the power of limited catalogs

Pampelmoose is a music blog by Dave Allen of Gang of Four. It’s good and it gets a lot of traffic.

It has a rare quality: Dave has permission to post the MP3s.

My guess about how it works is that he personally emails the musicians, one rock star to another, and then they say ok in a half-assed way which is more like “Sure, no problem, just pass the bong and shut up” than a signing ceremony.

But still, he gets permission. That’s usually more or less impossible. Usually a blogger would have to do something on the order of getting Madonna on the phone.

The reason it’s usually impossible is that the application design requires permission from every rights holder in the world before a single song can be used. Like, iMeem may sign a deal to use Warner’s catalog, but not have a comparable deal for Sony’s catalog, and in the meantime users aren’t willing to listen to only Warner songs. Given an application where users pick the song, you have to have every song in the world.

But a music blog isn’t that. The songs passing through it are limited. You need ten songs at a time, not a million. It’s doable to find ten songs that you like and can get permission to use.

Usually music blogs don’t get permission, because they’re too low-profile to need it. But for them to keep growing they have to achieve a sustainable legal profile, otherwise they’ll be sued underground as soon as they go above ground. Obviously.

I don’t think this new application flow is enough by itself to make everything ok instead of whacked-out-as-usual. I do think that it’s an exception to the physics of internet music, which makes it worth pointing out.

8 thoughts on “the power of limited catalogs

  1. I suppose this is similar to Columbia House or the BMG equivalent CD club – consumers get a limited subset of product for a considerable savings, and monetization takes place much later (when you forget to send the stupid Columbia House envelopes back in time)

  2. I remember reading something about how those worked through contract clauses exempting the label for paying royalties on promotional materials.

  3. Good thing the structure of licensing law also makes it impossible to in any way aggregate such blogs into a larger more user-friendly thing.

    Also, I don’t think this model actually “scales” in the way you describe — it’s still succeeding because it’s under the radar; while Dave’s traffic might be mighty to mortals like you or me, if it was ever so widely read as to make so much as a minor mark in the wider music marketplace, those verbal rockstar-to-rockstar agreements wouldn’t be worth the electronic bong greeting card that was passed between them.

  4. Greg, I’m not sure we’re visualizing the same thing. What I thinking of is that it’s possible to do a music blog that’s good without any infringement at all, because you don’t need that many songs. So they can be aggregated and ultimately scale up.

  5. Lucas — I guess I was (somewhat glibly) trying to address both forms of scale. On the aggregation of many small non-infringing music blogs side, you know the strong experience I recently had with the industry’s attitude towards aggregation. I don’t think that the original blogs having permission would affect the industry’s attitude towards aggregators. A site allowing easy access to search for and hear music in a single place would be a potentially substituting use for the industry’s actual products and hence a big problem for them (and one they’d have a pretty solid legal basis under current frameworks to shut down, since the kind of single-use license you’re talking about wouldn’t be transferrable).

    The other potential kind of scale I was addressing was the possibility of a single blog getting so big that it would serve as a kind of broadcast medium in itself. Pitchfork is somewhat close to this level. I have a hard time imagining a site in that model acting as an effective distribution mechanism.

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