Music To My Peers

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Courtesy - A rather amusing take on the RIAA
When I close my eyes and think of the RIAA (as we all do), I don't see the customary blood-sucking vampire. I see a digital chicken little, hit in the head with a new idea and running around screaming to anyone that can hear, "The sales are falling!" The RIAA, for those not following the last few years in ridiculousness, is the US organization responsible for harassing grannies and children in their hunt to shakedown change purses and piggy banks the world over. Not to say that the CRIA here in Canada is any better or different, just less well known. The problem, they say, is file sharing means nobody is buying the CDs of the people they purport to represent. Nevermind that online music is now a billion dollar industry and growing. Nevermind that the growth is hampered by excessive restrictions they place on those doing it legally. Nevermind that their problems would be much less if they had, as I suggested years ago, found a way to work with Napster when it was the only kid on the block instead of shutting it down and scattering all those eggs from the one digital basket.

Sluts are apparently good role models for 12-year old girls
Yes, the problems with the music industry are many (so now, again, I'm going to tell them what they should do), starting with the fact that the emphasis has moved in the last 15 years from "music" to "industry". These days, in the world of radio and mass-media, it's all about soulless pretty boys/dirty girls having someone else write songs mathematically designed to capitalize on success from previous hits (by sounding exactly like them), having other people still to play them, and then a studio magic button to tweak what little talent may exist into something more 'listenable'. Rinse, repeat, 3:30 sec, 11-13 times, and you have a CD. That's not art, that's a product. And not a very good one, at that.

Chances are one of those songs is all that anyone wants to hear, perhaps because that's all they heard on the radio - radio being even more afraid of seeing its own shadow move than the record labels. So when THESE people are buying music online, rest assured they're not buying the CD - they haven't been conditioned to listen to whole CDs. They're buying that hit single and listening to it on repeat for a few days until they wonder what they were thinking. Right there, you're losing revenue, because people have an alternative to spending $15 on a CD - $1 on the one song they liked. That's nobody's fault except for the corporate machine that has put an emphasis on album filler and glitz and glamour and not on quality, artistic expression, or, generally, people with anything at all to recommend them except a good plastic surgeon.

The Coachella movie poster
New Medium, Smaller Price
Of course there are lots of people ACTUALLY making music out there - some of it is even popular. For those artists, online music downloads have been a huge boon because they get the exposure that the radio has been too frightened to deliver and store access like any of the big players. For these people and even for the corporate sellout acts, nothing could be better than a lower price. Right now, tracks are priced at 99 cents on average, which puts an average 12-track album at about $12. But. You don't get a physical CD; you don't get the artwork/liner notes; you can't make copies for yourself or do whatever you want with it privately. All because of three counterproductive letters, D, R, and M. Yes, DRM, Digital Rights Management, isn't about your rights. It's about your lack of rights. Kind of misleading. If anything, they should change the acronym to TRABSVAGSSFLOP, which, you'll have to take my word for it, is a rather acerbic acronym for the RIAA and its ilk. Anyway, for example say you buy a song in iTunes. You can't copy it to ANY media player except an iPod. Which would be totally unacceptable except they rule so much of the portable player market. And you pay roughly the same price - yet their cost is almost nothing. No shipping, storage, distribution, production, printing, or anything on a digital copy except the bandwidth it's coming in on.

If they want people to just download music, it should be at least half that price. 25 cents seems an appropriate amount but even 50 cents makes the average downloaded album $5, which is a LOT more likely to be downloaded on impulse than $10. But that's perceived as a loss of revenue, and indeed it is - assuming you don't have more people doing it. Which is obviously a fallacy only the music industry could dream up. The cheaper it is, the more people will eschew trying to find someone to download it from for free just to have the convenience of a legal copy. Furthermore, the more people can be weened from sharing, the harder it is to find someone sharing what you want, and making the convenience of downloading legally all that much more potent.

Radio found dead under suspicious circumstances. Foul play suspected.
Radio Killed The Radio Star
Secondly, they should realize that people downloading music legally are not pirates and shouldn't be treated as such. They're paying customers who have chosen to pay and shouldn't be considered criminals. It's offensive and alienating to the people you have converted or are trying to convert to legal downloads. I also think that reserving DRM for previews and making the previews full length (but limited play) would remove a reason that many still share - to try new music before they buy. Remember when people used to listen to the radio? That was a great tool because it was essentially marketing for new music. People have always been free and able to copy these broadcasts and make mix tapes, do we really believe that sharing is so different? Just because the quality's better? I'm not talking blanket sharing even (though this is what radio essentially is, albeit targetted slightly by genre), but people exchanging music that they think the other will like. Think about it. You and your friend just point your iPods at each other and suddenly you have some new music he's just gotten into on your iPod that you can play through, say three times. You like it and after your three times have run through you buy it, or else you don't and delete it. This is what we call a win-win situation.

I see a model where people can purchase tracks at a much more discounted price from the CD, where people can pop their CD into their computer without having Sony's Anti-Theft Spies stealing your personal information, where people can share music with friends in a way that promotes music and also purchasing if they like it. Where we don't pay levies on CD-Rs that we MIGHT use for backing up our own music or one of the many billions of just as likely on-audio uses and then still get accused of theft. As we move to media-on-demand, the music industry needs a new way of promoting new music. Radio won't work, nor 30 second previews. Podcasting is another great tool in the transition, as it combines the programming convenience ("let someone else find the music") with on demand skipability. Ultimately, sharing is this new marketing scheme, and the best thing is, it costs nothing but a shift in outlook. The question is, can we turn the heads of those monolithic beasts? Based on past experience, the answer is a resounding, screamed NO!.

Believe it or not, I'm not affiliated or even a member of eMusic... yet.
Signs of Progress
But I'd like to leave things on a slightly higher note than that last "no". There are, for example, more music services than iTunes. One of the best out there right now is eMusic, which delivers music in un-DRMed MP3 format. You can copy it to ANY portable device, be it iPod, Zen, iRiver, or... miscellaneous, which, aside from DRM, is the biggest drawback of a similar service from Yahoo. Not only can you use any device, but you can subscribe and get up to 40 tracks for $10/month, which works out to 25 cents/download, which is VERY reasonable indeed. Better still, you're not supporting the old industry diehards by locking into their scheme, you're supporting bands, labels, and an online service that believe in music and in people who support it legally. AND you get to start with 50 downloads free just to try and see if you like it. As for what to download with your 50 free credits, well, of course you can email me or browse through my blog for recommendations, or you can go to sites reviewing music like Tiny Mix Tapes and Pitchfork for the latest and greatest. Or you can hear it for yourself through some podcasts. There are tonnes of options for people who want to see the situation improve, so please, take a look and make a difference. It's a start.


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photopilote said...

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