Wednesday, November 30, 2011


This article originally appeared in the 12.1.11 issue of Metroland.

A few months ago we talked about how an arm of the Department of Homeland Security was getting judges to sign orders for the seizure of internet domains that appeared to be trading in counterfeit goods. The legal basis for the seizures was shaky (if it wasn’t, why would we be talking about these hideous proposed SOPA/ProtectIP laws?), and their effectiveness was questionable (only the domain names were seized, so whoever was behind them could simply register a new name and be back in business in minutes), but hey, it makes for good headlines.

This week Homeland Security (remember, trademark infringers are terrorists) was at it again, seizing a couple hundred domains, most of which appeared to be counterfeiting clothing and the like. A couple of IP news sites are reporting a strange twist—if you go to the seized sites, you find that the Feds have placed an “anti-piracy” video that was produced by NBC / Universal about the evils of the "unauthorized" downloads of movies. It’s a typically one-sided, oversimplified, stupid little street drama that equates downloading movies with people losing their jobs (“What’s more important, that movie or this human being?”).

Which raises a couple of questions. First, why is the government promoting the bullshit propaganda of the film industry? Second, why isn’t the government disclosing that it’s promoting the propaganda of the film industry (the film ends with no credits, only with the badges of DHS and the FBI)? We’ve used the F word about this sort of thing here before. No, the other F word. Third, why are they showing a film about the evils of movie downloading on the seized domains of some goombahs selling stuff like counterfeit golf equipment? And finally, as pointed out on the IP news site PaidContent, not only is the legal basis for these seizures extremely questionable, but federal law dictates that any seized property must be destroyed or sold. The law doesn’t say anything about using seized property to launch a deceptive PR campaign on behalf of Big Media.

Moving on. There’s been more of this anti-Spotify thing spinning around out there—a bunch of indy labels have pulled their stuff off the music streaming site claiming that the royalty rates are too low, are not fair, and are hurting sales. All of them cite some statistics about how that it takes several gazillion “listens” on Spotify to get a royalty payment equal to one sale of a download. Dudes, get a grip. As we’ve discussed before, these numbers are going to go up. Spotify isn’t paying on a per-stream basis, so stop thinking about it that way. 70% of the company’s revenue is paid out to artists, songwriters, record companies, and publishers on a pro rata basis. The more money Spotify gets, the more money everybody gets. When our six-month free trials start getting restricted or end, lots of us will happily pony up for the $10 a month subscription, because for lots of us, that’s a bargain. Spotify will get more money, and royalties will jump. Don’t believe me? Well then consider this: in Sweden, where Spotify comes from and where the service has been available since 2008, music industry revenues went up over 10% in 2009, largely because of Spotify. And as far as the indies’ claim that Spotify is hurting sales? Are you kidding me? What, are you reading the RIAA’s playbook of nonsense? What would you prefer, 1 sale and 100 illegal downloads, or 1 sale and 100 Spotify listens? Sales are over. Fini. Gone the way of the buffalo.

What will it take to get Spotify (or a competing streaming service) up to the level where the royalties are at a proper, “fair”, level? Heavy promotion would help, and a couple of bundling packages with cable or cellular companies would help, too (Spotify’s success in Sweden is attributed, in part, to a bundling deal with a cable and phone company. It will happen. It can't not.

Finally, there have been a couple more “sky-is-falling” articles linked to a studies showing that artists selling their music through digital aggregators like CD Baby and Tunecore make, on average, just about bupkus. Oh, the humanity! The Long Tail’s a lie! Won’t somebody do something?

For the love of god please shut up. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s exactly what you’d expect with a marketplace that has no barriers to entry, when anybody with a computer and a song in their heart can record a track and get it out for sale through companies like CDBaby and TuneCore or through a widget on your Facebook page. Many, maybe even most, of the musicians who have put stuff up for sale through these services are much more hobbyists than they are working musicians. Many, I suspect, are thrilled and amazed to see any sales. For those who are working musicians, or if they’re like me and have band that had some success in the past, these services drive sales, pay fairly and efficiently, and provide significant revenue where there otherwise would be none.

The sky, my children, is not falling. Au contraire.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


live photo totally stolen from Kirsten Ferguson


Valentines Music Hall and Beer Joint

November 21, 2011

Japanese punk princesses Shonen Knife’s 2011 world tour conluded with their debut Albany gig at Valentines. Good freakin’ get Mr. Glassman! Looking like 1960’s stewardesses in coordinated Modrian-inspired A-line dresses, the girls raised a fuss and a holler through an hour and a quarter of unbridled rock joy. The main show was a rapid-fire set of original songs spanning the band’s 30-year 20-album career, mostly simple three-chorders with equally simple topics (“Let’s Rock Society”, “I Am A Cat”). There was constant motion, cool rock moves galore, lots of heavy metal hair tossing and throwing of the horns. And utterly charming broken English stage patter. And tons of smiling. If a member wasn’t singing on mic, she was smiling and singing along off mic. If this is Shonen Knife’s schtick, I’ll take it over other bands’ grim and dour schtick (um, like the Feelies?) every day of the week. It was impossible not to smile back.

What was apparent from the git-go was that Shonen Knife is, on top of everything else, a very, very, very good band. New drummer Emi Morimito was a monster, and she and effervescent bassist Ritsuko Tenada are one of the more formidable rhythm sections you’ll ever see. And pixie matriarch and sole original member guitarist Naoko Yamano lords over the proceedings with grace, dignity, and loudness. Like the point needed to be proven, the set ended with tune that bounced between jarring precision speed metal and Sabbath-like sludge. We’re talking jaw-dropping.

The band left the stage after an hour and disappeared into the dressing room. After a few minutes, strains of Ennio Morricone’s “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” began blasting out of the PA. This was the Ramone’s traditional entrance music. The girls stormed the stage wearing torn jeans and black leather jackets over Shonen Knife t-shirts. 1-2-3-4! They played 8 Ramones tunes off their new tribute album “Osaka Ramones”. A grown woman from the somewhat geriatric crowd tried a stage dive. It worked. The room was totally unglued.

Many shows these days leave me vaguely empty, either some old coot meaninglessly running down old triumphs or some young lost souls jockeying for position by copping stuff that was done better 30 years ago. This show left me shockingly blissful and goddamned glad to be alive.

Local vets The Last Conspirators opened the show in grand style, pumping out rock-solid songs over the humungous beat of Al Kash, the nuanced psychedelic slinkiness of my new favorite guitarist Terry Plunkett, and, of course, the boundless voltage of the irrepressible Tim Livingston.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


This article originally appeared in the 11.17.11 issue of Metroland

Back in the Spring I wrote about some extremely dangerous legislation that had been introduced in Congress. Well it’s still there and it’s crunch time. The legislation is called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the House and PROTECTIP (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) in the Senate.

The bills give government and everybody else broad powers to create blacklists on the internet, to disable sites suspected of “engaging”, “enabling” or “facilitating” infringement, to force companies like Mastercard and Visa to stop servicing suspected sites, and to require your internet company to monitor your internet usage, to spy on you, and to throw you off the internet if it thinks you've been a bad boy or girl.

It’s insidious and dangerous. It will change, some say break, the internet as we know it, by turning the internet into a limited portal where you can’t do much more than buy what they want you to buy, and only from them, and to read only what they want you to read, and for a price. It’ll be like the internet in China, but worse.

I’m not exaggerating. Listen, anything that the goons from the RIAA and MPAA and the utterly fascist scumbags from the US Chamber of Commerce are going to the mat for should raise a flag. Remarkably, the Chamber of Commerce posted on its site that the law couldn’t possibly create a blacklist because the word “blacklist” doesn’t appear anywhere in the text of the bill. So there. Yes, they think we’re that stupid.

And maybe we are. The bills are backed by corporate and bi-partisan political might, justified by cooked and even made-up statistics. The bills appear to have the support of the Obama administration, given statements by administration officials and the clueless Joe Biden. As I write this on Wednesday morning, a House hearing is about to start, where Congressmen will hear from five witnesses speaking in favor of SOPA, and only one speaking against. That’s how House Republicans do things, you know, when they’re not waging war against women.

Supporters say that SOPA and PROTECTIP are patriotic bills designed to protect American jobs. Aren’t you sick of these clowns playing the jobs card? Censorship is good for jobs, hydrofracking is good for jobs, a police state is good for jobs, wars are good for jobs. Jobs uber alles. Enough!

And, remarkably or not, supporters are saying that despite the bills’ broad language, once enacted the law will only be used against real bad guys. Yeah right. These laws place huge power in corporate hands to police the internet in unprecedented ways. And to the Big Media companies, real “bad guys” include Google, YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Flikr, etc etc etc. And Big Media will abuse the law, exploit its vagueness (you tell me what “engaging, enabling, or facilitating infringement" means! Go ahead! Try!), and blanket-bomb and destroy what has become the social norm and the cherished way of the world, the free internet.

As for the government, their use of the laws will be measured and rational? Really? You know, the old don’t worry about what the law actually says, you can trust us to do the right thing, because we’re the government?

Are you paying attention? Do you remember the exact same crap being said by government officials when the Patriot Act was passed? We need this law to protect us from foreign terrorists? Don’t worry, your civil liberties will be OK? And how did that work out? With the phone companies giving the Department of Homeland Security unlimited access to listen to your phone calls. With the Department of Homeland Security heading up the prosecution of domestic garden variety copyright infringers. THIS WEEK, WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY COORDINATING THE SYSTEMATIC POLICE ATTACKS ON OCCUPY SITES BECAUSE SPEAKING OUT ON GOVERNMENT ENABLED GREED, THE DESTRUCTION OF THE MIDDLE CLASS, AND UNPRECEDENTED INCOME DISPARITY WHILE CAMPING IN A PARK IS A THREAT TO OUR NATIONAL SECURITY.

Sorry, didn’t mean to yell. Well, OK, I did mean to yell. This is important.

The time to act is now, citizens. I’d guess the House is hopeless, since it’s populated by Republican lemmings who all vote the way the Koch Brothers tell them to vote, and who are way too stupid or cynical or bought off to care that an open internet is a fundamentally conservative concept, and one that is critical for a functioning democracy. But contact your Representative anyway. Who knows, maybe someone will grow a conscience. And hammer the Senate. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who sometimes seems to be the only person in government who understands this stuff, is threatening to filibuster the bill. Tell Kristin and Chuck and get behind him.

There’s several places on the web where you can fill in your name, push a button, and let your representatives know where you stand on this. Go get ‘em.