Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pro-SOPA Soundtrack

(Previously posted to Google+, posted here on request.)

So here's a couple of links that have been bothering me today.

First up, pro-SOPA (and award-winning, apparently) songwriter Helienne Lindvall's mindblowing article in The Guardian explaining why it's worth shutting down the internet in order to preserve the business model of major music labels:

But that article has a soundtrack. It's this song, co-written by one H. Lindvall: Daniel Lindström - Got to be you.

Not sure if that's the one that won an award. I'll say this though - if you can make it both to the end of the song and the end of the article, you deserve an award yourself. (Comments on the article are worth reading also, except mine.)

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

This Again - A Response To My Friend Who Was Concerned About Illegal Downloads Of His Music

(Over on Facebook, I got into discussion my friend David Goo, an excellent musician and songwriter, over SOPA and the piracy issue. After he posted to the effect that pointed out that if he had received 50p for each of the 30,000 downloads of one of his songs, he'd be able to make a whole new album, my response got a bit long, so I thought I'd reproduce it here.)

David, I too am a copyright owner and content creator, and I too have had my music downloaded thousands of times over the last few years. That doesn't make me angry at all. It makes me happy. Very very dancing off the walls happy.

So happy, in fact, that my response is to accept it, to work with it, and to deliberately make my music available for free download via Bandcamp over on together with an option to pay. This model is working pretty well for me, and here's why.

First, some basic economics. When the marginal cost of reproducing a thing drops to zero, the intrinsic value of the thing also drops to zero. Period.

Recording "Wayne's Awesome Song" might have cost me years of blood and sweat and broken strings and sleepless nights and studio time and arguments with myself and musicians about arrangements and production and all of that malarkey, but in the end, none of that changes the fact that the file WaynesAwesomeSong.mp3 is now just a string of bits that can be reproduced at no cost and its intrinsic value is £0.

Everything is now both digital and networked. There is no more scarcity of digital media. There is no technological solution this without breaking the network, and it's not at all clear that that's even possible. Before the internet, yes, you needed a physical copy. Taking one was stealing. Now you don't. If you have a copy of my latest album it costs you nothing to make a copy for a friend. That's not stealing. At worst that's copyright infringement, but actually, I don't see it as a bad thing at all.

In fact, if you do have my latest album, let me urge now you to make a copy for a friend, preferably one who might like it. Seriously. Do it.

What the hell am I saying? Have I lost my tiny mind? Do I want to die starving and penniless?

No. I'm very clear about why I'm doing it this way and why it works. It's like this:

If you've never heard of me or my music (that goes for pretty much all of you), and you download WaynesAwesomeSong.mp3 on spec, one of two things will happen. Either you love it or you don't. If you don't, that's fair enough. Not everyone loves my music. You wouldn't have bought it anyway, and I have lost nothing.

But you might love it.

Now everything changes. You're in love with WaynesAwesomeSong.mp3, you think it's fucking great, and you're really excited to discover that I've got a website containing not just WaynesOtherAwesomeSong.mp3 but - oh my god - WaynesGreatAlbum. You can still download all of that for free if you want, but you'll have to type in £0 in order to do so. Chances are - you're an honest character - you find yourself paying £5 or £10 for the 'free' download.

Why? Because now there is value to you. The intrinsic value of the bits are still £0, but it's not just any mp3 we'e talking about here, it's one of Wayne's. You have a relationship with my music now and you're prepared to pay for it. (You're not an honest character? Fine. Then you wouldn't have bought it anyway and I've still lost nothing. Oh, and screw you, dishonest character.)

This happens on my Bandcamp site all the time. Payment is optional, and loads of people choose to pay. They're the ones who actually like my music and want to support me to make sure I make more of it. The others? They're downloading on spec. They don't know me from Adam and if they had to pay, they wouldn't bother.

Those free downloads aren't lost sales and they cost me nothing. Some of those downloads will lead to sales in the future - the ones who actually like it. Others don't. I guess they just weren't that into me. But I don't care because it didn't cost me anything.

It's a great time to be a musician. We have more access to more music and more recording facilities and more distribution channels than at any time in history. There's also rather a lot of us. That's ok, because there's even more music fans than ever before, and they're out looking for the stuff they love. There's a lot to sift through, and that's why they're downloading things for free, on spec.

Bluntly, if people aren't downloading your music for free, you've got a problem, and your problem is that the music isn't good enough. Go practice. (David, you do not have this problem.)

Now, my Pay-What-You-Want model doesn't work for everyone. I'm hearing from musicians who have grown their listenerships from the hundreds to the thousands and the tens of thousands that at a certain point you do want to charge for downloads again. Those people still stream everything for free, though, and they make damn sure that if Blogger A likes their new album, Blogger A can stream it from their own blog. This leads to new listeners and new sales.

I'm saying all this out of love, David, because I love you and your music and I want you to thrive. Unauthorised downloads are now a fact of life, like death and taxes. It seems pretty clear to me that unless you embrace this fact and work with it, you'll be in trouble.

In the old music industry, everything was based on scarcity. Studio time was scarce, vinyl was scarce, music magazines were scarce, radio - decent radio - was scarce. A very few people made an awful lot of money, but - it's not hard to find the stories - most of the musicians and content creators made fuck all. That old industry is basically dead now, though the zombie-like corpses are still bumbling around walking into things and trying to break stuff.

In the new industry everything is available. Too much, even. Tiny one woman music blogs with a readership of less than 500 have a backlog of new albums to review going back a year. If you make your album artificially scarce by refusing to let people even stream it, they'll just go 'meh', and move on to the next thing. If it's one click away from an email, they'll have a listen. They'll write about it. They'll stream it on the blog. People will discover your music who never heard it before.

It's all about discovery. That's the bottom line about free downloads - you lose nothing but you gain listeners In a world with ten thousand bands in every town, the question is not 'how can I get every single bugger who downloads my music to pay.' The question is - how can I get them to download my music at all.

And the answer is - by letting them.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bush Of Thorns Remix Project #1

About ten years ago, back when I was still calling the band Fast Freddie Fourier and the Transforms, I recorded an EP called Bush of Thorns at Bonafide Studios in London.

The performances from the other musicians involved were great (Brian Hedemann was on drums, Alero Scott on backing vocals, Kevin G Davy on trumpet) but I was never all that happy with the final mixes - the drums were all way too loud, especially on Sleeping Beauty. That was entirely my fault. Waseem Munir, the engineer from Bonafide, had done a great job of tracking everything, but the mixes were all made in a big hurry, as I didn't have the money to pay for extra studio time to have them done properly. Not only that but we'd only managed to finish four of the eight tunes I'd started - I remember insisting that the last hour be spent burning all the stems to CD so I could finish it off at leisure some time.

That time is now. Today I finally dug out the old data CDs from 2002 and started trying to transfer them to the computer. The ones I'd made myself - the guide guitars and vocals and the backing tracks - all of which were recorded at home on Linux, all worked fine. The ones from the studio? Would. Not. Mount. Could not read them. Nothing worked.


To cut a long story short - and if you too should have mysterious CD ROMs from circa 2002 burned by a Mac which you can't seem to get Linux to read - here's what I did to fix it.

First I had to install cdfs.

Doing so revealed that the CDs in question were indeed HFS of some sort, though mount -t hfs was still refusing to work. A bit of Googling turned up the existence of HFS+, which I'd never heard of. Trying mount -t hfsplus didn't work either, though, and left my system with an unkillable mount process, forcing me to reboot. Bummer.

Here's what did work:

First I mounted the CDs with cdfs:

sudo mount -t cdfs -o ro /dev/cdrom /mnt/cdfs

Then I mounted the HFS file that produced with hfsplus:

sudo mount -t hfsplus -o loop /mnt/cdfs/3.2.Apple_HFS /media/cdrom0

And bam - got my data back.

Now to load the lot up in Ardour and start mixing...

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