Monday, November 3, 2008

Bloggers and the Big Boys

Lately I have been reading a bit about bloggers and others looking to share and promote music who have run into various dilemmas around copyright issues and threatened legal action by large recording companies (and the RIAA).  I wanted to bring those to light here at the TR not only because I find the changing ways and media through which music is shared to be interesting, but also to spread around a few stories about folks out there doing some really fine work who have found themselves in a bit of David and Goliath situation.

First there was the whole dust-up between Muxtape (which allowed users to upload their music in “mix tapes” to share with other online listeners) and the RIAA.  David reported on that earlier this year and you can read the whole saga from Muxtape-creator Justin Ouellette. Not to ruin the ending, but the outcome was a pretty unsatisfying compromise in my mind given where MT started.  That is not Justin's fault.  His efforts and commitments through the process are highly commendable and ultimately I bet there will still be a lot of great music coming from MT in its new band-oriented portal format--but the bottom line is that the platform is lost to everyday users.

The question that whole situation brings up is the question of sharing and “fair use” vs. the intellectual property rights of the musicians and record companies (although I haven't heard of musicians really being the issue here) and that is the question that Paul over at Setting the Woods on Fire has been struggling with as he receives “take-down” notices.  If you haven’t visited STOF before, it won’t take you long to realize that this is a serious and informative music blog (with a very particular attitude about music) and that having it shut down would be a loss for musicians and listeners alike, but that appears to be where Paul is headed.  And to that end, he asks an important (perhaps the fundamental) question as he attempts to submit his blogging to the “fair use” doctrine. 

Less clear is “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.” Will posting an mp3 cause readers to seek out and buy the full album of an artist they might never have heard otherwise (in which case there will be a positive effect on the market)? Or will it stop potential customers from paying to download the same song (in which case the effect would be negative)? That question has been the subject of some research, but no conventional wisdom exists. I think the fact that so many artists openly encourage music blogs to post mp3s of their songs strongly suggests that responsible mp3 blogs are helpful to the industry, at least on a case by case basis.

I can only answer this from my own experience although I suspect it is not entirely unique.  I have always been a fan of music and a collector of music, but my pursuit of new music slowed for a couple of reasons.

First there is this thing called life including families, work, etc. and that just speeds up as we get older—so time was an issue.  But connected to that was the sorting—sorting through all the myriad of musical offerings out there and trying to make sense of the and select well rather than just increasing consumption to keep up with supply.  And that is where music blogs have become key for me.  

Sure I still read the rags (just about all of which now come with a sampler CD, hmmmm) and talk with friends some about music, but it is the community of music blogs that I read that are the real source of a lot of what I listen to and experiment with.

Of course that doesn’t answer the question of why not just swipe mp3s, load them into the old iPod and save some dough.  Well, that might have to do with age.  While I am old enough to remember (and covet) my brother's 45 rack or those groovy plastic 45 record carriers, I grew up with albums.  Even more so, I grew up in a time when bands that had single hits on an otherwise sucky LP were derided as lucky.  The album is the unit of measure for me—it matters how it opens, how it holds together, whether it is too short or too long, or my worst case scenario is a great album with one horrible song right in the middle.  Samples are just an introduction, not a replacement for the album.

So for me, the advent of music blogs has meant more purchases not less.  I could list of a dozen albums I have bought this year because of a review I have read and a sample I have listened to on other sites—albums that would most likely have never been purchased by me otherwise. In part, that is how I try to share samples with those of you who are kind enough to stop by here at the Room.  I could just play you my favorite song, but that would be just me saying I like this. Instead, I have been trying in my short time running this blog to give some representation of the album or band being discussed as means of encouraging readers to support that particular artist.

I suppose it is a bit reductionist to argue that it is just about sales, but I am pretty confident that is the issue.  Of course even when you try to work within the legal framework as Justin did, you find out that even when you are willing to ensure the record companies get their fair share, they are going to keep asking for more, so I suspect we are in for a long and bumpy ride.  

1 comment:

Lisa B. said...

It is kind of mind-blowing, though, that it seems like music companies still don't get it--that there's going to need to be a whole new model and it's not going to save the industry, this laying the smack down on people who love music enough to want to write about it and give people a taste. I agree--hearing what other people have to say has helped me find artists I probably wouldn't ever have run into otherwise--it's maddening to see how wrongheaded it all is.