Wednesday, August 30, 2006

what we gotta say / power to the people / no delay

My friend Rowan (who used to be in The Dabs..their website is here, and their Love The Army EP is one of those gems that the history of New Zealand music is littered with….have I ever mentioned Peter Solomon’s single on Pagan or the self titled Obscure Desire single on the same label?) sent me, this morning, this very interesting story in an online geek magazine.

Without asking you to read through the whole thing, the essence of it is that Universal Music are planning to put their catalogue online later this year, and here is the clincher, free, supported by advertising at a site, to be launched, called oddly, SpiralFrog.

Apart from the fact that this concept, with one swoop, blasts iTunes, and, despite what the story says, hopefully, DRM, out of the water (and a whole bunch of other sites too of course), it indicates that, perhaps, just perhaps, the penny has finally dropped.

Of course it remains to be seen if the business plan that has clearly attracted both investors and UMG, has legs…..and the fact that it has attracted both is no indication it has…and there are royalty issues that will have to be worked through, not the least of which are some of the punitive clauses in contacts relating to miscellaneous income and digital returns. However, regardless of the model, those issues will have to be worked out at some stage too. I suspect the increasing move away from major labels is doing that in a de-facto way already. But I guess the idea is that free music will automatically gain a massively larger audience than the pay for stuff and that there will be simply more to go around if the increase is reflected in advertising revenues. And some income is vastly better than the potential for a nil return.

It’s a reasonably obvious model and makes so much more sense than the relentless threats to the end user that the likes of RIAA and NZ’s own RIANZ have tried and so obviously failed with. There is increasing (anecdotal and real) evidence that the lawsuits and threats of such have, rather than solve a problem, aggravated it. The music industry must be the only one in history that thinks that by treating it’s customers as potential felons, it is making a sensible step forward. You can mutter about the law and artist rights as much as you like, but when you generate that much negative energy it must come back at you eventually.

It just took someone major to make the leap away from that, and Universal seem to be the one who’ve jumped. I have to wonder too, if the timing of this has anything to do with the word Zune

The irony for Universal though, is that, although this is a clear, and some would say, brave, attempt to preserve their future, it doesn’t make major record companies like them any more viable or necessary in the future. It does, in the way that it will greatly accelerate the digital rush and the demise of the record shop, make them less relevant than ever. Unless of course you are the likes of Mariah Carey or Bob Dylan, who couldn’t and wouldn’t want to, exist outside the systems the majors offer.

And talking of Bob Dylan, I can’t believe the garbage being spouted by critics in the rush to praise his latest.

I don’t know if it’s a good or a great record, but to listen to the critics out there, it’s the second coming….hasn’t Bob already been there for that?

All I know is that regardless of how good it is, it ain’t no Blonde on Blonde….get over it please…

the next day:

I did a search on Spiralfrog before I wrote the above and there was little else out there. In the 24 hours since, the information about it has appeared everywhere and more is known about exactly how they are going to "give" these tracks away. The concept of having to watch an ad before you get a track (WMA too) for a limited time is absolutely flawed. But, that said, what is on offer is still substantially more attractive to a kid wanting a song they've just heard on the radio than tu-tuing around on Limewire or paying on iTunes. People forget the 45 (or ringtone in 2006 terms) factor...that a massive amount of pop music is ultimately disposable and has no requirement beyond a week or two. I can't help but feeling that many of the critcisms of this concept ignore this timeless driving factor, and are written from the perpective of an older customer. The post David Geffen (it was all his fault...that and Sgt Pepper) consumer who still sees the "album" or the "cd" as the core delivery unit of the industry.

But to me the real signifigance of this is the slight change in the mindset of the record company. There is and has to be a better way forward. And suing the end user is not it and won't make the this genie jump back into the bottle.

As I've said elsewhere, what we are faced with now is the biggest revolution in how we listen to music since the shellac disc, 100 years ago, demolished the traditional domain of the music publisher. And record companies are notoriously conservative, they don't like change unless they instigate it. But the nature of music and the people creating it reapeatedly throws wild cards into the mix. This is the biggest wild card of my lifetime. The future is there, and its obvious, but its about the way we get there.

But however its done, the majors will have to be forced to change, and my feeling is that the p2p sites (who are massively more relevant to this than iTunes, which is more or less an aside to this argument) and the 40 to 1 ratio of illegal to legal downloads, ie, the consumng public, are the ones driving it.

And the record companies are the followers, but follow they must...


pollywog said...

fuck ads...

...I don't give a crap if almighty God made the beat and Jesus Christ himself is rapping on it. If i have to sit through an ad to hear it, it's not worth it

Hell, I change the station on the radio(whenever I bother to listen), turn the volume down on the telly, don't buy glossy music mags and avoid popups where possible on the puter so why the fuck would I voluntarily submit my self to shitty ads for a tune...

here's a nice take on it...

...oh and pardon my french :)

Dubber said...

Perhaps it's the cynic in me, but I'm calling bullshit on SpiralFrog. Apart from taking the notion of DRM to whole new depths, it's pretty much vapourware at the moment. Like Mashboxx and - to a lesser extent - Qtrax.

Believe it when I see it - and even then, I'm not biting. Like 84% of portable digital audio device owners in the UK, mine's an iPod. WMA's about as good to me as 5" floppy disk.

And then there's the whole 'watch an ad, download track 1; watch another ad, download track 2' thing going on...

Me and my Wireless blog reckon the Emperor has no clothes.

Simon said...

I actually agree with the both of you but you miss my point, the floodgates are poentially opened. It has nothing to do with this particular service but the reality is that in the longer term there seems to be some awakening to the fact that the customer bashing isn't going to work.

And, Andrew, the iPod now has less than 50% in Germany and France, and in most of Asia the dominance is well and truly over. Even in the US, its market share is predicted to slip rather dramaticlly. Things change quickly...remember Netscape and Word Perfect

Bob Daktari said...

I guess even dinosaurs must sometimes take a step forward

Universal are all but admitting that their music has no value, is this not the case here?

The consumer cares little about copywrite, publishing deals nor revenue streams, yet they may not like Ronald Mcdonald joing them as they download the latest pop hit... or maybe they won't care

the flood gates are slowly being cast aside and we're still some way off the perfect consumer driven model - p2p is great for those with the time and inclination but is still not easy enough for those who want a super quick fix of throwaway pop.... or maybe thats just my experience of NZ broadband tainting my view

Anonymous said...

I sent Simon that article before I had a chance to find out more about the way SpiralFrog were going to allow access to the music. Seems they will build into the WMA files some DRM that requires the user to log back into the SpiralFrog site to re-validate the music files on a monthly basis. Based on that I don't think the take up rate will as much as I first thought. I certainly couldn't be bothered having to logon every month ....

However, as Simon points out, this is definitely a step in the right direction for record companies, but really what other choice do they have? Pursuing the mug punter for downloading tunes that will probably only be listened to for a few weeks is a one-way street to nowhere. So, they have to find some other form of revenue from the music, their IP, as the carrot on the stick.

Of course the artist suffers from the giving away of his/her work for free, but that was always the case, read any record contract to see who gets the lion's share of the profits ... still, radioplay and performance royalties do go to the composer and performers so that should count, especially if you get a little fame.

Maybe APRA will start policing downloads and try and collect royalties from these "legal" download sites? Does anyone know if they are doing that now with iTunes?


pollywog said...

from the looks of it it only applies to the back catalogues of universal...

...which they own exclusive rights to and so are probably already covered in existing form with regards to apra

ie a percentage of advertising revenue for the month will go to the appropriate acency and a pittance paid out to the artist according to the number of downloads they have...

...I'd imagine they will still pursue traditional mediums of delivery with new artists in the short term then flick it over to spiral frog once it's passed it's half shelf life

I can see the possibility of some artists suing to not to have their stuff given away as any contract written before the digital distribution age might not cover universals arse in that it could only apply to vinyl and CD duplication/replication and maybe only in certain territories...

...I don't see how apra/rianz/ppnz think thay have rights to anyones music and can collect percentages of broadcasting/advertising on your behalf if you don't register with them but they do, if your stuff is still getting played out and as far as i know they have no rights for digital broadcasting which is why podcasting is so rampant and sites like myspace are out of their jusrisdiction

I'm going to suggest an arts program like 'front seat' investigate and de-mystify the whole copyright collection thing in the digital age cos I doubt that they would voluntarily submit to independent scrutiny and IMNZ certainly won't do it now that it's getting funded by the music industry commision so is basically locked into not biting the hand that feeds it...

...the mantra is and always has been MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO

so let's just shake the tree and see what falls off eh ???

...then again maybe I can't be arsed with the bother but what the fuck, I got nothing to lose and it'd be fun watching those clowns talk butt covering shit

God knows we could all do with a laugh...

pollywog said...

well it turns out in "the big idea" (for those who don't know, it's bascially a situations vacant and informative NZ arts awareness site and newsletter) were advertising for submissions to "front seat" for ideas on their next series. ("front seat" of course being a reputable TV arts program.)

naturally, not wishing to give serendipity the cold shoulder i sent this away...

Hello there

In reading your request for submissions on 'the big idea', I would like to see 'front seat' take on the issue of music copyright collection in the digital distribution/broadcasting age.

Possibly starting with a history of the current organizations RIANZ, PPNZ and APRA, the systems they intially set up, the formula for collecting and distributing royalties and how that has changed legally and ethically in the era of myspace, podcasting and digital downloading if at all ???

A wide range of opinions from NZ on air chief to radio programmers to agency bosses, musicians, managers, promoters, industry watchdogs/bloggers, music lawyers etc could be garnered with alternative solutions for the future proposed and evaluated for viability.

I feel this would be of great relevence and help to musicians who generally have no idea how or why these agencies are mandated to collect on their behalf as well as being of interest to the public at large.

Who knows it may even spur a rethink in how and why some obsolete practises continue and question the neccessity of those who practise them.


Robert Siataga/Kavanagh

to which i got this back...

Thanks for that, Robert.

We're having content meetings twice a week and I will definitely forward your idea.

Gabe McDonnell

fingers crossed they'll go for it but if anyone wants to lobby for the cause...


I think I may follow it up with a suggestion for a review of NZ on Air funding procedures since the inception of 'phase four', the continued relevence of it and of those promoting it...

...interestingly I see NZ on Air have this year decided to only fund 20 new recording scheme grants at 10k with 5k for recording and 5k for a video as opposed to funding 40 at 5k just for the recording

what's funny is that i suggested that to the little smyth man about 5 yrs ago along with some criticism of how artists were being forced to change what they were producing to accommodate the radio format when it's the radio format that needs to change to accomodate what the artists were producing or we'd end up making cheap cloned stuff of that nasty foreign muck... wouldn't believe the poisonous e mail I got back and the virtual blacklisting i got from subsequent applications

Fast forward 5 years and I hear the bell tolling but not for me cos I'm already dead...

...even as a sideshow it will be interesting to note if popular net culture can shift the paradigm of the monolith that is NZ on air and trad broadcasting into a new awareness

I doubt it but it's worth a shot don't you think ???

watch this space...:)