9/24/07

Vol 2, Issue 3: A Possible Solution to Digital Thievery: Well...not quite.

Continuing on with last week’s assessment of our music market and digital piracy concerns, it’s important to note, that although still rudimentary and somewhat flawed, new technologies are currently being refined in order to battle the formidable foe of major record labels: the internet. Whether or not, they will serve to be a permanent solution to this problem is yet to be determined. (I still argue that we’d be better off creating a new medium that cannot be read by computers, but that’s an entire issue on its own.) However, if you are an aspiring artist working on material in hopes of releasing an album one day, I would suggest keeping yourself apprised of such developments as they may prove to strongly influence audio formatting policies in the future.

A few years back, upon the brink of Napster’s short-lived popularity and lifespan as a free file-sharing service, British innovators at Fortium Technologies (previously First4Internet) seized an opportunity. Unlike the major labels who believed the issue of digital piracy would find a quick resolution commencing the shutdown of Napster’s services, the technologists at Fortium prepared for what they predicted as the inevitable future: a music industry falling victim to Napster copycat programs in desperate need of an audio-content protection solution. What has come to be known in today’s industry as XCP (the extended copyright protection system) evolved from Fortium’s initial efforts which took form in the highly controversial “rootkit software” of 2005.

For those of you unfamiliar with rootkit, here’s a brief history: Sony-BMG, completely enthralled by the very thought of an attempt to kick this “illegal downloading thing” where it hurts, preemptively jumped on board releasing over 50 titles (from various artists) with this relatively untested technology included on each disc. When a customer purchased one of the rootkit enhanced discs, and placed it into their computer drive, a software component named “Media-Max 3D” would, unbeknownst to them, be automatically installed on their computer. The purpose of Media-Max 3D was to prohibit consumers from reading the disc with any other music player such as iTunes or Windows Media Player which in turn disallowed the possibility of cd ripping, and limited cd burning so that users could only create about two extra copies of a given disc for personal use.

Although, I’m fairly certain most of you would be familiar with how P2P content-sharing systems work, the importance of Media-Max 3D’s function is this: by disabling the ripping process of a cd, a user is unable to retrieve audio tracks from that disc, convert them into mp3 format, and upload them to a file-sharing server, thereby (in theory) eliminating the possibility of illegal file-sharing/downloading.

Now here’s where things got interesting. Consumers began to notice malfunctions with their Windows operating systems shortly after listening to one of these enhanced discs on their computers. It was later concluded that Media-Max 3D was responsible for installing spyware (a malicious computer virus portal) onto all desktops with which it had contact.

Although this scandal remained fairly “hush-hush” to the wider population, several lawsuits were filed against Sony-BMG for privacy invasion, all of the catalog releases (estimated over 500,000) that included this technology had to be recalled and exchanged for standard discs, not to mention Fortium Technology’s name change (which couldn’t have occurred at a more opportune moment) which resultingly, deflected a great deal of the blame off of their company.

Since this unfortunate series of events, Fortium has made alternations to their digital content-protection software re-launching it as XCP. Though Fortium has assured both consumers and labels interested in licensing this software that, “the control program provided as part of the disc management system only resides on the CDR media and does not install any programs on the PC, ” potential users and buyers remain skeptical at best.

Irrespective of Fortium’s claim to having the grandiose solution (for a whopping $10,000 per license, and that’s not including tax, or manufacturing costs, mind you), another major issue in the fight against music piracy is still going unaddressed: that is, preventing users from uploading purchased songs from legitimate online music stores onto illegal P2P free file-sharing servers. There is NO way to police this, and all it takes is a single user to purchase tracks from a legitimate online music store, and allow access to his/her music library free of charge via one of the many (and growing) population of P2P servers. Additionally, recent reports have revealed that computer “hackers” have discovered a way to steal music directly off of licensed programs such as iTunes, so it would seem to me that Fortium’s invention really only solves a small piece of this highly complex puzzle. What’s worse is that as a globally interacting planet, we cannot seem to establish some sort of agreed upon method for internet governance or regulation. I hate to say it, but the solution seems very far off indeed.

However, the internet is NOT all bad. In fact, it has served as an invaluable tool to the benefit of many artists, especially independent ones, including myself, and I can sincerely say that a great deal of my band’s accomplishments would not have been possible without its advent.

Now, I hope that this further reflection on the current music industry has not dampened your spirits too much because in fact, right now is a very exciting time period for indie artists. I welcome you to check back next week to get the scoop on why it’s a much more lucrative and rewarding business when you decide to go it alone.


About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase.

Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.For more information on Rose Cora Perry and her band's accomplishments, please visit http://www.anti-hero.ca/ or http://www.rosecoraperry.com/

9/10/07

Vol 2, Issue 2: Who's Really at Fault for Declining Sales, Heightened Piracy & Lower Standards of Music as an Artform?

When The Police have to cancel tour dates due to poor ticket sales, and Bon Jovi holds the top position on the weekly Soundscan charts for the number one selling new release with a mere 7,000 discs, it’s safe to say that the music industry is in quite a pickle. While the record companies are quick to point the finger at the escalating rate of illegal downloads as the primary cause of their dismay, there’s truly more going on here than meets the eye. If I can offer you, my fellow aspiring artists, one piece of solid advice, it’s this: go indie, or go home. Before I begin providing you with steps on how to attain a successful status as an independent musician, I feel it is essential to evaluate the current climate of today’s music industry.

With the recent closings of both the Sam the Record Man & Music World retail store chains, and the now defunct (once mighty) Castle Records, obviously credence must be given to the fact that illegal downloading is affecting retail sales in a major way. For that matter, the music industry, as we once knew it, is scrambling to invent new technologies in order to battle piracy, when truly, it would be a much wiser idea to accept the fact that things have changed, and that they will never be as they once were. Instead of challenging the movement towards digital, I’d argue they’d be better off embracing it, because one thing is for certain: the youth generation, the force driving this movement, is only getting larger, and more powerful.

However…we all knew this day would come. Not to get politic, but this situation, to me, is reminiscent of when Bush completely ignored the signs indicating the imminent threat of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, acted mystified by the event, and then once it was too late, tried to pick up the pieces acting as though everything could quickly retain normalcy by affixing a band-aid. Well, I hate to break it to Bush, and the traditionalist label owners still clutching tightly to their memories of vinyl, big hair, and sold-out concerts, but change is unavoidable, and as Darwin put it, “only the strongest, and those able to adapt to their new environment(s) will survive”.

But… how did this all get so out of hand in the first place? Why is it that music lovers are no longer willing to pay for what was once a precious commodity? Simply put, because it’s NOT worth it.

As a musician, and a music consumer, I have the unique perspective of seeing both sides of the argument. While I don’t agree with stealing (that’s what piracy is folks, whether you want to admit it to yourselves, or not), I also am sympathetic to the needs of the music consumer, and I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t bought a new album in about 10 years. Why, you ask? Because the quality, talent, and songwriting of our modern-day so-called “artists” does not even register in the minor leagues compared to what the musicians of the past were required to deliver. But…don’t be so quick to blame the artists themselves. It’s not as though the potential for genuine talent simply disappeared from our generation. The sad fact of it all is that music is no longer about music (read that line again if it didn’t make sense the first time).

Music, a once well-respected art form in which songwriters created stories about their experiences and offered inspiration, hope, and comfort to their listeners is now a commodity – a slickly pre-packaged trinket oozing with marketability and emulating every current trend in society from black eye makeup to disgustingly pretentious bad-ass attitude. The problem with this of course is that it lacks originality and genuine substance (the very things that good music is made of).

It’s All About the Money
It’s become painful to listen to modern-rock radio because you can’t tell one band from the next, the general consensus in terms of acceptable lyrical subject matter is appalling, well moreso pathetic, and everything just seems so damn predictable as though each song selected to be a single had “insert catchy hook here” and “time for a guitar solo/breakdown” slated in the sheet music before the piece was even composed. The rationale behind all of this was, of course: to make money.

Record labels believed, that if they continued to hire copy-cat artists who simply acted as puppets in their greed-driven attempts at success, that we, as consumers, would be too ignorant to notice. While it is unfortunate that many independent, and truly talented bands are suffering in the crossfire, I feel no sympathy for the record labels as truly, they are getting their just desserts. If they feel there’s nothing wrong with exploiting young na├»ve artists, and then shortly thereafter, ending their careers to make a quick buck, then there’s nothing wrong with stealing from major companies who could care less about the negative effects their messages, and efforts have had on society.

From a consumer perspective, I can appreciate the fact that shelling out the cash to buy an album doesn’t seem worthwhile when there are only three decent tracks on the entire thing. However, what consumers don’t realize is that the cycle of releasing sub-par music is being perpetuated by their very actions.

Underdeveloped Talent
Because record labels are losing so much money at such an intense rate, artists, are being forced to release new material more often, and consequently, the songwriting quality continues to diminish because musicians are no longer being granted time to develop their skills, and their art. It wasn’t uncommon five-ten years ago, for artists to wait anywhere from three to sometimes even seven years before issuing a follow-up record (which of course gave allowance for artistic development and experimentation). But, because of the industry’s threatening financial situation, record labels do not have the time, nor the patience to care about such things, and thus, will settle for what they can get.

Market Oversaturation
Further, there’s another force influencing this situation which I like to refer to as “the convenience factor”. Society, for whatever reason, (blame it on the media, generational differences, or a combination) continues each year to become more and more obsessed with the, “bigger, better, faster, now” mentality. Advertisers have noted that our attention spans are shortening, causing us to become bored and/or distracted at a quicker rate, thus propelling the need to consistently obtain new material items. Keeping this in mind, it’s no wonder that record labels expect new albums out of their artists every year, sometimes even every six months because what’s “new” doesn’t stay “new” for very long in such an oversaturated and overplayed market.

So how can artists contend with all of this when the labels, the ones with the money and manpower, are losing their stability? Well, no one said it would be easy, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

If major labels continue to plummet, no longer will our airwaves be flooded by the same ten bands that all sound like Nickleback. Musicians, again will have to pay their dues, win their own fans, independently promote their concerts, and earn every bit of their status by themselves.

Look at it like this: it’s a purification process, and a much needed one at that. Though “rockstardom” will likely never be as it once was, our current climate demands change, which I believe could be the beginnings to a major overhaul which will re-introduce art to music. Here’s hoping I’m right. I know there are more purists, like me, out there.


About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase.

Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.For more information on Rose Cora Perry and her band's accomplishments, please visit http://www.anti-hero.ca/ or http://www.rosecoraperry.com/