Category Archives: business

covers getting legal on YouTube

YouTube has struck a deal with a Japanese publishing company to allow YouTube users to do legal covers of compositions in that catalog. According to Billboard:

Under the new agreement, users can legally post video clips to YouTube in which they play and sing e-License-managed songs. Uploading music data from CDs and artists’ promotion videos remains prohibited. E License, which manages some 17,800 songs, is the second Japanese copyright agency to sign a blanket licensing contract for music use on YouTube after Japan Rights Clearance.

Once Google has achieved broad enough coverage with these deals, musicians will be able to do covers online legally as long as they publish them on YouTube. If the publishers can create enough legal risk related to covers, Google will have a big competitive advantage over other video sharing services and over independents who publish their own media.

Google’s risk is that this pushes YouTube’s operating costs up, and it’s already hella expensive to run. However, user-contributed music where Google only has to pay royalties on the publishing and not the sound recording is still relatively cheap compared to the stuff iMeem is paying for.

This isn’t an academic point. The recent ruling on payments owed by webcasters to publishers gives a yardstick for operating costs associated with publishing, and it is not a trivial amount.

looking at Ingrid Michaelson site

Here are observations on the site for Ingrid Michaelson’s music.

I like:

  1. Music autoplays on the home page. That’s what the site is about, let’s not waste time and clicks getting to it.
  2. Navigation within the site never interrupts playback. As I write this I’m been having a continuous enjoyable experience with the music for about fifteen minutes because nothing has yet happened to break the flow.
  3. Front page goes straight to news. There’s a sense of freshness. This approach is in contrast to a Flash splash page or a static explanation of who she is.
  4. Main menu uses standard language for features rather than making up cute words for the same things.
  5. Intimate blog-scale presence rather than larger-than-life arena-scale presence.

I don’t like:

  1. Nothing viral anywhere. This should be front and center. For example, the XSPF player widget in the header should have an “embed this” box next to it.
  2. Framed design prevents linking to sub-pages, including bookmarking. They should have used an AJAX bookmarking library.
  3. No free MP3 download. Huh? C’mon. I mean…
  4. There should be direct links to songs in the news section, so that you have a sense of chronology and freshness in relation to the music.

no singles, please #2

Good bloggers have a warmer and more intimate voice than writers in publications like the New York Times. This applies to musicians as well.

So let’s say that, per yesterday’s post here, we’re moving from a world of albums containing singles to a world where musicians release a series of songs that accumulate like posts in a blog.

You’d expect successful musicians in the new context to have a warmer and more intimate voice. They would let flaws show. They would be avoid grandiose sounds like kettle drums. They would be less physically attractive. They would dress down. They would be quirky.

Old style: Janet Jackson on janetjackson.comJanet Jackson 'Discipline' photo

New style: Port O’brien on Aquarium DrunkardPort O'brien

no singles, please

Leftsetz, who blogs compulsively, says Singles Only:

Don’t make an album. And whatever you do, don’t send it to me! I don’t have time.

Heritage acts. Classic acts. Cut one great single! That you can do your best to work. Shit, give it away for free… As an inspiration to buy a concert ticket, where the true money is. Why spend all that money and time to cut an album that almost no one’s going to hear?

New bands… One track only.

But wait, he doesn’t mean you only get one more song in your career:

you don’t give them ten more tracks… You give them a dribbling of killers. So they end up becoming fans of the act, not the track.

Ok, so what’s another word for dribbling? Blogging. The new format isn’t the *single*, the single is just as inert as the album. Singles are vestigial. The format is the *post*.

A couple real world examples: Jeff Harrington has a new violin sonata out and there’s a new song up on soup greens.

Today’s listening: a blog on Ad Age

My music for the past 20 minutes has been courtesy of an embedded player in the Songs for Soap blog at Advertising Age. The music is courtesy of Adult Swim’s “Ghostly Swim” compilation featuring unreleased tracks from indie label Ghostly International and sponsored by Toyota. That’s five brands even before you get to the musicians, and nobody involved in the project is a major label.

See also the home page for the project, where you can also download a zip file with all the songs together, aka an album in digital packaging.

Portishead packaging

Check out the packaging for the new Portishead release. It feels a lot like an expensive hotel or a spa, and not at all like an MP3.

There’s no CD at all. Instead there is a big-ass 1GB USB key. This contains the music file collection formerly known as an “album” or “CD” or “release”. The remaining free space contains videos of some kind (but what the videos are isn’t said). I love the idea of pre-ripped files, because having to rip my own CD purchases feels like I’m paying for a DIY project, but CD players are still convenient for me sometimes so I want *both* a CD and pre-ripped files.

There is a double vinyl album and, listed separately, an etched 12” vinyl of ‘Machine Gun’. Are these really separate things? Vinyl etching is way cool, anyway. The way it works is that you get the actual wax mold they will pour the vinyl into, then cut a picture out of the wax rather than cutting grooves for a phonograph needle to read. This vinyl etching deal is a way of emphasizing the physicality of what you’re getting for your money. The message is that you’re not buying *bits.” This product is not a crappy way of files onto your iPod, it’s a way of getting close to music you love.

Visuals along the lines of album art in the form of a Limited edition print from Nick Uff. Again, this isn’t a crappy MP3, it’s a whole other thing.

The major economic factor for this release isn’t anything in this listing though; it’s the ten years it took the band to make the music, and the amazing staying power of their prior music. If they only make a release every ten years, the cost of luxuries like vinyl etching is relatively unimportant.

(Thanks to export5000 for the link).

myspace #2: above all, suck less

I spoke too soon about being happy with my Myspace profile because I had reduced it to a carrier for links back to sites that I own. Myspace has disabled the link from there to here with a stern warning that You have reached a link that is no longer in service. That means the link was very naughty, and, much like head lice, had to be eliminated before it spread. The explanation is that this site is spam, phishing or malware. There’s no help link or method to appeal, so this is not reversible. Myspace users can’t link to this site.

Tip to Myspace security team: above all, suck less. I understand that you have to deal with security threats to Myspace users, but this means you have to be skilled and clever, not clumsy and stupid. I am not an attacker, I am a user. By turning your malware detectors up so high that they mis-categorized this vanilla wordpress install as a malware site, your detectors are causing damage to the application.

It’s a tribute to Myspace’s few strengths that they can be so staggeringly bad at their work and stay on top of the social networking field.

Update: I added a redirecting intermediary to the link and Myspace isn’t yet blocking it. If their mis-designed software isn’t also mis-implemented, though, it will catch up. Not that this time delay means that a real attacker could easily stay ahead of Myspace’s crawler; it’s only non-attackers who get caught in the trap.

To learn more about Myspace’s security strategy here, see Netcraft’s blog on

MySpace started using the site last year, in a bid to protect its users against spamming and phishing attacks. When users added a link into MySpace, the URL would be replaced with a link to, which would then redirect to the intended URL. This gave MySpace greater control over the links that originated from their site, allowing them to disable the links if they are found to point to spam, viruses or phishing sites.

new forms of live shows

Conversation on the kid gig 12/8 post developed around the interaction between changing music and existing forms of performance. The internet is changing recorded music. How can those changes be reflected in live shows?

Live music for most musicians is either in a bar or in a stadium. These contexts are in a continuum where one leads to the other. But stadium shows are an artifact of the economics of the 20th century recording industry.

Said Pribek:

I play too much in bars. It’s like going to a football game and already knowing the outcome.

The times that I have had an opportunity to play for kids, have all been a blast. Kids give honest reaction with no preconceived notions.

Playing in bars is all about reducing the musical experience to the lowest common denominator. I’m not complaining. I’m glad to have a chance to fire up the Tele tonight regardless.

T-Bone Burnett once said something like; “The music industry is based on the principal of selling music to people who don’t like music”.

Who knows how the selling of music shakes out in this “brave new world”? Personally, I don’t care.

I have a hunch that when the dust settles, there will be more opportunity to find a venue to play live for people who do like music.

(As always, I have made lots of edits to comments while converting them to full-fledged posts).

gurdonark replied:

Lately, I want all music to be in matinee’ form.
The “nightlife prison” for music does conjure up some rich, almost cinematic associations. Yet live music becomes so limited when its trapped in that dates-and-drinks-and-diversion mesh, and perhaps limited in a different way in the “concert as religious experience” groove.

I don’t play live, but if I did, I’d always play starting no later than 2 p.m.

Also, I’d rather have my music accompany a planetarium show or a multi-media presentation than be a performer. I am all for concerts and performances, but I like the idea that one can be one component of a fun in which music is incorporated into a multi-media activity.

Most of my things appear at netlabels like NSI.
I am not opposed to CDs, but they’re almost irrelevant to me, as you suggest. I made and even sold some a few years ago, but now they’d be more a curious gift for friends than anything like “music distribution”.

I love meatspace performances. But I think the consructs for them are all rooted in performer/audience assumptions that are no longer the right assumptions. By this, I mean that
I have no desire to hold a candle up for a superstar anymore, but instead want to be drenched in an interactive medium. I love what Kristin Hersh and radiohead and Issa (nee’ Jane Siberry) are doing with self-directed payments, and what numerous people are doing with netlabel creative commons. I recently was on’s “collusion” dark ambient piece–12 artists contributing to create one whole–not for the glory of anyone, but for the sheer participation of the thing. That’s the present, and the future.

And Jay Fienberg said:

The last live show I did was a band reunion where most of the audience was made up of band members’ kids, nieces and nephews. Playing for kids is really great–in many ways better then when I was a kid and most of the audience would be our parents, aunts and uncles.

btw, Seattle has lots of live music in bars, pubs, coffee houses, laundromats, etc., and it’s really a great thing to be a music fan and be out at night and be around live music. It looks like it’s a lot more fun to play here than the places where I used to play (in LA, SF). Bar gigs are not glorious for a musician, but they’re often a big break from spending one’s whole life in a cubicle, etc. And, if there’s a crowd of real music fans in the mix, it can approach some real glory, IMHO.

So here’s the question: the recording industry is changing dramatically. What aspects of live music rely on aspects of the recording industry that are going away? What new kinds of live music does the internet enable?

paid content means badly paid musicians

Jaron Lanier editorial in the New York Times:

How long must creative people wait for the Web’s new wealth to find a path to their doors? […] Information is free on the Internet because we created the system to be that way.

We could design information systems so that people can pay for content — so that anyone has the chance of becoming a widely read author and yet can also be paid. Information could be universally accessible but on an affordable instead of an absolutely free basis.

Lanier doesn’t understand music economics.

Advertising allows some people to specialize in attracting eyeballs and others to specialize in turning attention into revenue. Content creators, like musicians, do the attracting. Advertisers do the monetizing.

If you have the musicians do the monetizing, they will do very stupid things like sell $80 CD box sets, which have a high ticket value but don’t move enough units to be a great business. If you have the advertisers do the monetizing, and you take the ones who pay the highest prices, you will have an alliance with whoever is best at turning these eyeballs into a living.

If some musician is putting his music on the web because he wants to sell CDs, he’s competing with advertisers to monetize the eyeballs his music is attracting. Maybe he’s the natural winner of this competition, but probably not. Frozen peas are generally a better product than CDs. Cars are a better product. iPods are a better product. Pretty much anything is a better product than a CD.

And that applies to downloaded song files as well as songs on hard media. The packaging and distribution are not the issue. The issue is that not many people want to continually purchase music. It’s a small market.

The business of music is not to maximize the number of songs sold. It is to maximize the amount of money earned. And it happens that lots of people want to enjoy music in a transient context. They like a good DJ at the club. They like radio when they’re stuck in traffic. They are interested by whatever their friend plays when they visit. This is a market that’s big enough to matter.

Musicians will make less money from paid content than ad-sponsored content because there is less demand for paid content. Regardless of whether paying for music is a declining business, it was never much of a business in the first place. The economics have always sucked and they simply continue to suck. The rate of decline in the CD business just doesn’t matter because the CD business is so small in comparison with other businesses that music can complement via advertising.

Paid content means you sell the music. Ad sponsored content means you use the music to sell whatever is most profitable. Since paid content means that musicians are probably not selling the most profitable product, it’s a bad business.

persistent URLs for songs

In the conversation about musicians controlling their own web site, Farsheed said:

The trick is getting rid of all the middlemen, and having a *really* reliable URL that represents the band. From there the band can dish out reliable URLs to MP3s (could be 3rd party) which can get aggregated and indexed by search engines. That will in turn improve the search relevance of indexed mp3 links so that music bloggers, Songbird, Google, Facebook, etc can quickly see that the most relevant and reliable source for music is the band itself, and link directly.

Perhaps the simplest solution is just encouraging ultra-solid URLs. Have bands register their domain name, and maybe have a service or script using Apache rewrite that resolve to the most current mp3 of a file


I do think they need their own domain name to maintain ownership over the URL, even if the root domain redirects or redisplays their myspace page.

I could see a whole service being built around providing redirect links to other webservices, but giving the band control over these redirects (or having multiple sources to cycle through).

I really like the idea of enabling musicians to create ultra-solid URLs for their works. It’s inspiring.

Over on Webjay we found that the stability of URLs was highly variable, and stable URLs out-competed transient ones. This worked courtesy of viral URL sharing — people got new instances of songs by copying URLs rather than by uploading their own rips, and it takes enough time for a URL to get passed around that only the stable ones can really compete.

Stability is correlated with being on the up and up.

Authorized hosts are in a position to keep the URL going. The system administrators work *towards* stability rather than against it. Unauthorized ones get a DMCA takedown request, or an internal audit discovers a file that is counter to policy, or they were based on a transient account like a college student’s.

In my visualization of a Webjay-friendly future for internet music, I pictured bands actually changing the target of the URL as time goes on and their needs change. At the beginning they just need exposure and the URL would be a full length MP3. Midway through they would have a dispute with the label over rights to the recording and would convert the song to a 30 second sample. Further on they would have the full song, but with an an audio ad appended. They might provide a high bit rate version if your cookie indicated that you had filled out a survey. They might use HTTP content negotiation to return a version in the file format which is best for your player.

Etc — the general point is that the URL would be persistent, while the representation of the underlying song would change. It’s RESTful, and because of this the musicians would be taking advantage of web architecture.