Monthly Archives: July 2007

please don’t use spamarrest

To my friends and acquaintances who use SpamArrest:

It’s rude.  Your use of this software forces me to sign up for a Ponzi scheme in order to be able to reach you.  Most of us use anti-spam software which isn’t so intrusive.

It also doesn’t work.  I have been required to verify my identity there many times now, even though it’s only supposed to happen once.  And it isn’t secure, since forging return addresses is trivial.

(What is SpamArrest?  It forces everyone who sends the recipient mail to go to the SpamArrest site to fill out a capcha).

Brett on guitar lessons as culture

Brett posted this excellent comment on the “guitar lessons as the transmission of culture” post:

There’s more to the story. There were two people with guitar videos. One was selling paid internet lessons, the other was not.

As far as I can tell, Sandercoe (who wasn’t selling guitar lessons on his site) just moved certain videos to a new YouTube channel on their UK site (http://tinyurl.com/2edxpg) “so that the main channel at YouTube is not violating any terms of use.”

The blogger linked to above points out that YouTube shut Taub down, not anyone from the music industry. While there was a letter about ‘Brown Sugar’, YouTube simply closed Taub’s account when they got the letter. It’s more complex than a simple “music industry bad, Internet good”. (Not saying you’re doing that, but there are people who do.)

What I want, for myself and as a resource, is a solid explanation of the ins and outs of using copyrighted music. For example, Justin Sandercoe claims the ‘fair use’ argument on his YouTube page. Is he correct? I have no idea.

It’s my belief (based on very little actual data) that posting a cover version of a song, not for sale, in a non-commercial way, is acceptable. Unless the copyright holder asks you to take it down, at which point you can either do that or fight them. Again, am I right about this? I don’t know.

I love the idea of recording public domain sheet music rather than pop songs as a way to get that music back into the listening world. And it would be nice if Mick and Keith and the rest would allow others to futz with their work. Barring that, some clarity as to what is likely to get you a cease and desist letter would be nice.

A meta note: I’m pushing a comment up to an independent post here, and probably will do this again in the future.

“Cover Yourself” podcast

David Battino, the editor of O’Reilly Digital Audio, has posted a podcast conversation with me on the O’Reilly Digital Media Center. He did a great job editing our rambling conversation into something that makes sense.

Digital Media Insider Podcast 16: Cover Yourself (A Radical Approach to Copyright):

Open source enthusiast Lucas Gonze wanted to record cover songs and share them online. But copyright law and web spiders crushed that plan. Then he found a mother lode of free music on a government web site.

What I especially like about this is that it’s by far the best documentation on my cover song project.

One correction: David gives me credit for creating CC Mixter, when in reality it was Neeru Paharia, Mike Linksvayer, Victor Stone, Eric Steur, and myself.


For people visiting this blog as a result of David’s podcast, two posts that are good entry points are Ella Waltz 06032007 and guitar lessons as the transmission of culture.


Update 7/29: added Neeru Paharia to CC Mixter attributions

gig followup

My show at Hyperion Lounge last night went well. It’s a nice little club — small, low-key, human. There wasn’t a huge crowd, but it was enough to be worth playing for. And they *got* the music. The reactions I got were friendly, and more importantly they were relevant. People talked about the importance to musicians of having public domain sources to draw on, and about how you can hear traces of the future in these lost old styles.

I made a lot of mistakes, even in songs that I have down cold, and I found that I didn’t have enough material, so there is work to do before the next one, but overall it was just right.

save the commas

Ok, tags are separated by commas, right? So if you want to have the tags “a” and “b” on some object you enter the tags as “a,b”, yeah? Right, well, who’s looking out for the commas?  One minute they’re getting entered, the next they’re nowhere at all.  Pity the comma!

Is music a substitutable good?

Ad-Supported Music Central: The Times is a Great Textbook

In any industry the low-cost producer of substitutable goods will always win (whether recorded music is substitutable is open to debate but I would argue that it is, sicne listeners have virtually unlimited choice in what to spend their time listening to). It seems like the recorded music business is just beginning to learn this fundamental principle of business.

What is substitutable about music is choice *before the fact.*

Once you have come to know and love a piece of music, only that one will do. That is why there are classics. There is only one Kind of Blue, and people who know and love it will never have a substitute.

But before you meet Kind of Blue, you have a universe of choices. Your listening journey doesn’t spiral inwards to an inevitable meeting with Kind of Blue. Drop into a path starting at Opsound, for example, and you will end up loving other musics.

LA gig thursday

I’ll be playing three waltzes, a galop, a polka, and a march on Thursday the 26th in Silverlake.  It’ll be a low-key scene in a small room with no cover charge.

Club Fluffer at The Hyperion Tavern
1941 Hyperion Ave.
LA 90027

Cross street is Lyric – across and a little up from Casita del Campo – look for the barber pole outside.

Madame Pamita
Tequila Mockingbird
The Recovering Catholics
Miss Lady La Diva
Lucas Gonze <– opening slot, so 9pm

guitar lessons as the transmission of culture

guitar teacherPer NPR

Thousands of guitar students lost a valuable resource last week. The most popular guitar teacher on YouTube saw his more than 100 videos yanked from the site. The reason: a music company accused him of copyright  infringement for an instructional video on how to play a Rolling Stones song.

Culture relies on shared references. Sharing requires copying. When a new guitarist copies the way that a skilled guitarist plays a well-known song, culture is being transmitted from one generation to the next.

When a music publisher prevents musicians from learning a song, they are destroying the value of the song. There’s no reason to learn the Smoke on the Water riff except that everybody else knows it, and cultural ubiquity isn’t possible unless learning is absolutely free and unencumbered. Notice that the song in the original quote is by the Rolling Stones, a band that couldn’t matter less if it weren’t part of pop culture canon.

One result of copyright extremism will be the disappearance of cultural icons like the Rolling Stones. They haven’t contributed anything fresh to the culture for close to forty years, and without third parties reusing their old work in ways that make it fresh they hardly exist. In terms of 2007 pop culture, all those covers of “Paint it black” *are* “Paint it black.”

This is why I am resurrecting 150-year old songs and posting them, along with sheet music, on my blog — it’s possible for those songs to be used as source material for new work.

But I suppose that this is needless worry. Waves of takedowns for items like free but unauthorized guitar lessons are usually part of licensing business deals. Nobody bothers to ask for the takedowns unless they have a competing commercial product for which they have paid to license the source materials. If unlicensed guitar lessons featuring Rolling Stones songs are being knocked down, it probably means that licensed ones are coming up behind them.

pumpkins vs beasties

Check out the Smashing Pumpkins’ Myspace. That entire huge graphic at the top of the page is a link to buy the new album on iTunes.

On iTunes, not Amazon. It’s digital or bust.

Compare to the Beastie Boys’ Myspace, which is one giant link to their blog. Both of these bands are Gen X legacy acts with a current release that they badly need to get traction, and both are doing something creative which is in tune with the times.

My bet is on the Beasties. A blog is about an ongoing relationship to their fans, while an album release — even on the iTunes store — is an old-school one-shot / fire-and-forget relationship with the fans. The Pumpkins’ access to the fans is cool and distant, while the Beasties’ is warm and intimate.

Part of the problem with CD sales, in other words, is that the art form itself is dying. The problem is partly with the CD as a distribution vehicle, but it’s also with the album as a medium.

independent web publishing for musicians

Music Publishing and the Web: Back to Basics | MiDNiGHT PARKiNG

Going back to the most basic questions:

a) How do musicians publish their work and support themselves?
b) How do listeners find new music?

To answer the first, I would argue that any semi-professional musician that wishes to build a career off their work should establish their own unique website. It is more work but the benefits are tremendous – the artist maintains complete control over their work and can determine exactly how their work is published, distributed, licensed, and sold (even setting up their own storefront). The idea should be that this site is the *exclusive* method for updates, downloads, and sales of music.

Rather than use a social network or third party publisher, I own the domain where I do my music and writing. This creates a big problem in attracting people to listen or read, but it means that I own the upside when it happens.

It also means that I can do a decent job of keeping up with updates, since I don’t have to keep up with multiple social networks.

The Beastie Boys’ Myspace is just a pointer to beastieboys.com, and beastieboys.com is an unusually lively and well-maintained artist site. Which goes to show that:

  • There’s a good reason why the Beasties have done so well over the years — they get the point.
  • Artist sites have to be living things with a regular flow of updates. You are better off with one well-maintained site than many badly maintained social network profiles.

On the other hand, having many badly maintained social network profiles is a better approach than a mersh band site with a pretty but sterile environment. A band’s site which is just a department store window display is the only thing worse than an abandoned Myspace.

I don’t mean to imply that going it alone is always the right thing. There are no aggregators for musician blogs. A musician blog is an inward thing — it’s about your own music, not anybody else’s — so the few musician blogs that do exist have no reason to link to one another, and the network as a whole is going to have a hard time getting cohesion. Music listeners are technically unsophisticated, so relying on RSS subscriptions for stickiness is a bad idea.

There are problems, in other words. But good things are usually harder than normal. It’s worthwhile.