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Written by: Chris Castiglione
The recording industry has indeed suffered from declining sales over the past ten years and it may be tempting to point the blame at file sharing, yet a mistake that is commonly made is to claim that the recording industry crisis is a music industry crisis.
For example, evidence from a Dutch study by Annelies Huygen in 2009 shows the “positive effect” of illegal file sharing: people who download music illegally (aka. pirates) are more willing to pay for concerts and related music products. Huygen illustrates that the other sectors of the music industries (the artists and live music) are benefiting from illegal music.
A Pew Internet report from 2004 interviewed 2,755 musicians to get their opinion on the impact of P2P file sharing on the music industries. In the report, more than two-thirds of musicians revealed that file sharing was only a minor threat to them, or no threat at all. Within the past five years there have also been a number of bands (e.g., The National and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) whose success has been attributed to P2P file sharing.
The rock band Wilco is one of the first bands to famously benefit from P2P file sharing. In 2001 the band was dropped from the Warner subsidiary Reprise because they were unwilling to negotiate creative changes on the album. At first Reprise refused to hand over the (already recorded) album to the band unless Wilco signed a $50,000 deal to transfer the rights, but shortly after Reprise agreed to give it to Wilco for free as a peace offering. Ten years prior, being dropped from a label might have been the end of a band’s career, considering the challenges of distributing the album (among other factors). Instead of finding another distributer, Wilco gave the album away for free on their website. Within weeks Yankee Hotel Foxtrot had been downloaded by thousands of fans and was met with critical acclaim in the blogosphere. Then, in an ironic turn of events, Warner bought back the album they had given to Wilco a year earlier! Warner released the physical copy in 2002 and the album went on to sell over 590,000 units, peaking at number thirteen on the Billboard charts.
I have personally experienced some of the benefits of sharing music on P2P networks while promoting my band Dance at the Postoffice’s latest album. In July 2009 I uploaded the album to the BitTorrent sites Mininova and Waffles.fm with the hope of reaching a few new fans. The Dance at the Postoffice project had begun only six months prior to this, and admittedly we had less than one hundred fans. When the download statistics came in over the next few days I was shocked to learn that the album had 20 downloads on Waffles.fm and 450 downloads on Mininova (figure 1).
In that first day, Dance at the Postoffice had made it onto the front page of Mininova as a “featured torrent”. I assumed that this might have explained the large amount of downloads, but still was not totally convinced. That week I contacted Erik Dubbelboer at Mininova to find out if there was a mistake in my interpretation of these statistics, to which he replied,
Some of these are other websites who download our torrents to use on their own website. And some of these are indeed random people sampling music. Since we have a lot of visitors the chance that a random person tries out your music isn’t that small. The huge number of downloads on [sic] the first 24 hours are because your torrent was placed on top of our front page at that time.
Similarly a moderator at Waffles.fm that goes by the name “wozgo” replied,
Yes, those are all real users sampling the music. We do not download any files for backup.
One month after uploading my album to these two BitTorrent sites, Dance at the Postoffice continues to receive an average of twelve downloads per day.
The use of “illegal music” in YouTube videos has been greeted with mixed reactions from the record labels. In 2008 Warner Music pulled hundreds of thousands of videos from the site that they believed weren’t fairly compensating their artists. Removing connectivity is usually problematic (as was shown in the last section in regard to content filtering at the level of the ISP). Ultimately it does little to benefit the artists, and in some cases can harm musicians. For example, one negative side effect of the Warner Music takedown is that some Warner Music artists that have embedded YouTube videos on their own sites now display black boxes that read, “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by WMG” (figure 2, figure 3). This connection failure not only cuts the flow of information between Warner Music artists and their fans, but it disrupts the level of continuity between the two, thus diminishing the Romantic author role by revealing industry-driven control.
Figure 2 – Death Cab For Cutie’s website displaying the Warner Music takedown notice for their own music
Figure 3 – Eisley’s website displaying the Warner Music takedown notice for their own music
While Warner Music has chosen to take down videos from YouTube, most other labels display indifference to the threat of YouTube. This is fortunate for Jive Records’ artist Chris Brown, who benefited in 2009 when his song “Forever” was used as background music in the YouTube hit “JK Wedding Entrance”. Within five days after the video was posted it became the most popular clip on the Internet, according to Nielsen’s BlogPulse, quickly passing 10 million views. Despite Brown’s song “Forever” having been released a year prior, it returned to the iTunes Top 10 list shortly after the release of “JK Wedding Entrance”.
Acknowledging illegal music as part of the music industries
Until file sharing is decriminalized, “illegal music” should be included as a component part of the music industries. To acknowledge illegal music within the analysis of the music industries does not excuse or condemn the act. Rather, it focuses on how illegal music is displacing profit and power within the music industries and creating effects that can be seen as positive.
The Australian government’s framework of the music sectors is rare in that it includes “illegal downloads” as a sub-sector of the music industries. The official document from the Music Council of Australia does not provide a detailed justification for the decision, but simply mentions that illegal downloads are important to include because “the record companies…are under increasing threat from piracy”.
Additional reasoning for why acknowledging illegal downloading should be included as a part of the music industries’ strategy is that websites are profiting immensely from illegal content:
- The Pirate Bay claims to be “the world’s largest BitTorrent tracker” with over 3 million users. Despite prosecution against four members in April 2009, the site still operates legally under Swedish law and generates about $780,000 annually from advertisements.
- According to the Dutch recording association BREIN, 92% of torrents on the BitTorrent site Mininova point to illegal content. Nonetheless, Mininova operates as a legitimate, tax-paying business in Utrecht, The Netherlands, and earned 1,037,560€ ($1,460,676) in 2007.
- Tens of thousands of YouTube videos violate copyright law, nonetheless the company remains extremely profitable and is worth billions of dollars.
Record labels experiencing a decline in growth need not look further than the illegal content sites and P2P services that are cutting into their profits. Nonetheless, while album sales have slowed over the past decade record labels are still generating enough cash to remain profitable. For example, in 2008 Warner Music brought in $878 million in revenue and the company’s net income surged 20%. This is more evidence of the “hybrid economy” that Lawrence Lessig argues for in his book Remix:
Work successfully licensed in a commercial economy can also be freely available in a sharing economy. If this weren’t true, then there would be no commercial record industry at all: despite the war on ﬁle sharing, practically every bit of commercially available music is also available illegally on p2p networks […] Yet despite this massive sharing, according to the recording industry’s own statistics, sales of music have declined by 21 percent. If parallel economies were not possible, that 21 percent would be 100 percent.
Illegal content continues to augment and influence various sectors of the music industries. Therefore, it should be included as a component part even though the recording companies themselves have failed to take advantage of this dynamic market.
After a decade of unsuccessful battles against piracy, the decriminalization of file sharing is a must. Of the millions of dollars collected by the RIAA against illegal file sharers, none of this money has trickled down to the artists. The war on piracy does not get musicians paid. The more important (though less often discussed) question in the recording industry should be: how are musicians going to be compensated for their work?
Written by: Chris Castiglione
The term ‘music industry’ is a misnomer that distorts the reality of the situation between the recording industry and musicians. The misconception comes from the fact that the ‘music industry’ is not one industry, rather it is several independent industries.
This is an important distinction because too often the “crisis in the recording industry” (associated with declining sales due to piracy) is also presented as being the same crisis for musicians. An analysis of the relationship between musicians and the recording industry (documented in my MA thesis) challenges this assumption by illustrating how musicians are benefiting from piracy and other types of free content online.
Misuse of the Term ‘Music Industry’
Essentially a misuse of the term ‘music industry’ can be used to distort the reality of the situation. For example,
- The RIAA occasionally misrepresents itself as being a figurehead for the entire “music industry” when in actuality it is a trade organization for a group of labels in recording industry.
- Peter Jamieson, chair of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), attempted to speak about the “The Music Industry Crisis” at an industry convention in the UK in September 2003, but instead outlined issues particular to the recording sector.
In the media, long-winded articles documenting the decline and future of the “music industry” have been a recurring theme over the past few years. Almost every major news outlet including the NY Times, MTV and Billboard Magazine have weighed in on the topic:
- In the aftermath of the Napster shut down Wired Magazine ran an article “The Year the Music Died” predicting that in five to ten years file sharing will have completely torn apart the “music industry”.
- Nearing the close of 2007, MTV.com began a three part story that began with the article “The Year the Music Industry Broke” and asked, “If The Old Music Business Is Dead, What’s Next?”
- In 2007 Rolling Stone Magazine published “The Record Industry’s Decline” highlighting “how it all went wrong” and the “future of the music business”.
- Times Online in 2007 wrote, “The Day The Music Industry Died: There is no money in recorded music any more, that’s why bands are now giving it away. ”
Common throughout all of these articles is the conflation of the term ‘music industry’ with ‘music business’ and ‘record industry’. Surprisingly the same ambiguities are present in the university texts and academic reports. Considering the abundance of writing on the subject it is surprising that so little attention has been paid to how the term “music industry” is being (ab)used. For instance, when a headline declares, “Piracy is Killing the Music Industry” or “The Music Industry Sues 482 More Computer Users” it oversimplifies the issue by assuming that the music industry is the only music economy.
The ‘Music Industries’
A paper entitled “Rethinking the Music Industry” published by John Williamson and Martin Cloonan has helped demystify the media’s use of the term ‘music industry’. They argue that the concept of a single music industry is inappropriate for understanding the economics and politics that surround music. Therefore, they suggest, “It is necessary to use the term music industries (plural).”
What are the ‘music industries’? At the most fundamental level the music industries encompass a wide-range of individuals, organizations and corporations that sell compositions, recordings and live performances of music. Because a clear list has not been adopted, there are many inconsistencies in this model.
I recommend using the term ‘music industries’ when speaking generally about more than one of the sectors, and referencing their individual names when speaking about a particular sector (e.g. artists, the recording industry, the live music industry, the music publishing industry, the creative industries etc).No comments
Written by: Chris Castiglione
As I was preparing for my interview with the Silversun Pickups I received a Tweet acknowledging that they had just rolled into town. Later that day I chatted with the Brian, Nikki, Chris and Joe of the Silversun Pickups before their show at the Melkweg in Amsterdam to discuss what it takes to be a successful musician in the new media climate.
You guys use Twitter quite frequently, can you tell me about your experience as a band using Twitter:
Chris: It is nice to have the photo option, it’s the best, the fact that you can just take a picture and put it out there. It’s so immediate.
Brian: It’s also, at one point we had a journal on our website and it became daunting, we were all daunted by it cause we thought we had to write these masterful paragraphs. But the Twitter thing, it’s like cliff notes. It makes it really easy.
Chris: Cos the twitter thing we can just put one line.
Brian: “hey we’re in Amsterdam.”
What was your motivation for using Twitter?
Chris: I checked it out to see what it was about and if anyone I knew was on it. And then I noticed our booker was on it, so then I kind of followed him and I was like “oh your on this?”. I didn’t touch it for 3 months, then one of our label guys found me on Twitter and was like, “lets have a meeting about this, you should do this more often for the band”, and I was like OK I’ll give it a try. And so we eventually got onto it.
Do you also maintain a Facebook accounts?
Nikki: Chris and I do
Chris: It’s definitely not a personal thing anymore. It’s like we understand people are going to come in and they know who you are through your band and so they add you as a friend. And then all of a sudden they accept you as a friend.
What was really nice about it was, on my birthday about a month ago all these people were saying happy birthday to me. I made sure to say “Thank You” to everyone and people were surprised like, “OMG my friends don’t even write on my wall.”
That was going to be my next question, it seems like it must be difficult to stay in touch with fans this way?
Brian: It does get a little overwhelming. Also, privacy is important too.
Joe: The band is an entity to itself. You have to work hard to keep it separate from your personal life.
Brian: Nikki and I were just talking about this. You’ll be waiting for a movie in line, and you really just want to see this movie and the guy in front of you in line will turn around and be like, “Hey man”. It’s cool at first, but then after an hour it’s like, ”…well, so you going to see this? Cool man cool. Expensive huh?” Yeah…… and it’s like “……awkward”
Do you feel that you are forced to be friends with people that your not friends with?
Brian: NO….we always try to meet people as much as possible. You just kind of notice it getting more intense, which is fair enough. But it gets hard.
Nikki: You meet so many people every day, it’s hard to remember.
Brian: I’ve started to just feign recognition. In LA. Someone just looks at me in a coffee shop and I’ll be like, “HEY!” and they’ll look back all confused thinking, “What??” It’s hard I almost feel like there is a little friend quota in your brain.
Yeah actually there is, it’s 150 friends.
Brian: Really? Yeah that makes sense though. In context, like at a radio station or in the same kind of room where we first met it is easier. I’ll see “Ed” and I’ll be like, ok, “radio station Ed.”
How much money do bands make these days? Or to rephrase that, what does it take to be a successful band?
Brian: We really thought we were successful before we had records out, like when the band started to feed itself. When we actually didn’t have to put any of our personal money into it – we were like, “This is it!”.
Joe: If you can go on tour and come back and not have to look at your empty bank account then it is good.
Brian: I think it’s a world of blue-collar rock stars now, which is totally fine, really. If you can get by and play music.
Nikki: We feel successful that we don’t have to get another job.
Joe: Yeah, the fact that we can do this for a living is pretty much as awesome as we could have hoped it would be.
Brian: At this point we’re living larger than we’ve ever have before, we have three or four cars each, and our own blimp…and so we’re broke.
Nikki: (laughs) Yes the blimps are expensive to upkeep.
Brian: As long as you can travel around and play and make records. Than that is pretty much fantastic
So you guys don’t have jobs anymore?
Nikki: …we would be fired
So you aren’t all going back to work at Disneyland?
Brian: Hehe, yeah that was a funny one.
Joe: But yeah, I think the blue collar thing. It is possible to make a living and do this without that sort of extravagance of rock bands in the past. You don’t have to be The Who to make a living and travel. You can do it economically and smartly – we can all make a living and pay our rent back home.
Brian: I mean, there are still going to be the Kayne Wests and Lady Gagas, but the middle ground is much bigger. It’s amazing. People are really hip on what bands need. For example, now a days if people hear your song in a commercial they don’t get up in arms and say you’re a sell-out . They say “Great now they’ll be able to play my town.”
Joe: Yeah the way bands support themselves now…People are pretty knowledgeable about how bands get paid, it is more transparent.
I think people are willing to accept that there is a lot of free music out there and there needs to be a way for artists to make some money. For example, I know “Lazy Eye” was included in Guitar hero?
Brian: Yeah that was really just for fun. It was pretty awesome, a lot of kids like that game.
So that’s the coolest way to sell out I guess?
Joe: Well and that’s just another venue to get your music out. Because not only are people hearing your song, but they can play it if they want. Which is even cooler. They can play “Lazy Eye!”
Brian: Yeah and it’s hard! I’m not very good at it.
But you play guitar!
Brian: That’s why I’m bad at it.
Joe: Turning 6 strings into 4 buttons, it actually is kind of complicated.
Brian: We’re trying to work our way into scoring the next Legend of Zelda
Are CD sales important anymore?
Brian: CD sales are important, we still get some money from that.
But most of our money comes from shows, merchandise and licensing. But that’s something you got to be careful about. We get pretty strange stuff. And we turn down a lot of things, like TV shows. We’re just like, “Wow that kills me inside.” But then hopefully you get to the point when you don’t have to do that anymore.
Has the vinyl deluxe package been successful?
Brian: Yeah, actually it has. Vinyl is going up now. Actually there are two new shops in Silverlake, LA…one of our friends has one of them and he was on the news, it was like, “The one shop now making money in this economy…Oragami.” I have no tears for CDs, I’m like fine, just vinyl and digital downloads for vinyl.
It seems like some people want it cheap and quick, but other people want to treat the album like a piece of art. That’s what is interesting about the limited edition set, it’s not just something overproduced on the rack – you can really appreciate it.No comments
Written by: Chris Castiglione
Written by: Chris Castiglione
Starting May 15th Coldplay will give each fan attending a Coldplay concert this summer a free copy of the live CD “LeftRightLeftRightLeft”. A free digital download for the general public will also be made available on their site.
According to the band, the give-away is meant as a recession-busting mark of gratitude to everyone who’s supported them: “Playing live is what we love. This album is a thank you to our fans – the people who give us a reason to do it and make it happen.”No comments
Written by: Chris Castiglione
James Kirsch has been creating music under the moniker General Fuzz for the past nine years. In that time he has released five albums, two of which were listed in the Top 25 Essential Albums of The Year (2007 and 2008) on the NPR syndicated show Echos.
A notable aspect of Kirsch’s music is that the entire General Fuzz catalog is licensed under Creative Commons and can be freely downloaded from his website. Kirsch’s inspiration for making his music freely available came out of “the availability of inexpensive software and the Internet”. On his website he explains, “These two elements allow me to compose music AND distribute it globally without making me destitute, which is fabulous. I know in my heart that this music will really resonate with a few people out there, and I want to maximize the probability for that to occur.”
This week I spoke with Kirsch to learn more about his experience creating and distributing free music:
Q: How can you afford to give your music away for free?
JK: General Fuzz is not my primary source of income. I’ve been fortunate enough to pursue music and share it. I just really like to do this, I don’t need to make money making music.
Q: I notice that you have a donation button on your site. Have you made any money this way?
JK: It’s surprising, but I do received a lot of donations. Or at least more than I ever expected: maybe around 4-5 a month. This year I’ve received about $500-600 in donations. Before this last year, almost nothing (but I only just installed the donation button two years ago).
People seem to find the site somehow, and some of those people get really into the music and will donate money. I’ve been lucky enough that donations have been able to pay for my last album.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to get some licensing opportunities. Most of the time if you want a licensing deal you have to go through an agent, but I’ve had quite a few people contact me directly – which is rare.
Q: I notice you don’t sell merchandise on the site. Have you considered this as a possible revenue stream?
JK: I could probably sell merch to boost my revenue. It would just take more motivation then I have right now. I’m pretty happy with my life balance right now. Its something I may explore down the road.
Q: Have you had success marketing yourself with sites like Jamendo, MySpace or Last.fm?
JK: Not really, mostly people just find my site. I know a few people that come in from each of those sites, but most of my donations and exposure come directly through the General Fuzz site.
On the General Fuzz website – in addition to a collection of beautiful music – Kirsch has posted a summary of 6 lessons that he has learned from making music as well as a behind-the-scene look at making the album Soulful Filling.
Speaking with Kirsch I get the sense that the biggest reward for him is just being able to create music that is personally meaningful and share it with his fans. “No one cares about my music the way I do”, is the first lesson he shares on the site. I think that’s an important lesson for many things in life: similarly I know that no one cares about musicNeutral the way that I do (or my music for that matter). So check out General Fuzz’s music and if you like what you hear please follow Kirsch’s advise: always contact the artist to let them know you enjoy their work7 comments
Written by: Chris Castiglione
The band Metric has been quite succesful with their latest album Fantasies, despite releasing it without a record label.
How did they finance the album?
Typically the record label will advance the artist money to record an album. When the album is finished, a percentage of the album sales are recouped by the label to pay off the loan. So one of the problems with not being on a record label is finding the money finance the recording. Metric was able to finance the record through the Canadian non-profit Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR).
FACTOR is dedicated to providing assistance toward the growth and development of the Canadian independent recording industry. They provided Metric with a $50,000 loan, which the band will have to repay. In addition, Metric received a small federal grant from the Canadian government.
How are they making money?
Metric claims to be making more money now then they ever did in all four years as a band. They’ve been using iTunes to distribute their music and are able to pull in $0.77 on the dollar for ever album sold, as opposed to the $0.22 they were receiving when they were on a label.
They’ve also made use of Trent Reznor’s multiple price-point business model. On the Metric site they are offering 5 differ pricing packages. And similarly to Reznor’s story, they’ve sold out of all 500 copies of the “deluxe” package (which is the most expesive at $64.99) in the first 48 hours.No comments
Written by: Chris Castiglione
Last week four of the men behind The Pirate Bay were found guilty of ‘assisting in making copyright content available’. The men have been sentenced to 1 year of jail and over $3million in fines, yet at this point TBP site itself will not be shut down.
In response, Forbes pointed out the obvious: P2P and BitTorrent will continue to reemerge, despite this never-ending witch hunt.
They go on to explain that Google can also be used as a torrent search engine, and that therefore it could be “the new Pirate Bay”. Harvard’s Business School professor Ben Edelman has weighed in, “Google now can and does do what the Pirate Bay has always done,” Edelman says. “And if they’re prosecuted, they would have much more interesting arguments in their defense.”
While there is pretty big difference between TPB and Google (namely, Google doesn’t provide a torrent tracker), Google is a pretty reliable source for finding torrents. Someone here has taken Edelman’s to the next level and put together a Custom Google search to make it even easier to find music using Google.
And just today I noticed the site The Pirate Google (which does exactly the same thing, but with a more memorable name).1 comment
Written by: Chris Castiglione
No Doubt have decided to give away their entire catalog of music to fans that buy a “top-priced ticket” (above $42.50) to their summer tour.
No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumont had this to say about the offering, “Since the band is heading back to the road, we wanted to find a cool way to get people listening to our music and stoke them with a great deal at the same time. With this download its easy for fans to get psyched up to hear our music live once again and that rocks.”3 comments
Written by: Chris Castiglione
The oXcars is an awards show that celebrates free culture and supports the belief that all citizens have the right to benefit from the exchange of information and culture. Live footage from the first ever oXcars held in Barcelona last October has been edited into an hour long movie. I saw a screening of the film in Amsterdam at the Winter Camp 09 festival last month, but now the movie is freely available on the Exgae website (and I’ve posted it below). The oXcars featured live performances from free culture artists and musicians, as well as educational films and dialogue defending “piracy” and criticizing intellectual property rights.
The oXcars is an interesting experiment. Putting together an awards ceremony and deeming some pieces of artwork “superior” and award-worthy gets people’s attention. I think it is similar to the signature “leaves” label given at independent film festivals: regardless of which festival the movie was presented at, people see the leaves and like to say to friends, “so-and-so movie won an award” (implying that therefore it must be worth watching). Awards can cast an aura, and seemingly they make something more desirable. This in turn helps solve problems of discoverability (being able to find quality content). One of the problems with a site like Jamendo (and the web in general) is that there is too much free content and I never know what I should pay attention to or what is junk. Awards help in this case by making suggestions for us.
oXcars 2009 is already in the works, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be long before a category like “Best Creative Commons Licensed Movie” was included in some of the independent festivals (or even at the Oscars), or if Pitchfork started a Top 10 of free culture musicians. How might this celebration of free culture affect commercial culture?
Some of the highlights for me include an intellectual property Q&A game (8:20), the “Advanced Realities” screening documenting that follows (12:10), and P2P pioneer Pablo Soto’s acceptance speech (35:16) where he talks about his interview with former-RIAA present Cary Serman on NPR.
As a follow up to this post I’ve included some excerpts from the “conclusions” which were published on the oXcars website:
Above all, the oXcars were a question of attitude, a way of being in the world.
The kind of attitude that recognises the fact that things have changed through the efforts of all the pioneers who have spent years proposing a new paradigm for the production and diffusion of knowledge and those who defend it as a right, and thanks to the natural way in which society is using new technology.
The idea of the oXcars was to put the spotlight on this situation, and to break some of the taboos surrounding it. To act as a bridge between all of the hard background work and the general public who don’t always get to find out about it. And to do it using all available channels, even the mainstream.
We’ve worked from a strategic belief that there is a need to draw attention to these practices, and give them value within society. The oXcars made an effort to include very different realities side by side, because we think it is important to defend shared culture through a clearly identifiable response that respects the specific nature of each path, while sticking to the final objectives. We think that free culture can only exist if it recognises talent and the contributions of each individual. Only then can we provide a dense response, one that comes in so many forms and is so ubiquitous that it is beyond the reach of any attack.