Sunday, May 14, 2006

Modern music and me

As my life draws ever closer to middle age there are a relatively modest number of things that make me act with childish glee. Buying new CD’s is one of them; I love popular music and it shows I have a room stacked with the stuff. So with much anticipation and more than a hint of nostalgia I got home this afternoon with my faithless greatest hits cd ready to re-live some miss spent youth of the late eighties and early nineties; the glow sticks, the gloves, the luminous jackets, the whistles, yeah yeah yeah I was there right from the days when a rave was a couple of hippies turning up in a field with a PA rigged on the back of a flatbed wagon and a couple of coloured torches. Yes, it was really like that and I did manage to dance for eight and a half hours straight without any intoxicants in my bloodstream (though I couldn’t speak for the guys with the bug eyes n stuff). I settle down slip the CD into my PC; which is rigged to my HIFI ready for that blast from the past. But wait a minute, this can’t be true oh no oh f**k the damn thing won’t play. A second glance at the box reveals two clues as to why: Clue one; the box has been opened and re-sealed, clue two there is a Sony BMG logo on the back. I might add there is no copy protection info on it though. Educated guesswork leads to the conclusion that this is a return because of another piece of bungled copy protection by Sony. Now I’m really F****d off but here’s the funny bit. I can’t play it directly but when I use a very familiar PC tool (EAC) I can rip the lot to MP3 and the whole thing can be played clear as a bell. Back to the glow sticks then ? Hell yeah but with a note to self to have my own rant on this matter before I die. So here it is.

I know because I was there;

When; to get an A&R man to turn up at a gig you had to make sure you had a bag of Charlie at the ready, preferably two.

When a couple of fools called radio DJ’s at the time went to play Frisbee with the new CD format of the time on in a park to show us how much better than LP the new music format was gonna be.

When they told us how the new format gave us music not like for a few years play like albums, not for a lifetime either, these baby’s were supposed to go on forever (not true). Aaaaand they sound sooo much better (only on cheap gear as we found out later). Yeah the music is exactly the same as on LP (errrrm it can’t be CD’s are digital - LP’s are analogue).

CD’s did sound good and they were more forgiving than LP’s they also cost almost twice as much as LP’s which meant I stopped buying music for almost 10 years. I just plain couldn’t afford the gear or the medium. LP’s quickly disappeared and those that remained cost the same as CD. The record industry at a stroke almost doubled their revenues, as did the retailers. What was better was a legion of mugs went and re-bought their existing collections on CD. Yep people bought what they already had at a higher price (how dumb am I !).

At the same time two other things happened; the indie labels started to struggle ‘cos they couldn’t compete with the new money or the new format and bankers etc. saw the music business as a means of making money rather than losing it in a dodgy fashion.

Record companies got bought out by businesses with proper accountants; at the same time the lists of artists signed got culled. For a while all music really did sound the same. Coincidentally Sony in this period made a mint out of selling the then ubiquitous walkman and later the discman. The strange thing was that your average walkman contained a tape that was probably copied from a mate somewhere somehow. The music industry didn’t die despite dire warnings that home taping was killing music, indeed it boomed. Sony wasn’t too fussy about what got played or where it came from in those days.

I lived in the UK at that time and got ripped off royally because of the record industry cartel at the time which meant that your average CD or LP cost almost twice as much as it did in the US hmmmmmm. Still does I believe.

Needless to say when a rep from the majors comes on RadioNZ today and talks about how ripping and file sharing is killing small acts and the guy from the indies tactfully points out that his business has never been better I have to smile. When Sony who made so much money off the walkman scores another own goal over copy protection I laugh. When DRM and digital copyright law come up I smile some more. I wonder how the Sony rep explains the whingeing in the context of having to pay out a $10million settlement for a payola charge in the US.

I sit here confident of two things:

No amount of DRM will stop me from copying and sampling music for free (thanks to other determined and like minded souls). This will not trouble my conscience in the knowledge that new artists make more out of merchandise and direct sales than on their early recordings with a major. Established artists tend to worry less (except for the f***wits in Metallica). This and my first MP3 player really did get me back into BUYING music. Which brings me to my second certainty.

I will in all probability buy a legit copy of just about everything I have ripped or borrowed over the years. And if I can I will replace all my LP’s (well perhaps not the Mel and Kim stuff) but this is difficult because not all releases get ported to CD because they don’t make enough money. At the moment I have 2000 LP’s and about 600 CD’s. This amounts to nearly 8,000 tracks some of which are already covered by an LP copy and a CD copy.

Dear Sony - and other greedy people who now own record companies. If you can’t make enough money out of music – pack up and p**s off - you weren’t welcome in the first place. I’m not interested in your shareholders; I am interested in Artists and real music. If you intend to hang around, get used to the idea that not everyone is prepared to pay twice or indeed three times for something they thought they bought the first time and thought they would only need once. If you want to make more money then add more value; if not then accept the rule that unchanging commodities go down in price not up and no amount of whingeing, bribery or dodgy legislation will get round this. In fact carry on as you are and you will end up with less than you started with. Which is, in humble my opinion what you deserve.

BTW – All my music is held in MP3 on my hard drive… la la la la !

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