Sounding Circle: Musicians Unveil Digital 'Manifesto'

 Musicians Unveil Digital 'Manifesto'2 comments
picture 26 Jan 2004 @ 18:57, by Raymond Powers

Musicians Unveil Digital 'Manifesto'
AP, 01/26/2004 4:07 PM)

By Angela Doland

Rock veterans Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno are launching a provocative new musicians' alliance that would cut against the industry grain by letting artists sell their music online instead of only through record labels.

With the Internet transforming how people buy and listen to songs, musicians need to act now to claim digital music's future, Gabriel and Eno argued Monday as they handed out a slim red manifesto at a huge dealmaking music conference known as Midem.

They call the plan the "Magnificent Union of Digitally Downloading Artists" — or MUDDA, which has a less lofty ring to it.

"Unless artists quickly grasp the possibilities that are available to them, then the rules will get written, and they'll get written without much input from artists," said Eno, who has a long history of experimenting with technology.

By removing record labels from the equation, artists can set their own prices and set their own agendas, said the two independent musicians, who hope to launch the online alliance within a month.

Their pamphlet lists ideas for artists to explore once they're freed from the confines of the CD format. One might decide to release a minute of music every day for a month. Another could post several recorded variations of the same song and ask fans what they like best.

Gabriel, who has his own label, Real World Records, said he isn't trying to shut down the record companies — he just wants to give artists more options.

"There are some artists who already tried to do everything on their own," he said, adding that those musicians often found out they didn't like marketing or accounting. "We believe there will be all sorts of models for this."

A representative with the venture said other musicians had expressed interest in participating in the alliance, but did not provide names.

One band that has found its niche online is the jam band Phish, which sells downloads of its concerts at www.livephish.com.

The band's relationship with its devoted fans is often compared to that of the Grateful Dead, and the site is another chance for close contact. But it also generates plenty of money: more than $2.25 million in sales since 2002.

What's driving the movement is the success of legitimate download sites such as Apple's Internet music store, iTunes, which sells songs for 99 cents a pop in the United States.

Both Gabriel and Eno started their careers in the 1960s and remain immensely influential.

As a means to help unsigned artists, their effort "is certainly going to be a valuable and interesting thing to do," said Josh Bernoff, principal analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

"But for anyone (already) signed it's almost certainly a violation of their contract," said Bernoff, who addressed the conference over the weekend. "It's not in a record company's best interest to have large pieces of music out there that they don't have control of."

Gabriel co-founded a European company, On Demand Distribution, which runs legal download sites in 11 European countries.

The company would provide the technology for MUDDA, though Gabriel and Eno are looking for online partners.

Europe's sites haven't yet caught up to the success of the U.S. portals. Apple's iTunes, for example, is planning a European launch this year, which is expected to build interest in legal downloading in a market where many people don't realize there's even such a thing.

Because both legal and illegal sites offer tunes a la carte, many in the industry believe they'll make albums less important by putting the focus on catchy singles.

Eno and Gabriel both suggested they'd welcome a chance to make songs that stand alone.

"I'm an artist who works incredibly slowly," Gabriel said. "If some of those (songs) could be made available, you don't have to be so trapped into this old way of being confined only by the album cycle."

The former Genesis singer and World Music promoter is interested in putting multiple versions of the same song online. He's also looking forward to being able to hear unfinished music from other artists.

"We tend at the moment ... to try to find a moment when a song is right. You stick the pin in the butterfly and put it in the box and you sell the box," he said. "Music is actually a living thing that evolves."


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2 comments

26 Jan 2004 @ 19:16 by jmarc : music for airports
hey, i jjust recently bought brian eno's music for airports, and i didn't even realize i was supporting a good cause! well, good for me i guess, huh?  


26 Jul 2006 @ 17:07 by Frederik Grøn Schack @80.160.75.132 : Record Companies Must Die
Here is an article that I wrote some time ago, I think it's relevant to this discussion:

"The record industry is supposedly suffering due to loss in record sales, and I like many other young people continue to copy music from the Internet without the slightest concern. That's a problem to the artists, and at the end of the day to the listeners, because we can't expect the musicians to deliver free music, at least not at a professional level. So is professional music doomed?

The idea I’m going to present to you is rooted in reality, unlike the ideas of the record companies. It will “legalize” the MP3 format in a reformistic way, it will give musicians more creative freedom and it will make musicians earn money that way.


Reality – MP3

All people can manage to pay some amount for a piece of music, but as soon as an individual’s price threshold is crossed, and this is very important, the alternative is obviously not to pay! That's reality, people aren't going to pay if the price is too high. Further, if the process of purchasing music is too dificult and implies too many disadvantages, people might not be willing to pay anything at all. Either realize this reality, or fail any attempt to save the music industry.

Reality is that it’s impossible to prevent the copying of music. At some point the music has to be transformed to either a digital or analogous audio signal, which can be copied, and just a single copy is potentially spread like wildfire on the Internet.

Reality is that the MP3 format has many advantages over the CD.
*Doesn't take up space in the shelves.
*Doesn’t get scratched.
*Is faster to search and find specific tracks.
*Makes it possible to compile your own playlists.
*Offers loads of smart features like visualization plug-ins, automatic lyrics lookup (evil lyrics), automatic music recommendation (audioscrobbler.com), etc.
*Cost’s almost nothing to distribute.
*Is easily distributed over the Internet.
*You don't have to go anywhere to get your music, you can download a track within minutes (and speeds are increasing).
*A wider selection is already available on e-mule and WinMX than almost any store.
*Is stored on any digital medium (harddisks, memory sticks, CDs, DVDs, micro drives etc.).

The disadvantages are
*It’s mostly illegal
*Some believe that MP3 is worse quality than CD (I believe this to be a confusion between the quality of a recording and the limit of the MP3 format. I have very good HiFi equipment, and can’t tell the difference between a good MP3 and a CD.)

To me, and many others, the MP3 format is so convenient, that we don’t even care whether it’s illegal or not. Reality is that we aren't going to sacrifice the advantages of the MP3 format, just because some butthead says it’s illegal. If I was recommended a piece of music through ICQ, AudioScrobbler, AllMusic.com or whatever, should I then spend an hour or so going to the music store, buying a whole CD with lot’s of stuff that I don’t want, going home, ooops scratching the CD? No way! I’m already online, it’s right there, the music, you can’t fool me! Neither can colourful CD covers, the marketing machine or PR stunts.

This is a new paradigm demanding a new solution


Problem – Record Companies

The problem to me and many others is that we like our artists. That’s the ones we love, not the leaches sucking the blood from our artists. The distribution of music sucks 90%-95% of the retail price. Whoa! So even if we go to the store, take our time, just to support our artists, only 5%-10% would be scraped of to the artists??? No! It’s even worse, the musicians have to pay the marketing costs out of their humble budgets themselves. Typically big artists have to sell more than a million CD’s, just to be break even!

It’s no wonder that the record companies cares so much about their current “symbiotic” relationship with the artists, and anything that could possibly upset it.

One thing that upsets the record companies the most is this new reality, they can't ignor it and keep their huge profits and they can't conform with it and keep their huge profits. Instead they are trying to fight this new reality, pissing everyone off.

The core problem to the record companies is that they can't monopolize distribution of music on the Internet, they aren't even needed to distribute music, if they could, they would most certainly shut down the Internet.


Solution - Taking advantage of reality

In order to find a solution that can satisfy both the artists and the consumers of music, we must make a concept based on reality.

The record companies must die, they are nothing but a pain to the consumers and artists, they have no purpose in the market economy anymore. That's even true for those who want's a physical CD, artists could distribute their music dirictly to any store or consumer through the Internet and then the store could print high quality covers and CD labels.

The music is obviously best distributed via the Internet. It makes no sense to produce CD's in America and send them by truck and boat to Europe, risking shortage or abundance of CD's, when it's almost free and free of risk to distribute the music via the Internet.

We can't force people to pay, but almost everyone (at least those who can afford a PC or MP3 player) can manage to pay some amount, but the individuals threshold for how much he/she is willing to pay varies a lot. A common man in Bolivia has a much lower threshold than a common man in Germany. Further a poor man in the United Kingdom has a much lower threshold than a rich man in the United Kingdom. But all of them can manage to pay some amount, however small. So, why not make everyone pay what they can manage to pay, instead of only making those who have a high income pay? The trick then will be to get people to pay as much as possible. Basically what I'm suggesting is motivated voluntary contributions.

Then, why not take advantage of the huge, world spanning and efficient distribution network already in place? The file sharing services like eMule, WinMX, iMesh, Bearshare, Grokster, eDonkey etc.? If contributions are voluntary albeit motivated, then the distribution network doesn't really matter, does it?

Further, what is making the file sharing services so efficient is that everyone is a server and everyone is a client. It's a bullet proof server, allways online, costs close to nothing and has enormous amounts of diskspace and bandwidth. The more widespread a track or a whole CD is, the faster it is to download. This means that if the system that I'm about to suggest works, if you can actually make people who have been riding free contribute, then it is in the interest of the artists that their files are as widespread as possible, in order to recieve as much contributions as possible. The reason why files become widespread is that they are free to distribute! Everybody can listen to music for free and then support the artists that they like.

So, what's the difference between the existing system of anarchy and my suggestion?

How would you support an artist with 2$ today? Huh? International moneyorder? Thats expensive? If you live in the same country as the artist, you might be able to make a fairly cheap transfer, but do you know the account no. of your artist? You could write an e-mail to the artist, expressing your desire to contribute 2$, I'm sure he would understand....

I think this illustrates the base of the problem, it has to be cheap and easy to contribute, else it won't happen. The more easy it is to reach the point both practically and mentally where one pays, the more contributions. We don't want to enter a lot of information like credit card number, expiry date, name and the like, especially not if it's only for a small amount of money. It has to be simple, like just entering an amount and the click "send", then it would be 1) convenient 2) economically manageable to everybody. Furthermore it should be possible to do while downloading or playing the music, while the user is at the computer anyway.

So here is what we’ve got to do

1. The very basic first step is to make it possible to make small contributions to artists.
2. The second step is to make it incredibly easy.
3. The third step is to motivate contributions.
4. The fourth step is to start a process that legalizes this kind of payment.

1. Make it possible

Some of the existing file sharing networks, MP3 players or a service like AudioScrobbler could create user accounts where users allocate a certain amount of money, the normal way by paying with VISA/Mastercard or the like. Then the user could allot small amounts on different artist accounts. The services maintaining the accounts could charge a fee like 5% of the contributions.

2. Make it easy

People are lazy.

What could possibly be more easy than having a contribution plug-in for WinAmp, showing the current artist playing, a text field for entering any amount and a “contribute” button? Well, yes, “auto contribute” to every piece of music played, but that should be an option.

How?

Have an account at AudioScrobbler, Winamp or some other service, put some money on it and let the service distribute the money according to your choice. It’s really that simple, and in reality a little difficult to realize.

3. Motivate contributions

People are egoists.

People are different, some likes to show off, some likes to be respected for their authority, some like to be seen as good people and others need respect for their technical ingenuity.

So let people show off, earn respect, contribute money and contribute technology, make us feel good in our own egoistic ways.

Show off.
50 largest contributors? 50 largest contributors to a specific artist? To a specific song? Of the year? of the month? of the day? How much did he contribute? Let there be many winners!

Earn respect.
Some people just need respect for their honorable compliance with society. They would dutifully contribute to those in need and make rules apply.

Be good.
Some people are more idealistic, they would do whatever is needed to make the world a good one. They need to be good, because they need to be appreciated.

And contribute technology.
A very rare specimen in modern society are the wizards of technology, those that makes MP3, Winamp, Internet and all of that happen. They might only be interrested in contributing technology.

Another method to increase contributions is to emphasize that this is actually a form of democracy through the wallet, what you contribute is what you get. The musicians’ career would depend on how much the users like their music. The users no longer support artists on compilation CD's that they don't like, and further more their money have a stronger effect on the survival of the musician as not 5-10% of the money goes to the artists but instead 95%.

4. Make it legal

Legalizing this kind of contributions as a way of paying for art would beyond doubt increase the motivation to pay, especially amongst those authority people. Letting the users pay conditioned contributions that would only be paid to the artists when they accept this system as a legal form of distribution, could do this. If suddenly there were a considerable amount of conditioned money accumulated on a musicians account, he would probably sing a song to his record company about a “symbiotic” relationship that somehow broke into a million pieces.

Of course there would be a lot of artists who wouldn’t be willing to accept voluntary contributions as legal payment. Well, we the consumers wouldn't care too much, we copy the music whatever they want their money or not. It is important to note that this is not about revolution; it's about reforming the system and turning more and more musicians from the old to the new system. There is no need to have the support from all musicians right from the start, even though this might be the long-term goal. What we need are some pioneer musicians.

The mere news value could make some musicians accept this as a legal form of distribution. We have already seen musicians that have supported Napster, even though it's not in their immediate interest.

Also the fact that many (if not all) musicians don't enjoy the same freedom in the existing system could motivate a lot of musicians to change.

And there probably exists or could be created other motivating factors.

Perspectives
It will not be possible to get completely rid of free riders, there always are somebody that will not pay the price, but this was also the case before the invention of the Internet.

Certainly there are musicians that earn a lot of money today, but that's a very small group that is blessed by the record industry. The system I have described would probably create some concentration of money as well, but I think it's beyond doubt that a lot more musicians would experience to earn money. They don’t need to invest or make big contracts; they only need to be good at their art.

It is possible that the Users of the Internet would not pay anything near what they pay in the record shops, but at the other hand, if just 20% of the amount paid in the shops is paid on the net, then both the consumers and the musicians would have gained considerably, and that I think is very probable.

Conclusion
To me there are no doubts that copying of music can't be stopped, it will always appear in some form. If we try to prevent it we just end up hurting ourselves a lot. We would need some kind of totalitarian system to get rid of it, so the most constructive solution would be to make the best out of the current reality. We can't force the consumer, so why not motivate them?

I argued for a simple solution based on voluntary contributions that is to be distributed through a payment system, integrated in some sort of music service like WinAmp, AudioScrobbler or a file sharing service.

I believe that it is of greater importance to make it easy and manageable to a wide range of people to contribute with some amount, instead of trying to force people to pay a fixed amount.

I have also pointed out ways to motivate consumers to contribute, and ways to motivate musicians to accept this system. I hope that many more people would contribute with ideas in this regard.

I see a great possibility for musicians and consumers of music to get rid of a big and expensive record industry that neither of us really need.

This is not meant to be a revolutionary system, but a reformist system that slowly develops and is being tested/corrected through its development.

At last I want to say to all those sceptics that criticize this as pure romance, come up with a better idea, but do keep in mind that the distribution is already here and it's big, nothing suggests that it can be stopped and the consumers would demand a legal form of distribution on the Internet anyway."  



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