Posts Tagged 'DRM'

RIAA Backs Down and Out

Last month, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) admitted a massive defeat when they announced that they would no longer be pursuing individuals guilty of peer-to-peer file sharing. As they attempted to flex their corporate muscles in the dorm rooms of music lovers throughout the country, the RIAA completely ignored the fact that not only was the epidemic of file sharing actually a pandemic that they are virtually helpless to stop (and in reality could cost them more in legal fees than the fines bring in), but they also failed to take into account the fact that without significant portions of the proceeds going back to the artists, the musicians themselves wouldn’t back them. RIAA Screws Musicians, 3/18/08

Now, the RIAA, in the final throes of these legal actions, has dropped the ball once again. They claim on one hand to be for the artists, seeking revenue they have lost, but as already stated, they aren’t giving the artists any of that money. On the other hand, they claim that their actions are simply to publicize their fight against illegal file sharing. Ironic then that when the judge presiding over the latest hearing and trial brought against Boston University students stated that a live web feed of the proceedings would be allowed to be broadcast, the RIAA opposed it. If you’re seeking to strike fear into the hearts of illegal downloaders everywhere, by first announcing that you’re no longer going to be hunting them, and then actively trying to block a live video feed of the proceedings, you’re not really putting any teeth into those claims. And blocking the feed certainly doesn’t give you the publicity you were looking for.

When an entity as large as the RIAA produces a failure on the level that they have here with their pursuit of illegal downloaders, one can only laugh. They not only perpetuated the vision of them as too weak-willed to follow through on serious criminal lawsuits designed to halt illegal file sharing, but more importantly they painted the entire history of these proceedings as a joke that was never about files, never about artist revenue, and simply only about themselves. Maybe I’d have some sympathy for the failure of these suits if they were giving money to the artists or legitimately trying to work with file sharers to stop the process. But when the big bully on the playground expects you to give up your lunch money just because he’s bigger than you, I say make him make you give him that money. In the end, the RIAA, for all their posturing and face-value scare tactics, failed themselves and the musicians.

If you’d like to see just what an RIAA hearing looks like, you’re now enabled to have an inside look at the courtroom on January 22nd. But tune in… the RIAA might not have many more of these fights to wage. Click here for the Wired post and links to the video feed sites.

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Universal Backs Live Video Streams

About a year ago I examined a Wired article looking at the head of the Universal Music Group, Doug Morris, and his attempts to move against the current of technology that was slowly eroding his old-timer’s hold on music distribution. My how times have changed. Not only has UMG joined forces with the other three major labels to eradicate DRM on iTunes purchases, now they’re actively joining the swelling ranks looking for digital solutions to real-life problems.

UMG, home of artists like 50 Cent and Lil’ Wayne, is always looking for new ways to interact with fans and bring their favorite artists to them in ways that are both exciting and relevant. Because of this and the potential they see in the company, UMG has joined forces with Kyte, an emerging web start-up that is aiming to fill a niche not currently serviced by YouTube: live video streams.

UMG is hoping that this will prompt massive coverage and interest in short live broadcasts from the backstage dressing rooms, the road, clips of shows or anywhere else these artists might find themselves wanting to reach out and directly connect to fans visually. It takes away the overhead of big-budget, high quality videos that need to be processed and uploaded and replaces it with a web-based streamlined idea that brings the live video straight to the viewer.

Of course, given that these video streams are live, it could become difficult if not impossible to control the content. I’m wondering how long it’ll take for UMG to take issue with that… This could also be a shot across the bow of YouTube as the four majors actively begin renegotiating licensing agreements with Google’s video baby.

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.

MySpace Music

Social networking site MySpace jumped into the music industry recently, setting up deals with the major labels to stream free music to the users of the site. The news I read yesterday stated that in only the first week, over 1 billion songs were streamed. The commentators seem to view this as a monumental feat, despite the fact that a) they’re free, b) there’s millions and millions of users on MySpace and c) they’re instantly and readily available. In fact, the majority of the press I saw yesterday centered around the idea that this was a sort of challenge to Apple’s iTunes.

Let’s be clear. Streaming music that is paid for by advertising is not the same as music sales. The record labels may use the income from the deals to pad their sales/income numbers, but a streamed song does not a music purchase make. The purpose of the move from CD to mp3 rather than CD to stream is that people like owning their music, taking their music around with them and playing it for others. The stream is great as a form of promotion and introduction to the music, but you can’t take it with you.

This isn’t to say that I’m against streaming music in any way. Pandora is pretty genius, and I would never knock my old home, USC’s streaming radio station that can be found at KSCR. But for industry writers, who in some part can help influence the record execs that read their work, starting to compare a free streaming music service on a social networking site to the largest music retailer in Apple’s iTunes is like comparing tap water to wine. Just because it’s free and easily accessible doesn’t mean that it can trump the demand for quality and the ability to save something far into the future. Of course, if users find a way to “bottle” the stream to their music library, how interested in continued streaming would the labels be?

As for where this turns the music industry, I think the only answer everyone has for sure is that no one has any answers. The labels are still looking to make money off of solid media sales, as mentioned previously, data companies like SanDisk are looking for ways to make albums smaller and more accessible, and artists are still trying to figure out how the industry would work without them given that they only make 9.1 cents from a song royalty, but there’s no money for the labels if they don’t have the song to exploit in the first place.

So for now, we watch. I’m sure it won’t take long for MySpace to surpass 5 billion streams, but how the labels will react to that and attempt to use it to influence other sectors of the music industry will be interesting to see.

iTunes, DRM and Artist Royalties

Earlier this week, alarm bells were ringing when a quote from Apple in 2007 found its way back to the top of the news heap. That quote? That if royalties were to change to a point of being unprofitable to Apple, it would shut its iTunes store down. Now even the thought of this, among Apple and its competitors, has been brewing frightening thoughts for the consumers for a while due to the fact that virtually all the music these stores sell is DRM protected. Of course, the DRM is built into the song, so what exactly happens if the company selling the songs ends their existence? Well, it looks like the DRM for the material would expire, leaving consumers with hundreds if not thousands of “purchased” songs that will no longer play anywhere. As a music lover (and legal buyer of mp3s), this kind of news, even if it is an undeveloped thought, causes a good deal of frustration. Here the studios want consumers to pay for music, foregoing the option of downloading all the music they want illegally for free, but the copyright protection within the music means that if the retailer goes down, the files go down with it? That’s like buying a CD at Tower which is then erased when Tower goes out of business (you all do still remember Tower, don’t you?)

So what can we do about it when the very mechanism that has allowed music labels to go digital, and therefore the infrastructure that controls all of our legal downloads, is compromised by companies willing to close their DRMs? Unfortunately, not much. Short of burning all of your DRM tracks to a CD and then re-ripping them to mp3s to strip of them of their DRM (and some sound quality in the process), if a store goes down and discontinues its DRM licensing, all the tracks you’ve bought could die on your iPod. This to me seems like the ultimate Trojan horse of the music industry…we don’t want you to have mp3s, but if you do, we’ll create a way so that once they’re in your music library, should the stores you bought them from close, we’ll demolish your entire music collection from the inside.

I understand the purpose of DRM, but unfortunately its just not a viable business model if there are ways to stop the music playback at any point after the purchase. The point of buying music is that you have it forever. All the CDs I bought are still mine and will be mine for as long as I manage not to lose or damage them. The idea that you could buy a song which at some point in the future becomes unusable is, to me at least, outrageous.

The reason that all of this has come about this week is because the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) was weighing a decision to raise the artist royalties on digital downloads from 9.1 cents per song to 15 cents a song. From what I can ascertain from the article announcing the steady royalty fees, a .99 cent iTunes song is sold like this…

1) Apple sells the song for .99. 2) Apple keeps .29. 3) Apple gives .70 to the record label. 4) Record label gives the artist 9.1 cents, keeping 60.9 cents. I don’t know about you, but even at 9 cents a song, it seems like the labels and iTunes are getting over on the artist. Are we really supposed to believe that the iTunes store deserves to keep almost three times as much money for a song it sells than the artist receives?

What this scare does do is make it painfully obvious that the record labels and online music stores need to create a way and find a method to allow consumers to legally retain their music, no matter what happens to the store you buy it from. Should royalty rights eventually be raised in favor of the artist, it would be a travesty for Apple to claim it can no longer operate iTunes profitably (with the number of sales they have per year and the fact that they’re getting money just to be a middle man, it would be very hard for me to accept the idea that they aren’t profitable), disable the DRMs and leave music consumers with a bunch of dead and unusable files. Apple needs to show a little more foresight and decency when it comes to wolf cries of lost profits with a change from 9.1 to 15 cents of royalty. This could have been Apple simply playing politics in order to protect its profit margin, but even then the greed factor, given what the artists out there are making, comes into play.

For now (the CRB’s decision lasts 5 years), it appears we can rest easy. But it makes it clear that more thorough examinations of the digital music sales industry, DRM technology and what the rules and technology mean to consumers are necessary and should not be ignored.

Immortal Technique: The 3rd World Release Date

3rd World Art
{Editor’s Note: I’ve now heard three tracks off this album. You can check out my review of those here.}
{Editor’s Note 2: I’ve now heard the entire album, and the entire review can be found here.}
(Click here for Evolving Music’s exclusive interview with Immortal Technique)
It’s been the talk over here for a few months, but we’ve finally been treated to actual factual information concerning the upcoming Immortal Technique release The 3rd World. Revolutionary Vol. 2, Tech’s 2nd album, has been in circulation for 5 years now without a follow-up, and the buzz for his next album indicated that it would be something along the lines of a mix-tape format with tracks produced by Jay-Z’s DJ Green Lantern. Apparently though, fans waiting for something thrown together along the mix-tape lines will have to readjust their expectations in light of what has become a fully fledged concept studio album by the two intent on examining the underground hip-hop scene battling the major studio labels in the analogy of 3rd World countries against the economic powerhouses. I’m also fairly certain that we’ll be hearing a continuation of the other political ideals Tech is known for throughout the album.

I say this is a concept of marketing and lyrical attack that MixMatchMusic and us folks over here at Evolving Music can get behind. Long known for his revolutionary ideals and viciously direct lyrics, Immortal Technique has been a symbol of the growing war being waged on record distribution lines by major corporations and independent artists. He has remained fiercely independent in order to protect the integrity of his message from being tampered with by commercial interests. The result has been two full studio albums that examine poverty, economic and racial disparity, the various US “wars” on terrorism and drugs, and scathing attacks on the current state of our political system. With the war for the music consumer and methods of distribution heating up in the past 8 months with the media permeating success of Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV, a statement of underground strength on the level Immortal Technique is capable of is one that should be watched with interest.

Furthermore, the press release leads me to believe that there will be no attempt to tone down his message or alter his ideals here. Immortal Technique remains one of the most ideologically grounded rappers in the business, and with the premiere backing of Green Lantern, this album is sure to keep your head nodding. Here’s the track listing, straight from the publicity in Tech’s camp. Be on the lookout for an Immortal Technique interview in the next week here on Evolving Music and listen for the album to drop on June 24th.

1. Death March (featuring Dj Green Lantern)
2. That’s What It Is
3. Golpe De Estado (featuring Veneno & Temperamento)
4. Harlem Renaissance
5. Lick Shots (featuring Chino XL, Crooked I)
6. Interlude
7. The 3rd World
8. Hollywood Driveby (featuring Psycho Realm & Street Platoon)
9. Watchout (RMX)
10. Reverse Pimpology (featuring Mojo)
11. Open Your Eyes
12. The Payback (featuring Diabolic & RasKass)
13. Adios Uncle Tom-Skit
14. Stronghold Grip (featuring Poison Pen & Swave Sevah)
15. Mistakes
16. Out on Parole
17. Crimes of the Heart (featuring Maya Azucena)
***Bonus track (R.O.T.C. featuring J.Arch & Da Circle)

Ghosts I-IV

Creating Ghosts I-IVCreating Ghosts I-IV

When Radiohead released In Rainbows using the pay what you will download format, it was announced that Trent Reznor of NIN would be releasing something similar for his next album. And so he has, releasing the 36 track Ghosts I-IV album. While Radiohead went simple and released the tracks in a basic “name your price” style, with a physical CD following, Reznor has upped the ante with a multi-tiered release of his album last week. To date, he has realized $1.6 million in orders and over 780,000 transactions.  The method of release, the depth of the material and the options for the listener of Ghosts make the release of In Rainbows look like a half-hearted marketing ploy, even if Radiohead’s initial intention was otherwise.

Ghosts I-IV is not just available as an MP3 download, nor is it, as Radiohead’s was, available for free. What Reznor has done is to release various formats of the album for different prices. At the low range, you can get the first 9/36 tracks for free download. After that, it will only cost you a mere 5 dollars to get all 36 tracks in one of 3 of your choice downloads (Apple Lossless, MP3 or Flac Lossless). All these tracks are DRM free and come with a 40 page PDF booklet as well as various digital goodies like wallpaper. If 5 bucks is too cheap for you, you can bump to 10 and not only be given access to the 36 tracks immediately, but you will also receive a 2 disc hard copy sometime in early April.

For the heavy NIN fan, you can order the $75 deluxe edition, which includes “Ghosts I-IV in a hardcover fabric slipcase containing: 2 audio CDs, 1 data DVD with all 36 tracks in multi-track format, and a Blu-ray disc with Ghosts I-IV in high-definition 96/24 stereo and accompanying slideshow.” Finally, for the audiophile/obsessive in all of us,$300 bucks will get you a limited edition (2500) package, which has already sold out.

While Radiohead routinely operates far outside the typical paradigm for musicians and music distribution, Nine Inch Nails has always followed a more typical release path and popular appeal. Because of this, the marketing, structuring and release of Ghosts trumps that of the In Rainbows release, as Reznor performs the release with a greater eye to packaging and multiple options for the consumer. While you can get 9 free tracks, the majority of fans will have no problem shelling out 5 bucks for 36 of them. This offers Reznor the opportunity to record more profit from the sales, as well as provide more accurate statistics when it comes to breaking down who bought what, and how much consumers were willing to pay for his work.  Reznor, following this release, has called Radiohead’s release of “In Rainbows” as more “gimmick” than consumer gift, and “insincere” due to the fact that there was no album art, the sound quality was downgraded and the main mode of sales has now transferred to a typical label release album.

What’s more is that Reznor has opened up the experience of the album to everyone. Billed as a series of soundscapes to be imagined with various land and cityscapes, Ghosts is a completely instrumental album of various tempos and moods. It covers just about every style NIN fans will recognize from all of his albums, with airy and spacious piano laced tracks to songs that drive from the electronic noise, drums and synths. I’m not going to actively review the 36 tracks here other than to say that they range from instrumental NIN tracks that could be found on any previous album to songs that are reminiscent of Aphex Twin‘s Selected Ambient Works series.

And here’s where the mix and match element of this concept album really gets exciting…Reznor has invited listeners to create their own videos and post them to YouTube to be evaluated and have the winners presented a few months from now. He’s left song titles off to allow an even blanker canvas for people wanting to make movies to them, and the posting and selection will culminate in a virtual “film festival” of the winners. Now not only has he allowed the consumer to dictate the distribution of his work, but he has created a forum for direct creative interaction.

The fact that the method here has been so well received by consumers, as well as profitable for NIN, leads one to believe that his is but the first in what will become a great series of multi-tiered, optional music purchases that allow far greater interaction with the band and music than ever before. While Radiohead may have opened the door for this kind of idea, Reznor’s dedication to taking the experience a step further for the end listener is a model that will be interesting to follow in the months and years to come.


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