Movie stars

Modest Mouse remix

Apple and Epic staged a contest for fans of Modest Mouse to make the video for the second single from their new album, “Missed the boat”. Entrants were provided with high quality source video of the group and allowed to use as much or as little as they liked.

 The results are amazing and varied. From weird robot sci-fi love story, to high production values stylised treatments, and various pastiches in between. The amazing thing is the overall standard – all created on final cut pro on home computers, many of the submissions are as good as or better than their professional equivalents.

The listeners are revolting

Hugh MacLeod cartoon about DRM

(cartoon from  Gaping Void)

Editor of The RegisterAndrew Orlowski (articles) is never short of some ascerbic observations on the state of the music industry in its attempt to deal with the digitisation of its product. And recently there’s been no shortage of other opinion in that area either. With compact disc revenues falling 40% last year in some markets, the pressure for execs to react will only increase (doesn’t 40% sound low?) All signs so far are that they will do so in an inappropriate and old-fashioned way. 

Bear in mind that this is an industry which has systematically simultaneously shafted both users and artists for years. When things start going wrong for them, they lash out at both – criticsing and threatening their customers and treating their artists like ungrateful children.

This is also an industry whose current strategy is widely understood to be to try and get its consumers to re-buy their existing collections in a new format. And yet there is suprise when the customers are “revolting” and downloading and sharing music for free from Bit Torrent. What’s the alternative they’ve been given? Steal it or get overpriced, DRM-infected music? You can pay us for it now but we reserve the right to charge you for it again in the future.

In this country at least, we have taught a whole generation to see music as something which is best stolen.

One anonymous comment posted on Orlowski’s most recent entry would seem to provide some optimism that a reasonable middle ground could be found.

On behalf of the public, I want:

1. DECENT quality recordings out for me to download when I want. That’s high quality, so when I listen to the product I have just purchased I actually hear it properly on my new expensive sound system.

2. Freedom. Fuck subscriptions, I don’t care about them. Charge me 50p or something for the song, and as long as I don’t make it easily accessible for everyone to copy from me (putting it on BitTorrent etc.) you should ensure that I can put it onto a CD, or my phone, or my Creative MP3 player, or even onto another computer. DRM free please – When I pay for my music i’m paying for the right to listen to it when and where I want, using whatever technology I decide I want to use. i’ve paid for it, let me listen to it on what device I want when I chose.

3. Reasonable prices. Stop feeding us this crap. It’s still costing around £8 for an album on iTunes – nearly the same as what charge. If they can charge £9, and you charge £8 – then what the hell is all that crap about distribution and media costs for? An artist is in a studio, send it electronically to the distributors (Napster, iTunes etc), job done. There’s no comparision to the CD or cassette market, so stop pricing it like there is.

So in summary:

If I can get, for 50p a track (or £4.50 for an album) 320kbps quality tracks with no DRM then i’ll stop borrowing mates CD’s and ripping them, and I’ll stop using BitTorrent.

Then, and only then will I be prepared to part my hard earn’t cash – e.g. when the product and service is worth it.

Would people actually pay in this way? I don’t know. I do know that the only customers that suffer from DRM now are the ones that obey the rules. That’s got to change. And prices presumably must fall too. Why shouldn’t the consumer benefit from the reduction or removal of distribution costs? Will it take the fall of the major labels before a reasonable deal can be struck? That will depend on what they do in the next 12 months.

Gadget and a half

The filter - desktop interface

New gadget I’ve just downloaded: The Filter from Exabra is excellent. It mood filters your own record collection (as well as pointing you in the direction of tracks to buy should you wish). I tell it I like Concrete Sky by Beth Orten and it creates a playlist including “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by St Etienne and “And She Was” by Talking Heads. Brilliant.

(I promise I’ve only just noticed in writing this that my new company Conchango is part of this. Even better!)

Incidentally, and it really is a very small grumble for such a good product, why do people say things like this – taken from the download page – “The Filter makes listening to music easy and enjoyable”. This is the language of hype which is simply unnecessary. They’ve got the tone on the first page: “those playlists you never get round to making… this gizmo does them for you”.

Out of time

Damon Albarn - Out of time (live)

I was listening to Out of Time by Blur tonight and it made me realise an implication to the Long Tail that I don’t think has really been discussed.

Out of time from Think Tank bucked the trend of where Blur and Albarn were going. Unlike the band’s ealier records (like girls and boys), pretty much all of that album is uncommercial. It’s pretty difficult listening like the album 13 before it. As Blur matures they’ve become more challenging and, frankly better. The good, the bad and the queen are better still.

But Out of Time isn’t like that, Despite being more challenging and weird than alot of the charts, it’s really catchy and has simple pop motif. So it’s radio friendly and it did pretty well in the charts, reaching No 5 in 2003.

I don’t think the current Albarn records will chart, cool as they are. Partly because they’re a little too complex and partly because, nowadays (!) the charts going to be full of the Beatles! Long-tail reasons of course. But, and here’s where I started with all this, I suspect that Albarn (and the rest of artists affected by this phenomenon) are probably delighted that there music gets judged over the long-term – and very happy to see the back of Top of the Pops and the tyrany of the labels and radio stations.

Clearly consumers benefit from the extension of choice, but I’m interested too to see that it potentially benefits the artists themselves. I think the same could be true for the previously hit-obsessed worlds of film, modelling and (obscurely) politics. 

Couple of other bizarre points I noticed working this piece out: Both records mentioned about are now selling on Amazon for under £6. When did the price of records really collapse? This was the band’s first video where none of them appear. Finally (and this is the most weird) this song has it’s own Wikipedia entry.