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.