Archive for the 'politics' Category

Musical Musings

With 2008 and all the music that came with it steadily speeding away in our rear view, I got to thinking a lot about what we did and didn’t see last year in the musical world, and what’s coming. When it comes down to it, 2008 was largely defined by some of the musical trends we saw, the continuing struggle over DRM and the ever growing attempts to market, brand and distribute music in ways that utilize multiple media and social platforms.

Musically, there was a greater push towards mash-ups (AmpLive Interview) and punk fueled Indie rock. Bands like Fall Out Boy and Bloc Party among many others kept driving guitars, sometimes melancholy lyrics and music that’s in your face in terms of pace at the forefront of the radio mainstream. Hip-Hop continued its usual pond-like trend: scum on the surface, beautiful water underneath with “artists” like T.I., T-Pain and Flo-rida topping the charts while rappers like Akrobatik, eLZhi and Black Milk continued struggling to boost their word of mouth. The line between Hip-Hop and Pop was continually blurred as radio Rap brought in more Rock and World music sounds into their songs.

We saw Kanye West rebound from a personally disastrous year to re-vamp his sound with 808s and Heartbreak, and we saw Guns ‘N Roses dig themselves out of a nearly 20 year grave to release the much anticipated Chinese Democracy album, something that many fans thought they’d never hear. Of course, most fans expected to hear either a new Eminem album (Relapse) or the long awaited and highly anticipated Detox album from Dr. Dre, and they got neither.

The DRM battle raged on in 2008, and in even just the beginning weeks of ’09 we’ve seen a nice movement in the area. For most of 2008, the IFPI (2) and the RIAA battled downloaders, both large and small, in court. Looking for lost compensation, they took to trial serial filesharers and spent massive amounts of time and money scaring college kids into settling out of court for fear of an expensive and punitive sentence against them. In the end, these efforts were largely useless, and in my mind, a joke, as they claimed to be fighting for the artists, while we all pretty much know how little the labels show the artists from individual song downloads.

The record industry spent months wringing their hands over lost profits and ways to control music that they long ago lost almost all control over. You have to wonder if, looking back now, they aren’t thinking of all their recent efforts as merely shutting the barn door after all the animals already escaped. And the change in tune has been brisk… Now, just two weeks into ’09, Apple has announced one of the broadest and most accessible withdrawals of DRM and price restructuring of MP3s in years. The four major labels have helped produce this movement, and it shows the increasing power of the consumers in the music marketplace. Once tied to hard copy formats like CDs with an average price table, consumers this year found diverse and creative ways to obtain their music, forcing the hand of the labels to recognize that DRM is not what the people want. How this lack of DRM will effect iPod sales or iTunes downloads remains to be seen. The launch of the App Store on iTunes also took music mobile with an incredible number of music related apps (and a few apps that are just plain incredible) designed for the iPhone.

The idea of Take Away shows and having artists perform live in unconventional venues took off. Nine Inch Nails picked up on Radiohead’s experiment with a free download format of an album, but they’ve taken it a step further now by offering over 400 GB of HD video footage from their concert tours up on torrent streams for fans to remix and create DVDs. This fan interaction has become tantamount to bands in the last year with MySpace including music, and a large number of acts going from conventional websites to social networking platforms.

And while these social networking sites and the bands that use them were beginning to become increasingly entwined, musicians were getting in the mix as well, literally. Late in 2008, MixMatchMusic officially opened its doors to musicians from all over the world to create, upload, collaborate and work with stems to broaden the ways people approach making music. With the DemoGod award at Demo ’08, a write-up in the San Francisco Chronicle and the ever-popular RemixSarahPalin.com, this vision of worldwide musical collaboration and the power of mixing and matching steps closer to being a full-fledged reality. (MixMatchMusic)

So what’s next? With the DRM barriers falling, the new foundations of band and fan interaction being laid and Web 2.0 casting a wider net over the ‘net, music in 2009 could be anyone’s game. Personally, I’m just waiting for The Detox… And now a moment for the outstanding musicians we lost this year, Bo Diddley and LeRoi Moore, among others.

John McCain: Music Thief pt. 2

Several weeks ago at the height of the election race, I posted concerning McCain and Palin’s unauthorized campaign use of songs by several different artists. Well, the campaign is over, McCain has lost, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to throw in the towel on the lawsuit brought against him by Jackson Browne. McCain (or, as McCain claims, the Ohio Republican Party) used a 30 second clip of the Browne song “Running on Empty” in a commercial televised in Ohio. While a majority of McCain’s usage of music by groups that are Democrats and in other ways don’t support this aging war-hawk isn’t eligible for trial as it was broadcast live and publicly at venues that traditionally have rights to use songs, Browne’s lawsuit is the exception because it did it in a nationally televised with without asking for rights to use the song.

But who would for a second think that McCain, despite making campaign promises based around honesty and integrity, would actually be honest and have integrity? That’s why, rather than admitting he did wrong and seeing to compensate Browne for it, he’s counter-suing claiming that these are frivolous lawsuits. McCain claims that, “Given the political, non-commercial, public interest and transformative nature of the use of a long-ago published song, the minuscule amount used and the lack of any effect on the market for the song (other than perhaps to increase sales of the song), these claims are barred by the fair use doctrine.”

That defense is contrasted by Browne’s claim that the use was a violation of his publicity rights, copyright infringment and a false endorsement. My question is how can McCain claim that his use was public interest? It certainly wasn’t in the interest of the person who made the song, a longtime Democrat. The use of the song didn’t help the public in any way. You can say that there was a minuscule amount of the song used, but 30 seconds of a 2 minute spot, or 25% of the commercial, doesn’t seem minuscule to me. But to me, the greatest threat here is the unauthorized use of a song to give the appearance of promotion on the part of the artist. If an artist is clearly against what a politician stands for, then the “political” fair use argument shouldn’t stand. Of course, this counter suit and the failure on McCain’s part to take responsibility for what he and his party did simply makes me more certain that the country picked the right President. But where do you stand on “fair use” and politicians using musicians’ songs without their knowledge?

America Welcomes Barack Obama

Finally the months of campaigning are over and we have our new leader. People across the country (and the world) are rejoicing. And of course the DIYers are making remixes and editing videos! Hot 99.5 posted a good one, “Welcome to DC (Barack Mix)”, on their blog.

Here are a couple more video tributes to Obama, celebrating his victory:

Update: Had to add Will.i.am’s new video, “It’s a New Day”, to the list.

Yuri Lane: Beatbox + Harmonica Phenom

It’s hard not to be a fan of the harmonica. From John Popper to Bob Dylan, many big name artists have popularized the instrument, but it still doesn’t get quite the attention it deserves. Have you ever seen someone play the harmonica and beatbox at the same time? We looked at beatboxing flute previously, which was interesting, but check out this guy Yuri Lane:

If you like blues, give this one a listen. Or for a dub-influenced jam, this one.

We see more and more musicians using their art as a way to communicate a message – oftentimes in the vein of political or social commentary. Some think of music as their weapon. Yuri has created a “hip hop travelogue of peace” called From Tel Aviv to Ramallah (see the promo video here) to that end. The somewhat nerdy, very approachable, and obviously talented kid is creating an interesting niche for himself.

John McCain and Sarah Palin: Music Thieves

We’ve been told at numerous points over the past couple months that John McCain and Sarah Palin are the correct people to run our country for the next four years. While I usually try to keep my political leanings out of the EvolvingMusic blog (I mean, we’re here for music, right? There’s enough politics already), I find it absolutely shocking that the McCain campaign continues a practice that is both disrespectful and illegal.

We hear them talk about “shaking up Washington,” bringing the idea of ethics back to politics, and a chance for change. We hear Palin all the time tell us that she’s going to “talk straight to the American people.” Basically, they’ve run their campaign on the idea of honesty, transparency, and a return to basics. If that’s the case, then why are they blatantly, without permission and regardless of the wishes of the musicians, using songs they have no right to use throughout their campaign?

For those of you unaware, an artist with a copyright on a song has to give permission for the song to be used. McCain’s camp has now used, without permission and frequently with strenuous objections by the performers, songs by Heart, Foo Fighters, Jackson Browne, John Mellencamp and most recently, Survivor. What’s worse is that they aren’t limiting this illegal use to just playing the songs on campaign stops… they’ve gone so far as to include a few in television ads.

What this practice demonstrates is not only a willingness to steal music from the artists, (and therefore a pre-election demonstration of how rigidly McCain wants to follow the laws of our land) but a blatant attempt to sway public opinion and perception based on the popularity of pop music. McCain is trying to make himself popular by using music that most people know and enjoy. The problem is that when the majority of the artists are against McCain and his policies and don’t want to be associated with him in any way, it amounts to a willful and heinous disregard for the wishes of other people, the legal rights they have over their own intellectual material, and an unabashed attempt to mislead voters by pulling at their musical heartstrings.

While most artists have simply spoken out and demanded the cessation of usage of the songs by the McCain camp, Jackson Browne has stood up and filed suit against McCain and the Republican Party. The problem is that even if the artists request a stop to it or file suit, the song has already been used, the damage has already been done. You can’t, as we’re often told, unring the bell. Just how many people nationwide are even aware when they heard the Foo Fighter’s “My Hero,” that the Foo Fighters would later strongly object to the use and tell McCain to knock it off? My guess is not as many as actually heard it.

Now obviously, my interest here as a writer covering music is the issue of songs being used without the permission of their owners, and what that means for the music industry, and more importantly, the artists. If a man like Jackson Browne has been making music all his life while simultaneously engaging in supporting the Democratic party, he should at least be given the right to turn down McCain’s request. But if McCain doesn’t even bother to request, it hurts the entire industry by setting a standard under which a prominent politician running for public office can get away with whatever he wants musically, until someone like Browne steps in to stop him. The public usage of music, particularly for endorsement, without the express written consent of the musician is a slippery slope that would be very dangerous to start down.

But music and copyright issues aside, let’s look at the fundamental issue here. John McCain and Sarah Palin are thieves. They are stealing other peoples’ work, using it against their wishes and using it to promote themselves. They are disregarding numerous laws in the process and establishing an atmosphere where they demonstrate their belief, as they share with the current administration, that they are above the law. You talk about speaking for the people, but here they are shouting for people that want no part of them. And the really big question you need to ask is this: if a Senator from Arizona and the Governor of Alaska are willing to so blatantly infringe on other peoples’ rights, use things that aren’t theirs for their own political gain, and actively mislead the very citizens they are supposedly “straight talking” to, what outrageous and illegal things will they be willing and capable of doing if they actually become the Executive Branch?

For Part 2 of this story, click here.


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