The Divide Part I

A few weeks back I had a conversation with a friend of mine. He is something of a rarity these days; he is a professional musician. And like all musicians everywhere he has an album in progress (even I have an album in progress and I’m just a dilettante rather than a musician).

So there I was waxing lyrical about how he should start pre-marketing the alleged album by maybe creating a blog, talking about the writing/recording process, maybe putting up a couple of samples so the punters could hear what it was going to sound like. All of this sounded like a good strategy to me. So I got the shock of my life when after a small think (and it was a very small think) he said “NO!”.
My first thought was “OK, it’s a time thing or maybe it’s a technology thing? We can deal with this”.
My next thought was “OK, it’s a … it’s a… Why the hell wouldn’t you?”

The answer gentle reader was that “people might steal my ideas”. Oh shit it’s the Metallica argument again. You know the one “ALL THE PUNTERS ARE THIEVES”.

My friend was of the opinion that if he put samples of his work up on the web, people would hear the music and steal the ideas that have taken years of his life to come up with. OK, I grant you, it’s a fair enough fear. But isn’t that selling your talent awfully short? If someone can come along and after a couple of listens, ri­p you off, was it all that tricky in the first place?

Now this isn’t the first time I have run into this kind of thinking with creative people. A few years back another friend, strangely enough also a musician, had this great idea about forming a “co-operative” with a bunch of other independent musicians and bands. One website, one set of e-commerce costs, shared hosting costs, everyone with their own web page, a gig guide for all the bands. Split the bills. How could it not work?

The answer came broken up into three groups.
Group One: Cool idea. I’m in. It’s your shout. Only a very small group.
Group Two: What’s a website? A much smaller group (thankfully).
Group Three: You’re trying to rip me off, go and die capitalist running dog trash or words to that effect. By far the out and out winner. The biggest response.

Needless to say the idea got put on the backburner and he went back to working on his album (he’s a muso; of course he had an album in progress). All this leads me to suspect that, as I stated earlier, I am not a musician anymore (not that I was ever going to worry Al DiMeola or Bruce Springsteen with my abilities), I don’t think like one anymore.

My problem is that I see the Internet as the best opportunity for getting the things that I make and find interesting out into the world and in front of an audience. As you will see from the months of stuff sitting on the blog, if I find stuff that might be interesting, I share it. I may think about some of it for a week or two, some of it may only appeal or make sense to only two people but I still put it up. It’s only bandwidth. It’s not like I have to spend a ton of money to publish it (I do spend a ridiculous amount of money on bandwidth which is why I have PRETENTIA.COM but that’s another story). The Internet potentially gives me the same amount of visibilty as Sony.

This might be a good time to talk about dichotomies, or rather one in particular?

The world of music in Melbourne (although it’s a universal thing) as it WAS as opposed to the World as it IS now.

In the “good old days” you and a few mates went out, formed a band did some rehearsal,
got a few gigs (mostly you didn’t get paid), oh look giving your music away for free.
got discovered,
got a recording contract, otherwise known as indentured slavery.
got to record a cd,
got to do about a million live gigs supporting the album,
got to number one in the charts,
got to go oversea’s,
got to do another million live gigs supporting the album,
got fame,
oh yeah you also got debt, lots and lots of debt. and this is basically the myth that all the Idol programs perpetuate.

What really happens next is, after all of that, you got back to Australia, and you were payed about $5000 if you were lucky. What you really got was shafted.

The whole thing revolved around little round bits of plastic (here after referred to as LRBP’s) and it turned out the record company owned them. Not you. Ask Switchfoot or Coldplay.

Now how it all works is that despite the RIAA luddites best efforts, the world now revolves around bits of data called generically MP3’s.

*The new paradigm: Sharing is “viral” and Online is “free”.*

Don’t believe me? Try this, open your email and see how many messages are “You have to see/hear/download this”. Those are just the ones from your friends. “Cute Powerpoints:, flash animations, the latest George Bush is an idiot picture, and of course there are the “Listen to this great song” messages. You get one of these “presents”, you have a laugh and send it on to all your friends. Who do the same to their friends, and after applying the “six degrees of seperation” it comes back to you a dozen more times. It sounds viral to me.

So. Sharing is the new paradigm.

The internet was built to share information, Lists, Blogs, Open Source Software, Email, Chat all these exist to share knowledge and information, not sell viagra or CD’s.

Lets have a little chat a bit about MP3’s. Legislation and lawsuits are putting a ding in the figures but some researchers put the number of downloads at around 500 million a week.
Back in June 2005, Apple celebrated their 500 millionth download. It had taken just a bit over two years to legally sell 500 million songs.

p2pnet has been collecting data compiled by Big Champagne, the American research company which specializes in gathering data on file sharing.

In August, 2003, in the US, on average, 2,630,960 people were simultaneously logged onto p2p networks at any given time. Globally, the number was approximately 3,847,565.

A year later for the same months, the numbers were 4,549,801 and 6,822,312 respectively.

And for August, 2005, Big Champagne statistics show 6,871,308 people were logged onto the networks at the same time in the US, with 9,620,261 individuals checking in around the world. All those people every minute of the day and night, all downloading MP3’s.

I think we can all agree that this is a lot of lawsuits, even allowing for the repeat trade. I also think it’s safe to say that no one is going to put the genie back in the bottle. As an aside; Since September 2003, the record industry has filed more than 13,000 lawsuits accusing people of illegally trading in copyrighted music. Nearly 3,000 of the suits have been resolved, with average settlements near $5,000. None of the cases have gone to court. So technically they haven’t yet proven their case in a court of law.

If we agree that the problem isn’t going to go away, then the question becomes how can we make it work for us.

*The inherent Fallacy of LRBP’s *

Musicians don’t want to give their music away so they choose not to put it up on the web. They choose to only sell CD’s.

Problem No. 1: How does the audience get to hear it? A: Radio (not in this town sunshine) B: Record Shop.

OK, lets have a look at option B, How does the record shop get the LRBP?

The LRBP are heavy in bulk, so moving these things around the countryside costs serious money. Have you seen the price of petrol recently? But short of a truckjack this looks secure, so we’ll assume you have managed to pry a distribution contract out of the record companies or distribution firms.

The distributors take 25%-35% (a median sort of figure). The shops are going to take another third and that’s on sale or return. It’s cheaper to throw your album in the $10 bin than to pay to have it sent back to you if it doesn’t sell.

Your LRBP is now all over the country in Sanity stores as far as the eye can see. It’s time to kick back and watch the loot roll in.

Not so fast, who knows it’s there? Basically no one. So how are you going to let everyone know that it’s there. Advertise?

Ok, we have options, print, radio (hmm. they won’t play it but they will take your money to advertise it), billboards, oooh here’s an idea how about the internet? No! no internet (it was worth a try).

OK so in Australia your only option is to tour and play every small pub and place you can. It takes about two years and costs a fortune. The upside is that you can sell direct to your fans after the show. The local record shops are going to love you for that.

Now here’s the kicker; the minute you sell ONE CD the integrity of your nice secure system vanishes down the toilet. Some one will make a copy for a mate, burn a “pirate cd” and his mate will burn a copy and before you know it, your music will be all over the internet. Out in the wild and beyond your control.

So now you go all ‘Metallica’ and slap DRM ( digital rights management) and anti copy software all over your CD (Hi Sony) and all it does is really annoy the people who actually paid for the CD and can’t listen to it in their car or on their walkman or their PC. Your cred as a musician is heading into negative numbers at a great rate. You are no longer a musician either, you are now a member of a bean counting SWAT team.

Let me try and illustrate a point. There is a “radio” show on the internet called The Mists Of Avalon. Every week Walt Haake broadcasts his show from WDVR-FM, a listener-supported community radio station in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys in New Jersey and Pennsylvania on Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern Time (USA). OK so having a quick look at Google Maps he is covering an area about the size of Melbourne. Now every week as soon as the show is finished Walt puts a copy of it up on the web in “Real Audio” format and after about three months it falls off.

Jools and I listen to this show every week and using the playlists we compile a list of artists and tracks. We then go down to Basement Records and order all the CD’s that their distributors can find and then it’s back home and on to the net to find all the independent artists.

Mists of Avalon has fabulously detailed playlists, with the artist names, track titles, label, websites; basically everything you need to find a song that you have heard and inevitably fallen in love with. The Celtic, Medieval, Renaissance and folk music heard on The Mists of Avalon aren’t exactly the stuff of Top 40 radio, let alone public broadcasting.

This is the way that radio used to work, before structured playlists, national networked stations, demographics and all the rest. But there is no going back and Public Radio only reaches your hometown borders.

Without Mists of Avalon on the internet, the recording industry would have missed out on a bunch of money as we tracked down the artists we had heard. Kate Rusby, Cantiga, El McMeem, Old Blind Dog, the Poozies and the list goes on and on and on. Some of these people are signed by major labels, some are independents. All are amazing. Now multiply Jools and I by lots and lots and lots.

There are hundreds if not thousands of these radio stations out on the net and most are run by people who care passionately about the music. And a lot of the Independent artists offer samples of their wares on the websites, more than don’t.


So what is the point of all of this… a good question? I am not really sure myself. I think the big point is that there are hundreds if not thousands of musicians in Australia ( god knows how many in the world) and if you look at the “charts” in any given year “TENS” of band are added to the record company rosters and actually get a contract and radio support (and needless to say ripped off). I think the odds of “being bigger than God” (it was the 25th anniversary of John Lennon passing on when I started writing this) are way bigger than winning the lottery.

So musicians need to get smarter at the game. If the rules still stink even after being hosed down in new car smell, change them. I think (hope) we are seeing the death throes of the current formula. Maybe the answer is go back to making music for fun, record it at home/gigs, put it up on the web and just maybe the whole Creative Commons movement will take off ( it’s sort of trying out it’s wings at the moment trying to figure out how to fly) and create an audience for bands that you DON’T hear on American Idol or the car radio and maybe pigs will fly instead.

There is an audience out there. There are musicians out there. Lets get it together without the likes of Sony and all the rest.

Here ends Part 1


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