Lady Gaga doesn’t care if you steal her stuff as long as you go to her shows

I’m blissfully out of touch with most of what could be considered modern “pop” music, so I have very little opinion about Lady Gaga, per se, other than the fact that she seems a bit like an insane, overblown hybrid of Madonna and Britney Spears at their peaks.  That said, she says some things about being a recording artist that, ahem, I’ve said myself on this blog.  In fact, it’s something I often get on my soapbox about.  In a recent article, Lady Gaga talks a bit about why she doesn’t have a problem with people stealing her music:

“I hate big acts that just throw an album out against the wall, like ‘BUY IT! F YOU!’ It’s mean to fans. You should go out and tour it to your fans in India, Japan, the UK. I don’t believe in how the music industry is today. I believe in how it was in 1982.”

She explains she doesn’t mind about people downloading her music for free, “because you know how much you can earn off touring, right? Big artists can make anywhere from $40 million [£28 million] for one cycle of two years’ touring. Giant artists make upwards of $100 million. Make music – then tour. It’s just the way it is today.”

Come party with Lady Gaga – Times Online via @isohunt

If you’re on Facebook, you can check out the discussion here.

fighting music piracy one rapidshare file at a time

sam rosenthal, of projekt records, is back on his piracy soapbox again.  he is asking each and every one of you to do your part to help stop piracy.  he breaks the world down into two camps: camp a says: “Music should be free, fuck you for thinking I should pay for your music.”  camp a is apparently the belligerent asshole camp.  camp b says: “I want to support the music I love, because I want you to keep making it.”  camp b is apparently the wishful thinking camp.

once again, sam is hurting the debate by oversimplifying the issue.  i refuse to believe that there are only two types of music listeners in the world — those that say “fuck you music should be free” and those that say “please let me give you more money so you can play for me.”  it would be awesome if the world was so binary — it would make the debate much easier to handle and deal with.  it would make the bad guys bad and the good guys good.  unfortunately, there really is no such thing as a black and white issue.

but, i’m not even going to necessarily get into that, because the truth is — regardless of whether the world fits into neat categories like sam suggests or not — he has a point: musicians need to get paid.  if they don’t, they will stop making music.  and that does nothing to fight the crappy state of popular music, where our choices are spoon-fed to us, and it’s increasingly difficult to find music outside the box of corporate sponsorship.  a system needs to be devised where the people who want the music can get it, and the people who make the music get paid.  back in the days of linear distribution and supply chains, that was easy: you make a record, you press it to vinyl, it gets sent to a distributor, who feeds it to record stores, where people buy it.  even when recordable cassettes came along, the supply chain remained more or less intact.  all that changes when the music is converted from atoms to bits; bits that can be duplicated onto your ipod, your friends’ ipod, your friends’ roommate’s ipod, your friends’ roommates’ ex-girlfriend’s laptop, etc, etc, etc.

sam describes three ways that music is traded illegally:

  1. russian mp3 stores that give the illusion of being legit because the have a real checkout process,
  2. bit torrent sites, and
  3. rapidsharemegaupload, and similar third-party file sharing/hosting sites.

sam says he can’t do anything about the russian sites, and they go largely unnoticed (or out of the jurisdiction) of organizations like the riaa.  he, likewise, considers torrent sites a lost cause for pulling down illegal content (more on this in a sec).  so, the solution to fighting online music piracy is: issue dmca complains against any and every rapidshare/megauploaded file you can.

wait.  what?

first of all, i disagree that torrent sites are entirely a lost cause.  i’d be willing to bet that the majority of music files traded illicitly on the internet happens across torrent networks.  back in the good old days, if The Pirate Bay got a takedown request, they’d laugh in your face.  but The Pirate Bay is no more, and whether they like it or not, their departure sets a major precedent in what can and can’t fly in today’s file-sharing.  the new heir to the throne as the most popular/widely used torrent site is isoHunt, which isn’t a torrent site, per se: it’s a search engine, pulling results from a variety of different source torrent sites.  as such, different rules apply.  but what’s also different about isoHunt is that they actually respond to takedown notices if a copyright owner issues them.  therefore, it’s not fair to say that there’s no chance of getting infringing material pulled off of torrent sites.  sure, getting the results removed from isoHunt is different than getting the files removed from their hosting torrent sharing networks, but if isoHunt has the most traffic of any single bit torrent site since The Pirate Bay, pulling it down from there would go pretty far.

even that, though, barely addresses the issue.  issuing dmca complaints (or bribing your minions to issue dmca complaints for you) is a band-aid solution to the problem.  it’s a feeble attempt to staunch the bleeding.  and it’s the same approach the major labels have been taking since the beginning of napster, and they are still no closer to “fixing” the problem than they were then — on the contrary, file sharing has proliferated.  it’s not an insane notion to consider that the kids entering college next year might not even realize or think about the fact that what they are doing is in the least bit wrong — it’s just what’s done, it’s how music is acquired.  whether or not that’s a “fuck you for telling me i need to pay for it”, the real challenge is to persuade those listeners to pay for what they’ve downloaded — or find some other gateway to a purchase — rather than alienating them more by saying “what you are doing is wrong.”  reprimanding your audience is not the way to get more sales.

maybe sam is right.  maybe putting your music out there for free and asking your audience to kindly pay if they feel like it really only works for established acts like nine inch nails and radiohead.  but that doesn’t mean it’s an entirely wrong approach.  the fact remains — and it always will be the same — that the music is there if you want to get it bad enough; pulling down one illegal copy of 10 neurotics will only prompt two or three more to show up in its place.  i still maintain that the music industry needs to take a freemium approach to selling music — give away a limited or restricted version of your product for free (say, the full album in 128kbps mp3 files), and grant access to premium content for purchasers or subscribers.  i may not be chris anderson, but i know that his own experiment in freemium still managed to get him a national bestseller.  and despite the fact that the copyright laws in canada are more lax when it comes to file sharing, their digital music sales are actually increasing, rather than decreasing like everywhere else.

now i know sam is going to lambast me for expressing my opinion on my personal blog, in a forgotten corner of the internet that no one will read anyway, rather than on his facebook page where i can get flamed by project artists and die hards appropriately.  and that’s just the thing — people aren’t likely to do what you want them to do just because you want them to do it.  and just because you said “pretty please don’t steal my shit — if you really loved me you wouldn’t steal my shit” doesn’t necessarily make anyone less inclined to steal your shit if that’s what they are going to do.  pulling your shit down so they can’t steal it won’t even stop them from stealing it, if they are determined enough.  so attacking piracy one file at a time is kind of like trying to put out a raging fire with squirt guns.  i guess if it helps you sleep better at night to know that people are out there trying to pull your stuff off of those two sites, well, good for you.  but it’s not going to fix anything, and it’s certainly not any form of fight against piracy.

the truth is that the days of the record label are, largely, coming to an end, as more and more independent musicians are able to market and distribute their music themselves and make more profit from it.  eventually, if you aren’t making a pop40 record, you won’t have any need for a label — if you even need one now.  and maybe that’s why sam’s approach to music piracy so closely resembles that of the major labels — attacking the symptom rather than the problem.  i hope sam’s scrappy little independent darkwave label in new york — and every other indie label/distributor out there (kill rock starssub popmetropolisfat possum, etc, etc, etc) — makes it through these growing pains as we move from the dark ages of music production to a full-fledged renaissance, with or without indie or major label help.  i really do.  but i think it’s a good thing that projekt.com isn’t just a record label, but also acts as a distributor and online music store providing access to some really awesome, obscure music.  because, as i see it, labels and distributors will eventually become the same thing as many artists choose to sell their record themselves on itunes or bandcamp, and promote it on twittermyspace, and facebook.

don’t get me wrong, i’m not heralding the death of the indie label — i think that indie labels will become like artisan food makers: sure you can get the same basic food elements at a fraction of the cost at any old supermarket, but the specialty stuff, the limited run, handmade stuff is so much better.  it’s worth it to take the time to track down the obscure stuff, the local producers.  and an essential part of specialty, artisan foods?  free samples.  hell, even the traditional drug pusher knows that the first taste is free — if you can get them hooked on the first freebie, they’ll be coming back for a long time to come.

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.

the music industry’s last caress

[audio:LastCaress.mp3]

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.