January 5, 2005

The New Yorker on Mashups [9:39 pm]

1 + 1 + 1 = 1 [pdf]

Mashups find new uses for current digital technology, a new iteration of the cause-and-effect relationship behind almost every change in pop-music aesthetics: the gear changes, and then the music does. If there is an electric guitar of mashup, it is a software package called Acid Pro, which enables one to put loops of different songs both in time and in tune with each other. Mark Vidler, known professionally as Go Home Productions, explained some other benefits of digital technology to me in London not long ago: “You don’t need a distributor, because your distribution is the Internet. You don’t need a record label, because it’s your bedroom, and you don’t need a recording studio, because that’s your computer. You do it all yourself.”

[...] As Jennifer Justice, of Carroll, Guido & Groffman, Jay-Z’s law firm, explained, “Jay’s song ‘99 Problems’ uses two huge samples and has four different credited publishers. That’s before you’ve added anyone else’s music to it, which would be yet another publisher or two. Making a mashup with that song means the label issuing the mashup has to convince all the publishers involved to take a reduction in royalty–otherwise, it won’t be profitable for the label. The publishers are not going to agree to this if we’re not talking about two huge artists. With Jay-Z and Linkin, it’s like found money, but less well known artists might not be sexy enough or big enough.” This may be true, but lawyers and considerations of profit have little to do with how mashups happen, or why they keep happening.

[...] Mashup artists like Vidler, Kerr, and Brown have found a way of bringing pop music to a formal richness that it only rarely reaches. See mashups as piracy if you insist, but it is more useful, viewing them through the lens of the market, to see them as an expression of consumer dissatisfaction. Armed with free time and the right software, people are rifling through the lesser songs of pop music and, in frustration, choosing to make some of them as good as the great ones.

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Not The First (or Last) Time Technology Substitutes For Live [5:50 pm]

Musicians condemn Bourne ballet

Ballet director Matthew Bourne’s decision to use recorded music rather than a live orchestra in his latest production has enraged a music union.

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Pending NYTimes Magazine Article [5:35 pm]

Slate’s rundown of other magazines indicates an interesting article will be in the Sunday NYTimes Magazine: The End of Intellectual Property? - How Chinese piracy is threatening international copyright laws

An article documents the ways that widespread pirating and counterfeiting in China will change the world’s intellectual property market in the coming decades. Untroubled by intermittent and ineffective patent enforcement, Chinese “reverse engineers” dissect imported products–drugs, electronics, even heavy industrial equipment–to find a way to produce identical, and more cheaply produced, Chinese equivalents. Such “entrepreneurs”‘ may ultimately render international copyright protection functionally obsolete.

And what about when they decide *not* to include the DRM tech?

Later: here’s the link - Manufaketure

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Some Exeem Hints [2:17 pm]

A new hope for BitTorrent?

Last week, the head of that now-defunct site [Suprnova], a man known as “Sloncek,” officially announced the Exeem project in an interview on the NovaStream Webcasting network. He said that it would be a modified version of the popular BitTorrent technology, but transformed into a decentralized, searchable network similar to Kazaa or eDonkey.

[...] “The system seems to work pretty well,” said Simon Bauman, who operates the Mitosis.com Web site and has tried the software for several weeks. “It seems faster than other peer-to-peer programs right now, but with only 5,000 people, it’s hard to really gauge it.”

Official confirmation of the Exeem program, released at a time when BitTorrent Web sites are under aggressive legal attack from Hollywood, raises the potential of mass migration for the millions of people around the world who have grown accustomed to using the technology to download movies, TV shows, music and software.

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Markets Can’t Solve Everything?!? [2:10 pm]

Eyes on your copyrighted prize

The two news items offer a nice pair of brackets in which to frame the current state of copyright affairs. On the one hand, the public is denied the opportunity to view one of the most compelling histories of modern American life produced in the last 30 years because copyright restrictions make it financially unfeasible to broadcast it. On the other hand, actual copyright violation continues unabated, giving rise to an entire market niche devoted to the task of stamping it out. Is there any way to look at this situation in which it is not a complete mess?

[...] It is one of the defining paradoxes of the Internet age that even as, legally speaking, the power of copyright has grown in recent decades, pragmatically speaking it has only declined. Entertainment business representatives tend to point to this fact as the very reason why new laws are necessary, while ignoring the fact that much of what they are asking for includes rights that historically have never been granted and that will restrict consumer freedom more than ever.

[...] In a perfectly working capitalist economy, every social problem would be solved by treating it as a market opportunity. In theory, we should be able to see this most effectively in the technology sector. Got spam? Buy a spam filter. Plagued by viruses? Buy a virus-protection system. Pirates ripping off your software? Hire a digital tracking and security firm to hunt them down in the wilds of the Internet.

But what about when the problem is lack of access to a documentary like “Eyes on the Prize”? In whose economic interest is it to make important works of art and history more available?

The answer should be obvious. It may not be in our economic interest to do so. But aren’t there benefits other than economic to be gained?

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Eric Boehlert’s Latest on Payola [12:58 pm]

From Salon: Payola is dead! Now what will we listen to?

Under pressure from New York’s nosy attorney general, who has already posted an impressive track record weeding out corporate fraud in other major industries, the system is finally collapsing — or at least contracting — from its own weight. In recent months, chain after chain of radio stations has announced it’s cutting official ties with the middlemen or indies, who are now struggling to come to grips with the radically changed landscape around them. “We’re not becoming millionaires anymore,” says one longtime indie promoter for top 40 radio. “We’re just paying our bills. I’m hoping I’ll still be in business next year.” They shouldn’t bother looking to the record company counterparts for any sympathy, though. “Let’s face it,” says a label source, “the system was a scam.”

The bad news for musicians and radio fans, though, is that even in the wake of the indies’ demise — a remarkable industry milestone considering how far back the look-the-other-way practice dates, and how many times labels and artists vowed, unsuccessfully, to do away with the system — tight radio playlists are unlikely to improve anytime soon. While indie promoters are often seen as dubious, they did have a knack for getting new acts their break on FM radio. That’s why some industry insiders worry that station programmers may soon become even less adventurous in choosing which songs get tapped for rotation on FM stations’ heavily guarded playlists.

[...] “It seems counterintuitive, but the weakening of indie promotion is not a good thing,” says the owner of a small, successful label. “It further cements the hegemony of the major labels and will definitely narrow what’s heard on the radio. The short-term effect is not good for independent music.”

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USAToday on Broadband Rollout Obstacles [8:11 am]

Ahh, competition — some pretty blunt language here: Bells dig in to dominate high-speed Internet realm [pdf]

To hear BellSouth talk, high-speed fiber lines are the way of the future. So why is it so determined to stop Lafayette, La., a rural community in the heart of Cajun country, from installing its own fiber?

[...] It’s the dark side of the fiber story.

The regional Bell companies have made much of their billion-dollar plans to run broadband networks across the USA. Yet they’re also quietly trying to erect hurdles that would make it hard — or expensive — for anyone to compete with them.

Besides municipalities like Lafayette, the Bells are going after their phone rivals, Internet carriers and major metro areas — anyone with an interest in building services that might compete with the Bells.

Critics say the Bells’ efforts are an attack on competition and that consumers could be the big losers.

[...] “With AT&T and MCI exiting the consumer market, the only way consumers are going to get real competition is through VoIP,” he says.

The big Bells are taking advantage of that retreat by plowing ahead with their fiber deployments. Their plans vary. Only Verizon vows to extend fiber lines all the way to homes. Its customers could see top speeds of 100 megabits or more.

[...] Just a few years ago, the Bells had pledged to run fiber straight to homes. In return, they wanted the FCC to rule that they didn’t have to lease their fiber to rivals who could then turn around and use it to deliver competing services.

Their request went to the heart of U.S. telecom policy. That policy has long been based on the notion that the Bells were obliged to share their networks with all comers.

The rationale owed to the history of the Bells. Their networks were built over the course of a century using monopoly ratepayer money. Like the U.S. highways, the Bell networks have been regarded as a unique infrastructure that had to be open to others on terms that were fair.

But in 2004, in a nod to the changing nature of telecom, the FCC granted the Bells’ request. That concession paved the way for the Bells to deploy fiber to homes.

That’s when the foot-dragging began.

Slashdot: Regional Bells Blocking Broadband Competition

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Decency Fight in the UK [7:39 am]

BBC urged to axe Springer opera

Having seen the show in London, I can just imagine the kinds of discussions going on. There are some terribly funny parts, but it definitely pushes some boundaries — just like the show it “satirizes.”

Frankly, most of the pseudo-guests in the opera are no more over-the-top than the ones that easily seem to get past the FCC here in the US, but that’s probably not what really upsets those who are complaining about the show. Rather, I’m guessing it’s the way that the show rubs one’s nose in the hypocrisy of those who (a) complain about the behavior of the people who are the show’s guests while (b) greedily watching every salacious minute — kind of like the “red state” delight in watching “Desperate Housewives.”

The musical has been described as the most expletive-laden programme ever on British television.

The BBC said it “contains language and content which won’t be to some tastes” but it must cater for all audiences.

But campaigners Mediawatch-UK said: “Licence fee payers do not expect the BBC to be pushing back boundaries of taste and decency in this way.”

[...] “The continuous stream of obscene and profane language, as well as the debauched behaviour that characterised Mr Springer’s TV shows, is unacceptable and will alienate a large number of viewers,” he wrote.

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HP Media Computer — Based on Linux [7:24 am]

Proving that DRM is not a Windows-only proposition, even in the world of HP: Hewlett to Offer TV Media Hub

Hewlett-Packard will introduce a new device this fall meant to record and play back television as well as organize digital media, including photos, music and video, the company said yesterday.

Hewlett already offers similar devices based on Microsoft’s Windows Media Center Edition. The device, called the HP Media Hub, will be based on the Linux operating system.

Carleton S. Fiorina, the chief executive, said that by using Linux, rather than Windows, Hewlett can reduce the cost of the device, which has not been set, she said.

“The real motive is not the cost,” she added, but “the ease of use and simplicity.”

Slashdot: Hewlett-Packard To Offer Linux-based Media Hub

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Yearend Sales Stats [7:20 am]

Album Sales Expected to Show 1.6% Rise

The recording industry registered sales of about 667 million albums, an increase of about 1.6 percent, according to year-end data expected to be released today by the market research firm Nielsen SoundScan.

While that snaps a three-year streak of declines, the industry is still confronting a series of problems, including digital piracy, and competition from products like DVD’s and video games. Album sales at one point surged by as much as 8 percent over last year’s pace, but fell victim to a lackluster holiday season.

The data, covering a 52-week period, also show that the industry is beginning to tap the power of the Internet to generate sales, though free music still flows through online file-sharing networks. [...]

While the data appear to diminish industry concerns that sales of individual songs online would cannibalize sales of CD’s, it is far from clear whether the industry will be able to develop profitable online business models. The data show that consumers buy individual tracks for about 99 cents much more often than they download full-length albums, which carry a higher price tag.

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An End To Studio Recording of Classics? [7:14 am]

As The Audible Past points out, a studio recording is a peculiar thing anyway - not so much a performance as a construct. So, there’s a question of whether to bury Caesar or to praise him in this article about the economics of studio CDs vs. live DVDs — Twilight of the CD Gods? A Studio ‘Tristan’ May Be the Last Ever

The mood can be judged from comments in the cafeteria: “Make the most of it,” and “There won’t be many more like this.”

And what is “this”? It’s a gargantuan, million-dollar recording of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” put together as a now-or-never enterprise for the tenor Plácido Domingo but also as a last, heroic stand from a classical CD industry so crushed by economic pressures that many consider it in terminal decline.

[...] But in truth, this probably represents the end of the line for large-scale studio recordings of familiar operas, which have increasingly been shunted aside by the newer, flashier and - above all - cheaper medium of live DVD, filmed onstage, in performance.

“The public listens with its eyes today,” said Peter Alward, who has just retired as president of EMI Classics after 34 years with the company and who planned this “Tristan” as his parting shot. A giant in the classical recording world, Mr. Alward has watched the business boom and (very nearly) bust, scaling down from a time when EMI made four or five studio operas a year, to now, when there are hardly any.

“So don’t expect any more studio ‘Carmens’ or ‘Toscas,’ ” Mr. Alward said in a rapid machine-gun voice that has called several generations of wayward recording artists to order. “It’s straightforward economics. An average opera might cost $600,000 in the studio, and this one, being large-scale Wagner and involving extra sessions, is nearly double. An average DVD deal these days can be got for $200,000. And that somewhat dictates our course of action.

“I don’t believe there’s any compromise on sound quality. DVD may not be as pristine as studio recording, but with digital technology and new microphone techniques it’s pretty good.”

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MInnesota Will Appeal FCC’s Vonage Decision [7:06 am]

States battle FCC Internet phone ruling - (see Vonage Wins Appeal, Too FCC on VoIP: Not Quite As “Unanimous” As Describedfor earlier news.)

States fear that more calls travel over the unregulated Net will mean fewer over the heavily taxed regular telephone network–reducing tax revenue that supports crucial public services, such as rural phone expansion and emergency call services. The FCC and VoIP providers counter that a very light regulatory approach is needed to coddle the developing industry.

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