Friday, April 25, 2008


Don’t forget the Future of Music Coalition’s working musician seminar next Wednesday at the Clarion Hotel over on Everett. I’m told registration is through the roof so if you haven’t signed up do it now:

Two weeks ago, when I raved about the brilliance of the panelists at the seminar, I didn’t have any idea that I’d be invited to be a panelist, too. Oops! Really, when I indulge in shameless self-promotion (and I do every chance I get) I at least try to be upfront about it. See you there.

I’ve been deluged over the last week with emails from worried clients and artist friends about this horrible “Orphan Works” copyright legislation before Congress that’s gonna wipe out everybody’s copyright. And bears, oh my! The culprit is an hysterical webpost by some guy named Mark Simon on the Animation World Network that has somehow gained viral traction and that people are apparently believing.

It’s all nonsense. Mr. Simon is, IMHO, an idiot. Blogger Meredith Patterson puts him rightfully in his place, and describes what is really going on, at If anyone sends you Simon’s post, please send them Meredith’s. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s lies and ignorance in public discourse.

Here’s the deal: since 1978, everything that’s been created, and much of everything that hadn’t been published prior to 1978 or already fallen into the public domain, suddenly were bestowed with automatic copyright ownership. A creator doesn’t need to do anything but create to have federally-protected copyrights.

The problem being that much of what’s out there is stuff that no one is interested in protecting. Only a small fraction of what’s been created has a copyright owner thinking that he or she is going to ever be paid for it, or even with an awareness that any such payment is even a remote possibility. Even for the vast majority of stuff someone may have once cared about, there’s no current interest. Back when copyrights had to be registered and renewed after the initial 28-year term, less than 15% of the registered copyrights were renewed. Nobody cared.

This has caused a real problem with the public: what creative works can be used, reused, revived, incorporated, and messed around with, when under the current law, virtually everything is technically subject to copyright ownership by somebody, even though for the vast majority of stuff out there, there is no somebody, or at least no somebody who cares about their copyright?

It’s a massive disconnect, and I’ve seen it play out again and again in ways that inhibit the dissemination of information, of knowledge, of beauty, because folks were paranoid of publishing pre-existing works out of fear that somebody would pop up out of nowhere and say “that’s mine!”

In her blog, Patterson uses the example of your parent’s wedding pictures from 1955. You want to publish them? Guess what? The copyrights are probably owned by the photographer! Who was who? And is now where? You don’t know? Uh-oh. I get asked all the time by archivists and historians about what they can and can’t do with a box of old photos, or paintings, or manuscripts, or books, that were found in an attic of an old house, and that contain wonderful glimpses of history, and which a creator or current copyright owner cannot be determined. I explain that publishing this stuff will involve a bit of risk that a copyright holder might appear and spoil the party. Archivists and historians generally don’t want to know from risk. So all this great stuff stays in boxes.

The Orphan Works legislation that Mr. Simon is so wigged out about, and doesn’t remotely understand, hasn’t even been introduced yet, but word is that it will be soon. The legislation will probably seek to rectify the problem of lingering, abandoned copyrights, to loosen this stranglehold of ghosts on our culture, by allowing the reuse of pre-existing materials in situations where after a reasonably diligent effort, no copyright owner has been located. If, after the work is re-published, a copyright owner shows up and says “that’s mine”, the copyright owner will be entitled to a reasonable licensing fee for the use, but won’t be able to stop the use.

Space doesn’t allow me to go into the details and potential problems of the Orphan Works law, and they are significant. But suffice it to say that there’s no boogeyman, there’s no abject stealing, the sky is not falling, artists will not starve while freezing in the dark. Nothing in the realm of copyright law is ever even close to being perfect, and this law certainly won’t be. Stuff can be gamed, faked, and copyright owners may have to be a little more vigilant. But the world won’t be that much different than it is already: the world of copyright is already a world of gaming and faking, and copyright owners are supposed to be vigilant about their works.

The net from the Orphan Works laws, if they’re done right, will be a huge positive.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

04-10-08 DIY ROCKS

The internet has democratized the music business in ways that were unimaginable 15 years ago. Time was when, to be even marginally successful, a band had to press up CDs (or vinyl or cassettes) and then somehow get them into stores and get the music on the radio. These were horrible bottlenecks, largely controlled by major labels and Big Media. The internet has effectively removed these bottlenecks, music can be sold directly to consumers over the internet, and corporate radio is fast becoming irrelevant to breaking music.

But there’s a fundamental problem that remains: getting noticed in the first place. It’s easy now to make your music accessible, but how do you get people to listen to it and buy it? This is where the real innovation is happening right now.

Eight years ago I worked with Count The Stars, a Delmar band just out of high school with a CD and more desire to make it than I’ve ever seen. In the pre-MySpace / Facebook days, the members of the band tirelessly worked what was available on the web, including finding and joining online chat groups dedicated to other bands they liked, introducing themselves and inviting the other participants to visit the Count The Stars website. By the time the band got in their van and hit the road, there was a small but nationwide fan base waiting for them. These guys were pioneers and got rewarded for their efforts with a deal with powerhouse indy label Victory Records.

Just last week, Collar City Records honcho / Kamikaze Hearts action man Matthew Loiacono unveiled another amazing marketing strategy for his new album, entitled Kentucky. Matthew’s having a contest he’s calling “Why Kentucky?”—first you go to his website and download the album for free. Then you try to figure out why the heck he named the album Kentucky. There’s a prize for the first correct answer (apparently there’s a real reason for the name) and another for the “most awesome, yet incorrect” answer.

The idea, obviously, is to get people to listen to the music, whether they actually buy it or not, with the idea of attracting fans and the hope that people are going to like the free download enough to want to buy the sonically superior CD that will be available in a couple of weeks. Is it gonna work? Time will tell. But at least Matthew, like Radiohead and Trent Reznor before him, is recognizing the reality that the internet has transformed how people consider music, and forever changed the paradigm of “I buy I own” with regard to music.

In other news, MySpace last week announced some big deal with three of the four major record companies, apparently some kind of effort to unseat iTunes as the Big Kahuna of music sales. The press release says this:

The product vision for MySpace Music is to build on the existing traffic, credibility, and popularity of the MySpace Music platform by creating a fully integrated 360 degree global music solution. MySpace Music will feature the network's first integrated e-commerce solution and evolve the user's ability to discover, share, and socialize by adding commerce and music management tools. The new offering will seamlessly transform the MySpace Music experience into a groundbreaking mix of community, commerce, and discovery.

Sweet Jesus I love the music business! I had my heart set on a 180 degree global music solution, and lookie here, they’re going whole hog!!! Oh, well. I think what our corporate friends here are trying to tell us is that they want to sell us stuff! Lots of stuff!

As nice as MySpace has been for everybody, let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s owned by News Corp., so something like this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Commentators have already chimed in complaining that the MySpace Music “plan,” whatever it is, isn’t going to be good for indy labels and bands, but that’s really yet to be seen. It’s either going to be a big deal, or yet another example of the kind of Web 2.0 madness we’ve seen all too often that’s hype, smoke and mirrors today, and a whole bunch of nuttin’ tomorrow. I’m not holding my breath.

Meantime, in lawsuits brought by the RIAA against kids and their computers, two courts recently ruled on the pivotal question of whether simply making music available for download the share file of a P2P program is infringement under the Copyright Act. One court said yes, it’s infringement, the other said well, no, it’s not. Oops. What this means is that the RIAA can continue its reign of terror—these suits thrive on uncertainty—at least until some appeals courts start weighing in on the issue.

And I’m not holding my breath on this one, either.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

4.3.08 Gary, Flo, and Herm

Gary Puckett, The Turtles, Hermans Hermits
Proctors Theater, Schenectady

Yeah, I know, I know. But I’m a sucker for these shows. Why? Partly flat out nostalgia—this was the music in my ear when I was a little kid. Another part of it is kind of like why we watch American Idol—to see who gets out with their dignity intact and who’s a train wreck. Then there’s the fact that the audience at these shows makes me feel young, a rarity of late.

My expectations weren’t real high for 2/3 of this show. 20 years ago I went to a couple nostalgia shows at SPAC and was mighty impressed with Gary Puckett, who sang circles around his laughable, melodramatic repertoire. He projected swarminess and trouble back then, maybe because he was trapped by his hits, maybe just haunted with show-biz demons. It was a different guy at Proctors Saturday, healthy, confident, looking WAY too much like Johnny Rabb, and still in great voice, although he’s developed this warbly vibrato in his lower register. Puckett’s still trapped by those goofy old hits, and the show (he was backed by an uber-loungey three piece band) had the distinct whiff of cheese throughout. The difference now is that he seems to have come to terms with it all, and good for him. One can only wonder, though, what could have been if he’d had better management, made better choices, etc. Dude’s got voice.

You know that Flo and Eddie wouldn’t disappoint, and they didn’t. Screamingly funny, direct, loose, honest, and profane, The Turtles show was a howl at the specter of aging, interspersed with their poppy hits. I last saw them 20 years ago (at the old baseball park by the airport) when the show was a howl at the specter of child-raising, and was every bit as hysterical and inspirational. The band, of course, was deadly, with long-time drummer Joe Stefko driving the band through Zappa-esque changes and color supplied by The Cars’ Greg Hawkes on keyboards. There were a couple times where the gonzo nature of the show seemed to sail over the heads of the predominantly working- class crowd, but the wildest antics were at least tolerated with a smile and a shrug. And of course “Happy Together” got everybody, at least everybody who could stand in the jam-packed house, on their feet.

For me the wild card of the night was going to be Peter Noone, whom I last saw 30 freaking years ago with his band The Tremblers at the Hullaballo (!!!) with Real Danger opening! Beat that! I was expecting...well, I dunno what I was expecting, not much, really. But the guy, who still looks about 35, was just brilliant, with a bizarre and deadly sense of comedic timing, and a Will Ferrell-like willingness to do anything for a laugh. And much of what he did was off-the-cuff improv, riffing endlessly on the word “Schenectady,” absurdly impersonating Tom Jones, Michael Jackson, and Johnny Rotten, and taking countless shots at The Turtles (he consoled a young girl in the audience by telling her that his mum had forced him to go to a Turtles concert when he as a young boy, too). Much of the crowd, myself included, were in tears for much of the show. And Noone sang all the hits great, backed by a real rock band led by hyper-kinetic guitarist Vance Brescia, whom Noone would walk over and kick in the ass from time to time for no apparent reason. Improbably and delightfully, the musical highlight of the evening was when Noone and Brescia sat down at the end of the long (3 ½ hour) show and did a quiet, small version of “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”. Amid all the chaos, it was jarringly perfect.