Tag Archives: music

The day the (free) music (almost) died

According to Wired, today marks the 10th anniversary of the music industry’s lawsuit against file-sharing site Napster.

You may remember that Napster’s defense in the suit, before laying down and playing dead, was that it did not give away copyrighted music — rather it provided a platform for users to share their own files with each other. The RIAA’s argument was that Napster was a bunch of fire demons with cloven feet who were sure to turn the nation’s children into gay communist ax murderers.

After suing Napster for everything it had, the RIAA turned its fire on Bertelsmann, the German media conglomerate that had loaned Napster money:

The lawsuits accused Bertelsmann of copyright infringement for propping up Napster financially with loans totaling $85 million. The lawsuits claimed the firm wanted “to preserve Napster’s user base for Bertelsmann’s own commercial advantage.”

At the time of the loans, Bertelsmann’s chairman, Thomas Middelhoff, explained that “Napster has pointed the way for a new direction for music distribution, and we believe it will form the basis of important and exciting new business models for the future of the music industry.”

Bertelsmann paid millions of dollars to settle the claims. The media concern agreed in 2006 to pay the world’s largest label, Universal Music Group, $60 million to settle the allegations. EMI got an undisclosed amount in 2007, and Warner Music Group settled that same year for $110 million.

The music industry has come a long way since the original Napster lawsuit. Not only has it recognized the promotional value of easily-copied digital music files, but it has engineered a successful shift in its core business model to compensate for the corresponding decline in CD sales.

Hahahaha, just kidding — they’ve been suing the shit out of college students and stay-at-home moms.

Oh, and stiffing the talent.

Witness the saga of Tim Quirk, bassist for Too Much Joy. Recently Warner Music sent Quirk a royalty statement that allegedly accounted for digital sales of the band’s music. The statement showed that Quirk’s band had earned a grand total of $62.47 over the prior five years (which was simply subtracted from the band’s “unrecouped” advances*). This is where Quirk’s day job helped him get to work:

Here’s the thing: I work at Rhapsody. I know what we pay Warner Bros. for every stream and download, and I can look up exactly how many plays and downloads we’ve paid them for each TMJ tune that Warner controls. Moreover, Warner Bros. knows this, as my gig at Rhapsody is the only reason I was able to get them to add my digital royalties to my statement in the first place. For years I’d been pestering the label, but I hadn’t gotten anywhere till I was on a panel with a reasonably big wig in Warner Music Group’s business affairs team about a year ago.

I knew that each online service was reporting every download, and every play, for every track, to thousands of labels (more labels, I’m guessing, than Warner has artists to report to). And I also knew that IODA was able to tell me exactly how much money my band earned the previous month from Amazon ($11.05), Verizon (74 cents), Nokia (11 cents), MySpace (4 sad cents) and many more. I didn’t understand why Warner wasn’t reporting similar information back to my band – and if they weren’t doing it for Too Much Joy, I assumed they weren’t doing it for other artists.

So a major player in the industry that spent years and millions attacking its own best customers has yet to build a reliable system for reporting to the artists how much they’re selling or not selling. Then when someone pesters them for real numbers, they sit on the request for a year and send him a half-assed statement that is clearly, indisputably wrong. And they know he’s a music industry insider, so they can’t possibly think they’ll get away with it.

In conclusion, the music industry is so hopelessly stupid it makes the newspaper industry look like Google. Oops. Bad choice of words?

Dec. 7, 1999: RIAA Sues Napster [Wired]

* Here is Quirk’s explanation of how advances and the concept of recouping works:

A word here about that unrecouped balance, for those uninitiated in the complex mechanics of major label accounting. While our royalty statement shows Too Much Joy in the red with Warner Bros. (now by only $395,214.71 after that $62.47 digital windfall), this doesn’t mean Warner “lost” nearly $400,000 on the band. That’s how much they spent on us, and we don’t see any royalty checks until it’s paid back, but it doesn’t get paid back out of the full price of every album sold. It gets paid back out of the band’s share of every album sold, which is roughly 10% of the retail price. So, using round numbers to make the math as easy as possible to understand, let’s say Warner Bros. spent something like $450,000 total on TMJ. If Warner sold 15,000 copies of each of the three TMJ records they released at a wholesale price of $10 each, they would have earned back the $450,000. But if those records were retailing for $15, TMJ would have only paid back $67,500, and our statement would show an unrecouped balance of $382,500.

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Friday Random 10: Jersey Shore Edition

Last night marked the debut of one of the television season’s most anticipated shows, the regrettable “Jersey Shore” on MTV. Basically the premise of this show is to follow a group of the stupidest guidos on the planet as they dog-paddle through their shallow existence at a certain outpost in New Jersey — official maligned home state of Pax Arcana.

I did not see the premiere episode last night, but I checked up with Gawker’s live-blog-in-the-comments to get an appraisal of the event. I got as far as this:

DID HE JUST PUNCH A GIRL IN THE FUCKING FACE?!

Some critics say “Jersey Shore” is anti-Italian, since it glorifies the worst stereotypes of young Italian-American culture. I partly agree, since I know several meatball slurpers — our own Perry Ellis is one! — who do not ritualistically cruise around with spiked hair and oversized sunglasses and punch girls in the fucking face. On the other hand, holy SHIT you should have seen my high school. Just filled with knuckledragging ziti weiners like this. Christ almighty, I’ll take a pugnacious newsboy hat-wearing Boston mook moron any day of the week over these greasy bastards. No offense, Perry.

The songs:

Walls in Time — Bob Mould
Two Times Blue — Debbie Harry
Fame Throwa — Pavement
One PM Again — Yo La Tengo
Pink Turns To Blue — Husker Du
Get Older — Dan Deacon
XMas Curtain — My Morning Jacket
Lucifer’s Jigsaw — Jaydiohead
Baltimore — Steven Malkmus and the Jicks
Big Love — Broken Social Scene Presents… Kevin Drew

Bonus Video:

Fake Empire / It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop — Frightened Rabbit

The Rules: The Friday Random 10 is exactly that — random. We open up our iTunes, set the thing on shuffle, and listen to 10 songs. We are not permitted to skip any out of embarrassment or fear of redundancy. Commenters are encouraged to post their own.

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Friday Random 10: Fading Spirits Edition

mars_spirit

Sad news from Mars this week as NASA officials are openly questioning the future of the Spirit rover, which has been cruising the surface of the red planet for six years. It’s not out of batteries or anything. It’s just kind of, well, stuck:

In April, Spirit’s wheels broke through a hard crust on the Martian surface and encountered loosely packed fine sand beneath. Initial attempts to drive the rover out ended up with it instead sinking deeper into the trap.

Engineers set up a sand box at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and positioned a sister rover inside to try to figure out a way for Spirit to free itself.

“We’ve pretty much exhausted all the possibilities, all the things that we can do on the ground,” rover project manager John Callas told Discovery News.

With the cold Martian winter on its way, the Spirit could be in danger of dying if it can’t get out of the soft sand and toward the sun — where its solar panels could collect enough energy to keep it alive during the winter. I think I speak for all robot enthusiasts when I say “Beeeep boop, brave Spirit. Beep boop beeeeeep.”

The songs:

Save us S.O.S. — Hot Hot Heat
My Little Corner of the World — Yo La Tengo
Naked as a Window — Josh Ritter
Everybody Knows that You Are Insane — Queens of the Stone Age
Hold Time — M. Ward
Bright Lights — Pete and the Pirates
Dominos — The Big Pink
How To Fight Loneliness — Wilco
Your Southern Can is Mine — The White Stripes
Let’s Not Shit Ourselves — Bright Eyes

Bonus video:

Brooklyn Zoo — Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Kind of a requiem on the 5-year anniversary of his death)

The Rules: The Friday Random 10 is exactly that — random. We open up our iTunes, set the thing on shuffle, and listen to 10 songs. We are not permitted to skip any out of embarrassment or fear of redundancy. Commenters are encouraged to post their own.

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Friday Random 10: Whiplash Edition

Neck Brace - Bodyline Cervical CollarsWhat ever happened to whiplash? In my formative years of the 1980s and early 1990s, you couldn’t watch three consecutive episodes of any sitcom or TV drama without at least one character outfitted in one of those foam neck brace things. The cause of the whiplash was almost certainly a low-speed car accident, and the chances that the character was faking it were roughly 63% — especially if it was that dingbat Boss Hogg. Always pushing the legal envelope, that one!

Anyway, while whiplash the injury (really a catch-all phrase for neck injuries caused by abrupt forward-then-backward head snapping) is still a real thing, it sure seems like it’s dropped off the cultural map. Perhaps we just wore out the concept a few decades back, or maybe it’s because advances in auto safety have effectively reduced the real cases of the injury.

According to this article — 5 things never to tell your insurer — you should avoid saying the word “whiplash” after a car accident, even if your neck is in pain. That’s because the insurance industry associates the word “whiplash” with fraudulent claims, meaning your case could be delayed and unfairly scrutinized. I’m guessing the volume of people using whiplash claims to commit insurance fraud grew rapidly during the heyday of whiplash-centric TV, causing an insurance backlash which subsequently drove down the number of insurance claims. Fewer claims equals fewer people in foam neck braces. Or something. I don’t know. What am I, some kind of wizard or something?

The Songs:

Over The Hillsides — The Real Tuesday Weld
The Lon Gisland Sound — Beirut
Get-Well-Cards — Conor Oberst
If I Am A Stranger — Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
The Morning of the Magicians — Flaming Lips
Me and the Bean — Spoon
Shanty for the Arethusa — The Decemberists
Lifetime Piling Up — Talking Heads
Punkrocker (ft. Iggy Pop) — Teddybears
Cello Song — The Books, featuring Jose Gonzalez

Bonus Video:

Boneless (Live) — The Notwist with Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra

The Rules: The Friday Random 10 is exactly that — random. We open up our iTunes, set the thing on shuffle, and listen to 10 songs. We are not permitted to skip any out of embarrassment or fear of redundancy. Commenters are encouraged to post their own.

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Friday Random 10: Sexy ass fruit flies edition

Scientists in Canadia say they have discovered a way to genetically tweak fruit flies in such a way as to make them utterly irresistible. Not only do fruit flies of the opposite sex flock toward the modified flies, but many of the same sex apparently turn gay for these sexy little monsters.

fruit_fly

Professor Joel Levine, who led the study at the University of Toronto, genetically tweaked fruit flies so they failed to produce a particular pheromone or odour, which is used by the flies to communicate.

The effect on males and females when the cuticular hydrocarbon pheromone was removed was a ‘sexual tsunami’, he said.

The research has a long way to go, but I think it’s good that we’re on our way to explaining why Father Scott is so damned alluring. To insects, anyway. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to zip up my mosquito tent and get back to work.

The songs:

I Don’t Want To Die In The Hospital — Conor Oberst
Fell in Love With a Girl — White Stripes
Time is on My Side — The Rolling Stones
Sweet Illusions — Ryan Adams
Saved by Old Times — Deerhunter
Balcony/Green Eyes — Joe Purdy
The Bunker — Beirut
Don’t Look Back in Anger — Oasis
A Fool for You — Ray Charles
Take Pills — Panda Bear

Bonus Video:

Dashboard — Modest Mouse

The Rules: The Friday Random 10 is exactly that — random. We open up our iTunes, set the thing on shuffle, and listen to 10 songs. We are not permitted to skip any out of embarrassment or fear of redundancy. Commenters are encouraged to post their own.

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Friday Random 10: Tough Guy Edition

Most people who jog for exercise are carrot-munching weenies, but not Craig O’Brien.

tough guyO’Brien is a tough guy. A throwback to a better time — a time when black people knew better than to be president and joggers were free to scream obscenities at whomever the fuck they pleased. Bitch.

So when O’Brien was banned by a judge from jogging in Portsmouth, N.H., he did what any red-blooded awesome white patriot would do — he accepted the ban in court, then fucking yelled at the top of his goddamn lungs at any motherfucker who looked at him sideways. While jogging. In Portsmouth:

Police allege that on May 15 O’Brien yelled at someone driving on Junkins Avenue — the road leading to City Hall and the police station — and was issued a violation-level summons.

Another pending summons alleges O’Brien was disorderly on South Street by yelling profanities and continuing to do so after being asked to stop by Officer Andre Wassouf on May 23. On the same day, O’Brien is also alleged to have used “derisive or offensive words which were likely to provoke a violent reaction on the part of an ordinary person, to which he called (the alleged victim) a sissy.”

So now he’s in jail for violating bail conditions. I wouldn’t worry about him, though. Tough guys like Craig O’Brien do well in prison. I expect he will walk up to the biggest motherfucker in there and call him a butt-fucking motherfucking sissy ass bitch right to his face. He’ll be fine.

The songs:

Saturday Nite — Blitzen Trapper
Caroline, No — Beach House
About a Girl — Nirvana
The Gulag Orkestar — Beirut
Clementine — Elliott Smith
You’ve Got a Killer Scene There, Man — Queens of the Stone Age
D.A.N.C.E. — Justice VS Data
No Life Singed Her — Pavement
Return to Hot Chicken — Yo La Tengo
There’s No Home for you Here — The White Stripes

Bonus video:

It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning — We Were Promised Jetpacks

The Rules: The Friday Random 10 is exactly that — random. We open up our iTunes, set the thing on shuffle, and listen to 10 songs. We are not permitted to skip any out of embarrassment or fear of redundancy. Commenters are encouraged to post their own.

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Friday Random 10: Astro-pee edition

Becoming an astronaut requires one to possess extraordinary physical and mental capacities. Not only must you be a brilliant and articulate person of science, but you must also endure severe physical challenges that would humble nearly all other humans.

The training program for astronauts is rigorous and largely thankless. Nearly all astronauts spend year after year on the ground, watching a select few of their compatriots be launched into space. Many say the wait for a mission to space is the most difficult part.

space-peeHowever, once selected for a mission, astronauts enjoy certain privileges that ordinary humans don’t. Such as the ability dump a 150-pound bucket of your pee into space — thereby creating a brilliant streak of reflective human waste thousands of miles long and visible to humans on the ground.

The picture at right was taken in Hungary last Wednesday. In it, you can see what amounts to more than a week’s worth of astro-pee cascading through the night sky:

According to NASA spokeswoman Kylie Clem, because space regulations bar astronauts from dumping waste water at the International Space Station, the Discovery astronauts had to wait until undocking before they could discard their pee — which by that point amounted to a hefty ten days’ worth.

Sad you missed the show? No need to worry: you may get another chance, as it’s actually a fairly common sighting, says Clem.

And now you know what all that Tang is for.

(Hat tip: Perry Ellis)

The songs:

Chinese Translation — M. Ward
Agoraphobia — Deerhunter
Stop — Ryan Adams
Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be — The Black Keys
Merchants of Soul — Spoon
Fight Test — Flaming Lips
The Long Island Sound — Beirut
Bartering Lines — Ryan Adams
Margaret in Captivity — The Decemberists
In Harmony in Silver — Cold War Kids

Bonus video:

While You Wait for the Others — Grizzly Bear (Live on Jools Holland)

The Rules: The Friday Random 10 is exactly that — random. We open up our iTunes, set the thing on shuffle, and listen to 10 songs. We are not permitted to skip any out of embarrassment or fear of redundancy. Commenters are encouraged to post their own.

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Wolfgang Mozart has a cold…

mozartThe popularity of the 1984 Milos Forman film Amadeus — which was based on the 1979 Peter Shaffer play Amadeus, which was based on the opera Amadeus and Salieri by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which was based on the short play Amadeus and Salieri by Aleksandr Pushkin — has inspired decades of conspiracy theories and century-spanning amateur CSI work to determine how Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died.

In the film, Mozart dies at 35 after Salieri — jealous of his extraordinary gifts — knowingly works him to exhaustion under the guise of “helping” the composer regain his financial standing. Because Mozart was known for his wild eccentricities even during his own time, some have speculated that he died of mercury poisoning or a chronic condition that would have explained his personality. Others have suspected rheumatic fever, because he suffered from periodic bouts with it, and even trichinosis, because why the fuck not?

Anyway, a group of Dutch researchers descended from their ivory windmill recently to investigate. Their conclusion is that Mozart died from strep throat:

Their new study, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was based on information from official death registers for Vienna in the winter of 1791 that places Mozart’s death in a wider context. He died in Vienna.

“Our findings suggest that Mozart fell victim to an epidemic of strep throat infection that was contracted by many Viennese people in Mozart’s month of death, and that Mozart was one of several persons in that epidemic that developed a deadly kidney complication,” researcher Richard Zegers, of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, told Reuters Health.

Of course the researchers’ findings is not conclusive, since examining Mozart’s body is impossible. Viennese authorities insist Mozart was buried in a common grave, as was the custom of the day.

You are free to believe anything you like about Mozart’s demise. Maybe it was strep throat. Maybe it was trichinosis. Maybe Salieri worked him to death.

Or maybe, just maybe, zombie Galileo took his final revenge.

galileo_zombie

I guess we’ll never know.

Strep throat may have killed Mozart: study [Reuters]

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Kind of Blue Goes Gray

Pax Arcana

kind_of_blueI’m back from yet another research trip to the New Jersey Shore, and while I’m still months from compiling all the data I collected, I think it’s fair to conclude that yes, I will have another Margarita.

My return coincides perfectly with the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue, the seminal Miles Davis album that was released on August 17, 1959. According to Fred Kaplan at Slate, the reason Kind of Blue stands out among all the other great jazz albums of the 1950s is that Davis (and his collaborators) were breaking new ground by freeing the musicians from the chords that dominated bebop improvisation:

One night in 1958, Russell sat down with Davis at a piano and laid out his theory’s possibilities—how to link chords, scales, and melodies in almost unlimited combinations. Miles realized this was a way out of bebop’s cul-de-sac. “Man,” he told Russell, “if Bird was alive, this would kill him.”

In an interview that year with critic Nat Hentoff, Miles explained the new approach. “When you go this way,” he said, “you can go on forever. You don’t have to worry about changes, and you can do more with time. It becomes a challenge to see how melodically inventive you are. … I think a movement in jazz is beginning, away from the conventional string of chords and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variations. There will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.”

Most of us are familiar with Kind of Blue because it’s the one jazz album every white person owns. This is because many of us believe that professing our love of jazz will either endear us to cool black people or get us laid (preferably both). I once gave a ride home to a blond waitress with fake boobs. I had left the radio tuned to NPR earlier in the day, but after midnight the station only played jazz. When I started the car, she said “Oh you like jazz? That’s soooo cool.”

“Yes I do,” I said. “Have you ever heard of Miles Davis?”

Kind of Blue: Why the best-selling jazz album of all time is so great [Slate]

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David Lee Roth had his reasons

Pax Arcana

david-lee-rothIn the early 1980s, while Malcolm Jamal Warner was busy making the children of the world cooler, Van Halen was making a reputation for itself as the world’s leader in jackass tour riders.

By now the sight of a superstar band demanding preposterous concessions while on tour is a familiar one. But it all began in 1981 when Van Halen insisted that they be served M&Ms with all the brown ones picked out. The penalty for discovering a single brown M&M was a complete cancellation of the show.

Van Halen’s demand earned them a reputation for petulance. But according to Snopes.com (via Boing Boing), David Lee Roth actually had a good reason for it. Because the Van Halen show required more equipment and technical infrastructure than most venues were used to, the band used the M&M clause to ensure that the venue had done its due diligence. From Roth’s autobiography:

The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes … ” And article 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

So when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, line check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to find a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to destroy just the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

In a sad, ironic twist, David Lee Roth’s career was finally killed by a brown M&M. In Roth’s defense, I don’t know why the brown one had to hog the spotlight at Skylar’s 8th birthday party. The yellow one that does the jumping splits has all the talent.

Van Halen had good reason to ban brown M&Ms in their concert rider [Boing Boing]

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