wake up, music industry!

take-that-sama couple of weeks ago i posted my reactions to some stuff that sam rosenthal was talking about on his projekt newsletter and facebook page.  sam graciously took the opportunity to comment on my post, and one of his main points was this:

Just because *you* buy music after nabbing it illegally, you are mistaken to assume that other people do the same thing. According to many recent surveys, the majority of college students illegally download 100% of their music. That means they don’t decide to buy the records when they realize they enjoy the band. They are happy with the MP3.

well, it’s time to burst that bubble.  according to this article in a uk digital media journal:

Adults who download music from unofficial channels also spend £30 per year more on physical and digital music than people who don’t, according to a survey by the Demos thinktank of 1,008 people aged 16 to 50.

The study – funded by Virgin Media – says a third of adults go illegal. But the additional money they spend contributes £200 million to the music economy each year.

now i’m sure you’re going to try to get me on the “the survey skirts over the vast cost of piracy to the industry” part, but the main point of the article — and what Virgin was studying — was that digital subscription sites — exactly like what i was proposing a week ago — are viable options as a deterrent to piracy, if the price is right.  and honestly, it has been proposed for a while that this could be an option for college campuses where, as sam pointed out, piracy is rampant.  it’s my opinion that if colleges were able to offer some kind of subscription service — maybe even bundled in tuition or room and board — students could download all they wanted, and not even realize that they were doing so legitimately.  they’d be happy, sam would be happy, the riaa would be happy, and whoever developed the software infrastructure to cover the service would be very happy.  this article just confirms what i’ve been saying for a while, so i just wanted to take this opportunity to say: nyah nyah, i told you so.  what the music industry needs to realize is that you need geeks.  you need us to tell you what is going on outside and how you should adapt to the changing times.  because it’s obvious that you are way behind the times.

fix the music biz by taking cues from the porn industry

playboymp3some ideas occurred to me after my recent post about the music industry, and then erin said something that i thought was not only genius, but perfectly summed up the kind of thinking that needs to happen to save the music business: if you want to figure out what people will pay for online, look at the porn industry.

now, i’m not condoning looking at porn; in general, i consider porn addiction to be similar to smoking — a seemingly innocuous habit that is just as difficult to quit, and causes numerous side-effects, mostly invisible or under-the-surface (only instead of being something somewhat quantifiable and medically recognized like second-hand smoke, the side effects are sexism, objectification, and a generally unbalanced gender appreciation — all social issues, and therefore less tangible).  in this case, however, it’s a perfect analogy.  there’s plenty of porn you can get for free.  you only need to google, turn your safe search filter off, and bam! porn.  i’ll probably get some porn spam just by saying the word porn in this post.  and yet, the online adult entertainment industry (by which i mean: porn) is one of the largest, most lucrative, and fastest growing online business industries.  it makes tons of money every day.  so much so, that no one can really, accurately tabulate exactly how much.  these guys aren’t worried about their stuff being stolen, and they aren’t telling porn addicts to please pay first before downloading their stuff.  they know that they’ve got the goods, and the people will come back for them.

let’s take a look at what’s happened to porn in the last 10 years or so. for this,  i’m gonna briefly pull out my old person voice: you kids may not remember this, but once upon a time, porn came in magazines, printed on paper, and the only way to get it was to a) creep into a bookstore and ask for the stuff behind the counter looking guilty, b) go to a sleazy corner magazine and/or liquor store and hand the trashy magazine to the clerk, looking guilty, c) slink into your parents’ closet and steal your dad’s collection, or d) go to the same sleazy corner liquor store and shove the dirty magazine under your shirt and take off — chances are, you’d only get away with that one once or twice before you’d have to switch liquor stores.  there was sort of a fifth option, too, which was find one of the newsstands that sold the cheap, $1 newsprint rags that was 80% personal ads (you know, like the craigslist adult personals, before there was such a thing) and 20% black & white, amateur-ish photos often with stars over the goods.  this was the easiest in terms of the guilt factor, but the least rewarding in terms of getting your rocks off.

when the internet exploded, the porn biz was probably one of the first industries to make the transition online.  as they did, the physical magazines took a nosedive.  why suffer the guilt and shame of having to ask a dweeby, greasy-haired nerdboy at Borders for the latest issue of Hustler when you could get the same stuff at home, and you don’t even have to get dressed?  now, it’s second nature; does anyone buy Playboy magazines anymore?  porn and the internet are as natural as peanut butter and jelly.

so let’s go back to music, how does porn apply to music?

well, one thing i was thinking about, that’s been discussed in various forms around the ‘net — and is being done in various forms already — is the idea of a paid membership site.  sort of like a netflix for music.  here’s one way it’s being used: Zune Pass lets you access thousands of songs, download unlimited music for $14.95/month (or something to that effect).  you get to keep 10 of those a month, the rest — if your membership ever expired — die or expire or self-destruct or something like that.  it’s an interesting idea.  there’s the new neil young archive, which — when it is completed — will essentially allow access to an expansive online archive of everything he’s ever recorded ever (for a hugely exorbitant price).

here’s my $0.02: think of your favorite record label — what if they put everything they ever recorded online.  everything.  including live concert videos (either professionally produced or bootlegged and uploaded by fans), b-sides, outtakes, interviews, some new, exclusive content, etc, etc, etc.  you pay a monthly fee, say $10/month, get unlimited, unrestricted access to download decent (but not perfect) quality mp3s (say 128 or 192kbps), and access to watch and listen to all the extra bonus stuff.  just for kicks, let’s suggest the possibility, too, that members get other bonuses, too, like discounts on merchandise and CDs.  now, let’s widen the perspective here: what if a bunch of indie labels went in on this together?  you get unlimited downloads of thousands of great songs, old and new, a huge online music library at your fingertips, most of which would never hit the radio, plus access to exclusive online content and goodies and discounts on real merchandise you can wear or pop into your CD player, for one low price a month.  wouldn’t you pay for that?

there would be the argument that the labels would lose money doing something like this, but i don’t think so.  with the kind of downloading that’s going on already, i think it would instead legitimize the downloading that’s already being done, putting cash back into the pockets of the people who made the music happen.  not only that, but kickbacks on actual merch would put a demand back on physical goods and possibly encourage some extra sales of disks and clothing.  the key is that the monthly cost would need to be low enough that the extras balanced out the fact that the people you’re targeting can get half of this stuff for free.

i’m not a marketing genius.  i’m not in the music business, i don’t know what it’s like to run a music label.  this is just vaporware; pipe dreams of things i wish would come true.  but there is something i do get — i get the tech.  this idea is both very possible and already being done in other industries.  it would be easier to do this with music than it would for, say, movies or television, like what netflix and hulu are doing, because the files are so much smaller and easier to stream and download.

the only way to stay ahead of the game is to think like a web 2.0 startup — use existing technologies to market and make available your product in a format that your audience is already familiar with.  people aren’t going to stop downloading just because you tell them to.  there needs to be an alternative that actually entices people to pay.  as any parent should know, negative reinforcement doesn’t work very well.  instead, reward your fans for good behavior, and they will come back to you with their wallets open.

fantasize about that.

Is Comic Sans really a bad font?


…do you even  have to ask?

i get the SitePoint newsletter, Design View.  I used to pretty much auto-delete these or filter them to my spambox but when i started using Outlook again, and was creating rules to keep my inbox clean, i decided to just filter it to the folder where all my other newsletters go.  i’ve seen people reference SitePoint occasionally and it does talk about design, so i figure it’s worth a glance every once in a while before it hits my deleted box.  i don’t remember how i was subscribed, but i’m fairly sure it was something sneaky.

today’s newletter popped in my inbox with this title in the subject line, and my immediate response was: really?  you really have to ask? i scrolled down to the bit about comic sans, because that was the part i was really interested in.  it was part of an interview with mark boulton, a designer, speaker, and kind of a big deal in the typophile world.  (i guess.  i’m not really in the typophile world, i’m more of a type-newbie.  a typo-n00b, if you will.)  here’s the comic sans quote in question (just for my own amusement, i will put the entire quote in comic sans):

“I don’t think Comic Sans is a bad typeface. Bad designers have used it, and it’s been used by non-designers who are making a design decision without having the right tools available to them. So, for example, my mum and dad might create a newsletter for their church. They want it to be friendly, so they use Comic Sans. And we see that all over the place.

It’s just been used in the wrong context so many times, because the barrier to entry is so low — no typographic schooling is needed to be able to choose it from a drop-down. People berate it for no good reason. It’s a font that’s been overused, rather than a font that’s inherently bad.”

he goes on to talk about some of the free fonts you can get on the web, which he believes the majority of which are “pretty crappy”:

“The biggest issue that I see quite a lot with free fonts is bad kerning — the distance between individual letters. For example, if you have a capital T with a lowercase r next to it, the r has to go underneath the crossbar of the T…With free fonts — because they’re free, and there’s no commercial backing behind them — then perhaps that time is reduced, and as a result the kerning is poorer.

Also, free fonts generally lack the breadth of weights available, making them counterproductive to be used commercially. Quite a lot of designers will choose a typeface in the print world, and will want a full family of fonts to be able to use throughout the design; that way they can use just one typeface and use it right across many applications. Free fonts, on the other hand, are generally only available in single weights…So that’s another issue.”

so, back to comic sans: no, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the font — by which i mean, there is nothing functionally wrong with it.  but an overused font and a bad font amount to the same thing: it doesn’t look good, you don’t want to use it.  Papyrus is a great example of a font that’s just so overused that it’s painful to look at (which is the inspiration behind Papyrus FAIL).  there’s nothing inherently wrong with the font.  the font is actually kind of cool.  but it’s been used so much that you can’t look at it without thinking of the 999,999,997 other places you’ve seen it used.  erin will walk through the grocery store — the effing grocery store — and be like: “i spy Papyrus…i spy Papyrus again…i spy Scriptina…”  As a web designer, which, by definition means that we’re forced to settle with the lowest common denominator among typefaces — choosing between a small handful of different fonts that are compatible across Windows, Mac, and *nix operating systems, and all browsers — kerning issues are the last of our problems.  i’d like to say when i download a free font that i expect it to be fully functional and perfect, but the truth is, those are the good fontographers, and they are few and far between (last soundtrack and vtks are my current favs and have been for quite a while).  kerning can be fairly easily fixed in photoshop and illustrator, and since we’re not using those fonts for copy, it doesn’t matter as much if it has to be done by hand.

so no, there may be nothing wrong with comic sans, but please don’t take that to mean that you should use it.

…oh wait, i just did.  damn.

the music industry’s last caress


sam rosenthal is a very driven man.  he’s built projekt records from the ground up, by himself, starting out as a way to release his own music as black tape for a blue girl.  he did this back in the early 80s when starting your own record label was something you didn’t do, and his record company has always moved somewhat against the grain.  since 1983 he has singlehandedly made his company successful, at lest, successful enough that he can afford a roof over his head, veggie chicken nuggets in his son’s tummy, and a few staffers.

sam rosenthal is a very opinionated man.  he often uses his monthly newsletter as a soapbox for rants about politics and music.  he’s a die-hard democrat, and lambasted us far-lefties for voting for Nader in 2000 and not Al Gore.  And you know what?  He was right.  But that was a different time — we all figured Gore was a shoe-in (no one could really vote for such a doofus like G-Dub for President, right?), and giving the Green party 3% of the vote meant they could get a real campaign fund — and a real shot — in 2004 and beyond.  In retrospect, Al Gore would have been great for our country, and given us a lead in clean energy research.  hindsight 20/20 and all…that’s behind us.  but sam doesn’t let us forget it.

sam rosenthal is a very angry man.  he’s angry at you.  yes, you.

recently, he’s stood up on his newsletter soapbox once again to talk about file sharing.  he’s talked about his thoughts on the subject before, and in the beginning, he was for filesharing services, back in the early days of napster.  i think we can all agree that things have changed a lot in the 10 years since napster got its start.  in fact, i’m going to say that the entire music industry has changed.

a couple weeks ago sam posed the following question, in big, bold writing:

If 95% of what you did for a living was stolen rather than paid for, how would you feel?

this was in response to a report by the international federation of the phonographic industry that 95% of all digital music was acquired illegally (as reported by the new york times).

it’s a bit of a gross oversimplification of the situation.

here’s how the law and concept of ownership typically works:  i have a product to sell.  you buy my product.  that product becomes yours to do with as you please.  as is often cited, the “Death of Music!” cry was first heard back in the days of cassette copying.  People won’t buy music! was the paranoid claim from the recording industry.  if the theory as applied to the current state of the music industry is the same as the basic concept of ownership, once i purchase a cd, i own it, and i can do whatever i want with it.  the reason the recording industry can’t claim royalties on used cds is based on this same concept of ownership — you purchased it, and you chose to sell it, therefore they can’t claim any additional royalties for the resale.  so, if i purchased a cd, i should have the same right to convert the audio data stored on that cd to mp3 (or other formats) and store it on my computer.  and, by the same rights as if i loaned a friend my cd — or sold it to them for that matter — i should likewise be entitled to give my friend a copy of the mp3 i just made, so they can check out this band i like so much.  this is the premise of filesharing, and it is the reason i think the whole copyright infringement for music acquired via peer-to-peer or other filesharing networks doesn’t hold water.

the recording industry wants to claim that digitizing your music — you know, the cd you just payed for — is unlawful usage.  since they sell mp3 copies of the music, if you make your own mp3 copies of your music, you are — by their claim — infringing their copyright.  that idea is ludicrous.  it’s like saying i violated a law by checking out a cd from the library.  i didn’t actually purchase the cd, so my possession of it is unlawful.  this is the reason the RIAA has failed in most of their lawsuit attempts that have gone to court, and why most of their suits are settled out of court (in fact, they tend to push the victims to settle out of court, a move which seems to imply that they know they have no claim, they just don’t want you to know that).

the problem with the filesharing model is that, chances are, these people are not my friends — they’re just random peers on the network.  people who, by the very nature of the software, are completely anonymous.  this is where it gets sticky.  because you can’t allow one usage (me giving my friend some mp3s of stuff to check out) and disallow another usage (sharing whole catalogs via BitTorrent).  a few years ago, the record industry started trying to blame the software — if it wasn’t for software like bit torrent, this wouldn’t be a problem.  but stifling software development impedes creativity and innovation.  and anyway, it’s not the software’s fault that it’s used this way.

and so, it seems, the whole issue has come to an impasse.

but recently, musicians have started to take a stand, again, against filesharing, this time appealing to our sense of decency.  and their method is by making claims like sam: you’re stealing music from innocent victims, it’s just the same as walking into best buy, picking up the latest Muse cd, and walking out with it, without paying (imagine this scenario without the lights and alarms that would sound as you walked out the door).

there’s one big problem with this argument: it’s not going to work.

10 years is a long time, and this is a whole new method that has gained momentum steadily over that time.  it’s become a part of the way we do things, and — because we value bits different from atoms (see: chris anderson’s free ) — we feel entitled.  telling people that what they’re doing is very, very bad is not going to change anything.  it may change a few people’s minds who were on the fence, and it may embed a sense of guilt when they click that download link, but it’s not going to change the movement that began 10 years ago with napster, and — if you think about it — even longer than that if you include cassette copying.

the death of the music industry didn’t happen with dub tapes.  the most that happened was that it created a community of sharing, and opened new doors for people to hear music they wouldn’t have otherwise.  cassette copies were never as good as the originals, and, when CDs came along, a far cry from the disc.  if you really wanted it, you’d spend the $15 and buy the CD, tape, or vinyl.  the same is true for mp3s — they’re never as good as the originals (although some other, lossless formats, like FLAC can be as good as the originals if you’re willing to sacrifice more hard drive space.  i tend to be opposed to FLACs because they can be a crutch to never have to buy CDs again, although, in my experience, their usage seems more specifically confined to collectors who want to back up their music collections).  but, as chris anderson has pointed out, mp3s are “good enough.” but the fact that we can’t get access to new music any other way hasn’t changed, only intensified.  as more pressure is put on the RIAA by the industry’s steady loss of sales, record labels have tried other methods to increase their revenue stream.  this includes buying up all the formerly independent radio stations, and attempting to claim royalties on internet broadcasts by pushing their case in front of politicians (the reason why pandora is constantly in a state of distress).  in effect, the music industry is compounding the problem by making it more difficult to access music other than what’s at the top of the billboard charts.  and those charts themselves are a misrepresentation, because all of those artists, now, are the ones who can afford the huge marketing push by their label to mtv, corporate radio, advertising, etc, etc, etc.  the little guys are lost in the dust.

little guys like projekt records and sam rosenthal’s band, black tape for a blue girl.  projekt has never been a huge seller, but it’s carved out a niche in the goth community, and sam has done well signing on some really great new acts in the last couple years (android lusttearwave, and mira being some of my personal favorites).  it’s no secret that record labels are bleeding all over the floor, and especially with small, independent record stores being replaced by corporate conglomerates like best buy and borders, projekt — and lots of other indie labels — are losing a major avenue for getting their music in people’s hands.  because it’s people like me, and fans of independent, underground, alternative music, who are going to go to the indie shops, and all those shops are closing their doors.  it’s much harder to find representation for your indie music in barnes and nobles — against this week’s top 10 best sellers nationwide — than it is to make some expansive shelf space in a closet-sized, dimly lit indie record store with some crazy awesome music playing on the speakers that you’ve never heard before.

so what’s the solution?  we really don’t want the indie artists to go away.  more than anything, that’s where real innovation, creativity, and art lives. (i can already hear tina turner’s voice in my head singing “we don’t need another coldplay)  but how are we going to find those artists if filesharing is bad and the radio doesn’t play those artists anyway?  are you listening, sam?  no one’s going to go to your show or buy your stuff if they don’t know who you are.  you can’t close off the only way into your music for a lot of people who may grow to become die hard fans.  and i’ll let you in on a secret, sam: android lust? i downloaded her music after reading what you wrote about her several years ago right after signing her.  i then purchased 3 albums.  mira?  ditto that, i have the whole catalog, including the ep.  emilie autumn — i know she’s not signed to projekt, but projekt distributes her music — i wouldn’t have bought opheliac if i hadn’t downloaded it first after reading about it in the projekt newsletter.  there are lots of other artists i can say this about including the dresden dolls and amanda palmer, lots of stuff released by fat possum records, i could go on.  and the fact is that i go to the shows, i hit the merch table, i buy the records.  or i find them online and buy direct from the artist or label or distributor.  the real problem is that increasingly, for a lot of would-be fans, mp3s are good enough.  that is the problem and that is the key to solving the problem.  filesharing isn’t going to go anywhere, so attacking it only makes you look like a bad guy.  what needs to happen is to shift the demand back to the atoms.  last summer, trent reznor posted on his forum some ideas of how to be a label-less, independent musician, and one of the things he suggested was limited-run, deluxe packaged cd releases.  box sets, or really awesome, deluxe, hand-numbered packaging like what dark disco club did with their latest two hearts, one blood release, which came with a neat, hand-sewn cd booklet. monetizing your music by other methods is another option.  amanda palmer has supplemented her income by doing webcasts. all over asia, artists are becoming popular through filesharing and making up the difference by selling ringtones and touring.  in south america, touring bands will send cd-rs of their music for cheap to be bootlegged and passed around to create a buzz before they come to town on tour.  ashley morgan uses a micropatronage system.  we can’t think like the old recording industry dinosaurs anymore.  the climate has changed; it’s time to change with it and come up with new and innovative ways to get your music out there.  this is an exciting time — a time when the playing field has been leveled — right now you have just about an equal chance of getting heard whether you’re on a major label or no label, and that’s what the big labels hate and are trying to fight.  killing filesharing is not the solution.  stop thinking like the big guys, sam, and start thinking like an independent again.

blog action day: climate change — taking action against climate change and getting a buzz doing it

so i love it when i sign up for these “everyone blog about such-and-such topic” deals and i have no idea what to write about.  ha.  this post is for blog action day, a thing i didn’t know anything about until i saw someone’s badge.  i’m all for these “get together and blog on a particular subject” things, and this project seems pretty cool, so check them out.  this year’s topic is: climate change.

actually, the problem with talking about climate change isn’t that i don’t know what to talk about, it’s how to choose my topic.  cuz this is a topic that i already think about.  for one, it’s my goal (our goal, really), to eventually be using 100% clean energy for our business operations at arcane palette (see: our commitment to being green).  i’m constantly on the lookout for good web hosts that use clean alternatives to power their data centers — real alternatives, not just carbon offsets.

but that’s not what i’m going to write about.  no, i’m going to write about something much less geeky (but nonetheless nerdy).  i want to write about coffee.

how can you change the world by drinking coffee?  i’ll tell you.

here’s the deal with coffee: your typical, mass-produced coffee manufacturers go to some south american country, level a whole crop of land, and plant coffee beans.  this creates consistency on a large scale by using huge equipment to harvest the crops.  companies hire laborers on the cheap, who aren’t trained to pick out quality beans for the coffee, just quantity, and as quickly as possible.  this is where you get, say, Folgers.

there are better alternatives.  no, i’m not going to say go organic, because you can have an organic coffee plantation and still be leveling the land required to farm it.  and as we all know, when you level a bunch of land — often tearing down native trees and rainforest, it affects the ecosystem.  animals are evicted from their homes, and the less trees we have, the less they are able to produce oxygen which we all need to, you know, breathe.  organic just refers to how the plants are grown and maintained, it says nothing about the environment in which they are planted, and in this case, it matters.

shade-grown coffee is a better alternative.

most of what i know about coffee growing and shade-grown coffee, i learned from my friends at caffe ibis, a small, local coffee roaster in logan, utah.  i visited them about a year ago with a couple of my friends from the Park City WF specialty department, and they told us about the coffee plantations they get their beans from.  Shade-grown is sort of a misnomer.  when you hear “shade-grown” you think of artificially planted trees or maybe some kind of big structure creating shade.  or maybe you don’t think that, but that’s what i think.  in reality, shade-grown means that they don’t do anything to the land.  no leveling.  no huge crops of identical plants.  no large equipment.  no destroying the rainforest for our morning beverage.  instead, the coffee is grown in its’ natural habitat, in lush rainforest.  the moist soil and shade from the trees, and the ecosystem of plants and animals going through their normal cycles, all create an ideal environment to grow coffee.  those huge plantations in full sun are ideal environments to grow bad coffee.  coffee naturally grows in shade, not sun, and the only reason companies like Folgers, and even Starbucks, use the huge plantations is because it’s cheaper and you can use the huge mechanical equipment to harvest the crops.  shade-grown coffee requires more manual labor.  each bean is hand-picked, which means there is more quality assurance that each bean is actually ready for picking.  caffe ibis takes pride in their beans, in the fact that a bag of their coffee has no fragments or beans unfit for roasting.

and since you don’t need to tear down the natural rainforest to grow shade-grown coffee — in fact, it’s the best location to grow coffee –shade-grown coffee is actually good for the environment.  and the birds, too.  something i haven’t mentioned yet is that many of ibis’ shade-grown coffee beans are smithsonian certified.  that means the smithsonian institute (you know, the one that studies birds) comes out and inspects the plantation, and certifies it as being bird-friendly.  not only are we not harming the environment by growing beans in shade, but we’re actually putting a value on leaving the rainforest intact, because it’s the ideal environment to grow coffee (and probably other stuff, too, for that matter).  see how i brought it all back to the environment?

caffe ibis is just one of a whole host of coffee roasters that feature shade-grown coffee, but they have been a leader in the industry for a long time, and are one of the few roasters that “triple certify” their beans (bird friendly, organic, fair trade).  that’s no small feat considering certifications are long, arduous processes that require, as much as anything else, the availability of trained certification experts in the area to conduct the evaluation.  ibis is awesome, and i don’t think so just because i have a thing for egyptian mythology (although, there’s that, too).  they’re great people with a passion for great coffee, and are real leaders in the industry.  and once you try their coffee, i promise you, you’ll never, ever go back to Peets, and may swear off Starbucks as well.

buy some ibis coffee now.  i like highland sumatra.

learn more about shade-grown coffee:

caffe ibis: smithsonian certified shade grown coffee
what is shade grown coffee?
eartheasy: shade grown coffee
shade-grown coffee plantations

this blog post was written as part of blog action day.