Saturday, March 31, 2007

Framing the Policy Debate: The Fight Over the Satellite Radio Merger is on!

It's well known to most of you how much I love radio. Let me reset that... I love good radio. Good radio programming is coming in many shapes and forms these days. I listen to a lot of podcasts for example, a habit that is relatively new (about 24 months, perhaps). And I would listen to more radio broadcasting in my car or even over my receiver at home if I lived in a country that gave a damn about quality and variety like, say, Canada. But no, I live in the US where the only radio that is distinguished as quality and local are the sports talk stations that pepper the AM dial. It's a cliche, but if you drive through America the rule of the airwaves is similarity, not difference.

Which has spurred conversations with my fiance' about getting sattelite programming just for Air America and Stern. Of course, one is on XM and the other on Sirius, so we choose neither. In light or crap local programming and the loss of our Air America affiliate to an even crappier version of right-wing talk (does anyone, can anyone even listen to ten minutes of Laura Ingraham? Stupid and snoozeworthy is quite a vicious combo), the XM-Sirius merger is the kind of gift but you knew the NAB would fight it. After all they have a monopoly and any competition that erodes audience is to be resisted. And what we are seeing now by both the Sat Radio and Terrestial Radio camps is a lesson from argumentation 101: framing is key to any argument
How Congress and government regulators frame the debate over a merger -- specifically, whether they consider new gadgets and services such as iPods, music-playing cellphones and high-definition radio to be in competition with satellite radio -- could have a profound impact on the future of other media businesses.

The NAB, which lobbies for traditional radio and television companies, is in an awkward position, some government officials say. On one hand, NAB members argue that satellite radio's national coverage does not compete with traditional radio stations' local presence.

"I don't see how anyone can say that Clear Channel competes head-to-head with satellite radio in a national market," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton, referring to the radio company that owns hundreds of local stations. "It doesn't have a national footprint in every market in America like satellite radio."

But separately, the NAB is trying to make a case with the FCC that traditional radio companies do compete with satellite radio and therefore should be allowed to own more local stations than current rules permit.

Sirius chief executive Mel Karmazin, who testified before Congress this month, defines the market differently. He maintains that satellite radio is only one player in an broader "audio entertainment" market that has changed dramatically since the FCC approved the licensing of satellite-radio providers 10 years ago.

Car stereo systems, he said, are equipped to play music from iPods, while cellphone companies sell sports programming and music downloads. "I can't imagine who could say we're not competing with some of those things," Karmazin said in an interview yesterday. "If you're listening to music on an iPod while driving in your car, you're not listening to satellite radio."
My favorite part of the above block is how the NAB is resisting competition with one hand while trying to lobby for even more of a monopoly position with the other. Gotta hand it to them: too much is never enough!

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Friday, March 30, 2007

A&R 2.0?

In it's own way, not only was this a matter of time, but this is one of the bigger news items in the music biz today and for the future...
Sony BMG U.K. is getting closer to the unsigned artist community through a new interactive Web initiative.

The music major is encouraging musicians to become members of its RCA or Columbia labels' A&R "virtual neighbourhood," where users can post tracks, editorial and visual content on new community blogging Web sites and

Staff at Sony BMG U.K. are participating across the new platforms as bloggers and digital A&Rs.

The project is the brainchild of Sony BMG U.K. and Ireland chairman/CEO Ged Doherty. "This is the first step of the A&R part of our digital strategy," he tells "It immediately fitted what my personal vision of what our company needs to be, which is open, transparent, grass roots, community-based, and employing Web 2.0 technology and the spirit of it."
Ok, first things first, let's make certain that musicians know what they get into...

  • If you choose to do this read the small print. If you don't know what the small print means, get a lawyer to read it for you. - I strongly suspect that there will be something in these end user agreements that give these labels the "pole position" for you if you get hot. Worse yet the labels may be able to claim ownership outright, in perpetuity, like MySpace and MTV's early end user agreements attempted to pull off. In other words, "know your rights".

  • Think hard and see if YOU can do better than a major - Ok, so you want to be a superstar? We all do. But odds are against you and the fact is that signing to a major may get you into the catbird's seat for licensing and promotion, you will have contracts where your percentage of the cut will be low, you won't own your masters and you will spend the majority of your time toiling through a contract that can work more against you than for you

  • This means even more work for the artist and less work for record companies... so where will be your A&R cut? - The fact is A&R is hard work. You spend a lot of time searching for talent, traveling, promoting, handshaking and performing other kinds of social acts (some of which can straddle the law). And then there is the part that includes listening to CD after CD demo. Making your profile available online in these major label sites essentially makes some, not all, of the A&R work more efficient. That's work. That's a labor... so where is your cut? Well, don't expect any. I don't expect A&R 2.0 shifting profits into the hands of the laborers... it's about stakeholders pure and simple and this is simply another, more efficient mode of capital accumulation.
In short, if you don't watch out you will have "new boss, same as the old boss" over and over again. And worse yet, that new boss won't be the artist.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Let's Hope They Get It Right This Time

I have my fingers crossed that the royalties issue will be reversed to help the webcast community grow. Let's hope this happens with a second chance
Webcasters are getting a second chance to make their case against the decision to raise royalty fees of Internet radio services.

Chief Copyright Royalty Judge James Scott Sledge issued a one-paragraph order Tuesday (March 20), granting a rehearing to the groups protesting the Copyright Royalty Board's (CRB) decision to spike rates.

The parties who filed motions for rehearing - including Royalty Logic, Inc, Radio Braodcasters, the Digital Media Association, National Public Radio and SoundExchange – have until April 2 to file written arguments that lay-out their positions.

The CRB will revisit its decision March 6 setting performance royalty rates for streaming sound recordings over the Internet. NPR's VP communications, Andi Sporkin, claims that the new rates are at least 20 times more than the amounts stations were paying in the past.
Come on CRB, don't kill the golden goose. Webcasting can be part of our future, but only if we want it to. Now, do we want it to...?

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iTunes Finally Allows Me To "Complete My Album", Enters 21st Century

File this one under it's about time
The iTunes Music Store has introduced a new feature that allows consumers to buy the remainder of an album in one click after initially purchasing select tracks on an a la carte basis.

iTunes is calling the offering "Complete My Album" and it works like this: If a consumer has already purchased three singles from an album via iTunes at 99 cents each and then wants the whole album, priced at say, $9.99, the balance of the tracks is available as bundle for $7.02. The amount the album cost is reduced depends on how many individual tracks from the collection the user has already purchased.

"Its about crediting you for the things you have already paid for," says Eddie Cue VP of applications for Apple.
Next up, no DRM?

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We're Number Seven! US Slips in the Information Economy, Study Reports

If you follow any of this stuff, you knew it would only be a matter of time when other countries that take education and infrastructure more seriously than the US would pass us...and they are
European countries and Singapore have surpassed the United States in their ability to exploit information and communication technology, according to a new survey.

The United States, which topped the World Economic Forum's "networked readiness index" in 2006, slipped to seventh. The study, out Wednesday, largely blamed increased political and corporate interference in the judicial system.

The index, which measures the range of factors that affect a country's ability to harness information technologies for economic competitiveness and development, also cited the United States' low rate of mobile telephone usage, a lack of government leadership in information technology and the low quality of math and science education.
As one cabbie from Somalia told me recently, "Americans hate math and, well, that's a shame and an opportunity for people like me". It is and while the report notes that the, "U.S. market environment remains the best in the world in terms of how easy it is to set up a business, get loans and have access to market capital", we just aren't investing in creating that capital, i.e. minds, well enough.

Note to self... get mobile phone and brush up on calculus...

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Tall People Gettin' The Fashion Shaft

As a tall person (over two meters)this was just too irresistible to not post
France's almost two million tall people cannot find shoes big enough or pants long enough, let alone buy a fitted shirt that hugs the body where it is supposed to.

"Sleeves are always too short, women's waistbands are in the wrong place and you can never find shoes," Didier Mattiuzzi, who heads an association of tall people called Altitudes, said at a media conference Tuesday.

"We are lobbying for help for tall people," said the willow-like Mattiuzzi, a slim 191 centimetres (almost six foot four) tall.

Tall people invariably had cold feet and cold shoulders in short beds, he said.

But the situation was even worse in hospitals, where stretchers as well as hospital lifts also were too short, forcing the sick to have to sit up to be wheeled to a ward. But operating tables nowadays had extensions, Mattiuzzi said.

Car roofs were too low, shower cords too short, baths never long enough and drivers forced to stick a leg each side of a steering wheel. "Tall people even have to sit on the passenger seat of scooters", he added.
Sing it!

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Make em Laugh... ONN does it Better than Them All

The Onion TV is the s**t. I was really skeptical, but this kind of video is too good to deny...
In The Know: Our Troops In Iraq

As this article essentially asks, why should we even think they couldn't pull it off?
Having already blossomed as a newspaper, Web site and book publisher, The Onion — perhaps the most dominant provider of fake news anywhere — is bringing its brand of humor to the hot medium of the moment: Online video.

The dispatches on the Onion News Network, which goes live Tuesday, aren't likely to be causing much missed sleep over at CNN and Fox News Channel, unless those outlets start covering fake news stories like Civil War re-enactors being dispatched to

But on the Web, The Onion will be going up against several others who have already established themselves in comedy video, including Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."
By the way, The Sound of Young America has a great podcast of the Senior Editor of The Onion, Scott Dikkers. Listen, learn and support the show as best you can!

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Even more TV Music Tie Ups in the Future

I thought that this article in not only interesting but inevitable...
The woman behind the soundtracks to "The OC" and "Grey's Anatomy" is launching her own label.

Alexandra Patsavas, the influential TV and film music supervisor who has helped put Death Cab for Cutie, Snow Patrol and the Fray on the mainstream map, has inked a deal with Warner Music Group's Atlantic Records to form a new imprint, Chop Shop Records. The label shares the name of Patsavas' 10-year-old California-based firm, Chop Shop Music Supervision.

Patsavas has been in negotiations with Atlantic about creating a label since last year. The subject was first broached in a meeting with Atlantic president Julie Greenwald at the Coachella music festival.

"It's something we came up with together," Patsavas says. "A label seems like a natural extension of what a music supervisor does . . . You can come across things very early, and there have been bands along the way I would have loved to have worked with more closely."
Yep, duh indeed! I mean, has anyone ever heard of The Monkees?

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There will be much later... especially about MediaCommons

Still in meetings and I will post some of the things that we want to do that have come out of our three days of meetings. But we have been busy -- 9 hour meetings that continue into the night and I simply have to put the computer down. This project, I gotta admit, is important. Really important. In fact, I have not only high expectations, but some ways revolutionary ones for the way that media analysis cna scholarship can be done in the future.

Call that a tease... ciao!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Flickr Set of MediaCommons peeps playing Wii

Here's a sample of some of us playing Wii...
FYI, we had had some "drink" before... and by some I mean Saki

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I would register for this Weddding Present

From my own nerd tendencies.... I am interested and will buy!
The Wedding Present will release their complete sessions for the late John Peel's BBC Radio 1 show on March 26 via Sanctuary Records in the UK and a week later in the rest of the world.

Complete Peel Sessions: 1986-2004 spreads in-studio sessions, live sets, and band interviews across six discs, and it includes the band's cover of Orange Juice's "Felicity" as well as a venture into Ukrainian folk music.
Hardly media studies, I know. But man, I love the Wedding Present...

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Let's Have a Laugh!

Deadwood Pancakes... published a few months ago and good for a laugh (BTW, not "office safe" as it has Adult Language... i.e. they say the F word)

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Jersey Shore!

It is beautiful. Woke up at six and took a long walk before breakfast. I found some shells and listened to The Church's "Starfish" and blissed out. I am working on some media posts but right now I am meeting the MediaCommons people and will talk about it later. Ciao!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A MediaCommons Note

I am at a retreat with the good people of MediaCommons for the next few days. And while I will try to do some basic blogging, I would love it if you guys made your way to that site and participated. No, you don't have to have a media degree... it is a commons. The debate is scholarly but congenial and if you have any ideas we, the editorial board, are listening. By the way, there are a bunch of wonderful clips here that you can access and post comments on. I will be posting something soon, but for now, I am about to go. Rock on!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

TV Guide develops an "Internet Guide"... kind of...

Data aggregation is tough not because getting the stuff is the problem, rather weeding through it is. So, if you have a brand that is well known as a kind of trusted data aggregator, then you have a head start as more and more of us get our entertainment over the net, or at least that's the way TV Guide sees it
TV Guide, which has helped viewers navigate through thousands of TV shows for 53 years, now wants to do the same for Internet video. Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. will launch a test version next month of an online video search tool that allows viewers to find clips and full episodes of TV shows now being posted on the Web. A formal launch is planned for September.

The tool will not try to aggregate the thousands of user-generated videos featuring pet tricks, skits and other antics being posted on sites such as YouTube and Revver.

Instead, it will scour about 60 Web sites from major networks such as ABC and Fox and other video portals such as AOL and Google to find network and original programming produced by major media companies.

"Everybody says, 'Who's going to be the TV Guide of online video?' and we say, why shouldn't it be us?" said Richard Cusick, senior vice president of digital media at Gemstar-TV Guide. "We're making a bet, but we think it's a safe bet and consistent with our mission."

So, using its brand power as a trusted source, TV Guide will work to maintain it's "trusted source" status by only giving us "corporate media"? Or is this simply another sign about how what was once old will work to maintain it's dominance? Who knows? All I know is that as broadband penetration grows (right now it is around 20% or US HH), I can see how there will be more and more of a market for this kind of limited-but trusted service.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Can you say "Audience Erosion"?

I don't know about NBC's TV 360 initiative, but you can certainly see how the net is sweating when you read something like this
On the set of their hit game show "Deal or No Deal," NBC executives made a two-hour pitch to media buyers Thursday on why advertising on their network is a good deal.

More than half of the presentation was devoted to the marketing opportunities presented by the network's TV 360 broadband initiative, which includes streaming, social networking and special features accompanying NBC's series on

NBC has been the most aggressive among the broadcast networks in its expansion into the digital universe, and ad buyers, in town this week to get an early glimpse at broadcast networks' development for next season, have taken notice.

NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly reiterated his belief that NBC, which is enjoying success with "Heroes," "The Office," "My Name Is Earl" and "Deal," was a step away from again becoming the top broadcast network.

Reilly also spoke passionately about critically praised but struggling new series "30 Rock," which was prominently featured in clips throughout the presentation, and "Friday Night Lights."

"Nothing is guaranteed, and the ratings are low, but I can't help but believe that '30 Rock' and 'Friday Night Lights' have the potential to be 'St. Elsewhere' and 'Cheers,"' he said.
That would be 'St. Elsewhere' and 'Cheers' without the numbers.

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Bjork gets even uglier than that Swan Dress.

Idolator has got the goods on the new Bjork album: it is in the lead for title of the ugliest album cover of the year. You just have to see it to believe it.

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Andy Barker, PI and The Fear of Six and Out

At my fiance's house, Thursday night is milkshake and TV night. The kiddos get milkshakes and we watch some TV. Because I had so much work on my plate I didn't get in until 8:40pm, which meant I missed family viewing (the kids were playing Tony Hawk, which they are just entranced by) and now we all we had to look forward to was 30 Rock. Well, turns out we are just screwed there as well since, like every other TV show on the nets, new episodes seem to be for sweeps only. So I don't get my dose of Tracey Morgan, but I do get Andy Barker, PI, which both me and my beau laugh at and, *sigh*, realize that this show seems destined for six and out. It's too understated, too quirky and too odd. By the way, I hope I am very wrong about it, but I just don't see it. All of my worst fears were confirmed when I when to check on the show's online episodes and there they are... all six of em, even though the net has only showed the first two. It's almost a concession that you aren't gonna get more than these six episodes. Heck, there is even an episode with Amy Sedaris that is listed as an "online exclusive". All of this, I have to say, is a big bummer. I really don't want to get into a show that won't be around and this show, while it made me laugh, seems like more of a contractual debt that is being paid to Conan O'Brien than an actual attempt to develop something solid.

All of which brings me around to the issue of narrative payoff and the commitments that viewers make in terms of time. One of the biggest issues recently bandied about by TV fans is the lack of payoff that one gets when you commit to show such as Lost... a show that seems to many audiences to be about deferred gratification. I don't watch it and part of the reason for that has to do with the fact that the last thing I need to make is another commitment with no payoff of any sort. As one pal of mine states, "Nothing sucks worse than watching a TV show only to know it will be canceled." I agree. I hate the fact that I loved so many shows that ended with loose ends.

So, if I believe that Andy Barker, PI will get canceled should I even bother? If I do, will I get invested and be left with wanting at least 13 more episodes? Or do I stay away and be part of the self-fulfilling prophecy of its doom (like it matters, I aint no Nielsen family)?

Heck, I think I will just watch all the online episodes and leave it at that.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

UniTube? or Let a Million Videomakers Bloom?

You knew it was only a matter of time. Variety reports that Universal is making music videos primarily for YouTube distribution
Film marketing has taken on a new face this week: music videos on YouTube.

A down-and-dirty music video featuring film footage was shot for Universal Pictures release "Dead Silence" and received more than 35,000 views. It's quite possible all the people who saw the video are the only people who went to see the film. ("Dead Silence" opened this past weekend grossing an estimated $7.7 million for the three-day frame, finishing at No. 4 overall.)

The video, shot for under $10,000, was cut to a song by post-hardcore band Aiden titled "We Sleep Forever." The band's label, Victory Records, pitched the song, and execs decided to use it, but not in the film. In fact, the song is nowhere in the film -- not even an end-title. Now, it's a value add on the soundtrack album, which also features the score of former Nine Inch Nails keyboardist Charlie Clouser. Additionally, the YouTube video will be added onto the DVD release of the film.

Kathy Nelson, president of film music for Universal Pictures, says this type of guerilla marketing is a vehicle to promote film releases online. In fact, Nelson is using this approach on the companion to the highly anticipated comedy "Knocked Up" (brought to us by Judd Apatow, co-writer/director of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) and she's choosing small label partners versus major powerhouses. The "Dead Silence" soundtrack is being release on Lakeshore Records, and "Knocked Up" by Concord Records.

"Lakeshore and Concord are being much more aggressive about how to market online," Nelson says. "It's all about iTunes and YouTube and cyberspace."
For me it is the economics that is the lesson and, perhaps, OK GO is to blame. Those videos are entertaining and, well, cheap. In a day where TV videos start in the millions rather than the thousands and hardly get any airplay, this is, in a way, a good sign for many low budget videomakers. In other words, have an idea, you may be able to get it funded as media companies will be more than happy to part with thousands rather than millions.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Calvert DeForest 1921-2007

This news hurts...Calvert DeForest, aka Larry 'Bud' Melman, has passed
NEW YORK: The balding, bespectacled nebbish who gained cult status as the oddball Larry "Bud" Melman on David Letterman's late night television shows has died after a long illness.

The Brooklyn-born Calvert DeForest, who was 85, died Monday at a hospital on Long Island, the Letterman show announced Wednesday.

He made dozens of appearances on Letterman's shows from 1982 through 2002, handling a variety of twisted duties: dueting with Sonny Bono on "I Got You, Babe," doing a Mary Tyler Moore impression during a visit to Minneapolis where that television show was set, handing out hot towels to arrivals at New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal.

"Everyone always wondered if Calvert was an actor playing a character, but in reality he was just himself — a genuine, modest and nice man," Letterman said in a statement. "To our staff and to our viewers, he was a beloved and valued part of our show, and we will miss him."

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eMusic can be Yours, if the price is right

Idolator notes via Hypebot that my fave internet music retailer may be up for sale
Hypebot reports that eMusic--the site for people who like to drunk-download fifty indie-rock songs at a time--might be up for sale. The question comes just after Warner-owned Vice Records pulled its albums from the online retailer, meaning that people looking for the new Bloc Party album are going to get directed elsewhere.
Download as much as you are able to now before everything changes!

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"300" a new Icon of Sorts?

Money talks and BS walks... and with the triumph of 300 at the BO this last week or so, it doesn't surprise me to see this blog entry by Anne Thompson, deputy editor or Variety
Much like such iconic movies as "Jaws," "Star Wars," "Pulp Fiction" or "The Matrix," director Zack Snyder and comicbook creator Frank Miller's "300" looks to be a shapeshifter movie for the new millennium. Beyond turning Gerard Butler into an action star and revitalizing the R rating, "300" is going to have a big impact, because it has proved the effectiveness of a moviemaking technique that blends stylized graphic and live-action elements seamlessly -- and at $64 million, relatively inexpensively. It's the birth of a new hybrid cinema, says genre marketing consultant Jeff Conner ("The Animatrix"). "Call it live-action anime. It's like doing a high school play on a stage with digital backdrops. It's a new visual language with a different reality."
I haven't see it yet but I must say that after talking to audiences about all of their responses have been tinged with a big hint of "guilty pleasure". Almost to person, I have heard, "it is big, dumb, graphic and violent... but I loved watching it." In other words, expect more, not less...
Mummy"), who is eager to give Conran another chance to prove himself with the technique. "'300,' which is the perfect combination of a story and a visual style, validates this approach. You'll see a lot more of these kinds of movies that combine heavy CGI with human characters. '300' feels huge. These movies are expanding what you can do. If you know what you're doing, you can make these movies for air."
"Transformers" producer Don Murphy thinks the technique also would work in a more contemporary setting.
"'300' shows that you can create a completely stylized world for less money than you ever could before," he says. "As long as it's the right project, you'll see films taken to some dazzling places. I have several projects set in the '60s. If done right, I could make the '60s as relevant as ancient Greece."
Few of the imitators are likely to be commercial. "There's going to be some wacko knockoffs from subcontractors in India and South Korea," says one studio producer. "The race is on."
Miller quotes author Theodore Sturgeon's law: "He said, 'Ninety percent of everything is crud.' You'll find that applies to everything that comes down the pipeline."
The danger is in thinking that a film that is the perfect match of style, story and technology can be easily imitated.
"Things can feel fresh only a few times," says producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who supervised "The Matrix" at Warner Bros. as head of production. "Fresh is another word for originality. When you utilize the same method they used on '300,' you're already one generation less fresh. The technology is evolving and opening up in different ways. But it comes down to the same thing: Zack Snyder had an individual point of view as a director about what the audience would embrace. The time was right. Whether it's 'Matrix' or 'Pulp Fiction,' it's about the iconic nature of the movie. Knockoffs of 'The Matrix' weren't iconic. That level of talent is a rare commodity."
Yeah, that third Matrix film really stunk didn't it?

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Good News: ARSC likes my book

My press informed me today in an e-mail that Making Easy Listening: Material Culture And Postwar America is an awards finalist for the 2006 Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) in the area of "Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research". Honestly, I am humbled. I had found out that someone had nominated me, although I do not know who, but to reach finalist status is just, well, it makes the hard work worth it to know that someone appreciated it. And, to be frank, when you look at past winners and finalists, you can see why I am humbled: there are a lot of good books on that list and just to be mentioned in that company is exciting. So thanks and now I need to save up for a flight to Milwaukee in May for the ceremony!

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DiMA is In the Webcasting Royalty Fightand Canadian's Get a New Copyright Ruling

I haven't blogged much about copyright royalty problems, but I assure you I haven't forgotten the debate...

Billboard notes that DiMA has joined in the fight against the CRB decision with a webcaster royalty rate challenge
Add the Digital Media Assn. (DiMA) to the parties challenging the Copyright Royalty Board's (CRB) decision setting webcaster rates for streaming sound recordings. The trade group today (March 19) filed a motion for a re-hearing with the CRB.

National Public Radio also asked the CRB for a rehearing earlier today.

"We do not believe that the Copyright Royalty Board intended to shut down the vast majority of legitimate online radio services immediately when it issued its decision, yet that is the sober reality facing many services," DiMA executive director Jonathan Potter said in a statement. "We hope that the judges will re-hear these three issues as they will have a particularly negative and immediate impact on our industry."
Billboard also points out that The Canadian Government recently made a landmark music royalty ruling
The Canadian government has made its first ruling calling for mandatory payments to rights holders for the use of music on the Internet.

In a landmark move that sets a standard for royalties owed to songwriters, Canada's federal agency, the Canadian Copyright Board, ruled that in the case of permanent downloads, 7.9 percent of the price of a song must go back to copyright holders.

For downloads that require a web subscription, and for on-demand streaming music, the rates are 5.9 and 4.6 percent of the cost of a month's subscription, respectively.

The Canadian Copyright Board announced its ruling on the proposed tariff by CMMRA/SODRAC Inc. (CSI) for the use of any form of music on the Internet on March 16.

The ruling felt short of what CSI had originally proposed. It had asked for a royalty rate of 15 percent of the price of a song, or 10 cents (US 17 cents) per song, whichever is greater. For subscription-based downloads, it had asked for a fee of $1 (US $1.17) a month or 10 percent of the subscription cost.
Will have more to day about this later, but for now I am off to lecture writing...

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Monday, March 19, 2007

This Years Model: Elvis C Reissues His Records for the 3rd Time (4th Time The Charm?)

A few years ago I gave a paper on how reissuing seemed out of hand and Elvis Costello and David Bowie were cases of how labels were involved in insane (and I would say deceptive) searches for "authentic" albums. In that paper I noted that the logic of these reissues and artists meant that such definitive albums was never achievable. In fact, what we would see is more and more reissuing and, well, guess what? Here We Go again...
Universal Music Enterprises has acquired 11 albums from Elvis Costello's early catalog, with plans to re-release the artist's material via reissues, deluxe editions, compilations and box sets.

The albums acquired begin with Costello's 1977 debut, "My Aim Is True," and continue through "This Year's Model" (1978), "Armed Forces" (1979), "Get Happy!!" (1980), "Almost Blue" (1981), "Trust" (1981), "Imperial Bedroom" (1982), "Punch the Clock" (1983), "Goodbye Cruel World" (1986), "King of America" (1986) and "Blood and Chocolate" (1986).

Although these albums have already been reissued in expanded form by Rykodisc as well as Rhino, UME promises its new versions will be the "definitive reissues." The company also plans to produce limited edition releases for its Hip-O Select imprint, DVDs of videos and concerts and usher Costello's music into new formats such as ringtones.
That last paragraph is the most interesting. While selling the definitive, the company will, in turn, repurpose these mechanicals into other new media domains. I am not so certain that some 50 year old post-punk wants a ringtone of "Watching the Detectives", but I haven't done the research on that. I am certain that if, indeed, that 50 year wants an Elvis C ringtone, it better be the "definitive" version of said song!

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Q: Why is Portland Indie-Town USA? A: Cause you can Live There Cheaply and Don't Need a Car

I thought this was interesting: Given all of the talk about the Creative Economy, it's nice to see a profile like this one. Essentially here is the argument: labels grow in Portland because the place is full of creatives who don't need a car and can afford to live a decent life...
Eric Mast started his own record label because his car broke down. And because he lived in Portland, where he could live cheaply. That's the simplified version of the story behind the 1998 launch of Mast's label, Audio Dregs.

Mast, a.k.a. E*Rock, was on his way to performing his first DJ gig at a going-away party for a member of his rock band when his maroon 1992 Ford Taurus fired its last piston. That led to his epiphany. "I realized

that you don't need a car in Portland," Mast says, "so I saved up the money I'd otherwise have spent on gas, car insurance and upkeep to release a 7-inch by my brother."

Now his brother, E*Vax, is recording with Björk, and E*Rock is still releasing albums on Audio Dregs, a label David Byrne recently named as one of his favorites. Mast's accomplishments are remarkable, but his story-that combination of pluck and opportunity-is a common one here, according to interviews with owners of 20 of the more than 60 independent record labels that call Portland home.

Why do labels grow here? Owners credit some of the standard attributes of the city's creative culture-cheap rent, a pool of talented artists, individualized printing presses and cool independent record shops. And it's also homebase for Allegro/Nail, one of the country's top five indie distributors, representing releases by more than 100 small record labels.

"Portland has more of everything than other towns of a similar size-the whole 'more per capita' aspect; more restaurants, movie theatres, independent record stores, strip clubs, breweries and indie labels," says Chris Scofield of the Strange Attractors label, who works at Allegro as a day job.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Betty Hutton, 1921-2007

The death of Betty Hutton this week was something of a shock since I didn't know she was still alive. Unlike most people I knew, I came to Betty Hutton through music first, not film. Specifically, I became a fan after reading this review in Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide and purchasing the compilation "Spotlight on... Betty Hutton. It was simply one if the more brassy, ballsy, fun, life-affirming records I purchased that year and I soon searched out the films, Annie Get Your Gun, The Perils of Pauline and The Miracle at Morgan's Creek, the comic masterpiece by Preston Sturges.

Her New York Times Obituary took great notice of rags to riches to rags life...
Ms. Hutton’s electric presence in films like “The Fleet’s In” and Preston Sturges’s “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” masked emotional problems rooted in a poverty-stricken childhood. As a young girl, she sang for coins on street corners and in speakeasies to help support her alcoholic mother, who had been abandoned by Ms. Hutton’s father.

Years after Ms. Hutton’s film career ended, those emotional problems still plagued her. “I tried to kill myself,” she said in 1983, recalling her decline after fading from public notice.

Ms. Hutton re-emerged in the 1970s, when reporters learned she was working as a cook and housekeeper in the rectory of a Roman Catholic church in Portsmouth, R.I. Before being rescued and rehabilitated by a priest, she said, she had become addicted to sleeping pills and alcohol and had lost what she estimated to be a $10 million fortune.
Her life included four husbands and despite her onstage success, her offstage life could never measure up to her career. She was the proverbial Child of an Alcoholic who suffered the consequences of problems that she could not identify. She once told a reporter that...
`When I mentioned that I wanted to be a star, my mother thought I was nuts,'' Hutton recalled. ``I thought if I became a star and got us out of poverty, she would quit drinking. I didn't know (alcoholism) was a disease; nobody did. There was no A.A. then.''
You can see her desire to be liked and loved in her performances. Her mugging and shouting would get your attention and her balladry could break your heart. Like the great Anita O'Day, she wore her heart on her sleeve and that practice took its toll in loves lost and substance abuse.

When she did come around in the 1970s, she didn't want to go down the lucrative path of celebrity pity and sell her story in a tell-all. "I don't want to go into how I got here," Hutton told a reporter at the time. "I was a brokenhearted woman and didn't want to live anymore. I should be dead, but I'm not." That was it. Blunt and honest. You can hear it in her voice. She may have been viewed as zany, but anyone with a heart could see that her enthusiasm for life was honest and like may people who live with joy in their hearts and a big hole to fill, they jump into situations with those who aren't their for them but are their for themselves. It's a sin that someone who gave so much joy to so many people had to go through so much.

And it's a blessing that we had her for so long. Thank you Betty. We will miss you.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

The Three Ds of Media: Distribution, Distribution, Distribution

I have a mantra in all of my media classes that the good students get and the average to poor students don't: Distribution is everything. Not only is it about getting your content to your audience, but distribution encompasses marketing as well since your audience needs to know that you are available to be seen, heard, read, etc. Anyways, I was glad to see that someone at Time gets this as well...
"Content is king." It's a phrase uttered repeatedly by media executives making the case that the movies, music, TV shows, books and journalism their companies produce are the core of their business.

It happens to be a dubious claim. Sure, movies, music and TV shows have value--as do, I feel compelled to add, magazine columns. But they alone have never generated the huge, reliable profits that keep investors happy and pay for midtown-Manhattan skyscrapers. No, the big money in media has always been in distribution.

Sometimes the media companies do this distributing themselves--think TV networks, or newspapers and their delivery boys. But even when others own the movie theaters or the bookstores, big media have long been defined by their ability to make sure their products are displayed prominently there. "The historical media play," says consultant John Hagel, "is having privileged access to limited shelf space."

On the Internet, though, the shelves go on and on and on. And as words, music and now video move to this new environment, the traditional economics of media are under attack. Tellingly, the most valuable media company in the world right now is not Disney or News Corp. or Time Warner (owner of Time) but Google, which helps people find stuff on those endless online shelves.

Google makes virtually all its money--$10.6 billion in revenue last year and $3.1 billion in after-tax profit--selling advertisements. But except for a few endeavors like Google Maps, it's a media firm that produces no content. Rather than take on established media outfits as outright competitors, Google has been trying to persuade them to let it help them find audiences and sell ads. Some media powers have signed up. But the prospect of a world organized on Google's terms remains unsettling to executives accustomed to controlling the path their products take to consumers.
And that's why Google is interesting to me: they are creating what seems to be the de-facto distribution platform for commercial and non-commercial media. This has consequences for artists, amateurs, pros, etc., and I have yet to find someone who has articulated what this means. Unlike other platforms for past media distribution (broadcast networks, film exhibitors, all varieties of record wareshouses, distributors and retailers, etc.) this environment is imminently permeable: media can find its way onto the net with relative ease. In fact, Google is interesting because their applications are soooo user friendly that they essentially challenge you not to use them. If you don't believe me, try out Googlepages and you will find a drag and drop application that allows you to make a decent webpage sans html and css. In other words, my Dad could do it and he would get something out of it. In fact, this Blog is published on Blogger, an application acquired by Google because of its ease-of-use and flexibility. By acquiring nodes where content can be uploaded and efficiently organized for searches, Google is becoming the best example of a neo-liberal media company yet: content is produced by a decentralized workforce (like me and you), it is distributed through a decentralized mode of distribution and it is accessed and viewed by a reader/producer. Throughout this process, Capital is deregulated as much as is tolerated by governing forces (see China for an example where Google has capitulated to the demands of the State) with public service requirements kept at a minimum.

Finally, what I think Google is aiming to become is something that most media hope to become at some point in time: social networks. I just presented on how I felt music scenes and genres are the best place to look to see how the rules of neoliberal social network media have developed (in fact, I will upload my paper and presentation later in the weekend). But this is something that media want to do and they do it by organizing around and producing new social habits. This cinema grew in America around networks of entertainment that already existed (see Vaudeville, Chataquas, Magic Lantern presentations, lectures) and produced new visual habits as well (seeing movies based on modern "stars", a standard mode of cinematic expression, etc,). The key is that this created a kind of social network where the cinema existed as a site of social discourse, organization and debate around which cultures could be debated and contested. The same could be said of TV, radio and popular music, each of which have their issues of media specificity to negotiate. What Google is doing is trying to become the Paramount, NBC and Columbia Records of our day: i.e. the premiere distributor of media for their medium. And everyone else is just beginning to figure this out.

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Back When I Was Your Age We Used to Have to Walk Ten Miles in The Snow if We Wanted to Buy a Record, Part Two...

It's sign of the times buddy. The National Association of Recording Merchandisers revealed their nominees for their annual awards. Guess who got nominated... guess who didn't...
In the large retail division, the nominees are two big box stores, Best Buy in Richfield, Minn., and Target Stores in Minneapolis; two online merchants, in Seattle and iTunes in Cupertino, Calif.; and two multi-media merchants, Borders Group in Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Hastings Entertainment in
Amarillo Texas.

It is the first time that a traditional music specialist hasn't been nominated for this award in recent memory, going back to 1990. For the last three years, the now-defunct Tower Records won the award.
True, a lot "traditional" retailers got nominated in the small and medium divisions, but still...

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Back When I Was Your Age We Used to Have to Walk Ten Miles in The SNow if We Wanted to Buy a Record...

So, with the demise of the record chain, what do the kiddos today think of when they think about "buying" music (yes, I assume that people buy at least some of their music)? Well, Billboard writes that the most recognized brands in music downloading are our usual suspects...
Among U.S. music downloaders older than 12, iTunes brand recognition was at 66%, up from 57% in 2005. Napster dropped a bit from 79% to 68%, while Yahoo Music increased somewhat from 49% to 53%. But the biggest gain was MySpace, which increased its brand recognition as a digital music provider from 16% in 2005 to 54% at the end of last year.
MySpace is the one that really sticks out here. I have downloaded music from MySpace, but typically there are far fewer downloads there than one might think. I would love to see how people got these stats since MySpace is a place where people may listen to music, but download... ehhh.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Geez, A Set of Communication Regulators that Care about Consolidation

There was a time when the FCC exerted regulatory teeth with regards to ownership, cared about local voices and even did more than sell off the airwaves to the highest bidder, and fine stations for playing swear words and showing the occasional naughty bit. Those were the days.

Canada, land of the best radio on earth (and it is, trust me on this) has, get this, regulators who actually care about broadcast diversity
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the Canadian government broadcast regulator, intends that the growing rate of media concentration in Canada merits public debate.

The CRTC announced on Tuesday (March 13) that it will launch a proceeding to review issues relating to the Canadian Broadcasting Act's objective of ensuring that the country's broadcasting system provides Canadians with a diversity of voices.

The scope of the proceeding will be set out in a notice of public hearing to be issued shortly. A public hearing will follow in the fall of 2007.

"The current wave of consolidation in the Canadian broadcasting industry, and the possibility of more major transactions in the future, raises important questions relating to the diversity of voices in Canada," said Konrad von Finckenstein, the recently named chairman of the CRTC in a statement. "Holding a public hearing will allow us to give these issues the thorough and in-depth study they deserve."
So if you are in Canada and reading this, strap on yer boots, do yer homework and get involved in these public hearings.

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Planned Obsolescene 101: First Get the Player in the Hands of the Customers

I wonder about how quickly my DVDs will be rendered obsolete by the new formats. I have seven DVD players in my house and my Fiance' and her kids have seven themselves. I also have hundreds of DVDs and no desire to invest in a new format. Still the Blu Ray DVD association has a
three year plan

HANOVER, Germany (Reuters) - The Blu-ray disc association said on Thursday it aimed to replace the DVD storage format within three years.

"Within three years it will just be Blu-ray," Frank Simonis, the Blu-ray Disc Association's European chairman, said at the CeBIT technology trade show.

The HD DVD camp conceded it is being outsold by Blu-ray because of PS3 by at least five to one, but it claims that sales of movie titles are still level. Film studio 20th Century Fox, which supports Blu-ray, said weekly Blu-ray film sales are actually three times higher than HD DVD.

A total of 5.2 million Blu-ray discs have already been sold, said Nick Sharples at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Hundreds of thousands of titles have been given away to consumers buying a PS3.
We all knew that PS3 was Sony's Trojan Horse, so that is no surprise. But still, we are in a mortgage crisis here in the US and new formats such as HD TVs seem to be coming on much more slowly than even I expected. So we will see if three years makes any sense whatsoever. Plus, there is that competition from HD which has Toshiba, Microsoft and Intel monies behind it, which means that those drives could be in your computer very very soon (if they aren't already in some cases).

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Endings Anyone?

My pal Derek Kompare is operating his smart machine on serial TV...
One of the most engrossing and frustrating things about serial fiction is narrative sustainability. That is, the ability to successfully continue narrative momentum across multiple segments. We take in almost all of our serial fiction in one of several standardized forms, each with particular sub-forms, which further organize how we experience them. For example, serial literature, like the Harry Potter books, not only comes in books (of ever-increasing lengths; thanks, JKR), but also in chapters within those books, as well as subdivisions within chapters. Comics today are typically organized in multiple-issue “arcs” which effectively function as chapters would in novels. Each issue is divided into a fairly standard number of pages and a relatively unrestricted number of panels. On television, series divide into seasons, seasons into episodes, episodes into acts (of relatively standard length on commercial TV), acts into scenes, and so on. Regardless of the medium, smaller narrative chunks organize our experiences of the whole.

All well and good, but completely arbitrary. Word counts limit literature. Dwindling page counts limit comics. Minutes, commercial breaks, and episode orders limit television. Each of these forms, despite expressing a pretty wide generic and stylistic spectrum, is delimited by a pretty narrow formal range. In the US, most serialized TV shows are still expected to run in seasons of 20-24 episodes. If successful (i.e., attract enough Nielsen-monitored viewers), they get to come back and do it again the next year. If really successful, they get to keep right on doing it for many years.

The perpetual problem is that stories, in all these media, have to squeeze and/or stretch themselves into these standardized forms. Thus, rather than unfold at whatever length/pace might be ideal, they’re forced to capitulate to convention. I should point out that this applies as well to non-serialized media forms: feature films generally run between 90 and 120 minutes, typical sitcom episodes run 21-25 minutes, etc. In addition, other aesthetic conventions (i.e., not only narrative ones) affect storytelling: when is a close-up a better choice than a long shot?; how does the score channel emotions?

The problem recently is that story and media form haven’t meshed particularly well in some prominent media texts. Lost is probably the most cited example of this issue today. It’s continued to pile up mysteries and clues over (to date) 59 episodes, and while it has resolved a few narrative enigmas (e.g., what the hell is in that hatch?), it has almost always introduced more along the way (e.g., what is the Dharma Initiative?). While the series’ showrunners, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, have tried to reassure viewers that all will be resolved eventually, more and more viewers have thrown up their hands and quit the show.
What's interesting about this post is that this is exactly why I don't start watching things like Lost or 24: They are just a bit too demanding for my life. Their narratives delay delay and delay away, which is no surprise. But I like payoff and I am not really interested in waiting too long. The HBO formula of 13 episodes per seasons seems to be my limit for hour long serial narratives: that's about two or three days of binging for me, which is something I allow myself two times a year.

But truth be told there is something about this form of intensity that I can only sustain for in these kinds of chunks and it has nothing to do with my ADD, thank you very much. I get exhausted after 13 hours of the same narrative arc. Even if the payoff is huge, I am pretty much done after the eleventh hour. Even the greatness that was this season's arc of The Wire was something that I think I could have handled only one or two more episodes. But 24 episodes... that's something else.

But still, I am not that impressed. I know viewers of The Guiding Light who have been fans for the last 30 years. Soaps are notorious for their pace... they tend to be as slow as molasses and they allow the viewer to caress every close-up. It's a different game and, well, much more healthy for long-term narrative embrace. You get low production values but, in turn, you get insane arcs and the ability to enjoy them in a much more leisurely pace. You can miss a day or two and you aren't punished. You can even miss a week and read the plot synopsis in the papers and pick it back up on Monday. That's right, you don't need a DVR or even a VCR and you are back in it.

Of course there are gender issues here with regards to narrative... somehow it's macho to watch all every episode of every season of 24 and The Sopranos, but not so macho to watch several years worth of All My Children. And while it would be easy to explain all of these gender issues all in terms of content and topics, but narrative form is key here as well. Men, in our culture, are notoriously outcome oriented and women are more process-oriented. I would not be too surprised that the audience that is "quitting" these shows tend to have a y chromosone.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Social Net Traffic Grows

Stever Rubel reports that Social Nets Account for 6.5% of Web Traffic
Hitwise dug into the the top 20 social networks and found that they grew by 11.5 percent from January to February 2007. They now account for 6.5 percent of all Internet visits. Myspace, an Edelman client, continues to be the big daddy. They have 8x the market share of their closes competitor - Facebook

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Vinyl Up, CDs Down? Time to Shake Your Body Down to the Ground!

I still buy Vinyl when it is used and CDs less and less... turns out I am part of a larger trend...
Vinyl is again becoming the format of choice for serious music collection and ‘full focus of attention’ music consumption. The rise in record sales is not being reflected particularly well in the international literature, because counting systems such as Soundscan don’t factor in the smaller independent record stores, where most of the vinyl is being purchased.

In fact, according to this article in the Billings Gazette, a growing number of labels are choosing to release as digital downloads for the general consumer and as vinyl records for the DJ and connoisseur. They’re starting to skip the CD all together.

Some people, though a diminishing amount, still insist on the compact disc as their preferred music entertainment platform, but its popularity is starting to wane in the face of the convenience of downloads and the richness of the physical experience and collectibility of vinyl.
Well, I like the way it sounds but I hate moving it. So, in that sense, I do plan on placing all of my LPs on CD one of these days (particularly LPs released as part of local and regional scenes that could simply be lost and forgotten). But the CD was never a special experience like an LP. Even when I started buying them, it had to do with convenience and it still does. The experience of an LP has its own delights which are well known by collectors and older generations. For instance, last night I purchased a used LP of Rush's Exit Stage Left simply because I loved the jacket and the gatefold sleeve... plus it was $1. That said, I play mainly CDs and MP3s because they are convenient and I am tied to my computer. And there is a reason for this... There is something about the LP that has to do with "leisure time" that was far more distinct than it is today. Part of this is due to the fact that the LP was originally developed as a concert-substitute, something that should be played one side at a time. Of course, may saw this as an opportunity to playing albums only on "one side" (when I worked in record stores it was not uncommon to get albums that had one whole side simply dulled, while the flip side was pristine simply because it had been played maybe twice). Anyways, the fact is that you had to put on the album, often clean the album, place the needle on the record and you had to do this at home. You didn't take your music to work, you didn't even take it in the car. Albums were, for the most part, a domestic experience that was separate from non-domestic labors. And, yes, domestic labor could enjoy their albums, but the demands made on the listener to enjoy the record as an object with art and as a cohesive unit worked against the constant demands for attention that are part of cleaning, cooking and children.

For many of us, leisure time and work time are one in the same. I spend quite a bit of my time not tied to a clock, but to deadlines and how I reach them is up to me. I also spend a lot of my time writing. The result is that as computers have become more and more "musical", it has become simply more convenient to purchase downloads and burn CDs when needed. I mean, I wish I had the time purchase all of my new music on vinyl, but with my commute, constant preparation of papers, presentations and grading going to a record store becomes less and less of an option. Like I noted a couple days ago, it makes more and more sense why people buy more and more of their music at spaces like Starbucks. Heck, the last 40 pieces of vinyl I have purchased have all come from a used record store that is located in a local coffee shop in Columbus that I hit when I need to pour through exam after exam. And, heck, as much as I love those records, I still play them once or twice a year tops. Truth is, if it wasn't for MP3s I would be much further removed from music than I am already. And, yes, I understand how the computer is the device that mucks together work and leisure time for a longer Postfordist extension of the workday. Oh, I understand this all too well...

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TSOYA - "Acceptable TV"!

If you are using iTunes you should simply click here to subscribe to The Sound of Young America. Why? Well, the great Jesse Thorn has a wonderful interview with the crew at "Acceptable TV", an interesting program/programming experiment that will be on VH1 for one. It's simply a great radio program/podcast. Just do it!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dog Days for DVD Pirates

As if the MPAA didn't have enough people fighting piracy, now they enlist
man's best friend...
SEPANG, Malaysia - Lucky and Flo, Malaysia's latest weapons in tackling rampant music and movie piracy, started work at the country's biggest international airport Tuesday, sniffing out shipments for fake optical discs.

The two black Labradors are on loan for a month from the Motion Picture Association of America, which says its members — including top Hollywood studios Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox and Universal — lost $1.2 billion to Asia-Pacific movie pirates in 2006.

It is the first time dogs have been used by authorities anywhere around the world to detect contraband discs, said Mike Ellis, regional director for the MPAA.

It took around nine months and $17,000 to train the dogs to detect polycarbonates, chemicals used in the disc manufacturing process, he added.

Although the dogs cannot tell the difference between real and pirated discs, they can detect if DVDs are hidden among shipments signed off as a consignment of something else.
As if McRuff didn't have enough to do already...

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Q: What's The New "Record Biz" Paradigm? A: Consumer Electronics and Social Networking!

HMV, Britain's top music and entertainment chain, is in trouble.

But they have a plan...
The company's stockprice fell 11.29% in morning trading to £1.35 ($2.60) on the London Stock Exchange, after the company warned that trading conditions have "deteriorated further" since its most recent financials warning in January.

The merchant levelled particular blame at the performances of its affiliates overseas and its Waterstone's bookselling chain, and notified investors and the media that it expects total music and DVD markets to decline further.

"The markets in which we operate are undoubtedly very challenging," commented group CEO Simon Fox. "Waterstone's and HMV are great brands, but have not adapted quickly enough to the way customers are now buying and consuming media. Our performance has suffered as a consequence."

The company says its board has taken a "cautious view" for the seven weeks until the close of its financial year, and it now expects full-year profits to be below the current range of market expectations.

"The three-year transformation plan which I will outline today is exciting, radical and far-reaching," Fox says. "There is a great deal to do and I have every confidence that this plan will turn the business around."

As part of its strategy, HMV has identified a three-point area of focus across its U.K. business, comprising a mantra of cost savings, protecting its core business, and growing new channels.

The company said it planned to achieve cost savings of £40 million ($77 million) each year by 2009/10, through a string of initiatives including the simplification of the HMV U.K. supply chain, and a review of its store portfolio in Britain.

Also, a new HMV store "format of the future" is in development, and is expected to be tested in Britain this fall. Moving forward, HMV U.K.'s outlets will carry a broader, enhanced range of portable digital products.

And in an innovative new media project, the retailer is to launch a social networking site for music, film and games aficionados. The SNS will provide revenue streams from advertising, sponsorship and paid-for content. Universal Music and 20th Century Fox have already struck strategic content partnerships, HMV says.
The idea that HMV will act as a social network seems, well, umm, a bit contrived. Social networks not only provide end-users with items of value, but what is appealing is that they do so because these end users not only negotiate the terrain, but they contribute to it, muck it up and mold it. Record stores are notoriously unuser friendly. In many cases, places like Tower Records, perhaps my favorite chain of all time, seem to rely on expert knowledge as a way to overcome less-than-friendly service and design.
Which isn't to say that record stores were staffed by people who mocked the very people that put money in their pockets. Only some of them. The others would be staffed by people who offered "service" but, in reality, were simply friendly faces who knew very little about what was in the stacks (Wherehouse comes to mind as one such place). So how HMV will act as a "service" is something that ought to be interesting since, if it worked, it could act as a paradigm for other retailers who are moving away from recorded goods and into other domains.

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Instant Karma Action Figure

I saw this in a shop in Chicago. It said it was licensed by Yoko Ono, Inc. You know it's gotta be legit and Yoko approved...
As a Beatles fan it's hard not to want this first officially licensed version of John styled after the look he had in his New York years. The figure will also include a voice chip so it can repeat a number of Lennonisms.
I want mine to say "Number Nine" over and over and over and over...

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Girls with Guitars = Good!

Rock just got another X chromosone in the mix: the guitar industry is
finally developing product for girls...
"The industry is looking for growth opportunities given the overall slump in guitar sales. Guitars catering to women is one area that we understand is showing some signs of strength," said Wall Street analyst Rick Nelson, who covers the industry.

The country's two top guitar retailers, Gibson Guitar Corp. and Fender Musical Instruments Corp., have each debuted lines with a girl/woman-friendly focus over the past few years.

Gibson has the thinner-necked, lighter-weight Les Paul Vixen and Les Paul Goddess guitars.

Why the surge of girl guitars now?

"Ten years ago, statistics showed that 96 percent of the instruments purchased were for men," said Gibson Chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz over the phone. "The guitar is now becoming more a part of society in general."

There have been guitars aimed at kids before: Fender, via its Squier imprint, offers a kid pack, and Epiphone offers a smaller-sized kid's guitar around the holidays that's more like a toy, according to a guitar seller at the music retailer Guitar Center.

But Daisy Rock says its low-cost, lean and light line of electric and acoustic instruments jump-started the push specifically for girls. Guitars range from girly butterfly, heart and daisy-shaped gear for younger girls to glossy red, black, purple and pink standard guitars for women.
This simply rocks. Of course many other elements will need to fall into line, like making amps a little lighter and smaller and, well, colorful (lugging around a big clunky, weighty, dull dark amp may be "macho", but I doubt if someone who has purchased a guitar brand with the word "Daisy" in it would not prefer a better designed object). And, of course, bass guitars and drums will need to fall in line as well. The whole point is to get more and more women in bands of all kinds and this is a good first step.

And why should you care about a million more women in bands? Same reason why we should encourage women in sports. Women in sports learn how to work together, how to pursue collective goals and achieve success, how to develop their craft over a long period of time and learn competition. My experience from being in bands, if only for a few years in college, was that I learned many of the same lessons as did my peers. Plus, you get affirmation from your peers by doing something in public. In our culture we still teach our young women how to be all kinds of things like pretty, compliant and servile, not do. For the most part, anything that teaches young women that you can get respect by being excellent in a performance oriented arena where skill is celebrated, is a good thing in my eyes.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

I'll Take a Double Decaf, Soy Macchiato with My Media Please

If like me you are addicted to good coffee but are often amazed that Norah Jones is somehow always on the menu in front of you when you grab your morning brew, be prepared to get a lot more amazed. The New York Post Online Edition reports that,
the formation of Starbucks Records, as the unit is expected to be called, could be announced as soon as this week, according to these sources.

Launching a record label is something "that has been bandied about for quite a while," said one source. "They think they are empowered enough to do that."

Said another: "They have a very targeted, efficient distribution channel that allows them to be profitable in a limited way with music."

Starbusks could also take on a partner in the venture.

Unlike its Hear Music operation, which releases the Artists Choice compilation series that features musicians such as Sheryl Crow or The Rolling Stones selecting songs that influenced them, Starbucks Records is expected sign, record and produce its own artists rather than licensing songs from other labels.
Idolator chimes in
If Starbucks intends to revamp the record industry the same way it revamped the coffee industry, expect all albums to be $2-$3 more expensive than normal, and available only after a 15-minute mid-afternoon wait.
What is interesting for me is that we are seeing a continuation of what has always been the case in the music industry: the alliance of distribution with identity. Allow me to repeat that in a form that everyone can understand: THIS IS NOTHING NEW, WHEN AND WHERE YOU BUY YOUR MEDIA IS OFTEN AS IMPORTANT FOR THE CONSUMER AS TO WHAT THE MEDIA IS!

That may be a bit of an overstatement, but if you are honest, and Lord knows that is rarity, then this is simply a variation on discussions about "selling out" (aka, I was into band x before my little brother was, now they have sold out...) and community. The reasons why people buy at Starbucks are twofold: 1) they feel like Starbucks is an efficient gatekeeper for their lifestyle and 2) it's convenient. That's it. It's the same reason why punks in the 1980s purchased at their local indie shops or dubheads head on down to their local reggae shop. Starbucks has essentially corporatized the gatekeeping element and allows in only the media that they feel is "Starbucky" or has meaning for their audience. That people won't buy the same media at the shop down the street that is not quite as clean or staffed by people who sneer down their noses at them because they have "terrible" tastes has as much to do with a specific kind of identity as does the person who, like myself, prefers trolling through bin after bin of dusties when I have the time.

Now, I am not one to judge on this. To be fair, I would rather buy a great Dylan record at Starbucks than a crap singer-songwriter record at my local indie store. But I am not the key. I am an omnivore and what Starbucks is targeting is the person who buys, perhaps, 7-10 cds a year. When I worked in record stores back in the days of vinyl, this person was someone who stopped buying new music in their early 20s and has stuck with artists for a long time. On a lark they would purchase a mega-seller that was by a new artist, but it really had to have some sort of cultural import. So, for example, in the mid 1980s this person would drop coin on replacing one or two Beatles records that they had worn out (yes, kiddies, people used to wear out records) and then something new by an oldie or two (say you would have sold something by Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon), something new in pop that won a grammy (Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper) and something "new" new (Windham Hill was becoming a cultural force then, so let's say they purchased "Winter"). That's about seven records for themselves. All other purchases would be for the kids. These people are commonly known as middle class parents. Historically, record stores are not the haven for middle class people who are trying to move 200 miles per hour in their career and in trying to raise a family. They get out of work, they hit the road, listen to NPR who plays Norah Jones and it sounds nice and then they see it at the place where they buy their drugs... er, coffee and they pick it up because, like that latte, it is soothing.

But it is interesting that Starbucks is entering into the labeling business, right? That's different, right? It's a company that doesn't do music so this is odd right? Well, no... Records have, in the past, been issued by labels owned by film studios who then would produce soundtracks and 45s that could be sold at places of exhibition; record companies have worked with numerous types of consumer good manufacturers to produce records that would tie-in with the "needs" of each others audiences; comic books have been made into hitmakers in search of specific demographics. So, while this is interesting because Starbucks is utilizing state-of-the-art data crunching and marketing methods, let's just see this as an extension of a popular music history rather than something that is beyond the pale. Remember, what's really beyond-the-pale is that acoustic Alanis Morrissette record.

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