Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Rise and Fall of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition

Yesterday evening I was writing this post to talk about the Barenaked Ladies' and the work they're doing advocating a more open distribution philosophy among musicians and the music industry, but as I was doing my final research I noticed something odd.  It has been almost three years since I first heard of the advocacy group that Barenaked Ladies co-founded and a year since I heard from them.  I thought, "Before I publish this post, let's see what they've been up to lately," so I went to their website to get the latest news but found the site had not changed one bit since the last time I visited.

So what happened?  Why did all the voices fall silent?  After a fair amount of digging, I found a story much different than I had originally anticipated.  To best understand it all, let's roll the dials of our proverbial time machine back 4 years ... [effect: wavy Wayne's World flashback cross-fade sequence]

The Birth of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition

By 2006 the RIAA had already sued a most Napster-like companies out of existence, but they weren't satisfied with the victories, so next they targeted the homes and college dorm rooms of America.  Via John Doe letters, unreliable offender identification techniques, statutory damage claims based on hyperinflated compensatory calculations and bullying techniques that have been compared to litigious terrorism, the RIAA abused the legal system to attempt to make criminals of all who listened to music via the Internet without paying, legitimately or not.

Steven Page, lead singer for the Barenaked Ladies decided that he had had it.  He brought together a swath of well-known Canadian artists including Avril Lavigne, Feist, Matthew Good, Randy Bachman, Sarah McLachlan, Sloan, Sum 41 and Wide Mouth Mason to form the Canadian Music Creators Coalition with the three founding principles:

"(1) Suing our fans is destructive and hypocritical, (2) Digital locks are risky and counterproductive, and (3) Cultural policy should support actual Canadian artists."

For our purposes, only point #1 is really relevant.  Digital locks on music have proven to be ineffective and have largely fallen out of use, and according to Google Analytics most of our audience is not Canadian (although a surprising proportion is).

The CMCC in their founding document go on to say:

"[M]ajor labels are looking out for their shareholders, not for Canadian artists. Recording industry lobbyists, despite claiming to represent artists, seldom speak for us. Legislative proposals, particularly those that would facilitate lawsuits against our fans or increase the labels’ control over the enjoyment of music, are made not in our names, but on behalf of the shareholders of the labels’ foreign parent companies."

The CMCC, the Crown and the Songwriters Association of Canada

Move forward to 2008: The Canadian government introduced bill C-61, a copyright reform bill that would align Canadian law with the much maligned DMCA, changing the definition and enforcement of 'infringement' and introducing statutory damages would make RIAA-style litigation available to the Canadian recording industry.  In short order, the CMCC responded.

Did the CMCC response make a difference?  We'll never know.  The bill died on the table when parliament was dissolved in September of that year.

At about the same time, the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) put forward a proposal to legitimize music downloading by introducing a tariff on Internet connections that would go toward paying artists.  The CMCC endorsed the SAC proposal with this statement:

"The CMCC wishes to congratulate and endorse the Songwriters Association of Canada in pushing this proposal forward. We think the Canadian government should be facilitating discussion over the merits of this forward thinking approach to file-sharing rather than introducing legislation that looks backwards to approaches that have already failed."

On careful reading, the endorsement seemed carefully crafted and rather limited.  It moved more toward endorsing the introduction of new ideas rather than endorsing some of the proposal's specifics: the Internet tariff in particular.

I considered this to be a good thing.  Organizations charged with managing artist's royalties have been notoriously bad at equitably distributing those funds, especially to independent artists.

Barenaked No More

In 2009, learning from the C-61 fiasco, the Canadian government started an extensive public consultation on copyright reform accepting submissions from industry and individuals alike.  During the process over 8,100 submissions were received - a truly remarkable number when you consider that most major legislation usually only receives 50 to 100 submissions.

The CMCC also submitted a letter, albeit a boilerplate template of the same letter they published on numerous occasions previously.  To find it, I had to search the government database through a third party search engine.  Nowhere on their site did they mention the submission.  No press release.  No call to action.  Nothing.  As mentioned earlier, their site has been static for over a year with the exception of posting congratulations to their Juno winners.

Two other things also happened in the past year: Steven Page left the Barenaked ladies to pursue a solo career; The Barenaked Ladies signed a distribution contract with EMI, a member of the RIAA and strong proponent of their tactics.

Here's my rampant speculation:

Steven Page seemed to be the voice and driving force behind the CMCC.  Did the turbulence around his departure from BNL cause the ball to be dropped with nobody to pick it up?  Would BNL have signed with EMI if he were still there?

It is unfortunate that what could have been such a strong voice for change within the industry in Canada has quieted to a whisper.  Others have taken up the call, but none with such a public profile.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Open Thread

For your listening pleasure, a pretty good concert bootleg of the Barenaked Ladies performing, "Boxed Set."

BNL has actively promoted the benefits of open and less restrictive access to music.  I'll follow up on that tomorrow.

Addendum: I just listened this version of the song carefully and noticed that Stephen changes the lyrics of the song (at 3:43 into the track) to, "... and if you want it again, download it on MP3 ..."  Cool!

Administrivia below the fold.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

News Feed for the Commons Musician

There's a lot of news that comes down the Intertubes that I just don't have the time to write about.  Well, Google Reader has provided me a wonderful solution - tag and publish!

You may have already noticed that I added a new, "In the News" box on the sidebar.  This wonderful little invention allows me to tag any article I read and, "Voila!" it just appears.  Now you can see lots of related stories that I found out on the 'net.

Behind the scenes, I'm using it as a way to keep track some items I may follow up on.  For you, it's a good way to get a sneak peak into some of the stuff in the pipe.  It's a win-win for everyone.

An additional bonus: you can subscribe to the feed via RSS.  Articles will show up the moment I tag them.  That means you can know when I'm awake at ungodly hours of the morning, goofing off at work, surfing the web when I should be listening to the sermon, etc.


Open Thread

For this week's listening pleasure we have Amanda Palmer covering Cat Stevens', "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out."

There's an interesting story behind this video.

Read on for administrivia.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Independent Lens: Copyright Criminals

My wife and daughter love NBC's The Biggest Loser.  I do too.  It gives me time to get away and continue fleshing out some of my half written articles for this blog.  One of the worst parts of about the show is that we forget to change the channel afterward.

As I was energetically surfing away from The Jay Leno Show, I came across a new episode of PBS's Independent Lens called, "Copyright Criminals."  The tagline for the show states:
"Can you own a sound?  Copyright Criminals examines the history and influence of musical sampling, provoking debates about copyright, compensation and creativity in the age of intellectual property"
Cool!  Right along the lines of what we talk about here.  The website for the show includes an interview on fair use with the father of the Creative Commons, Lawrence Lessig.

I'm hoping they'll put the full episode online after it airs this evening so I can catch the beginning.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Robert Hutton of Pollera Speaks to Commons Musician

A little over a week ago, I posted an article entitled, "Pollera & the CRIA Part Ways," a news article aggregated from Michael Geists's blog.

Well to my great surprise, in only the second comment on this blog, who would respond but Robert Hutton, Exec. VP of Pollera objecting to some of the things said in the article.  I'm all for being held accountable for my words, so I did my research and found that I should have done more research.  I mis/over-stated a some things that definitely deserve correction.

To start, the title of the article is misleading.  It implies a separation due to disagreement and I had no evidence of that aside from here-say.  Secondly, Robert objected to the phrase, "[Pollera] changed its stance on the interpretation of data" saying in his reply to Michael Geist:
"research firms do not publish client studies - the clients do, and hence, often interpretation is not under the researcher's control."
I could go on an on about the matter, but instead I'll provide you a bunch of links for an evening of reading enjoyment.
Read through the comments on our article to to see the conversation between Michael and myself.  He provides some really interesting insights into the nature and biases of polling data.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Open Thread

Here's some music while you ponder your comments.

I'll be doing a feature on After the Chase and the site where I originally found them in the next few days.

Administrivia below the fold.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

World Fair Use Day

Today Pubic Knowledge is sponsoring World Fair Use Day.  Michael Geist comments in his blog about the Canadian/Commonwealth equivalent, "fair dealing."

News Rollup

I've been a bit negligent of adding news posts over the past few days, so here's a rollup of some articles that came down the pipe.

eMusic Payments Don't Rise Despite Price Increase
eMusic, an online digital music retailer, has recently raised its prices, but in spite of that artists are not receiving any extra revenue from the price increase. Given that eMusic's business model is to pass 60% of its revenue (after some expenses) on to the record labels, many are wondering where the extra money is going. Techdirt also reports that they are also censoring critics and taking away features without letting its subscribers know.

Dear Rock Stars …
Many big rock stars have put out statements on how free distribution of music hurts the little guy. Well, the little guy is now speaking out.

Where is All the Money SoundExchange is Supposed to be Paying Out?
SoundExchange has been heavily criticized for not paying out money to smaller artists and letting their 'claims' queue accumulate unaddressed for years. Fred Wilhelms, a Nashville entertainment lawyer breaks down the numbers in gruesome detail.

Digital Album Sales Slower in 2009
Note that this does not mean that sales are down, only the growth in sales. Remember physics class? It's kinda like approaching terminal velocity.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

France Proposes to Tax Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to Fund Record Labels

In another, "Seriously?" moment, the French government is suggesting that they should tax online advertising companies to divert the money to the music and publishing industries.  Mike Masnick, as usual, has a scathing critique of the plan.

Even the Wikipedia article on the matter is less than supportive of the idea.

Online Version of iTunes Now Includes 30 Second Previews

In November, Apple introduced a browser based version of iTunes as an online store for those who don't want to install the real deal.  Just recently they added to ability to listen to 30 second previews of songs as well.  It's rather nice - try it out.

iTunes is a good way to monetize your music, even if it is CC licensed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pollara & the CRIA Part Ways

Michael Geist reports that Pollara, the former chief polling firm for the CRIA (Canadian equivalent of the RIAA), has changed its stance on the interpretation of data it collected for the CRIA on music downloading in past years.

Pollara Executive Vice-President Robert Hutton in this comment on Zeropaid, notes that relying on 2006 research is "dubious at best." he goes on to say (edited for brevity, click on the links for the full text):
There is a significant body of market research from around the time downloading became a significant issue suggesting not only that downloaders were perfectly willing to pay, but also that dowloading to some extent promoted actual purchase of the tangible product.  [...]
That the industry then chose to fight with it’s customers rather than address their needs merely exacerbated the problem. Perhaps they didn’t know any better, and in their desperation to hang on to that CPG model of selling music, they took the wrong route.  [...]
[...] The industry is very much to blame here, because they ignored their customers needs knowing full well that a technological revolution was at hand that would enable their customers to satisfy their needs, with or without them.
And my favorite quote:
Trying to force hamburgers on a group of vegetarians might work in a famine, but long term, just cannot be a successful marketing approach.
Mmmmm.  Hamburgers.

Open Thread

Once a week (or so) I'll be putting up an open thread for y'all.  You can use it to talk about pretty much anything as long as it's at least vaguely relevant.  Use it to cover items we missed, general opinions about the blog and as feedback for us - yes we real ALL posted comments.

I'll also be posting below the fold miscellaneous things that really don't deserve their own posts that would otherwise clutter the site.  Things like half-baked plans we're cooking up, site administrivia and other general drivel.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lion Music Refuses to Sign New Artists Until Gov't Stops Piracy

In late 2007, the Finish record label Lion Music posted a message* on their website saying that they would no longer be accepting any demos from new artists until, "our politicians have stopped the P2P sites."  A number of their signed artists have also contributed commentary on the evils of illegal downloading and how we should all stop it and make things the way they used to be.

To start, let me be explicit.  We at the Commons Musician in no way advocate the illegal downloading of music (or anything else for that matter), but we also do not advocate the use of government regulation to hold back disruptive technologies to support dying business models.

The wrong-headedness of the position Lion Music is taking is utterly astounding, yet entirely par for the course for many old school record labels.  Rather than adapting to a changing world, they are wanting to world to stop changing so that they can continue business as usual.  This position denies the inevitable forces that are reshaping the industry:
  • disruptive technologies that lower the cost of distribution, removing incentives for musicians to use record companies for that purpose.
  • the economics of selling things that are scarce, not things that are abundant.
  • the promotion engine the Internet provides to anyone savvy enough to use it, essentially cutting them out of the loop.
(I'll be talking in depth about all these items in future posts)

On the other side of the equation, some record companies are doing an admirable job of adapting to these factors.  Case in point: Thorny Bleeder Records has just released the second volume of their free download series available directly from their site or via Bittorrent.

There is so much more to be said about these things, so stay tuned - it will all eventually be said.

* it seems the recent publicity has compelled Lion Music to take down their message, but thanks to the Wayback Machine you can still read it here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Fun with an Autotuner

This is SO not what I was planning for my first news item, but it's just good fun.

One of the most viewed YouTube videos ever is, "charlie bit my finger" until someone decided to remix it with an autotuner and now the new video is quickly catching up:

This is a great example of how you can remix other's content under fair use rules.

What the Blog?

The popularization of the Internet has ushered in a radical change in the way we communicate. Often referred to as the New Media (a vague, misued term I intend to not use often), it has created disruptive changes in the way the traditional media operates and seriously challenged their business models to the point of breaking. At the same time it has socialized the publication and distribution of that media making it available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.

This blog is all about how the 'New Media' is affecting music and musicians.

So as not to be too verbose, here's a point-form series of items from my own notes I am planning to cover in the next few months:
  • A Creative Commons Primer: A brief overview of what the Creative Commons is all about with lots of links.
  • The Business and Economics of the 'New Media': Musicians want to earn money so they can spend more time being 'artistic' and not having a real job, but you can't do that without understanding the fundamentals behind it. Topics covered include (but are not limited to) business models like Cwf+RtB, the economics of disruptive technologies, and putting the concepts of abundance and scarcity to work for you.
  • Promotion and Distribution: Definitely the most difficult part of being a musician. I can't promise we'll make it easy for you, just a little less hard.
  • News: There's a constant flow of relevant articles that come through my personal RSS feed. I'll filter out the garbage and put the best stuff here.
In addition to my own contributions, I am hot on the horn to get others to contribute their own stories and expertise to this blog. Some will be regulars, some will be guest contributors and if things go well, most articles well end up not being written by me. (call me an optimist)

So there you have it. I think it's a good starting point. and we'll see where it leads to from here. Point your RSS reader to our feed and enjoy!

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Start of Something New

It's been over a year since I've thought about starting this blog but it was not until the Christmas holidays this year that the whole thing came together in one great big flurry.

I have held back on starting this site thus far mainly because of sheer amount of time, focus and effort it takes to put together a site with compelling content. It's the type of thing I simply don't have the resources and capacity to do on my own.

Then along came Warren.

He and his wife come down to Seattle and spend weekends with us several times a year and when I told him my idea for a website promoting Creative Commons licencing for the Christian musician, he shared my enthusiasm. Finally, someone I can collaborate with. Someone who can keep me focused. Someone who can keep me accountable. Someone to help keep the inspiration flowing.

To get the ball rolling, I'll be focusing on writing a series of short articles in the next few days outlining the focus and direction we're taking with the site. You'll also notice numerous changes to the layout of the site as we implement features and make it more user friendly. Blogger(.com) is kind of ugly out of the box.

So, happy new year and I look forward to telling you all about the wonderful things we have planned.