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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The MPAA, the Dead and Web 2.0

Absolute truths have a way of getting less absolute when the distant worlds of art and business collide.

Which I why I read something this morning that I both agree with strongly and disagree with strongly. Add to that the fact that it was said by a man I generally disagree with to the man who wrote the song I named my oldest daughter after and who has been cool enough to email Cassidy now and again over the years just to see how she’s doing- and it gets very confusing.

Techdirt reports on and links to an exchange between Dan Glickman of the MPAA and John Perry Barlow, of EFF and Grateful Dead fame.

In what Mike at Techdirt accurately calls a bizarre exchange, Glickman and Barlow talked about the entertainment industry.

sand-794348Barlow starts out by saying, again correctly, that the movie industry will eventually adopt to the new information age (and the new distribution and pricing methods that are the backbone thereof). The only question is how long will it resist the inevitable and how much damage will it do to itself in the meantime.

Glickman responds with the same old line about paying the people to produce the work or you won’t ever get any work to watch, etc., etc.

Barlow points out that he made a lot of money writing songs for the Dead, who as we all know have always allowed people to record and share their shows.

What is lost on Glickman is the fact that if not for all those concert recordings, there would be a lot less Dead music to be had by new fans and the Dead would be less relevant today. By allowing recording and tape trading, the Dead made it easier to become a Dead fan, which made it easier to keep selling records, which made it easier to keep touring to packed houses. And on and on.

Glickman’s problem is that someone moved the movie industry’s cheese and they hired him to frantically search for it. All the futile searching prevents him from seeing that making those recordings available did as much or more for the Dead as it did for the fans.

Then it comes. Glickman makes a statement that I believe it totally wrong in the context of music and movies, yet it is one of my themes with respect to Web 2.0:

“It is ridiculous to believe that you can give product away for free and be more successful.”

So, either I am wrong about art or wrong about Web 2.0 or there is a way to distinguish the two. Let’s think about this for a minute.

Something Glickman said later keeps rolling around inside my head:

“[P]eople who create content for movies and television have to make a profit. If they don’t you won’t see all this wonderful stuff and listen to it.”

I think the difference is that in art, you can give away some of your art and make more money by selling more of your other art. John Perry makes money not only from royalties on record sales, but also on performance royalties, sheet music and other revenue generated from his songs. By allowing all of those concert recordings, the Dead managed to increase and maintain its fan base and mindshare- and to increase the sales of its records through traditional channels. It’s no coincidence that the Dead has released so many of their “from the vaults” recordings over the years. A lot of those records that “went platinum sooner or later,” would not have if not for tape trading.

It’s not unlike those “SE” (for Special Edition- which in computer lingo means watered down) versions of software you get when you buy a new computer or camera. They work fine, but the manufacturers know that if you like it, you’ll eventually buy the full version.

But what about Web 2.0?

I think what separates a lot of these Web 2.0 applications from music and movies and software is that they have nothing else to sell. Some of them, like Box.net, give away some stuff for free to attract users who may then buy more stuff. That is a tried and true business plan.

But many others give away everything they have to offer in a belief that if they can get enough eyeballs on their site, advertisers will pay to bombard those eyeballs with ads. It may work for the mega-sites like Digg and MySpace, but it takes a whole lot of eyeballs to generate enough revenue to run a company. Beer money, yes. Companies, no.

Not to mention the fact that I have never once clicked on an online ad on any site I didn’t own, and neither had any of the 10 or so people I asked in connection with a another post I wrote a few weeks ago.

The point that I would have made had I awoken to the nightmare of Glickman’s job is that unlike bands who all share in the revenue for all their projects, each movie is a one-off deal. The fact that the next movie makes a lot of money does nothing for the investors in this movie.

Regardless, the bottom line as far as movies go is that Barlow is right- the train has left the station and there are millions of young people out there who are going to force the movie industry to play it their way.

The only question is how long it will take Hollywood to face it.

Mark Cuban's Crack and Back Approach to DRM

Mark Cuban posts today about the DRM Evolution, that may lead hardware producers to keep changing the playback devices to match the evolving DRM requirements. Down the road, content you legally own may not play back on hardware you legally own because of incompatibilities with the then current DRM protocols.

The record label cartel’s answer, of course, would be to go buy another copy of the same song you have already bought on LP, 8-track, cassette, CD and MP3.

Mark’s answer is to crack stuff you own and keep a DRM-free back up copy.

It’s hard for a guy from Houston to give too much love to a dude from Dallas, but damn I love that guy.

I’ve said many times that I have not and will not buy music that is infested with DRM. If I accidentally did, I would absolutely crack it and and make a back-up copy.

Soundbite or Corporate Policy

That’s the only question that needs to be asked to Yahoo following the statement by Yahoo Music chief Dave Goldberg that record labels should sell music without copy protection.

Everyone knows that the DRM-infestation that has ruined online music and put the screws to consumers to buy multiple copies of the same thing is horse manure (to put it mildly).

But until one big company who has both skin in the game and enough mindshare to kick-start a movement calls foul and stops pushing this crap on consumers, this is just a soundbite. There’s no need to “prompt industry-wide discussion.” It’s being discussed now, but since the record label cartel has all the bargaining power, we’re not getting anywhere.

The prospect of getting booted off of Yahoo’s music service would create enough bargaining power to at least bring the record labels to the negotiating table.

Yahoo, tell the record label cartel no. Make your music store DRM-free. Don’t toss out some unwanted, non-binding advice.

Take a stand. Make it happen.

What Is It With Online Music?

That makes everybody who has a freaking web page think they have to have an online music store.

Just when I thought we were taking a break from huffing and puffing beneath Bubble 2.0 comes word that my favorite seller Amazon, after sitting idly by while the space fills up to ludicrous and unprofitable proportions, now wants to do its version of the iTunes killing online music store.

Henry Blodget did a fine job of explaining why this is another dancer in the conga line of stupid ideas, but let me pile on a little bit.

Not only are most mp3 players a commodity, but online music itself, once you recover from iTunes dementia, is a commodity. It’s not like Amazon can slay the priority challenged RIAA and sell some actual music, as opposed to the right to rent some crippled and possibly spyware infested music file. To the contrary, Amazon will throw the same crap on the same wall that scads of others have already thrown. Maybe it will stick, Amazon certainly has a lock on traditional CD sales, but even if it does it still be part of a big pile of crap.

The root cause of all this stupidity, of course, is the RIAA and the greedy record labels whose only business plan seems to be to try to make us buy the same thing over and over and over. Why doesn’t some big player step up and say no to all this madness? I went on record a long time ago that I will never buy a DRM infested song, and I won’t.

I suppose the truth is that Amazon is trying to protect one of its primary revenue sources, the sale of music, in light of what some people are calling a migration from traditional CDs to online music.

And just to make sure it doesn’t work, the Wall Street Journal says Amazon may do yet another subscription service- which is a word for a platform whereby users pay monthly to listen to the songs they should be able to buy and listen to forever, free of DRM restrictions.

The bottom line is that this is a stupid move that won’t work, but since the RIAA has basically hijacked the entire online music industry, Amazon probably feels it has to do something as a defensive measure against the potential loss of revenue.

While I can see why Amazon feels it has to jump off this cliff, I continue to be amazed at the lengths some folks will go to in an effort to extract more money from consumers.

Does anyone even try to make new products that will sell themselves anymore?

DRM Gone Wild on New Coldplay CD

BoingBoing reports that Coldplay’s new CD comes chock full of DRM restrictions that prevent the CD from being burned to a hard drive and “might” prevent it from being played in DVD players, car stereos, portable players, game players or computers.

The questions are:

1) Is this something done with the band’s knowledge and consent or is this just more RIAA madness?

2) What will the band’s reaction be now that the story is all over the net?

Sony learned some hard lessons lately about DRM and the unwillingness of customers to accept crippled product. Looks like DRM 201 is about to begin.

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Lining Up in Front of the RIAA

riaaThe mainstream media is finally being forced to cover the misdeeds of its cousins’ henchman, the priority-challenged RIAA thanks to some recent customer bashing by the RIAA and all the shotgun shells it’s using trying in vain to stuff the cat back into the bag.

P2PNet has two very interesting things today.

First, it has an interview with the lawyer for lead target and allegedly innocent mom, Patti Santangelo, who lays out the mostly ex-parte (read without the knowledge or involvement of the target) court filings made by the RIAA to uncover the identities of its latest batch of moms, grandmoms and dead people. After obtaining an order from the court, the RIAA sends notice to the internet service providers of said targets, asking for their names and addresses. Then the RIAA sues the targets by name in the jurisdiction where they live. And for a few thousand dollars and a promise to keep the bag firmly tied (even though the cat is long gone), the RIAA will settle the case and move on to another batch of targets.

Second, it has a transcript from an American Morning with Miles O’Brien show on CNN where Ms. Santangelo appeared. The conversation with her is interesting and all, but things get really interesting when Cary Sherman, the President of the RIAA joins.

Here’s a small portion of that transcript, with my thoughts included in bold font:

O’BRIEN: It might get that message out that it’s illegal, but there’s also another message which comes out, which is a question of fairness. Is it fair to go after a divorced mother of five who doesn’t have a lot of financial means, who really didn’t know anything about this and thought she was doing all she could to protect her kids online? [[[The RIAA doesn’t care a whit about fairness. In fact, they probably figure if they sue enough innocent people, they will create a nation of little RIAA narks that will squeal on anyone who even thinks about listening to a song they haven’t paid for at least once, and preferably twice.]]]

SHERMAN: And we understand that point. [[[Absolutely they do; that’s why they’re doing it.]]] And the reality is that an overwhelming number of people who have been sued tell us the same story, that they didn’t know what was going on, they didn’t know it was illegal, and so on and so forth. [[[Is it me, or is he calling her a liar on national TV? At a minimum he’s saying he doesn’t care about her sob story. Just give the RIAA some money- so what if it’s your grocery money.]]]

O’BRIEN: And so what do you say? You just tell them — say, tell it to the judge? Is that it? [[[No, he’s saying pay us a few thousand dollars to settle and avoid the judge.]]]

SHERMAN: We basically try to settle at a reasonable number, taking into account all the circumstances of the particular case. In this case, if Ms. Santangelo did not do this, then she should tell us who did, and we would modify the complaint accordingly. [[[Great, now he’s saying bring me your kids and I’ll sue them too.]]]

O’BRIEN: Oh, well that puts a parent in a tough position. You know that. Yes.

SHERMAN: Well, but parents have to assume…

O’BRIEN: Would you do that as a parent? [[[I really wish they had forced him to answer this question hypothetically, assuming that he, like Ms. Santangelo, didn’t have extra money laying around to give to the RIAA. I’d love to hear him answer that hypothetical. Just because he works for a misguided, anti-consumer organization doesn’t make him a bad parent. At least he would have had to deal with the dilemma directly and not sidestep it like he did.]]]

SHERMAN: Parents have to assume some responsibility for their kids. I would probably do what you said you would do, which would be settle the case and let that be a lesson for the kid. We had one grandfather who had those kids work off the amount that he paid to settle as a way of teaching them a lesson and making this a family event. [[[So now the RIAA is providing family events- sort of like the Disney Channel.]]]

O’BRIEN: All right. Cary Sherman, thanks very much.

Look, I am not all that much of a defender of people who illegally download music (recall my take on the “I forgot to delete them” lady). And I know this Sherman cat has a really hard job.

But the indisputable fact is that the RIAA is trying to make the digital river flow back up the hill, and that’s simply not going to happen. Why not try to recreate the now broken business model, paint yourself as a facilitator of positive change and try to get on the high road, both morally and, more importantly, public relations wise? Isn’t that a better strategy than indiscriminantly suing a bunch of moms and grandmoms and dead people and whatnot?

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