Sunday, December 11, 2005

The "Industry"

Perhaps the biggest story in music this year has been the ongoing battle between the music industry and the public (some of whom download). This story has recently taken a turn beyond simple retalitation for illegal downloading, as SonyBMG distributed a number of titles by a range of artists that contained a particularly malicious bit of code called a "rootkit."

I don't want to get in to the technology - for more, see:

Mark's Sysinternals Blog

The date on this discovery is Oct 31st, 2005. Sony quickly released a patch to disable the technology, but some hackers were able to send a virus that exploited this technology, leading to an eventual recall on all discs that contained the DRM software.

Another development, much more recent, and much more disturbing, is that Warner issued a cease and desist letter to a software developer to stop distributing his software. What did this software do? It allowed the user to compile and find lyrics to their favorite songs by searching publically available websites. This matches the movement that the labels have undertaken recently to take down lyric sites.


What is the message that we, the listening public gets from these tactics? First - these tactics perpetuate the "us vs. them" mentality that seems rather pervasive among the public. The labels are the enemy, dictating to us what we hear and keeping "authentic" music from the marketplace. See: Robert Stigwood (who saddled us with Disco).

Far more disturbing, to me at least, are the ownership complications that arise. When you purchase a CD, you are not allowed to copy it, play it publically, sample it or profit in any way from it. It is also becoming much more difficult for those of us that make digital copies for analysis and archiving to work with the material. In addition, don't even think about transcribing the lyrics or sharing them with friends.

In the end, when you spend $15-20 on a CD, the only rights that you have are personal - you are renting the music. You can't share it, and I wonder how long it will be before we aren't allowed to talk about the music with friends (let alone at an academic conference).


Blogger Mike Boyd said...

I agree that the rather aggressive tactics taken by the music industry are indeed rather disturbing. It is quite interesting how threatened the large companies feel by the internet and CD burning (cited in a recent RS article as a primary concern for the industry). They don't really take into accout usages like computer analysis or simply "backing-up" (which is becoming more important since many labels are dropping their back-catalogue). I recently picked up Greg Dulli's new solo album from his website for $14 plus shipping - apparently he sold 5,000 copies initially and his take was the same as if he'd sold 40,000 through the traditional distribution system. A trade-off of sorts, reaching fewer fans, but those that you do feel a more direct connection with the musician(s). Ben Folds has also been self-releasing in this fashion.

I'm kind of hoping that indie labels will gain some footing now that the big 3 (or is it 5) record companies are making it risky for fans to purchase their products. The only issue is to find some way to locate things you like...

12/11/2005 12:57 PM  
Blogger Kristian Twombly said...

I actually have a link on the main page to a "open sourced" label that distributes music for free, donations accepted. iTunes is required by the label to provide the same deal to the artists as the labels - about 11%. So - for every dollar spent on CDs or songs on iTunes, the artist gets 11 cents. Of course, much of the production cost was in the form of a loan to the artist, so that 11% is a somewhat misleading amount....

12/11/2005 3:15 PM  
Anonymous stephen lilly said...

My tangent:

What are the artistic benefits of being signed to a record label? Greater distribution and advertising (the same can be said for concert promoters). With increased affordability of do-it-yourself recording, I no longer see the need for these large companies. I use to think that without the monetary backing of a major label, artists would be creatively limited, but only “proven” artists get any real creative freedom (one of the most expensive offerings in recent history was Michael Jackson’s Invincible – who needs more of that?). In fact, since most labels require artists to pay back the money spent recording their first album (the vast majority of which are shelved anyway), major labels send more musicians into perpetual debt than American Idol stardom. I would even go so far as to say that almost all of the groundbreaking recordings in recent history (the last twenty years or so) have been from small labels or independent artists (by the way, I think the same is true in the motion picture industry).

The elimination of the "music industry" would increase local diversity, which has suffered much due to increased globalization, and it might even inspire more ingenuity. For example, I find even the most clichéd "laptop artist" much more interesting - at least sonically - than industry creations such as the Pussycat Dolls. In most cases, the former is exploring, however naively, the sonic possibilities of technology while the latter is simply regurgitating money-making formulas.

What I find most offensive, however, is the decline in quality of music performance. Watching most major label artists perform only highlights the depraved state of musical talent within the industry. Even “rock music” has evolved from a live art form into replication. Why should I buy Green Day’s live DVD when it will sound worse than their studio recording? What is the point of watching Eminem perform when all it amounts to is poor quality karaoke?

12/12/2005 9:52 AM  

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