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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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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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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?

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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…

Hey.. Bono? A few words. (or many.. in any case you’ll probably never see them)

January 3, 2010 3 comments

In your “10 for the next 10 “article, I found a lot I agreed with(and was inspired by), but I think your assessment of the entertainment (and news, lumped in there) industry was terribly far off the mark as well as reality. Perhaps the lack of insight from such an obviously sharp, passionate and compassionate mind is  a matter of information not read, heard?  You say that the people downloading is hurting are the people who are essentially unknown. People who cannot make a living off tickets and t-shirt sales. First of all, who? You get my point there? The reason we have no idea who you’re speaking of is because no-one KNOWS WHO these people are because they’re not famous. Of COURSE they cannot expect to make a living off t-shirt sales! How can or could they if their fan-base is 400 people on myspace spread out over the entire PLANET? (most of which cannot afford, as you are aware, clean drinking water, let alone t-shirts with unknown bands emblazoned upon them) But that’s always been the case. The only difference now is that they can actually HAVE 400 fans worldwide, unlike before when they would have trouble even reaching the people in their home-towns.

I do agree that we in the US should give more credit where it’s due when it comes to the entertainment industry. In California we are want to say “it’s the cheese”. Well, I don’t know about you, but when was the last time a hunk of medium cheddar made people want to snog in the back seat of a car, or inspire someone to write a novel? And when was the last time a gruyere was alphabetized, shelved and consumed 100 times in a year? Then again and again over a 50 year period? Not once. The entertainment economy of California (and the US) is a gift that keeps on giving. Take that, cows. Why don’t you try licensing some pepper jack for the end credits of a film sometime. I didn’t think so. Read more…

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