What Do the RIAA and My Dog Have in Common?

They are both a walking bad decision.

riaaLucky sees the pantry- he immediately roots around for a loaf of bread to eat.  He notices some Amdro on an ant mound- yum…tasty.  At any given time, he has four or five bad ideas working simultaneously.

The RIAA sees the record label cartel begin to weaken- it immediately begins carpet bombing the resistance, and takes out a lot of customers, both wholesale and retail, in the process.

Techdirt led me to a very interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times.  In an op-ed piece by a couple of guys who used to own a record store – you know, the kind you actually drive to and browse- the following good points are made.

First, “The album, or collection of songs – the de facto way to buy pop music for the last 40 years – is suddenly looking old-fashioned. And the record store itself is going the way of the shoehorn.”

As a deep tracks sort of guy, this is the single worst thing that has happened to the music industry since someone decided to make Barbara Streisand a star.  I don’t want studio enhanced dribble from some eye candy media creation.  I won’t good albums full of good music, made by people who can actually write songs and play instruments.

Today’s music business is The Monkees writ large.

Another truth, “By continuing their campaign to eliminate the comparatively unprofitable CD single, raising list prices on album-length CDs to $18 or $19 and promoting artists like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears – whose strength was single songs, not albums. The result was a lot of unhappy customers, who blamed retailers like us for the dearth of singles and the high prices.”

Putting a couple of good songs on a record along with some filler and tossing it out the door has been a favorite trick of the record labels for as long as I have been buying records.  Back in the late 60s and 70s, we knew what acts could be counted on for a solid record and which ones couldn’t.  If there was a song on one of the latter records you wanted, you could either buy the single, record it off the radio or borrow your buddy’s copy and record it to a cassette.

Amazon (actually CD Now, but who remembers them?) landed the first blow to the traditional record store.  Most people can wait a couple of days for a CD, so online buying makes a lot of sense.  I will not buy a DRM infested song, yet I have not been in a record store in years.  I just click a button at Amazon and 2 days later the CD shows up at my door.

Then iTunes and others landed a blow to both the traditional record store and Amazon, by selling songs a la carte.  While I have a philosophical objection to DRM, to our kids DRM is just as normal as album covers and liner notes were to us.  They happily download the songs they want- DRM or not.  Going to Amazon and buying a CD is as strange and unlikely to them as downloading the latest Hannah Montana song is to me.

The world changed.

The RIAA then made it worse by trying to change it back.  From the artice:

Labels delivered the death blow to the record store as we know it by getting in bed with soulless chain stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart. These “big boxes” were given exclusive tracks to put on new CDs and, to add insult to injury, they could sell them for less than our wholesale cost. They didn’t care if they didn’t make any money on CD sales. Because, ideally, the person who came in to get the new Eagles release with exclusive bonus material would also decide to pick up a high-speed blender that frappeed.

The RIAA tried to stuff the cat back into the bag, and all it accomplished was to put a lot music store owners and a lot of passionate music fans out of business.

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Music Matters

Great post by Richard Querin today about music- both management and songs. He talks about the various programs he has used to organize and play his digital music.  Richard is in a deep Linux phase, so he uses MOC.  Here’s my story.

Unlike Richard, I made a concerted effort to move my music onto my computer.  Back in the nineties I undertook to rip all of my CDs.  The first time, when hard drives actually cost real money, I just put the best songs in my digital library.  Later, I went back and put all of the songs in there.  It took about 3 forevers.  I’m not sure exactly how many CDs I have, but it’s in the thousands.  Once I got the old CDs ripped, it became pretty easy to rip the new ones as I bought them.

I have never shared my music files and I have never bought music with DRM.

I have, however, become my parents, as my musical era of interest generally ended shortly after I finished graduate school.  Other than alternative country, some Americana and a little newish blues, I don’t buy many records recorded after 1987.

My application of choice for music management and listening is J. River’s Media Center.  It handles large libraries well and has a lot of good features.  I have never understood why it didn’t generate more buzz among music fans.

One of the great pleasures of having a digital music server is to put the player on shuffle and hear some songs you forgot about.  Sometimes ones that really move you.  Richard gave a list of songs he’s come across like that.

Here are some off the beaten path songs on my server that remind me fondly of days gone by, in no particular order.

Les Dudek – I Remember You
LeRoi Brothers – Pretty Little Lights of Town
Raging Fire – A Family Thing
Al Green – You Ought to Be with Me
Atlanta Rhythm Section – Champaign Jam
Bob Seger – Get Out of Denver
Stephen Stills – Change Partners
Paul Davis – I Go Crazy
Fred Knoblock – Why Not Me
Ten Years After – I’ve Been There Too
Starbuck – Moonlight Feels Right
Starland Vocal Band – Boulder to Birmingham

Music and computers really compliment each other.  If I had to rummage through a bunch of CDs to find the record I wanted to hear, I’d rarely listen to music.

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Reinventing the Music Industry

Mike over at Techdirt has a very interesting read about the music business. As a long-time musician, songwriter and, most importantly, music fan, the parade of bad decisions made by the music industry over the past few years has just about driven me nuts.

As Mike points out, a large part of the problem is that portions of the music industry, primarily the record label cartel represented by its henchman the RIAA, is trying desperately to hold on to what is quickly becoming an obsolete business model. Beginning with the re-examination of industry economics that led up to Courtney Love’s excellent piece in Salon back in 2000 (which proves either the value of ghost writers or that Courtney isn’t the complete nincompoop she generally appears to be), through the emergence of online distribution as the channel of choice for the new generation, and up to the current spate of lawsuits against children and dead people that have coalesced all manners of opposition into a line of defense that is starting to turn the tide of battle, the music industry has struggled to figure out a way to preserve what has long been the highly profitable role of both gatekeeper and banker to the music.

The music industry in general and the record labels in particular have not faced the fact that the world has changed- and all of the lawyers in the world can’t change it back. The bag is empty and the cat hasn’t been seen in years.

Which leaves the music industry with two choices, and only two choices: find a new business model or hold on as hard as you can until the cash pipeline dries up. The smart choice is to take some pain now to become a part of the new world order. The dumb choice, which seems to be the way the industry is going, is to sue everybody in sight for moving your cheese. Those lawsuits work on underfunded individuals who have no choice but to capitulate. They don’t work on an entire movement or on moms from Oklahoma.

Other than the fact that you can’t turn back time, the most aggravating and self-destructive part of the record label’s strategy is that it is attacking the very people whose goodwill is a requirement to sell records. It takes biting the hands that feed you to a new level. No one would complain too loudly if the RIAA sued people who share thousands and thousands of songs with anyone who wanders by. But the RIAA decided early on to sue all comers, thus the public relations war was lost at the first battle. Sometimes it takes more than money to prove you’re right, and sometimes even the Deathstar blows up. I don’t think that ever occurred to the record label executives, even though the automated voice has to be saying in the back of their minds “auto-destruct sequence initiated, this ship will self destruct in 4 minutes.”

In my opinion, driving force behind the record labels insistence in trying to stuff the cat back into the bag is that the record labels historically made so much of their money via the creation and distribution of the media (meaning the actual CDs and before that LPs and tapes, as well as the album art, etc.), and they know that the margins of old are not going to be available under the new distribution system.

When your entire industry is based on huge margins, it’s not surprising that you’d resist anything that threatens the status quo. Additionally, if songs are sold online for a buck a piece, the artists are going to quickly realize that it’s cheaper for them to rent some studio time, pay a producer and take the finished product directly to the online distributor.

Without the ability to serve as the gatekeeper, the record labels recognize that their position in the entire process is precarious. That’s why the RIAA isn’t going to buy into Mike’s plan of artist promotion, more product and resulting loyalty. Which means that the only alternative is to take the record labels out of the equation- their own short-sighted actions in effect becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Like it or not, the world has changed. While the change was bad for the record labels, they should have known the gravy train wouldn’t last forever. And over time this change will prove to be very, very good for artists and consumers.

It’s time to clean up the milk and go back to work. Let the record labels keep searching for the cat.

We know they’ll never find it.

Music Industry Tells Budding Musicians They Must Pay to Play

Not satisfied with suing people, both alive and dead, who enjoy listening to music, now the priority-challenged music industry is threatening to sue guitar tablature sites, where users exchange tips on how to play songs.

For those who aren’t familiar with tablature sites, they are web sites that contain a database of guitar tabs, usually indexed by artist and by song. I use tab sites regularly to learn songs. Sadly, my site of choice, Olga.net (Olga standing for On-Line Guitar Archive), and others have bowed to the pressure and taken their once expansive database off-line.

Normally, the way it works is like this. Let’s say I wanted to learn CCR’s Bad Moon Rising. I’d go to a tab site and search for either CCR or the name of the song. The page I would find would look something like this:

D         C   G    D        D     C       G      D
I see the bad moon rising,  I see trouble on the way
D     C    G          D          D     C   G     D
I see earthquakes and lightning, I see bad times today

Chorus:
G                                   D
Don't go around tonight,  well it's bound to take your life
C         G               D
There's a bad moon on the rise

(I have no idea if my tabs will translate to a feed. If not, see my blog for what it is supposed to look like.)

The letters, of course, are the chords used to play the song. Guitar players will recognize that these chords are the easy way to play the song. And that’s just the point- most tab sites are all about easy and none contain the full music notation found on purchased sheet music. In addition, tab sites often contain easier tunings that make songs easier for novice guitarists to play.

All of which tells me that the music industry is once again engaging in knee-jerk lawsuits (or threats thereof) that are addressing a problem that isn’t there. Lawsuits that will ultimately hurt the music industry from an economic as well as public relations perspective. Here’s why.

Many people who use tab sites for learning songs are either novice players or intermediate players trying to learn how to play more songs. Expert guitarists and most professional musicians typically either play by ear, use traditional sheet music which they purchase or use one of the various numbering systems that are completely different than traditional music notation. I’ll never forget the first time I was in a recording studio while someone recorded one of my songs. The session players listened to the demo tape once, without pausing, and then listened to the chorus and the bridge a second time as they transcribed the chord progressions into a numbering system. Then they sat down and played the song better than it had ever been played before.

This, of course, means that the typical user of a tab site is not going to run out and buy sheet music they likely can’t read to try and learn a song. They’ll just learn some other song or give up altogether.

Sure, they could go buy a fake book (a book that has chord notations similar to what I did above in addition to music notation), but those books are created for professional musicians, formal music students and others who are doing more than just trying to play Wild Thing and Louie Louie using the only three chords they know. Many of the people playing Wild Thing and Louie Louie today may continue into more formalized lessons later- or not. But it does nobody any good to stop them in their tracks before they have a chance to decide.

All it accomplishes is to quash someone’s musical ambitions before they have a chance to become a lifelong customer of the music publishing industry.

The music industry should stop suing all the music fans or there won’t be anybody left to buy their products.

I would really like to interview the decision maker behind this latest scorched earth attempt at stuffing the cat into the bag. If anyone can hook me up, please let me know.

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Sick 'Em Dwight (Er, I Mean Cory)

In a cyber-bout reminiscent of the whipping Larry Holmes once put on Marvis Frazier, Dwight Silverman refuses to buy the RIAA’s bullshit about dropping its case against the family of a recently deceased defendant “out of an abundance of sensitivity.”

Dwight asked an RIAA spokesman this very good question:

“Where was the ‘abundance of sensitivity’ when the RIAA failed to initially drop its case against the Scantleberry family following the death of the named defendant in the case?”

As Dwight points out, the RIAA only exposed its sensitive side after the story got picked up by lots of old and new media.

Look, if you want to have a scorched earth policy in the name of stuffing the long-lost cat back into the bag, then at least admit it.

UPDATE: Like a dummy, I didn’t notice that Dwight was quoting from Boing Boing. It was actually Cory Doctorow who put the Larry Holmes on the RIAA. But I’m sure Dwight would have if the RIAA weren’t already TKO’ed.

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Another Mom Takes It to the RIAA

riaaAn Oklahoma mom has successfully defended a lawsuit by the RIAA.

The better news is that the mom might be able to collect her attorneys’ fees from them.

Maybe the RIAA should go back to suing dead grannies. At least they don’t fight back.

The way to stop the RIAA’s unchecked madness is to keep defending these suits aggressively and make it difficult for them to intimidate their customers.

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More Foolishness from the RIAA

riaaThe priority challenged RIAA has now decided that those bad YouTube videos of teenagers lip synching their favorite songs is somehow a business plan for record labels.

Project Opus reports that some YouTube users have reportedly received cease and desist letters from the RIAA, demanding that their amateur videos be taken down.

Here’s a news flash RIAA. These kids are not ever going to get a freaking synch license so they can lip synch and make funny videos, some of which are the best possible viral marketing for a song. All you are accomplishing by harassing these kids is to once again look greedy and clueless. That and nipping some good marketing in the bud.

It would be so nice if the record label cartel would stop trying to turn back the clock and embrace the technology that is going to thrive with or without them.

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