Sunday, March 23, 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Billy Bragg speaks out - "The Royalty Scam"

From the NYTimes Op-Ed page. . .

The Royalty Scam
Published: March 22, 2008

Dorset, England
LAST week at South by Southwest, the rock music conference held every year in Austin, Tex., the talk in hotel lobbies, coffeeshops and the convention center was dominated by one issue: how do musicians make a living in the age of the Internet? It’s a problem our industry has struggled with in the wake of the rising popularity of sharing mp3 music files.

Our discussions were brought into sharp relief when news reached Austin of the sale of to AOL for a staggering $850 million. Bebo is a social-networking site whose membership has risen to 40 million in just two years. In Britain, it ranks with MySpace and Facebook in popularity, although its users tend to come from a younger age group.

Estimates suggested that the founder, Michael Birch (along with his wife and co-founder, Xochi), walked away with $600 million for his 70 percent stake in the company.

I heard the news with a particular piquancy, as Mr. Birch has cited me as an influence in Bebo’s attitude toward artists. He got in touch two years ago after I took MySpace to task over its proprietary rights clause. I was concerned that the site was harvesting residual rights from original songs posted there by unsigned musicians. As a result of my complaints, MySpace changed its terms and conditions to state clearly that all rights to material appearing on the site remain with the originator.

A few weeks later, Mr. Birch came to see me at my home. He was hoping to expand his business by hosting music and wanted my advice on how to construct an artist-centered environment where musicians could post original songs without fear of losing control over their work. Following our talks, Mr. Birch told the press that he wanted Bebo to be a site that worked for artists and held their interests first and foremost.

In our discussions, we largely ignored the elephant in the room: the issue of whether he ought to consider paying some kind of royalties to the artists. After all, wasn’t he using their music to draw members — and advertising — to his business? Social-networking sites like Bebo argue that they have no money to distribute — their value is their membership. Well, last week Michael Birch realized the value of his membership. I’m sure he’ll be rewarding those technicians and accountants who helped him achieve this success. Perhaps he should also consider the contribution of his artists.

The musicians who posted their work on are no different from investors in a start-up enterprise. Their investment is the content provided for free while the site has no liquid assets. Now that the business has reaped huge benefits, surely they deserve a dividend.

What’s at stake here is more than just the morality of the market. The huge social networking sites that seek to use music as free content are as much to blame for the malaise currently affecting the industry as the music lover who downloads songs for free. Both the corporations and the kids, it seems, want the use of our music without having to pay for it.

The claim that sites such as MySpace and Bebo are doing us a favor by promoting our work is disingenuous. Radio stations also promote our work, but they pay us a royalty that recognizes our contribution to their business. Why should that not apply to the Internet, too?

Technology is advancing far too quickly for the old safeguards of intellectual property rights to keep up, and while we wait for the technical fixes to emerge, those of us who want to explore the opportunities the Internet offers need to establish a set of ground rules that give us the power to decide how our music is exploited and by whom.

We need to do this not for the established artists who already have lawyers, managers and careers, but for the fledgling songwriters and musicians posting original material onto the Web tonight. The first legal agreement that they enter into as artists will occur when they click to accept the terms and conditions of the site that will host their music. Worryingly, no one is looking out for them.

If young musicians are to have a chance of enjoying a fruitful career, then we need to establish the principle of artists’ rights throughout the Internet — and we need to do it now.

Billy Bragg is a songwriter and author.

"The notion of cultural purity is a dead-end"

"The notion of cultural purity is a dead-end."
- Yo Yo Ma (speaking in relation to his Silk Road project

"Ma said he thinks 'nothing great was ever produced in isolation.' He said his study of history at Harvard University led him to realize that Eastern and Western cultures have mixed since at least the time of Alexander the Great."

"'Even something as basic as our Western major and minor keys may have originally come from the amazingly complex modes of classical Persian music,' Ma said. 'And there's a continual tradition in the West of incorporating music from other parts of the world.'"

This is such a great quote. In the world music (term used under objection) community, there is such an unspoken bullshit requirement for groups and projects to have some sort of cultural purity or authenticity in order to play in certain venues, and to be accepted by certain audiences. It is time for this to be brought out into the open ala Obama bringing the discussion of race out into the open. Once we acknowledge that certain audiences/promoters have these unspoken feelings, we can confront them and present interesting acts from all over without worrying about if these groups are "pure", "authentic" or meet some other unsaid criteria. They just better be good.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"The reality is, conscious Americans know that Barack Obama is the color of truth."

"The reality is, conscious Americans know that Barack Obama is the color of truth."
- Stevie Wonder

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

obama, race & the end of the soundbite

You can see Obama's awesome speech today on his own page and at the NYTimes (where I linked). I'm embedding the video below as well. One thing that is really heartening to me is the end of the soundbite. Even though this whole thing has flamed up due to a sound bite or two of a minister, the debate is really being done in longer pieces. Look at people talking on YouTube and you'll see 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and more minute long pieces. Amazing. People are really digging into the issues in ways that have not been possible since the days when people actually talked face to face. It is great to get these deep seated issues addressed and discussed in the public sphere, and if nothing else, Obama's candidacy is making America start to acknowledge some of the hidden prejudices in everyone of us.

And I'm also not going to resort to soundbites. Even though I usually grab a line or two out of articles and put them here, I'm not doing that with this speech. There are certainly some really choice lines, but the whole of the speech is very powerful. And it is only 38 minutes long, so watch it, or read the whole thing if you are pressed for time.

Monday, March 17, 2008

beards are back

I was going to start this post with the following sentence but then found variations of it on about 1.3 quadrillion other places on the net as a bunch of (cave-dwelling) dudes suddenly all came to the same realization i did: we are inadvertently cool.
"Who knew? I'm really cool, I didn't even know it, and I didn't try! Amazing! All I did was grow a beard."
Don't believe me? Do a quick google search for "beard is back" and you'll see what I mean. At least I'm in good company. The good soul over at Sepia Mutiny has a post like this, and I'm more than happy to be writing the same stuff as him.
And now I get to use my South Park inspired icon on all the social networks and have it mean something! Whoo hoo!
And my favorite line from the Time piece:
"In some particularly trendy areas, facial hair has become as essential an accessory for would-be chic men as oversized totes are for their female counterparts."

So I guess since my sister has to get one of them chic totes for her new job, I also had to get some facial hair for mine, since almost everyone at the company has some sort of face-do. Although my lack of shaving certainly is a cheaper new addition than them stupid arse bags. . .

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

great reading

Nobelist Stiglitz Tallies Iraq War's Outrageous Cost: Review

Review by Charles Taylor
March 4 (Bloomberg) -- The title tells the story of ``The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.'' Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes have produced a devastating argument against the American invasion of Iraq.

wow. great article. the book probably is great as well. makes me want to become an economist. for the people.
like my high school econ teacher said - the left needs good economists as well. . .

What is "Radiohead style"?

The article below bothered me. Or, rather the headline did. What does "Nine Inch Nails Release New Album Radiohead-style" mean? And why I have I seen this same headline above different bylines?
Does "Radiohead Style" mean that the album is offered for whatever price consumers want to pay? Because that IS what Radiohead did, but it is NOT what NIN did.
Does "Radiohead Style" mean that the band is experimenting with various modes of distribution? It seems like NIN is doing this.
Does "Radiohead Style" mean that NIN is trying to jump on the Radiohead publicity bandwagon and make some hay of their own? Again, I'd say this is the case.

Anyway, the bottom lines are these - NOW is the time for experimentation. There is no ownership in the digital age - there is no "Radiohead Style" or anyone else's style, for that matter. There are merely a bunch of ideas floating around, being experimented with, and new ideas coming along every second. We are all trying to figure out how to deploy these ideas for our customers/clients/friends/selves in ways that help make the artistic economy a viable "ecosystem" (see, i _was_ paying attention at the digital music forum east last week). Those seeking a silver bullet, or magic idea, will NOT find that single solution. Each project will have its own rules, its own definition of success, and its own benchmarks. No More Cookie Cutters!


Nine Inch Nails Release New Album Radiohead-style
Authored by Mark Hefflinger on March 3, 2008 - 12:59pm.

Los Angeles - Nine Inch Nails has launched a Radiohead-type release for its first offering since the band's major label contract with Interscope expired last October, including a mix of free and paid downloads, regular CDs and various limited edition versions. "I've been considering and wanting to make this kind of record for years, but by its very nature it wouldn't have made sense until this point," Reznor writes on his website. "I'm very pleased with the result and the ability to present it directly to you without interference."

The instrumental "Ghosts I-IV" album is a four-volume collection of 36 instrumental tracks, which Reznor says are "the result of working from a very visual perspective -- dressing imagined locations and scenarios with sound and texture; a soundtrack for daydreams."

The first nine tracks are available for free download as high-quality, DRM-free MP3s, while $5 delivers all 36 tracks in a variety of DRM-free formats.

The album will also be offered as a $10, 2 CD set; a $39, four-LP vinyl edition; a $75 limited edition CD set; and $300 ultra-deluxe edition four-LP vinyl set, limited to 2,500 copies signed by Reznor himself.

"Ghosts I-IV" is being released under the Creative Commons license -- a less restrictive copyright scheme -- and fans will be able to access multi-track versions of the songs on the album for remixing purposes.