weather we’ve been having! Last month our Sell Your Music
Online panel had to bail out on the monthly CRUMBS Night Out
at the Linda Norris Auditorium. It was the night of what will
forever be known as The Great Ice Storm of 2008—need I say
But mourn not, we’re got the old team back together for the
January edition of CRUMBS Night Out, so come out to the Linda
(339 Central Ave., Albany) next Thursday (Jan. 22) and hear
a set from the always-intriguing Scientific Maps (myspace.com/scientificmaps)
at 7 PM, followed by the panel—including moi, jazz god Brian
Patneaude, and the mandolinear digi-guru Matthew Loiacono—explaining
what you need to know about getting your tunage up and out
on the Internet. It’s free. My trusty co-host Paul Czech won’t
be there because he’s attending the big MIDEM music conference
on the French Riviera, which he’ll be reporting about at the
February CRUMBS session.
Speaking of Matthew Loiacono, you should know that he’s publishing
a weekly e-newsletter, The Weekly Wahhh, full of helpful hints
about the world of Internet music. Matthew knows as much about
this stuff as anybody anywhere; he knows what happened five
minutes ago and has a pretty good idea of what’s gonna happen
tomorrow. You can sign up for the newsletter at his Web site,
The big news this week is that Apple’s iTunes store is changing
a couple of its more controversial aspects, and all for the
better. First, it’s finally ditching the DRM (digital rights
management) goo that encumbered all of the music it was selling.
Apple’s DRM, which the major labels apparently forced
Apple to stick on the music, restricted how many devices you
could put your music on. Say you replace your MP3 player,
get a new phone, stick your music on a new laptop or storage
disk—at some point your iTunes music will just quit on you,
and won’t load up on any new devices.
DRM is universally and vociferously hated by folks like me,
but it’s not clear it’s ever really bothered normal people
much. Over a year ago, Amazon launched their DRM-free MP3
store to a lot of fanfare in the technorati press,
but it hasn’t affected iTunes’ market domination at all. Huh.
What explains this? I can’t imagine people just don’t care
that their music is tethered, I prefer to think that people
just don’t know yet that their expensive digital music
collections have little time-bombs in them, and not enough
time has gone by for the DRM to click in. We’ll see. Maybe.
More immediate important changes to the iTunes store is the
goosing of the files, which will now be offered at a higher
quality 256kbps, which will take up more room on your iPod
but will sound much, much better than your old 128’s or 192’s.
Finally, something that’s gonna change online music selling
forever: Apple’s finally ditching the uniform 99-cents-per-track
pricing, and introducing a three-tiered price structure. Labels
and artists selling on iTunes will be allowed to sell tracks
at 69 cents, 99 cents, or $1.29; expect back-catalog tracks
to go for the lower price and big hits to go for the higher.
Or something like that. I’m guessing we’ll also see an uptick
in the number of free tracks and of targeted and limited price
reductions (like “get the new M.I.A. track for 69 cents for
the next hour”) as well.
I think this last move will open the floodgates to innovative
pricing across all of the music-sales platforms on the Web;
lots of online musicians have been fooling around with different
price-points (including pay-what-you-will “tip jars”) for
a couple of years, and that only makes sense. If you wanna
get all economic about it there’s no good reason why all tracks
should be the same price: you don’t value all music
tracks equally, supply and demand is what it is and, the marginal
cost of one more track is right around zero.
Anybody see Lawrence Lessig on Colbert last week? He was pretty
good parrying-wise, infinitely better than fellow copy-leftist
John Perry Barlow’s clueless performance last year. But the
appearance highlighted how hard these things are to talk about,
and how much Big Media has muddied the waters of rational
discourse. Colbert’s ridiculous proclamations, like “copyright
is forever” and his anti-remix rants (Colbert, in fact, has
been at the forefront of encouraging and posting remixes of
his own show) simply aren’t susceptible to witty, cutting
repartee. Or maybe Lessig just isn’t equipped to deliver the
verbal body-slam that counts as a score on Colbert.
That being said, Colbert did seem, at least to me, especially
aggressive and unforgiving. Whether he was intent on putting
Lessig through his paces, or talking tough to satisfy his
bosses at Viacom, who knows? I’d like to think he’s immune
to that sort of thing. Maybe not.