Complaints

Let’s, for one minute, play a little game.

I’m a reasonably successful indie-rock band, with a new album coming out soon. Knowing full well that singles don’t really sell these days, I decide instead to post a song on my website, and produce a swanky video to go with it. Anyone can go and download it, and before long, it’s all over Hype Machine, Elbows, and all those other lovely music blog aggregators, getting me lots of free publicity.

Then my new record label goes after those same blogs for posting the track and forces them to either remove the track, or if they are using sites like WordPress.com, to have them suspended.

Because the eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that this site was down for a few hours on Monday morning. That was because the lovely people who host my blog got a DMCA notice to remove the track, and because I’d been naughty before (one occasion for which I am very, very sorry), suspended my blog. Now, I have no issues whatsoever with WordPress. They do a great job, and they get threatened with legal action if a blog they host does something dodgy. But they, as all of us now are, are living in a world that is light years away from even five years ago.

Five years ago, it was possible to go and download as much free music as you liked from all sorts of dodgy places. Since then, the “free” music environment has coalesced into three main sources1:

1. Bit Torrent. Get yourself a Bit Torrent client and you can download as much free music as your hard drive (or broadband connection) will allow. Totally illegal, and totally immoral.

2. Album blogs. Search around Google for all of, ooh, two seconds, and you’ll find blogs that post whole albums. Often they are pre-release, often they post links to Rapidshare or one of the other file hosting sites. Sometimes they post obscurities, for which the immorality aspect is a bit hazy, but by and large they are also totally illegal and totally immoral.

3. MP3 blogs. These post individual tracks, sometimes a few a day, or one or two a week, along with a write-up of why they are being posted. Often it’s the writing that is key; and this is what makes MP3 blogs so special. Dig around Hype Machine or Elbows for an idle hour and you’ll soon find a whole community of people who like what you like, who’ll point you toward stuff you’d never heard but will love, and entertain and enthral. Often the tracks are pre-approved by a record label (or at least, they are in one country – well-known blogs have been wiped out due to this problem), but sometimes they aren’t. So, if you read the letter of the law, they might be illegal. But are they immoral?

No. By and large, people writing blogs are doing it for no financial gain whatsoever. They do it because they love music, because they love writing about the music they love (or sometimes don’t love), and they want to spread the word. And of course, many do it because they are opinionated loudmouths who like going on and on and on and this is a far more efficient way of wittering on about The Band They Love That If You Don’t Like You Are A Moron (perfect example: this site)2. But who cares? They love music. They want you to know about it. And this is the crux – people out there want to promote bands, for free.

There’s an obvious problem with this though. After all, if everyone started posting tracks of a band they loved, pretty soon most of their music would be available for free through the MP3 aggregators. And that wouldn’t do, because bands need to make money to be able to make music.

Now I have an answer to this. It’s going to take a cultural shift in the mindset of the record labels, and publishers, but they need to get it into their heads that we are their allies. Give us a free track or two from a new release; make them properly free, globally, so that we don’t get into that nasty “A track that’s ok in the UK is illegal in the US” thing (the Internet is international. Repeat: the Internet is international). Digitally watermark it if you like, we don’t care. But if a blogger likes the song, he/she can post it happily without any comeback from anyone. And this is the important bit – other bloggers can then post it too. The track is out there, it’s free to use, anyone can copy it, post it, whatever3. We’ll put links in our blog posts to buy the CD from Amazon, iTunes, the band’s own site, wherever. We’ll also agree to not post other tracks from the album, and anyone doing so should be contacted by the label (or publisher) and told to pack it in.

Once a record has been out for a while (maybe a few years), the rules should be relaxed a bit more. Bloggers should be able to post other tracks, as long as they don’t keep posting more than one more track from the record, and provide links to buy. After all, the singles aren’t always the ones that speak to the blogger. We ought to be in a world where music bloggers, as long as they are sensible, don’t have to live in fear of having their hard work lost as the result of trying to promote a band that they love. What’s more, if we build good relationships so that we can talk to each other better, with less of the “YOU HAVE STOLEN OUR PROPERTY AND WE ARE SHUTTING YOU DOWN” type emails, everyone can benefit.

This is the new world. Record labels and publishers complaining that people are “stealing” the music they have made freely available is like a 15th Century monk complaining that Gutenburg was putting them out of the Bible-printing business. When was the last time you saw a Bible hand-drawn by a scribish monk? Who won that battle, eh?

RIAA, record labels, PR firms, publishers: We, music bloggers, are there to promote the bands under your care. We love music, we love the bands we write about, we want them to succeed, for people to buy their records, go to their gigs, buy their t-shirts, and all that. What’s more, we do it for free. Help us help you.

Note: I am aware that “Compliments” was posted for download as a video, not an MP3. My point still stands. This is the Internet. It’s a digital file. It takes one person with the correct, freely available tool, about 30 seconds to rip that to MP3. You’ve made it available. What happens to it then is up to the masses. Whether you like it or not, this is the world we now live in. Going after people like me who are trying to sell the band’s records is not going to help4. If you’d been charging for the video, then that’s a different matter, and I wouldn’t be writing this now, as I wouldn’t have posted it.

Note 2: The track itself has been removed from the Hype Machine listings. Curiouser and curiouser.

Note 3: I am also in touch with Web Sheriff to discuss further. There’s always the possibility that I’m just going to piss off People With Power And Lawyers more and this might be my last ever post; or at least, my last post before I move to hosting it myself.

Note 4: Prizes for guessing correctly why I’ve chosen this particular MP3.5

MP3: I Am Trying To Break Your Heart by Wilco

1 I’m ignoring streaming music from this debate. Streaming does not work particularly well on a Tube train 20 metres below ground. And anyway, I *like* buying CD’s. I like a nice cover, nice sleevenotes, lyrics, and all that, and I know many people for whom this is also the case.

2 And their friends/partner/family/pets have got sick and tired of being ranted at about Furtive Chortle or whoever the new flavour of the month is.

3 There have been ridiculous situations recently where some blogs become chosen to be allowed to post a track to download, but if you’re not one of the chosen ones, you’re doomed *cough* Vampire Weekend *cough*

4 And this isn’t an age thing, you know. I’m turning 40 next year. I grew up with vinyl, taping songs off John Peel and the Top 40, videoing Snub TV and The Tube, and buying albums solely on a good review from the NME. If I can get my head round this new world, so can everyone else.

5 There is no prize.

Buy Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (CD/MP3)

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9 Comments

  1. WEB SHERIFF
    Who You Gonna Call
    Tel 44-(0)208-323 8013
    Fax 44-(0)208 323 8080
    websheriff@websheriff.com
    http://www.websheriff.com

    Hey L’n’L,

    Hope you’re well and many thanks for your erudite post … .. as we’ve done elsewhere today, we’d like to add our dime’s worth by saying that, naturally, bloggers are the lifeblood of the on-line, music community – spreading-the-word and sharing new music with the wider world … .. and the principal time that ‘issues’ arise is when pre-release / leaked material is posted as, even though this is invariably well-intentioned, it nevertheless has obvious repercussions for the marketing of the record (and, of course, is highly likely to damage future sales as well) … .. that being said, most labels also invariably provide fans and bloggers with (full-length) preview tracks these days, that everyone is then welcome to post / host / share etc ahead of release … .. and which, to us at any rate, seems both fair and the-right-thing-to-do.

    We’ll look forward to continuing the debate.

    All The Best Meanwhile,

    WEB SHERIFF

  2. Agree completely with what you say. Sadly the record companies, like the film companies, put more resources into preventing something they can’t stop than providing an efficient, cost effective alternative for people who would happily pay for stuff.

    They are cunts. And while I feel for the artists the record companies aren’t even acting on their behalf, only their own.

    I’ve tried to make up for the downloading I’ve done by going to see live shows I would never have done in the past. I’m hoping that more money goes to the band/artist that way.

  3. Scott

     /  April 28, 2010

    How about when a fan takes a song and makes their own video using the track, then posts it to Youtube.

    Then the record company complains and has the song removed from the video.

    So when you hear about a song or band, and want to hear it without downloading, you go to youtube – and it’s unavailable. The record company doesn’t want you to hear that song.

    There must be a revolving door between record corporate offices and US congressional seats.

  4. loftandlost

     /  April 28, 2010

    Arseblogger, thanks – it’s a bit of a mess at the moment. I can see lots of people trying to work in a legal framework that just isn’t appropriate. In any case, the live show point is a good one – it’s almost impossible to get tickets to see many bands in London unless you’re really quick on the draw (ironically, I missed out on getting tickets to see Band Of Horses!).

    Websheriff, thanks for coming here to comment, I do really appreciate it. The point I was making is that in this case, something was released, and then people were punished for posting it. This has also happened recently with MGMT, Vampire Weekend, and others. It just doesn’t seem like the right way of doing things. As I’ve said, the last thing I want to do is post leaked or pirated material (and I never have done to my knowledge), and I certainly wouldn’t want to harm sales.

    (oh, and a quick additional bit of irony – Websheriff, your comment was put in WordPress’s Spam filter….)

  5. loftandlost

     /  April 28, 2010

    That’s a bit more of a complicated one. My personal take is that, if it’s not been released yet, it shouldn’t be on YouTube, unless the artist/label has put it there themselves. Once it’s out, then I’d probably leave it there, as you know what? It might bring more people to you. Then again, as it’s harder to download from YouTube, why worry? You can’t take it on the underground with you. Or on a plane. Or to the loo. Or wherever you consume music that doesn’t have a broadband connection.

  6. WEB SHERIFF
    Who You Gonna Call
    Tel 44-(0)208-323 8013
    Fax 44-(0)208 323 8080
    websheriff@websheriff.com
    http://www.websheriff.com

    Hi Again L’n’L (& Everyone),

    Many thanks for your response … .. fyi, we have always encouraged artists, management and labels to let fans and bloggers have material ahead of release, as all most fans are ever ‘guilty’ of is over-exuberance and people’s desire to hear new material ahead of the street date is completely understandable … .. the only quid pro quo being that it should be up to the artists to choose which tracks are designated at the preview tracks and which are not – as, after all, it is their music.

    As for YouTube, a similar dynamic applies inasmuch as, 99 times out of a 100, the artist should (emphasis on ‘should’) have the material accessible on their own channels and, from that starting-point, it’s their call as to whether they’re cool about YouTubers generally re-posting their videos or whether they prefer people to watch them on their official channels (so long as the vids are there, surely it shouldn’t matter too much to people that they’re on an official channel and, if anything, that’s the place that they’d like to be anyway in order to get more vids and news and links etc etc for their favourite artist ?).

    Anyway, thanks again for the fair hearing and LOL about being spammed – ironic indeed !!

    Best (to All),

    WEB SHERIFF

    P.S. Did ‘Inter’ manage to hang-on this evening ??

  7. loftandlost

     /  April 29, 2010

    Hi Sheriff, good to hear from you again (only moderated this time, rather than spam!). Problem with this release (and Vampire Weekend etc) is that a track was released to bloggers, but not in a clearly defined way. Other blogs have been hit by posting tracks sent to them by the UK label, and the US publishers have taken umbrage and had the site taken down.

    What’d be good to see is a much more friendly relationship, so that the opening gambit from the publishers/labels/artists is an email saying “Hi, where did you get this from? We’d rather you didn’t post it”, as opposed to a “WE ARE SHUTTING YOU DOWN”. But I am very glad you’re on here discussing this.

    (Inter lost 1-0 but went through on aggregate. As an Arsenal fan, I’m happy Barca got knocked out, but to Mourinho? Yeesh. And now I’ll have to support Bayern Munchen in the final, which is almost worse)

  8. Scott

     /  April 30, 2010

    Surely it does matter whether music is on ‘an official channel.’ What we’re talking about is trying to listen to a lesser-known song by an artist and finding that everyone who has tried to post it has had it taken down.

    Now, of course this isn’t about the legalities of the situation, it should be the right of the record company to take it down as they see fit. But they always seem to choose the strangest battles. And I’m not talking unreleased songs, I’m talking ‘The Knife.’

    Then of course there’s the strangling and ass-kicking that us legal MP3 buyers took when we attempted to buy songs on Napster and were DRM-ed out of any right to copy the songs to disc more than this many times, to mix CDs, etc.

    I have no qualms with ‘web sheriff’s’ or the legality of record company rights, as I’m not particularly anti-establishment. I’m just saying these guys run themselves like GM.

  1. Squeaky Ears, Squeaky Voice « Loft And Lost

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