realizing it as they have been featured in several major advertisement campaigns.

Bottega Veneta window displays featuring life-size Blythe dolls

Target campaign featuring Blythe dolls
The dolls themselves are of course special but the story behind them is even more so. Take a look at the interview below with Allison Katzman - the toy designer who originally conceived Blythe. Junko Wong is the person who was responsible for bringing Blythe back almost thirty years later - a truly unbelievable story.

As I have mentioned in my previous article, my love for dolls is not recent. I have always admired their beauty and since I have a strong passion for fashion (rhyme is coincidental I swear!) I love being able to dress them up and come up with different combinations to create magical outfits. I was not familiar with Blythe dolls until about four years ago when I stumbled across a picture of one of them while searching for vinyl toys online. Blythe's beauty was captivating and what appealed to me the most was the fact that these dolls were being posed like mini super models in high fashion editorials. In other words, the artistic quality of the photographs and the dolls themselves made them extremely unique to me.

This Is Blythe - Collection of original photographs by Gina Caran

At the time I didn't know their name was Blythe - I just held on to a couple of pictures I came across through my online searches. It wasn't until I was visiting one of my co-worker's desk that I noticed she had a box of greeting cards picturing about fourty different Blythe dolls. At that point I was formally introduced to Blythe and my heart and I have not been able to look back.

I knew I had to own my first Blythe but how? I had never seen them at a retail location and nobody else seemed to know about them. I went on my computer and Googled "Vancouver Blythe Dolls" and that's how I came across a Flickr group local to Vancouver (now a Facebook group known as Vancouver Blythe Bunch). I messaged one of the admins of the group and within a month or so I was invited to my first ever "Blythe meet" in Richmond. I had actually not seen a Blythe doll in person until that day. Words can simply not describe my happiness and excitement. I didn't even realize at the time that their eyes changed colours and directions - it was a whole new world. What was also special was the fact that all the Blythe fans that I met were just as excited and passionate about Blythe as I was and that a very strong sense of community was evident amongst them - needless to say I was beyond hooked. Here's a picture of me holding a few Blythe dolls for the first time ever.

My husband and I were leaving for a European Cruise about two months after my first Blythe meet and I knew it would be fantastic to be able to take a Blythe doll with me in order to take fashion pictures with her all over Europe. I wanted a doll but I truly had no idea of where to start my hunt. My new "dolly friends" as we call each other were incredible helpful and pointed me in the right direction.

There are a lot of fake or "factory" dolls out there - especially on eBay - and therefore knowing more about Blythe models and how to distinguish a real doll from a fake one is crucial. There are lots of tutorials online on how to do this - here's one I really like. By the way, I'm not saying that "factory dolls" are not beautiful - on the contrary, they can be quite special - but there needs to be full disclosure of what you are buying without any misrepresentation as the prices for dolls can be quite high. My personal recommendation for finding a doll to "adopt" is to join a Facebook group known as Dolly Adoption where you will find an infinite number of dolls (both new and used) at various price points. If you already own a doll and you are looking for clothes and outfits for her there are tons of beautiful shops on Etsy or via a Facebook group called Dolly Duds and Sundries For Sale.

You will also soon realize that a doll that is "stock" and comes in her original box looks quite different from the ones you may find on Flickr or Pinterest - the reason for that is because Blythes are often customized by artists from all over the world in order to make each doll a one of a kind. Customization is a very interesting topic and that would require an article on its own but what it means in a nutshell is an alteration of the facial expressions (through a technique known as "carving"), make-up, eyelashes, hair, and/or body parts to create a doll that would otherwise not be available. Customized dolls are the most expensive and for that reason it is important to become familiar with different customizers and the type of doll you are looking for before jumping in. It is also important to be aware of the "stock" model the customized doll was based on - in other words customs made on a "factory mold" can be cheaper than customs made on an original Blythe release (e.g., Sunshine Holiday). My personal preference when it comes to adopting a Blythe is to adopt ones that have been customized on an original Blythe/Takara release as their value will often increase over time. If you have any questions about specific customizers or how to find a good one please drop me a line or leave a comment below.

I tend to like Blythe dolls that are on either the high fashion or kawaii (means cute in Japanese) styles and for that reason here are my favourite customizers:

I own four Blythe dolls now and they are all custom dolls. It has been an extremely rewarding journey. My latest girl Misha was specifically created for me by Kamii Chu from K-Dolls Heaven and she will arrive in two weeks from now. I wanted a very glamourous tan girl with platinum blonde hair and that's how Misha was born. When it comes to customs I also seem to gravitate towards "alpaca reroots" (a reroot is the process of changing the synthetic stock hair and replacing it with a natural fiber one for a more natural or luxurious look) and for that reason I decided to give Misha an alpaca reroot with straight bangs. Here are some pictures of my inspiration board for Misha my dream doll:

As I mentioned earlier an extremely gratifying aspect of becoming a Blythe fan is being able to join a community of loving and extremely artistic people - literally everyone I've met or chatted with online has been incredibly helpful and giving. Most recently I attended my first ever "BlytheCon" in Seattle. BlytheCons are held once per year in the U.S. and also in Europe and Australia. I can tell you that attending the BlytheCon was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I have never been in a room filled with so many creative and talented individuals and above all we all had something in common - it was truly magical. Like they say - pictures are worth a thousand words so take a peek at my BlytheCon experience here:

If you are interested in attending a BlytheCon to meet other fans and customizers/artists I am happy to tell you that I'll actually be one of the hosts for BlytheCon Vancouver 2015 - the first ever BlytheCon to be held in Canada. My fellow organizers and I would love to meet you in person and answer any of your questions. The date for BlytheCon Vancouver is Sunday August 9 2015. Here is our official website and Facebook group.

DATE: August 9 2015
VENUE: Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre
1088 Burrard Street, Vancouver BC

Thank you for stopping by! If you'd like to enjoy more Blythe pictures please feel free to visit my Flickr or browse through my Pinterest board below. 

Follow Angel's board Blythe on Pinterest.

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