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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

CraigsList Gets 20 y/o Opening for Sold Out Dead Prez Show

You really can get anything on craigslist- even an opening slot for a sold out Friday night show on the Sunset Strip. I saw an ad that requested opening acts for some vague event, sent a link and a demo their way and was flabbergasted (only appropriate word) when I got a prompt response asking if I was available to open for Dead Prez. I never thought that browsing craigslist looking for any available gigs would land my 20 year old self on stage at the Key Club in front of a sold out show opening up for one of my favorite duos. It truly is a brave new world.

Thanks so much to everyone who came out to show their support, all the other opening acts, Sean Healey Presents for booking me, the Key Club for their hospitality and Dead Prez for having me as one of their openers. I know I had a great time. Please enjoy a rough (but not fully accurate) version of my set as well as the accompanying video show below. Brilliantly photographed images were taken by John Shearer who graciously offered his services in exchange for my sibling's hand.








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Galapagos Clipshow (NiN - Ghosts) (Galapagos Video #7)


RIAA plays both sides of the street in music royalty debate

Readers will no doubt be shocked—shocked—to hear that the RIAA works for its own self-interest, but a recent Public Knowledge piece suggests that the organization is being more than usually self-interested in two current debates. On the one hand, the major labels think that webcasters should pay a flat rate for every track streamed, even if this means that a webcaster's total bill for music exceeds revenues in any given year. On the other hand, the RIAA does not want to pay a flat rate for its own music, suggesting that a percentage rate of the kind that webcasters were denied is the way to go.

Confused? Let's break it down.

No hobgoblins here

If consistency is the "hobgoblin of little minds," as Emerson put it, then the music industry must have a collective brain the size of the moon. Contradictions and paradoxes abound. For instance: why does satellite radio pay artists and songwriters for playing their songs, but terrestrial radio only pays artists? Why do webcasters also pay both, but at a different rate?

When it came to setting webcaster rates last year, the webcasters wanted to pay a percentage, just like satellite radio services do. But revenue is hard to come by in the webcasting business, so SoundExchange (an RIAA spinoff that collects the money and redistributes it to labels and artists) pushed for a flat fee per stream per user. And it got it last March when the Copyright Royalty Board set the fee at $0.0011 per song streamed.

You may recall that this touched off a heated debate over webcasting that escalated to the floor of Congress, as legislation was introduced to overturn the new rates. Eventually, SoundExchange cut separate deals with both large and small webcasters, though the CRB's official rates remain unchanged and SoundExchange could enforce them if it wanted to.

Enter the RIAA

The RIAA finds itself in a similar situation, though one that's been dragging on for a century now. Back in 1909, Congress set up a "mechanical royalty" to be paid to songwriters when a physical copy of a sound recording of their work is made. This rate has been upgraded over time, and today stands at $0.091 per track.

That sounds cheap, but it means that a ten-track CD can cost the labels nearly a buck just for the songwriting fees. And because this is a fixed cost, it becomes harder for the labels to pay as the price of music drops and revenues plunge.

So during the most recent CRB "trial" to fix these rates, the RIAA said that it wanted to move to a percentage model as well. Cary Sherman, the RIAA boss, reveals in his filing that Cat Stevens' "The First Cut is the Deepest" is one of his favorite songs; instead of paying $0.091 to Stevens every time an RIAA artist sells a CD with a cover of that song on it (as Sheryl Crow did recently), Sherman suggests that the label pay a percentage instead.

This would solve problems that arose a few years back with "DualDiscs," where CD audio might be on one side of the disc and DVD-Audio on the other. In that case, the music publishers (who represent the songwriters) argued that they deserved to be paid twice, once for each side. But that would come to 18 cents per song, which could be nearly $2 per album. Since DualDiscs didn't command much of a price premium, this was unworkable to the labels.

In Sherman's view, a percentage model would make these problems go away. "I have increasingly come to believe," he said, "that the only rate structure that makes sense is a percentage rate that can be applied readily to all products in the marketplace."

Other filings from executives at EMI and Sony BMG make clear that the labels think the current setup horribly unfair. As their own revenues tank, the music publishers (and the songwriters they represent) continue to rake in that same mechanical rate. As EMI's Colin Finkelstein put it, "Record labels bear almost all of the risk." Songwriters are shielded from that risk by the fixed nature of the mechanical rate.

What's good for the goose...

All of this begs the question: why should the RIAA get a percentage deal for itself but insist on a widely-despised flat-rate deal for webcasters who want its music? That's what Public Knowledge staff attorney Rashmi Rangnath asked this week. "Is it fair that RIAA/SoundExchange switch to a percentage of revenue model for music sales while holding back the small webcasters from taking advantage of the same for streaming?" she wrote.


Rashmi Rangnath

Part of the issue is that the RIAA and SoundExchange are separate entities (though SoundExchange began life as an RIAA subsidiary) and their interests are no longer exactly aligned. SoundExchange now includes numerous non-RIAA board members, though it is still the focus of intense debate as to exactly how beholden it is to the major labels.

While Emerson may have downplayed the importance of consistency, it certainly seems like a bit more would be welcome in the music business... and it's exactly this argument that the RIAA is using its concurrent push to get radio stations to pay up (radio, webcasting, and satellite should all pay a consistent set of fees). Too bad SoundExchange and its RIAA backers didn't push the CRB to do the same thing for webcasters.

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Musician Jeff Healey dies of cancer

Rock and jazz musician Jeff Healey died Sunday in a Toronto hospital after a battle with cancer, his publicist said.

He was 41.

Canadian musician Jeff Healey plays his unique sit-down style before a crowd in Windsor, Ont., in July 2001. Canadian musician Jeff Healey plays his unique sit-down style before a crowd in Windsor, Ont., in July 2001.
(Chris Wattie/Canadian Press)

Healey lost his sight at age one as a result of Retinoblastoma, a rare form of retinal cancer.

Due to his blindness, Healey taught himself to play guitar with the instrument held across his lap while seated.

His unique playing style, combined with his blues-oriented vocals, earned him a reputation as a teenage musical prodigy. He shared stages with George Harrison, B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

But Healey's true love was jazz, the genre that dominated his three most recent albums.

His death came weeks before the release of his first rock album in eight years, his website said.

Mess of Blues is slated for a North American release on April 22.

Much of Healey's commercial success came as the frontman for the Jeff Healey Band, a Juno-winning act that achieved platinum record sales in the United States with the 1988 record See the Light.

Despite deteriorating record sales in the 1990s, Healey kept busy with radio shows on the CBC and a local Toronto jazz station where he spun long-forgotten classics from his personal collection of more than 30,000 vinyl records.

The Grammy-nominated musician is survived by his wife Christie and two children.

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Publishers Phase Out Piracy Protection on Audio Books

SAN FRANCISCO — Some of the largest book publishers in the world are stripping away the anticopying software on digital downloads of audio books.

The trend will allow consumers who download audio books to freely transfer these digital files between devices like their computers, iPods and cellphones — and conceivably share them with others. Dropping copying restrictions could also allow a variety of online retailers to start to sell audio book downloads.

The publishers hope this openness could spark renewed growth in the audio book business, which generated $923 million in sales last year, according to the Audio Publishers Association.

Random House was the first to announce it was backing away from D.R.M., or digital rights management software, the protective wrapping placed around digital files to make them difficult to copy. In a letter sent to its industry partners last month, Random House, the world’s largest publisher, announced it would offer all of its audio books as unprotected MP3 files beginning this month, unless retail partners or authors specified otherwise.

Penguin Group, the second-largest publisher in the United States behind Random House, now appears set to follow suit. Dick Heffernan, publisher of Penguin Audio, said the company would make all of its audio book titles available for download in the MP3 format on eMusic, the Web’s second-largest digital music service after iTunes.

Penguin was initially going to join the eMusic service last fall, when it introduced its audio books download store. But it backed off when executives at Pearson, the London-based media company that owns Penguin, became concerned that such a move could fuel piracy.

Mr. Heffernan said the company changed its mind partly after watching the major music labels, like Warner Brothers and Sony BMG, abandon D.R.M. on the digital music they sell on Amazon.com. “I’m looking at this as a test,” he said. “But I do believe the audio book market without D.R.M. is going to be the future.”

Other major book publishers seem to agree. Chris Lynch, executive vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, said the company would make 150 titles available for download in an unprotected digital format in “the next couple of months.”

An executive at HarperCollins said the publisher was watching these developments closely but was not yet ready to end D.R.M.

If the major book publishers follow music labels in abandoning copyright protections, it could alter the balance of power in the rapidly growing world of digital media downloads. Currently there is only one significant provider of digital audio books: Audible, a company in Seattle that was bought by Amazon for $300 million in January. Audible provides Apple with the audio books on the iTunes store.

Apple’s popular iPod plays only audio books that are in Audible’s format or unprotected formats like MP3. Book publishers do not want to make the same error originally made by the music labels and limit consumers to a single online store to buy digital files that will play on the iPod. Doing so would give that single store owner — Apple — too much influence.

Turning to the unprotected MP3 format, says Madeline McIntosh, a senior vice president at the Random House Audio Group, will enable a number of online retailers to begin selling audio books that will work on all digital devices.

Some bookstores are already showing interest. The Borders Group, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., introduced an online audio book store in November using D.R.M. provided by Microsoft. Its books cannot be played on the iPod, a distinction that turns off many customers. But Pam Promer, audio book buyer for Borders, said the company welcomed moves by the publishers and planned to begin selling MP3 downloads by early spring.

A spokesman for Barnes & Noble said the retailer had “no plans to enter the audio book market at this time.”

Publishers, like the music labels and movie studios, stuck to D.R.M. out of fear that pirated copies would diminish revenue. Random House tested the justification for this fear when it introduced the D.R.M.-less concept with eMusic last fall. It encoded those audio books with a digital watermark and monitored online file sharing networks, only to find that pirated copies of its audio books had been made from physical CDs or D.R.M.-encoded digital downloads whose anticopying protections were overridden.

“Our feeling is that D.R.M. is not actually doing anything to prevent piracy,” said Ms. McIntosh of Random House Audio.

Amazon and Audible would not comment on whether they would preserve D.R.M. protections on their own audio books, citing Securities and Exchange Commission restrictions surrounding the recent acquisition.

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Movie Trailer - The Onion Movie Coming to DVD

I remember several years ago when there were rumblings that The Onion - which began as kind of a midwest answer to National Lampoon at the University of Wisconsin and spread to worldwide fame online - was going to make a movie.

Would it be just a day in the life of a newspaper? Odd stories plucked from the "headlines" of America's Finest News Source?

Apparently, that was part of the equation. But once the film was completed nearly four years ago now, it just sat there on the shelf. Striking while the iron is...hot?, The Onion Movie will soon find its way onto DVD.


I don't think there's really anything that can be gained from this, outside of the Steven Seagal bit. You know it's old footage, incidentally, because Steven Seagal still looks vaguely human in the trailer.

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Will the Movie Experience Die in the On Demand World?

Star Wars

About 68 minutes into a 103 minute 2005 Pixar lecture from the Computer History Museum (found via UpcomingPixar), writer/director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) ranted passionately about how technology and convenience is ruining the theatrical experience:

“I hope that [the theatrical experience] doesn’t go away. I think that in our quest for 24 hour accessibility of everything under the sun, we diminish the value of certain experiences. And I liked the fact that movies use to have lines. And that it use to be hard to get into a movie. And if you saw it in it’s first week of release, you saw it on a giant screen or in ornate palace, and it was a show. Now we have made it so that on opening day you can see a film on a big screen, or on a crappy screen, or a screen that is a bootleg on your computer [inches] big. To me it’s diminishing the show experience.”

Bird is so right. It’s an issue I’m very torn about because I absolutely love the idea of an all you can eat on demand world where anything and everything is available whenever wherever. I’m a tech fanatic, an early adopter with tons of gizmos and gadgets. But at the same time I wish we could keep the experiences I agree up with (not to sound old).

And while I might be too young to remember a day without multiplexes, I do remember when attending a first showing on the first night of release was a magical experience. I remember lining up for tickets to Episode 1, and the line went around the movie theater. It was a party, it was fun. I went to line-up for tickets for Episode 2 and the crowds disappeared. By the time Episode 3 was released, only 15 or 20 people were in line. You could claim that it was because people lost interest in the series after Phantom Menace, or that people were trying to relive the nostalgia of their youth, but truth is that most of my friends were reserving their tickets for Attack of the Clones, but they were reserving the tickets online. The party died, and so did that experience.

And it’s not just relegated to the cinema. I remember when you could have a watercooler conversation about a television show. Even though we experienced these series by ourselves, in our own respective homes, we would be sharing the experience together. But now the watercooler discussions of shows like LOST are quickly becoming less possible because of the DVR. Timeshifting is yet another convenience which diminishes the experience. And someday soon most people will view new television episodes on demand or timeshifted, rather than live.

Sooner or later mainstream movies will be available day and date on some form of home video, and I’ll be ask a group of my friends if they’re going to the opening night of Transformers 3 at the AMC downtown, and they’ll TXT me back that they’re just going to watch it at home on their 100 inch OLED screen instead.

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