Tag Archives: online music

The Death of DRM, the Rise of Patrons

Forget being a big old mass music consumer. Become a Patron of the Arts.

The IHT’s Victoria Shannon chronicles the last few gasps of life in Digital Rights Management (DRM) for music, saying that “With the falloff in CD sales persisting and even digital revenue growth now faltering in the face of rampant music sharing by consumers, the major record labels appear to be closer than ever to releasing music on the Internet with no copying restrictions.” This has the inevitability of death about it (this morning I tried again to rip my DRM-crippled Coldplay CD of X&Y, unsuccessfully) which makes me wonder: What will follow?

Most thoughts seem to be on the free music, supported by advertising, and largely distributed as promotion for expensive live concerts:

Jacques Attali, the French economist … who forecast in his newest book that all recorded music would be free in the next several decades — consumers will instead pay for live performances, he predicted — said the business model of digital music should reflect the old radio model: free online music supported by advertising.

“A lot of people will still make money out of it,” he said during an interview at Midem.

I think this shows a lack of imagination and understanding of how music has fractured. My sense is that while Britney Spears will continue to exist in the Celebrity for Celebrity’s Sake World, music has already spread via MySpace etc into much smaller, more diverse niches. I’m not saying anything sparkingly new here, but given that most articles about the majors and DRM and online file sharing focus on the big numbers, I would have thought a much more interesting model to look at is that on places like eMusic, of which I’ve been a subscriber since 2002.

What happens for me is this: I find an artist I like by searching through what neighbors are selecting for me, like this balloon on my login page:

And then I’ll follow my nose until I find something I like. Or I’ll listen to Last.fm until I hear something I really like and then see if it’s up on eMusic. This is all pretty obvious, and I’m sure lots of people do this, and probably more, already. But what I think this leads to is a kind of artistic patronage where we consumers see it in our interests to support those musicians we love.

In my case, for example, if I really like the stuff of one artist I’ll try to contact them and tell them so: No one so far has refused to write back and hasn’t sounded appreciative to hear from a fan. Examples of this are Thom Brennan and Tim Story, whose music I find a suitable accompaniment to anything, from jogging to taking night bus rides to Chiangmai in the rain. I’m summoning up the courage to contact my long time hero, David Sylvian, who doesn’t have a direct email address.

Of course, nowadays one can view their MySpace page, or join an email newletter, and build links up there. But my point is this: My relationship with these musicians is much more along traditional lines of someone who will support their artistic output through financial support — buying their music in their hope that it will help them produce more.

Surely the Internet has taught us one very useful lesson in the past year: That it’s well-suited to help us find what we want, even if can’t define well what it is. First step was Google, which helped us find what we wanted if we knew some keywords about it. Next step: a less specific wander, a browse in the old sense, that helps us stumble upon that which we know we’ll want when we find it.

Music Formats And The Death Of Ownership

One thing I still don’t quite get is how online music will work in the long run — who will own it? What will happen to it if the company you bought the songs from goes bust? And what happens if you’re not near an Internet connection?

None of these issues seem any clearer with the announcement by the world’s largest software and music companies, who on Wednesday, according to Reuters (via Techdirt), issued an initial set of technology specifications in a bid to create a system in which users would share customized Internet links, called “content references,” instead of swapping song or film files directly.

From what I understand this would be like accessing a file on the Internet via hyperlinks — basically how you use your browser now — for which you would pay, either by subscription, or each time you listened to it, or whatever. I know it’s a knee jerk reaction but to me this all sounds dumb.

A subscription approach may work for certain products — movies, say, which folk may only want to watch once — but music is a movable feast. We want to listen to it on the road, in the gym, in the bath, at the top of a mountain, on a long air/road/boat/train ride. Music, almost by definition, is not a static product. What’s more, clearly this new approach is designed to squeeze more money out of the punter. For what? Do we actually end up owning the music, getting great sleeve notes, a product with lots of memories attached to it? Almost certainly not. It’s a dripfeed revenue model, where we pay cents, thinking we’re saving dollars, whereas all we’re doing is paying a toll for something that once upon a time we could actually buy and keep. Or am I overreacting?

Update: More DRM Woes For Online Music

 Further to my previous post about DRM, or digital rights management, here’s a story from IDG News Service about software that may allow Windows-using customers of Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes Music Store to break the DRM technology that protects files downloaded from that service.
 
That the guy who posted it — or hosted it — is Jon Lech Johansen, also known as “DVD Jon” is interesting. Johansen was arrested in Norway in 1999 after he created software to crack the copy protection on DVDs, according to IDG. He was acquitted on the grounds he was entitled to access information on a DVD that he had purchased, and was therefore entitled to use his program to break the code.
 
This is, as IDG points out, at least the second time since its release on October 16 that restrictions in iTunes for Windows have been circumvented by developers. Bill Zeller’s MyTunes application allows Windows users to download music from an iTunes shared playlist over a network.
 
IDG quotes an analyst saying this kind of thing won’t necessarily be widely used, due to the low cost of online music. But he does point out that it raises costs for the likes of Apple. So why don’t people go the route of Emusic, whose MP3 files are unencumbered by DRM, meaning you can use them anywhere, anytime, and make any number of backups? I use Emusic because the music now belongs to me, physically and absolutely.

News: The Future of Music

 An interesting, post-weekend read on the future of music, courtesy of CNET and The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In the end, they say, online music is just going to be too convenient, too cheap and too compelling to be ignored by the majors, and to be worthwhile for the pirates.
 
 
The article reckons that the glory days of the CD are over, even if what eventually replaces it  – a streaming environment where you can access your music on the go, wherever you are — is going to take some time to be sufficiently ubiquitous and conceptually appealing. I’d tend to agree, especially with the article’s closing words, from Lee Black, a senior analyst covering music and media for Jupiter Media, the Internet data firm: “I think you will always have a free (pirating) market,” Black says. “What you have to do is make the legitimate market much easier to use than the free market.”