The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'the recording industry'
Tom Ewing's Poptimist column in Pitchfork has an A to Z of discourse in music criticism, which illuminates the current state of flux in the production and consumption of music quite tellingly:
E is for Excess: Not the rock'n'roll lifestyle, alas, but the sense we live in a time of musical glut-- reissues of old LPs now stretched across three CDs, legal download dumps of hundreds of tracks, even musicians getting in on the act (Wiley just gave 11 CD-Rs worth of tunes away). What's interesting to me isn't the decadence so much as how social listening strategies are evolving to cope-- the task of processing all this stuff is devolved to fans as a group, a sharp break from the single artwork meets single pair of ears model we've been used to for so long.
N is for Novelty: Novelty records-- gimmick dances, comedy songs, et al.-- regularly turn up in "worst song ever"-type polls. Their decline should have been a canary in the record industry coalmine, though: A track like "Macarena" got big by appealing to people who didn't usually buy records, which made them an index of the extent to which buying a record was seen as a normal thing to do. The market for novelties hasn't gone away, of course-- it simply relocated to YouTube.
P is for Pleasure: The "no such thing as a guilty pleasure" line ends up at a kind of naturism of pop, where the happiest state of being is to display one's tastes unaltered to the world. But the barriers to naturism aren't just shame and poor body image, it's also that clothes are awesome and look great. Performing taste-- played-up guilt and all-- is as delightful and meaningful as dressing well and makes the world a more colorful place. (This still isn't the full story, though-- see V for Virtue).
Y is for Year Zero: Grunge killed hair metal. Acid house changed everything. Punk saw off progressive rock. These dividing-line stories are always attractive, always useful for a while-- and then always revised. The grandfather of them all, though, has proved harder to shift-- the idea that something happened in the early-to-mid-fifties to mark a change of era and fix a boundary of relevance. The next 10 or 20 years, as the 60s slip deeper into unlived collective memory, will be crucial and fascinating (for historians, anyway!).
Over the past few decades, the market value of recorded music has been declining, as music has gotten easier to make and distribute, to the point where there is a flood of music vying for one's attention, and the challenge is not finding it but sorting the worthwhile stuff from the dross and filler. Of course, this sucks if you're a musician trying to be heard, as you're competing for the limited attention of your audience with millions of others.
The latest outcome of this commodification: a British band calling itself The Reclusive Barclay Brothers has paid 100 people £27 to listen to their song, a jaunty little number titled We Could Be Lonely Together.
Another reaction to the changing economics of recorded music: American indie band The Fiery Furnaces are protesting the falling monetary value of recorded music by declining to provide it; and so, an indie Atlas shrugs and, instead, releases a "Silent Record":
The Fiery Furnaces’ next album will consist of instruction, conventional music notation, graphic music notation, reports and illustrations of previous hypothetical performances, reports and illustrations of hypothetical performances previous to the formation of their hypotheses, guidelines for the fabrication of semi-automatic machine rock, memoranda to the nonexistent Central Committee of the Fiery-Furnaces-in-Exile concerning the non-creation of situations, Relevant to Progressive Rock Division, conceptual constellations on a so-to-speak black cloth firmament, and other items that have nothing to do with the price of eggs, or milk, or whatever the proverbial expression ceased to be.
Upon release of the record, the band will organize a series of Fan-Band concerts, in which groups of perfectly ordinary Fiery Furnaces’ fans will perform, interpret, contradict, ignore, and so on, the compositions that make up Silent Record. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate your post office break room, truck stop parking lot, municipal arts center, local tavern, or what-its-name to host one of these ‘happenings’. By ‘happenings’ I mean, what will be in the future, perfectly normal rock shows. And propose yourself for Fan Band participation.
Apparently Sony-Ericsson have codenamed their latest mobile phone "Shakira", after a pop singer signed to Sony Music. This isn't the first time a Sony electronic gadget was named after a Sony-signed recording artist; four years ago, Sony launched a pocket instant messaging device which shared its name with a dance-music artist. Which makes one wonder whether there's now a clause in the standard Sony Music recording contract that grants Sony's electronics division the rights to use an artist's name for naming products, and, if so, what artist will get a gadget named after them next.
The decline of physical media continues, as one of Melbourne's larger and more long-lived independent labels abandons the CD format; from now on, Rubber Records (home to Underground Lovers, among other acts) won't actually sell records but only digital downloads.
“Physical retail distribution is dictated by a business model that no longer works for either the customer, the artist or the label,” Rubber MD David Vodicka said in a statement. “It’s also anti-competitive. We can’t sell-in direct to the biggest national retailer JB Hi Fi, we have to go through a third party distributor with an account. Distributors take a minimum cut of 25 percent, and we have to pass that onto the consumer. There’s no point in engaging in this model as it currently stands. We’ll consider it in the future, but only if it works for us."A final liquidation of stock is planned for 15 May.
This is what your internet access must be sacrificed for: an infographic showing how much money musicians actually earn from each means of selling music, in the form of how many units they'd have to shift to make minimum wage, along with how much the all-important middle man takes. While an artist could live (modestly) on 143 home-burned CD-Rs a month, they'd need to sell almost ten times that many retail CDs (if they have an exceptionally good royalty deal), or on iTunes. The scales get positively Jovian as we approach new streaming services like Spotify:
What's wrong with the recording industry today (an ongoing series): introducing Sony Music's latest star signing, the late Michael Jackson, whose $250m, 10-album deal dwarfs that of any living musician in history:
Sony and Jackson's estate have already planned a series of releases including an album of previously unheard songs scheduled for the end of this year, a series of Best Of collections and expanded reissues of Jackson's best albums, Off the Wall and Thriller. The Wall Street Journal reports speculation of a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas based on Jackson's music.10 albums. So that's Jackson's half-dozen or so albums "remastered" and bulked out with demoes and remixes in the currently fashionable styles, plus his songs sliced and diced across a number of "greatest hits" albums (presumably each with a unique rarity, requiring fans to pony up for the whole thing to get it; it worked for Warner with The Smiths, though that was in the pre-iTunes age when you actually had to buy the filler), an entire album of unreleased tracks (which will have to be different than the bait placed on the "greatest hits" albums as not to cannibalise sales), and perhaps some tangentally Jackson-related third-party tie-ins. Perhaps they'll do something grisly like digitally splicing Jackson into posthumous duets with up-and-coming Autotune stars or something. (Unfortunately for them, the experimental software for replicating musicians' styles doesn't look like synthesising vocals any time soon, though perhaps virtual-actor technology will soon catch up to the point where we (and, more importantly, Sony's shareholders) can see all-new Michael Jackson albums roll off the production line.) In any case, he's going to be one busy dead guy.
It's not clear what Zombie Michael Jackson will do with the money, though industry sources say that the "fruit and flowers" part of the budget will be smaller than for most living artists. Sony Music (whose fortunes, along with the rest of those dinosaurs of the age of scarcity, the recording industry, have been better in past decades) will presumably have to cut A&R budgets and the development of new artists, but at least they can count on the late Michael Jackson to personally lobby for copyright extension when the time comes around next.
The ghost of Tupac has reportedly instructed his clairvoyants to renegotiate his deal.
The New Labour government is planning to rush through draconian new copyright laws in the form of the Digital Economy Bill. Drafted by the recording industry and big media, this bill will nobble the internet in Britain. (Among other things, wireless access points in cafés, libraries and pubs will be too great a copyright liability to operate, and ISPs will be obliged to block file exchange services like YouSendIt if they allow users to potentially infringe copyrights.)
According to a leaked memo from the BPI, MPs are resigned to passing this without debate, and the compliant New Labour leadership are determined to force it through in this form. In fact, the BPI fears this bill being subjectdd to parliamentary debate, knowing that were it to be so, the whole odious, iniquitous package would crumble like a vampire in sunlight.
Which is why it's important to contact your MP and ensure that they put the pressure on to get the Digital Economy Bill into the light. And you can contact your MP here.
Nu-gazer musician Ulrich Schnauss has made the news. Unfortunately for him, it was in the context of having been sampled by Guns'n'Roses without permission on their long-awaited album Chinese Democracy. In any case, his labels are suing. It is not clear whether Schnauss' loop-based shoegazer electronica will find a new audience as a result of the increased exposure.
Struggling major record label EMI (you know, the one whom a venture-capital firm bought out a few years ago) has come up with another plan for snatching defeat from the jaws of slightly more prolonged defeat: to cut costs, they are now going to distribute records only to big "one-stop" retailers like Wal-Mart. Independent stores wanting to carry EMI-signed artists (like, say, Sigur Rós or M83) will now have to send someone down to Wal-Mart to pick the records up at the retail price. Of course, anyone wanting non-current back-catalogue material not likely to be found on the shelves of a big-box retailer is out of luck. Way to go, EMI.
The Graun has a piece on El Records, the artier-than-usual indie label set up in the the mid-1980s by Cherry Red's Mike Alway, which briefly counted Momus on its roster, and then went on to make meticulously art-directed records, its A&R people casting artists as one would actors in a play:
One of Alway's first castings was Simon Fisher Turner, a man whose life story includes child stardom in Tom Brown's Schooldays, taking Robert Mitchum to see Siouxsie and the Banshees, being "the new David Cassidy" on Jonathan King's record label and playing bass for Adam and the Ants. "I was making music in gallery spaces," says Turner, now a respected soundtrack composer. "But no one was really interested in a guy bagging up handmade cassettes with small bits of art and one-off collections of sweets and postcards and cheap toys. I wrote Mike a letter and sent him a cassette. He returned one to me fairly promptly and I went up to their office. He offered me a job [recording] as the King of Luxembourg there and then - I liked that. Instant. Very Jarman."
El revelled in its thrillingly sly upper-class style. His artists weren't knuckle-dragging gangs from rough backstreets: they were presented as languorous Vogue models, archbishops' daughters, royalty. There were songs about the British Empire, soufflés, choirboys and stately homes, but there was never the merest whiff of snobbery, just the crisp, lemony cologne of a delicious privilege shared.
"I used to buy lots of anachronistic magazines and trawl them for song titles," Always says. "I got the King's Turban Disturbance from a column in the Spectator. Cookbooks were good, too. People hadn't written songs about trivial things like soufflés, everything was drowned in this awful bombast. I wanted to move pop music's vernacular on a bit. We were anticipating a Britain yet to come, a more stylish place in line with the Italian and Spanish culture I loved."El Records went on to be much more influential in Japan, informing the leading lights of the Shibuya-kei movement (and even inspiring a Kahimi Karie song titled Mike Alway's Diary; incidentally, on the same EP as the Momus-penned Giapponese a Roma), though was closed some time around 1990; though it has now been reconstituted as a reissues label, dealing with lavishly eccentric old recordings:
The new incarnation of El means near-forgotten recordings by Sabu ("The Elephant Boy") and Orson Welles, Roy Budd and Al "Jazzbo" Collins, Stravinsky and the Ink Spots. The majority of these artefacts date from a time when it seemed perfectly reasonable to lavish skill and money on an LP of questionable commercial appeal, and each one feeds neatly into Always' master vision of a better world where people dress more tastefully, read more widely, think more deeply and take an interest in the world outside their immediate environs. Four wonderfully odd CDs are released every month, each selling between 1,000 and 3,000 copies. Each is a gem.
The Graun has an article on the alleged class divide in British commercial rock ("indie") between working-class "lad bands" on one side and privately-educated "smart, literate" bands (or "oiks" vs. "toffs", if you prefer). The details are the standard phony war of marketing narrative, though it features the following interesting paragraph:
For an art-rock band such as Foals, solidly middle class both in membership and their perceived appeal, a common marketing tactic is to use a nominally independent feeder label as a means to building up vital credibility. "Finding an indie to start things off before putting stuff out on the major label is something that happens all the time with bands like that - there are very few true independent labels now, the majority are funded by majors," the A&R says. "You've got to be careful, because you can damage the credibility of your indie label if you force them to put out some crap you've just signed. But it's about putting the band in context for the media and for fans. If you put them out on a certain indie label, it puts them into the context and aesthetic of that label, and leads people to think they must be similar to their other bands. It doesn't even matter what they sound like - it's all just codes and clues as to what you're trying to do."Which suggests that Britain's indie labels (well, the ones with offices in Soho, proper distribution deals and extensive "fruit & flowers" budgets, not small bedroom efforts struggling to put out a band they passionately believe in) are in the pockets of the majors, who are keeping them at enough of an arm's length (i.e., not actually handling distribution for them) to not make the connection obvious. I wonder who pulls who's strings; I think there's some connection between hip young art-rock label Moshi Moshi and EMI (presumably making them Heavenly 2.0), and wasn't Memphis Industries (the Go! Team's label) connected to Sony in some way?
Anyway, further down in the article:
Once an act are stereotyped, they can suffer from it, regardless of their background. Public school-educated George Pringle's experimental spoken-word electro has drawn both critical plaudits and brickbats, but her undiluted middle-class accent has been a frequent point of interest for writers. "Every critical review I've ever had has included the words 'moaning posh girl'," she explains. "I had no idea my voice would end up pissing people off as much as it has. People associate wealth with not having a cause for complaint, that you don't have something to talk about because you come from a privileged background. But you only have to look at someone like Joe Strummer to see how ridiculous that is."I don't think it's her "posh" accent that is the problem (and she doesn't sound that "posh" to my, admittedly foreign, ears, unless you're comparing her to the cast of EastEnders or something), but rather the content-free, self-indulgent nature of her stream-of-consciousness monologues, which mostly consist of her describing her mid-youth/existential crisis whilst making knowingly hip pop-cultural references, and the ploddingly dull beats that sound like someone spent half an hour slapping them together in Fruity Loops over which they're artlessly layered. Which, I suppose, is the modern equivalent of singing tunelessly about your personal growth experiences whilst strumming two chords on an acoustic guitar, but the novelty doesn't make it any better.
A lot of people thought we wouldn't live to see Chinese Democracy, but it seems that they were wrong. I'm of course referring to the fabled next Guns'n'Roses album, in the works since 1994, MP3s of which seem to have made it into the internet. The verdict seems to be unencouraging: The Guardian's columnist says that it's "like Coldplay meets Aerosmith":
Of the nine songs, only three - Rhiad and the Bedouins, If the World, and a track with an unknown title - had not previously leaked in one form or another. But all of these recordings appear more polished, with organ, tambourine or strings alongside screaming electric guitar and flourishes of electronics.
If the World is particularly indicative of the almost 14 years that Chinese Democracy has been in development. Many musical trends have born and died since 1994, and we get to hear a number of these alongside Axl Rose's familiar shriek. There's a vague industrial chug, ambient electronics, and a bass line that recalls Red Hot Chili Peppers - but more cringeworthy is the song's recurrent flamenco guitar, like a nightingale trapped in a studded leather bag.Then again, perhaps the whole thing is a fake; perhaps there are a number of fake Chinese Democracies, made with or without Axl Rose's involvement, due to be posted to the internet, circulated, and then debunked or dismissed as early demoes, and "nowhere near as good as the final mix", further building up the myth of an elusive, unimaginably brilliant Chinese Democracy, somewhere just out of earshot; a Chinese Democracy which nobody has actually heard, but everybody knows someone who has, with each report being both wildly enthusiastic and wildly different. After all, if Chinese Democracy ever does come out as an actual sound recording, it can only be a disappointment compared to the myth that has built up in its absence.
Recently, Australia's recording industry body released a video, made for schools, in which various popular musicians (from industry stalwarts to the hottest commercial-indie bands today) talking about how file sharing is hurting them. Now one of the particupants—Lindsay McDougall, the guitarist from JJJ alternative band Frenzal Rhomb—has issued a statement that he was misled into appearing in the video, and doesn't actually disapprove of file sharing:
He said he was told the 10-minute film, which is being distributed for free to all high schools in Australia, was about trying to survive as an Australian musician and no one mentioned the video would be used as part of an anti-piracy campaign.
McDougall said: "I have never come out against internet piracy and illegal downloading and I wouldn't do that - I would never put my name to something that is against downloading and is against piracy and stuff, it's something that I believe is a personal thing from artist to artist."
"I would never be part of this big record industry funded campaign to crush illegal downloads, I'm not like [Metallica drummer] Lars Ulrich. I think it's bullshit, I think it's record companies crying poor and I don't agree with it."
"I'm from a punk rock band, it's all about getting your music out any way you can - you don't make money from the record, the record companies make the money from the record. If they can't make money these days because they haven't come onside with the way the world is going, it's their own problem."Other artists were unable to be contacted for comment.
And the award for chutzpah in music marketing goes to EMI for their "Independent Vol. 2" sampler CD:
This artefact was found at Rough Trade Records, in the area by the door where the free magazines and sampler CDs are left. Note the cover, with its semiotics screaming "keeping it real", with the photo of a lovingly tended independent record shop, and above all things, the blurb:
Independent Not depending upon the authority of another, not in a position of subordination or subjection; not subject to external control or rule; self-governing, autonomous, free.Note the word "independent". Not "indie" (which, in today's popular parlance, means music by white boys with guitars, stylists and skinny jeans, and has long since lost any connection to the prickly, unmarketable socialist-contrarian aesthetics of its origins in the Thatcher era), but "independent". If that wasn't enough, the word's definition is given. When we say "independent", the cover seems to say, we mean it
Turning the disc over, however, we see an entirely different story:
It turns out that the record is not actually a compilation of independent artists or recordings from independent labels, but rather a sampler from major label EMI and its various imprints. Granted, some of them are more "alternative" or leftfield than others (veteran post-punk indie label Mute, acquired some years ago, New York mutant-disco imprint DFA, and indie-pop retirement home Heavenly, not to mention Regal, best known for the underground hip-hop of Lily Allen, Voice Of Da Streets). Though somewhere along the way, they stopped trying to fool anyone and slapped on the logos of establishment cornerstones like Capitol and Parlophone.
As for the content? Well, there are some interesting bits (Loney, Dear and Jakobinarina, representing Sweden and Iceland respectively), a few credible veterans (Dave Gahan, who appears to have bought a copy of Native Instruments Massive), and some truly dire Carling-indie (the Pete The Junky Show kicking off the record, doing exactly what you, I and The Sun would expect from them), with a fair amount of workmanlike garage rock. Being the sorts of acts that a major label would convince its accountants to pour money into, though, it's considerably more conservative in style and tone than what you'd expect from independent artists. Independent this ain't.
Music download/subscription site Napster is to abandon DRM, and will offer only MP3 downloads. Now why does that sound oddly familiar?
David Byrne interviews Thom Yorke about the In Rainbows experiment, and writes his own assessment of the changing state of the music industry. Meanwhile, MTV has its own timeline of "the year the music industry broke". And open-standard-friendly MP3/video player manufacturer Neuros has created a trademark for DRM-free media.
(via Boing Boing, Engadget) ¶ 0
Radiohead have announced the details of their upcoming album. It will be titled In Rainbows. Even more interesting is the means of its distribution. Radiohead's contract with major recording behemoth EMI had ended, and not surprisingly, the band had chosen not to renew it. More surprisingly, they didn't go to another label. Instead, they will be selling the album themselves, over the web, in a two-tiered pricing structure. True fans who want the prestige of the collectible article can buy a two-disc box for £40 (US$80, or just under 100 Australian dollars), whereas those who just want the music to listen to can buy a downloadable version, nominating their own price for it. (The downloadable version is also free with the disc version.)
There aren't any more details at this stage. (I'd hope that the downloadable version is in a high-bit-rate open format, and not, say, DRM-shackled .WMA files, and for £40, you'd hope that you get something more impressive than a double jewel case with a booklet.) There is also no news on how Radiohead will make this available to people who aren't on the internet or don't like buying things online. I suspect that a deal with Starbucks is probably not on the cards, though.
Alternative/industrial musician Trent Reznor has a few words to say about his record company in Australia:
Well, in Brisbane I end up meeting and greeting some record label people, who are pleasant enough, and one of them is a sales guy, so I say "Why is this the case?" He goes "Because your packaging is a lot more expensive". I know how much the packaging costs -- it costs me, not them, it costs me 83 cents more to have a CD with the colour-changing ink on it. I'm taking the hit on that, not them. So I said "Well, it doesn't cost $10 more". "Ah, well, you're right, it doesn't. Basically it's because we know you've got a core audience that's gonna buy whatever we put out, so we can charge more for that. It's the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy it. True fans will pay whatever". And I just said "That's the most insulting thing I've heard. I've garnered a core audience that you feel it's OK to rip off? F--- you'. That's also why you don't see any label people here, 'cos I said 'F--- you people. Stay out of my f---ing show. If you wanna come, pay the ticket like anyone else. F--- you guys". They're thieves. I don't blame people for stealing music if this is the kind of s--- that they pull off.
(via Boing Boing) ¶ 1
In a dramatic about-turn, Steve Jobs denounces digital rights management (DRM), claiming that Apple only use DRM on their iTunes downloads because labels demand it, and urging everyone to join hands and imagine a DRM-free future:
Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. this is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our itunes store. every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.which probably has a lot to do with the fact that, thanks to the various Cory Doctorows of this world, DRM is definitely not cool, and Apple is all about being (seen to be) cool. Though some critics are skeptical about how deep the conversion really is:
Mr Johansen pointed to a New York Times report that showed that tracks wrapped in DRM from iTunes are also available through other download services without copy protection. The implication being that not all record labels insist on DRM, but Apple uses it anyway.Also, it is a matter of public record that iTunes has refused to sell DRM-free music from copyright holders who didn't want DRM, instead insisting that DRM is a mandatory part of the iTunes infrastructure. I wonder whether they'll put their money where their mouth is and change this policy.
Another thing to watch is Apple's iPhone, whose system is locked down like Fort Knox (software running on it will need to be cryptographically signed by Apple), a state of affairs which has nothing to do with the RIAA holding a gun to Apple's head and seems to have everything to do with Apple wanting to maintain total control.
Britain's professional recording artists are so angry about their copyrights expiring after 50 years that some even rose from the dead to sign a recording-industry petition for copyright term extension:
If you read the list, you'll see that at least some of these artists are apparently dead (e.g. Lonnie Donegan, died 4th November 2002; Freddie Garrity, died 20th May 2006). I take it the ability of these dead authors to sign a petition asking for their copyright terms to be extended can only mean that even after death, term extension continues to inspire.
(via Boing Boing) ¶ 0
In the wake of the consumer backlash against DRM, major label EMI (you know, the ones who made all their CDs "Copy Controlled" a while ago) have started tentatively experimenting with selling unencrypted MP3s. Will wonders never cease?
Don't get too excited yet, though; the only things EMI are selling as easily-copiable MP3s are adult-contemporary and Christian rock, because
nobody'd want to pirate those the audiences for those would be less inclined to copy them. And even so, there was apparently tremendous opposition to this move within the label's management. So don't expect to be able to buy official MP3s of Hot Chip or I'm From Barcelona just yet.
Wired Magazine has a piece about how Canadian independent label/music management company Nettwerk is gently undermining the foundations of the traditional recording industry and setting up something new to replace it:
"This one's a real wingdinger," he says, leaning into the speakerphone so New York, Denver, and Los Angeles won't miss a word. "Let's give away the ProTools files on MySpace. Vocals, guitars, drums, and bass. We'll let the fans make their own mixes." The room falls quiet.
A voice from LA breaks the silence: "For the single, you mean, right?" McBride's features screw up in concentration, then quickly expand into a grin. "What I'm proposing," he says, "is that we make all 29 songs available as ProTools files. In two weeks."
McBride's success will depend on what he calls "collapsed copyright." Nettwerk will represent artists like BNL, but the bands will record under their own labels and retain ownership of all their intellectual property, an anomaly in the industry. The bands, in turn, can expect to earn considerably more money - say, $5 to $6 from the sale of each CD instead of the standard dollar or two.
It's a risk McBride is willing to take. Twelve of the nearly 40 acts on Nettwerk's roster now have their own labels, and McBride says that within six years nearly all his artists will have shed their major-label partners. "The old system kept us from imagining what a music product could be," McBride says. "Now we can really start to have fun."The most recent guinea pig for Nettwerk's new music industry is Barenaked Ladies, whom Nettwerk CEO Terry McBride recently persuaded to dump their major label (Warner's Reprise imprint) and go it alone, holding all their own copyrights, and getting creative with the formats they sell in:
Between ringtones, acoustic versions, and concert recordings, those 29 songs have been multiplied into more than 200 "assets" - song versions - that can be used individually or in conjunction with others to create a product. "Because the copyrights are in one place [in BNL's hands], we can be really creative," McBride says. Hardcore fans can buy 45 of those assets on a USB drive; others can download the special Sims versions (recorded in Simlish, no less). "For decades, people in music have used the number of albums sold as a measuring stick for success," McBride says. "We're trying to get people to see beyond that. It's about revenue from music, however you make it - selling concert tickets, licensing to TV, or selling packed USB drives."Nettwerk are taking on the dinosaurs in other places too: by siding against them in peer-to-peer lawsuits:
Earlier this year, he sparked a music industry uproar when he announced he would pay the legal defense for a Texas man being sued for piracy by the Recording Industry Association of America. "The lawsuits are hurting my bands," he says. "If you could monetize the peer-to-peer networks, everyone would make more money."Though it's not all anti-corporate utopianism: McBride's vision strips away the byzantine, restrictive and vaguely corrupt structures of the traditional recording industry, replacing them not with some kind of anarchosocialist GNUtopia of information wanting to be free, but with a more streamlined form of capitalism, with the artist as entrepreneur:
But even such a radical step is just one facet of McBride's larger strategy. In May, President Bush signed into law a revision of the tax code that will make it easier to sell intellectual property as a stock, with profits being taxed at the same lower rate as other capital gains. "Once we have access to all the intellectual property, we're going to offer shares in individual artists and take in equity investments," McBride says. "Eventually, a major band could be its own public company." The key, he adds, sounding like an overzealous investment banker, is that the value of a band would be measured like a stock and would receive capitalization in expectation of future earnings. "At that point, even a band selling 100,000 units a year becomes profitable," McBride says.Of course, that is a double-edged sword. It makes it easier for bands to be profitable, but it adds a new meaning to the term "selling out". We may soon actually see bands owned by beer companies and mobile phone companies, rather than merely branded. And what will happen if a band wants to do something unusual and risky, while their majority shareholder (let's say Carling or Vodafone or someone) sues them for failing to maximise returns by doing so? Could we see corporate-invested bands being mailed dossiers of market research, telling them in no uncertain terms what they are expected to do ("memo: the grebo revival is the next big thing; get right on it")?
Not that this invalidates what Nettwerk are doing. There will always be commercial bands and indier-than-thou refuseniks; this looks like merely giving the artists more choice.
Attention musicians: make sure the label you are signed to supports the War On Piracy, including the suing of file-sharers; otherwise, you may be blacklisted by the recording industry, as Amy Thomas was by the British Phonographic Industry.
Amy had been chosen as one of ten young artists to feature on the My Music chart that launches in October across 1,400 UK schools. But her inclusion was blocked by the BPI after its snoops discovered she is signed to Flowerburger Records, an independent record label which is running an online petition drumming up oposition to the BPI's policy of suing music fans who use p2p websites.Mind you, this policy may have been specific to childrens' charts (after all, we wouldn't want impressionable children exposed to pirasite/copyterrorist propaganda that may encourage them to think of music as not being a monetisable asset), though perhaps that makes it even more sinister.
For the past decade at least, pundits have been foretelling the impending death of the traditional recording industry, often with no small amount of schadenfreude. The business model of the industry as we know it is founded on the economic conditions of the mid-20th century, when producing and selling a musical recording was an expensive enterprise, requiring equipment, expertise and infrastructure beyond the reach of independent musicians. Along came the recording industry, who would offer a Faustian deal: they would pay for the studio time, engineers and producers and use their clout and presence to get the record into shops and onto the radio, in return for owning the copyrights to the recording and often future recordings by the artist. Artists may have grumbled at the harsh terms, but more often than not, they shut up and signed, knowing that it's either that go back to their day jobs.
Of course, one part of the equation (the expense of making records) has been changing steadily as technology brought down the costs. First the four-track came along, making the bedroom recording practical, and then inexpensive audio-enabled computers and virtual-studio software have made it possible to achieve sophisticated-sounding results without setting foot in a studio. The major labels, however, still controlled the means of widespread distribution; while independent artists could reach niche audiences through indie record shops, college/community radio and (on a smaller scale) by selling homemade cassettes/CD-Rs by mail order, if you wanted to be stocked by big shops, played on commercial radio and/or MTV, or otherwise to reach people outside the bohemian fringes, you had to deal with the big labels, on their own terms. Occasionally someone brave artist would walk away from the majors and self-release their material to their fan base. These would often either disappear into obscurity or, a few years later, come back and sign a major-label deal.
But then came the internet, mp3.com, MySpace and such, and now, artists and their managers are realising that they don't need the major labels. Not just that, they're realising that others realise it as well, and acting on it. And the majors are realising this, noticing the iceberg looming ominously ahead with no time to change course. Some amongst their ranks have undoubtedly suggested using DRM technologies to retain control over the choke points of music distribution, only to be politely reminded that Apple got there before they did and played them like a cheap fiddle. The economics have turned against the recording industry and the industry is scared.
Now artists and management firms are getting together, underwriting their own costs and offering finished albums to the major labels to distribute, on the artists' terms. Some labels are circling their wagons and refusing to get involved, out of fear that other artists may follow the example and bring their crumbling edifice falling down; others are hedging their bets and investing in the new model, as if accepting its inevitability:
Jeff Kwatinetz, CEO of the Beverly Hills management company known as the Firm, made the rounds to several major record companies with a proposition earlier this year. His client, the rapper-actor Ice Cube, was preparing to record his first album in six years. Did they want to put it out? How could any record company resist?
The OG (original gangsta) just wanted a music company to distribute his record. The rapper would personally write the check for his production and marketing costs. Since he was taking all the risk, Ice Cube felt it only fair that he own the music and reap all the profit from its sale in the U.S. Kwatinetz says Universal nearly did the deal, but backed out at the last minute. "They feared Ice Cube's success would show that superstar artists with big management firms wouldn't need record labels," he says. (A Universal spokesman says the discussions never got that far.)
In the end, Kwatinetz got EMI's (Charts) Virgin label to distribute Ice Cube's "Laugh Now, Cry Later." It was a big financial gamble for the rapper, but it paid off. "Laugh Now, Cry Later" debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 in June, and it has sold nearly 500,000 copies worldwide. No, those aren't Lethal Injection numbers. But Ice Cube keeps all the U.S. profits. (EMI gets distribution fees and overseas licensing rights.)
Canadian independent record label Nettwerk is getting involved in the RIAA anti-filesharing lawsuits — on the side of the consumers. Nettwerk has agreed to fund the defendants' case against the RIAA, and any fines should they lose, after a family was sued for having 600 music files on a home computer; one of these was a song by Avril Lavigne, who is managed by Nettwerk.
Nettwerk became involved in the battle against the RIAA after 15-year-old Elisa Greubel contacted MC Lars, also a Nettwerk management client, to say that she identified with "Download This Song," a track from the artist's latest release. In an e-mail to the artist's web-site, she wrote, "My family is one of many seemingly randomly chosen families to be sued by the RIAA. No fun. You can't fight them, trying could possibly cost us millions. The line 'they sue little kids downloading hit songs,' basically sums a lot of the whole thing up. I'm not saying it is right to download but the whole lawsuit business is a tad bit outrageous."
"Since 2003 the RIAA has continually misused the court and legal system, engaging in misguided litigation tactics for the purpose of extorting settlement amounts from everyday people -- parents, students, doctors, and general consumers of music," Mudd stated. "In doing so, the RIAA has misapplied existing copyright law and improperly employed its protections not as a shield, but as a sword. Many of the individuals targeted by the RIAA are not the 'thieves' the RIAA has made them out to be. Moreover, individual defendants typically do not have the resources to mount a full-fledged defensive campaign to demonstrate the injustice of the RIAA's actions. Today we are fortunate that principled artists and a management company, Nettwerk Music Group, have joined the effort to deter the RIAA from aggressive tactics -- tactics that have failed to accomplish even the RIAA's goals."
"Litigation is not 'artist development.' Litigation is a deterrent to creativity and passion and it is hurting the business I love," insists McBride. "The current actions of the RIAA are not in my artists' best interests."
(via bOING bOING) ¶ 0
While the major labels are looking for new ways to make their music more inconvenient to users, two US indie labels—Merge and Saddle Creek—are taking the opposite approach, and giving away free MP3s with each vinyl purchase. This move caters to the section of their customer base who prefer music on vinyl but also want to have copies for their MP3 players. Also note the lack of DRM on the MP3 files.
(via bOING bOING) ¶ 0
Never ones to allow reality to get in the way of the Great War on MP3 Terrorism, Sony BMG, the company behind the copy-protected CD rootkit, have announced that they will be adding copy protection to CDs in Australia. Perhaps someone in the Australian office missed the memo about DRM having been thoroughly discredited throughout Sony BMG by the recent rootkit fiasco. Though the company has announced that the CDs will magically prevent users from making copies without causing the problems that affected users of their CDs in the US, so that's alright then.
Various takes on "Home Taping Is Killing Music" seen recently:
Found on the website of a design agency with a number of recording-industry clients; whether it's sincere or ironic is unknown.
And from a German novelty T-shirt vendor:
According to this piece (a response to the question of whether DJs were meant to be the rockstars of the new millennium), the age of rock stars is over:
In actuality the economics of the dance music scene make any kind of real rock star virtually impossible. rock stars were actually a product of the corporate hegemony that controlled the music industry before punk and disco made independent labels significant. you should read "the long tail," it's an essay or a Wired article or something, I don't recall, but the nub and the gist is that sites like Netflix and Amazon sell the usual mainstream crap that big physical stores sell, and in roughly proportionate quantity, but Netflix and Amazon both sell MUCH more material which comes from outside of the mainstream, in substream clusters essentially, than they do of the actual mainstream.
The DJ is actually a product of network economics as much as of postmodernism and technological change. the rock star is a product of industrial-revolution factory economics. that's the crucial difference. the economic mechanisms powering the distribution of music are no longer sufficiently hegemonic for true rock stars to exist.
(via dreamstooloud) ¶ 1
Another minor label is set to bite the dust; Sanctuary Records, home of Morrissey, is reportedly in talks with EMI and Warner, who are interested in buying it. Given how independent labels have a way of losing their vision and going to shit when bought out by the majors (look at Def Jam, Mute or Creation, for examples), this can't be good. (OTOH, it can be argued that Creation went to shit before Sony invested a penny in them, probably thanks to Alan McGee's cocaine-fuelled loss of taste, though the other two examples stand.)
Meanwhile, the British government intends to double the copyright term of recorded music, saving the Beatles' recordings from the ignominy of falling to the public domain in the 2010s and to ensure that the big record companies have a steady flow of income, because as we all know, that's good for all society. I mean, if EMI don't have the guaranteed income of the Long Tail of Beatles copyrights in perpetuity, they may sadly be unable to sign the next Coldplay or Kasabian or Sugababes or whoever.
And those all-round monopolists and homogenisers, Wal-Mart, provide yet another reason to hate them: their in-store photo processing services refuse to print photographs that look too good, just in case they are copyright violations:
Spokeswoman Jackie Young said Wal-Mart is "a littler tougher than the copyright law dictates."
"We want to protect professional photographers' rights," Young said. "We will not copy a photograph if it appears to be taken by a professional photographer or studio."
She related the case of a bride whose wedding photos were rejected by Wal-Mart because they "looked like high-resolution quality."
(via xrrf, /., bOING bOING) ¶ 5
Some genius in the Netherlands has proposed a tax on MP3 players, with as much as €3.28 per gigabyte being slapped onto the price of each MP3 player, the proceeds going solely to the major record labels. This tax is set to become law in a few months. Were the tax extended to PC hard drives, it would increase the prices of hard disks many times over. Of course, given that Germany and Belgium are a short drive away, and under the EU constitution, there's nothing the Dutch government can do to stop the flow of tax-free iPods from German (or British or Slovenian or whatever) online retailers, the whole exercise seems about as effective as "Copy Controlled" audio CDs.
After being dumped by Warner, Stereolab have announced a new deal with their old label, Beggars Banquet imprint Too Pure. The deal is a worldwide licensing deal for their Duophonic label (which did UK releases, with overseas territories being Warner's), and also includes the new release from Lætitia's side project Monade. It will be followed, in late April or early May, with a 3-CD/1-DVD box set of Stereolab EP/single tracks titled, characteristically, Oscillons From The Anti-Sun.
Meanwhile in Pitchfork, details of the new New Order album, which will be titled Waiting For The Sirens' Call, and supposedly be more electronic than the last one (though there were also rumours that it was going to be in a dirty-blues-rock direction like Primal Scream after the Ecstasy wore off). One of the tracks is titled I Told You So; I wonder whether this is a nod to former Factory labelmates The Wake, who had a very New Orderesque song by that title on their last album.
A PhD study into music copyright enforcement (by a former lawyer for ARIA, the Australian RIAA equivalent, no less) has found that consumer choice of music titles has fallen dramatically, with the number of music products released falling 43% between 2001 and 2004; and it's likely to get worse as record labels merge and "rationalise" their catalogues into safely marketable titles. Alex Malik argues that this, and not file sharing, is to blame for falling music sales.
"If you go into a typical CD store these days, there's the new Australian Idol CD and of course there's the other new Australian Idol CD. You'll also find more DVDs and accessories than ever before ... But if your tastes are a little eclectic or go beyond the top 40, you may be in trouble," he said.
Of course, one could argue that the majors are now signing a lot of exciting, energetic indie bands from the underground. Except that this argument falls apart on closer examination; most of the major-label-indie fall into one of several formulaic, easily marketable categories: 70s garage primitivist rockists (think Jet/The Datsuns/Kings of Leon/&c), other radio-friendly post-ironic rehashings of old formulae (Scissor Sisters), easy-listening vaguely-indieish pap like Keane and Badly Drawn Boy, and attempts at The Next Interpol/Franz Ferdinand (or whatever the band of the moment happens to be).
Which is what happens when recording companies become agglomerated into large corporations beholden to shareholders who demand safe returns; in such a model, there is no scope for maverick A&R people to make decisions based on gut instinct or take risks. But that's OK; with modern market research methodologies, there is no need for such archaic and unreliable practices, when formulae can me made up to please enough of the market. The same has happened in Hollywood, where all scripts are plotted out with special script-writing software that ensures that characters move and develop like automata along pre-programmed tracks. The scriptwriter only has to flesh things out.
Meanwhile, Stereolab have been dumped by the Warner Music Group, who release their records outside of Britain (where their own indie label, Duophonic, do so). The Warner imprint the groop were signed to, Elektra, has been abolished, and nearly half of all Warner artists are expected to be axed. Those staying on, meanwhile, will have to do with smaller budgets, in what could be new boss Edgar Bronfman Jr.'s initiative to turn Warner into a back-catalogue holding company.
John Harris (who wrote The Last Party) on how popular music has been subsumed by corporate globalisation:
For musicians whose sensitivity to such chicanery places them a few notches up the evolutionary chain from Busted and Avril Lavigne, the implied contradictions can be pretty hard to swallow. Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music is among globalisation's most useful props. Never mind the nitpicking fixations with interview rhetoric and stylistic nuance that concern its hardcore enthusiasts - away from its home turf, mainstream music, whether it's metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values: conspicuous consumption, the primacy of the English language, the implicit acknowledgement that America is probably best.
As the record industry's corporate structure has hardened into an immovable oligarchy - EMI, Time-Warner, BMG, Sony and Universal - so the range of musical options on offer has been dramatically scythed down. In 2004, there are but a handful of international musical superstars: Beyoncé, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Norah Jones, Coldplay. To characterise the process behind their global success as top-down is something of an understatement. MTV may have initially been marketed with the superficially empowering slogan, "I want my MTV"; more recently, with billions gladly hooked up, it has used the flatly sinister, "One planet, one music". Those four words beg one question: who decides?
Such, to use a phrase beloved of the Bush White House, is the cultural aspect of the New American Century. How long, I wonder, before Halliburton and Exxon start sponsoring festivals?
A German "electropunk"/"disco-pop" band best known for wearing giant panda heads are releasing their new album exclusively in mobile phone ringtone format. A copy of Super Smart's "Panda Babies" will set you back €1.99.
In a recent interview, Radiohead drop hints that they're going to part ways with EMI and the entire major-label apparatus, and release music online (which could mean MP3s or DRM-encumbered Windows Media).
Radiohead continue to support anti-globalisation causes, and yet they have spent the past decade being promoted and distributed by a vast global marketing machine. Teasingly, they have dropped hints that they might divorce from EMI, becoming some kind of autonomous online operation. But for now, is Yorke comfortable with his status as a corporate employee?
"Not really, I'm pretty touchy about it," he grumbles. "But if you want to actually have your record in a shop, then you've got no way round it because you have to go through major distributors. Personally one of the reasons that I wanted to be in a band was actually to be on the high street. I don't want to be in a cupboard. I write music to actually communicate things to people."
Further in the piece, he also lays into the IMF and the neocons.
What do you get someone who's got everything? How about Grand Royal, the Beastie Boys' (now bankrupt) record company (current bid: US$10,000; includes master tapes and thousands of unsold CDs). (via bOING bOING)
What happened to the MP3.com archive after the site was torn down? It still exists -- but is now owned by a piped-music company spun off from Vivendi Universal. The MP3s uploaded have apparently become the property of TruSonic, a competitor of Muzak.com, and available only to businesses who subscribe to their service; as for the Internet Archive's proposal to preserve it as a public cultural record, well, there wasn't any money in that. Artists have expressed some concern about whether they will be paid royalties.
What a Crappy Present!, or, why you shouldn't buy CDs as presents, from the money (from major-label CDs) going to sue music fans and helping to marginalise independent music, to the fact that if the recipient likes the music, they have probably l33ched it from Kazaa some months back. (via Rocknerd)
New Spectator Sport, a rant from Warren Ellis about the decline of the music industry:
TV shows specifically designed to manufacture the absolute least offensive pop product through game-show structure and the application of telephone democracy. If you're dumb enough to be able to sit through those shows without the front of your head filling with tumours, you get to vote for the performer who is retarded enough to be a comfort to you. Loathesome as they were, even the Spice Girls delivered with some character. I remember novelist and critic Nik Cohn saying he never would have been so hard on Bob Dylan if he'd known Bruce Springsteen was around the corner. People railed about the Spice Girls being a manufactured band, but who knew there was a TV-powered pod-person hothouse around the corner?
The American music industry, from my perception here in Britain, seems to have sunk into a bizarre obsession with paedophilia. Britney Spears has gone from schoolgirl gear to a deeply strange hentai look, little-girl head stuck above great shiny plastic boobs, singing in a Minnie Mouse voice. No wonder she was being stalked by a shifty-looking middle-aged Japanese bloke. He probably had a suitcase full of tentacles to use on her.
Mainstream pop music is almost always bad., it's a given. But, God, can you remember a time when the most popular acts were this empty? It's like that awful vacuum before punk, when people were buying Dean Friedman records just to have something to buy, and poster companies were printing off six-foot long images of Nana Mouskouri and Demis Roussos just to have something to sell.
The Internet Archive have announced that they intend to host the MP3.com collection. The mp3.com domain name was sold recently, but all data on the servers has been condemned to destruction. mp3.com founder Michael Robertson is involved in negotiations with Vivendi Universal to save it; though given the mp3.com owners' hostility to nontraditional ideas of intellectual property, they may not have much of a chance. (via TechDirt)
Pioneering glitchtronica label Warp plan to sell their entire catalogue online -- as high-quality MP3s, not some sort of sadomasochistic DRM rubbish either. Certainly a good sign.
(Mind you, given that The Designers Republic are doing the site, chances are it will be inaccessible without Flash, so I probably won't be using it. Not until someone comes up with an "enable Flash for these sites but disable it for everything else" Mozilla patch.)
(Btw, anybody remember 4AD's foray into MP3 sales a few years ago? They had their entire back-catalogue available as 128kbps MP3s (somewhat naff, but better than nothing) for US$1 each from an outfit named Atomic Pop, replete with postage-stamp-sized JPEGs of artwork; unfortunately, they went tits-up some time later. I still have the copy of This Mortal Coil's 16 Days/Gathering Dust I bought from them.)
Stewart Anderson is shutting down 555 Recordings (or putting the label on indefinite hiatus), citing lack of sales due to the file-sharing culture; and he paints a grim picture of the future of indie labels:
And its clear why this has happened. If I had access to the internet when I was a teen I doubt I would have bought many records either. But consider this kids, very soon there wont be any small labels, so the underground, despite all your calls for bringing down the big guys will disapear along with them.
Of course, I understand its not necessarily 555 things the kids are downloading, but the fact is there are so many tracks being downloaded now means theres no need for traditional shops or distros. So shops order only "indie" records from sure fire sellers like The White Stripes and Belle and Sebastian. Y'know both of those bands where tiny once. Where will the next White Stripes or B+S come from if all the labels like mine give up. The consumer will loose out in the end when the new music stops happening. (You can still listen to the Rolling Stones at least). There will always be NEW MUSIC you say? Well, why bother making a CD if you have a day job and cant tour for 3 months at a time? Why bother making a CD if no distros will take it because its your first release? Why bother when the CD pressing is usually 500 minimum and you end up with 400 under your bed for the rest of your life...
555 Recordings is only the latest label to cease operations. And if Stewart is right, then the musical ecosystem could collapse, with there being no space for new bands and artists to develop, and possibly the "big indie" side of things changing to resemble the major-label world of manufactured bands (what will replace the aging White Stripes when they lose it?). This doomsday scenario, though, is contradicted somewhat by reports of indie labels doing well.
So what does the future look like? Can we expect to see a musical apocalypse? Or will music adapt to the new way of doing things? Will the post-MP3 world be a dark age or a renaissance, or something in between?
France stands up to EMI; a French court orders EMI to issue refunds to customers whose "Copy Controlled" CDs didn't play in their car CD players or computers. Contrast this with the Vegemite-Eating Surrender Monkeys' capitulation to the Recording Racket on the same issue.
Rocknerd's Ben Butler connects the SCO/Linux lawsuit to the recording industry's woes. What links SCO and the RIAA, you see, is that both have seen their markets become commodified, eroding their business models, which depended on them being able to name their own prices and terms.
The process goes something like this: you sell widgets. You are the only company selling widgets. Some other companies enter the widget market. They undercut your price. But yours are the original, superior widgets, so you charge a premium for them. More competitors enter the market. The price drops more. Suddenly widgets are cheap. Your brand value is eroded - people figure out that all the widgets are substantially the same and besides, even if your widgets are better made than everyone else's, it no longer matters - they're cheap enough to throw out and replace when they break.
Yesterday, my free, non-copy-protected replacement copy of the Morrissey Under the Influence compilation CD arrived in the mail. I can confirm that it rips without problems. As soon as my next paycheque comes in, I'll buy another copy of the crippled version for the liner notes, pribably using the defective disc for some decorative purpose. (And yes, I'm going to spend $25-30 on the booklet; given Morrissey's liner notes, it's almost the case that the disc itself is an auxilliary companion piece to the booklet.)
I presume that DMC are going to send the second, non-copy-protected pressing into the shops at some stage. No idea whether they're recalling the corrupt discs or labelling the second pressing in any way.
(The collection itself is quite interesting; there's a fair amount of old-time rock'n'roll, rockabilly and other rootsy stuff there, as well as a bit of '60s pop, punk (from the Ramones), reggae/dub, and some oddities (such as The Sundown Playboys' ethnic boot-scooting jig Saturday Night Special and Klaus Nomi's piece of neo-classical goth-fodder, Death). And, of course, a track by the New York Dolls (who sound much as I imagined them).
A piece on Sanctuary Records, the big-indie label which recently signed Morrissey. It seems that they were the label behind Iron Maiden (which explains why their name is associated with metal), and that they're the new home of the Pet Shop Boys. Also, Rough Trade seems to be part of Sanctuary, and not Mute/EMI as I thought; that's good, as it means that the next Belle & Sebastian album will most probably be out in Red Book CD format. (thanks, Owen)
(It also appears that Sanctuary are listed on the stock exchange. Is a label still an "indie" if they're publically traded, and have shareholders who could sue if they do anything that doesn't maximise profits?)
(Btw, does anyone know whether Sanctuary have distribution in Australia, and if so, with whom? I'm guessing it'd be Inertia or Remote Control or someone like that.)
Some in the music industry estimate that 4 out of every 5 albums are produced using ProTools, often eschewing the expense of a traditional studio. (Not entirely, I'm sure, at least where vocals and acoustic instruments come into the equation.) This has lowered the barrier to entry into recorded music significantly, and consequently artists no longer need six-figure advances, or indeed major-label backing, to cut a record. Which is probably one reason why the major labels are running scared and pushing for end-to-end DRM (not so much to stop MP3 swapping as to kill off independent distribution channels and protect their dying oligopoly). (via Slashdot)
Not that long after having released remastered editions of the first few Cocteau Twins albums, 4AD are rereleasing the entire Pixies backcatalogue. The rights to the albums have reverted to 4AD (they had been shared with AOL Time Warner's Elektra imprint), and as such a rerelease is planned. The rereleases won't be remastered and won't feature any hidden tracks. Oh, and Death To The Pixies is being withdrawn to make way for a new best-of.
Funny how 4AD, one of the most interesting big-indie labels of the 1980s and 1990s, has become a sort of post-new-wave K-Tel. Nowadays all their releases appear to be either (a) rereleases from their legendary back-catalogue, (b) new albums by artists who were big 10 years ago, or (c) new albums by artists poached from smaller indie labels, which the critics say aren't as good as those artists' earlier and more obscure releases (i.e., Sybarite, Piano Magic).
Musician George Ziemann tried to sell home-burned CDs of his music on eBay, but was stopped by RIAA accusations of copyright. So he turned his attention to investigating the RIAA's claims of CD burning and MP3 piracy cutting into their sales. He discovered that sales were down, but the decline was due to the major labels cutting back on releases; in other words, he asserts that the decline in sales is artificial, deliberately engineered by the RIAA, presumably to make a fraudulent case for more draconian laws restricting independent music distribution channels, in the interests of forestalling the collapse of capitalism and thus civilisation.
Apple, the company who brought the iPod MP3 player, "Rip, Mix, Burn" and Macintoshes which die when you put copy-protected CDs in them, is allegedly planning to buy the Universal Music Group, the world's largest music copyright-holding conglomerate. I wonder who'll have the whip hand in the deal; whether Apple will end up going towards end-to-end copy-control à la Intel/Microsoft, or whether copyright hardliner Edgar Bronfman's old empire will do a 180-degree turn and take a more reasonable approach to intellectual property issues; not to mention whether the deal will just include the recording-industry part of Universal or their numerous MP3 operations, such as EMusic and mp3.com (which, I imagine, Apple could combine nicely with their iPod business). One thing's for sure, though: they're not going to call the new operation Apple Records.
While the recording industry is going to hell, blaming the MP3 kiddies and the lack of legally mandated end-to-end copyright enforcement for their woes, indie labels and artists have never had it better. Sure, Clear Channel (or Austere-o or JJJ) won't play their material, but profits and sales are up for them. Meanwhile, their artists get a bigger cut of their sales and actually end up seeing some of their money (unlike the major-label artists who don't happen to shift a million units). (And the indie labels are also in no hurry to put the latest form of copyright BDSM on their discs, unlike the majors.) (via Graham)
At a major label, most artists are unlikely to earn anything unless they sell at least 1 million albums, and even then, they could wind up in debt. Everything from studio time to limo rides are charged against their royalties, which might be only $1 per disc sold. That compares with an indie artist, who can sell a disc for $15 at a concert. If they make $5 profit a disc on 5,000 discs, they pocket $25,000.
Apparently the new Radiohead album has been leaked onto the Internet, with the usual truisms about cats, bags, genies and bottles applying. In fact, some speculate that the band (who are no copy-control zealots) are behind the leak themselves. Now the Radiohead fans out there may not be at the mercies of the crippled drink-coaster edition that EMI are likely to see fit to release.
If this WIRED Magazine article is right, the recording industry as we know it will be dead much sooner than we expect, and it's not just the Napatistas nickel-and-diming them to death with their MP3 sharing programs: new technology is democratising music production and distribution and making it easier for artists to be independent of major labels, while the labels are still stuck in a business model which assumes that they have the whip hand, the major labels are owned by a handful of gigantic corporations and dominated by conservative bean-counters concerned with short-term risk minimisation, and even if they got their choice of draconian new copyright laws with severe penalties for violation from the government (most of whom don't particularly like the degenerate hot-tubbing filthmongers in the recording industry anyway), it'd be too late.
If the majors collapse, or are reduced to a shadow of their former selves, that could be good. It could mean less homogeneity, clearing the deadwood and allowing a new diversity to flourish. Then again, that's sort of what happened with the rise of grunge in the early 90s, or so The Sell-In suggests, and it ultimately got assimilated into the system. Chances are, the cycle would repeat itself; though hopefully, the next time around, with artists having more autonomy, the system would look more like book publishing (where authors retain their copyrights and have more control) rather than the pimplike racket of the recording industry (where the legal "author" of a piece of music is the multinational corporation who lent (that's right, lent; it all comes out of the artist's share of royalties) the artist the money to get it recorded, and contracts give companies draconian levels of control over the artists' careers). The present system is riddled with scams and systemic corruption (a throwback to the days when the nascent recording industry was dominated by organised crime), and it's about time for a change.
The recording racket's spokesweasels say that 2002 will be the last year in which most CDs aren't copy-protected. Mind you, that's only for major-label CDs; chances are, unless they somehow coerce pressing plants into stopping making Red Book CDs, the plain old CD will remain the dominant indie medium. (So either (a) the RIAA will see the light and stop pissing off consumers, or (b) the RIAA will move to wipe out alternatives (i.e., by clamping down on distribution of non-RIAA artists and buying lawmakers) and herd consumers into a marketplace where listening to music means renting homogeneous manufactured bands from major labels.) (via Techdirt)
AOL Time Warner have come up with a new form of synergising their recording labels and online service: putting recording artists on their tech support line. If you call AOL's technical support number, you will hear prerecorded messages from Warner artists such as TLC and LeAnn Rimes, instructing you to "listen to the menu carefully prior to making your selection", and then urging you to buy the album "you've been enjoying during this call". (via Plastic)
And more on the recording industry's systematic defrauding of artists, with Moses "Confessions of a Record Producer" Avalon's reports from recording industry hearings in the US: (via bOING bOING)
1) By contract, artists are prohibited from showing royalty statements to third parties. Normally this would not include their managers, lawyers, consultants, or others who could aid them in getting paid, but apparently this is not necessarily the case. Senator Kevin Murray, leading the initiative for artists' rights, claimed the that Cary Sherman, Chief Counsel for the RIAA himself, said to him in an interview, that RIAA members (the major labels) would sue any artist that broke ranks and shared information with the Committee. This claim was rejected by Sherman but supported by others in the room. Don Henley, among them, outwardly dared his record company to sue him for bringing royalty statements to the hearing. He presented his most recent royalty statement for "Hell Freezes Over," which showed the panel that even though his contract called for a no more than a 10% "reserve" on sales of records shipped, Universal Music had held back more than that for eleven pay periods (roughly under three years) and that, even though his contract calls for no free goods in Europe, they had deducted $87,000 in free goods charges to Europe.
And these mafiosi are the highly moral figures who want to put anti-copying chips in our computers and MP3 players?
An article giving details of how recording companies systematically defraud artists. (via rocknerd.org)
Imagine you're an Australian artist. You signed a contract more than 20 years ago when you were under age. You were getting a royalty rate for singles of 5%... but it was only calculated on 8% of what you actually sold because we're talking singles here. Forget about the fact that your music has been used on countless compilations, licensed by your 'parent' record label. Forget about the fact that you have asked for years about the status of your royalties and the executives at the label have constantly rebuffed you.
Imagine that one of the top executives at the label, when confronted with the inequities of this situation and knowing you are owed money, not only refused to deal with you but told staff to ignore you and like other artists seeking royalties, you'd go away. They always do.
Here's another artist. They are owed about $20,000 from their hits in 1968. 34 years ago. The record company knows it. They haven't informed the artist. They know where the artist lives. The attitude of the man in control of this is why tell them if they don't know and if they want to sue us, fine, let them. But they can't sue us if they don't know. And if we don't tell them, how will they know?
For decades, the recording industry has been a rigged game, with recording companies systematically exploiting if not defrauding artists; now, a growing artists' rights movement, counting among its number many artists (as well as perennial troublemakers like Steve Albini), is standing up to the recording racket, and has its sites set on reforming the system, from giving artists their copyrights and doing away with draconian recording contracts to reforming the arcane and obfuscatory accounting practices that allow companies to fleece artists. Naturally, the RIAA are putting on their best mask of wounded innocence.
As for label fears of financial ruin, Henley fires back, "When the record companies make $5 for every $1 the artist makes, I don't see where they get off making those remarks. It's another spin tactic."
Now that the recording industry is suffering a slump, the artists' rights movement has a chance. Hopefully it will succeed, and the industry will become more like the publishing industry and less like organised crime.
The turd in a can again: An article which argues that the recording industry's proposed (and likely to be passed) laws which criminalise bypassing copy-denial system for any reason are intended not so much to stop piracy but to lock out independent artists, giving the major recording labels a technologically-enforced monopoly on music distribution, backed by the full force of U.S. law:
Biden's new bill would make it a federal felony to try and trick certain types of devices into playing your music or running your computer program. Breaking this law--even if it's to share music by your own garage band--could land you in prison for up to five years. And that's not counting the civil penalties of up to $25,000 per offense. "Say I've got an MP3 collection and I buy a new nifty player from Microsoft that only plays watermarked content, and I forge the watermark to allow my legal MP3 collection to play," says Jessica Litman, who teaches intellectual property law at Wayne State University. "It is certainly the case that if I pass that around, I could be trafficking (in violation of the law)."
Of course, this thesis assumes that the recording industry are the sort of amoral, greedy scumbags who would do something like that. (via Techdirt)
Proof that the webcast royalty scheme now adopted in the US was designed to kill small webcasters, securing a monopoly for large, docile mass-market services, and shoring up the RIAA's "turd-in-a-can" business model of homogenising the market and eliminating alternatives to an easily-manufactured mainstream. (via bOING bOING)
And while we're on the subject of the lovely people in the entertainment industry, media/sewage conglomerate Vivendi Universal is looking rather fucked these days. And Universal Music head thug and former CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. is probably kicking himself for letting it happen. Of course, given Bronfman's record as one of the most rabid hardliners in the War On Fair Use, I can't say I feel sorry for him.
(Though even if his corporate career is washed up, he could always take up songwriting again. It worked for another hard-nosed businessman.)
Oh, and you can find more schadenfreude here.
An article looking at why the recording industry hates web radio, and wants to wipe it out with prohibitive royalty rates. It comes down to the classic 'turd-in-a-can' business model: it's cheaper to manufacture Britneys and Limp Bizkits ("blockbuster artists" as they're known) than to provide quality and variety; if there's a varied music ecology, consumers expect to find music to cater to their varying tastes, and the recording racket can't sell everyone the same homogeneous rubbish. So, it makes perfect business sense to do their best to kill off the ecology, close off alternative channels and ensure that consumers are a captive audience conditioned to accept that there's no alternative to what Clear Channel is playing.
The smoking gun comes from testimony of an RIAA-backed economist who told the government fee panel that a dramatic shakeout in Webcasting is "inevitable and desirable because it will bring about market consolidation."
Once they cut off the alternatives, the consumer will have no choice but to buy the turd in the can and tell himself that that's what he wanted. Or so the theory goes; of course, people could just stop buying records altogether, even when their Microsoft Trusted PCs don't allow them to listen to anything they haven't paid for, resulting in the recording racket collapsing, dying in the scorched wasteland it has created. (via Techdirt)
Following EMI's purchase of once-credible postpunk indie Mute, the Big Mean German has stepped into the fray and bought Zomba, the world's largest "independent" record label and premier purveyor of booty music and bubblegum pop.
(It's funny how everybody smaller than the Big 5 was considered technically an "independent" label, regardless of how they operated; as such, this lead to anomalies such as well-known indie-pop artists NSync and Britney Spears dominating the NME "indie" charts. On one extreme you have people who say that EMI is an indie label as they're not part of a zaibatsu, and at the other there are the indiekid snobs who would classify labels such as Matador as not being real indies because they're not run out of a bedroom.)
The recording industry in the US is crawing attention to another little-publicised form of piracy and theft that's bleeding it dry: used CD sales. Some voices in the industry are now calling on a federally-mandated royalty on used CD sales, to be distributed to the recording industry (i.e., major labels). (via Slashdot)
A good piece on how CD copy-denial mechanisms work, why they can be easily defeated, and why the "stopping MP3 piracy" argument made for them doesn't make sense, and is a smokescreen for their true purpose: recording companies extending their control to the way customers access their music, with a view to forcing them onto a pay-per-play or rental model. Which would be the holy grail of late-capitalism; driving up profits by giving the customer less and otherwise compelling them to pay more for it, or what K.W. Jeter called the "turd in a can". (via bOING bOING)
Maybe Vivendi Universal aren't entirely evil. They're now offering a song for sale in unprotected MP3 format. No proprietary DRM schemes, spyware-enhanced ad-showing players or Microsoft dependencies. (Sort of like what atomicpop.com did with the 4AD back-catalogue some years ago.)
I suspect this may be part of a power struggle within Vivendi, between the copyright hardliners (i.e., Bronfman's Universal Music Group, who have been pushing copy-restricted pseudo-CDs) and moderates in the new media division (i.e., mp3.com, emusic.com). If this succeeds, the absolutists' position may be weakened, and we may see copy-restricted CDs shelved or even unencumbered MP3 downloads become a regular feature. Whereas if this fails, the hardliners will just say "I told you so", and redouble their zeal.
I don't know much about Meshell N'degeocello (though with EBTG's Ben Watt doing the remix, it could be good), but I'm tempted to buy the MP3 anyway. Though it happens to be for US residents only at the moment. (via Slashdot)
There goes another one: Multinational recording company EMI buys up Mute, the more-credible-than-most independent label and home to the likes of Depeche Mode, Nick Cave and Einstürzende Neubauten. Mind you, they're also behind the last two Moby albums, so their glory days were probably behind them. Mute, which was founded by Daniel "The Normal" Miller in the glory days of punk and New Wave, now becomes an imprint of Virgin (another once credible label and current home of the Spice Girls and Robbie Williams).
Cool; Moses Avalon, of "Confessions of a Record Producer" fame, has a web site. This includes a (somewhat outdated) industry newsletter detailing the latest recording racket scams and lawsuits, and the royalty calculator, which shows by how much you're getting screwed if you're an artist signed to a major label. (via bOING bOING)
While the Recording Racket works on ways to sell you "secure" downloads that you can only do what they want you to with, unsigned bands are finding their own ways to make money online, whilst retaining their independence and their copyrights.
"I don't have an answer for why this happened," said Quirk. "If it was that people just wanted the record that second it would be one thing, but the fact that people are donating more than they need to must mean there is something else going on. Now Jay and I own this record forever because the people who are going to buy the album have kept us from giving away our rights."
A good overview of the economics of the recording industry, and why most artists end up skint (especially if they don't have writing credit). (via Slashdot)
Facing the music: Superstar lawyer David Boies (responsible for nailing Microsoft to the wall) has taken on the recording industry, and has just dropped a bombshell in the Napster case. Get this, kittlings: if the recording industry is found to have used copyrights anticompetitively, it could lose the right to enforce them (at least until they buy a law to give them whatever they want, anyway). If you have a PDF reader, you can find the brief here. The chickens may finally be coming home to roost... (Link shamelessly stolen from Slashdot)
Kid Rock starves to death. MP3 piracy blamed. (The Onion)
An all-star fundraiser CD featuring Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, and Korn was similarly scrapped when an individual known only by the user name PimpKracker69@aol.com acquired a promotional copy and made it available to millions of fans over the Internet.