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DIY Rocks

The Internet has democratized the music business in ways that were unimaginable 15 years ago. Time was when, to be even marginally successful, a band had to press up CDs (or vinyl or cassettes) and then somehow get them into stores and get the music on the radio. These were horrible bottlenecks, largely controlled by major labels and Big Media. The Internet has effectively removed these bottlenecks; music can be sold directly to consumers over the Internet, and corporate radio is fast becoming irrelevant to breaking music.

But there’s a fundamental problem that remains: getting noticed in the first place. It’s easy now to make your music accessible, but how do you get people to listen to it and buy it? This is where the real innovation is happening right now.

Eight years ago I worked with Count the Stars, a Delmar band just out of high school with a CD and more desire to make it than I’ve ever seen. In the pre-MySpace/ Facebook days, the members of the band tirelessly worked what was available on the Web, including finding and joining online chat groups dedicated to other bands they liked, introducing themselves and inviting the other participants to visit the Count the Stars Web site. By the time the band got in their van and hit the road, there was a small but nationwide fan base waiting for them. These guys were pioneers and got rewarded for their efforts with a deal with powerhouse indie label Victory Records.

Just last week, Collar City Records honcho/Kamikaze Hearts action man Matthew Loiacono unveiled another amazing marketing strategy for his new album, entitled Kentucky. Matthew’s having a contest he’s calling “Why Kentucky?”—first you go to his Web site heartstack.org/Kentucky and download the album for free. Then you try to figure out why the heck he named the album Kentucky. There’s a prize for the first correct answer (apparently there’s a real reason for the name) and another for the “most awesome, yet incorrect” answer.

The idea, obviously, is to get people to listen to the music, whether they actually buy it or not, with the idea of attracting fans and the hope that people are going to like the free download enough to want to buy the sonically superior CD that will be available in a couple of weeks. Is it gonna work? Time will tell. But at least Matthew, like Radiohead and Trent Reznor before him, is recognizing the reality that the Internet has transformed how people consider music, and forever changed the paradigm of “I buy I own” with regard to music.

In other news, MySpace last week announced some big deal with three of the four major record companies, apparently some kind of effort to unseat iTunes as the Big Kahuna of music sales. The press release says this:

“The product vision for MySpace Music is to build on the existing traffic, credibility, and popularity of the MySpace Music platform by creating a fully integrated 360 degree global music solution. MySpace Music will feature the network’s first integrated e-commerce solution and evolve the user’s ability to discover, share, and socialize by adding commerce and music management tools. The new offering will seamlessly transform the MySpace Music experience into a groundbreaking mix of community, commerce, and discovery.”

Sweet Jesus I love the music business! I had my heart set on a 180-degree global music solution, and lookie here, they’re going whole hog!!! Oh well. I think what our corporate friends here are trying to tell us is that they want to sell us stuff! Lots of stuff!

As nice as MySpace has been for everybody, let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s owned by News Corp., so something like this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Commentators have already chimed in complaining that the MySpace Music “plan,” whatever it is, isn’t going to be good for indie labels and bands, but that’s really yet to be seen. It’s either going to be a big deal, or yet another example of the kind of Web 2.0 madness we’ve seen all too often that’s hype, smoke and mirrors today, and a whole bunch of nuttin’ tomorrow. I’m not holding my breath.

Meantime, in lawsuits brought by the RIAA against kids and their computers, two courts recently ruled on the pivotal question of whether simply making music available for download from the share file of a P2P program is infringement under the Copyright Act. One court said yes, it’s infringement; the other said well, no, it’s not. Oops. What this means is that the RIAA can continue its reign of terror—these suits thrive on uncertainty—at least until some appeals courts start weighing in on the issue.

And I’m not holding my breath on this one, either.

—Paul Rapp

 

Paul Rapp is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the Copyright Forum on WAMC’s Vox Pop. Contact info can be found at www.paul rapp.com. Comments about this article can be posted at rapponthis .blogspot.com.


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