Post Music

The major political issue of today?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

The incredibly productive Kragen Sitaker, in Exegesis of “Re: [FoRK] Calling [redacted] and all the ships at sea.”:

The major political issue of today [0] is that music distribution companies based on obsolete physical-media-distribution models (“record labels”) are trying to force owners of new distribution mechanisms, mostly built on the internet, to pay them for the privilege of competing with them; the musical group “The Grateful Dead” used to permit their fans to distribute their music by making copies of taped performances, and most of the money the Dead made came from these performances; it is traditional for performances not to send any revenue to the record label. Long compares the record labels to buggy-whip manufacturers, who are the standard historical symbol for companies who went out of business because of technological change.

This clearly relates to the passage the footnote is attached to, which is about the parallel between Adam Smith’s economic “invisible hand” and the somewhat more visible hand that wrote the king’s doom on the wall in Daniel; in this case, the invisible hand has written the doom of the record companies on the wall, and their tears will not wash out a word of it. What this has to do with Huckleberry Finn’s prohibition on seeking symbolism or morals in the book, I don’t know, although clearly Huckleberry Finn’s prohibition relates to mortals hiding messages in texts.

[0] Yes, this means I think this is more important than the struggle over energy, or the International Criminal Court, or global warming, or nuclear proliferation — the issue is whether people should be permitted to control the machines they use to communicate with one another, in short, whether private ownership of 21st-century printing presses should be permitted. (Sorry my politics intrude into this message, but I thought “the major political issue of today” required some justification, but needs to be there to explain the context to people reading this message who don’t know about it.)

That will probably seem a pretty incredible claim, but I often agree, and think Sitaker understates the case. Music distribution companies are only one of the forces for control and censorship. The long term issue is bigger than whether private ownership of 21st-century printing presses should be permitted. The issue is whether individuals of the later 21st-century will have self-ownership.

DRM: the good bullshit story that got past Doug Morris

Monday, November 26th, 2007

New York Magazine cites an interview with CEO Doug Morris from the WIRED December issue (not yet online) that supposedly shows that Morris and his industry are utterly clueless. The excerpt from NYMag, emphasis added:

“There’s no one in the record industry that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”

Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn’t an option. “We didn’t know who to hire,” he says, becoming more agitated. “I wouldn’t be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me.”

Actually, knowing your limitations is pretty smart. Too bad the industry did not stick to the strategy of not hiring technology people. Music startups would’ve flourished, and the industry could have snapped up the obvious winners. Instead, Morris and friends eventually fell for a complete bullshit story — — that killed nascent startups and paved the way for Apple’s much-hated dominance.

Copyright turns even really smart technologists into disingenuous and even dangerous technology idiots (including me on occasion — the claims I dismissed in that last link, while overblown, may have some substance), so non-technologists should be really wary, and consistently so.

Update 20071128: The WIRED article is now online. Despite its sneering tone, I think comes off as a shrewd businessperson.

The future of “music technology” and the “music industry”

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

A few weeks ago I moderated a panel on DRM at a “music technology” conference. I wrote it up on the Creative Commons blog. Short version is a consensus from non-activists that music DRM is on its way out.

But what I want to complain about here is the use of “music industry” understood to mean the recording distribution industry and “music technology” understood to refer to use of the net by the same industry. Similarly, “future of music” understood to refer to the development or protection of recording distribution industry business models in the face of digital networks. Each of these gets under my skin.

My contention is that the future of music is determined by changes in music making technology and culture. The recording distribution industry has just about nothing to do with it. It seems that every new genre from ancient history to present has sprung from the latest in music making technology and cultural antecedents, and developed its essential forms before the recording distribution industry got a clue (or recently, started to sue).

I may be overstating my case, especially with regards to rock, but fuck rock stars.

If you’re interested in the actual future of music and want to look for it in an industry more narrow than “information technology”, it’s the musical instruments industry that you want.

SXSW: Art, like, inspires me to design

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

The nearest The Influence of Art in Design came to its topic was showing a couple web sites that use color schemes to match fine art visuals incorporated in the site. Otherwise, it was all about “inspiration.” You should really try listening to some different music and see how that changes your creative process. Or maybe go to a museum and think about what you like about the pieces you see. Yeah.

The best quote I’ve heard attempting to relate art and design is “Art is the experimental end of design” from Caleb Chung, designer of the Furby. Sounds nice to me, but I don’t know how much water it holds. Is there a website or book that explores this using concrete examples?

Gratis unencumbered MP3 download is not news

Monday, February 26th, 2007

, a moderately successful band with one top 40 hit in 1997, has released their latest (2005) album as an unencumbered MP3 download with an essay explaining “why we’re releasing our latest album for free on the Internet,” covered by Cory Doctorow, Tim O’Reilly and many others.

Big deal. In 2007 re-releasing an old album as a DRM-free gratis download with no explicit rights granted to share or remix, should not be news, unless a major label is involved.

Jamendo is my current favorite example of 2,500 reasons (albums) why this is not news, but there are thousands of others.

If you need an essay to go with your music, teleport back to 1998 or earlier (I recall reading a version of Ram Samudrala’s essay in 1995).

Update 20070227: The Harvey Danger album has been available for download since September 2005 (when Doctorow wrote about it in Boing Boing, link above). It shouldn’t have been newsworthy then either, but I’m a fool for not noticing that now it is old non-news. A commenter at Techdirt pointed this out.

Digital Rights Managements

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Even I have to admit Steve Jobs’ DRM-bashing letter is pretty good:

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. 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.

But what’s up with DRMs?

Via Tim Lee.

Addendum: Lots of people want to sell their music DRM-free at the iTunes store.

Paying to create

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Lucas Gonze writes the musician industry has never been better, citing a LA Times story:

While the U.S. recording industry continues to slide […], the other side of the music world businesses catering to those who create the music has nearly doubled over the last decade to become a $7.5-billion industry.

My emphasis. Read Gonze’s explanation of the ellipsis.

This highlights how backwards it is to cripple technology and law, ostensibly to ensure creators can get paid — creators eagerly pay to create.

Another quote from the article:

“We are looking at the first creative generation,” Henry Juszkiewicz, co-owner of Gibson Guitars, said last week as he was surrounded by instruments in his firm’s display room at the convention, which ended Sunday. “The cost of creative tools has gone down. And now you have the ability to share with other people your creation. These two fundamental, solid changes are allowing the younger generation to be actively creative.”

The NAMM musical industry group, which sponsored the convention, contracts with the Gallup Organization for a poll every three years. The most recent found that the number of instrument players ages 18 to 34 grew from 24% in 1997 to 32% in 2006.

It also found that last year about half of American households had at least one person who owned a musical instrument, up from 43% in 1997.

Note what the Gibson Guitars guy did not say — that people are buying more instruments in hopes of making money.

Jamendo ad revenue share with artists

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

is one of the most interesting music sites on the net (in terms business, community, and technology — there’s no competition yet for the vastness and bizarreness to be found on, yet). They’re trying every Web 2.0 trick and have somehow managed to avoid becoming overwhelmed with crap. I’ve listened to dozens of the 2,100 albums on Jamendo. While only a small fraction of these have strongly agreed with my taste, just about everything (weighted toward electronica and French rock) sounds professional.

Now Jamendo has introduced an advertising revenue sharing program with participating artists.

jamendo revenue share

Several video sites are attempting variations on this theme (among them ,, and ), but as far as I know Jamendo’s is the first attempt in the audio space. One might think an audio site would have a harder time making web advertising work than a video site (videos are usually watched within a web page and can have clickable ad areas or bumpers even if not), but I gather that listening via (usually Flash-based) audio players embedded in web pages is increasingly common (and Jamendo upgraded theirs recently), as will be media players that “play” a web page in a browser interface.

One data point: although Jamendo heavily promotes download of high quality copies, primarily via BitTorrent, their statistics indicate that low quality http “streaming” has accounted for more bandwidth. There are many obvious caveats here, but I think all points above indicate that advertising-supported web audio should not be ruled out, even if it is granted that web video has more potential.

Digg Jamendo’s revenue share page.

iHandcuffs for primitives

Saturday, January 13th, 2007

Via Luis Villa, tomorrow’s New York Times has a decent article headlined Want an iPhone? Beware the iHandcuffs. The article title is right (Villa’s summary is a better description, if not a better headline: “iTunes and DRM hurts perfectly innocent customers, fails to stop piracy, and reduces competition”), but it leads off wrong:

like its slimmer iPod siblings, the iPhone’s music-playing function will be limited by factory-installed “crippleware.”

Wrong, the objects of lust can play any MP3 file that is not itself crippled. The (the handcuffs to avoid) is not factory-installed, but purchased from the — tracks crippled by DRM.

Perhaps (the media player and ITunes Store browser), some version of which I assume is factory-installed on the , is perhaps more akin to . Not the type that takes over your computer without your knowledge, but the type that presents you with many opportunities to download and perhaps pay for software and porn that will cripple your computer. It’s a fine line.

The NYT article has a great closing:

IN the long view, Mr. Goldberg said he believes that today’s copy-protection battles will prove short-lived. Eventually, perhaps in 5 or 10 years, he predicts, all portable players will have wireless broadband capability and will provide direct access, anytime, anywhere, to every song ever released for a low monthly subscription fee.

It’s a prediction that has a high probability of realization because such a system is already found in South Korea, where three million subscribers enjoy direct, wireless access to a virtually limitless music catalog for only $5 a month. He noted, however, that music companies in South Korea did not agree to such a radically different business model until sales of physical CDs had collapsed.

Pointing to South Korea, where copy protection has disappeared, Mr. Goldberg invoked the pithy aphorism attributed to the author William Gibson: “The future is here; it’s just not widely distributed yet.”

I’m skeptical that the emphasized (by me) portion above is not exaggerated, though I’ll grant that South Korea is probably some years ahead of music businesses in the U.S. and other places similarly primitive in this respect, which may undergo a transition similar to South Korea’s. But we can also look to markets that started from a very different place, e.g., China.

We could beneficially spend more time looking for examples that may be ahead of the pack or simply different, and not just in the music business.


Monday, January 1st, 2007

Last October I attended BoCon, an “open source arts” conference held in . I enjoyed BoCon, probably as much as any conference since CodeCon. Good mix of talks and performance, great space, and the first-time organizers (Joseph Coffland & co.) pulled it off without a hitch as far as I could tell.

I gave the first talk, covering as much open source, arts, and business related to Creative Commons as possible, slides here.

Boise musician and jack of all trades James Stevens gave a talk on “open source for musicians” based on research done for the talk. I was pleased to see that he discovered most of the major sites and tools I know of and presented them accurately.

Alex Feldman gave a talk on the history of open source, including much pre-history I was not aware of, e.g., a source clearinghouse within NASA called COSMIC, about which I could find nothing on the web. Feldman’s talk made me hope someone is documenting this pre-history.

Caleb Chung and John Sosoka of gave talks on , , and making stuff with electronics that moves generally. Animal pets only have a few generations before they are replaced by artificial pets that perform utilitarian functions in addition to providing companionship and don’t eat or produce feces.

Chung is hyper, and the world is probably a better place for it. “Art is the experimental end of design” is perhaps the most memorable quote from his talk. On the other hand, his slogan for pitching some sort of multimedia institute to Boise State is “I[daho] is for innovation.”

On that note, I have never before encountered the level of boosterism from locals that I did in Boise. They are very convinced that Boise is a place with great promise, reflected in everything from several ethnic restaurants doing well in downtown this decade to white supremicists being sued out of northern Idaho to Californians moving in. Boise does feel like a nice place. Reno sans tawdriness was my initial impression.

Friday and Saturday evenings concluded with music, including performances from Beefy, MC Router, and MC Plus+ with DJ Lord Illingworth. They seemed to really enjoy the camaraderie of physical proximity. Whoever did the programming had a very good idea.