Music as a Human Need and Professionalism/The Music Industry

The following is a short letter to my friend, Elijah; a part of a discussion we were having about the up-cropping of services like PMP Worldwide [pnpworldwide.com]* that allow producers to sell/license beats online.  The beats go for as little as $25 US!  In my opinion, the popular notion of rockstardom; that a very fortunate [very]* few can ‘make it’ and become wealthy by slapping together some samples and synths and/or by buying said beats and vocalizing along with them; is threatened by this commodification of music production.  And whether I’m correct or not, it is an interesting topic for discussion.

Elijah,

My opinion is that [much of the time,]* music, ultimately, is [and in many cases should be]* a commodity**, and that very successful musicians are [usually]* overpaid***… And people should be able to, more or less, make a living doing what they enjoy, even if it’s making beats that aren’t that remarkable… And when the dream of becoming a superstar is dead, many people who are making art for the “wrong reasons”**** will stop making it. So ultimately it will be a good thing because there will be less crap and a higher proportion of creators who are actually driven to do it by inspiration, rather than doing it solely for fame and fortune.

Wedding/Cover Bands and DJ’s are evidence of how regional and/or less substantial talent is adequate for many of the purposes that music is used for (the popularity of Karaoke is interesting in this respect too). [In most cases,]* these are musicians***** who make a blue-collar salary or less doing what they do, so it’s likely that many of them do it because they enjoy it.

And I’m in the camp that music belongs to everyone, and isn’t something that should be only ‘left to the professionals…’ In the old days (pre-record-industry), music was something people did together in their homes with their families, at social events, and at church Etc… And this has largely gone away… We need it back because making music, especially as a group, fulfills some sort of deep-seeded human need. I suspect that singing, chanting, harmonizing and/or making rhythm with others has always been a spiritual experience for humans.

Actually, some research suggests that music originates as long as 60,000 years ago, along with visual art and religion.

I feel like the disappearance of participatory music from our culture, largely because of the existence of capitalist industry, is probably a very bad thing for us. And I also feel like, in general, creating art, as an individual or as a group, whether it’s journal-keeping***** or wood-carving*****, graphic design*****, or a church choir*****, is a basic human need.  I believe it makes us healthier people in many ways: Execution and mastery, introspection, meditation, as well as social benefits and [probably many more benefits that I’m not able to pull out of my ass at the moment]*.

-Andrew

*The brackets [ … ] are just where I made some basic edits to my original letter.  Don’t let it get to you.  It’s not a sign from Yahweh or anything.

**By ‘commodity,’ I mean that in most cases, music serves a utilitarian purpose.  People that want to dance, will dance to just about any dance music that fits into their idea of what is “danceable.” Music is often used to set a mood in a room, and in this way, it could be compared to lighting (the particular lamp doesn’t matter, as long as the desired effect is achieved).  I realize that this a slightly controversial idea, especially to people who make music and consider themselves artists.  But I’d argue that in most cases, artistic merit is not required for music to serve its purpose.  Churches don’t usually kick out the bad singers from their fellowship.  I can think of a lot of music that I’d consider highly creative or artistic that I don’t want to listen to while driving. And I can think of a lot of music I consider very artistic that I don’t want to listen to at all, ever.  Also, there’s a lot of ‘dumb’ music that’s enjoyable or fun.  And besides, what is considered artistically significant to a listener is subjective and probably largely the result of the listener’s cultural influences. For instance, I don’t suppose many white, english-speaking people who’ve grown up in the USA are able to discern the relative artistic merit of various mariachi bands.  So let’s not let ‘artistic merit’ get in the way.  Most of the time, music is a commodity.  

***Overpaid?  Says who?  OK, well let’s just get it out of the way that I’m probably a Socialist.  Whether or not someone can be overpaid is something that we can argue about later.  If you find that idea completely offensive, then I probably don’t want to be your friend, and I think you should give all your money to the poor.

****The ‘Wrong Reasons’ for making music or other art is something we can argue about later.  ‘Wrong’ is probably the wrong word to use.  Most people, I think, will understand what I mean by this and agree that there are ‘wrong reasons’ even if it sounds silly to suggest that people shouldn’t just make music, or paint, or write, or whatever, for whatever reasons they have.  It might be easier to think about this in terms of food.  Is there a wrong reason to make food?  Maybe it’d be better to say ‘for reasons that doom the outcome to failure.’  Imagine cooking, only for the sake of using up a gallon-sized can of Nutmeg. Is that a horrible analogy?  I don’t know.  I’m sorry for saying ‘wrong reasons.’  I was in a hurry and I was having a hard time thinking of a more elegant, less naive-sounding way of wording what it is I’m getting at by using the phrase.  Help?

***** I’m really not in the mood to argue with anyone about whether or not DJs are musicians.  And I’m also not in the mood to argue about the difference between art and craft, or ‘fine art’ vs. folk art.  For the sake of moving on with our lives, let’s just lump it all in together, at least for today.  OK?

 

I Might Hate the Featured Artists Coalition

I just got a newsletter update explaining that they support a three-strikes policy for file-sharing.

Our meeting also voted overwhelmingly to support a three-strike sanction on those who persistently download illegal files, sanctions to consist of a warning letter, a stronger warning letter and a final sanction of the restriction of the infringer’s bandwidth to a level which would render file-sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic email and web access functional.

How backward-ass!!

As an artist, I am going to have to revoke my membership if they don’t do some serious back-peddling in the next few days.

I thought the FAC was a forward-thinking organization.  Maybe not.

Trying Out LastFM’s PowerPlay: Payola 2.0

OK so I have to admit that I’ve overestimated the popularity of Last.FM. At least, I am realizing how different LastFM is for a user like me that mostly has mp3s on my hard drive, and users who stream music from lastfm.

PowerPlay isn’t going to do a lot of good for me very quickly since I’ve chosen to buy impressions on radio streams for artists that are pretty obscure.  I did this because conversion rates (see web marketing 101) are higher in a narrower target, so if I try to compete for impressions/plays on Bjork’s radio stream, the chances that the users will actually like my music are considerably smaller than if I target people who like more obscure music like the constellation acts or something.  Going for Bjork is more like going for Britney Spears in that there’s a fairly diverse audience and the users are more likely to be fairly mainstream (Bjork being one of the strangest things they like).  Going after a band like Excepter or HRSTA is a better bet for me because these are people looking for fairly unconventional soundtrack-y experimental music.

In ten hours since I launched my first $20 Powerplay campaign (100 plays on radio streams of ten artists I chose), I’ve gotten ZERO plays.

On the upside, twenty bucks is going to provide my with at least 3 months of entertainment since I’ll have one more site to check in with a few times a day when I’m being neurotic.

The music industry is a mess.  The best discovery tools suck because the content owners are afraid of change, while the best music delivery systems are either incomplete (legal or illegal but private) or unreliable (illegal but public).

And legal or not, there’s no real integration between the streaming services and the OS environment.

Maybe the Chrome OS or the Smartphone market will change that.  I’m sick of storing tons of MP3s.

OH!  If these other music acts are so obscure, maybe I should buy their Keywords from Google.  Hmmm…

Can Anyone Explain The Open Rights Group to me?

The Open Rights Group is out there. I have no idea what they aim to do.  There are a bunch of new projects that have sprouted up online for various goals having to do with Intellectual Property in the digital realm, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, and more recently, the Featured Artist’s Coalition…  

My question is, is the O.R.G. a friend or a foe?  

I’m a child of digital media, and I’m also an artist.  I’m also a creator of other forms of content like this blog. 

The Open Rights Group’s site is so confusing and not-clear in its mission at first glance.  For all I can tell it’s a front for a major publisher effort.  

Really, the site is terribly unclear.  Maybe I was supposed to spend a bunch of time digging for the agenda there.  

Please, you guys, make it clear!

I can help if you want, but damn.  I can’t even tell what you stand for.

It needs to be completely clear to anyone visiting the site, as soon as they get there, me thinks.

Featured Artists Coalition Launches

The FAC is a new organisation for advocacy of music artists’ rights in the digital distribution space.  Among the Artists already onboard are Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead and Billy Bragg.  One interesting thing about their “charter” is that they are advocating for artists to retain ultimate rights to their work, which in case you didn’t know, isn’t how it normally works in the major-label system.  

“…We speak with one voice to help artists strike a new bargain with record companies, digital distributors and others…”

As long as this organisation doesn’t become a new RIAA, by suing the pants off music lovers, or advocating network filtering by ISP’s, I’m all for this.  Labels get too much for too little while screwing over the fans and artists at almost every turn.  

If you’re listening, FAC, please don’t become another RIAA.  OK?  

Some quotes from the Press Release (pdf HERE):

 
ARTISTS LAUNCH CAMPAIGN FOR NEW DIGITAL RIGHTS

The Verve, Radiohead, Jools Holland, Kaiser Chiefs, Kate Nash, Robbie Williams and Billy Bragg are among dozens of musicians and performers calling for changes to the law and record industry

[…]

The new organisation will campaign for specific changes to the laws governing the music industry and how business is conducted, so that:

 
[…]
The new organisation will campaign for specific changes to the laws governing the music industry and how business is conducted, so that:

  • artists always retain ultimate ownership of their music
  • all agreements between artists and others are conducted in a fair and transparent manner
  • rights’ holders have a duty of care to the originator of those rights, and must always explain how any agreement may affect how their work is exploited.

[…]
The Coalition will begin by focusing on six areas where it is seeking change: 

  1. An agreement by the music industry that artists should receive fair compensation whenever their business partners receive an economic return from the exploitation of the artists’ work.
  2. All transfers of copyright should be by license rather than by assignment, and limited to 35 years.
  3. The making available right should be monetized on behalf of featured artistes and all other performers.
  4. Copyright owners to be obliged to follow a ‘use it or lose it’ approach to the copyrights they control.
  5. The rights for performers should be the same as those for authors (songwriters, lyricists and composers).
  6. A change to UK copyright law which will end the commercial exploitation of unlicensed music purporting to be used in conjunction with ‘critical reviews’.

BitTorrent Tracker Specifically for Independent Artists

(just an idea I had in the middle of the night… maybe it’s a good one?)

It just occurred to me that what artists like me, who are non-label, totally independent, need is a tracker/directory site for us to upload out torrents to.  A tracker that’s 100% legal music.  

I’m thinking since when you launch a .torrent file, depending on the client, you can select what files you want to download, artists can include in one torrent, a few different versions of their releases.  For instance, I could include a flac version, and two different mp3 bitrates, all album artwork bundled with each compression scheme  separately, and each version in it’s own folder.  

The user selects the one torrent, launches it, selects the folder for the version they want, and they get what they want.  

*Artist is distributing without needing a central server…

*Fans of indie/niche music are getting what they want the way they want it. And there’s a central place  for hard-to-find and/or totally legally-distributed-via-P2P music. 

 

There may also be advantages to creating a recommendation engine that excludes major-label music:  Maybe major label music obscures the analysis of music taste in some cases?  Just a thought.

I wrote a letter to the peeps at The Pirate Bay.  Maybe they’ll read it and write me back.

BitTorrent Music Tracker Comparison and Meta-Search

I’m not going to try to be an expert on comparing trackers and/or sites, especially when the folks at File Share Freak already compiled a pretty awesome list of Music Trackers.

Oh damn, it hurts!  I’m still mourning the death of Oink!  Please, please, please, if you’re reading this and you can hook me up with the latest thing… [waffles?] …I’m dying over here!

Anyhow, back to the blogging.

I usually start off with a ScrapeTorrent search.  It’s a meta-search that searches several of the top trackers like The Pirate Bay etc… There’s also YouTorrent.com, which is also a meta-search, but I have found that ScrapeTorrent.com has the better results… At least that’s how it seems to me.

 

Oink, I loved you!
Oink, I loved you!

ASCAP’s “Bill of Rights for Songwriters and Composers”

This is what ASCAP, which I am a member of (I’ll report on whether or not that was a good idea in the future), has recently put forth as its sort of manifesto for the digital age.  I will be adding strike tags to indicate the parts I would like to see removed, for the sake of freedom of culture, ethics in general, or for other reasons.  
Just as citizens of a nation must be educated about their rights to ensure that they are protected and upheld, so too must those who compose words and music know the rights that support their own acts of creation. Without these rights, which directly emanate from the U.S. Constitution, many who dream of focusing their talents and energies on music creation would be economically unable to do so – an outcome that would diminish artistic expression today and for future generations.   

At this time, when so many forces are seeking to diminish copyright protections and devalue artistic expression, this Bill of Rights for Songwriters and Composers looks to clarify the entitlements that every music creator enjoys. 

  1. We have the right to be compensated for the use of our creative works, and share in the revenues that they generate.
  2. We have the right to license our works and control the ways in which they are used.
  3. We have the right to withhold permission for uses of our works on artistic, economic or philosophical grounds.
  4. We have the right to protect our creative works to the fullest extent of the law from all forms of piracy, theft and unauthorized use, which deprive us of our right to earn a living based on our creativity.
  5. We have the right to choose when and where our creative works may be used for free.
  6. We have the right to develop, document and distribute our works through new media channels – while retaining the right to a share in all associated profits.
  7. We have the right to choose the organizations we want to represent us and to join our voices together to protect our rights and negotiate for the value of our music.
  8. We have the right to earn compensation from all types of “performances,” including direct, live renditions as well as indirect recordings, broadcasts, digital streams and more.
  9. We have the right to decline participation in business models that require us to relinquish all or part of our creative rights – or which do not respect our right to be compensated for our work.
  10. We have the right to advocate for strong laws protecting our creative works, and demand that our government vigorously uphold and protect our rights.”

Should I join ASCAP? pros and cons (beta)

I’m worried that new innovations in music discovery might not be able to play ASCAP music because of the cost. I heard that this might be the case for small internet radio stations… I’m still trying to get to the bottom of this.

Then, I did come across these ASCAP contracts for new media channels… it’s about $1000/year minimum. This sounds high to me at first for a totally underground, out-of-my-bedroom type of channel, but then I got to thinking… A fast, enterprise-speed server, which is what I think you’d want if you were going to do something like an internet radio station, will probably cost you $100/month… So basically, if you were doing that and you wanted to play ASCAP music (and not get your pants sued off) you’d be doubling that amount… say $200-$300/month…

Then

I found a cool internet radio station called erika.net (that does play ASCAP and BMI music) and it turns out I wasn’t too far off. They say on their site that it costs about $400/month to keep their service going.

to be continued…

LimeWire Launches Legitimate Online Music Store

Store HERE 

They have three different subscription plans, the more you pay, the cheaper the tracks get per-track. In addition, you can buy individual tracks for $0.99…

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What I don’t get is, if it’s a monthly subscription, does that mean you don’t get to keep the tracks? And if it’s a subscription plan where you don’t get to keep the music, why not make it unlimited songs as long as you have a current subscription activated?

They boast DRM-Free MP3’s so I can only assume that what this really means is this: You have one month per active subscription period to download your quota of tracks. Hmmm. So, unlike an iTunes gift card, you pay in advance but lose your money if you don’t use the funds in time.

I’m glad to see LimeWire launching a store, because at the very least, it’s good to have competition in this new market.

I don’t have the disposable income right now to sign up with every new online music store and buy tracks to see what the scoop is.

Voluntary Payment for Music vs. Music-Like-Water Approach Part 1

Part One – Some Background. Long Tail, Net Neutrality & Free Culture

First, let me apologize for how long this damn thing is. Unfortunately, I need to make sure I get everyone on the same page more or less as far as what I see as the important ideas/themes to consider when looking at the current condition of Music (and all other Media). If the set-up is old news to you, bare with me while I school everyone else for a second.

Second, if you’re interested in what is going on with all this stuff, you really ought to check out the book: The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution by Dave Kusek. The first six chapters are available as a podcast in the iTunes Store HERE (iTunes URL Link). And a variety of links to where you can purchase the entire Audiobook can be found HERE.

This is where I got the idea of “Music Like Water.” In the first chapter of the book, Kusek talks about how in the future, music will flow like water without the constant interruptions we experience now when we have to buy or download it or move it from one drive to another. Music will just be there waiting. Like water through a faucet, it will pour. It will be as abundant and as varied as we like. I believe, as long as the Net remains neutral, this is inevitable.

Right now of course, that’s not at all how it works. But if you’ve got your ear to the tracks you can hear it coming. Digital Media, The Web, Search, Recommendation Systems, Social Software, RSS/Atom feeds, P2P technology, increasing connection speeds, accelerating processing power, the cheapening of storage – We are clearly on the threshold of a paradigm change. This is a particular moment in time when some very exciting things are happening with regard to how media is curated, discovered and distributed, not to mention how it’s created.

This stuff is much bigger than just music too. Of course all of these concepts carry over into Film, News, Literature, instructional products, the list goes on, but even beyond all that, this is a profound moment in history because the very process by which Human Culture grows, changes and spreads is changing because of the Internet and the invention of digital product. Anyone with access to blue-collar amounts of money can create media. Since increasingly anyone can participate in the cultural dialog, people are. This phenomenon is causing the few companies and institutions that have had most of the control over Culture in its many forms for all of living memory to lose market share as they increasingly find themselves in competition with Everyone and Everything else.

The “Everything Else” is also called the Long Tail and is examined by Chris Anderson in his book, The Long Tail: Why The Future of Business is Selling Less of More.” This is a good book to read or listen to because it brings to light an important fact: There is more value in the sum of all the less-popular and niche products than there is in just the “Top Hits” we’ve grown up with.

The “Everyone Else” is me and you. What we are participating in here is what Lawrence Lessig calls the Read/Write Web. Rather than a one-way, or Read-Only form of media, digital media and the Web are very conducive to dialog. One example of this dialog is sampling in music. Another is the blogosphere. And there are many, many more. The Hands-On, Read/Write, Two-Way “remix-culture” that we are finding ourselves in suddenly makes you and me part of the “Everything Else” I mentioned a moment ago.

In this way, we are taking market share from corporate media and so corporate media is losing influence over our Culture and losing Money as the value they can offer advertisers is falling. And guess what. They want to stop it. That’s exactly what the Net Neutrality debate is about. If the Net becomes un-neutral, it will be like handing the freedom to participate that we now enjoy over to companies that stand to gain from preventing our participation in Media, and our access to a variety of media products.

If you want to learn more about Two-Way Media and how Corporate Media is trying to control it, go read or listen to Lawrence Lessig’s book: Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture.” It’s free!

Almost everyone I know uses illegal means to access media products at leas some of the time. Often it’s just too inconvenient to get media the legal way. Actually it’s often not even an option.

The traditional purveyers of Culture are losing money because of this. Media have been selling eyes and ears to the advertisers that fund them since before your parents were born. It’s not paranoid conspiracy-theory-speak when I say that the corporate media want to maintain control over the Culture Markets.

MORE ON THIS TO COME.  In the meantime, check these out:

Trent Reznor Talks to CNET About Saul Williams Release

NIN Releases Ghosts Volume I for FREE 

Recent Post of Mine Comparing Press About the Radiohead “In Rainbows” Release to the Release of The Saul Williams’ Record

House of Representitaves Says Colleges Responsible for Piracy

I hate how our Congress slips irrelevant terms into legislation all the time. “College Affordability? What do Piracy, P2P and File-Sharing have to do with the affordability of ‘Higher Education?’

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From CNET (I really like CNET lately):

“The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a higher-education funding bill that includes controversial new antipiracy obligations for universities.

The 354-58 vote to approve the College Opportunity and Affordability Act leaves intact an entertainment industry-backed provision, which makes up just a tiny part of a bill that has ballooned to more than 800 pages.

It says higher-education institutions participating in federal financial aid programs “shall” devise plans for “alternative” offerings to unlawful downloading–such as subscription-based services–or “technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity.”

Bollocks.

If you look at the Yeas and Nays, you’ll see that the majority Yea votes were Democrats.  Actually, the only Nays were Republicans!  This is a good example of the Democratic party falling inline with Anti-Freedom, Pro-Corporate interests. I’m saying this only because many of my friends are self-proclaimed Left-Wingers and it is often assumed that the Left is more Pro-Freedom. Not so fast.

RIAA’s Cary Sherman Talks About Network Filtering

From the Public Knowledge Blog

Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA speaking at the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee‘s State of the Net Conference

I want to find the full length version of this. UPDATE: The entire video is available HERE. (Unfortunately it’s a RealPlayer File, and it doesn’t play back properly through my MOTU 828… The fix for this is to switch to built-in speakers. Lame. Through my 828 the sound is all garbled and slowed down and only comes out through one channel.)

There’s also a complete Mp3 download HERE.

I heard part of the panel thru an audio stream that stopped about ten minutes in. For this reason I can say at least that the jump-cuts in this youtube video aren’t edits to bend the meaning of what Cary Sherman is saying. They’re just speeding it up. I’m looking around for the full video. I can tell from what I heard that this is an enlightening panel with a nice selection of speakers on it.

Panel:

  • Mia Garlick, YouTube
  • Greg Jackson, University of Chicago
  • Gregory Marchwinski, Red Lambda, Inc.
  • Cary Sherman, Recording Industry Association of America
  • David Sohn, Center for Democracy & Technology (moderator)
  • Gigi Sohn, Public Knowledge

Swedish Cops Charging The Pirate Bay: “Conspiracy to Breach Copyrights”

The Pirate Bay is an infamous (or just fairly reliable) BitTorrent Tracker that has previously been completely out of range from legal action by the RIAA and others because they are in Sweden where the law apparently doesn’t consider BitTorrent illegal.

The site actually even throws a giant bird at all the lawyers that send them cease and desist letters and other threats, often responding with childish obscenities.  And they post it all on their site HERE.  Pretty audacious (and funny).

According to TechCrunch, according the The Wall Street Jounal,

Based on evidence collected in a 2006 raid on the offices of The Pirate Bay, Swedish prosecutors say that by the end of January they expect to charge the individuals who operate the file-sharing service with conspiracy to breach copyrights.

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The Pirate Bay’s operators say they are expecting the charges and will prepare their defense with the aid of government-funded lawyers for a trial later this year. “We’re not worried,” says Fredrik Neij, a Pirate Bay co-founder. “We think the law is on our side.”

The Pirate Bay’s operators say they have been followed in recent weeks by camera-toting private detectives in foreign-registered cars. In September, they filed a police complaint claiming that MediaDefender, a U.S. counterpiracy company, had been hired by several Hollywood studios and music companies to hack into their site and shut it down.

MediaDefender, which itself was hacked by a shadowy group last year, denies the accusation. “We’re a reputable public company,” says Chief Executive Randy Saaf. “We’re not going to be doing hacking. That’s silly.”

Radiohead’s Recent ‘Statements’ vs Trent Reznor’s Full Disclosure

Radiohead’s singer Thom Yorke has recently been talking a little about the unusual way they initially released the band’s latest album “In Rainbows.” See this BBC story and this interview in WIRED‘s latest edition.

The release was exciting for me because I’m anxious to see new things happen in media distribution, especially when they sidestep the typical gatekeepers.

Basically the deal was, in case you missed all this: Radiohead announced that their new album would be available as a digital download for whatever the customer felt like paying. That amount could be Zero or Ten bucks or a Million. Whatever you decide! (Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails actually claims to have paid $5,000 for the download, just to support the idea. More on him in a minute.) In addition, fans could opt to purchase a “Diskbox” containing the Album on vinyl, an extra CD with 8 additional tracks, a hardcover book of artwork, some stickers etc for about $80. And the transactions taking place would be directly between the band and the fan. No record label.

For Radiohead to do this at this moment in time was newsworthy because it is increasingly becoming unclear what role labels will continue to play. You know the story: Digital music and online promotion have made it possible for music products to hit the market and succeed without the kind of investment that has traditionally made the major labels necessary. And it’s no secret how unfair record contracts usually are for artists. Meanwhile the trade organizations that represent the labels are suing music fans over file-sharing. The labels seem to be doing everything they can to make us want to hate them. So when Radiohead’s contract with EMI expired and they made this announcement about going direct to the fans etc, all us New Media Enthusiasts went ape shit. Understandable, right?

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More recently, Radiohead took down the “experiment” and announced that they’d be doing a more typical retail distribution thing. There’s speculative numbers on how well or horribly the pay-what-you-want offering went. I’ve heard 1.2 million downloads in the first week alone with an average price paid of $6… WIRED is saying that ComScore says it’s more like $3 million total, again at about $6 per customer, on average. Which brings me to why I’m spending all this time writing this:

Why does it need to be a secret?

Some of the key points from Yorke’s recent minglings with the press are:

  • The 1.2 million downloads number is “absurd”
  • They are doing this retail thing because it’s important to have an “artifact” or “an object”
  • More money was made from the initial digital download release of In Rainbows then was made from digital sales of all their other albums combined “forever”
  • Some [or most?] of those past albums didn’t even have a cut of digital sales for the band defined contractually at all (which basically makes the last point meaningless)

Basically, ever since I started hearing about Thom Yorke’s recent statements, I’ve wondered what Radiohead is thinking in keeping their plan to do regular retail a secret until now. Also, I wonder why they are keeping the numbers on the pay-what-want digital release a secret. Saying that 1.2 million downloads is “absurd,” certainly implies that it’s a vast over-estimate doesn’t it? How vast?
Originally I got this sense of activism from the whole release and now Thom Yorke is talking about “moral justifications” in the band’s decisions, but all the secrecy seems self-serving to me. Was the whole thing a marketing stunt? A failed experiment?

Also, there always was an artifact: the $80 “Diskbox” version of the album that you couldn’t pay-what-you-want for. So in saying there needs to be an artifact, is Yorke really saying “there needs to be a cheap artifact.” or “there needs to be an artifact available to people who don’t buy things online…” or what?

I love Radiohead. And this is such an uncertain time for Media distribution, so I can understand if the first steps we take into the unknown future are awkward ones, and to an extent, Radiohead are already heroes for doing t6hings differently, but all the secrecy and vague language is a little annoying.

Meanwhile, Trent Reznor recently produced an album by a relatively unkown arist, Saul Williams and the team decided to release the album in a similar fashion to Radiohead’s initial release of In Rainbows. The download is available for a suggested donation of $5.

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Unlike Radiohead, Trent Reznor recently went public with their numbers as follows. I’m pasting so much of it here because Reznor doesn’t have a permalink or anything so when he takes it off the NIN front page, it will be [practically] gone (c’mon, Trent. Just get a regular blog going with a feed and all! Jeez.)

“It’s a strange time to be an artist in the recording business. It’s pretty easy to see what NOT to do these days, but less obvious to know what’s right. As I find myself free from the bloated bureaucracy of major labels, finally able to do whatever I want… well, what is that? What is the “right” way to release records, treat your music and your audience with respect and attempt to make a living as well? I have a number of musician friends who are either in a similar situation or feel they soon will be, and it’s a real source of anxiety and uncertainty.
I’d like to share my experience releasing Saul Williams’ “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust” and what I’ve learned from the process. Perhaps by revealing of all our data – our “dirty laundry” – we can contribute to a better solution.

A quick history: Saul makes a great record that I produce. We can’t find the right home at a major label. We decide to release it ourselves, digitally. Saul does not have limitless financial resources so we shop around for a company that can fulfill our needs. We choose Musicane because they are competent and are willing to adapt to what we want. The results are here: niggytardust.com

We offer the entire record free (as in totally free to the visitor – we pay bandwidth costs) as 192 MP3s, or for $5 you can choose higher fidelity versions and feel good about supporting the artist directly. We offer all major CCs and PayPal as payment options.
Here’s what I was thinking: Fans are interested in music as soon as it’s available (that’s a good thing, remember) and usually that’s a leak from the label’s manufacturing plants. Offering the record digitally as its first appearance in the marketplace eliminates that problem. I thought if you offered the whole record free at reasonable quality – no strings attached – and offered a hassle free way to show support that clearly goes straight to the artists who made it at an unquestionably low price people would “do the right thing”. I know, I know…
Well, now I DO know and you will too.

Saul’s previous record was released in 2004 and has sold 33,897 copies.

As of 1/2/08,
154,449 people chose to download Saul’s new record.
28,322 of those people chose to pay $5 for it, meaning:
18.3% chose to pay.

Of those paying,

3220 chose 192kbps MP3
19,764 chose 320kbps MP3
5338 chose FLAC

Keep in mind not one cent was spent on marketing this record. The only marketing was Saul and myself talking as loudly as we could to anybody that would listen.
If 33,897 people went out and bought Saul’s last record 3 years ago (when more people bought CDs) and over 150K – five times as many – sought out this new record, that’s great – right?
I have to assume the people knowing about this project must either be primarily Saul or NIN fans, as there was very little media coverage outside our direct influence. If that assumption is correct – that most of the people that chose to download Saul’s record came from his or my own fan-base – is it good news that less than one in five feel it was worth $5? I’m not sure what I was expecting but that percentage – primarily from fans – seems disheartening.
Add to that: we spent too much (correction, I spent too much) making the record utilizing an A-list team and studio, Musicane fees, an old publishing deal, sample clearance fees, paying to give the record away (bandwidth costs), and nobody’s getting rich off this project.

But…
Saul’s music is in more peoples’ iPods than ever before and people are interested in him. He’ll be touring throughout the year and we will continue to get the word out however we can.

So – if you’re an artist looking to utilize this method of distribution, make of these figures what you will and hopefully this info is enlightening.

Best,
TR”

David Byrne is Kicking Butt over at WIRED

David Byrne (The Talking Heads, remember?) wrote an Article for WIRED called
David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars
If you’re interested in what’s going on right now in the music industry, go spend five minutes reading this thing. If you’re not, it’s pretty interesting anyhow.

Also, there’s an interesting Interview between David Byrne and Tom Yorke of Radiohead over there too. Cool.
David Byrne and Thom Yorke on the Real Value of Music

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Music “Album Sales” Down 20 Percent this Xmas Season?

According to Ars Technica, according to Variety, according to Nielsen Soundscan (I know, jeez.), holiday “Album Sales” are down majorly this year.

This appears to be whole albums, not total sales. I’m going to go see if I can track down the info on the overall market for music sales altogether. Although it wont surprise me if that information is really hard to find…

Update: The numbers are indeed hard to get a hold of. The RIAA’s numbers are a year behind and Nielsen’s numbers are under Lock and Key, and I can’t find any way to validate how accurate either of them are, not even compared to one another.

Also, is this announcement only referring to actual physical copies of albums or online too?

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I’ll be back later if I can find some better numbers, or at least some interesting alternate illusions.

Update:

The Variety article has no link to any sources. I swear, these days, sources should be mandatory for anything that wants to call itself “professional journalism,” since everyone’s always making such a big stink about the difference in Journalistic Integrity between major publications and “New Media.” (Had to say that. Now back to the information or whatever you want to call it) Continue reading “Music “Album Sales” Down 20 Percent this Xmas Season?”

NIN, Trent Reznor says steal my music! (And Share it with your friends)

I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Trent Reznor, especially as a producer and proveyer of weird noises. He’s good at making weird noises. And I love weird noises.

In the beginning of this concert clip, he explains to the crowd that since the record companies wont lower their prices, fans should all just go ahead and steal the music.

The song they go in to after is neat too. I really like how NIN uses digital effects. I just might go *buy* that record. Nah. I’ll barrow it from one of my several million close friends online.

BTW
Reznor also publishes Garageband versions of songs for people to remix. Pretty cool. Yay for Nine Inch Nails! Forward thinking for sure.