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Posts Tagged ‘copyright’

What a streaming pile of crap!

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

The best kind of stream.

This is a stream. Yw.

As much as I appreciate streaming services, I think the limitations on mobile data bandwidth (as well as the threat of this in the world of wired services) and people’s familiarity with downloading translates into the death of the mp3 being much, much farther off than some are saying it is. I know when I see things like “the new ___ track STREAM is out!!”, I typically just click away. It almost makes me angry. Why tie up all that bandwidth EVERY time you want to hear a song? And why would someone hosting a file want to stream it over and over when they could just as easily send it once and then the listener can listen anytime she or he wants? Why pay for that bandwidth as a distributor, over and over instead of just once? Control? Oh come on, we know you’ll never get that again. At least not like it used to be. Besides, it’s not like streams can’t be captured. It all seems so wasteful. Especially with storage as cheap as it is now and bandwidth under constant threat of being more expensive/metered/capped for consumers.

As long as streaming is one of many options rather than the ONLY option, I’m fine with it. And please do not misunderstand, I realize the benefits of streaming music. I listen to Pandora here and there, at least until its cold, mechanized nature rears its ugly head. That usually takes about an hour or so.  Spotify seems like a great service, and yes I know there’s more human interaction and curation there.  I still prefer pure, absolute human curation, but they’ll do in a pinch and I have actually discovered some things using Pandora. It has its place. But for the most part it makes some really wild, inaccurate assumptions about my tastes that just end up frustrating me far too easily. (aren’t you all proud of me for not taking another cheap shot at Coldplay and bands that sound like them here?)

I realize there are streaming services that have social aspects to them, but I’ve honestly never found very much that’s compelling about any of them. Not even the most popular services. Its probably just me.

You can be sure, downloads are here to stay for quite a while. Many, myself included, will always prefer having the option to be offline and listen. Besides, do you really trust a few larger companies and services with archiving what will one day, without question, be obscure or even lost? Individuals are just as, if not more important for preservation. Collectors often consider themselves archivists, and rightly so.  Many works thought to be lost have been rediscovered either on purpose or accidentally in the collections on sale at swap meets, estate sales and garage sales. It warms my heart to know that there are people out there digitizing their vinyl (and CD) collections. Eventually, most of the vinyl out there will simply disappear and to be honest the CDs will deteriorate even faster. I have CDs that are just a few years old that are falling apart, even in protective cases and after being treated with kid gloves. The losses will be gradual, and most people will react in the same way a frog reacts to a slow boiling ( I know..eww ). But what of works created after the mp3 revolution? I remember naively thinking back in the days of Napster that very soon there would no longer be such a thing as a “lost work”. Now with this whole “have everything, own nothing” movement, that bright future is fading away again.

We luckily have that growing movement of people taking great care and pains to “rip” lossless copies of older and more obscure works (and the relatively obscure ones too). The copyright police will no doubt be wringing their hands and sweating over this, but even they will someday appreciate these people’s efforts. The way things are going with copyright, chances are “orphaned” works (music at least) will never reach the public domain. In a post-physical-media world, it will be profitable for lawyers to “haunt” our culture to watch for revivals of certain works for the chance to license or re-claim ownership to works they didn’t care enough about to preserve themselves. In a way, our love for the music itself will be turned into a sort of crowdsourced monetization game. We as a culture do the work, they reap the rewards through insanely long-living copyright, repeatedly extending it until no-one ever sees any works they grew up with fall into the public domain in their lifetimes. If they lighten up about fair use, I’ll take that trade. But we must value ownership, as consumers, if we are forced to live in a world of perpetual, infinite copyright. It’s only fair. Don’t buy into the whole “have everything, own nothing” concept so easily. Really think about the impact of that before embracing it.

We have to say loud and proud… I want my data where I want it and when I want it. And not just when I’m connected. ( yeah it’s a mouthful and it’s not quite as catchy as.. say “we’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore”, but we still need to say it ) Sites and companies go down all the time. While I think cloud services by Google and Amazon will be around for a very, very long time, even they could someday just decide to stop. We need services that help us get legal, downloadable files in addition to streaming services. It’s not like solid state drives are going to have less capacity at higher prices in the future. Quite the opposite. And they will take up less physical space as time goes on. To stream everything will make less and less sense rather than more and more. And those cloud services will be used for what they should be used for primarily anyway, BACKUP!  Streaming is a nice, convenient, secondary use. The people who want to monetize your metered and limited bandwidth love the idea of going back to markets with limitations again, no matter if the limitations are bandwidth (that they meter and charge you for) or the concentrated, corporate-controlled curation, ultra-limited scope of selection and minimized diversity this will bring about. Probably both. Fewer choices coupled with concentrated media ownership that also profits from metered bandwidth equals endless, focused profit guarantees.

For a while.

Because all good things come to an end. Even when they’re evil.

But I’m just an optimist.

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Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31805863@N00/372687525/

Image and this document: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Avoiding or preventing the next big thing.

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Dismantled Mp3 Player

Dismantled, an object's natural state.

The minute the thing everyone wants to do requires circumvention or any kind of subversion, if a circumvention and subversion-free option is not made available promptly by the mainstream, the circumvention wins.

This has remained true since the dawn of.. well… actually before the dawn of the public Internet. And I believe in the absence of absolute authoritarian control, it will remain true. Many companies and individuals have spent money, power, reputation and most of all precious time trying to convince the public, legislators and their business partners otherwise. None of these actions will change this truth. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple continually fail to realize the power they wield and consistently cower before these backward-looking control-freaks. And as brave as standing up to China is, it’s too little too late as far as I’m concerned. Credit due or not.

These days, Apple has more in common with a place like China than it does with its own history and roots. The walled city of iTunes and the app store claims to be protecting it’s users when all that’s really happening is protection of old media.(with the exception of the Flash issue, which I think Jobs is right about) Combine that with a lack of respect for users and especially content creators not associated with existing major media creators and distributors.

Google’s recent changes to YouTube further convict them of similar crimes against the commons. This so-called upgrade is anti-conversational and anti-user-created-content. Try having a conversation using the new comment system. Best of luck to you. It’s been a mess since the last time it was “upgraded”, and this latest change makes it even worse. Try holding the attention of your subscribers with the subscriptions home page module now removed. When I noticed some users had their subscriptions module removed, I noticed my own, while still there for now, was unusable. It became impossible to remove videos I wanted to skip and videos I had already watched kept popping back up.  It’s only a matter of time before it’s gone completely as it is for others. What possible reason was used to remove that module? Too many people were using it? Was it cutting into the profits of partners by spreading the money/eyeballs around too much? I want to assume the best, but I’ve run out of logical reasons and I am left only with sinister ones. And Google should know better, considering its homely origin. So how could Google/YouTube benefit from preventing users from easily finding content newly released by channels/people they’ve subscribed to? Well, if you sit there and watch videos like “World of Warcraft Account Hacked” (who is actually a partner) and ignore things like VEVO, YouTube and it’s real , big partners will not make as much money. What we are given as a replacement for a module that lets us know when someone we subscribe to posts a new video is a new module called “The Feed”, which instead of doing what you want it to.. also displays any video your friends or people you subscribe to FAVORITE. My subscriptions module was already cramped, with a very conservative number of subscriptions. Now it’ll be nearly unusable and more filled with content I’m not interested in. This, like the last new channel design “upgrade” takes things away and adds nothing useful. We already had an activity module. It worked. Fine.

But as usual, I digress. Let’s just focus on music for now. Try to recall or read about certain moments in culture’s history. Certain moments when movements took hold or either threatened or right-out replaced the mainstream. The 60s is a good example of a time when this was successful beyond any previous attempts for the culture to be driven by artists and audiences rather than self-appointed, controlling and limiting filters in the form of large companies or organizations of companies. Again in the 90s, and now with indie, Internet-specific and DIY culture. The reasons for these moments of change vary from the companies being asleep at the wheel for too long to temporary lack of control over the ways people hear or consume music. Things like radio DJs being given freedom to play what they want or in some cases taking that freedom by force or when no-one was paying attention. In each of these periods, you can point directly to another moment toward the end, a moment when control was seized from people and handed over to other people whose primary interest was to continue their winning streak as long as possible and to continue to maintain a bottom line. In each case this was the moment of death. The moment of staleness, blandness and same-old-same-old. The comfort zone. The risk-free zone. Part of it can be blamed of course on the audiences themselves, embracing nostalgia at earlier and earlier stages in their lives as the years progressed, in larger numbers. You know the type, the ones whose best years were in high school, defining their maturity based on how little they continue to feel passionate about. As if maturity were impossible without completely turning off passion and a sense of risk or adventure.  They move quickly through the years they have left, never noticing that the happiest people they see and look up to have acted in precisely the opposite ways they’ve chosen to. Embracing mediocrity as if it were impossible to conduct a decent life without doing so. “THESE ARE THE RULES! Follow them and you are a good person, living a clean and decent, productive life. And when it’s all over, there will be rewards! Trust us!”

Well, at least for those of you willing to listen and buy into it. Regardless of the logic or reason this way of looking at life consistently lacks.

These cultural movements all share a similar trait. That of encouraging a sense that the audience is a participant on at least some level. Whether it’s as an audience member at a show, the “cool kid” spreading the word and living the lifestyle in spite of how it affects his or her ability to “fit in”, or the ones that realize they too can tap into the creative revolution and make the next great album, the next creative leap forward. But mainstream media has even found a way to tap into this effect with the usual dead-eyed but criminally genius techniques they are famous for. Yes, you too can be famous for 15 minutes. The difference now is that you can be mediocre as long as you’re willing to not be boring, no matter the cost. If you cannot be creative, at least you can be aggressive or unreasonable and stir conflict. Watch any reality TV show. Hell, it all started on MTV with “The Real World”, where it replaced alternative culture almost immediately after it took root. Did it seem calculated to you? If you smelled smoke, chances are…

Then we have now. Look around big culture for a moment. Is there ANYONE other than Lady Gaga that is even remotely interesting right now? In mainstream, big money music culture? I would argue no, there isn’t. Not one. Everything else even remotely interesting, original or groundbreaking is back in the once-again severely marginalized underground. But that stranglehold on big culture is weakening. So what is the response? A direct attack on the way in which we seek out, find and consume indie and underground artists. They will tell you they don’t care that we’re downloading the latest Phoenix or Dirty Projectors album, it’s their own artists they’re worried about. But the fact remains, the big artists don’t need our way of doing things to succeed. They actually don’t give a crap if you download the latest Coldplay or U2 album. What they want is to stop the competition which has created several means by which new and great artists can be discovered and consumed. Free or otherwise. If they can stop that, they win. Three strikes laws are being implemented in certain places in the world where it is easily allowed by government through pay-offs, back-room deals and other forms of corruption. It’s only a matter of time before they get their grubby little paws on enough of our representatives (or yours) to make laws such as these happen here (by here, I mean the US. Apologies to the rest of the world. I TRY not to be just another arrogant, center of the universe American).  And we also have the anti-net-neutrality gang, convinced by some of their smarter but still ill-informed, imaginary-pie-in-the-sky-pollyanna-free-market peers that if we would allow our government to ensure net neutrality, censorship and government control of the Internet is the next logical step. (in spite of the fact that the FCC is not the only means by which we can have limited, logical regulation) This way of thinking, if applied to all of society, would imply that allowing the USDA to oversee the safety of meat would logically lead to farmers being enslaved by the government and chained to tractors without pay.  Or that rent control logically leads to 100% government housing. These people need to find a way to get back in touch with a sense of ownership. And a tad bit of reality.

Anyone remember long distance charges and how we just accepted them as if they made sense? Distance equals cost, extra effort..money. ..Right? The idea that a phone call 100 miles away costs significantly more than a phone call 25 miles away. Poppycock. Once the lines are in place and you make allowances even for maintenance, repair and operation.. even upgrades, the cost should be evenly spread. By metering, something the major telcos and isps once again want to do with literal metering or less obviously with tiering, they convinced us of a false value. Simply by saying so, we accepted it as a reality. Are we smarter than that this time out? It remains to be seen, as even some of the sharpest people I’ve ever followed in the area of technology, the Internet, Internet policy and law seem to be convinced that net neutrality is worse than letting corporations start shaping traffic to suit their personal needs and the death-knell fears of media companies.  Believe me, I understand this libertarian way of looking at it all. But these people must take a moment and put it all in context. “Let the free market solve the problem through competition”. Right? Well, for the most part it worked in the early days of the web and widespread tcp/ip,  non-shell-account Internet access adoption. AOL and others were either implementing some kind of metered access OR considering it. The competition realized people were going to want to “surf the web” without constantly worrying about that 300 dollar Internet bill in the mail as a little surprise at the end of the month. And they also realized people didn’t quite know just yet how many hours they would be using the net every month. It turns out they quickly realized it was a lot more than they imagined and that AOL and others were going to be attempting to rip them off with “shock and awe” Internet charges. I guess maybe they hoped everyone else would do the same. Turns out the ISPs who offered unlimited access, no matter the price (usually cheap), were getting a LOT of ex-AOL users. AOL (and to be fair, others) quickly changed policy and offered unlimited accounts. Go.Figure. So it should work out that way this time around, right?

Wrong. See, the landscape has changed dramatically. No-one is satisfied with dialup, not even your grandma. High speed Internet is widespread now and there’s no turning back. However, in many parts of the country, there’s only one game in town. Or in some cases 1 and a half games in the form of whatever cable provider you have and satellite, which is an absolute nightmare in my humble opinion(and the not-so-humble opinions of many, many others). Ever try Skype on satellite? Don’t. Pointless. These are what I call “soft monopolies”. Sure, some people close enough to the CO can get fast DSL, but the rest cannot. Cable companies are not forced to open up and share their infrastructure with potential competitors as phone companies are. Forced? What you say? Is this Soviet Russia? Well, no. See, that ground the cable is laid in? You own it or it’s laid in ground taken by force. In most cases “their” infrastructure was built using tax dollars and tax dollar subsidies. Same as the phone companies, with only that one big difference. They don’t have to share. But the important thing to remember here is that for the most part, that infrastructure that “they” keep claiming to own is in fact YOURS. Yet, if they are allowed to, they would like to slow down your Skype calls if THEY offer a competing PAY service like Skype. Don’t think they want to? Wrong again. They’ve been doing it and are STILL doing it in Canada and other places. Comcast had their wrist slapped for trying the same thing but with bittorrent traffic. They sued the FCC and WON. Although they say they have now stopped throttling customers, I firmly believe that’s a temporary state. They know that in many parts of the nation, they do have that soft monopoly. And don’t think for a minute that they will not take advantage of that position whenever and where-ever they can if it means they will make more money or if not doing so means they will lose money. As I’ve said elsewhere, these companies are not your friends and they never will be. EVERY decision will be made considering first and foremost their financial bottom line. If at any time it SEEMS as though they’ve done something that is “not evil”, you can bet it was in their best interest. Companies simply do not do things that are good for the consumer and bad for the company anymore. The corporate environment has assured us that those days are over. Much like the phone companies and apartment management companies know almost precisely how much money they can take every month without causing the average customer enough financial distress to be forced to stop paying for their services, the big ISPs know exactly how far they can go without causing a customer revolt.  And they WILL test you. I believe they’ve already started. They also know that your representatives, in some cases, are cheaper than the ultimate cost of being forced to compete with TRUE competitors.

(since writing this article almost to completion a few weeks ago, it has come to my attention that Australia’s government has made a power grab for the country’s Internet backbone, disguised as an “upgrade”. You thought censorship was bad before, wait until the government runs the backbone. You “aint seen nothin’ yet”.)

Once again, sure, I’m presenting you with a criticism without a solution. Consider it a heads-up. I do believe we should be FOR Net Neutrality. And not because I’m against the free market or for censorship. Just as I don’t believe we can ever have a society free of crime without significant loss of freedoms. Unacceptable losses. In that same way I do not believe we can have a truly free market, without unacceptable abuses. Both of those scenarios are pipe dreams.  We are in a do nothing and lose situation. And the FCC is not the only solution. Net Neutrality could be.  Regulation with limits is possible. Even in a situation where the FCC suddenly thought it was their job to regulate content on the Internet, I believe the Internet would deal with it as it always has, by essentially routing around it as damage.

I recall a few years ago, when I was running a web server (and a file server through an IRC bot) out of my house, back when it was still somewhat possible to do so.  I was using Earthlink as my ISP. At the time their slogan (trademarked, by the way) was “It’s YOUR Internet”. Turned out it was actually more theirs. Turned out I needed to turn off my servers since according to their rules, I was running a business. And that was a no-no. The only thing was… I was NOT running a business. But they told me in no uncertain terms that I was, in spite of the reality that I was not. Turn off the servers, or we turn you off. Instead, I chose to move to another ISP whose policy did not prevent me from running any kind of server I wanted, with the exception of course being spam. Just a few years ago, this was an immediate and obvious option for me. At this point, not so much. Most ISPs will force you into a business level account to do such things, business or no business. And that’s fine for now. I don’t currently have the need to run bandwidth or processor intensive servers. But I pay for the ability to do so if I should feel the need or desire. Not everyone can do this. And that’s sad. Because it truly IS YOUR Internet. Your taxes paid for it’s development, your land and taxes paid for at least a large portion of its infrastructure. It’s time that more people remember this. So although I may not have any big solutions, I can remind as many people as I can that they have a say. Even if you disagree with me and others on how to proceed. I’ll shut up now and give you some basic resources.

Save The Internet

EFF – Electronic Frontier Foundation (read its concerns about Net Neutrality carefully… they love it, but voice some valid concerns over how it’s implemented)

There are hundreds of sites out there against Net Neutrality, most of them of dubious origin. Some of them are based on genuine concerns over regulation and an even larger number simply have never been exposed to the information they would need to come to an informed conclusion. People who makes “stands” without being informed deserve the scorn they receive. And I’ll be damned if I’ll take part in exposing people to their misinformation.

Photo Credit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilt/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Apple, Comcast and the slow death of the push-pull Internet

May 16, 2010 3 comments

Balancing

Finding a balance.

Some of you may already have your iPads. You may have pre-ordered early enough to have it in your hands. You may have already had a chance to play with it and marvel at its unique interface. Perhaps less unique if you’ve seen a sci-fi film in the last 20 years, but still unique and elegant to most(and to me). I wouldn’t want to (or suggest that I have the power) to take anything away from your happiness. But any apology I provide will not change the reality we now face as these commonly-called “walled gardens” starting to become the norm rather than the exception. Apple, Comcast and many of their ilk are slowly, quietly destroying the foundation of computing and the Internet. Some are even going as far as allowing no access to file systems or even the hardware itself. (hmm. who could that be?)

“Oh, we don’t want to complicate your experience with things like dirty old file systems, and if you open it up it gets your fingers all ewwwey and dirty anyway. That would ookey. Here. Watch this, it’s shiny!”

In other words, “hey, 10 to 30 percent of our users, go f^(k yourselves” followed by that laugh we all know. The laugh you hear from someone who just said something awful to you and gets away with it because they “didn’t really mean it at all”, right? Something like…

“hahaha.. yeah, I’m not sure anyone is going to read a blog post written by YOU that goes on THAT long..hahahahah! Silly.. so silly.. you’re so funny..isn’t he the funniest? that’s kinda refreshing, that kind of hopeless,charming faith in the patience of readers…hahahaha.. how long have you been doing this blogging thing now? yeah.. that’s a LONG time, huh? oh.. gosh.. so serious.. hahaha.. oh you know I’m just teasing you.. jeeze.. hahahaha”

And then you have to go to a shrink to have him help you build and discover the “internal tools” necessary to prevent you from waiting outside such people’s houses at night to inject them with a sedative so that you can tie them up in your basement, skin them alive and pour rubbing alcohol on their exposed musculatures. Or.. something.**

See, from the beginning of those tcp/ip stack early days of dial-up, there has been a sort of sense that someone, somewhere, would like to take the open, free Internet and turn it into TV.  A magical land where mysterious, hidden and magically powered creators toil away in the dark and produce the images, stories and places you’ve always wanted to see.  A place where only a select few, who knew the right people, went to the right parties and graduated from the right southern California universities were allowed to create these images.  Because to let just anyone have potential access to millions of other human beings at a moment’s notice, on the same level as these vaunted few, would be a travesty. While we sat in our comfy chairs and grumbled about the onset of the “spam” problem and the “commercialization” of the Internet, something far more sinister than over-zealous small business was happening slowly. An awareness grew. The moment a user did anything beyond downloading, chatting and surfing (say, like a server of some kind), even back then, ISPs were quick to fire off an e-mail to you explaining that you either had to shut down or pay a higher fee for what was clearly “business-level” access. In other words, even if you were clearly NOT a business, if they noticed that you were serving more traffic than you were consuming, regardless of the strain or lack of strain on their infrastructure, you got shut down. These problems sometimes resolved themselves through competition, but not always. Back then, it all depended on how much competition was in your region. Usually, in most places in the US, not much.

Luckily for the Internet so far, it’s taken many, many years for the people in charge of old media to take us seriously. I think the moment when it all became interesting to them was the moment the news media started talking about how all these “Internet” people (said using the same tone they would use to describe your common aol chatroom trolling  kiddie fiddler of old) were getting all these songs and eventually movies for free. Oh sure, there were dot-coms.  We even had a boom and bust. But it was fear that really got their attention. Up until, say, the threat to and eventual murder of Napster, we were not taken seriously. Only when we became a credible threat to their bottom line did they finally truly notice exactly what was going on behind the curtain. We were dismantling their empire while they were busy trying to create “marketing buzz”, “tie-ins” and “viral campaigns”. Right.Under.Their.Noses. Oh, I may hate nostalgia, but part of me misses the late 90’s underground optimism. Your (print) BoingBoings and Mondo2000s, that sort.

As we found new ways to manipulate and mash-up their “properties”, perhaps making a subconscious, collective statement, they fought back with the DMCA, the RIAA and the MPAA.  Instead of competing and winning back lost customers, they lashed out. Instead of taking responsibility and fixing what was broken, acknowledging missed opportunities and moving forward, they pointed fingers and manipulated numbers to gain sympathy. They “re-educated” young people into believing that making a copy was the same as physical theft. In much the same way as the new right has spent countless years and money perpetuating the myth of the “liberal media”, pushing the already conservative at the core for broad appeal media even further right, garnering sympathy from those of us less informed or educated about the history of such things. Now you can’t watch the news without .0002 percent of an ill-informed, barely-veiled racist and borderline-fascist-while-calling-everyone-else-fascists minority screaming its manufactured, impotent outrage while getting 28% of the media coverage. Using some of these same methods, they have nearly convinced a new generation that they need a mandatory middle-man between them and their culture. And it’s a powerful, angry, jealous middle-man. One who is prone to temper-tantrums and random financial violence toward old ladies and children. Do not tempt the righteous fury of this corporate-man-beast-god. It will devour your parent’s college savings like a pack of hyenas on the rotting carrion of a lost kill. See, they never really tapped that hippie thing, so it’s a little personal. And don’t think for a second that the people behind these two successful, sleeper-cell like causes are not one and the same.  The very same people who buy up radio and TV stations/networks while funding new laws to make it easier to do so are also the people who own 80% or more of what you watch, read and listen to. And they DO want to control the methods of distribution, the most important of which is the Internet. As you see partnerships grow in places like, say, YouTube, ask yourself if the changes you see happening make it easier or harder for you to be exposed to new media being produced by PEOPLE rather than corporations. And how easy do you think it would be to accuse, say, Universal Music Group of violating a rule or copyright as opposed to them accusing little old you of the same? Are you in “good standing”? Are they? Chances are, they’ve spent millions of man-hours removing content created by fans of their artist’s(the ones they OWN) work. Usually to fill a void they’ve abandoned or ignored in their catalog. Or in some cases, tributes to long dead artists. Even songs playing in the background at parties or in a (shudder) criminal act of accidental ambiance. So who, in reality, is truly in “good standing”? Not UMG, not by any standard other than the one required by the YouTube legal department. You know the one. The department that makes the real decisions. The department that calls the shots at Google.* (all while small towns across America are doing everything short of public sex acts to make Google their new ISP)

All while raking in record profits and sobbing in public about their “losses”.

And let’s examine the role of ISPs a little closer. Recently, Comcast won a court battle with the FCC in DC Circuit Court. The battle was over whether or not the FCC had the power to prevent Comcast from throttling users based on what protocol they were using. Comcast claims it was simply a matter of traffic shaping to deal with high demand and certain users “hogging” bandwidth to the extreme and had nothing to do with the protocol at all. In spite of the fact that bittorrent was the protocol in question. What people quickly forget is that bittorrent is not the only protocol ISPs have been blocking and interfering with. It’s well-known, common knowledge that in Canada, for instance, ISPs throttle Skype calls. You can count on it like clockwork. After a certain number of minutes, you’ll have to re-connect or will be unable to establish a stable connection again for some time. That’s not about bandwidth hogging, it’s about trying to make your competition look bad. It’s pure and simple anti-competitive behavior. And if it were happening in any context outside the Internet, people would either lose huge amounts of money over it or in some extreme cases, go to jail.

and.they.won.

See, it may not seem like a big deal. Especially if you’ve never created anything and tried to distribute it over the Internet. There are a lot of free “services” that will host your content. Most of them will want to wrap your content with ads for other content*** or make users jump through hoops to get at it in various ways. Then you have the paid services. And if you suddenly find out an audience larger than your family and friends  actually wants what you’ve made, watch the hell out. Here come the bandwidth bills and mandatory account upgrades. Essentially, most likely without fully realizing it, what this circuit court judge has done is make it easy and legal for Comcast to shut down the little guy (or the medium guy in the case of Skype). Sure, most of the time bittorrent is used for downloading content backed by large media owners and distributors, against their wishes. But it’s not the only use for bittorrent. Period. There’s no getting past this point and truth. It’s essentially like making mom and pop CD stores illegal because MOST of them illegally re-sell promo CDs that were never meant to be sold.  It’s not just unfair, it’s illegal. You cannot do that in most countries. And in the ones you CAN do it in, you can just as easily pay the local police enough cash to burn your competitor’s store down or shoot and kill him in his driveway as he arrives home from work. Some would want you to believe this has something to do with suppression of the free market and over-regulation. But this just simply is not the case. Anti-competitive behavior and it’s prevention through regulation is the absolute foundation of a truly free and fair market. And the keyword here is not fair, it’s free. As the proponents of what they call a free market will claim from time to time, free speech has limits. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, right? Well, anti-competitive behavior is the “yell fire” of the free market. If it is not prevented, a truly free market cannot survive. Everyone must play by the same set of rules, period. Right now, you have the people who you should be most wary of doing their damndest to be the ones re-writing the rules. (following the lead of Banks perhaps?) They would love it if it were illegal to have a marketplace that essentially doesn’t charge to rent a metaphorical table space to sell or promote your goods or services. What the rest of the reasoning world would call a FREE MARKET. And that IS what bittorrent is. It’s like a virtual free table space. Or close to it. Beyond the act of initially “seeding” a torrent, as long as there is demand for what you have on display, the downloaders take care of the rest of the bandwidth needs. No excessive bandwidth overage charges, no inquiring calls from your ISP, no hosting account, no “business account” (another term for what is commonly known as a protection scheme).

The.Way.It.Should.Be. Many would like to take this thing we call bandwidth and convince us all that it needs to be watched like a hawk, treated and charged as if it were at a premium and regulated so the “pipes don’t clog”.

These people know that the word is spreading. Artists left and right are jumping the middle-man ship and going it alone or with partners that serve them primarily or only them. This new DIY spirit is spreading amongst big, established acts now as much and as often as it is with new, younger, indie acts. The early signs of it happening in film are there as well, with big name directors as well as small, experimenting with new ways of funding and distributing/monetizing their films. If you don’t think this scares the steaming crap out of stale, middle-man curators of old, you’re… well.. wrong. Knowing this and coupling it with the fact that there is NO larger, better-known and used protocol that virtually removes the cost of mass distribution than bittorrent, you can see the big picture start to come into focus. Of course they want to block or slow it. Sure, they’ll tell you it’s piracy they want to stop. SURE.. sure. Suresuresure. They also know that it costs FAR less to bribe politicians and use money to influence lawmakers than it does to actually try to compete with the larger, hard-to-tap-into emerging culture. And unfortunately for them, it’s a “free culture”.

Now that I’ve written all this, it really feels like I could have summed it up with just a few simple ideas. Don’t believe the hype and educate others. Spread the word. Contact congresscritters. When you hear people talk about the “free market” right out of college after reading Atlas Shrugged 30 minutes before your conversation, put what they say in context. Nudge them toward the concept of taking those ideas out of the “similar to the liberal pollyanna utopian vision” realm and into the real world, where it counts. Isms are always great (and seductive) living in a conceptual bubble. They tend to deconstruct themselves predictably in potentially disastrous ways when applied without reasonable adjustments. Like rock star boyfriends. It’s all fun and games until you’re pregnant and the rent is due.

And MOST of all, get out there and PUSH. If you create things, USE the Internet in smart ways to distribute. Because if we don’t in greater numbers real fast, we’ll look insignificant and the control goes right back where it was before, to the people with the most money to pay for unneccessary services and middlemen. Remember, you already pay for the Internet. And last time I checked, it was 2-way by design.

*Fair? Probably not on a certain level. But do you think it’s possible for one of the world’s largest corporations to take a stand once in a while against what can only be described as a dying business community in order to fight for what they know is right, once and for all? Does anyone honestly believe that with the right set of brains and the money to get the job done, Google could LOSE in a fight for say, fair use? If they became the aggressor for once instead of reacting against threats only, maybe they’d have a fighting chance. We’ve certainly done our part to turn Google from a garage project into what it is today. And if you think it was the seed money, investments or “good bidness sense” that did it, do us all a favor and just find a new cave to live in. Because without its users, Google was and IS nothing. Period. No matter how fancy, how perfect or how improved it’s been over the years, nothing any one or two people did in that company made as much of a difference as DEMAND did. We needed Google back then, and they were there giving us what we demanded. No demand, no users, no Google.  Part of what made them into what they are today was right place, right time. And you need look no further than the practical admission of this in their motto.. “don’t be evil”. That’s not the motto of someone who thinks they ONLY worked for what they have(keyword:only). It’s the motto of a young Arthur who just pulled Excalibur out of a f^(#|4g stone!!!

**Never actually happened. Honest.And I wouldn’t even know how to start when it comes to skinning people. I wouldn’t know, for instance not to corkscrew the legs or start up the middle of the leg. Or to skin UP to the head and Grab the lumps where the ears are, underneath and separate them carefully by cutting them off as close to the skull as possible. Nope. No idea.

***Torrent sites display ads just as much if not more than the so-called free distributors. But would they ALL if they didn’t always have to feel like they were taking such a HUGE risk? Think drug war for a second.  The moment the risk factor is removed, free, open torrent sites that are ad-free or ad-light would pop up in the hundreds. In the first week. Of course people always want to make money, but there are also ALWAYS people who want to do something else.

Image Credit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/cyanocorax/2207816424/

Creative Commons – Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Why don’t we talk about “illegal” downloading anymore? (a response)

May 8, 2010 7 comments

You have to see the original article to get it.

You have to see the original article to get it.

A Seattle Weekly article from the 20th of April asked this question. It then proceeded to make all sorts of assumptions, connections and reasons that made no sense and just generally made the writer seem like he was writing from a cave without Internet. (and TV, radio, or anything beyond maybe a studded club to pick up women, a bed of straw, firewood and perhaps some premium hair products) Let’s break it down here a bit. Why? Well, because this is a subject near and dear to my heart. And, since it’s said (in a *fairly well-received and respected book you can find here) you need at least 10 thousand hours in order to master something, I have to just keep writing every day so that I may someday change my blog’s name to “ULTRA MASTER OF WRITING! or I put in my 10 thousand, how you like me now?” I still have at least 3000 hours to go, so I have to get to it. Over-long, similar-to-all-my-other-rants articles are my bread and butter.

The article begins nicely enough. Then it forgets to mention that although the year 2000 was a peak in music sales for the industry, it was also in fact a peak for Napster and other means of acquiring music without paying. This is substantial and very, very important to remember. Millions of people were downloading millions of tracks for free on services that pre-date Napster by a few years while the industry was just beginning to sob about the losses created by file-sharing ALL while raking in record profits. Not exactly something to sob about. In the years between then and now, the industry sobbed again and again in public in many cases while doing VERY well considering how much they claimed to be losing. All while paying more and more in legal fees while dropping and failing to promote artists on their rosters. Major errors were made on their end by leaning toward fear rather than embracing optimism through technology that was way ahead of them in the game already. The article then insinuated that the quality of music was just as bad before file sharing as it was after, negating this excuse people use for their downloading habits, all while essentially ignoring the real way of answering those who choose to download what they claim to hate. See, I didn’t even have to explain it. Already hate it? Why download it? But to suggest that bad music is NOT one of the reasons why people do what they do by pointing out that things are as bad now as they used to be and nothing has really changed is disingenuous. And has very little to do with the subject in the first place.

What’s really happened is the death of diverse and trustworthy, mass-market curation. In part, the slow death of radio. As the music marketing machines re-focused and cut back on taking risks as a fear response to file-sharing, the result was less truly new music being played on radio, TV or even Internet portals. MTV slowly became the hazardous waste dump of the world’s worst reality programming concepts, eventually completely abandoning music. So-called alternative radio stations across the nation either changed formats to top 40 or froze their playlists somewhere in the beginning of the 2000’s, putting Nirvana and Sublime with a touch of RATM and Pearl Jam on rotation 24/7 to sate the baser need for easy-to-digest nostalgia by a 30-plus audience that had already stopped buying new music anyway. (but in many cases would, if given the chance to sample something new)All while ignoring a new generation of music fans just dying for someone out there to say “check THIS out” once in a while.

The key here is MASS MARKET. Sure, we have college stations out there for the die-hard new music fans, but we have almost no non-top-40 outlet for the latest thing anymore. The latest thing, instead of being pushed, promoted and spread with intent, is marginalized and ignored by the only REAL means of getting to huge audiences. Which still is radio and TV, no matter what the “netsperts” out there would tell you while they sit on their piles of imaginary Web 2.0 play money. You and I both know that the music industry, out of fear, is the one who really dropped the ball on the development of new music. Sure, they pushed the safe stuff. The Coldplays and Nicklebacks and whatever other bands were on the closing credits of shitty movies out during those years. In my part of the world we have 2 radio stations that play new music on a regular basis. One is a college station that barely comes in because it’s on the outskirts of my major market. The other is up in the hills and plays some new music, but not much, since it’s focus appears to be feeding the ears of ageing hippies more than anything, in spite of the fact that it’s a locally funded non-profit, indie station that’s supposed to be offering an alternative to what’s available on the airwaves already. And even they are almost impossible to bring in from the major metropolitan area. What used to be the local “alternative” station was abandoned for a computer-programmed lego-brick-like station that has the same DJs across the nation wherever else it’s unseated a real station that people under 40 actually listened to. Plug and play top 40 and 90s nostalgia radio. So if a new artist did begin to explode nationwide, in my area no station would be able to play them. Let’s face it, radio is still the best way to reach a huge, nearly captive audience begging for some kind of guidance. Instead they find themselves drifting around the chaotic Internet, unfocused and apt to not find new music they MIGHT like if they just found a way to sample it. Like radio used to do for them. I’ve tried services like Pandora, and it just doesn’t work for me as well as others claim it works for them. I gave it some time and eventually got so bored with it and so frustrated with its unneccessary limitations, I moved on.

But radio, radio is dead. It’s gone. And no-one appears to be willing to take a risk for longer than a few months to a year. Not like they used to. Everything is corporate now, with almost no room for risks in radio. It’s always the easy, comfortable option for them. And when things turn sour, they can point to articles like yours to back up their fear-based claims of THIEF! THIEF!! rather than face the fact that they dropped the ball and no-one has the guts to pick it back up and admit their mistake. It’s MUCH easier to blame it on the customer base, calling them thieves as they wander around the Internet doing their best to find something interesting in the billions of artists that are out there. Some online radio stations and sites have picked up the fight, sure. Pandora and service like them are satisfying to many, but not to me. It’s missing the human factor, that one voice out of the many you can trust to find that latest, coolest thing that you MUST hear. And it’s all too spread out. There’s no way in hell a site like Pandora, as successful as it is across the world, can reach a single, local area and get that one track out there so that it can reach the truly large audience it deserves. There’s no such thing as a regional hit that spreads out across the nation. Used to happen all the time. Not anymore. It’s all too unfocused, too spread out. And there are FAR too many blogs for them to reach the truly huge audiences radio can reach regionally.

So what do people do? They hit their favorite torrent sites and see what’s new. See what other people are commenting on, rating and most importantly, seeding. If I see something new with 100 seeds, I’m gonna grab it. Period. Even if it doesn’t ring a single bell. They hit Myspace and see what people are posting about. They check out what people are talking about on Facebook. Then, armed with that information, they find a blog with a sample (usually sent by the artists themselves for promotion) or go to the torrent sites or direct download sites and grab it. But what exactly does this translate to? Theft? Or are they simply groping in the dark for SOMETHING good to listen to? And if they think it sucks, instead of never buying it in the first place as they did in the days of radio, they delete it. How exactly is that theft? Ignoring the fact that taking a copy of something by definition is not theft. (reminder: if I copy your bicycle, you can still ride to work on yours) It’s actually more akin to something like a guy standing out in front of the county fair handing out free water bottles, except the guy in the fairgrounds SELLING water does NOT have other means by which to monetize his supply and does his best to get the guy giving water away thrown off the property. Music, on the other hand, can be monetized in more ways than retail sales. Concerts, licensing concert footage for airing on cable/TV, licensing to film, tv , licensing to advertisers, merchandise and ad sales on their web sites all the way to other artists licensing samples of their recordings.  The list goes on and on. In a way, it’s simply more like what people already call it… SHARING.

Soundscan does indeed claim that 489 million albums were sold last year. But when you look at the claims made in the industry vs the actual drop in sales from 2000, the losses are exaggerated.(and in fact, the article gets some of the numbers wrong. Soundscan reported a 12.7 percent drop in album sales in 2009, less than the drop the previous year of 14 percent, which translates to a lesser drop in sales than the previous year.. but that way of representing the numbers didn’t serve the article’s agenda, did it?) And more importantly, UNDER-EXAMINED! Many directly blamed what they called “piracy”, failing to pay attention to everything from the industry changing the way it promotes its artists, lowering the number of risks taken on emerging talent all the way to the absolute fact that consumers were spending a HUGE amount of money on video games and hardware. Consider the limited resources of your average young, passionate consumer and do the math. If it’s being spent HERE, chances are it’s NOT being spent OVER THERE.  Look past the numbers alone and look at the personas that were the winners in 2009. Number one? A dead iconic pop star, Michael Jackson, was number one. Taylor Swift had the number one album, a distant second place from Jackson,followed closely by SUSAN FRIGGEN BOYLE!

What do those numbers tell you? Without insulting people? Not much. But if you’re willing to not be nice for a moment in the service of representing reality, what you have here is a buying public that is either too old to figure out how to download OR possibly too young to be allowed un-supervised access to a computer. And here’s the not-very-nice part. The Susan Boyle audience is either too old to figure out how to grab the stuff free or on iTunes OR simply too dumb. These musical choices also convey a certain lack of sophistication and taste. These are , for the most part, Target and WalMart impulse buyers. What these statistics are missing are the breakthrough artists you would have seen in the past. Some would say it’s because those thieving downloaders are preventing these up and coming artists from getting the exposure they need in order to be seen and heard. But we’ve been through this already. The industry has systematically dismantled the means by which these artists could gain exposure IF they were invested in on any level. The industry dropped this ball, not the customers. If they can market to the Fox-news worshiping, god-fearing, morally simplistic, reality-TV watching, science-hating, other-fearing, WalMart shopping, teen-idol adoring masses, they can market AGAIN to the portion of the population that’s never even seen an episode of American Idol. Which is a number much, much larger than they may think. Instead, again, they have decided to blame us instead of taking responsibility for ignoring the margins which in the past have led to massive sales. (see: the Pink Floyds of the past, the 80s under-then-over bands such as The Cure, The Smiths, all the way to the big grunge artists of the 90s who would have NEVER broke through without a music-playing MTV and alternative radio in essentially every single US market) Instead, now, we see very few artists beyond perhaps MGMT and a select few popping up into the charts from time to time past the Disneyfied artists, American Idol winners or runners-up, and other saccharine sound-alikes. And then you have rap-hip-hop, which continually chugs along at an acceptable pace while ignoring it’s own extremely talented, original underground.

While the increase in digital sales were not as impressive as previous years (45% increase in 2007, 27% increase in 2008) an increase of sales in ANY industry or single business of 8.3% (which was the increase in digital sales in 2009) should not be looked upon as a failure. But, considering that we live in a country that considers constant growth as the only realistic measure of success of any kind, it’s not that shocking that a decrease in GROWTH would or could be seen as a form of failure. Gee, do you think maybe it has something to do with the economy COLLAPSING!!?? Didn’t think so. Must be the pirates. Yeaaargh.

The article then quotes numbers estimated by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. The f^c(ing IFPI!! Do you think maybe there’s a motivation to estimate a bit high on their part? What scientific method exactly did they use to estimate the number of “illegal” downloads for 2009? Could they maybe have included some wild guesses? Why would they EVER do such a thing?? I’m sure their numbers are pure science, zero propaganda. I mean, they’ve never, ever shown any disdain for people downloading music off the Internet without paying for it, right? So there would never be a motivation to make that enemy look more substantial than it really is. (end sarcasm.. sorry.. it got a little ugly even for me there) THOSE NUMBERS ARE STAGGERING, the article then claims. Did you stop even for a second to consider that the numbers are staggering because they’re made up? Consider, instead, that it’s not virtually impossible to estimate those numbers with anything resembling accuracy… it’s absolutely impossible. Now, to be fair and not become disingenuous myself, everyone knows as well that MOST of the bittorrent and other file sharing traffic IS of the without-permission type. But an increasing number of that traffic is legitimate downloads coupled with downloads of artists who do not have any problem whatsoever with the idea of a potentially huge audience downloading their albums for free. As long as they show up for the concert, buy the t-shirts and tell everyone how amazing they were. Or send traffic to their web sites. (this is one area in which artists have not yet got the big picture.. why so many attempt to keep their audiences peeled to their Myspace or Facebook pages, handing those respective companies the resulting ad revenue, rather than doing their best to direct fans to their own sites, where they could display unobtrusive Google text ads, bringing in another smaller but steady income stream.. which is better than NO additional income stream, is beyond my brain and pay grade)

It’s easier certainly to just take a position, read the numbers with the slanted interpretation included by sources with a clear agenda and drop a fresh, steaming article upon your readers. But to me, that stinks. Not just because it makes so many outrageous assumptions and conclusions, but also because it’s so easy now using the Internet to get some idea of the bigger picture before plunging into a position. (wow.. lotta poop symbolism there) This is made even more sad and sort of odd considering Chris Kornelis’ other writing for Seattle Weekly. I took some time to really read a LOT of his writing and discovered a real love for music, local and otherwise.  I found his writing to be witty, sharp, entertaining and filled with what makes the best music writing so cherished. Brief when appropriate, expanded and detailed when needed as well. I just wish this particular article were not such a run-of-the-mill, under-researched mess of judgmental, moralizing crap. At times, reading the article evokes an image of a man in a suit standing behind the writer at a computer with a gun pointed at a kitten saying things like..

“NO! I want the word ILLEGAL at least 2 more times in there, and what’s that part about “sympathetic characters”? What the hell? I don’t think you like kittens very much, Chris! Don’t you like kittens? It sure doesn’t seem like you appreciate little kittens that breathe with lies like that, son! What we have here is what I perceive as a serious disconnect between you and the concept of healthy young felines in your vicinity! Or am I wrong?”

But the most frustrating thing about the article for me is the title of the damned thing. “Why don’t we talk about illegal downloading anymore?” First of all, who is WE? If by “we” you mean you and 4 or 5 people you hang out with who write about music, maybe. But if by “we”, you mean most of us, or even a large percentage of us, you’re clearly not paying very much attention. Seriously, WTF? Find any discussion on any forum or YouTube video comments section related to the subject (of which there are millions, growing constantly) and you will find heated debates about the morality, the numbers, the politics.. everything. And when I say heated, I mean the Hades-side of the river friggen Styx heated. And sure, a huge number of people still see a download as analogous to physical theft. Most of them will never change their position, no matter the evidence or reality. And another large percentage think that it’s perfectly fine to download an album from a band they profess to adore without ever paying for it, going to their shows or buying even the tiniest bit of their merchandise. But in between these two extremes lies the rest of us.

We see something that looks like it might be interesting and we sample it by downloading. If we hate it, we delete it. If we love it, sometimes we buy it. With certainty, we will go to see them live. We absolutely will tell others about how amazing they are. We’ll share the files with people we know. We’ll write about the band in our blogs. We’ll post about them on Twitter. In some cases, we’ll not only buy the download, we’ll actually buy a physical CD. Or vinyl! But we will NEVER buy a CD or a download after we’ve sampled it and found it to be horrible. The real important factoid here is… we NEVER did. Ever. (well, I remember a few turds at Tower records telling me an album was amazing, then purchasing it, taking it home and finding out it was in fact the worst thing ever recorded) The thing that’s really changed, as I’ve stated here repeatedly, is that we have limited ways in which to be exposed to new and non-mainstream artists. We look at the price of a single track on iTunes and scratch our heads. On average, the same price per track or in some cases MORE per track than we’d pay if we purchased it at the local mom and pop CD store. If it’s supposedly convenience they’re selling us, free file sharing has them beat. Exclusivity is an illusion now. In some cases, we pay more for a digital download version and get LESS control over the thing we’ve supposedly “purchased” through the wonderful innovation of Digital “rights” management. Guess what? If it’s managed, it’s not a right anymore. If we pay for music like the old days, we want to actually OWN it like the old days. You know, in sort of the same way the music industry expects profits, growth and demand-price relationships to remain static or positive in their favor. iTunes and Amazon have virtually removed DRM, but it still lingers out there in the shadows. If we’re paying for a “license” rather than a recording, the price should reflect that fact and so far it does NOT.. in any case, at any time, anywhere other than The Pirate Bay. I’ve said it a thousand times already. The next big innovation in technology will be price point. (Internet culture, in my opinion, complicates the traditional demand/price point equations and results) If you consider even the basic premise of substitution price points, consider that your typical iTunes single song purchase now begins it’s life as a substitution for the price point of $0.00 ! Now we see some places going over the 99 cent price point, which is another price point no-no.  People are used to buying single items for the magical, great-deal-sounding 99 cents, which works against us. Many of us are just so “okay” with the 99 cent price, we forget that in the case of most albums, 99 cents is way, way over the price we pay per song when we purchase a single, physical CD. Especially if it’s on sale.  We have here an industry that is using excuses to ignore that the demand for it’s product has continually and drastically reduced over a relatively short period of time. The problem is that we, it’s potential customers, are the excuse. And now they are going so far as to invest in and in my opinion pay for new laws and treaties which will assure that their product’s demand remains artificially high by restricting access to alternatives they would like to be universally defined as illegal. The big problem with this is that the methods of acquiring their product at the $0.00 price point are the same methods many artists are using to spread and promote their work in a way that does not burden them financially if their particular work suddenly becomes popular. Bandwidth aint cheap, Harvard. But bittorrent is a way to spread that bandwidth around a bit to make it affordable for ANYONE to reach millions of people without emptying your bank account. And that.. THAT has to make pretty much any middleman used to limited, exclusive channels very , very nervous.  But as I said earlier, they already OWN the existing limited, exclusive channels and do NOTHING with them except push out the next ephemeral, bland, generic “artist” on their now short rosters. AND they want to put a stop to innovation in distribution simply because it can ALSO be used by average users to trade music these companies  own for free. We have a name for this behavior in the business world already, it’s called anti-competitive.

Popular bittorrent site Mininova recently was de facto shut down. It’s still there, but the torrents are limited to approved uploaders. These accounts are being doled out VERY carefully and they are difficult to obtain. But that’s not what really killed the site. What killed the site was the audience being turned away. They were turned away by restricting the content indexed on the site. Once you start with those restrictions, the huge audiences run away in droves to other places. Mininova had many artist-approved torrents with HUGE audiences downloading them. By removing the larger audience for the unwanted content, the audience for the approved content shrunk as well. If “legal” content had any shot of being a major draw for the visitors to the site, that shot was ruined by the imposed restrictions. The artists and the labels tried to play along and as a result, Dutch anti-“piracy” outfit BREIN ruined it for them by leaning again on fear rather than optimism.

I know this can seem confusing if you’ve managed to make it this far. First he says we need curators again. (radio DJs, hip record store employees, etc etc) Then he says that the competition to the status quo is basically saying “we don’t need no stinking curators”. So which is it, Burbank Community College? It can’t be both, can it? Well, yes it can. We DO need both curators and a means by which anyone can reach a huge audience without said curators. See, once an artist breaks through using something like bittorrent, music blogs or Internet radio (or all 3.. or more), that’s when the good curators paying close enough attention stumble on these new artists and take it from there. But if one is made illegal and the other is under-used, what are we left with? Pretty much what we had this year in the mainstream. A dead pop star, a group that broke up in 1970, an old lady singing show tunes and a teenage country music star as the big winners. And how many albums do you have to sell now to crack billboard’s top 100? 150? And is that because artists cannot afford to make albums anymore? Heh. Hell no. The albums are being made, and sold. Many are not even tracked by Billboard and Soundscan. Bands are making money and bands are failing. Like they used to. It’s just that nowadays they have a decent scapegoat in US to blame for it. We’re YOKO! Without the cool,weird high voice and famous friends.

But finally (yes, I’m almost finished) the last thing that bugged me was the assumption that “illegal” downloading was and could continue to be responsible for taking down mom and pop CD stores. BRISTLE!

The same bad practices and abandoned risks coupled with a non-competitive digital price point account for a huge drop in sales at CD stores. And you also MUST NOT ignore the reality that the biggest music retailers out there are the big stores like WalMart and Target. This wasn’t the case in such an extreme way back in 2000. The big chain music stores were still around (although many were already dying.. even before the onset of Napster), able to buy in larger numbers so as to offer CDs at prices the mom and pops could not compete with without taking a loss. Same with the big stores like WalMart. The record companies and distributors didn’t have to allow this to happen, but they did. The inflated price of a CD must also be remembered. 14.99 for a CD? Outrageous but accepted. Up to a point. A point we reached when we collectively discovered file sharing. The small stores in my town are still around while the Towers of Virgins collapsed long ago. ALL of them with the exception of an amazing, gigantic one that still mainly dealt in vinyl. (RIP) And I think they will continue to survive. Why? Because they cater to people who LOVE music, truly. People like ME. People who actually both download AND pay for music. People who refuse to spend 13 to 15 bucks on something without listening to the whole friggen thing first. We do not JUST download music using file sharing. We also read blogs, download artist-provided sample mp3s, stream albums from artist’s websites. And yes, we still buy CDs. From stores. In person. In fact, other than Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift, Susan Boyle and Beatles fans, we may be the ONLY ones still buying music.

Do you truly think people turned on the major labels only when they started suing little girls and grandmas? Please, read up a bit. They were already hated for charging 15 bucks for something that cost about 4 bucks to create(yep.. even recording, mastering,marketing,paying the artist a share, etc), manufacture and ship. In the 80s, you could still get a new release album on a blue light special for $5.99 . Maybe $7.99 on sale if you went to a smaller store. And you can bet they still made money. Tons of it, in fact. The truth is, I can make a CD for 10 cents. I can ship it for a buck. I can pay myself 5 dollars a CD and spend about 50 cents on packaging. That’s about $6.60 . So I could tack on an extra 3 bucks and 39 cents to make it $9.99 ending in a HUGE amount of money made per CD. If *I* can do it that cheap, the majors certainly can because they can buy in larger quantities than I ever could. There’s absolutely no excuse for the price of a physical CD, let alone the hyper-inflated digital download. This isn’t new hatred and distrust. Ask Tom Petty, he sued ’em for it. This goes waaaaay back.

So could you maybe give us a break and think next time you decide to blame us for the stupid behavior of an entire industry and its supporting industries?

Thanks.

* Some of his peers believe he makes large assumptions based on less than traditional scientific method. But in my opinion, his work is the best so far on the study of mega-successful people. I can imagine it would be about as easy to herd them into double-blind groups as it is to do the same with cats. With huge egos and odd bahavi… oh I guess that pretty much describes most cats I’ve met.

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What is selling out? Is the accusation still relevant?

April 5, 2010 Leave a comment

The elusive sellout.

Actual Sell-Out, seen here in the wild.

I remember hearing the word “sellout” a lot about 7 or 8 years ago. I hear it less and less these days, as it relates to music, for good reason. Many bands are still able to tour and produce new recordings ONLY because they are willing to allow commercial use of their songs, tour sponsorships and other less common means of monetizing their content/personas. Before, a corporate sponsor usually meant an artist (who was not really an artist at all in many cases) had probably figured out that his or her 15 minutes were at the 14.5 minute mark and wanted to secure some kind of post-popularity survival. Or said artist wanted a LOT more money.  Maybe because they blew it all on coke or an expensive party habit. Maybe because they were generous and thought it was all going to keep rolling in forever. I mean, how many people who end up being one hit wonders actually know they will be one hit wonders? Probably not very many.

Now, go to a show and you can meet band members standing behind the merch booth right with the fans, signing and selling. Bands that, a few short years ago, would have maintained that false wall and distant, unattainable persona. Noo-one calls them sell-outs. What happened? What changed?

There was a well-attended panel at SxSW talking about how “subcultures” (or niches) can prosper (make the moneys) without “selling out”. Like it’s a magic trick, and maybe there are rules. Listen, if someone wants to call you or think you are a “sell out”, nothing YOU do or say will make that person change his or her mind until someone calls that person out for being an ass-hat. And I have to ask. Is it always necessary for the curators and taste-makers of the world to make a living off it? I’m not suggesting it’s wrong to do so, but I’m also not suggesting it’s always appropriate. Certainly, I would never attack someone for taking a buck for having really good taste and magical powers of discovery. I am saying that typically ad-trickery, sneaky ads, obvious under-the-table swag and cash for critical art-love and questionable partnerships/sponsorships CAN be a bad sign. And you cannot blame folks for making at least some assumptions. Then again, I tend to write only about stuff I love, which some people see as a red flag. I usually simply side with the fictional, animated character Thumper when it comes to my critical focus. If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say “nothin’ ” at all. Well, isn’t that quaint? Of course this doesn’t apply to my non-music articles or music-biz articles. I think those balance things out a little. I can be, let’s say, a little hard on certain points of view or ways of doing business. This article could well be an example.

People get impatient. When that first thousand (or ms. million if you’re nasty) doesn’t fall into their hands after that first diss-article on Radiohead or Grizzly Bear gets the attention of the editors at Pitchfork, they can get lazy and “other options” fall into their laps. And it’s so hard to find the signal in all the ad-supported noise out there. It can be much easier for people to simply dismiss a blogger, magazine or site and lazily call them sell-outs. So, in a way, it can be difficult to feel sorry for these publishers, since they’ve taken the easy way out (or in).

A little patience and observation of sites and businesses that have been very careful how they proceed commercially could just lead to the building of trust. Take for instance TWIT, ex-Tech-TV host and radio host-programmer Leo Laporte’s home-built network. For decades, Leo has built trust with his audience. That’s right, DECADES. Of course, not all of us can do this, especially if what we cover is current pop or sub-culture. When you’re worried about breaking a hip, it’s hard to find time to stay hip. But he is still a great example of how to build trust. Don’t accept sponsorships from companies you would not do business with yourself. Be careful about advice, be protective of your audience(and they will, in turn, protect you). Never participate in duping them or ripping them off. Always remember your audience/readers and keep them in mind. If you do all of these things and someone still calls you a sell-out, chances are they’re not only wrong, but also in the minority.Even big names worry about this kind of thing. Filmmaker Kevin Smith recently worried publicly about being seen as a sell-out when a company offered to make him a Twitter Book, an actual bound book containing all of his Tweets. In exchange, they simply asked that he take a picture of himself with his free book and post it. Not exactly a sell-out move. He got a free book and they got a single instance of almost-free publicity. No big deal, right? Oh no. See, what Kevin didn’t realize was that people (or, rather, celebrities) are getting paid THOUSANDS for a single Tweet mention. His followers started accusing him, asking him how much he “got paid for that one”. But, see, the other thing he maybe doesn’t realize is that a certain portion of the public not only always assumes the worst, but actually hates the celebrities they follow more than they love them. And worrying about what they think is a bit like trying to convince a bully how cool you are. You will never change them. Whatever change they make happen within will most likely never involve you. They’ve already made up their minds about you. Some brains, also, will always remain tiny and walled-off. The best you can hope for is that they grow bored with you and move on to a Kardashian rather than sticking around and finding out you don’t live down to their expectations.

But, you may ask, what about now? How will I pay the bills now!? Well, ask yourself if you’re homeless. If not, why not? Whatever it is you do to make sure that doesn’t happen, extend it to what you love doing, whether it’s blogging, podcasting, writing,music, film, criticism, commentary, community-building. Whatever it is, treat it like you’d treat food and water, shelter and electricity. Because I guarantee you, the other people who succeeded doing the thing you do? They did this. And if that means you have to put it first, above something else you love or love doing, make the leap and put it first, no matter the cost. And if it isn’t worth it, if it’s not important enough to you to do that, do THE OTHER THING that comes first instead and quit wasting your time doing this other thing that doesn’t matter as much. Quite simple, really. And you don’t need me or some guru to charge you money to tell it to you either. (oops, bubble-burster.. sorry gurus!!) But don’t listen to me, I haven’t made my first million yet. Seriously, I have not “made it” on any level at anything much at all.

But always remember, if there’s a hole in your pocket and your keys, change, etc are falling out, does it matter if it’s the homeless guy that tells you about it 10 feet down the road.. or the “Marketing Professional” at the next block? The messenger is not always important. But the message almost always is, if it is.

In a world filled with blatant, audacious, garish, gaudy marketing and in-your-face, empty commercialism, whatever a real artist has to do to simply live a creatively prosperous life, reasonably staving off hardship and struggle, is fair game. If it means you might have to hear your favorite indie darlings in a Toyota ad (say, as an older example.. Queen’s “Don’t stop me now” or Soul 2 Soul’s “Keep on movin’..don’t stop“.. lol.. sorry.. could not resist that one) then try to remember there’s a good chance the money they received in exchange probably allowed them to come play in your town.. with equipment that actually sounds good.. and..

kinda get over yourself…

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/armoire/3219951226/

Indie 69 April 2010 Playlist

April 1, 2010 1 comment

:(

😦

(April Fools prank removed)

First! I had an issue. No M3U file this month. But if you use Winamp, you can easily create one yourself. Just select all the files, right-click and choose “play in Winamp”. Then under list opt. choose “save playlist”. It’ll be back next month if I can make it work the way I want it to.

At first I thought April was going to be crappy. But then as the month of March marched along, toward the end of the month the good stuff started rolling in. And there’s some seriously good stuff. We got an extremely different new EP from PT Walkley, who continues to shock, surprise, amuse and deliver. We got a concept album from the son of a great, infamous outlaw country legend that defies expectations and especially genre. We got an album of extreme pop sweetness from an artist who is typically very pop, but not THAT pop. Holy cow! A new album from a pre AND post-punk British artist who continues to deliver surprises after being in the industry for 4 decades(holy carp, how old is he now? 60??!!) ! We got a very good new track/album from a group of critical darlings who delivered a release that I think is better than their acclaimed one, yet continues to baffle and disappoint fans and critics alike. And that’s all in the first 10 tracks of the playlist, most of which came in during the last week. *whew*

And you can grab the finished monster HERE as well as all the regular haunts. (by the time you read this blog post, it will have been seeded well, so happy downloading!)

Normally, I’d have something to rant and rave about here, but honestly I’ve been having a good month in spite of all the horror going on in the world of the Internets and the musics. As you may have noticed, I am sticking to my “direct permission only” model for the blog and so far it’s working great. That’s not saying that doing it another way is wrong or bad, in fact I think posting a track or even two of any release is going to do absolutely NO bad and absolutely TONS of good for the promotion of the artist or release. I believe the reports of the death of the album format are premature and exaggerated. But as this concept starts to be believed, I hope we don’t get artists and labels being more protective of individual tracks being shared. As radio becomes even more programmed and even less inclusive/diverse, the options for most artists to get a single track heard by a new audience become more and more limited.  The blogs are what’s left for everyone else other than the Lady Gagas, Black Eyed Peas and Coldplays of the world. (sorry, BEPs and Lady Gaga, I didn’t mean to insult you there, especially not you, Gaga!!)

Well, that and the playlists and streaming online radio. But even the streaming stations are feeling limited. Sirius is still cool from what I’ve heard. Or at least one of their stations.

By the time you read this, I hope to have included a few more extras this month, including but not limited to more wallpapers for the Zune and perhaps some Zune HD backgrounds. Let me know if you love/hate these. I know the Zune is not huge, but I’ve been having a mostly positive experience with it. (more on that in a later blog post dedicated to that subject)

Some changes this month:

1. I’ve decided to quit the “Indie 69 Month Year” thing in the ID tags as the name of the album. Instead I’ve been leaving them as is or blank. I noticed on the Zune, doing it the old way meant that I had 69 albums, all called “Indie 69 March 2010”. This will put a stop to that. (turns out, not so much.. but may be helpful with other software/players)

2. I’m including extra mp3 tracks in the extras folder. I’m finding that there’s just so much new music from so many new sources lately that 69 just aint enough, but not by much. So look for 3 or 4 in the extras folder this month and from now on. But not so much as to make the playlist huge. I think one of the nice things about mine is that it’s a little smaller than some of the others, data-wise. With the exception of Feb playlists, which will be double sized, I plan on keeping it this way.

3. I am considering doing a 10 best playlist halfway through the month. If that sounds like a great idea, let me know. If you think it’s just a dilution or a waste of time, let me know.

As always, to check out what the other playlist folks are doing every month and for even more tracks, check out the BIRP community.

Everyone have a great April and get out there to your local CD store. Those guys are really struggling now and they need your help. I just recently visited Chico, CA ( a college town ) and found NO CD stores open on a week night after 6pm and only ONE on the main strip, period. Sad! Don’t let Wal-Mart and Target be the only places now to buy a CD except for the Internet. Both of those stores have proven in some ways that they respect censorship more than they respect artists. When and if that happens, the world will be just a little darker and it’ll make the baby Jesus cry. And not necessarily in that order.

See you in May, fellow hipster douchebags. lahl.

P.S. – CRIZNITTLE IS BACK!!! HOLYCARP! Great news, huh?

Image Credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/9119782@N07/3451335844/

Creative Commons – Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

The Madness of Old Media and the Delusion of the Obscure (NYT, GFY)

January 14, 2010 7 comments

Jaron Lanier demos new VS(virtual stupidity)technology

Jaron Lanier demos new VS(virtual stupidity)technology

The New York Times has done it again, this time just a little more than a week after indulging the out-of-touch but well-intentioned Bono, creating what appears to be a bandwagon of sorts. This bandwagon is filled with oily-faced people in suits, nearly out of jobs or recently fired/made obsolete, scrambling for self-worth and value while their status as middlemen continues to be rightly marginalized. But there’s a new hope in their pinched, angry faces. A false smile of satisfaction and “I told you so” smarminess. But trust me, folks, it’s as temporary a state as it was when Napster was taken down. Beyond the tired, old, inaccurate, dusty analogies with car theft and insane assertations of decrease in quality “content”, Jaron Lanier is quoted in the NYT proclaiming that the “illegal” sharing of files with one another “undermine(s) the artificial scarcities that allow the economy to function” .. quite boldly, without even a hint of sarcasm, wit or acknowledgment of the stupidity inherent in the statement. How he can say this without explaining why such economies even DESERVE to be preserved is far beyond my pay grade and status.  He states this without a mention of how well the mainstream entertainment economies are functioning quite well, thank you, while the very foreground digital underground thrives as well as it ever has. In some cases , far better than it has in a very long time. But recognizing this will not sell your books or make friends with the old media masters you so clearly wish to kiss the asses of. Either that, or you are simply being contrarian to spark debate. You seem far too intelligent to throw yourself under that bus though. I think this might just be sincere, and that makes me terribly sad. Read more…

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