Thursday, June 30, 2011


This article originally appeared in the 6.30.11 issue of Metroland.

I’m in Montreal at the jazz festival (more on that next week), but I’ll put down my breakfast beer just long enough to inform you about the latest doings in the zany world of information and music.

You might have recently heard something about Apple and The Cloud. There are two parts to this and I’m not sure what the fuss is about, but here it is.

First, now when you buy a song from ITunes, Apple will deliver that song to all of your devices, your computer(s), your phone(s), your iPads(s), whatever is connected to the Internet. I guess this is significant. In order for this to happen, the record companies and publishers (who think they control the rights to the music tracks) must have all signed off on the idea that iTunes can send to you as many as ten ”copies” of a song for the price of one. It reflects the reality that people will bounce tracks around their devices anyway, but in the ostrich-vision world of Big Media, reality rare rides in the front seat.

The thing is, from surveying a sample of one (me), I’m not sure everyone wants everything they buy to get automatically loaded into everything they own. I download songs to my computer, and then decide what I want to go on my phone. I curate what’s on my phone and for good reason: If I tried to load everything in my library (56 days and counting) to my phone, I fear time would start to go backwards and the devil child will awaken and rain doom on us all. So, big deal on this.

Second, and this is where it gets a little more interesting: this Fall, Apple unveils its “iCloud MusicMatch” service. It’s a cloud-based music locker, like those also offered by Amazon, Best Buy, and a few others. You can upload your music library to Apple’s servers and access them anywhere you have broadband or wifi. The twist is that for $25, Apple will replace your uploaded tracks with official iTunes tracks. Reportedly, it won’t matter where you got your tracks, whether you ripped them from a CD, copped them from Limewire or Rapidshare or BitTorrent or your friend’s hard drive, Apple will replace up to 20,000 tracks with high-quality 256 bps MP3s. Also, the process is supposed to be lightning-fast—word has it that the other music locker offerings are sluggish (I haven’t used any of them, and probably never will), and you can spend days uploading your stuff. Apple says their system can handle your library in hours, not days, and especially, I imagine, if you have an Apple rig at home.

So? What’s it all mean, kemosabe? Well, for this to happen, Apple had to get more sign-offs from the big record companies and publishers. The record companies will be getting something like $13 out of the $25 fee, and no word what the publishers get. One sycophantic industry dope wrote about what a victory this was for the labels, getting 13 whole dollars from each MusicMatch customer! What she didn’t mention was that for $13, a customer will be able to convert thousands of “pirated” tracks to legitimate iTunes tracks, which the labels used to think were worth 99 cents each. D’oh!
And it should be mentioned that independent labels appear to be getting zilch. Nice.

A few paranoid critics have declared this a trap to catch “pirates”. Arrr-Matey! As you may or may not know, all MP3s have unique embedded tags in them, some that come from online stores, some that occur during the ripping process, and so on. The argument goes that it is theoretically possible to determine which of the MP3s in your collection were “legitimately purchased” or ripped by you, and which were “illegitimately” given to you by a friend or shared through Limewire or some other online source. So, it’s theoretically possible that you could upload your library to Apple, pay your $25, and get a big fat nastygram from an RIAA lawyer demanding thousands of dollars for all your “illegal” tracks.

Ummm. That’s pretty stupid. But given the RIAA’s lengthy dalliance with stupidity, who knows?

My problem is that a pretty good proportion of my tracks probably aren’t in iTunes 18 million track database, so no conversion for me! And then there’s all the issues about The Cloud I wrote about here a couple of weeks ago. But, I dunno, for $25 to have some of my old 128 and 192 bps tracks tricked out to 256? Might be worth a few hours of my time.

But the biggest problem, as pointed out by lots of folks (most notably the New York Times’ Jon Pareles last weekend), is that this still isn’t the cloud-based “celestial jukebox” everybody’s waiting for. It’s just glorified storage. It’s still ownership-based.

Maybe the future comes in the coming weeks when Facebook announces its long awaited music feature, which as rumor has it is going to include Spotify, the true cloud-based music streaming service that’s taken Europe by storm. Watch this space.


At 9:20 AM, Anonymous Doug H said...

Paul, help me out here. Let's say I am a member of a well known but little selling indie band "Go the F*ck to Shows". While I've only sold 1,000 copies of my debut record all the kids love my song "Samuel Jackson Reads To Me" and it has been widely pirated across the internet by appx. 100,000 listeners.

Now, each of these 100,000 folks sign up for Music Match at $25 a pop generating $2.5 million in potential redistributable cash. Apple keeps $1.2 million and some other entity called "a record label" gets $1.3 million.

Am I, as the artist who created the music, every likely to see any money?

Does that question get a different answer based on the record label I signed with?

In other words (and I bet I can guess the answer) am I screwed?

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Paul said...

The labels got a $150 million advance against the $13 per customer charge. If you're not on a major, it looks like you're SOL. If you are on a major, well, I guess it depends what the majors do with the money. Is there any reason to think that money will actually make its way to major label artists?

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Doug H said...



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