Saturday, November 04, 2006

Blogger support and post signing

If you haven't noticed, my posts are signed by "snapped synapses". This is a problem when you have multiple blogs with bogger, they are all signed by the same entity. I find this unacceptable. The folks at google help desk seem somewhat blasee about the whole affiar. The two blogs are on different subjects entiredly and were meant to be used for different purposes.

I have been looking at other blogging systems, specificially WordPress. I have started writing Rrecord Jacket Historian posts at and will likely move that to my own machine hosted myself so these kind of support issues just will never exist.

David Fedoruk
Recrod Jacket Historian

Thursday, September 14, 2006

One of the last of a generation of pianists

I was writing an entry for another blog post when I needed a biographical link for Ivan Moravec. Instead of the article I expected, I found that it had been toasted, pulled down by someone who obviously (and admitted it) knew nothing of Ivan Moravec. I thought it was a rather hasty and rash on his part seeing as he admitted that he didn't know who he was. It was obviousy written by a fan!

But, I do not know of anyone who has heard his playing who is not a fan. I've never heard anyone actuallly say the didn't like his playing! This is quite a compliment since I know quite a number of pianists, and they can be blistering in their critism of other pianist. But you can hardly find any critism, past personal taste that applies to this last of a generation of pianists.

I won't go into the biographical details, you can read those at the Wikepiedia. I will, however, tell you that his is some of the finest Chopin and Debussy playing anywhere. The first time I encountered Moravec other than breif tracks on the radio was on an LP a fellow student loaned me. It was on the private record label Connessiuer Society. The label is dedicated to recording piano music played by some of the finest players. The LP is, needless to say, no longer avalable. Sharon very nearly didn't get her LP back, but she was just as passionately in love with this playing as I was so the motivation to get it back from me was great. She ended up studying for a time in Prague with Moravec. This isn't the Prague of today, this was in the mid-seventies when the iron curtain still held back easy travel and communication.

There were two trully memorable works on this album, the Polonnnaise-Fantaie in A Flat Opus 61. This is not the famous Polonnaise in A Flat, but another which Chopin wrote late in his life. The work is pianistically and musically challenging. Technically difficult just from the standpoint of merely executing the notes, but then to have the added challenge of addressing what Chopin was saying when he took a dance movement usually a grand processional and wrote the equivalent of a sonata first movement around the rythmns of the dance.

The Polonnaise-Fantasie is not immediately endearing to the listener, but one each successive listneing I found myself increasingly attracted to it. It is one of those works which has no hummable tune, certainly it has never found form as a popular song the way the A Flat polonnaise has or the way the Fantasie-Improptu has. The work is entirely at the mercy of which ever pianist attempts it. Few are that brave, and of those that are, few succede. Moravec is one who does succede in spades.

The other performance on the album which is still to my mind one of the best available, is the Barcarolle Opus 60. Another late work of Chopin, in which the brilliant obligato figurations he was so famous for, are gone and a new musical depth is present. So a Venetian Boat Song becomes a vehicle for some of the most empassioned writing Chopin ever did. Written near the end of his life when he was sick with Tuberculosis, the piece fluctuates back and forth between the gentle rock of a gondola and the intense conversation between the passsengers as they float across the water.

Moravec manages to capture all this perfectly. His technique is unmatched, but clean, crystal clear execution never gets in the way of the music. Each climax is calculated to the finest detail. Moravec, like Glenn Gould, is a technophile. His method of rehersal includes a microphone and (at one time at least) a real to real tape deck. He records each of his practice sessions, plays it back and makes notes of exactly which notes, which dynamics need changing. The microphone can be a ruthless critic, it captures everything. All the flaws and blemishes are there to hear. For Moravec, it has turned out to be an advantage. Its benefit is clear.

As I said the LP's are now gone, but his recordings are usualy available somehow somewhere. The particular release I am listening to is on the Philips lable. Former CBC Producer, Tom Deacon, produced a series for Phillips called "Great Pianists of the 20th Century". Moravec, is of course among them. Tom Deacon has produced one of the best series of piano recordings ever released. Every major artist is represented by one or more two CD sets. The Moravec set has one CD devoted to Chopin and one devoted to Debussy and Ravel. Of course the change of millenia is old news by now and the series is almost cetainly deleted.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Digital Prestidigitaion

It happened accidentally, but I had considered it for a while. I have found that certain issues cloud what The Record Jacket Historian was meant to be. I considered transferring some things to a new blog and just talking about recorded music I've listened to or ma currently interested in.

I was looking through Google's new acquisition, "Writely" and wandered into eBlogger Beta. I attempted to switch RJH to the new beta but couldn't so
Digital Prestidigitation was born. It seemed only fitting that I should use a word like "prestidigitation" since it was introduced to me first by one of myfavourite pianist, Glen Gould. Had he live longer he would have been more and more fascinated with the changes. As at least some of you know he embraced technology in a big way. He even went so far as to predict the demise of the concert hall! I'm glad that prediction hasn't come true!

From now on, all my comments about intellectual property, changes in technology and such will be done on Digitial Prestidigitaion and all comments and log entries about recorded music I'm interested in or truly great recordings will stay on RJH.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Bookmarks for Music Junkies

Have you ever been searching for something and the search engines just never quite manage to find what you're looking for? Sometimes someone else's set of prize bookmarks can help. Check out Music-Collections .... You'll find everything from bluegrass to ethnomusicology!

That is a page I will be visting often to find new reading material about music. It is so easy to get stuck in a rut and simply over over the things you've already read about. So I think its kewl to be able to go to someone elses discoveries.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How Much is a Single Track Worth?

I see by The Recording Industry vs. the People blog that some of the defendants are asking the RIAA to justify the request for damages in the amount of $750.00 per track the defendants are alleged to have downloaded. I knew that the Recording Industry was wanting and increase in what iTunes charged for downloaded music but REALLY this is ridiculous! If you think I'm jesting, you're only partially correct, because the Recording Industry has always had an exaggeratedly high idea of what their product is worth. They would think nothing of seeing retail prices of $35.00 to $50.00 per CD. Some locations in around the globe have had or do have pricing like this. The same CD is priced drastically differently in different locales. That is even taking into account the difference in currency and perhaps some duties (if any). Think stock transfer within a company!

I know this because I was told point blank in the mid-80's that the price of a CD should be the same as the price of a concert ticket. At one time, when prices were much more reasonable that may have been true. But you cannot tell me that the experience of going to a live concert is the same as listening to a CD. It just isn't. They are completely different mediums meant for completely different set of circumstances.

Of course the RIAA demand in the current lawsuits are meant to be punitive. I believe that they base the $750.00 per track on a first offer of settlement which was for $7.50 per track. This number is what I am guessing that the whole album is worth wholesale in US dollars. In Canadian dollars, it would be somewhere between $6.00 and $12.00 to the retailer before any contra and advertising special discounts. (those numbers are guess-tamates at best)

They will also base it on the belief that it is new catalogue, for which there would be production costs. For something like a Bessy Smith track, where there would be no production costs or very few, their number becomes even more outrageous.

There's more! Didn't I just see mention that the Allman Bros. and others were suing the RIAA for back royalties on downloaded music. The Distribution companies charge *the artists* a percentage fee for packaging, shipping and another one for breakage.

So you can see that neither the consumer nor the artis are getting value for money or prerfomace!.

As well they are claiming that the deals with Apple iTunes and others amount to distribution deals which is not part of the artists contract with the recording and distribution companies.

Something else just struck me. The RIAA should be asked to show the true cost of those songs, not just the royalties they are conractualy obligated to show anyway. That would indeed be forcing the industry to reveal things is would rather not have exposed.

Surely if you are being sued for the value of some merchandise you are entitled to know its true value!

Slowly, layer by layer more and more of the deceit and duplicity is being pealed away. The general public and the artists are not so gullable after all!

So the true *cost* of a song isn't what it looks like. Not by a long shot!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Do not adjust your set! Philips is controlling your media center, You have entered The Twilight Zone

This headline, "Phillips attempts to Patent Advertisment Enforcement" at CDR Zone alerted me to this story. It immediately invoked a feeling of shock, horror and deja vu!

Remember the Twilight Zone? Not the new ones, the old ones in black and white. The first series was a stunning success and even in black & White audiences were riveted! The voice at the beginning saying "Do not adjust your set, we are in control, we control the horizontal and the veritcal ...."

Half a century later they control your remote and yoru media center! They are Philips Electronics. Philips announced (the patent was filed in 2003) that it had patented "Apparatus and method for preventing switching from a channel during an advertisement display", United States Patent Application: 0060070095

This is a horror story we have all imagined in at least one nightmare. In reality we have all experienced it in our DVD players where the FBI warning cannot be skipped (unless you know how) and you go straight to jail!

That is a minor annoyance for about 3 seconds. This measure is positively draconian! For the duration of the adds viewer would literally loose control of their media centers! However, you could "buy" your way out of the commercial by paying your Cable company an amount of money. So you would now not only pay for the cable subscription, and get to watch the adds (how does that work? We pay for the content, then have to watch adds which we are told pay for the content... does that seem odd to anyone?).

Lets try anther scenario. Microsoft has been working on a Media Center the heart of which will be a PC running Microsoft Windows the Vista incarnation. Judging by th past security performance and the number of viruses out there for this singualar Operating System, this scenario is quite possible.

Evil Virus writer Ivan Borisivich Badinov (son of Boris and Natasha Badinov) who also has an extortion racket running on the side writes a virus which his botnet takes control of your media center instead of the cable company. You are forced to "The Music Box Dancer" or "Born to Be Alive endlessly, until you pay Badinov Orginization X amount of dollars, your media center will be released .... until the next time. (Like father, like son, yet another of Boris and Natasha's get rich quick schemes, thanks, Rocky & Bullwinkle)

I am also reminded of the 1953 (I think) cult Science Fiction classic "The Twonky' a Television which his wife purchased for him takes control of his life. /read the plot summary at the All Movie Guide

I believe this to be a case of prior art and that all Philips Electronics has done is re-invent "The Twonky". Case closed, Patent denied! (I wish!)

Every time you think the Entertainment Industry has gone about as far as they can go, something more absurd takes its place. Its like something out of Douglas Adams. Odd, isn't it, how yesterday's Science Fiction becomes today's reality ... or nightmare.

There is a rather good editorial at the Taipei Times orginally from The Guardian, London, April 16, 2006 Page 12

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Cat is Out of the Bag: SCO Spills the beans

The cat is out of the bag! SCO has finaly spilled the beans on what its now three year long litigation against IBM is all about! They even have a real Unix expert in
Max Rockind.

The danger in becoming a recognized expert in one area of study is that one (of necessity) neglects other areas. Perhaps Mr. Rochkind should have done more interdisciplanary studies instead of concentrating so heavily in Computer Science.

He only shows his ignorance of the concepts of copyright and patent. A lawyer he is not! Should methods and concepts be copyrightable, the whole GNU Linux project is a copyright violation, since its raison d'etre from the beginning was to write a Unix-like operating system based on its concepts but that had no copyright encumbered code in it.

In a way it is the same misconception that Linux was produced from Minix because Linus used Minix as a scafolding upon which to support Linux until Linus had written a cross compiler for Minix which could cross compile for Linux.

Because the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver is built on the same principals as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco does not mean it is a copy of it. It may look like the Golden Gate but it is surely NOT the Golden Gate though the similarities are striking and intentional.

Max Rochkind spent so much time burried in the actual code that he forgot that he was looking at a totally different Operating System. He has assumed that Linux IS Unix. Did he not notice that FreeBSD impliments a Linux file system inside its own in order to run Linux applications?

Let me fall back on the musical metaphor first used by Richard Stallman, but I'll say it this way; Between Bach (who summed up harmony and counterpoiint for the 17th and part of the 18th Centuries) and Wagner (at the end of the 19th Century) there is nothing new harmonically or contrapuntally in Western European music. It is all built on the same concepts which Bach summmed up. But look at the endless stream of completely original music between Bach and Wagner!

Imagine that! A totaly free and open system in which everyone was free to develop, write and produce music and which still allowed for copyright, commmerce and a free market system.

Somehow, the system whihch allowed Joseph Haydn to publish and be paid for his music, as well as for performances of it has been turned into a prison system which is strangling true creativity and invention. These days the Xerox PARC lab would be impossible OR Xerox would have been suing almost everyone currently writing computer software or designing PCs or PDAs!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Both the French and Yahoo get it wrong!

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you; me thinks France is an expert at it! France's trade Minister Christine Lagarde is quoted by Yahoo as saying:
"Any time a company restricts competition in a market, it gets the attentio
of regulating agencies. We have to play by the rules of the game," she said."
Apple? Restricting competition? I think the French have forgotten who created that market. If it were not for Steve Jobs doing the hard grunt work and getting his hands grimy dealing with the music industry executives adn the likes of the vultures at the RIAA, there would be no real legitimate music market.

Truth be told the real monopolists are the players in the music industry who have all but been caught price fixing in at least 3 countires I can think of off hand. Ask yourself why it is that all CD's seem to cost the same (or virtually the same) in any market you might think of?

Why, when the cost and end retail price of everything related to computers has dropped preciptously in since the mid-eighties has there been no price reduction at all until the last year or so? Price fixing and monopoly? Virticle monopoly, the music industry controls the whole game from the beginning production, recuitment, promotion, distributrion or music products except for the end retailer.

I dont' know of another industry in which that would be allowed. But perhaps this just another volley in the Great French Frie Debacle purpetrated by a U.S. politician a while back. (Americans are so over the top with the meldrama! They try to turn everything into a daytime soap opera!)

Now for Yahoo; later in that report they state:
"Apple Computer Inc. has always refused to allow its paid-for musc files downloaded via iTunes to be converted into another format, which would allow them to be listened to on a music player other than its iPod."
Not so, you can listen on your Windows PC, you can shuffle the audio off to your home stereo system, you can even use Airport Express to run an Optical connection out to your surround sound system and use the ADDA converters to convert the digital signal into electrical impulses for your amplifier. As well, you can always burn the tracks purchased at the iTunes store to CD. Now if that isn't transfering from one format to anohter I don't know what is. As soon as they are on an audiio CD, you can do what you want with them.

It may be a circuitous route, but none the less, the method is there and should be well known... everyone does except the press!

Thanks to Ars Technica for pointing me to the Yahoo story!

Odd, isn't it, that I seem to be able to take my CD's almost anywhere and play them. I can play them in a car, in a personal player with earplugs, I can take them to a friends place and play them. I don't though, you see, people want to "borrow" them and they have a way of not coming back to me. So those completely portable shiney discs never leave my apartment!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Feisty Independent Canadian Recording Lables Speak Up!

Following in the footsteps of Nettwerk Records, major Canadian Independent recording lables have broken with the CRIA. This news rocked the Canadian Recording Industry today with reports on Howard Knopf's blog Excessive Copyright article "
CRIA - What Lies Ahead?" and and Michael Geist in "Removing the C from CRIA" and the CBC,'s Arts & Entertainment article "Indie labels break with CRIA".

Prominant Canadian Indie Lables like Anthem, Aquarius, Nettwerk and True North label have removed themselves from the digital distrotion field generated by the CRIA.

In a previous post I talked about the distiction between entities in the music industry. The afore mentioned entities, Anthem, Aquarius, Nettwerk and True North are all true recording lables. They record and produce their own recordings. What you are now seeing is the real Canadian Recording Industry. Many will not know these names because they are relatively low in profile though their output is prodigious.

These small and some that have grown to be not so small are the wrokhorses of the recording industry. They give artists a real chance at success. The group we call "The Major Labeles", those multinational recording industry congomerates, then swoop in and grab them up claiming that they discovered these artists. The credit should go to theses smaller lables. Mostly they are started by people who love music and love the industry. They are the ones that give heart and soul to the industry. They deserve our support.

What ever the reson for this break with the CRIA it is nothing but nothing healthy for the Canadian Recording Industry since it separates the real work horses of the Canadian Industry from the multinational conglomerates who operate in Canada as supposedly Canadian. Mostly they are poor excuses for their industry and take more from the Canadian public than they return to the country culturally.

I am scratching my head trying to think of Canadian Jazz artists on any of these lables. Dianna Krall is the only on that comes to mind. But she began her recording career with one of the Canadian Indies "Justin Time Records" from Montreal before moving to GRP and finally landing with Verve, owned and distributed by Universal.

You know that we have a living and vibrant Jazz community in Canada, but you'd never know it by looking at the so called Major Lable's catalogue. This countries Jazz musicians are woe fully neglected by these major players. As I pointed out above, Dianna Krall's first and second release were on a small Montreal Lable, they did the hard work of promoting her when she was largely unknown. Oscar Peterson got his first recording break o
n the Verve lable when it was a small indepenent start up Jazz lable.

The Canadian Classical scene is represented by only slightly more Canadians, Ben Hepner on BMG, Canadian Brass on Phillips (if they are currently recording) and l'Orchestre Symphonique du Montreal's contract has ended with Decca/London. But outstanding pianists like Louis Lortie and Angela Hewitt all record for small indie lables, Louis Lortie records for the Chandos lable and Angela Heweitt for Hyperion.

So, readers, you see those multinationals arent' really doing Canadian artists any favours at all. They scoop up the stars and leave the rest.

Further, let me make one point very clear. Despite statements that the CRIA is speaking for creators, song writers and composers, in reality they represent none of the above. They can only represent their own interests and that of their shareholders. All the rest is the distortian feild they have generated to deceive the public and above all, our politicians and law makers.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I Hate DRM: The Revolt of the Masses

Please note: This has been reposted, and moderation turned back on due to spam!

For a while now there has been rumblings of dissatisfaction with Digital Restrictions (officially its Rights) Management. The loudest objections seem to have come from the open source community, but that may be only becuase I am listeing closet there. However, this site, I Hate DRM f
inaly puts a point on it for the masses.

In general, people tend to grumble a lot about things they do not like and do not much of anything. This looks like it is going to be different. The masses, those of us who spend our hard earned dollars on items which are going to locked down by this draconian technology are finally making some audible, coherant noise about it.

This technology is not about copyright law, it is about restricting acess to things which you have already paid for. It will never hurt people who are willing to circumvent the usual safeguards (like making a CD a read only device), for they will only find a way around the new restrictions. It will hurt those of us who have always bought and paid for our media in the accepted ways.

Why does the music industry want this so badly? I believe that they would like to move to an "on demand" model, where content is made available as you ask for it, once listen, or view at a time, and on a pay per instance basis. Those of us who have already amassed large collections are already spitting venom over it. Now ordinary users are becoming upset.

Currently the recording industry puts all its energy in finding that one big hit which will sell millions. The truth is that most of the best CD's I own have never sold in that quantity and never will. The public's current dissatisfaction with the state of the industry comes from the frenetic attempt to produce hit after hit. In the attempt to produce hit after hit, the industry puts pressure on its herd of stars (yes, I am aware that I'm talking about them like cattle, because that's the way the industry sees them.

Each artist signed has contractual obligations to release a certain number of albums for the duration of their contract. While they live up to the obligation, there is no guarantee that the result is in anyway isnpired, nor is it guaranteed to produce the massive sales the industry expects of them. No one can guarantee that.

Increases in sales cannot be fueled in this mannner, the leaders in this industry who are largely accountants, lawyers, and holders of MBA's do not understand this. They think the sucess they want can be had if they find the right formuala. However, public fashion has never followed a predctable path. The audience theses business executives is playing to is stubborn, fickle and determined to make up their own minds. How do you predict the next fad in the 13 to 19 age category? The failure of the industry is partially in believing that they can accomplish this.

The music industry continues to chase and court the most fickle of its customers while ignoring what is its bread and butter. Catalogue sales are what makes the industry profitable, not top 40 or top 100 hits because they are largely sold at rock bottom prices. It is the cutomers who come to their music retailer on the hunt for something new, something they heard, or that hard to find album or collection they have been looking for. They leave the store with a bundle of CD's or DVD's for which they have paid full price. The industry continues to ignore these people.

It is these people, the collectors, the people looking for those hard to find items and those looking for something new who will eventually not stand for DRM. It was the clasical buyer who forced the majore recording labels into putting as much content on a CD as it would hold instead of making it a carbon copy of the original LP release.

Although all good tunes follow some sort of convention, and are made of known elemants and repeated cliches, some musicians have a knack of finding way of usting them which is unexpected. It is this element of surprise and the unexpected turn of phrase which makes us leave a broadway show whistleing the tunes from it. That cannot be required in a legal document. Unpredictability is likely the most persistant quality of inspiration and creativity. No contract can guarantee it.

After studying music for most of my life, I realise that history is littered with music that is completely and utterly forgettable. It is forgotten and should stay that way. Time filteres out what has some universal message for us.

The music industry has come to think that making moeny is a right, and further that they have the right to control it. However, as we all know, there is no basic human right to make money or profit, and no inherent right to control thought or ideas. This is precisely what DRM attempts to do.

Copyright is a privialage, not a right. Our society, we the people, grant certain people the protection of our courts and our laws in order that those who create these expressions can be compensated for their work. Unfortunately most of the music industry has lost sight of that. Eventually, at a point fixed in time, that protection is withdrawn and all those expressions of ideas return to the culture and society which gave birth to them. Music does not exist outside of this cultural continuum. And thus, it must eventually complete control must be relinquished. Copyright is a limited right. DRM attempts to cirumvent this principal.

Sunday, April 02, 2006



There is a West Coast Canadian Connection with this music, one which has never quite been acknowledged in more propper music circles. Almost the exact opposite of the Seattle grunge scene, in which there was really no scene at all, all the so called scene was generated by one band. This one has a small core of muscians and no "scene" in its own city or country, but fame ane notoriety in other European centres.

I will leave you hanging about this until have have a chance to write something which does them some justice.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Digital only release only?

This interesting note I found on the Digital Music Web Log. It seems RadioHead is contemplating "Digital Only " releases. From what I gather hat means no packaging, cover art, liner notes at all.

This is the kind of music business B.S. that drives me nearly over the edge into insanity. Cover art has been a mainstay of the industry for years. For bands, it means visibility and recognition. I have had, in the past, been asked for advice by new recording artists about what they can do to pare down the budget. On idea (and a bad one) is to have very generic cover art. But, as I pointed out to them, it makes you invisible in a world filled with visual images.

Wht's this nonesense about "working best when we are not bothered by making mistakes"? What kind of B.S. is that? I understand that sometimes taking the pressure off an artist can produce some better results, but there are already many studio tricks for doing that.

One of the real problems with the music industry is its percieved glamour and unfortunately some artists actually buy into the "glamour". There isn't any glamour in the music business, It is hard work, it is showing up for studio sessions and reherrsals on time. It is being organized enough that expensive studiio time and professional time are not wasted beause of lateness of becuase someone forgot to arnage or do something.

Fans can be an unforgiving lot. I expect the artists I support to maintain a certain standard of performance. When they don't, I no longer support them and am quite vocal about it. With a so called strategy like Radiohead is implimenting you won't have fans for very much longer. Don't insult us.

Now where did this misguided idea come from. Well a little bit of sluething finds this at Digital Music News. The New York Philharmonic has already begun a series of "digital only" releases on iTunes.

The New York Philharmonic has announced with Deutsche Grammophon the release of upcoming performances of Mozart Symphonies 39, 40 and 41 as file download only from iTunes. (isn't it interesting to hear how it sounds with all the marketing garbage removed. You get a file only! an aac file. That's "lossy" compression!). This does nothing for the reputation of the orchestra as a recording orchestra but lots for Deutsche Grammophon's bottom line. No packaging! Between $8 and $10. By my calculations that is what a CD should go for.

The reason U.S. Orchestras do not record as much as they did in the past is the rising cost of musicians fees. Bluntly, the American Federation of Musicians has priced itself out of the recording market. Major recording labels like London, Philips and EMI have looked elsewhere to find orchestra's which the could afford. Understand, symphony muscians these days are not underpaid! Just U.S. Orchestra's contracts are undercut my European orchestras. So, to gain the market back they think they can provide the customer with less for same money. I doubt it.

I haven't said this here yet, but I will now. I will *not* purchase musci online in a lossy file format! If I were to purchase music online it would have to be at minimum CD-Audio quality or better in a format which I could immediately burn to premanent media.

Any classical music lover will tell you that the packaging is a much needed source of information about the music and the artist who plays the music. As you can see by the name of my blog, I have learned a great deal from what this band wishes to do away with. Good idea? Nonesense, its an excuse not to provide a basic resource to your fans and those who do not know your music.

What's with the double talk? Say what you mean!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Music Industry Facts FUD and Fiction

Over the next while I will be going systematically through what we call the "Music business" and decoding all the fictions, falsehoods and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) used in the industry to confuse and burr the lines where ever convenient. This is an easy project to start but a daunting one to complete because this has happened at almost every level. Nowhere is this absent.

Don't anyone think I do not love the music business, I have been a hi fidelity efficianado since I was a teenager. That teenager would rather have a high end audio system than a hot car hands down! These days I'm still as enthusiasic about good sound and great music, just a little more savvy and warry of things I read (especialy press reports).

If you've been reading my blog you will have seen "I'm confused: What exactly do you mean by label?" and "Perfect Digital Copies".

he Hijacking of Audio standard definitions

Who defines the standards you use on the Internet. Usualy sound quaility is divided like this with CD-Audio at the top as the higheset, then FM-Stero, then AM Radio, then acceptable for the human voice ie. Telephone.

Which of these is not like the other? Only one stands out as singularly different than the others. CD-Audio. CD-Audio is the only digital-only standard. All the other standards were set by the limits of the technology. CD-Audio was set by a group of hardware and media.

44.1 hz was sampling rate for CD-Audio, and that decided its frequency response limits. Digital Video had a 48 hz sampling rate and already incompatibilities are built into the new system. For what ever reasons, an arbitrary standard was set for home digital audio. The reasons for this are interesting but a subject for a later article. I won't go into them now.

What was significantly different about CD-Audio was its drastically improved dynamic range. The industry lost no time in advertising this along with its "totally silent background". Formerly, one of the biggest problems in recording was the background hiss introduced by metal oxide tapes. However, by the early 70's Dolby Labs had introduced a system of noise reduction which for all intents and purposes reduced tape hiss in professional studios to inaudible. Recordings were already silent. Good advertising ploy, but it was based on a failicy.

The indestructible CD. Vinyl recordings were delicate things, subject to wear with continued use, damage from dust, damage from scratches. As well the dynamic range of vinyl recordings was limited by the medium itself, but it was the fragility of vinyl and its suseptability to changes in the production quality of the vinyl itself which proved its downfall and the reason for which CD sales took off like a rocket in North America.

ust remember when you listen to your next CD, that an analogue master tape of the same recording session has more data and more information and more frequency response than a digital master made at the same session. You might also think about how it was possible to get you to accept the comparrison between two incompatible technologies without questioning it. Slight of hand, a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat -- it is the same thing. I'm not suggesting a conspiricy, just a convenient arrangements of the facts, an over simplification which has servered a very useful purpose -- the lowering of expectations on the part of the public.

By the way, I have lost my "fear of analogue" and am enjoying those recording just as much as my "pure digital" ones.

For more Music Industry double speak and gobledy-gook please read "The Music Industry vs. the People".

Cheers, and go to you loca CD retailer and browse the shelves, see what you find that you didn't know existed! Part of the fun is the hunt for what you've alwyas been looking for!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Perfect Digital Copies?

It is not the first time I have commented on this case because of the glaring technical falsehoods perpetrated by the RIAA, things that they proclaim as fact which can be shown not to be so. This is yet another one. In their affidavit "Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law In Opposition to Motion" they write about "perfect digital copies". I submit that the files in question in this case are not as they state. They may be digital, but they are not perfect copies by any means. They believe their own FUD.

One thing that has puzzled me through all the mess with the RIAA lawsuits is the claim that P2P networks are distributing "perfect digital copies" of copyright works. While I know that such copies are possible using imaging methods like Toast or EZ-CD Creator are possible, most of what the RIAA is claiming to be these perfect copies are really tracks which have been ripped or converted to MP3 file format.

One of the great advances in computer technology has been the ability to make large things smaller. Indeed, it was a necessity in order to make the transfer of data even possible. It is not much problem to send text over the internet or any computer network because the amounts of data is in the 100 or thousands, but not the 10 thousand or million, billion or trillion which files for multimedia would consume.

How do you compress something? First, remove all extra empty space you can, then throw away any data that is not needed. So far we have our data completely intact. This is good for text but we haven't even started on binary type files.

Next is to find a way to remove duplicated data, so instead of printing the letter R one hundred times you might say that R occurs 150 times then provide a map of where those spots are. Its more efficient than you think and the more R's there are the more efficient it gets.

It turns out that the last step is the hardest to accomplish. Data needs to be reconstructed exactly, not approximately. The most popular forms of compression used today do not use this method. The saving in space simply is not enough.

We are stuck with the last method, throwing some data away in hopes that it will not be missed or that it can be reconstructed by "guess" work. There are some great alogrithms out there, but they still throw away data and it sounds like it!

So, in compressing binary files, lossy compression became the norm. You no longer had a perfect copy, you had something that was nearly like the original. Most image file formats are lossilly compressed and that was the way it was with MP3 files. When the MPEG 1 Multimedia formats were being defined, layer three was the audio layer hence the term MP3.

There is no way in which one can reasonably consider an MP3 file a "perfect" copy of a track from a CD. This is Home Computer and Music industry FUD which has duped consumers into believing, for instance, that black is white. It plainly is not. How long has it been since you listened to some real music played live? What you hear with your own ears live is the only bench mark for comparrison, not what some advertising agency, music industry guru or home computer salse campaign tells you.

Read Introduction to audio measurements and terms and hear what a real audio engineer has to say about this. I will agree with Christopher Scott whole heartedly when he says
"In the author's opinion, one cannot speak of high-fidelity when including lossy compression."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Schubert's Last Piano Sonata; Sviatoslav Richter's Unique View

There are some pieces of music which I seem never to be finished with. The Schubert Sonata in B flat Deutsche 960 is one of them. I happened upon one of my many recordings of this work last week sometime and it set off a round of who plays what which way.

It is Sviatoslav Richter's playing in this case stands out. He may be the greatest Schubert interperter of all time. That isn't to say that others do not play the work well, its just that Richter has some sort of affinity for this composer which illudes most others.

This particular recording, on the French Le Chant du Monde label catalogue number PR 254 032, dates from September 24, 1974 in front of a live audience as was Richter's custom. He preferred recording live rather than in the colder studio atmosphere. But there is nothing to distinguish this from the best studio recording save a cough or two from the audience, and those just between movements. Obviously the audience knew how special this performance was. Richter's tempo in the first movement can only be described as glacial. Digging through all of the half dozen or so recordings of this work I have non play it this slow nor dare take the frist movement repeat. Richter does both and the audience responds with rapt silent attention.

Schubert stands apart as a symphonist and writer of extended insturmental works in that his writing first and foremost comes from melody and depends on it for to agreater extent than other composers, for its extended development of musical ideas.

His more than 650 lieder or songs written his short 30 some years are quite remarkable for their melodic inventiveness and in the way they treat the singer's and accompanist's relationship to the words.

Schubert extened this approach even to his longer insturmental works. For example, Beethoven's developmental structures are frequently rhythmic and motivic (eg. the first notes of the 5th Symphony spell the entirety of the symphony. He uses almost no other material.) Schubert, on the other hand spins out his melody and in just a subtle turn of a single phrase or harmony can lead his listener of player on the excursion down another path in the road each time it re-occurs.

Schubert uses his rhythmic accompniment to propell the movement along and turn up the emotional temperature. Notice the first time you hear the first theme, the accompniment is two notes to each one of melody roughly, the second time there are three, and the thrid time in its grandest statement four notes to each one of melody. So the listener has the sense of increasing tempo where there is none.

This is one of the trickiest things the performer has to contend with. The impulse to increase tempo is nearly irresistable. Indeed, many a student has struggled to keep theis movement in a stable tempo. Richter, of course, suceedes admirably and thus revealing the tension built into the structure of this movement.

Schuberts' use of melodic development necesssarilly makes for a longer work. One might think too long. However, in the hands of a master craftsman and musician like Richter nothing seems to long.

The first movenent of the B flat Sonata are a case in point. Where Beethoven took a few bars at most to make a beginning statement, Schubert takes 18 bars to begin, then takes a breath and continues his first statement. So Schubert the song-smithe, is still so, even in a purely instrumental form. Four pages of typset score pass before just the exposition of the sonata is finished. Then the question of the first movement repeats hits the peroformer squarely. To follow the repeat or not? This is a long movement to begin with, adding the repeat of what is essentially the first half of the movment even more daunting.

Many perfomers today choose not to follow the repeat. However, this, I think, changes the whole architecture of the movement and the ones following.

By architecture I mean the classic A | B form of the baroque dances as seen in the suites of Bach, in which each dance moved from a tonal centre on the Tonic to end in the Dominant key. The in the B sectiion, the tonal movement was from Dominant back to Tonic. Two equal parts balancing each other organicly the way a leaf is when you fold it and find the one half approxamately mirrors the other. As well, each section was marked with repeats giving the performer the option of repeaing a section with some personal performance differences.

As long as the first movement repeat is honoured in the Schubert Sonata, architecture remains intact. A bar count reveals that what ended up in the 19th Century Sonata (in the theory text books at least) as the exposition, is almost exactly half as long as the resst of the first movement. So taking the repeat makes the movent a balanced whole. Without the repeat, the movement is over 300 bars long and with it almost 500.

Richter takes this repeat. It makes this movement alone as long as the rest of the Sonata movements put together. Richter does not disspoint in the second half of the movement and the listener is completely convinced.

The remarkable thing about Richter's playing is that he is able to sustain the slow tempo and keep the listener engaged in the world he and Schubert create together.

I don't have anohter recording where the first movement repeat is honoured. Only Richter is brave enough to risk it. He does this in live recordings no less. No second chances, no retakes. Possibly even more remarkable is the hushed silence from the Prague audience that night.

This is, perhaps, the last work for solo piano Schubert wrote. Written mere weeks before his death. Within the space of about a month Schubert penned his last three great Sonatas. This was the last and perhaps it is his impending death which result in the storm clouds that seem to alway loom in the distance in this work and may explain the brooding nature of the following one.

After the first movement, which is somewhat disturbing at times with the low ominous rumble of the left hand trills at he end of the first subject, and the dramatic 1st ending Schubert supplied for the repeat (Richter manages to make this bars fit in without sounding as if it were just tacked on at the last moment), The second movement begins on an even more troubling accompnying note.

In Schubert's Lieder, the accompnyment frequently supplies part of the scene in which the singer finds himself. For Instance Die Forrelle (The Trout) one hears the singer (a fisherman) talking about the trout in the stream as he prepares his hook and in the piano accompnyment the pianist supplies the babbling brook at in each bar, a leap out of the water by the doomed trout.

In the second movement, the melody is a solemn song, with the accompnyment limping along behind the melody with its octave leaps beginning on the pickup to the beat. Such a sparse accompnyment is troubling to say the least and it foreshadows a movement from Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit. The most disturbing scene in the whole suite,
Le Gibet, a corpse hangs from a gallows sillouhetted by a blood red setting sun. Certainlly if it was impossible for Schubert to foresee this, we in this milenium, with hindsight, cannot escape it. Schubert himslef was only weeks from death himself when he wrote these notes.

After such a bleak, but beautiful, slow movement a cheerful scherzo is a welcome releif. Richter's fleet fingers make easy work of it. But even here shadows appear. The trio section of the scherzo is a syncopated minor key look into a slightly grotesque world, howeer breif.

(You can find all Gaspard de la Nuit in a translation by Michael Benedict by clicking on the link.)

The last movement begins with one of those most puzzling of dynamic markings composers use in their scorees. The first notes, octaces in both hands marked Forté the Piano. (ƒp). What did Schubert mean by this? Some believe that it was a natural sound produced by the pianos of Schubert's day where a note struck and held would naturally have the sound of forté then piano immediatlely after. But how does one replicate this on a modern instrument? Or, did Schubert want something more elaborite, where the pianist strikes the octave and releases it only half way so the hammer hits the string again but at only half velocity because only half the action was able to reset before the key was struck again?

Since we no longer use the kind of instruments which Schubert used and our modern concert grand pianos are substantially different instruments, what is the correct way to deal with this? We will probably never know. And in the long run, its affect on a perfomance is minimal as long as the performace is otherwise up to par. It's an interesting academic puzzle but not one by which a perfomance lives or dies.

One might easily pass this recording by in the music shop, so dull and utterly uninteresing is the cover. Don't hesitate! Buy it and where ever you happen to live, remember to support and shop at your local Classical Music Retailer!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

If Online Sales Aren't good, obviously its because of Piracy ... NOT

I was alerted to this article which appeared in the Vancouver Sun recently, at by reading Michael Geist's most excelent Blog. This Blog stands with Pamela Jones Groklaw as probably the best Blogs in the blogosphere.

Aparently Canadians are not buying enough music online, therefore we must be stealling it! or so says Graham Henderson of the Canadian Recording Industry Assosciation.

So Canadians, per capita are not paying for music from online retailers. So Says the Canadian Recording Industry Association. I have no doubt that this is true, but I disagree with Grahamm Henderson's interpertaion of these figures. I'd say that Canadians are showing considerable savvy by *NOT* buying music online. The MP3 format by its own definition (the formal MPEG 1 Sound layer MP3) is a lossy form of compression which cannot deliver even the sound quality of an ordinary CD.

Statistics are interesting things. Basically you cannot argue with a statistic. It is what is. What you can comment and even disagree with is;

  1. The Method of data collection
  2. The wording of the questions (open ended questions are bad survey questions, so are ambiguous one.)
  3. Interperttion of what the numbers you have acquired mean.

In this case, what is in doubt is the Canadian Music Industry's interpertaion of the data. The argument is this: Canadians are purchasing less music from online downloading stores than their american and european counterparts. Therefor they must be stealing it by illegal means.

Of course when I lay it out in that wat, without a fancy press report, you can immediately see the flaw in logic. You have no way of knowing what those consumers did with their money instead of spending it on downloadable music.

I didn't pay for mp3 files and never will for one reason; its substandard merchandise. I choose to believe that my fellow Canadians have also seem mp3 for what it is, a format sadly lacking in quality and the terms and conditions of sale of unacceptable.

This if Music Industry FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt.) There is no one in the high tech industry who can touch the music buseinss in spewing FUD. They have been doing it for longer than the high tech industry has existed.

In reality Mr. Henderson has no idea, nor has he proof that instead of buying music they are stealing it. How dare he assume that! How dare he tell us what to do with our money. He talks like the industry is entitled to be profitable.

Piracy has been the excuse the Music Industry has fallen back on everytime there is a slump in sales. The truth is that slumps in sales are more likely to be the result of poor leadership, and lack of quality product the customers want to buy. It is no good simply throwing releases onto the market. The music buying public is crafyt that way, they refuse to purchase what they donn't like. Mr. Henderson would be well advise to look in his own backyard and figure out why his customers have deserted him.

In Canada, my guess is that it is lack of variety. You cannot expect Canadian comsumers sit next door to the one of the biggest markets int eh world, see the variety and not want the same for themselves. I would guess that those who wish to purchase music online have done so, and just may have done it through non-Canadian sources. I remember when I wouldn't buy an Angel recording, I imported a copy from the U.K. The reason, crappy quailyt vinyl.

I have news for the Industry. No industry has a right to a particular market nor do they have the right to tell consumers what they want. Profit is the result of selling goods to people who want them. There is no right to be profitable. They must compete in the world as they find it. We should not, and must not create a market especially so that the dinosaurs can surivive. Mr. Henderson, your business model has been judged and found wanting. Nothing can change that!

Monday, March 06, 2006

The RIAA Throws In The Towel: A Chink In The Armour?

Chink in the armour indeed! But is this only wishful thinking? its possible, however, I hope for the best.

For a long time I have known that there is an underlying problem in the upper echalons of the businesss world. It is that they are completely disconnected with the advances in technology. They are not technophobes by any means. Their power and positions have enabled them to simply bypass it. They have "left the details" to others for so long they no longer know what "the details"are.

Steve Jobs (read the interview in Rolling Stone)had to explain this in detail to them, to get them to understand that the word "burn" in conjunction wiht making a CD meant to write data to the blank media and not to steal or hurt someone else. The lack of basic technical understanding on the part of someone they call a Vice President was truly alarming. He knew less than a highschool computer technologies student would be expected to know. I would have recomended a basic computer literacy program for hiim.

Since before the dawm of the age of Personal Computing this has been evident. If they have any expertise at all it may be in accounting or legal issues. If the other cases are based on this kind of flimsy evidence this whole case could come tumbing down under them. It is a house of cards.

The reason they cling to their outmoded business model is that they cannot see that it is dead and gone. The keep on showing a basic lack of understanding of their own product. The value of what they do isn't in the so called Intelecual Property at all. It is in their packaging for it. People buy music on CD because it is convenient. It is packaged attractively and in the case of classical music and jazz, the packaging includes interesting details on the music, the musicians, the recording methods etc. This fact has escaped them.

The reason that print publishing can still publish public domain works like those of Bach and Beethoven certaily isn't in the Intelectual Property, but in the typesetting, the professional printing and the binding of the works. A Pianist or Piano student doesn't often photo copy a Beethoven Piano Sonata primarily because photocopies are not as good as a printed one, photocopies come as loose pages. Having a bound, easy to read copy which they can put their own editorial markings in has value.

So, the packaging and mass marketing of music has the same kind of value to the consumer. Downloading, purchasing blank media and writing that to CD, then making what ever container you want takes time and costs money. I, for one, do not want to do this. I can, but I would much rather buy a copy from my local retailer. If they started to do things that promoted this kind of value added philosophy they wouldn't be so scared of what has happened since the first CD's were produced.

The popularity of CDs in North America took the industry completely off guard. I expected it. It was obvious that everyone in North America wanted someething like this. Poor vinyl quality here primed that market. In Europe, where the quality of vinyl was much higher, CD sales took nearly a decade to replace LP's where this change in North Ameria took barely 5 years. EMI nearly missed it completely -- being late to pick up on a new tehcology -- just like they were last to start producing vinyl LP's.

One feels like a parent trying to take a childs favorite old thread-bare blanket from the child and encountering screams of dissmay over the loss of something that has lost its usefullness and the uttter frustration in trying to communicate the the blanket is being replaced by something better than the old thread bare one. For reasons which escape the parent, the child stil clings to the old thread bare one, even though it no longer keeps the child warm. Most children eventualy give up the old one and accept the new, if this isn't the case a parent is worried about the child's mental health --- and justly so. We should be worried aobut the music industries mental health, very worried.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

You catch More Flies With Honey!

Recenetly, Sterophile Magazine reported this: Lay off the DRM!
February 26, 2006 — Speaking at the Music 2.0 conference in Los Angeles on February 23, Yahoo Music's general manager Dave Goldberg startled listeners with a statement probably never previously heard from the head of a for-pay digital music service:

"DRM is not a consumer value proposition, it’s a consumer cost," said Goldberg. "It creates a nice barrier of entry for the tech companies, rather than something that’s beneficial to labels, artists, or consumers."
At least one major online Music bigwig agrees with me! Since the advent of the CD era, one of the biggest gripes consumers have had is that they don't get more for their money, they get less.

While Gold berg was talking mainly about the more recent lawsuits against P2P downloaders we all know that with the obvious price point change brought about by a new medium, the major distributors through that they could simply transfer the old LP format music onto CD's and make a killing at their customers expense. However they were called to task then, mainly by classical music lovers. Every major review magazine noted that the CD medium was designed to carry almost 80 minutes of music and in most cases, at that time consumers were getting only as much as would fit on a regular LP, that is less than 60 minutes.

The outcry from classical music lovers forced the major distributors into putting more music on their re-issues. They were also forced to re-issue old material at new price points. Sadly this practice has become less and less frequent especially on new releases where the average time is usually only around 60 minutes. Sixty Minutes may be enough for Walter Kronkite and Andy Rooney, but it sure isn't enough from music lovers paying for what is touted as a top valued medium.

Actually the former Distributor (purchased by Universal) PolyGram prooved this point when they released a full set of Beethoven Symphonies conducted by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic at the unbelievable price point of $20.00 CAD. Copies flew off the shelf! PolyGram was impressed enough to continue offering deals like this. Later a ful Ring Cycle was released at the same price point! I doubt that many people had ever owned a full Ring Cycle before. I only wish the industry as a whole had learned form this instead of continuing with their Scrooge-like mentality.

Goldberg also tosses buckets of cold water on the idea that consumers will ever accept a subscription fee for access to distributor's catalogue. I have to agree with him. Who wants to pay each year, or month for access to something you know you will be using the rest of your life?

Thanks to Groklaw for pointing me to this story!

Friday, February 17, 2006

I'm confused: What exactly do you mean by label?


These stoies are ones I lived through, I am documentiing it now from memory. They are also a view from the bottom rung of the industry in a medium sized, very wet city on the Pacific coast of North America. So some of these time lines may not be exactly right but they are as nearly as I can remember them. If you have information or more detail about any of these facts, please let me know... I will fill in blanks and mkae sure inaccuracies are corrented as best I can. df.

This is a good quesiton. In the recording industry the term label is used extremely loosely. In the strictest sense of the word a "Label" is the label stuck on a recorded object like a 78, 45 or 33.3 RPM vinyl disc or printed on a Compact Disc or on an pre-recorded audio tape. This holds information about what is on the disc. More importantly for this definition, it has printed on it the name of the company under who's direction and control the disc was produced. So, a recorded object with RCA on the label is produced at the direction of the RCA Victor Company or what ever they happen to be. Usually these companies are pretty small by todays standards. However, a recording label does not usualy do its own distribution. This is left to distribution companies who more often than not, distribute multple labels.

Still confused? Its little wonder, because some record labels have the same name (or almost) as one of the labels they distribute. An example of this is Warner. There is a record label by that name. But there is also a distribution company by that name. Of course you will all know the name Warner Bros. becuase you watched Bugs Bunny cartoons! Yes, Warner Bros. is also a Hollywood Movie prodction company. The distrubtor known as Warner was formed to distribute Warner Bros. Movies to theatres. They also handled the distribution of television product to TV stations. It was a very small leap to also form a record label by that name, as well as distribute the product. Warner is atypical in that it began life as a Movie Production Studio. Columbia is another motion picture company that had a similarly named recording label. It subsequently changed its name to CBS, then was purch
ased by Sony.

Still confused? If you are still confused, its a good sign. It means you are getting the picture that this is an industry that has skewed its image in the pubic mind so that they cannot tell up from down or right from wrong. I don't believe the creation of this illusion was accidental. It has been promoted because otherwise you might see more clearly how full of smoke and mirrors the whole business really is. You can scarcely untangle the web or corportate ownership which had lead to the existance of these multi-media conglomerates.

In truth REAL record labels are very small specialty businesses. Most are formed to produce and record a very few artists in a specific genre. In some cases a label is formed by the musicans themselves so they have something unique to put on their product. Labels are small and fragile, every production is a huge risk. They risk bankruptcy at every turn. It takes a special kind of genius to run one. Keeping artistic integrity and running a good business is difficult at the best of times. In the business as it is now (and has been for decades) it is a feat requiring superhuman powers. At some point they are sold because of financial difficulies, or other problems and some larger corporate entity purchases them and their assets (including the artists and their contracts!). In some cases this has been fortunate, in others it has been disasterous.

In truth the use of the word label is at best a misnomer and at worst, an insult to the REAL business of producing and recording music. Much of the time, the larger company is wise enough to leave the record label itself intact with its original vision in place, in others it is simply dismantled and its assets mergered with others. In fact these Distributors know nothing about the producing, directing engineering nor do they know anythign about the music itself. Its about Money, pure and simple, greed and waste follow them where ever they lead.

Lets take a look at some specific instances. Originally, London (in North America, Decca in the UK), Phillips, and Deutches Gramophon were separate companies. In the late 70's Deustches Gramophon was purchased by Polygram, a large distributor of pop music in Europe. Shortly there after they also purchased London/Decca and Phillips. The classical world was aghast... this was a major portion of the classical catalogue in the hands of one owner. Polygram assured its consumers that each company wouldl retain its own identity and mission, simplly ownership and distribution had changed. PolyGram, for the most part were true to their word and the three labels remained major players in classical music production.

The story doesn't end there however. In the last decade of the last centruy, Edgar Bronfmann Jr. announced that he wanted to be in the Enteretainment Business a.k.a. the Movie business and purchased Universal. (Mom and Dad's money came in handy for that!). A while later, Universal announced it had purchased MCA (which had a motion picture branch and a recording branch as well and also owned the rights to the cataloge and name Decca in North America). Hang on to your seats. Meanwhile PolyGram purchased Verve, Riverside and the Fantasy and GRP label putting it squarely in control of major portions of the jazz catelogue. Within a few months, Universal announced the purchase of PolyGram and within one decade, Universal now controls most of the classical catelogue, most of the Jazz catelogue and large portions of the popular music catelogue. Forgive me if i do not have exact numbers. If they do not control most of these catelogues, they certainly control major protions of it.

So, as you can see, litterally dozens of small labels have been swallowed lock stock and barrel by another corporate entity. Universal isn't really a label at all. They simpley own catelogue and distribution rights, and by virtue of that, tehy also control the artists who record for them.

The point of all this is to make clear that the usage of the word label is really not correct. We should be calling them Distributors. Do not confuse the two. A record label usualy is run by people who truly care about the music, the artist, the consumer and the recording industry itself. The same is not true of the Dsitributors. By in large, they care only about the bottom line. returning a profit for their shsareholders. At the end of the day that is the only thing that is important to them. Mostly, human beings are lost in the shuffle and are a mere inconvenience for these huge coroporate behemouths.

By and large, real recording labels are not in the business of distributing recroded music, it is a completely different kind of business. True Recording Labels do not usualy do their own distribution. Many labels were aquired by outside business interests and turned into what they are now. Warner Brothers bought Atlantic Records and Elektra and formed a company which was known as WEA (Warner, Elektra, Atalantic) for distribution purposes in Canada. (ed. I notice that the Wikipedia sometimes doesn't distinguish a label from a distributor!)

RCA Victor used to be a separtate entity but was purchased in the 1980's by a large muisc publishing house called Bertlesman, this became knwon as the Bertelsman Music Group or BMG. The tales of these companies is long and convoluted and usualy only remembered by insiders int he businsess. Classical Music lovers will know that London, Phillips and Deutsche Gramophon all used to be completely independant companies until they were bought by PolyGram. PolyGram purhased Telarc and GRP Recordings in the late 1980's. In the late 1990's PolyGram was bought by Universal which had itself recently been purchased by Edgar Bronfmann Jr. He proceeded to buy lock stock and barrel MCA (label and distributor), A&M Records (itself a distributor in Canada but not in the U.S.), Verve and Riverside went next .. .owned by Universal. Universal now owns the major portion fo the jazz and classical recording industry.

The pace in the 90's was dizzying; the black limousines drove up to many Distribution offies in Canada with instantaneous firings of Music Distrubution Exectutives. It took only a few years to rewrote the music distribution businesss map. In 1985 there were seven Major Distributors of recorded music product, at the present moment there are only four. Not only were there major changes in the industry worldwide, but I believe the industry saw the writing on the wall when they saw the problems the book publishing industry was in. They also remembered the fiasco of the A&A Records and Tapes IPO and subsequent bankruptcy. This nearly broke the back of most of the major distributors. Had not the retailers in Canada stood with the distributors the whole industry would have failed.

Each and everyone of those labels I just mentioned has a long and distinguished (for the most part) history behind it, and its they're all now owned by a very few companies.

So most of what are normally called "labels" aren't really labels at all, they are large powerful distribution and sales networks owned and opperated for the profit and benefit of shareholders, NOT for the benefit of the artists or the consumer.

It has been of great benefit for these multinational corporations to have this bit of misinformation planted in the public's mind. This has enabled them to wrap themseles in the mantra that they are taking care of the artists rights when they sue consumers for downloading music. In actual fact, they care little for the artists themselves, and are only concerned with the recordings and the profit they squeeze from the public by seeling overpriced copies of inferior quality like they did during the vinyl erra. Now they are just over priced. And if we're lucky we can hear the improved quality. This has never changed since I started collecting and reading about music in the 1960's.

Understanding the music business is much easier when you weed out the disinformation created by the publicity these distribution networks generate.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Black Ages: The Errosion of Public Domain

I had not intended to address this issue until later, however things have progressed to the point where I believe it necessary that everyone's voice must be heard. Further that everyone who is capable should be shouting in descent.

Why is this coming now? Google Videos are now available. Most of the content is now public domain, but if you get it from Google, you will be subject to their terms of service which turn out to be quite evil. Boing Boing reveals in their blog titled Google Video DRM: Why is Holly wood more important than users? how this viscously evil scheme will work. It isn't copyright! It is a whole new layer of Digital Restriction Management which in reality has nothing to do with copyright. It is a blatant move to hijack what should be freely available to everyone and what has come to be called fair use. If this plan proceeds anything you thought you could do with content you purchased is gone.

British Libraries fear digital lockdown are worried enough about it to present a petition to parliament. Follow the link to read their petition.

We should be worrying about the extension of Rights (Restrictions) to content that is not really protected by anything except the people who add the content to the media an distribute it. This sounds like a new cash grab. Patent and copyright were meant to protect people who created or published content. However there is a new model upon us in which people who have no stake whatever in the patent or copyright and never intend to make use of it other than to sue or charge rent. We have already seen the advent of companies formed simply to mine patents and sue small and medium sized business.

With the negotiations for the new Copyright treaty taking place now in Geneva, even more public domain material could descend into copyright/DRM jail again. Thank-you again to Boing Boingfor this story.

This new business model would take items which are not copyright and lock them into a new proprietary management scheme where users/public have no rights. The battle lines are already drawn. SCO suing IBM for aledgedly dumping milions of lines of Unix code into Linux. The response from the Open Source community was swift with the formation of Groklaw every single legal dodcumenet was put online from the procedings and what there was of the SCO claim of copyright infringement was quickly laid bare for the hoax that it was. This has left SCO floundering like a fish out of water, already in the throws of death.

There are leaches out who would like to see all music and video entertainment as well as any information, online libraries or databases accessed on a pay-per-use basis. These leaches neither write, compose or create new works, they only find ways of extorting money out of our pockets. Public Domain was put in place so that this type money grubbing leaches would not be able to do this very thing. Yet, they sit and negotiate this Public Domain away or they build Linux clusters with super computing power to find work not bound by copyright and attach another rights RESTRICTION to it. I find this idea revolting! So will thousands of other collectors out there.

I have sworn by this universe, I will never accept pay-per-use media. I have rarely ever rented videos. When I have rented them I can almost never find what I want. Digital television and radio, music recordings seem all headed in the direction of some form of pay-per-use. I cannot find content in any of these services I want to listen to or watch. My tastes simply do not lend themselves to being offered in this way. This is why i collect music. As a musician I must always be listening to new things and always be looking out for what others have missed.

Please understand this. The leaches out there would like nothing better than to put up the pay-per-use (PPU = Pay-per-use = PU) music in place. The people who make those decisions do it for reasons of marketability. I want content which has not been screened by village or country idiots or the leaches of the RIAA of other such organized evil. I'm sorry, my toe nail clippings have better taste than these people.

Simply put, I want to purchase content .. not rent it. I have shelves full of CD's which I have purchased, some are simply there because they are part of an important collection and others are prized possession which I value more than money. There is no dollar value which can be placed on art. It is truely priceless, and our Public Domain Concepts protect our access to all that mankind has created. I fear the comming of the Dark Ages again, this time not just dark, but black.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Passing of a Legend; Birgit Nillson Dies at 87

I am saddened to note, one of my Favourite Wagnerian Sopranos, Birgit Nillson died on December 25, 2005. The BBC noted her passing on Thursday, adding that there had been no illness reported and the the funeral had taken place (the previous day) Wednesday in her home town,Vastra Karup, southern Sweden.

Nilsson made her stage debut in 1946 at the Stockholm Royal Opera. Her Metropolitan Opera Debut in 1959 singing Isolde in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde

She began her long relationship with the Bayreuth Festival in 1954, with her performance of Elsa in Lohengrin. She went on to perform Siglinde and Brunhilde in Die Walkure to great aclaim. Her performance as Brunhilde is available in a recording with Erich Leinsdorf conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in which she sang opposite Canadian Bass Baritone George London as Wotan; on a Decca/London re-rlease Catalogue 470 443-2. (You can hear (in REAL Audio) a lengthy 53 second exerpt from the prelude to Die Walkure at the Decca sight as well!)

Isolde is one of the most diffiicult and physicallly exhausting roles in the soprano repertoire. In addition to the many other rolls she appeared in, one of the most notable is her performance as The Princesses Turandot at the Met for many years.

She retired from the stage in the 1980's ending an astounding 40 years of profressional singing. Every Saturday afternoon since I was a boy and into my teens, I tuned in to the Texaco Metropolitan Opera Live broadcast. For years hers was one of the voices I heard with regularity on the opera broadcast.

Birgit Nillson's voice was unmistakable with its crystal clear brilliance up into the uper registeres. On of my favorite recordings of hers remains her recording of The Princess in Giaccomo Puccini's Turandot with Franco Corelli singing the roll of The Prince on EMI CDMB 69327 I doubt many soprano's could match her performance in the Riddle Scene 'In questa reggia', with its brilliant high C's.

No, doubt EMI Canada has been caught off guard by this one, again a major classical recording artist dies and they will be scratching their heads trying to figure out who she was. It does not seem to be represented in the current Canadian Catalogue but it is still avaiable internationally. I found the listing in the International Catalogue by looking for Franco Coreli, the same tenor she play to in her Metropolitan Opera performance of the work.

It is well worth hitting the used CD's stores to find it. But don't count out the possibility that one of our more savy Classical relailers like Sikora's Classical Records may actaully stock the International Catalogue and have it in stock!

We will miss Birgit Nillson!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Canadians Sue Sony

Canadian blogster and Proffessor of Law in Ottawa, Michael Geist writes that there are two new Canadian Lawsuits in the Sony rootkit Scandle first reported on Mark Russinovich's blog on October 31, 2005. This one's just not going away for Sony. If you're worried that you might have this root kit or any other Windows root kit, SysInternals has created a RootKitRevealer. This is well worth checking out. I cannot since I no longer run any Microsoft Operating System.

The lawsuit claims, amongst other things that, Sony deceptively packaged this product as a music cd. Music CD's are clearly defined in a set of standards set out by Phillips when they patened the CD format in the eaely 80's of the last centruy.The CD standard guarantees that a music cd will play in any CD player. That includes those installed in PC's. This one was designed not to play under certain conditions predetermined by Sony.

The suit further claims violations of the comsumer protection, and privacy acts. The suit asks for in excess of fifty million dollars in damages and further punitive damages.

This is another reason to be very careful who you are voting for in the upcoming Federal Election. Will they take Michael Geists's pledge not to allow anyone on the House of Commons Commitee studying the legislation who has taken money from the recording industry either domestically or from the United States? The new copyright law will be with us for most of our lives and that of our children. It is a sobering thought, will your right to speak be threatened or protected?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Michael Geist's copyright pledge for Canadian Politicians

The front page of Michael Geist's web page makes for some interesting reading. It seems that our friends from south of the boarder in Holly wood South having been contributing campaign funds to certain Canadian politicians. I wonder if this has anything to do with the upcoming review of Canada's copyright laws?

He is asking all politicians in this election to take the following pledge:
No Member of Parliament who has accepted financial contributions or other benefits from (i) a copyright lobby group, (ii) its corporate members, or (iii) senior executives as well as (iv) a copyright collective shall serve as Minister of Canadian Heritage or as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, nor sit on any legislative committee (parliamentary or standing committees) conducting hearings or deliberations on copyright matters
I think its a great idea. In light of Michael Geist's revelations about the current campaign we aren't surprised are we? After all, haven't we come to expect that after Focus On the Family from south of the boarder dumped millions into the anti-gay marriage campaign.

Canadians have been told quite bluntly to butt out of American elections. Isn't what's good for the goose good for the gander to?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Recording Industry Deja Vu

A few weeks ago Steve Jobs made this comment to the press (I'll quote from one of my favourite sites, Ars Technica Ken "Ceasar" Fisher's blog at ars technica Jobs calls music industry greedy
If they want to raise the prices, it means that they are getting greedy," said Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs. "If the price goes up, they (consumers) will go back to piracy and everybody loses." He added, "Theft is bad," and the Buddhist joked that "You dont want to burn in Hell.
With that shot across the bow of the recording industry he entered a battle which some retailers have been in for decades. Namely the over pricing of flawed products in the name of music and culture.

Like many other young music lovers, I wanted to work in a music store. In the mid-eighties, I entered music retail industry completely unaware of what it was really like.I had all the product knowledge needed. I was pre-trained by my enthusiastic reading of magazines like Stereo Review and High Fidelity. I got my wish and during a transition period in this particular retail store's history, I stepped forward and asked to manage the Classical and Jazz department.

Chris, the VP of Software (music sales)
a&b Sound walked quietly onto the retail floor wearing his usual biker boots and blue jeans and motioned me to come with him and we walked down to the greasy spoon a few doors down on Seymour, where we frequently talked shop.

Our conversation was the usual you would expect in a job interview. However, what he told me about the industry shocked and dismay me. They waste money, and they over charge for their product, he told me. Further, he went on, if you expect that this might lead to a job with one of the labels you will be disapointed. They rarely hire from retail, instead they choose to hire people with no industry experience and no specialized product knowledge.

I soon found out how right he was. At almost every release period, the sales rep for the labels would approach me with my thoughts on the new releases. This wasn't just about expected sales. I was telling them about the product they were supposed to be selling to me. Essentially I did most of their job and they got the commission on the sales.

Just at the dawn of the CD era, the major recording labels were suffering from a dramatic drop in the sales of LP's. After the energy crisis of the mid 70’s, a rise in the cost of LP’s and cassettes due to the cost of oil. Dissatisfaction with the quality of vinyl in North America took was at an all time high. It was the unexpected massive acceptance by the North American public that pulled them up into the CD boom of the 80’s.

The industry saw it as a chance to attempt to set a much higher price point for the product. They blamed lack of production facilities for the higher costs. However when efficiencies and copious pressing plants came into operation, the lower costs of production were not passed on to the consumer.

Basically the boom consisted of the consumer purchasing their whole collection again on CD. While my customers were excited about the new format, I heard underneath the resentment over re-purchasing their whole collection. Customers resented re-purchasing product. Many were eventaully forced to when turntable production replacement parts became hard to find. The public has never forgotten this.The public’s unhappiness with the recording industry runs deep.

Most of the complaints about the vinyl quality were sloughed off by the Industry as unfounded. Of course anyone who did any amount of listening could tell. When they purchased expensive pressings imported from Europe, their suspisions were confirmed. European prressings for the most part were sliky smooth, clean sounding with few flaws in the vinyl. North American pressings were a nightmare.

One day sometime circa 1987, I was talking to the Western Regional Vice President of one of the major Canadian Branch Plants of a Large Multinational Conglomerate Music Label (which no longer exists) when he explained, after returning from a major overseas conference, that plans were afoot to make music directly downloadable to the consumer on CD. I was shocked (of course worried about my own job). The mechanism?

Apparently a number of major labels had been digitizing all their holdings and were planning on making music downloadable into a kiosk type booth or store where consumers might even make to order any CD they wanted. That one day, retailers would no longer be needed (especially ones like the one I worked for which did business on a cost plus basis and were devaluing the product.

At least one major label was planning music downloads nearly two decades ago. What happened? They blinked. And in the time it took them to blink they lost the cutting edge of the market. Consumers took the problem of overpriced products with less than adaquate content into their own hands. As soon as it was feasible on the Internet, all the music you had always wanted and could never afford was now available at the best price ever. Free! Consumers chose their own price point!

Enter Steve Jobs and Apple Computer, iTunes and a little hand held digital music player called an iPod. No one believed that Steve Jobs and Apple Computer could pull off what no one else had been able to do. That is get agreement from all the major players to open iTunes stores in each country around the world. All this he accomplished on his terms for the most part. Ninety-nine cents was his price point.

It was Apple Computer that killed the floppy drive in their new computers replacing them re writable CD-ROM drives. I'm sure the recording industry were aghast! Next came DVD players and DVD-Burners.

Jumping back to my time as a retail manager, a&b Sound was a volume discount retailer who originally sold only consumer electronics and wanted to sell a few LP's to play on them. It turned into a major success story. Because of the pricing policies which was cost plus basis. No "Suggested Retail Price". In actual fact a supplier may not tell a retail outlet how to price his goods. As well, a&b Sound made it a point to be less expensive than anyone else. They fought tooth and nail over pricing, even resorting to buying single copies of all new releases for the duration of the disagreement. This resulted in the lowest CD prices in North America and perhaps the world.

We were accused of "devaluing the product" by passing all the savings on to the consumer. No one at the retail level of the music industry makes much money. Just like Steve Jobs and Apple Computer, do not make money on the music they sell. They make money on those incredibilly well designed digital music players they sell. There were continuing battles over pricing, but no major label decided they could not afford to do business. I guess they liked those large 4 and 5 digit numbers beside the names of major releases to much and the mobs of customers lining up to buy CD's. I guess they did make money after all!

EMI thinks that a price rise is certain. And of course the Industry fired back at Steve Jobs. Edger Bronfman Jr. ( the rich kid that bought his way into the entertainment business) says (as quoted by Red Herring) "There’s no content that I know of that does not have variable pricing". Where has he been since he bought Universal?

There have always only been two or at the most, three price points. All new releases and main catalogue are full price. Re-releases come out at mid-price and other extremely old content comes out at bargain-price. No, one album does not cost more than another. They are all priced equaly. I believe at one time the industry considered pricing some artists and releases higher than others and I think it was a disaster. There is no reason in the world why iTunes should work any differently than any other retailer.

The music industry never ceases to amaze. They get greedier and greedier. iTunes saves them millions in distribution and packaging costs. In fact, they have fewer expenses. In the music business, the wholesaler/distributor plays the shipping costs. In the industry, the labels at this time of the year are getting ready to accept returns from retailers. That's what happens at this time of the year, barely any product is purchased and lots is returned. The labels can expect about a 20% rate of return. Of course there will be no returned product from iTunes. Is the picture getting clearer? Where does all that money go for the tunes sold by iTunes? Straight into the pockets of the major labels.

Things change. The major labels have all changed hands. a&b Sound has also changed ownership but what Chris told me back then in that greasy spoon on Seymour Street is still true today. They are greedy!