U2’s Bono needs a clue

U2’s Bono calls for control over internet downloads, says on his guest column at NYTimes.

I fail to understand how this can be done though. He mentions child pornography as being combated successfully by law enforcements, but thing is, child pornography is less widespread than… mp3s. And it’s ALL illegal, while not all mp3s are illegal. It would cost an arm and a leg to get officers tracking down every possible mp3 on the internet, since it’s not just bittorrent we’re talking about, but also a lot of “music blogs” that link to illegal files, and PR/artist/label/music magazines that link to LEGAL files. So how do you know which ones are illegal and which ones are promos/freebies? The only ways to really regulate the situation fast-enough, and cheaply-enough, are two:

1. Make ALL downloaded media file formats illegal. No exceptions. This of course is not a very practical or even constitutional solution.
2. Require that all WMA/AAC/MP3s files are digitally signed. Not DRM’ed, but signed with a license. It’s the only way to easily find out via a ‘crawler’ utility that FBI could build if an offered mp3 is a promotional free-as-in-beer file, or an illegally uploaded one.

And this would create massive problems to indie and Creative Commons artists, because it would make every artist a registered provider. Given that most of them can’t even complete their mp3 tags properly on their free promo mp3s before uploading on their server, I fail to see how the same people would be able to properly get a license to give out mp3s. Such a measure won’t only make users outlaws, but some of the artists as well! In other words, such measures for file distributions would have the exact opposite effect of what that Bono claims to “the young, fledgling songwriters who can’t live off ticket and T-shirt sales“.

The music magazines will also be hit with the problem because they won’t be able to give out mp3s as easily anymore. Which would mean less exposure to the artists. I mean, I spent most of my holidays tracking down legal mp3 promos. I added 2.7 GBs of legal mp3s in my music collection the past 10 days, and I found some really good artists this way that I actually later bought their full albums or more mp3s from them. Under a new regime, downloading mp3 promos would be an ordeal, and an added risk. The magazines wouldn’t bother, the users wouldn’t bother. Too much trouble about nothing. Who’d pay the price for it? The indie artists.

The major labels and artists won’t be hit much from it, since they almost never give out free promos anyway! If such a law ever passes, it will be a massive kick in the nuts for the indie industry and Creative Commons artists, because the promos or freebies are the only way for these artists to be heard. In fact, according to reports, the average indie artist is making increasingly more money these days rather than back in 2000 — despite the rampant piracy that’s going on in the last 10 years. Obviously, restricting the media transmission will bring the world back to a pre-internet era, where the major labels have the upper hand again, because they would be controlling the internet too, in addition to TV and radio, while the indie artists will be dying of hunger.

Not to mention that wild rumor that’s going around for a while now that RIAA is preparing an international copyright treaty where people would be questioned on the airports about where they got their music files from. Think of having to give out your iPod to a special machine during security checking to check for all the embedded licenses. What would happen on the older files that have no licenses? CD-rips? Not to mention that going through 120 GB of data is enough to make you miss your plane too (these hard drives are dead-slow). Sure, this is just a rumor for now, but there’s no smoke without a fire. This is why I _always_ update the “comments” tag of all legal mp3s I download with the URLs I downloaded them from, to prove that it was from either an artist/label/PR site, or a well-respected music magazine. Might prove me wise in a few years time.

And if airport checks might never realize, house-to-house checks might. I trust RIAA to lobby for things like that. Just like you get your door knocked in UK by officers to check for your TV license, there’s no reason why an officer wouldn’t knock your door to check for your mp3s on your computer, if such a law passes. I trust that if they find “what seems to be illegal” mp3s on your drive they won’t charge you with thousands of dollars per song, but certainly $100 or so. There would be enough volume to pay for these officers, and RIAA, and the government. Who loses again? All the citizens, artists and not.

Sure, this sounds like a “police state” to you, that “will never happen”. But if you had a time machine and you could transport yourself back to 1920s, and you mentioned to the people of that era that by 1980 everyone would need a license to have chickens in their garden, they would laugh at you and tell you that you’re fucking crazy. Sorry guys, but that’s how most political shifts happen in a capitalistic environment. Slowly, but surely, usually induced by lobbying. It’s never a swift change, it’s always done gradually.

And finally, the other problem of file-signing is technological innovation. If the governments of the world require all AAC, WMA and MP3 files to be digitally signed, then it might make it illegal to use a different file format, simply because the government won’t have ways to check licenses on newer media formats. And if not illegal, certainly a trouble-making experience. So basically, the media formats would be a “locked” affair, since no one would want to jump to another format, from fear of what might happen to them. This would kill R&D on audio and video formats. This is how technological innovation dies. With fucked up laws and regulations like the ones Bono aspires to.

So, my dear Bono, as South Park so elegantly put it, your ideas are the biggest pieces of crap in the world. Well, either yours, or the RIAA/UMG prick who wrote that article for you.


Robert Szeles wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 4:41 PM PST:

I have no doubt you mean well and that you are a big supporter of indie music. I also have no doubt about Bono in the same regard, which is why I don’t think you should say his ideas are the worthless (I’m not saying they are the right solution). At least Bono is trying to find a solution. Your rant is just another example of someone saying why we can’t or shouldn’t protect artists. Your response to his idea is well thought out and well researched. I wish people would spend as much time trying to come up with a solution that will protect artists rights and increase the perceived value of music in our society as they do on tearing apart anyone who tries to be an advocate for artists’ rights. You say “this won’t work.” I wish you had written a piece that said, “This won’t work, but THIS will.”

There are so many laws in existence that we could easily argue are foolish and hard to enforce, but we still have those laws because things would be potentially worse without them. No matter what anyone comes up with trying to protect artists’ rights and enable them to make a living, there are plenty of people to give all the reasons why it won’t work. Almost anything looked at with this perspective “wouldn’t work.” Every law and idea is flawed. I have to much to say on this issue and I need to be recording right now, not posting comments. You can visit my blog for more thoughts on the matter if you wish.

Suffice it to say that about all I read are reasons why artists can’t be protected with laws and music should be free, yada, yada, yada. Before, musical artists were being screwed by the big record companies. Now we’re being screwed by just about everyone. Now I’m being asked to sign waivers so that I wont’ even get the small amount of royalties I make from radio play. Now I’m even finding radio shows that are charging a small fee per song to submit to their station. Everyone is taking advantage of artists now. Artists and the public are allowing this to happen.

I apologize for the disorganized manner of these thoughts. Like I said, I’m supposed to be recording and don’t have time for a more measured response. Hopefully later.

Thanks for listening,

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Eugenia wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 4:59 PM PST:

Robert, thank you for the comment. In various occasions on my blog I have written about proposed solutions, and other analysis. I guess it would require someone to go through archives… This article at BBC asked a number of pros about what should be done to save the music industry, and every single “solution” was terrible! When there isn’t a single solution that is good, then it means that the question is wrong.

Also, as I wrote here, the music industry is about to be weakened and there’s nothing much to do about it. If the industry is dying, then it should die. Only the FEW artists that do make great music would survive under that new world order. And this has been true for any kind of revolution, only the strongest survive after a big organizational change.

Trying to bail-out the music industry by inducing crazy laws is the wrong thing to do. It’s like we’ve found the secret of fusion energy, but prohibiting everyone from using it, just so the gas car manufacturers and oil companies survive. Sorry, but as cruel that might sound to you as a professional artist, it is not the right thing for the world at large.

Making copyright even more restrict will kill off our future generations culturally too. If anything, copyright laws should be looser, with more care about fair use, and no more than 25 years of enforcement.

In the new world order, you’ll have to tour to survive as an artist. If you’re unable to tour (e.g. chronic health problem, like in my case), then that profession shouldn’t be for you. Just like I could never be a cop in Greece because I’m short (the law there requires 1.65m height for women).

You mention that you’re currently getting screwed by licensing agreements. But this has nothing to do with piracy. If a company is screwing you, and says it’s piracy, it’s using that as a way to not pay you. And you mention that radio stations require a fee to submit songs to them. Well, radio stations also are getting screwed by the labels (which is a bit of double edge sword for them, since they also make money off of them).

In other words, just because “everyone” in the industry tries to survive the new world order and tries to screw everyone else in their dying moment, doesn’t mean that the average citizen should pay for your inconvenience and financial problems. As I wrote in the link above, the music INDUSTRY in general is weakened. EVERYONE in it will have to pay the price. And only a few will survive it. This is how it is, and this is how it should be (especially since there’s such over-saturation in music releases — 100,000 new albums were released in 2009).

Unfortunately, the major labels are trying to take measures that will bring the status quo back to pre-2000, but in the way of doing this, they will kill all indies. The power of the majors is by controlling what’s on magazines/TVs/radios. That’s their sole power that no independent PR company was able to crack down yet. Think how cool it would be for them if they could control what music is been heard on the internet too! The internet is the ONLY tool indie artists have right now. If you take that away from them, they’re done. Piracy or not, taking away the internet from them is much worse. It’s like some bullies are stealing your lunch every day at school, but there it comes the school’s principal and steals your lunch and dinner too! How could you ever survive that?

I think you should take a hard look at the situation from a 10,000ft height, look where everything is going, and find out if that makes sense to you professionally or not. If not, you might want to find another job, and only do music on the side. Something to think about, especially if you have family.

If you decide to stick around and make music instead, then please read this.

Robert Szeles wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 6:04 PM PST:

First of all, I forgot to mention that you probably have looked at solutions and I just wasn’t aware of them.

Again, you make some good points, but you understand the industry from the outside. I’m a professional artist and have been working to succeed in the industry for almost 20 years. I understand it from the inside on a day to day basis.

The idea that I should find something else to do for a living is hilarious. I am a perfect test case for showing how artists are not being respected, and how artists need to change the paradigm, to change the perceived value of music. I am not some amateur wanna be hoping to get on MTV. I regularly have placements in major TV shows and movie trailers. In the quarter of one year I had over 50,000 plays on internet radio. My song Alive won 3rd place in rock category of the biggest music award in the world in 2009. I am not a bad business person, and… I AM BARELY MAKING A LIVING.

If I cannot make a living in the industry as it is and where it’s been going, no one can, EXCEPT the artists that are supported by those major companies you dislike. This is why the public (especially people like you who are involved in the dialogue and seem to care) needs to be aware of what’s happening and do whatever they can to support artists rights. Nothing is inevitable. We make it so. I don’t have many answers. I’m not saying tighter copyright restrictions or other such draconian ideas are the answer. But I know that this idea that technology has taken over and, “oh well, nothing we can do, goodbye to artists getting compensated for their work, go find another job”, is not acceptable and wouldn’t be to any other profession. It’s not like we’re typewriter makers and our product is obsolete. As soon as they start giving away ipods and computers and hell, food at the grocery store, then everyone can have my music for free. I only want to be paid a reasonable fee for the 8-12 hours of work I do every day and have done for years and years like anyone else who is talented and learned in their profession. Start putting that in your blog posts and tell others to and change the perception that music should be “free” (it never is, artists pay for it) and raise the awareness that it’s a thing of great value, like big screen tvs or, I don’t know, healthcare.

Regarding live playing being the panacea. Again, an extrememly limited outside view. Live performance is only one aspect of the music industry and being a musician. Many artists (like myself) are performers, but are first and foremost, recording artists. Far, far more people enjoy recorded music than live performances. And again, an industry reality if you’re a musician, playing live is usually loss or break even situation done for promotion and to seal relationships with fans (again – unless you’re one of the giant artists supported by those big companies selling out huge venues).

As for merch, AGAIN, if you’ve got a large fan base, then you will make some profit from teeshirt and other merch. But some artists don’t want to become merch vendors. They’re musical artists. Who wants to sell people more useless junk to fill landfills!?

So, as a small or mid level artist: no or little profit from recording, no or little profit from live performance, no or little profit from merch sales. The only thing left is licensing (TV, film, etc.). Luckily, I’m one of those artists that’s talented enough to stand out from the rest, and, my music is very synch-friendly. But there’s probably alot more music than shows, etc. that can pay. So how many artists can hope for that?

I know I probably come off sounding a bit angry, and believe me, I don’t spend much of my time angry about this sort of thing because it just would depress me and I’m far too busy writing, recording and promoting (I’ve lost 2 hours of recording writing this afternoon). But imagine if you were, I don’t know, a doctor, and people were somehow getting services for free or suddenly wouldn’t pay much for what you were doing, even though it was valuable and still needed as much as ever. And you could barely make a living but you kept doing it because you had a talent for it and knew it was what you were supposed to be doing and you knew it was helping people and you knew it was contributing to society. And people were of the attitude that, oh well, the medical profession is just weak and maybe you should get another job.

How would you feel? And what would you do?

As for me. I will survive and hopefully thrive as a professional artist despite society’s (mainly America’s) attitude towards artists and the view that the only things of monetary value are ones that can be easily sold to the masses at cheap cost for high profit. Because of that attitude, I suffer in some ways.

But our country (and other countries) will suffer the loss of the arts, which they now take for granted. And that suffering or emptiness “of the soul” has powerul and tragic consequences.

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Eugenia wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 6:42 PM PST:

>The idea that I should find something else to do for a living is hilarious.

You probably think that this was disrespect, but it was actually a practical view. If a certain profession doesn’t make its worth anymore, it’s time to look elsewhere. It has nothing to do with seeing the problem from the outside or not, but it has everything to do with practicality. My brother became an electrician after a few years DJ’ing, for example. Why artists should have it any easier than any other profession that has run its course or has problems establishing in new market realities? Just because what artists do is “art”, they should somehow get a bail-out? I don’t agree with that, it feels elitist.

>Regarding live playing being the panacea.

It’s not panacea, but it helps a lot. You seem to be putting the problem on the people’s minds and their worldview about music, but in reality, the problem is in your own profession. As I wrote above, 100,000 albums were released last year. Why? Because making music with today’s tools is easy and CHEAP. Your profession has become a COMMODITY creatively-wise. Sure, most of that music sucks, but it exists, and it’s enough to create chaos and noise for the good artists to never get heard. That’s where the real problem is, and I’m happy that some artists recognize that as the real root of the evil (e.g. Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper, in his answer to exactly that — search for the word “proliferation” in that page).

It’s only natural for many professionals to go hungry if there’s over-saturation in their market! Don’t see this as “it’s the people’s fault for not buying the products”. See it as “God damn it, that artist sucks, why the hell is HE stealing my bread? He should be flipping burgers and leave music to the real pros”. Instead, musicians like Bono take the easy way out, which is “it’s the people’s fault”, when in reality, it’s not different than the nurses problem in Greece in the ’90s. Too many nurses (the system made it easy to have lots of girls going to nursing schools after high-school), while there were too few hospitals or need. So is it the people’s fault for not getting injured too much?

>music should be free

I _never_ said that. Not here, not elsewhere. If you’re trying to pass me as a freeloader, and put me on the same sack as some Slashdot or Digg commenters, look elsewhere. For 2009, I spent for music more than anyone else I know. Here’s proof. And that doesn’t even include our CD purchases! Overall, I think we spent $2000 this year. Who else does that? The average person spends less than $100 per year for music! And put this in context about what I said above about over-saturation of the market and “people not buying”. People DO buy, to their best of their financial ability. It’s just that there are so many bands, that at the end no one is making a living off of it! And the people who don’t buy and pirate instead, they’d never buy anyway. Not until they get a job anyways.

I BUY the music I like. And the way for me to find new music is via the legal music blogs I linked from the article. I stream their free promo mp3s, and if they’re bad, I don’t download them. If they’re just ok, they just sit idle in my iTunes library. If they’re good, I definitely check the rest of the artist’s music on iTunes and *buy* a few more good songs from the said artist. And if I like their mp3s a lot, I buy their whole album. And in some cases, I fall so much in love with some of these artists, that I buy their whole discography (e.g. “Portugal. The Man” is the band I have spent the most money on so far, even if they broke my heart when they declined my offer for me to shoot their music video for free).

The internet is your main tool to get passed over the masses and get known (did you click on the last link on my comment above?). Hopefully, better tools will come forward to easier discover the 1,000 good bands out of these 99,000 crappy bands every year. Just don’t restrict the internet in a way that not even the 1,000 good bands could ever make it. As I said numerous times, the only people that will profit from closing down media formats, or having a universal licensing scheme for all music, would be the major labels. No one else. These 50 executives and their top 50 bands. It’d be monopolization like it was pre-internet, but of the worst kind.

Soulbender wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 7:41 PM PST:

But our country (and other countries) will suffer the loss of the arts, which they now take for granted.

Oh please, get a grip. The tape recorder did not kill the arts and neither will any new technology that comes along. If you can’t cope with change that’s your problem, not something the government should regulate for you. Eugenia already made excellent points about this, and God knows I hardly ever agree with her.

And that suffering or emptiness “of the soul” has powerul and tragic consequences.

Enough with the drama already.

Highlighter wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 8:07 PM PST:

“Many artists (like myself) are performers, but are first and foremost, recording artists.”

That is where the problems in the music industry come from. How do you think musicians made a living before the advent of recorded media? The job of a musician is to perform music, not record records and hope to make millions off them while sitting around collecting royalty checks. Records should be an afterthought.

The recording studio and the “industry” that music has evolved around it is what is killing the art.

indiequick wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 9:01 PM PST:

What a great thread, and well written piece and rebuttal from Robert. And I can honestly say that I understand both sides of this coin, and as I initially read it just kept circling in my head that ‘technology’ has become the solution in this evolving industry.

For those that don’t know – once upon a time I used to play music out live, and while I’ve logged over 25 songs recorded in professional studios with musicians, producers, and writers that are currently making a GREAT living off music – I’ve never released anything myself. This is where that ‘recording artist’ comment from Robert made me chuckle.

Yes, some folks record music for TV shows, commercials, advertisements, marketing campaigns – etc, etc, etc. Some bands are more well known for their constant touring and excellent musicianship in a ‘live’ setting (DMB, Grateful Dead, Phish) – and I’m not doubting that anyone of these band members would say that YES, I AM A RECORDING ARTIST.

But as technology has advanced, so has the accessibility to music. And GOOD music. Like Eugenia, I spend quite a bit on music, but I find out about most of the music I buy – through – you may have guessed – free, legal mp3 downloads. About 3 years ago I turned off the radio and haven’t looked back – cause I was sick and tired of being force fed the bullshit that Clearchannel was putting on all of their stations. So, I needed a resource to find music, and music that I would like.

ENTER: Myspace. You could hop around in Genre. You could browse artists by city and state. And they even added a great “Major / Minor / Independent” classification that I believe changed the game. The music I was most listening to at the time was everything that was NOT in the Major Label releases. I had no idea that it existed, but technology came into play and opened MY and well, a whole lot of other folks eyes that we no longer needed to turn on that FM Dial, rather browse a few music blogs, subscribe to some label e-mails, and discover all the great music that was out there.

NOW, if a band only has a Myspace page and not a legitimate band site – hell, I’ll even take a wordpress, bandcamp, squarespace, topspin, (all these sites bands can set up a simple site to connect with their audience) – but yet, there’s still this mindset of some bands that are like “Well, we’ve got a myspace and a reverbnation site, so that must be good enough.”

But, here lies the problem – there’s TOO MUCH. I’d say I get sent 50+ emails a week from bands, labels, etc. about some new tour, a video, or … a free mp3. Well, that’s a no-brainer. I can easily download that song, throw it in a folder, put it on my ipod and come back to it later. And if I like it later, I usually am scrambling to find out how to buy it.

I’d like to say that I’m an ‘early-adopter’ with this sort of music discovery, but many folks I respect are doing the same thing. It’s not that we don’t want artists to make money – it’s just that we have no idea if we’re going to like the artist – before we buy a whole album.

So, come on Robert, wet the whistle of listeners somewhat – and I’d bet you see some varied success and opportunities arise out of it. Musicians that are all against giving out a free tune – well – you can just sink to the bottom. And I’m sorry for that, but it’s 2010 – and you’ve got WAY too many tools out there at your disposal. And yeah, get something in addition to your Myspace site – I don’t take you seriously as a person/artist anymore. I haven’t logged on in 2 years – and I DO have a music page there.

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Eugenia wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 10:20 PM PST:

I checked Robert’s two bands, and I don’t see a myspace link at all for either band. I mean, while myspace is not what it used to be, not having it at all it would be a strategic mistake. Also, I could not find his bands on iTunes by searching for their names. I know that one of them IS on iTunes, but searching for the name does NOT yield a result for the band!

Finally, the free mp3 that he gives out after signing up to the mailing list for his new band should also do the rounds via music blogs. His other band doesn’t offer any free download AFAIK. I think that Robert’s bands need some strong PR. If he’s not willing to put time behind it himself, he should at least use SJag, Toolshed, FanaticPromotion, IODA or any of these online PR companies. These companies know how to get through to the biggest music sites online. They don’t do radio or magazines, but they do music blogs well.

BTW, my husband just returned from France tonight, he came back with 19 French CDs. Another $200 spent, as 2010 turned in. 😛

Robert Szeles wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 10:35 PM PST:

It’s virtually impossible to properly represent a viewpoint in a few paragraphs on a subject that is so complex.

I don’t need to be right about any of this. I don’t even need to be understood. I’m just hoping to raise awareness and create dialogue that will lead to solutions that will benefit everyone. Solutions that I, for one, do not have.

Some quick responses: 1. Eugenia, I never meant to imply you didn’t pay for music. I assumed you did support indie music as I stated. Also, I didn’t think you meant disrespect about finding another career, etc. I just think you wouldn’t even make the comment if you could trade places with me (or our minds could switch) for two minutes.

2. Eugenia, I completely agree about the glut of music because everyone can make it cheaply, and that that is a huge problem. Too many issues to address. We’re in a transitional phase (and due to technology’s exponential growth we will be for the foreseeable future) and so the quality filters that existed before have fractured and are being recreated in different forms. But it’s mostly confusion now. Personally I think it’s best for people to decide quality for themselves. But yes, how to get through all the noise? That, for me, IS the biggest problem. Regarding giving away mp3s for promotion etc. I’ve been doing it for years. Effectiveness seems very limited and monetizing is still the challenge down the line.

3. To ALL: Regarding live performance- in the past, that was respected and paid for better than now. People used to go to see live music BECAUSE there was no (or limited) recorded music. That’s the only way people could hear music. That’s what people danced to. You were paid because you were providing entertainment. Now you’re not. Now you’re expected to produce the show, promote the club, bring the entire crowd and then give the club part of your door take. I’ve produced shows for years.

4. To Soulbender: Yes, dramatic and badly written. I was trying to wrap it up because I had neglected working on my recording. But there is truth in it and not something to roll one’s eyes at (except for the way I expressed it).

5. Regarding recording being some freaky thing that happened with technology and musicians were meant to just be playing live like in the “olden days,” my turn to say, “come on.” You can’t have it both ways. Forward thinking on one subject and backward thinking on another. Recording is more real to most people than live performance. Recording isn’t going away. Recording isn’t irrelevant and it’s NOT inherently secondary to playing live. It may be secondary for some artists, it may be primary for others. It is an art form in itself and is not just an afterthought to live performing any more than live performing is an afterthought to recording.

And here’s my most important point:
Everyone has a perspective about these things and everyone seems to think they’re right, or have the answer, or are sure that there are no answers, or that everyone else is wrong, etc. The debate could go on forever.

But what is the purpose of the debate?

In the end, it would be best to remember that we’re not just having some philosophical or sociological discussion about culture or art or technology. We’re talking about people’s lives, and that’s the only thing in the discussion that matters.

Everyone seems to have their perspective. But what we need most is to be able to have other people’s perspective. Only then will dialogue happens that leads to create solutions that will benefit everyone. If everyone that has commented on this post thus far met in a room and talked for a couple hours, I have no doubt that, despite any surface disagreements, we would all agree that we hoped that no one would be made to suffer and further, that everyone involved (artists, business entities, music listeners) would benefit and prosper by whatever happens. There is NO reason that such an evolution cannot or should not take place, as long as we remember that we are in the end, not on opposing sides, but actually on the same side. All human beings trying to live in a complex culture. All hoping for prosperity, meaning, beauty, connectedness. (I would highly suggest David Bohm’s book, “On Dialogue).

I don’t think the industry is a sinking ship, but if it is, then we should all have enough compassionate imagination to picture ourselves on it and speak from there.

The only real “problem” is conflict and lack of compassion. The rest are details.

Thanks for your comments and for listening,

Robert Szeles wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 10:46 PM PST:

Final comment: regarding Bono’s article. I don’t see him stating the exact way in which it should happen (no room in such an article, for one thing). But his general statement to me is a worthy and very economically practical one to consider:

“Perhaps movie moguls will succeed where musicians and their moguls have failed so far, and rally America to defend the most creative economy in the world, where music, film, TV and video games help to account for nearly 4 percent of gross domestic product.”

Two great points: 1. He says rally America. That’s a very positive expression and a good vision. 2. 4 percent of the gross domestic product of the USA.

I understand Bono makes such an easy target. But I for one thing he’s done amazing things in a position that most people would have used simply for selfish gain and self aggrandizement. I have nothing but admiration for him. In his place, I only hope I would do as well.

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Eugenia wrote on January 3rd, 2010 at 11:09 PM PST:

>regarding Bono’s article. I don’t see him stating the exact way in which it should happen

He asked for control over downloaded media. The two ways I provided, are the only ways to do such a thing, so I based my response to him on these.

If he’s meant to simply have the ISPs cutting off the internet for people who use bittorrent, then that wouldn’t be enough, as more and more people are avoiding RIAA by using file-hosting sites, like zshare. There’s no way to know if an archive there is legal or not (I know that even some labels and artists are using such hosting sites for their needs). Also, some sites simply link to content without telling you that “this is an illegal mp3”, so if someone simply CLICKS on a zshare link, and then he has his ISP cutting off the internet for him EVEN IF HE NEVER actually downloaded the file (since it requires 1-2 additional steps to download from such sites), it would be a MAJOR disservice to ISP customers who could be clicking on trapped links and not while trying to do copyright infringement. That would be the easiest way to put someone in trouble. It’s just a click away, while bittorrent is NOT.

That’s why I wrote the article I wrote based on the idea of digital signing. There’s no other way to do what Bono wants properly. And as I explained, digital signing is a bad thing, because only majors would benefit from it.

>it would be best to remember that we’re not just having some philosophical or sociological discussion about culture or art or technology. We’re talking about people’s lives,

I’m afraid that people’s lives are impacted by these philosophical or sociological changes that happen around us. We agreed that the real problem is the commoditization of the profession itself, but you still seem to want to “bail-out” the musicians. They shouldn’t get bailed out. What needs to be done is to have a phase where no one makes enough money off of music (especially not the majors), and then have a new music scene emerging from the ashes of the old one. A music scene where it’s not full of these 100,000 “artists”, but with just enough of them creating art and having a good profit off of it. A profession that it’s chosen because the artist wants to do art, and not because “it’s easy to do, just buy a Macbook with Garageband”. The real problem — and why you’re having trouble accepting all this — is because *you* live in this transitional phase, so it stings you. I’m sure that in 100 years from now, people will see this as a historical moment of change and would celebrate it. But it surely sucks for the artists that live through this phase. But it has to be done. No one should get a bail-out. It’s like doing an orange-only diet for 3 days, in order to clean up the system from toxins (my ex-mother in law used to do that).

Another example, the French Revolution. If someone could talk to one of the freedom fighters of the time, he would probably say something like this: “hey man, what cool stuff you did during the French Revolution, that was awesome, true Power of the People”. And the freedom fighter would reply: “fuck off man, I lost my 12-year old boy during that time, and my wife had to suck cock to get us a baguette to eat — it sucked”. But it had to happen, didn’t it?

BTW, I suggest you read the comments here. Sure, some of these people are freeloaders, but a lot of what they say rings true.

Robert Szeles wrote on January 4th, 2010 at 12:17 AM PST:

First, quickly, thanks Indiequick, for your comment.

E, yeah, it’s a difficult issue.

No, I don’t want a bail-out. I just want music to be valued monetarily equal to the way people really value it in their lives, so that artists are compensated fairly like most other professions.

Regarding a bail-out. Wow, wouldn’t that be something if the US Government announced they were bailing out, not the banks, not the auto industry, but artists! LOL Dream on. As if…

“A music scene where it’s not full of these 100,000 “artists”, but with just enough of them creating art and having a good profit off of it. A profession that it’s chosen because the artist wants to do art, and not because “it’s easy to do, just buy a Macbook with Garageband”. The real problem — and why you’re having trouble accepting all this — is because *you* live in this transitional phase, so it stings you.”

I agree that sounds like a positive evolution. Hopefully it will happen. And of course you’re right, that it is difficult because it effects me. Honestly I don’t know if it would be better if I’d been born ten or 20 years earlier (or later). Maybe I’d be rich and famous (which might be good or not), or not. As Gandalf replied when Frodo said that he wished that none of it had ever happened to him:

“So do all who wish to see such times. But that is not up to us to decide. All that we can do is decide what to do with the time given to us.”

I may be misrepresenting myself here (or being misinterpreted). I actually think this is a pretty decent time to be a good artist. My distress at times, if it seems heavy, is not only for myself, but for all of the artists I know and communicate with weekly, who are troubled and confused. And I’m distressed when I see some of the comments made by people (like one guy on a site who said he’d pay or not whatever he wanted for music because it was “just entertainment.).

Lastly, your metaphor about the French Revolution was well-made and hilarious! 🙂

Vast Majority wrote on January 4th, 2010 at 1:01 AM PST:

I stopped listening to Bono after “October” came out in 1981. Yeah I know, Eno produced some of their “supposed” best stuff after that. And yes, Eno is great, just listen to “Taking Tiger Mountain…”, but Bono and his cohorts… forget it. It’s no surprise that he can’t come up with a sensible opinion regarding digital downloads. On the other hand, DO listen to Eugenia.

czar wrote on January 4th, 2010 at 8:57 AM PST:

Let’s not forget that we’ve had TWO major recessions in the past decade. We didn’t have any economic problems in the 90’s when CD’s sold like crazy. The record companies also got away with murder back then because we couldn’t preview an album before we shelled out $18 for 2 songs.

jay wrote on January 4th, 2010 at 10:09 AM PST:

about the certs:
there is no global public-key-infrastructure that is in widespread use, and only a few companies (M$, verisign etc) have a well established presence and sell keys

IF media files work with certs you’ll have all the problems with certs as well – expiration, leaking, problems with validation, offline use etc … anybody remembers MD5 problems?

besides for international artists – what if their govt changes, the country reunites (eg germany), devides (eg yugoslavia), the politics change, the laws change etc – and the certs become invalid thru a CRL?

the media you bought might just become useless/worthless overnight!

ojimenez wrote on January 4th, 2010 at 5:29 PM PST:

A lot passion here.

Eugenia is right, and Robert is right.

Eugenia is right in defending the idea of a meritocracy, and keeping the Internet free to flow without any Governmental intrusion to prevent the distribution of digital media of any kind.

Robert is right in defending the right of artists to make a living from their creations. After all, without original ideas, and talented artists there would be nothing.

Is Bono right? Who cares.
He’s a musician, he should be making music.

Music, I could not live without it. pay for it? Absolutely.
After all, you get what you pay for!


Robert Szeles wrote on January 4th, 2010 at 7:28 PM PST:

Agreed Ojimenez. Amen.

Tamas wrote on January 4th, 2010 at 8:28 PM PST:

In the US unreasonable searches are unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. You’re not obligated to let any “inspector” in your home without a search warrant. Sure enough, traveling abroad is a different story. Flying is getting ridiculously unpleasant anyway. Soon enough we’ll be wearing diapers, since using the restroom is a security hazard.

As a consumer, my biggest concern is that every time a new technology emerges, I’m forced to repurchase all my existing media in the new format. It would be utterly unreasonable to make us buy the FBI-signed version of all of our music from scratch. It’s not my fault that CDs aren’t digitally signed, and if I decide to buy a CD, I’m sure as hell not going to pay for the mp3 version as well — it should actually come with the CD.

Honestly, owning the content seems to be less and less appealing to me. I’ve already stopped purchasing movies, when renting online is so easy and inexpensive. This way I don’t have to worry about backups, upgrading to BluRay, or getting them played on a different continent.

It is significantly harder to give up music ownership, as we listen to the same songs repeatedly. Subscription seems to solve many problems, though. It’s pretty easy to prove legality, and the content uses the latest technology. However, it probably doesn’t help the indies, when most providers are major labels. Perhaps Google could create a subscription service that’s worth for the indie bands to sign up for. Also, it’s psychologically hard to give up ownership, simply because people get emotionally attached to things they own — apparently, even if it’s illegal.

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Eugenia wrote on January 4th, 2010 at 8:29 PM PST:

My husband said something interesting to me last night: he mentioned watching the Iron Maiden tour DVD, and when the band went to play in Colombia, the ticket price was equal to many months of salary for these people. The arena was full though, even with the military giving a hard time to the fans. The reason why the arena was full was because almost no one goes to play there (except maybe Shakira). So there’s a lot demand, but only few bands supply it.

Then he went on to say that 100,000 album releases, for $100 average music purchases per year, for $10 per CD, for 100 million US households, means about 1,000 albums sold on average for every artist. Given that many of these artists get just pennies on the dollar, while others use CDBaby for $5, the *average* profit is not more than $1-$3 per CD sold. So that’d be an average revenue of $3,000 per year. Which is of course not enough to live on, you need a minimum of $25,000 per year to live in the US. And the vast majority of the bands don’t sell that much anyway (1,000 copies that is), since it’s the major’s artists who sell the many copies that skew the averages.

In other words, get rid of the bottom feeder artists to make the profession profitable again. And if you get rid of the majors, even better.

Steve S. wrote on January 5th, 2010 at 2:55 AM PST:

I’ve read through Bono’s post several times, and it seems to me all he is saying is that the industry moguls could come up with a way of advocating for artists’ rights. (He mentions China’s and the U.S.’s efforts at monitoring internet content, but it should be pointed out that both have failed at controlling the growth of their targets.) I think the moguls could come up with a method of equitable distribution from digital downloads. But I also think they really have no interest or incentive to do so.

From reading this thread, and many others in various blogs, it seems there is a disproportionate concern for digital downloads, compared to, what seems to me, an obvious trump card for the musician: live performance. The most common rebuttal to this suggestion so far has been that one can’t make enough sales with simple live contact. But enough for what? A Malibu chalet? Our own G5?

Since when did our passion for music get perverted into crass material gain? (Take a breath, friends, and relax – keep your comments civil, ok?). I’m not talking about the necessity of keeping a roof over our heads, or feeding our family. What I mean is this underpinning of entitlement to wealth as a perquisite to our calling as artists. E. says “you need a minimum of $25,000 per year to live in the US.” Please define “to live.” I think it is useful to examine our assumptions about affluence and “need.” There is also a tacit assumption in this topic that a musical artist’s income must come largely from CD sales or digital streams. Dangerous thinking, considering the nature of our product.

Here’s a thought: what if performers just said “hang-all” to the digi-distro debacle and got on with simply playing for people? You know, live audiences? Maybe I’m alone on this one, but I’ve always understood that the value of the music is in its happening in real time, with a group of other humans sharing a common experience. Just a thought.

I have a close friend who is a very talented songwriter and vocalist. He hardly ever performs live anymore. His rationale is a combination of frustration with venues, frustration at attendance, frustration with the bread. But of all the situations I’ve seen him in, he seems most alive – inspired, relaxed, engaged – when he is performing in front of humans. Instead, he spends hours a day following leads for digital distribution, and researching digital promotion – all the while, to my lopsided view, neglecting his gift to share his music with breathing beings. But what does he say of this web-intensive activity? Frustration with licensing agencies, frustration with digital downloads, frustration with digital promotion.

(In the spirit of fairness, I have my own frustrations with live performance, but I’m doing it. I augment gigs with other paid musical activities, but those occur in real time – accompanying, coaching, private lessons, workshops – and are not dependent on monitoring their distribution. With more hustle, I could be making more money from better gigs, but that’s my own hangup, not the industry’s.)

I offer a few open questions for the readers: How much money do we “need” to live? How much of our relationship with music is dictated by industry estimations of our artistic value? What is it worth to be able to play music for a living, instead of working any number of jobs that would lead us to loathe our choices?

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Eugenia wrote on January 5th, 2010 at 10:11 AM PST:

>E. says “you need a minimum of $25,000 per year to live in the US.” Please define “to live.”

To live, as in, the minimum conditions a modern human would require. My sentence was clear.

Steve S. wrote on January 5th, 2010 at 2:04 PM PST:

Ok. You say “you need…” but what you mean is “I need.” I challenge your assumption of what a minimum income is for survival in our society.

I take in around $200-400 a week from playing and teaching music. That’s it. At best, that’s far below the $25,000 minimum you posit for my existence. Yet I live in San Francisco – one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. – in a comfortable, loving home. I pay rent. I eat everyday, often at restaurants, I go to movies, I drive a reliable, clean, insured car, I have health coverage, and I never do work that I don’t want to. I do own a cell phone – but not an iPhone – and I have DSL at home (but no TV by choice). In the past three years I’ve traveled to Singapore, Europe twice, and have taken numerous shorter trips domestically. I am able to give freely to others, within my means, and I do not feel impoverished. Also: no credit card debt. (But I also have no one to feed save myself, and no mortgage.)

My point remains that it can be a professionally and spiritually healthy experience to honestly re-evaluate what our real needs are in terms of income, possessions, and activities – that our lives can be experienced more joyfully once we start weeding out the stuff we are conditioned to desire from childhood on: all the useless stuff that really become grave liabilities as artists. This can free us to get on with the important work. For me, that is making art.

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Eugenia wrote on January 5th, 2010 at 2:46 PM PST:

Are you telling me that your average income is $1200 per month? I’m surprised you’re able to live in SF with just that.

Sultan Qasim Khan wrote on January 5th, 2010 at 4:08 PM PST:

I personally don’t support internet restrictions and tracking for things like music, and I don’t like strict copyright for music in general. Music production is no longer expensive; producing good music requires skill and an hour or two of free time every day. It doesn’t need full time work and loads of money. I have many friends who regularly make music (IMHO) better than what Robert Szeles (and similar artists) make, and who love to share and get their work used by others. They make great music in their free time, and don’t make (or ask for) a penny. Even I am learning, and can make reasonable recordings of original songs or covers. Only live performance of certain types of [extremely difficult] pieces of music requires all your time. You don’t need much money to make good music.

Another similar field is photography; amateurs can take great photos and often do better than many pros. See great gallery to see an example of what amateurs can do. Most “professional” musicians do produce more good work than the average amateur, but amateurs outnumber pros by a couple orders of magnitude – and so there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of undiscovered “pro” quality music out that has been made by amateurs.

Now as for movies, making a good full length movie still usually needs a lot of time and money – travel is expensive, even amateur equipment equipment is rather pricy, and it just takes a lot of effort to put together 2 hours of good quality material.

On the whole, I think fair use laws should be relaxed a bit, and fines for infringement should be reasonable. If a kid downloads some media from artists that earn money from their music or movies, he should’t be sued for a million dollars. Something like double the value of the stolen content, with a max of $1000 for media for personal use would be much more reasonable. The fines can be higher but still reasonable and proportional if one used the stolen media to earn money (i.e. sell pirated discs, or use copyrighted material in works you sell without permission).

Sultan Qasim Khan wrote on January 5th, 2010 at 4:13 PM PST:

Here is a link to the amateur photography gallery that I mentioned in my previous comment. I forgot to put the link.

Steve S wrote on January 6th, 2010 at 12:40 AM PST:

Yes, E., (if I may call you E.), my average income is $1200/mo. Sorry if my comments have taken us off-topic for this thread, so I’ll try to wrap it up by offering this.

It is fair to say that I have received some breaks, my rent being particularly affordable – but I live with ten people. (It’s a really BIG house.) People like to give me clothes – nice clothes – and the thrift shops in SF ROCK! And I don’t eat expensive food, just good food. (There are a lot of cheap/good eats in SF.) And no major vices, so there’s a few hundred a month saved right there. But, as with all things, there are trade-offs. Regret is not one of them. I will say that I’m looking forward to making a few times what I’m grossing now, in the not-too-distant future, pending the completion (and promotion) of a couple of projects, but I’m not banking my happiness on it.

I’m lucky, maybe exceptionally so (and that includes a recent week in the hospital), and the benefit of having a safe, affordable place to live is not taken lightly. But the greatest asset I can count among the ordinary budget line items is a freedom of time. Time and energy to practice my craft. That is something for which I’m truly grateful.

Thanks for the discussion. As for the relevance to the main topic, it is ironic that I may be benefiting from the work being done by you and the other contributors, and the research and grunt work being done by my songwriter friend. It would be nice if artists were treated more fairly, but we live in the world we live in. Thanks for your efforts on behalf of all musicians. Best.

herman wrote on January 6th, 2010 at 1:59 AM PST:

The US already is a police state. (patriot act etc.)

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