Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shuffling Roles: The challenge of music culture to the music industry

Insight Discussion about Downloading Music June 3, 2008

Insight's roundtable discussion on the effect of new technologies on the music industry fails to ask the bigger question of the effects of new technologies on music cultures. The banter stays pretty close to the point of sale until Jordan Front-Hodson starts talking about his experience.

JENNY BROCKIE: Jordan, what would make you pay?

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: First of all, I would just like to say that iTunes and another thing I use called beatport, which is you pay for the money, but the music I listen to is there's not a lot of it on iTunes so I go to beatport, but it's also annoying to pay 'cause you have to use a credit card and for under-18s, I think you can't get a credit card. You have to call up your parents because they have a credit card and stuff so it's incredibly annoying to call up your parents if you can't get on to them, so that's usually why I go.

JENNY BROCKIE: So Clive, Jordan's your son so it's your credit card.

CLIVE FROST-HODSON, SHOCK MUSIC PUBLISHING: "Yeah, I'm sorry, I'll call you back."

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: Yeah, but that's another thing. It's really annoying because it's dependent on your parents, kind of thing because...

JENNY BROCKIE: So it's made too hard for you, is what you're saying?

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: Yeah, so yeah, that's basically and the reason why...

JENNY BROCKIE: But what will you pay for? What sort of things - outside the actual tracks - I mean do you spend money on music? Do you go to gigs? Do you buy merchandise?

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: Um, yeah, I do, this is the hoodie that I have now is of hard style, that's what I listen to, it's kind of, it's a style of music and it's a shuffling jumper which is a dance style, so yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how much did that cost, just out of interest?


JENNY BROCKIE: OK, so some of that money's going somewhere.

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: Yeah, and I also...

JENNY BROCKIE: The Audreys are getting a really good idea going here I think.

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: And also there's other things, because there's things for shuffling - there's like suspenders and fat pants which are also kind of thing.

JENNY BROCKIE: And have you bought all that?

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: So, I've got suspenders but I don't have fat pants because they cost US$200.

JENNY BROCKIE: So it might not just be about the music?

CLIVE FROST-HODSON: Can I just say I think one of the biggest problems for the record industry is the fact that there is a complete shift from albums to single tracks and what you have is an industry that cannot survive on single track alone. Not everyone's going to like an album, but because the shift has happened where a particular track is what is appealing to that downloader, they will download that track and they really - unless they're introduced by word of mouth - and that's exactly what the Internet is about - the word of mouth - then what we're going to have is this single business happening the whole time. The record industry cannot survive on selling singles. That's the big problem.

KEVIN BERMEISTER: I think the Jordan just mentioned a very, very important point here which is often overlooked and that's where the content industries really need the help of the ISPs because billing models - for example, credit card, which is a very big barrier to entry when you're buying a 99-cent track, have to be accommodated more frequently and ISPs have the ideal position to essentially bill either subscription on a monthly basis to their existing customers, to a household, or even on a per-track model through the bill-to-ISP model, that's something that has to be embraced and it's a real gating effect on the Internet right now.

Kevin Bermeister misses the point when he speaks of the barrier of entry being a credit card (although Jordon's desire for privacy is notable and worthy of thought.)

What's really interesting about Jordan's comments is first, that he introduces the idea that the major labels aren't of much interest to him. Beatport is a specialist download service that sells "MP3, MP4 and WAV formats on a pay per download basis from an impressive library of the world's leading independent labels" and as a business they target DJS--people who are not only going to listen, they're going to use the music they download.

Secondly, he introduces the idea that music producers don't entirely dominate the music culture he participates in. He talks about how specific articles of clothing are relevant to his world--the music culture he considers himself apart of isn't only about the music. That no one saw this as relevant, except to bring up the often trundled out idea that recording artists can make money off of t-shirt sales and performance, is missing the big picture issue of how participation by both market and non-market actors in music cultures is changing the nature of the game. It's not only that the playing field has been enlarged and you have to compete with more people and more product, its also that the playing field has been radically altered. What they see as a market, Jordan sees as a culture.

The problem with the way this discussion was framed as how should industry respond is that it misses the relationship of the music industries to grassroots music cultures. It only sees artists and artistry as people who are attempting with various degrees of success and failure to earn a living off the music they make. But one of the effects of digital technologies has been that more people are making music and more people are able to interact with people in small communities of interest. So when one recording artists says she spent $50000 making her record, the bedroom producer doesn't care because people can and are making music with much much less (and often with far more interesting results.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Flying Lizards - articles - Option, 1996

The Flying Lizards - articles - Option, 1996:

"'More and more, I begin to think that music in this century is becoming a music about occasion, about people coming together, about space, about human activity,' he continues. 'I don't see records as being so relevant to that. The rave movement in Britain is a kind of interesting subversion of the record industry in a way that punk never succeeded.'"
--David Cunningham of the Flying Lizards speaking to Neil Strauss in 1996

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Associated Press to Set Guidelines for Using Its Articles in Blogs -

The Associated Press to Set Guidelines for Using Its Articles in Blogs -

June 16, 2008
The Associated Press to Set Guidelines for Using Its Articles in Blogs

The Associated Press, one of the nation’s largest news organizations, said that it will, for the first time, attempt to define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt without infringing on The A.P.’s copyright.

The A.P.’s effort to impose some guidelines on the free-wheeling blogosphere, where extensive quoting and even copying of entire news articles is common, may offer a prominent definition of the important but vague doctrine of “fair use,” which holds that copyright owners cannot ban others from using small bits of their works under some circumstances. For example, a book reviewer is allowed to quote passages from the work without permission from the publisher.

Fair use has become an essential concept to many bloggers, who often quote portions of articles before discussing them. The A.P., a cooperative owned by 1,500 daily newspapers, including The New York Times, provides written articles and broadcast material to thousands of news organizations and Web sites that pay to use them.

Last week, The A.P. took an unusually strict position against quotation of its work, sending a letter to the Drudge Retort asking it to remove seven items that contained quotations from A.P. articles ranging from 39 to 79 words.

On Saturday, The A.P. retreated. Jim Kennedy, vice president and strategy director of The A.P., said in an interview that the news organization had decided that its letter to the Drudge Retort was “heavy-handed” and that The A.P. was going to rethink its policies toward bloggers.

The quick about-face came, he said, because a number of well-known bloggers started criticizing its policy, claiming it would undercut the active discussion of the news that rages on sites, big and small, across the Internet.

The Drudge Retort was initially started as a left-leaning parody of the much larger Drudge Report, run by the conservative muckraker Matt Drudge. In recent years, the Drudge Retort has become more of a social news site, similar to sites like Digg, in which members post links to news articles for others to comment on.

But Rogers Cadenhead, the owner of the Drudge Retort and several other Web sites, said the issue goes far beyond one site. “There are millions of people sharing links to news articles on blogs, message boards and sites like Digg. If The A.P. has concerns that go all the way down to one or two sentences of quoting, they need to tell people what they think is legal and where the boundaries are.”

On Friday, The A.P. issued a statement defending its action, saying it was going to challenge blog postings containing excerpts of A.P. articles “when we feel the use is more reproduction than reference, or when others are encouraged to cut and paste.” An A.P. spokesman declined Friday to further explain the association’s position.

After that, however, the news association convened a meeting of its executives at which it decided to suspend its efforts to challenge blogs until it creates a more thoughtful standard.

“We don’t want to cast a pall over the blogosphere by being heavy-handed, so we have to figure out a better and more positive way to do this,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Kennedy said the company was going to meet with representatives of the Media Bloggers Association, a trade group, and others. He said he hopes that these discussions can all occur this week so that guidelines can be released soon.

Still, Mr. Kennedy said that the organization has not withdrawn its request that Drudge Retort remove the seven items. And he said that he still believes that it is more appropriate for blogs to use short summaries of A.P. articles rather than direct quotations, even short ones.

“Cutting and pasting a lot of content into a blog is not what we want to see,” he said. “It is more consistent with the spirit of the Internet to link to content so people can read the whole thing in context.”

Even if The A.P. sets standards, bloggers could choose to use more content than its standards permit, and then The A.P. would have to decide whether to take legal action against them. One important legal test of whether an excerpt exceeds fair use is if it causes financial harm to the copyright owner.

“The principal question is whether the excerpt is a substitute for the story, or some established adaptation of the story,” said Timothy Wu, a professor at the Columbia Law School. Mr. Wu said that the case is not clear-cut, but he believes that The A.P. is likely to lose a court case to assert a claim on that issue.

“It’s hard to see how the Drudge Retort ‘first few lines’ is a substitute for the story,” Mr. Wu said.

Mr. Kennedy argued, however, that The Associated Press believes that in some cases, the essence of an article can be encapsulated in very few words.

“As content creators, we firmly believe that everything we create, from video footage all the way down to a structured headline, is creative content that has value,” he said.

But he also said that the association hopes that it will not have to test this theory in court.

“We are not trying to sue bloggers,” Mr. Kennedy said. “That would be the rough equivalent of suing grandma and the kids for stealing music. That is not what we are trying to do.”

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus - Here Comes Everybody

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus - Here Comes Everybody

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Anna Davis & Jason Gee | MIC Toi Rerehiko

Anna Davis & Jason Gee | MIC Toi Rerehiko

Anna Davis and Jason Gee, Bioheads (2005-2008)

Data is meaningless. Ones and zeros judge nothing. Puppets need masters. But still, when we encounter Anna Davis and Jason Gee’s Bioheads, digitally-animated ventriloquist dolls that sing pop songs and spit out psychobabble, we’re not exactly sure whose lips are moving.

Davis and Gee download the digital detritus of contemporary culture—snapshots of dusty ventriloquist dolls sold on eBay, self-help tomes hawked at, celebrity photographs with viral tendencies, and some of the catchy little numbers that populate peer-to-peer networks—and remix and reanimate the random data (with the help of easy-to-use animation software) in an absurdist attempt to make sense of it all.

Naturally the puppets get all of the attention. When George Bush and Osama Bin Laden sing a duet of Snap’s “I’ve got the Power” or Stalin, Hitler and Mao get together for a rousing rendition of “I Get Around” by The Beach Boys in Bioheads Karaoke, it’s a performance not to be missed. More than just a good gag or a clever juxtaposition, however, Bioheads pack a satirical punch because they are composite reflections of what really exists. The seeming humanity of Bioheads is all borrowed: we’re the ghost in the machine.

In Biohead Actualized, Davis and Gee show us what “greedy little dolls” (1) we’ve become. This new video installation holds a mirror up to the contemporary quest for self-improvement and perfection, and gives life to a post-modern Prometheus, a creature who speaks only the language of self-help, spewing distrustful, selfish and even silly advice at unsuspecting passersby. But the Biohead isn’t making any of it up—Everything he utters is lifted directly from a self-help audio book. The Biohead is the kind of personality that develops when fed a steady diet of actualization mantras —no wonder his psyche seems so sinister. He has been reprogrammed.

But as creepy as Bioheads may be, there is also a playfulness that stems from both the work’s humour as well as the empowerment afforded by sample-based digital culture. One can make George Bush bark like a dog if one wants to. The digital environment makes use a more powerful critical tool than production and turns consumption on its head. By agitating the media environment Gee and Davis exercise powerful artistic agency in the face of media hyper-saturation and proliferation. They’re pulling all the strings now.

While Davis and Gee may coax the Bioheads to come out and play, they also speak about the strange sense of autonomy the Bioheads exert, explaining that the digital dolls seem to develop personality partly on their own. The artists tease out subtle facial expressions and meaningful gestures from what’s already there, creating a life-like being from a single moment once captured in a photograph. That moment now has a life of its own and there is a palpable glee in watching as the image runs away from its past and into any number of digital futures.

Text by Margie Borschke

(1) From a conversation with Anna Davis & Jason Gee on March 8, 2008.

Photos by Alex Davies

The Atlantic Online | July/August 2008 | Is Google Making Us Stupid? | Nicholas Carr

The Atlantic Online | July/August 2008 | Is Google Making Us Stupid? | Nicholas Carr

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.

But the machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”

The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. “The brain,” according to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”

Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds. Others argued that cheaply printed books and broadsheets would undermine religious authority, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery. As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, “Most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient.” But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver.