Tuesday, January 29, 2008

ISPs Feel the Heat

Paul McGuinness
, longtime manager of superstar rockers U2, recently gave a speech at France's MIDEM conference about the responsibility of Internet Service Providers in combating online piracy.

Click here for the full text of the speech.

His presentation comes at a time of increasing pressure on ISPs from content owners and artist groups. Recently, international trade organization IFPI (sort of like the global RIAA) stated in its 2008 Report on Digital Music that copyrighted content needs to be protected by ISPs — and with government regulation, if necessary. Foreign lawmakers, particularly those in France, have seemed highly receptive to the idea. In the US, it's been rumored that ABC and AT&T are collaborating on an ISP-based solution to illegal file-sharing. So far, there's no word on what that technology might look like, or whether it would interfere with perfectly legal activities.

McGuinness' speech covers a lot of ground, but centers mostly on his belief that the technology industry has built its empire on the back of stolen creator content. He comes down hard on ISPs and hardware manufacturers, but he also calls the RIAA's practice of suing individual file-sharers "counter-intuitive."

I suggest we shift the focus of moral pressure away from the individual P2P file thief and on to the multi billion dollar industries that benefit from these countless tiny crimes — The ISPs, the telcos, the device makers.

McGuinness does mention the importance of transparency in the digital music economy, suggesting that the big labels haven't been the greatest examples of trustworthiness over the years. But he fails to comment on the legitimate uses of technologies like BitTorrent, and whether or not ISPs can be trusted to manage such behind-the-curtains technology.

No matter where you fall in this debate, we're guessing it's gonna be a big deal throughout '08.

Friday, January 25, 2008

This Week in News

Recording Industry Should Brace for More Bad News
The exodus of big-ticket artists like Robbie Williams from EMI could be an indicator of things to come. The author argues that traditional labels are becoming obsolete as consumer habits change.
Author: Wayne Rosso
CNET News, January 18, 2008

MPAA Admits Mistake on Downloading Study

The MPAA has admitted that its 2005 study that claimed that 44 percent of profit loss from music downloading was due to students on college networks was wrong due to "human error." The new number: 15 percent, and another expert claims that the figure should be as low as 3 percent.
Author: Justin Pope
Associated Press, January 22, 2008

The Fight for the Dial: Will Low-Power FM Translate in Albuquerque?

While Clear Channel spends millions to start up a new radio station, a low-power station in a town near Albuquerque opened for just $20,000, operating out of a public library. But Clear Channel executives are trying to shut down the station, arguing it creates interference with their high-powered stations.
Author: Marissa Demarco
alibi.com, January 17, 2008

The Album is Dead
Album sales continue to plummet, with no end in sight, but sales for singles have remained strong. Digital pioneer and eccentric billionaire Mark Cuban suggests that artists should serialize their songs, releasing them individually over a span of a few months instead of in album-sized bursts.
Author: Mark Cuban
blogmaverick.com, January 17, 2008

Digital Tax Could Save the Music Industry From Itself

The Songwriters Association of Canada proposed charging a flat $5-a-month licensing fee on every wireless and Internet account in the country in exchange for unlimited access to all recorded music. The reception to the proposal has been tepid so far, but it warrants consideration.
Author: Greg Kot
Chicago Tribune, January 18, 2008

Rhap Session: Soulja Boy Tell 'Em
The 17-year-old rapper recently set the record for digital downloads of a single song, with over 3 million. But he has also managed to sell over 700,000 copies of his album. In an interview with Rhapsody, he admits that he never bought an album before his own was released because Author: Toshitaka Kondo
Rhapsody, January 22, 2008

Canadian Labels: We Get "Absolutely Zero Credit" For Not Suing Fans
The head of CRIA, a trade group that represents four major Canadian record labels, said that the Canadian record companies are unfairly demonized and that they are trying to adapt to changing market conditions. He complained that the companies get "absolutely zero credit" for not suing music downloaders, as their American counterparts have done.
Author: Nate Anderson
arstechnica.com, January 22, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rehearsal Room Blues

Many of you may have seen the article in today's New York Times about the lack of affordable rehearsal space in the Big Apple. The problem, while hardly new, is getting worse due to skyrocketing real estate prices.

The story cites figures from nycMusicSpaces.org, which is operated by NYC nonprofit NYC Arts Spaces. The group claims that 44 percent of musicians in NYC make less than $50,000 a year, and they're often forced to cut corners on basic living expenses in order to pursue their art. Places to perform are also becoming more scarce, as rents and operating costs for venues continue to rise.

New York City has a reputation for being expensive, but it would be a major blow to the city's cultural character if musicians are priced out of playing.

FMC is planning a series of educational gatherings for musicians in New York State in April. We’ll be talking about everything from payola to net neutrality, but also hope to hear from artists about their experiences with securing rehearsal spaces. Stay tuned for more info on those events.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why Radio Sucks (According to Wired)

The latest issue of Wired has a short, one-page article called "Why Things Suck: Radio." We're guessing it's a part of a series, but we can't remember having ever seen it before. We're probably too fixated on their "What's Inside" column, where you can find out about all the bizarre stuff in everyday consumer products.

But let's get back to radio and suckiness. The piece does a fair job of itemizing the reasons the commercial dial is often devoid of actual entertainment. Public (airwaves) Enemy Number One? Profit-hungry conglomerates like Clear Channel:

The biggest barriers to building a radio audience are the polarizing power of music and the plethora of choices on the dial. So, when corporations like Clear Channel started buying up stations in the late '90s, they set about building a lowest-common-denominator product that would be attractive to the most listeners. "There's this idea of the perfect playlist," says Jesse Walker, author of the radio history Rebels on the Air. "Find it with research and attract the perfect audience." But it turns out that the most lucrative audience is really just "people who will not change the channel during the ads." The result: watered-down programming designed primarily not to offend.

FMC's 2006 Radio Study takes an in-depth look at this very phenomenon. But there is some hope for more diverse FM radio. In October, the FCC opened up a licensing window for non-commercial, full-power stations — the opportunity of a lifetime. Check out the first in a series of posts from FMC Full Power Project Manager Mike Janssen for an up-close look at the process.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Full-Power Series #1: Non-Com Licensing Window - Relevance and Rationale

This post is the first in a series about last October's full-power, non-commercial licensing window opened by the FCC. Mike Janssen, project manager for FMC's Full Power Initiative, will provide an up-close look at several applicants, while examining what this process could mean for listeners.

It’s no wonder that old-school FM radio gets a bad rap among music fans these days. Megacasters such as Clear Channel monopolize the commercial stations, programming them with narrow playlists that offer little musical variety. Meanwhile, some public stations are airing more and more NPR-style programming, satisfying news junkies but giving little refuge to lovers of tunes new and old. The radio furnishes music aficionados with few chances to discover a happening new band or a reinterpretation of a cherished sonata. No doubt this helps explain the growing popularity of Internet radio, satellite services and the iPod, which emulates eclectic radio whenever you click “Shuffle.”

Yet there’s still hope for terrestrial radio. Last October, the Federal Communications Commission accepted applications from nonprofit organizations all over the country looking to start brand-spanking-new noncommercial FM radio stations. Any nonprofit organization was eligible to apply, and many were interested — the FCC hadn’t accepted applications for new noncommercial stations since before 2000, so there was plenty of pent-up demand.

During an intense 10 months, the Future of Music Coalition focused on recruiting arts and cultural organizations around the country to apply. FMC joined a coalition of hard-working, like-minded advocacy groups to drum up interest under the banner of Radio for People. Our partners in this coalition included Pacifica Radio, the Prometheus Radio Project, Common Frequency, Free Press, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters and Public Radio Capital.

The FCC accepted roughly 3,200 applications from October 12-22, according to Public Radio Capital. Nearly 40 percent of those applications came from community and public radio groups, according to a statistical sampling analysis performed by PRC. The rest came from religious groups, including those Christian broadcasters that already operate large networks of stations all over the country and are eager to acquire even more. Last fall, the FCC decided to accept a maximum of just ten applications from each applicant; if the cap hadn’t been put in place, religious megacasters would have no doubt kept submitting. (At least 49 groups whose name includes “Calvary Chapel” filed during the window.)

Roughly 270 of October’s applicants, secular and religious, are on an accelerated ramp to FCC approval. But most of the hopeful broadcasters won’t know for at least a few years whether they’ll be allowed to hit the air. Why? Well, if the FCC were to grant all the applications it receives, the result would be interference. The Commission therefore has to figure out which proposed stations would disrupt one another and mitigate this potential interference by granting permits only to select applicants. (The 270 applicants on the fast track were lucky enough to face no competition in their areas.)

The FCC settles disputes among these so-called mutually exclusive applications by applying its “point system.” The commission rolled out the point system for the first time in March 2007 — in fact, it was the FCC’s long struggle to develop this method that delayed its processing of noncommercial applications for so many years. Thankfully, the point system favors applicants who are located near their proposed stations and who don’t already operate stations in the area, encouraging the qualities of localism and diversity in broadcasting that FMC also supports. But doling out points and resolving competing applications is time-consuming work, hence the expectation that it will take years before the FCC awards the last of the broadcast permits from this proceeding.

If you listen to FM radio — and, given that it’s free and almost universally available, many of us still do — the upshot of all this is that you could, someday, have some new radio stations on your dial to sample and, fingers crossed, get to know and love. Unfortunately, you’re less likely to notice any changes if you live in a big city. In most major markets, the FM band is so crowded that, for current and would-be broadcasters, squeezing a new station onto the dial is a pipe dream. But small to medium-sized cities and rural communities still hold opportunity for non-com broadcast hopefuls.

What will these newcomers contribute to our shared aural landscape? Could your stagnant local lineup come alive with sounds of esoteric musical genres? Fire-and-brimstone preachers? Earnest discussions of area politics? All of the above?

The answers might be a ways off, but it’s not too early to start digging. In coming weeks this blog will profile some of the would-be broadcasters whose applications are now trickling through the mysterious inner workings of the FCC. We’ll survey arts and cultural groups, religious broadcasters mega and micro, and Native American tribal groups. First up, we'll take a look at some applicants whose names alone give us hope that radio could get a little more interesting.

Mike Janssen served as Project Manager on FMC’s Full Power Initiative, recruiting arts and cultural groups to apply for stations and assisting eventual applicants throughout the process. He is a freelancer writer, editor and leader of media workshops in the Washington, D.C., area. Visit his website at mikejanssen.net.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New York Times on Copyright and Fair Use in Digital Age

This week, the New York Times is hosting a running debate about copyright, digital rights management, sampling and fair use between Rick Cotton, General Counsel of NBC, and Tim Wu, Professor of Law, Columbia University. This provides some good reading about the complexities and nuances at the intersection of law and technology, from two people with very different opinions.

Update! While you're in the reading mood, Tim Wu also had an article on Slate a few days ago regarding AT&T making noises about whether the time was right for them to start filtering for copyrighted content at the network level.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tom Morello, Stanton Moore & Boots Riley Collaborate!

Tom Morello

Relix Magazine
is reporting on an upcoming release from Tom Morello (The Nightwatchman, Rage Against the Machine), Boots Riley (The Coup) and Stanton Moore (Galactic, etc.).

The cool part is that Moore and Morello met at FMC's first Artist Activism Camp and "Musicians Bringing Musicians Home" concert — the latter which took place at legendary New Orleans venue Tipitina's in November of 2006. (The third annual event went down last week at the House of Blues). According to the article, Moore and Morello "bonded while standing at the bar of Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law Lounge." Bars have a way of doing that. Of course, so does inspired activism.

Boots Riley is one of the founding artists of FMC's Rock the Net — our national campaign for network neutrality. This issue is sure to be a hot topic through '08 and beyond; be sure to sign up in support of net neutrality at the official RTN site.

Epic Records will release material from the band, who are calling themselves the Street Sweeper, this spring. We're definitely looking forward to hearing what these guys came up with.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Musicians Help New Orleans Musicians


Last week, FMC and Air Traffic Control got their indie-rock on at two concerts to benefit New Orleans musicians still struggling to secure housing after Hurricane Katrina.

The first show, "Musicians Bringing Musicians Home III," took place in the Parish Room of the New Orleans House of Blues on Thursday, January 10. Performers included Nellie McKay, Jon Langford & Sally Timms of The Mekons, Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket, Charles Bissell of The Wrens, Kimya Dawson, Timothy Bracy of the Mendoza Line, Janet Bean of Freakwater and members of Bonerama, who provided sure-footed backup during several artists' sets. Need we say it rocked?

Here are some cool shots of the evening's festivities from NOLA.com.

The concert came at the end of FMC & ATC's annual Artist Activism Camp, which brings musicians together to discuss best practices for artist advocacy. During the two-day meeting, attendees went on a tour of New Orleans, checking in with Ninth Ward musicians about efforts to revitalize their community. Thursday night's show was a benefit for Sweet Home New Orleans — a coalition of non-profit organizations that helps find affordable housing and provides rental assistance for artists scattered by Katrina.

The following night, January 11, saw infectious pop-rockers OK Go join up with New Orleans funk faves Bonerama for a show to benefit Crescent City music legend Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, who lost everything in the hurricane. The two groups have also collaborated on an iTunes-only EP, You're Not Alone, which features Al on a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." The mini-album will be released on February 5, just in time for Mardis Gras!

Check out pictures from the gig here.

Bummed you missed the NOLA show(s)? You can still catch OK Go and Bonerama when they perform at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC on February 2 — which will be streamed and podcast by NPR. It, too, is a benefit for Al Johnson and SHNO, so don't miss this opportunity to help out Big Easy musicians in need.

Stay tuned for more info on this exciting event.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Digital Downloads: You CAN Give Them Away. . .

. . .but asking people to pay for them is another story. At least according to Trent Reznor, whose recent label-free, download-only release of Saul Williams' The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust resulted in "disappointing" sales — even at the suggested $5 price point. (Williams, on the other hand, seems satisfied.)

As this interview with Mr. Reznor in CNET points out, five bucks is around the cost of a McDonald's Quarter Pounder. And these days, it's not much more than a gallon of gas. For a full-length album of higher-than MP3 quality.

Partially inspired by Radiohead's online "pay-what-you-want" release of In Rainbows, Reznor and Williams decided to issue their collaboration in a free MP3 version as well as a $5, higher-quality digital download. The experiment, while not quite as frothed over by the press as Radiohead's, nevertheless received a fair amount of publicity.

As of early January, 54,449 people had downloaded Niggy Tardust, with 28,322 of them paying the $5. Reznor, while obviously let down, is philosophical about the figures:

Why do I end up stealing music? Usually because I can't get it easily somewhere else or the version I can get is an inferior one with DRM, perhaps, or I have to drive across town to get it to then put it on my computer or it's already out on the Internet and I can't pay for it yet. . .

So. . . here's the record in as great a quality as you could ever want, it's available now and it's offered for an insulting low price, which I consider $5 to be, I thought that it would appeal to more people than it did. That's where my sense of disappointment is in general, that the idea was wrong in my head and for once I've given people too much credit.

Reznor also seems to support the concept of an "ISP tax," which would essentially make all online music free, for a monthly surcharge of $5 or so. This idea has been advocated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Songwriters Association of Canada, as well as FMC advisory board members Sandy Pearlman, William Terry Fisher and Peter Jenner. We even held panels on this “Alternative Compensation System” at our 2004 and 2006 Policy Summits. But so far, web providers have been reluctant to entertain the notion.

But should recorded music really be free? Reznor thinks there might not be any other option:

It kind of gets into the bigger picture that you've had to face as a musician over the last few years, which in my mind was a bitter pill to swallow, but it's pretty far down the hatch with me now: the way things are, I think music should be looked at as free. It basically is. The toothpaste is out of the tube and a whole generation of people is accustomed to music being that way. There's a perception that you don't pay for music when you hear it on the radio or MySpace.

There's a difficult transition in the mind of the musician and certainly in the mind of the record label. If that is the case, how does one adapt to that?

How, indeed. We're pretty sure that 2008 will see plenty more "experiments" in pricing and digital distribution, both in the mainstream and indie worlds.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The End of DRM?

DRM (or Digital Rights Management) has been a contentious subject practically since the dawn of digital music. Many fans prefer their audio files to be free of locks, so they can enjoy their music across multiple platforms and players. The major labels (and some artists), on the other hand, have been reluctant to liberate their content, for fear of unchecked filesharing.

But it looks like DRM might finally be on the way out. Last week, Sony BMG finalized plans to remove copy protection from the music they sell digitally. Some are predicting the entire catalog will be available at digital retailers within months.

Sony follows EMI and Warner Music Group in forgoing anti-copy coding on MP3s. This represents a major development for the company, which endured the wrath of consumers back in 2005 when it placed a "rootkit" in its CDs that rendered personal computers vulnerable to all kinds of viral nastiness.

And it's not just the biggest labels that are going DRM-free — digital retailers are giving it a go, too. Napster just announced that it will convert its entire downloadable catalog to MP3, which is playable on pretty much every device on the market. It's a good guess that iTunes will soon follow suit.

FMC has always supported artists' right to be paid for their work, whether it ends up as a digital file, a webstream or a vinyl LP. But we also believe that a "licenses, not locks"-approach to digital distribution is the smartest solution to these issues. As music becomes less of a packaged product and more of a “service," interoperability becomes even more key for consumers. In fact, frustration with DRM may have led folks many to the very file-sharing sites that the big labels spend so much time and money combating. We can only hope that dropping DRM will encourage more cross-platform opportunities for the legal purchase and streaming of music. Wouldn't that be better for everyone?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Presidential Candidates & Tech Issues

www.techblog.com is tracking 2008 Presidential candidates' stances on various tech issues, including net neutrality.

As it stands now, 9 out of 15 candidates on the roster are pro-net neutrality. The majority in favor are democrats. There are also a couple of N/A listings. Not sure what that means, exactly, but Fred Thompson is one of 'em. Click here for the full list.

Check out our Rock the Net campaign (and sign up!) to learn more about net neutrality.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Bhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifenefit Concerts for New Orleans Musicians

Happy New Year!

We at FMC are always pleased when musicians donate their time and energy to help other musicians. So we're psyched about two shows taking place in New Orleans next week that benefit artists still struggling in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The first event takes place on Thursday, January 10 in the Parish Room of New Orleans' House of Blues. "Musicians Bringing Musicians Home III" features Jon Langford & Sally Timms of The Mekons, Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket, Charles Bissell of The Wrens, Kimya Dawson (who recently contributed eight songs to the hit movie Juno), Timothy Bracy of the Mendoza Line, Janet Bean of Freakwater and Craig Klein, Mat Perrine, Eric Bolivar & Bert Cotton of Bonerama. The concert is a benefit for Sweet Home New Orleans — a coalition of non-profit organizations that helps find affordable housing and provides rental assistance for the city’s cultural ambassadors.musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Tickets are available here.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune just wrote an item about this first show.

The following night, OK Go and Bonerama play a concert at Tipitina's to aid New Orleans music legend Al “Carnival Time” Johnson and Sweet Home New Orleans. Tickets are available here. OK Go and Bonerama have also collaborated on an EP for the same cause, to be released in February. The two groups will also play at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club on February 2. Stay tuned for further news about that show.

Check out this press release for more info on both New Orleans events.