More on Major Music Labels

The world’s most powerful music executive aims to join forces with other record companies to launch an industry-owned subscription service, according to Business Week. Said exec is Doug Morris of Universal. Doug thinks that the music labels have given Apple too sweet a deal. “We got rolled like a bunch of puppies” is his description of the negotiations.

The new service will be called Total Music, and will be funded by a tax on TM-compatible music players. Gizmodo identifies one downside: “this is clearly not a move away from DRM, but towards more of it. You can bet those downloads are going to be wrapped thicker than a 5-year-old’s Christmas present.”

TechCrunch identifies another problem: it’ll make the music players too expensive. “Total Music may market itself as offering free unlimited music, but it’s not really free, the cost is just hidden. That cost: $90 per device.”

Total Music already looks to me… how to put this… as dead as DRM? In as much trouble as a major music label?

Talking of major labels, it seems that one of the big four will release In Rainbows early next year. Gizmodo described this as a cop-out. Indeed, if you follow the link, you’ll see far harsher terms. You’ll also see a more recent acknowledgment that the CD release was intended all along, and shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’m neither surprised at the news nor annoyed that I paid for the download.

I’m tempted to describe Radiohead’s impending bargain with a major as Faustian, but I think they’ll get a far better deal than that would imply. But here’s “Faust Arp,” one of my favorite tracks from In Rainbows.

Music, Money, and (Business) Models

Steve O’Hear at last100 provides a useful account of five alternative models for selling music:

  • Free.
  • Pay what you want, with Radiohead of course being the most prominent current example.
  • Pay by popularity, e.g., Amie Street.
  • Subscription. This, and in particular Rhapsody, is how I get most of my music these days.
  • A music tax. There are multiple strong arguments against this. For example, “if a file-sharing tax makes up the majority of the music industry’s revenue, it’s hard to see what incentive there would be for the major record labels, with their huge back-catalogs, to continue to invest in new artists.”

So what are the record labels actually doing?

Instead of recognizing that the record industry’s aging business model… is a broken one and in desperate need of a fix, the response has largely been litigation coupled with the introduction of technology, in the form of DRM, designed to enforce copy protection, which, ultimately, just inconveniences paying customers.

I look forward to seeing posts at last100 and elsewhere about the portable music players that will compete during the coming holiday season. The death of DRM will make this playing field more level, and the prices lower.

Radiohead: In Rainbows

ThomMy first two attempts to give Radiohead money for In Rainbows failed. But third time was lucky, or the site’s problems were fixed, and there were no problems with payment last night. Neither were there problems with download this morning.

So I’m among the millions of people currently listening to In Rainbows, and among the (thousands?) currently writing about it. The Guardian has a predictably large amount of coverage. For example, Paul Morely reviews it, pointing out with tiresome frequency that it’s too soon to do so.

The image is from a 15 years of Radiohead photo feature. It bears a pleasingly snide caption.

The Observer listed the Bends… as one of the 50 albums that changed music: ‘In parallel with Jeff Buckley, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke popularised the angst-laden falsetto… Without this Coldplay would not exist, nor Keane, nor James Blunt.’ Talk about a backhanded compliment.

I’m enjoying my first listen to the album, thanks very much. I paid 3.14 (+ .49) UK. I’m afraid to check how much that it is US$ these days.

The day the music industry died

The title of this post is the same as that of an article by Robert Sandall in The Sunday Times (no, not the one in NYC). Although, as a reader comments, it’s old news, Radiohead has freshened it up a little.

The article is rather quotable. Here goes:

  • Currently out of contract and thus entitled to dispose of their recordings as they see fit, one of the most popular bands in the world had decided to let the fans decide how much their latest album was worth.
  • Records, CDs or downloads now have all become downgraded to the status of promotional tools.
  • A revealing story doing the rounds in America tells of a young rock band who decided to stop selling their CDs at gigs after they discovered that by offering their CDs for $10 they were cannibalising sales of their $20 T-shirts.
  • This upending of the music business was neatly predicted back in the 1990s by the guitarist of the American hardcore band Anthrax who described their new album as “the menu; our concert is the meal”.
  • Radiohead… have mixed feelings about live work… “They probably will be playing some dates next year,” a spokesman said last week. “But Thom Yorke doesn’t like touring much.”

Sony Seems Set to Sue Us All

The Ars Technica comedy column continues to report the stand-up of Jennifer Pariser. She has an excellent straight man in Richard Gabriel.

Pariser has a very broad definition of “stealing.” When questioned by Richard Gabriel, lead counsel for the record labels, Pariser suggested that what millions of music fans do is actually theft. The dirty deed? Ripping your own CDs or downloading songs you already own.

Gabriel asked if it was wrong for consumers to make copies of music which they have purchased, even just one copy. Pariser replied, “When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Making “a copy” of a purchased song is just “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy’,” she said.

I’m sure that further gems will follow, and that Mashable (among other sites) will bring them to our attention.

A Positive Statistic for the RIAA?

Yesterday was the first day of Capitol Records v. Jammie Thomas, the first file-sharing case to go to trial, and the latest battle in the RIAA‘s war against file-sharing. One of the best parts so far (according to BB Cory as well as to me) is an admission by Jennifer Pariser, Sony BMG’s head of litigation.

“We’ve lost money on this program,” she said, the “we” being the record labels, who have spent “millions.” So let’s get this straight: the record companies are losing money in order to conduct a campaign that earns them dislike and mockery from many music fans?

I’m surprised that the record companies aren’t being sued by their shareholders for spending their money on a war that they can’t win, and that alienates much of the public. If they are so sued, I suggest that they compute and use the following statistic: dollars spent per music fan alienated. It’s probably low enough to suggest efficiency.

The case continues today. I hope that the judge doesn’t continue to sustain objections to perfectly reasonable questions. Yesterday, Thomas’ lawyer asked, “”How many dead people have you sued?” I think that the question is relevant to the issue of the RIAA targeting clearly innocent people.

Radiohead: Free as in No Record Label

Radiohead have finished their new album. It will be available as a download, without any record label or store as an intermediary. It will also be available as a deluxe “discbox,” but let’s concentrate on the download.

This is huge news, for reasons including the following: the price for the download is set by the customer; there is no record label involved; it’s Radiohead! Choosing your own price to download music isn’t new; for example, Jane Siberry has used this model for years now. But the current story is about… Radiohead!

Daniel Langendorf at last100 found some good quotes for his post on the story.

  • Thom Yorke, when the band’s contract with EMI expired four years ago: “it probably would give us perverse pleasure to say ‘f*** you’ to this decaying business model.”
  • A record company exec: “If the best band in the world doesn’t want any part of us, I’m not sure what’s left for this business.”
  • A record producer: “if you can pay whatever you want for the music by the best band in the world, why would you pay 13 dollars or 99 cents for music by somebody less talented?”

Daniel also remarks that “pre-ordering In Rainbows was a pain.” I certainly found it so. I got two different error messages while using the site, and no confirmation email. I’ll try again tomorrow, and I’ll check my credit card statement soon.

I dread to think how busy the site will be when it starts to allow the (millions of?) prepaid downloads. Perhaps dread is too strong a word; perhaps it should be reserved for how major record labels must be feeling now.

New Iron & Wine Album

Shepherd’s DogI am loving the new Iron & Wine album, The Shepherd’s Dog. I’ve listened to previous I&W stuff, often following “based on the stuff you listen to, you’ll like this too” recommendations. But the previous stuff never grabbed me.

As usual, The Hype Machine provides useful links. There are reviews of the album, including sample MP3 of the new material and comparisons with earlier releases, at Music for kids who can’t read good and at It’s hard to find a friend.

To add my own older and more British comparison, The Shepherd’s Dog rather reminds me of the first couple of Gomez albums. Each song includes multiple musical strands, most of the strands sound familiar, and they are woven together to create something greater than their sum.