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8th November, 2009

Couple of things.

I have a Bandcamp. There you can stream or download both FatC releases. For now, you can name your own price for the high-quality CD equivalent downloads. Bonus files included in full album downloads.

I also have a Posterous, which is where the bulk of future blogging is likely to take place. This news page is, I think, going to be limited to actual news item type things rather than random rants.

That would make sense, wouldn't it.

25th September, 2009

It's getting even more annoying.

Back in May, Billy Bragg wrote, "as recording artists we question the wisdom of pursuing and penalising our potential audience."

Now he has signed the FAC / Lily Allen statement supporting "a three-strike sanction on those who persistently download illegal files, sanctions to consist of a warning letter, a stronger warning letter and a final sanction of the restriction of the infringer's bandwidth to a level which would render file-sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic email and web access functional."

Firstly, filesharing is not the problem.

Mike Masnick of Techdirt points out, "none of these artists have been able to respond to the basic questions posed by many of us, asking for any evidence that the problem they face is actually unauthorized file sharing, rather than a shift in technologies and business models." He continues, "Again, as we've pointed out countless times, the size of the overall UK music industry is growing, not shrinking, and those who have put in place business models that embrace file sharing have seen their own markets grow, not shrink.".

Secondly, three-strike sanctions won't work.

Andrew Orlowski in The Register reminds us that, "file sharing over dial-up speed connections isn't impossible, it's just slower". That's if the sanctions are even legal, which it looks like the EU says they are not. It doesn't even matter. You can still share files without using the internet at all. Simply copy them from your machine onto a USB key or mp3 player, or phone, or whatever, then you can copy them over anywhere else you can physically get to.

So no-one will benefit from the sanctions, which won't work anyway. Be that as it may.

What would sanctions do, were they implemented? Who would they hurt?

Being pretty much impossible, both technically and legally, the implementation details are messy - multiple users share one connection in most houses, people leech bandwidth from their neighbours, or use Wifi networks as they travel, or download an mp3 of a CD they already own - is that an infringement? - but lets skip all that for now.

Assume for the sake of argument that the sanctions are implemented by some means. Chances are there'll be ways round them, though they might involve a new machine or a new ISP connection. Or being able to fund a simple legal challenge. Who will find it easier to get around them in that way? The richer or the poorer 'suspected illegal filesharers' and their families?

So shame on you, Billy Bragg.

'Here comes the future and you can't run from it' he wrote. 'You are judged by your actions and not by your pretensions', he wrote.


23rd September, 2009

The stupid - it hurts.

The most annoying thing - of many annoying things - about the current Rich Pop Stars Against Filesharing campaign of Lily Allen, Elton John, James Blunt and so on - is not the unbelievably one-sided reporting of news outlets such as the BBC, whose constant repetition of the false implication that all filesharing is illegal is increasingly tiresome. It is not the breathtaking hypocrisy of Lily Allen specifically, whose career was launched as a direct result of filesharing. Nor is it - here in the UK at least - the ignorance of the fact, as reported by Mike Masnick of Techdirt, at least twice, that the UK music industry is actually growing (link to PDF by PRS economists Will Page and Chris Carey).

No. The most annoying thing is a failure to understand that filesharing is pretty much what computers do. Computers are machines that manipulate, transmit and receive data. No more and no less. They don't care if the data is a music file, your letter to the bank, a pornographic image or a spreadsheet. The internet makes it much easier than before to share files, but filesharing predates the internet by many years - its just that then you simply had to use floppy disks or cassette tapes or whatever storage medium to make the transfer.

So campaigning against filesharing is tantamount to campaigning against computers themselves. That's ok, perhaps, for the super wealthy, whose lives have perhaps not been immeasurably changed by this sudden overwhelming access to more information - in all forms - than ever before, but for the rest of us, it's beyond ridiculous, and deeply insulting. The correct way to characterise filesharers is not 'pirates', it's 'computer users'. Since, specifically, those sharing music files are those who are music fans, there is mounting evidence that filesharing increases sales. It has certainly worked for me.

It cannot be stopped and it should not be stopped, and those who are trying to tell us that it's not alright to indulge in filesharing could not be more wrong.

For more on this there's some excellent discussion over at Metafilter.

16th September, 2009

Lily Allen's thoughts on file sharing make for an interesting if mildly painful read. As a darling of the major label pop scene, she is naturally against it, but I'm not sure she's really talking about music as such, hence the title of my silly cartoon on the subject. Talented as she may be, I believe she is very wrong about file sharing. Here's why.

"In digital land pirated tracks are as good quality as bought tracks, so there's not a need to buy for better quality."

A large proportion of mp3s - certainly the vast majority of stuff I have downloaded myself - are recorded at 128kbps, which is generally the default setting for mp3 ripping software. Such mp3s use lossy compression, meaning they are lower quality versions than the full-quality track available on CD. Higher quality mp3 files do exist, as do FLAC files (a non-lossy compression format) but most people have no idea what any of this means, and aren't bothered, until it's time to play the tune through a decent stereo. At that point the quality issues of the average mp3 become apparent to the average ear, and if you actually like the music and want to support the artist it's time to go and buy a CD.

Commercial pirates, of course, will peddle full-quality knock-offs of real albums, and it is obvious that this is not acceptable. But we're not talking about that. We're talking about file sharing. That's different.

Music fans who download stuff (most of them) tend to buy if they like it and can afford it, and not if they don't. Non music fans who download stuff probably wouldn't buy it anyway. The key point Allen misses is that a download is absolutely not equivalent to a lost sale. Even the Ferrari drivers at the FAC have worked that one out. It's a shame, because without grasping that part of the story, nothing else makes a lot of sense.

"You don't start out in music with the Ferraris. Instead you get a huge debt from your record company, which you spend years working your arse off to repay."

This quote is telling. She is quite right that you don't start out in music with the Ferraris. However, this business of the 'huge debt from your record company' does not apply to the vast bulk of musicians.

It might apply to Lily Allen, whose career trajectory has been pretty unique, but for most of us, we start with stuff like learning our instruments, learning to write and to perform, learning to do shitty gigs in front of three people and still play well, learning to deal with disappointment and being screwed over, and learning that making good music which people enjoy is neither a sufficient nor necessary condition at this time in history for success in this tricky field.

The 'huge debt' part only arises in the major label world, which as we have known for over fifteen years is, for most unfortunate souls who choose that route, a pretty guaranteed way to get fucked up. That's one of a number of reasons why major labels are in trouble. Intelligent artists mostly don't want to deal with them because they know that the days of Ahmet Ertegun or even Island Records are long gone, and the major labels are really not interested in music or musicians any more, just profit.

That's no way to run your music career, at least, not if you are actually passionate about music.

"If this sounds like I'm siding with the record bosses, I'm not. They've been naive and complacent about new technology - and they've spent all the money they've earned on their own fat salaries not industry development. But as they start to lose big from piracy, they're not slashing their salaries - they're pulling what they invest in A&R. Lack of funds results in A&R people not being able to take risks and only signing acts they think will work, which again makes British music Cowell puppets."

Why yes. Yes, the essay does sound like a lot she is siding with the record bosses. I'd go further. The whole thing reads like a covering letter for a speculative job application. The only thing missing is something like 'and all you have to do to fix this is to put me in charge.'

The thing of it is that Lily Allen is not really talking about music at all, per se, she is talking about pop music as put out by major labels. That's why the only alternative she can see to the problem of major labels slashing their A&R budgets is Simon Cowell's world of really vapid crap. Or so she's saying. She's too bright to really think that, and I smell a rat.

Financially, the major labels are dead men walking - as everyone in the industry is painfully aware - and the future lies in some other kind of business model, populated by a largely different set of businesses. Whether you like her or not and whether you like her music or not, there can be no doubt that Allen is a highly intelligent and talented businesswoman. She will be as aware of the woes of the majors as anyone - more than most, in fact, as her career is currently locked into one of them.

Perhaps one or two of the majors may well survive the transition to the new model, whatever it turns out to be. This will require a bit of a clean sweep and some new thinking at the top. That's what makes me wonder who this essay was really directed at.

Not her fans, for sure - see below.

"...saying file sharing's fine is not helping anyone - and definitely not helping British music."

Interestingly, file sharing helps me a great deal. Of course, I'm still very much struggling and unknown, but I have several thousands of mp3 downloads from this site alone and a further unknown number of downloads from elsewhere. If people like the music, they will share it, and - please do. That helps me, not hinders me. Apart from at gigs, I have had very few CD sales from people who did not already possess mp3s of my music. That's why I put everything on the site to download, under a Creative Commons licence.

File sharing might not be helping the British divisions of the various majors, but then nothing is. Their time is over, and has been since they stopped investing in proper A&R, stopped nurturing and developing artists for artistic and not commercial reasons, and started attacking their own consumers directly.

This final quote comes from one of Lily's own fans in response to her essay:

I downloaded your first album before I bought it and without downloading it or hearing you on Radio1 I would never of bought your second album or concert tickets to see you four times.

What further comment is necessary?

8th September, 2009

Some news items for your itemly perusal.

ITEM: The gig on the 27th September has been CANCELLED alas, owing to Radha not doing the Soundbites thing any more. Which is fair enough, as she's been doing it for ages and spending loads of time and energy putting on two wonderful shows a week for what appears to me to be nothing more than the sheer unadulterated love of it. We played Soundbites about five or six times and it was a great night to do each time, and not just because we got sorted out with a tab at the bar. It will be missed and we wish Radha all the best with whatever she gets up to next.

ITEM: There is an acoustic gig at The Good Ship in Kilburn on the 4th October. Also a solo slot on the 13th September (that's Sunday) at Prohibition by Tower Bridge and a full band outing to Cross Kings on Thursday. More dates to follow.

ITEM: Wayne has finally pulled his finger out and made a rough recording of a new song, which you can download here. More of these to follow also, possibly with less sax.

ITEM: There is a man in Australia called David Morgan-Mar and he is excellent. His is the wonderful Irregular Webcomic, among other projects, but he is also responsible for a Great New Thing called Archive Binge, which involves a whole new way to read back through vast archives of webcomics and not lose your place or have to read all 20,000 of them in one go, which apparently some people like to do. We've signed up, and you should probably go and have a look. If you run a webcomic, you should sign up too.

ITEM: This is probably enough items.