February 20, 2004

Grey Tuesday

Posted by shonk at 01:27 AM | permalink | comment

I linked to DJ Danger Mouse’s album The Grey Album in “Finding Humor in Unlikely Places”, but I wanted to spotlight it in its own post. Also, I want to draw some attention to Downhill Battle’s Grey Tuesday protest. It appears that Danger Mouse himself won’t be getting in any further trouble, as the album was a limited-edition pressing, but, given how much play this is getting around the blogosphere, one can’t help but wonder if this particular episode won’t serve as a catalyst for some sort of change in the music industry.

On a related note, the RIAA was countersued today by a New Jersey woman; the plaintiff’s lawyers claim that the RIAA is violating federal antiracketeering regulations:

[B]y suing file-swappers for copyright infringement, and then offering to settle instead of pursuing a case where liability could reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the RIAA is violating the same laws that are more typically applied to gangsters and organized crime.

I have to say, I don’t know much about antiracketeering laws, but it’s pretty clear that the RIAA’s tactics amount to extortion, plain and simple. Whether it’s legal or not is, of course, an entirely different question.

January 23, 2004

Music Rant

Posted by shonk at 12:04 AM | permalink | 5 comments

A response to those who think the intellectual property status quo must be maintained to ensure the continued existence of recorded music (sleep-deprived version):

Studio music won’t die. It will just change. Look at the popularity of the iTunes Music Store. People are buying stuff there in droves (and at a lower sound quality than is available on CDs) because the iTMS is much more flexible and cost-effective. Most albums have one or two good songs and the rest is crap. So why plunk down $15 dollars for the album when you can buy the two good songs for $2 at iTMS?

On that note, filesharing never would have left the fringes if CDs weren’t so outrageously expensive. The RIAA, which succesfully sued Best Buy (I think) in the early 90s for selling CDs for $7 a pop, used its muscle to keep CD prices artificially high, which made them lots of money for a few years until it had the unintended consequence of making filesharing much more attractive. Shades of CAFE and airbag laws actually raising mortality, if you ask me.

The simple fact of the matter is, artists and labels who adapt to the new realities of the marketplace will thrive and continue to make and sell music, whereas dinosaurs who cling to the notion that the passage of some new law or the vigorous enforcement of some existing law will make things go back to how they used to be will go bankrupt.

Hey, when the automobile was introduced, it meant hard times for those wagon-wheel manufacturers who refused to accept the fact that cars were the wave of the future. But that’s not to say there wasn’t a hell of a lot of money to be made in the transportation sector.

November 14, 2003

Music to Lighten Your Step

Posted by shonk at 01:27 AM | permalink | comment

A while back I commented on Apple's position regarding music pirates, which is that competing with them is the only way to beat them. That post coincided with the initial fervor over Apple's iTunes Music Store, which at the time was only available on Macintosh machines. Since its PC release a month or so ago, iTunes seems to have already gained some serious cachet in the pop world. Be it dooce thinking that "I can safely blame iTunes for Windows when my child asks why I canít help her pay for her college education" or poseurs trying to enhance their image via their playlists, iTunes is making its presence felt. A measure of its success may well be the hype (and rushed arrival) of competitors like the new Napster and the MusicNow/Best Buy collaboration. Even Wal-Mart apparently plans to get into the act. Of course, the real indicator of who's winning is that iTunes has the McDonald's seal of approval.

In the same spirit in which Apple's Peter Lowe said "The way to go after illegal file sharing services is to compete with them...go after their weaknesses", Sony has come out with a new copy-protection scheme for CDs. Assuming all goes well with the German test run, Sony's scheme will allow people to make digital copies of songs from the CD (unlike other, more restrictive schemes, many of which wouldn't even allow the CD to play in a computer CD-ROM drive) while preventing (supposedly) those digital copies from being traded freely on the net. Though Sony's implementation is far from perfect (the digital copies can only be played on Sony portables players and copying requires some extra manipulation), they're at least thinking in the right direction, innovating rather than turning to the State to solve their problems. As Sony's Phil Wiser says:

All copy-protections can be hacked. But if give people what they are asking for in terms of value, they won't go out and steal it. It's called trusting the consumer.
Now, I know trusting the consumer is rather a new and innovative concept, but it's nice to see that it seems to be catching on (though not, obviously, with presidential candidates).

This is not, of course, to say that it's all peaches and cream in intellectual property land. It didn't take long for MyTunes, an iTunes add-on that allows you to capture and convert to MP3 the songs of others on your network, to surface. MyTunes acts enough like Kazaa and the Napster of old (though without a search feature it's less user-friendly) that iTunes, recently lauded by record labels and artists alike, may still have legal trouble in its future. Similar hacks will no doubt surface with iTunes' competitors. Nonetheless, it's rather nice to see that progress away from the hardline reactionaries of the RIAA is being made.

September 06, 2003

Pizza and Music

Posted by shonk at 11:05 PM | permalink | comment

There's a pizza place downstairs from my apartment. Now, that might seem like a dangerous situation, especially for someone who loathes cooking as much as I do, but I had never actually been in the place until tonight. You see, once again, I neglected to go grocery shopping today, preferring to spend 6 hours finishing up The Name of the Rose.

Anyway, I want to talk about the pizza place, not my neglected domestic responsibilities. The weird thing about this particular joint, which is otherwise a totally typical takeout pizza parlor, is that there was no music being played. This wasn't something I immediately noticed, but rather came to realize as I was sitting by myself and waiting for my three slices to be cooked. It's a small thing, surely, but most bars/restaurants/take-out places have some sort of music playing in the background, so long as we include terrible instrumental versions of bad pop songs being played at barely-audible levels within our definition of "music". Whether that's good or bad is a personal judgement, but it was mildly jarring to experience the exception to the rule.

Actually, the pervasiveness of background music throughout our culture is, I think, an odd phenomenon. What's the point of music that nobody pays attention to or, often, even hears? I'm inclined to think that background music (I guess "ambient music" is probably the preferred nomenclature) is popular because without it, people are more truly alone with their thoughts, which can be a scary thing. I'm sure some modern naysayers have already written at length about this subject, decrying the modern disinclination to indulge in personal thought and contemplation. I often side with this perspective, as I've never been particularly inclined to have background music playing while I'm working, writing, or reading. Since I don't pay attention to it, it seems sort of pointless or, at worst, distracting. I do find that I think better without any extraneous noise in the environment.

And, in some cases, background music can become downright annnoying. When it's really bad, for example. Or even when it's good, but in excessive quantities. Like when my girlfriend was spending several hours a day in a coffee shop that played the same Norah Jones CD on repeat all day, every day. Despite liking the CD, it quickly went from "nice" to "extremely annoying", though that eventually gave way to "totally ignored" (incidentally, from her experience working at a coffee shop, she claims Brazilian jazz is the most easy-to-ignore music).

But I can understand the positive side of background music, too. After all, it tends to cover up the conversation of others, which are usually inane or incomprehensible, but still fascinating, since listening feels voyeuristic and vaguely naughty, given the social norms against eavesdropping. And so, given the lack of background noise, I found myself overhearing the conversation of the people working in the pizza place and thinking that, perhaps, it might be a good business move to turn the radio on and cover up the rambling of the workers. For example, the female cash register worker was telling her (I'm assuming) manager that she finds it disconcerting to talk to him while he's sitting and she's standing, since she always envisions him as being above her, not below. Which was probably the innocent observation of a bored worker, but it might not play well to the segment of the market that looks for subjugation of women at every turn.

Yet again, I've run off on a tangent. In any case, the main point is, I'm used to not having background music in my apartment, in class and in my office, but almost anywhere else it's a bit disconcerting. And now that I've devoted so much thought to it, I'm sure to be hyper-aware of ambient music (or lack thereof) for the next week or two. Hopefully I'll have forgotten this obsession before I need to go to an airport, because being hyper-aware of background noise when you're sitting for two or three hours is a good way to drive yourself insane. Brian Eno apparently had a similar thought in mind when he made Music for Airports (which LaGuardia actually played in its Marine Terminal for a while). Fortunately, I've never had much reason to pay attention to such things in airports, as I usually either spend the whole time with my nose in a book or head for the nearest bar.

August 07, 2003

Pallid Pirates

Posted by shonk at 04:35 AM | permalink | comment

If you believe everything the RIAA says, you'd think the wide assortment of people swapping songs over P2P networks was scarier than Bluebeard breaking out the plank for a stowaway. If you live in reality, of course, you'd realize the filesharers are more akin to the motley crew on that Capitol One commercial. Which isn't to say that they aren't a menace, but probably more to taste than to musicians. In any case, while the RIAA is fighting the wrong battle, it's nice to see that someone gets it: Apple. Here, courtesy of Mac.Ars, is the summation of Apple's position on piracy, due to Peter Lowe, Apple's Director of Marketing for Applications and Services:

The way to go after illegal file sharing services is to compete with them...go after their weaknesses. The reason why people used these services is instant gratification: for most of the people who use file sharing, it is more about flexibility and not about free...we aim to take advantages of weaknesses of illegal sharing services: unreliable encoding; bad connection; no previews; wrong music; no album cover art; and at the end of the day, it is stealing. Which is bad karma! We fundamentally believe subscriptions are the wrong path ...that's not what consumers are doing offline...they want to buy downloads. If digital distribution is about one thing, it is about being simple...as simple as a CD player...and it needs to be consistent....take the "but" out of it

Now, whether filesharing is or is not immoral is still up for debate (clearly it's illegal, but I haven't the patience to go into whether or not it should be), as is its actual negative impact on the music industry (am I the only one to notice that people with lots of mp3's also buy lots of albums?). The point is, rather than suing some poor student for $98 billion isn't the way to make anybody agree with you, and even the super-system Poindexter probably has wet dreams about couldn't stop filesharing. So why not compete with the P2P networks, rather than try to get the government to shut them down? I mean, seriously, the government sure as hell doesn't stop people from smoking pot, and pot you can see and touch (and destroy, incidentally). Apple's got it right; P2P networks are buggy, don't let you preview (ever downloaded a mislabeled song?), don't include liner notes and cover art and, yes, are illegal (which is important, even if you think the law is a bad one. After all, who wants to face a $98 billion lawsuit from a mega-corporation, even if it will get settled for something more reasonable?). And people do feel guilty about using them. Maybe not everybody, but a lot of people. So fix those problems with a legal network, and a lot of people will be willing to pay for it. Not that innovative, but apparently a hell of a lot moreso than the standard. And there are those who still wonder why anybody would consider buying a Mac.

August 03, 2003


Posted by shonk at 03:35 PM | permalink | comment

While attending the last performance of the season of the National Repertory Orchestra (NRO) in Breckenridge tonight, I noticed a few things that my egocentric nature compels me to share.

First, there are few things more annoying than someone repeatedly sniffing their nose while you're trying to listen to Mendelssohn. Part of the reason I noticed so many non-musical aspects of the experience was because this guy three seats down from me was constantly sniffing. *Sniff* *sniff* *sniff*...*sniff*, then repeat every 15 seconds. I don't know what the problem was, but it was loud enough that from 10 feet away I couldn't concentrate on what was otherwise a very enjoyable concert. And I don't mean to imply the guy didn't care about anybody around him, but if his nasal situation was really so horrific, why the hell is he going to a concert in the first place?

Second, there's no place on Earth that fulfills more stereotypes than a classical concert, especially this one. First of all, the audience is overwhelmingly white and middle-age or older. Being young and tall, I stuck out more than Dan Quayle at a Master P show. The performers also tend to be predominately white, but with a significant minority of Asians; blacks and hispanics are almost never seen onstage at one of these things. And, of course, lets not forget the utterly stereotypical gender distribution over instruments embodied by the NRO: Every double bass, tuba, trombone and percussion instrument was played by a male, along with all but one of the trumpets; on the other hand, every single flute, french horn and harp was played by a female, along with over 70% of the violins, violas and cellos. I mean, much as one might like to, it's hard to denigrate a stereotype when it's so bloody accurate.

Finally, is there any outfit less flattering to the female form than the orchestral uniform? The guys can look pretty snazzy in their tuxedos, but tux shirts and too-high, too-tight black pants make the women look like misshapen hermaphrodites. It's not like I'm going to a concert looking for eye candy, but could we at least acknowledge that the concertmaster has breasts and hips? Is that too much to ask?