Form, Content and Creativity

Mary Hodder poses an interesting question in The Musician’s Era: Do We Still Say ‘Album’? — how do the new technologies of digital distribution influence the forms of pop music? How does the “package” influence the scope of creativity in this area?

We use the word, album, to mean several things. We are describing old style vinyl records as in physical media, a metaphorical little box with songs poured into it and packaged for sale, a collection of artistic musical expression, and a particular musician’s style and mini-era.

You know it when someone mentions, say, The White Album. They are speaking about a grouping of songs, maybe the idea that they actually purchased it when it came out which would mean they really were referring to vinyl, but they are also talking about the Beatles at a particular time and place in their musical odyssey. And maybe they are also alluding to the Grey Album (BTW, Chilling Effects posted my C&D for that…) that came after. In fact, I would say the Grey Album is an interesting mix of sensibilities: digital music that can be mixed, but with an understanding of ‘album as complete musical work’ that can somehow coexist in our collective minds right now, in the simultaneous era’s analog and digital. So when JayZ put the Grey Album out last spring, we all understood both metaphors of album as a work, and digital remix work. In fact, it is one of the things I found so delightful about the work.

So, now that we’ve ditched the idea of the little box full of songs, instead buying one song at a time, and we listen to 10,000 song on the biggest remix tape you can imagine via our iPods or phones or whatever, and we don’t think about physical media except in relation to the speaker/player system, how will we refer to the musical development and era transitions an artist goes through?

Marketing and Modern Life

Wired News discusses the upcoming Frontline show The Persuaders (summary) in Stop Trying to Persuade Us.

It may be good, but I still think the best thing they’ve done on this (and most pertinent to the topics of music distribution and marketing that are discussed here) is The Merchants of Cool. More fabulously, you can now see a transcript or get the show streamed online! (summary page)

And The Way the Music Died and The Monster that Ate Hollywood are pretty good, too!

Some Grokster Decision News

P2Pers ask Supreme Court to reject RIAA ban request

StreamCast has formally asked the US Supreme Court to reject the request made by the Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) to revisit lower court decisions that confirm the legality of P2P software.

The MPAA and RIAA petitioned the Supreme Court in October 2004, following the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision, made in August 2004, that a verdict casing in stone the legitimacy of P2P software be allowed to stand. StreamCast offers the Morpheus P2P client.

The appeal was the result of an April 2003 District Court ruling that since P2P networks have legitimate uses, the software’s developers can’t be held to account if their code is misused.

See also Donna’s link-loaded posting, The Grokster Case – Once More Into the Breach, Dear Friends; also see the Post’s Court Urged to Hear File-Sharing Case

Never Forget…

Some telecommunications policies are driven by simple cash-flow considerations: Cities try last-minute grab for Net phone taxes

Two southern California cities want to tax Internet phone calls, a potentially nightmarish problem surfacing just as federal utility regulators are expected to make things easier for providers of this cheaper version of telephony.

The cities, Burbank and El Monte, have asked dozens of Internet phone service providers to collect a monthly fee of about $1.40 from each subscriber that claims their “place of primary use” is within their cities, a tax similar to what traditional phone providers pay.

The cities’ requests are an unexpected wrinkle in the hours before a Federal Communications Commission meeting at which the agency is widely expected to further deregulate Internet phone services by barring states from imposing their telecommunications fees. The FCC action, expected Tuesday, is meant to erase the threat of a patchwork of state telephone rules that Net phone providers would stumble over.

Update: FCC further deregulates Net calls

Two Ways of Looking at It

There’s been a lot of electronic (and real) ink spilled over the recently announced Microsoft-Novell deal, with this NYTimes article taking the standard positions: Microsoft to Pay $536 Million to Novell in Antitrust Case

Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, hailed the agreements as the culmination of its 18-month, multibillion-dollar campaign to settle antitrust conflicts with its major antagonists in the industry, including Time Warner and Sun Microsystems.

These settlements suggest that the United States government and most of the computer industry have now moved beyond their decade-long pursuit of the company for antitrust violations. And that development, the company argues, should cause regulators in Europe, where Microsoft still faces a significant challenge, to rethink their approach.

“There is clearly less need for the European Commission to persist with litigation on behalf of competition when virtually all of the competitors are saying their issues have been resolved to their satisfaction,” said Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel.

However, I personally find the Washington Post’s story more incisive, and far less flattering to Microsoft (versus the NYTimes generally positive looks at the firm’s products and practices): Microsoft Placates Two Foes [pdf]

Microsoft Corp. settled legal disputes yesterday with two of its largest remaining antagonists, ensuring that its antitrust deal with the Justice Department will not be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and removing two active proponents of a case against the company in the European Union.

Continuing a three-year campaign to end its lengthy legal battles through deals that often involve large cash payments, Microsoft said it would pay longtime rival Novell Inc. $536 million. In return, Massachusetts-based Novell agreed to withdraw from the E.U. case and not sue Microsoft over any software Novell currently owns. A Novell statement said, however, that the company still plans to sue over a product Novell no longer owns but claims was damaged by Microsoft’s previous conduct.

[…] “It’s sharing monopoly profits,” said Howard University antitrust professor Andrew I. Gavil. “You wonder if we are getting to the point where Microsoft is buying peace in the industry at the expense of competition.” Gavil added that Microsoft had essentially paid others to “discontinue lobbying,” and that “an economist would say it’s further evidence of the true value of [Microsoft’s] monopoly.”

He expressed particular concern at Smith’s suggestion that antitrust issues might better be left to industry to work out on its own.

“Industry self-regulation is not the equivalent of competition,” Gavil said. “The idea that the government should stay out of it . . . is really quite disturbing.”

The Landscape of Pop Music

A reconsideration of the business of popular music: U2 is smart to bite into this Apple [pdf] (see also U2 Album P2P Sightings Confirmed)

I’ve been a fan of the band for more than 20 years, but watching the group shill for Apple’s popular digital music player (and yes, I have one) somehow made me feel queasy. Clanking with integrity,

U2 always came across as the kind of band above lending its music to sell someone else’s product. At times, it seems there are so few artists who haven’t been bought — R.E.M. comes to mind — that it was disheartening to see U2 go the way of the Who and Jay-Z, to name a few.

Then it hit me. Why shouldn’t U2 make every legitimate attempt to get its music out to as many people as possible?

After all, commercial radio and MTV can’t be trusted to do the job. Formats and playlists are so tightly regimented there’s no reason for U2 to assume it will receive the kind of promotional push it’s enjoyed in the past. And with all of its members in their 40s, U2 isn’t exactly the face of MTV’s targeted demographic. So, even after selling more than 100 million albums worldwide, U2 is smart enough not to take anything for granted.

What U2 has done is adopt the new playbook for pop-music success.

A Reminder: Internet Communities Are Bigger Than P2P

I shared a hallway with Steve for many years, moving back to E40 two summers ago — and although I see him frequently at the local Au Bon Pain, I had no idea: Diary of a death [pdf]

Of all the things Steve Weissburg had to think about on the day his wife died of cancer — funeral arrangements, his children’s well-being, his immense sorrow — sending an e-mail to a group of relative strangers might have seemed insignificant.

But when Weissburg got home to Cambridge that night, he turned on his Apple laptop, just like he’d done after so many exhausting days alongside his wife in hospital rooms and doctors’ offices, and poured out his feelings to people he knew only as Meena and Vartul from Italy, Gail and Dave from San Diego, and Martine from Marshfield.

The group, all members of a “multiple myeloma” computer “listserv” to which Weissburg belonged, had followed every twist of Daria Donnelly’s illness through her husband’s numerous postings over two years.