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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Comment of the Moment: Steal This Album

"Internet is the new radio" - Neil Young
w/ Peter Kafka & Walt Mossberg
AllThingsD Conference, Laguna Niguel, California, Jan. 31, 2012
Photos by Asa Mathat

Quite the lively discussion on the post Steal this album: What happens if no one pays for music?.

Essentially, the debate is framed between fan and musician: How should we pay for culture in the Internet era, and if we don’t pay, what happens to the producers of culture?

And after quite a bit of back and forth, our fundamental point was that the vast, vast majority of revenue from music today goes directly to the Apple/Google/Comcast/Verizon mega conglomerates -- not to musicians.

The Comment of the Moment is from knowledgenomad:
First off, thanks for posting on this issue. This is an important issue for all who care about art in all its manifestations, not just music. And these are not easy issues. I remember having discussions in college (where Lowery's CVB played our dinning hall and I became a lifelong fan) about the ethics of taping records. The technology has changed since then, but at the core the issue remains the same.

Lowery's piece bears reading in full, not just excerpted. His writing is cogent and he presents a well thought out argument (which is all the more entertaining when you consider he's responsible for such classics as "The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon").

What's missing from his piece is, indeed, the issue raised by Daylily Dallas -- namely the question of music discovery. In the past, that was often radio, and for me it still very much is. The difference is, now I can use the Internet to listen to great radio programs around the world that have turned me on to artists I would have otherwise never discovered on local stations. And these are artists I have gone on to support by going to their lives shows and/or buying albums. So I do think there is a space for that kind of "free" discovery that needs to be recognized as ultimately supportive of musicians.

My last point touches on the sore point of pricing that has been discussed here previously. I legally own all of Neil's commercial releases in one format or another, but my preference is vinyl. Yet, while I now buy almost exclusively vinyl for other artists, I don't buy Neil's LPs. Walk into any record store (I have the good fortune of living near probably a dozen with 10 miles -- LA must be vinyl mecca), and you'll experience sticker shock when you get the tab labeled "Neil Young." I'm thankful that I'll be able to get Americana on Blu-Ray so that I still get a hi-fidelity recording, but I guess I just don't get why Neil's vinyl has to be so much more expensive than other artists.

Same with concerts -- I can't afford to go to his shows anymore. Most other big name artists are also crazy expensive, but do they really need to be? My wife and saw Prince last year for $25, belying the claim that A-list artists have to charge astronomical prices. Maybe Prince lost money on those shows, but I doubt it.

Anyway, I do hope that people will take to heart Lowery's argument about the ethics of paying for music. And I hope artists and the music industry as a whole will strive to make their art accessible while still enabling them to make a fair living.

Thanks knowledgenomad!

We'll let Neil have the last word...
"I look at [the] internet as the new radio.

Radio [is] gone. Piracy is the new radio; it's how music gets around."
~~Neil Young

So if piracy is the new radio, what do musicians do?


At 6/21/2012 06:03:00 PM, Blogger La Johnson said...

Saw Dave Alvin for about $20 this year - awesome show - given up paying prices for Neil shows.

At 6/21/2012 08:16:00 PM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

Nice comments, knowledgenomad. I never looked at it like that before, the reality that the net is today's radio, which was always free for us, too. I guess the big difference is that most of us never had a way to record off the radio worth a damn, we just tried desperately to tape something like See Me, Feel Me, every now and then to set the mood for some of our grade school parties, if you, ahem, know what I mean... Anyhow, we would just go out and buy the album. Things obviously are very different now, and I don't have a clue as to what is fair for everyone involved, although it rubs me the wrong way if in fact the company's are making the lions share of the money. Let them make their money, but not if the artist's are not receiving their fair share, whatever that is. Like I say, who knows what's fair, but I hope that people who know a whole lot more than me about the factors involved, figure it all out in favor of the artists. Like in sports, the talent that makes the whole thing go has a limited shelf life in most cases, but the owners go blissfully on making money off of each succeeding generation of talent. The owners make a lot of things possible, but only based on talent they don't have.

As to the points about price, here's what I posted on the original thread- again, I don't pretend to know the answers, I'm just asking questions: "I do regret that concert prices have gone up, and I would love to know the actual economics involved. I had tickets reserved to see the last tour, but had to give them up because I just couldn't justify spending my scant dollars on a concert, although I took comfort in having seen Neil 35+ times over the years. Still, that doesn't help someone who’s never seen him before. The argument has been made here on this site by many that Neil and others are guilty of some sort of bald faced grab at exorbitant profit, which on its face I have always rejected. Do Neil and others want to make a profit? Yes, and why not? But I don't know all the factors. Just throwing things out there, is it more expensive to play only small venues- venues which may be more prestigious than others, e.g. the Fox in Detroit? Are economies of scale missing in short tours? Are bio fuels more expensive than regular fuels? Do venues insist on a bigger cut for big name artists? I am in total ignorance of all these questions, like I say I'm just throwing it out there. Also, and again I'm just asking, is it more expensive for Neil to produce vinyl due to extra costs as a result of his insistence on the best sound quality? Or does it have to do with a limited run of vinyl? Are all the production and circulation factors identical for Neil’s vinyl and other vinyl? And finally, are there other considerations that simply aren't being taken into account for all the above? Just some thoughts.” One final thought, I think Neil has addressed a lot of these things, if so it would be great to unearth some of his comments, to go along with this discussion. I certainly hope he has some compelling criteria for the high cost, because I do think it’s a shame.

A Friend Of Yours

At 6/21/2012 08:19:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

"producers of culture"? That term alone could start its own thread for sure...I'd like to think that the "professional" music industry began organically as technology developed decades ago with the invention of radio, recording devices, etc. Music had always been a joyous art form & then there came the ability to spread that music far and wide via radio and records. So much has happened since then...volumes could and have been written...

Led Zeppelin was a band that was ferocious in terms of how their management handled the distribution of their music as well as their image...

Decades later Metallica almost single-handedly took down a wildly popular new technology (Napster) that had figured out a way to provide commercially released music to the masses for free...

At the time I was younger and had just began using Napster to download tons of songs that I wasn't willing to go out and pay for in the traditional way...

I thought Lars Ulrich was being extremely greedy...but who am I to judge?...I've never had a recording contract that copywrited and legalized music that flies through the air to the ears of anyone who may happen to be in the vicinty of its playback...

Neil Young may perhaps be considered a brand because he has had an incredible career spanning the decades which entailed the development of modern technology. And he's done it in such a manner where he maintained creative control over what and when he releases something to the public via official albums. That statement is ignoring the greatness of so many of his songs...

Ticket prices?
Vinyl prices?


What is money?

A manmade concept that conveys the perception of wealth based on its acceptance by the masses as to its value...

Fuck that...

When the day comes that Neil is no longer touring, I won't be one who is left wishing I had sprung for tickets so he could pay for...fill in the blank instead...

At 6/21/2012 08:47:00 PM, Blogger no one said...

Neil Young and economics is a lot more fun to discuss than the relative subjective merit of Neil Young's art.

With regard to copying anything... It's wrong. Period. And yes, I used to tape stuff off the radio. And then I got a hi -fi video recorder and made some amazing tapes from MTV. And I once edited a two hour audio cassette for a friend from Motown 's 20th anniversary set that had all these cheesy spoken intros between the cuts. It took me about 4 hours and I charged him two cases of beer. And it was wrong. Morality is not relative.

As to pricing, the preceding comments are accurate. It is very complex and we have no idea whether Neil has a bunch of MBAs figuring out the optimal profit number or whether he has a few beers and tosses a dart and calls the ticket/vinyl price accordingly. I suspect that he's realized 90% of his core audience will buy his albums/tickets regardless of price, but the beer and darts scenario is equally plausible. Either way the man is amazingly prolific and produces exceptional live shows at an age where he could comfortably be rocking on the porch, so, this being America and all, he's free to charge whatever he pleases and you and I are free to consume, or not, as our resources allow. There is no economic safety net for impoverished lovers of rock 'n roll gods. (I might vote for a politician who advocated one.)

At 6/21/2012 11:05:00 PM, Blogger Rock Cousteau said...

Having only read the article and not the comments, the only thing we fear most is that quality musicians and quality music will slowly disappear. We can all thank Sean Parker and the proliferation of Napster for providing regular, ethical people with a platform to steal. And while downloaders will always say they didn't mean to do it, the truth is, they did. At Rock Cousteau, we have always made a conscious decision to avoid dowloading music that we haven't paid for and we are proud of having made that decision. Just like Thrasher's Wheat, we decided to create an E-Zine because we love music. Radio blows chunks, so how do people find out about good music? On the internet through tastemakers, like ourselves. However, in response to the dowloading epidemic, we have chosen to take a different approach on our site by only providing streaming music and no downloads. We did this for two reasons. 1. To assist the artists in capturing the most profit for their creative efforts and 2. To convince people that they don't need to download music anymore. supports streaming music services, such as MOG, because at the very least, the artists will get paid something. And, while it isn't necessarily a fair amount, at least it isn't theft. It is up to every person who cares about the future of music to contribute ideas and assist in the readjustment of how musicians and bands make a living. Until then, Rock Cousteau will continue to do what it does and hopes that Thrasher's Wheat will do the same. Liv, Luv & Rock.....Cousteau!

At 6/22/2012 12:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Producers of culture sounds funny to me too. Are the rolling stones pissed off because theyre not getting their royalties because people can get better live versions on flac? I taped off FM radioi stations on a reel to reel in the late 60s. I didnt want the whole album and there was always that one song that wasn't available on a 45 which sounded pretty shitty even on my stereo set up. Sometimes my album got scratched up from being played on a cheap turn table at a friends. I think people use flac because a lot of stuff is not available in a format that matches the set up for individual home use - not everyone has a sound/entertainment system. When the cd players broke a lot of young people started using computers instead of replacing it. And some people have space issues / player issues at home. Theres only so much room on shelves in those media cabinets before people just say oh forget this shit and just stick to the computer that will not play old CDs. I get a lot of my stuff from cd baby and new apps. I don't know how much Neil gets but I have most of his stuff on vinyl and tape. I have used flac to hear concerts I attended but there s a limit to how many versions of one song I can listen to just like there's a limit to how many water lilies I can see before a say that's it. I mean no one is charging me each time I look at a water lily. Its all one water lily.

At 6/22/2012 02:02:00 AM, Blogger La Johnson said...

Does this mean we could see the end of Simon Cowell? A one man money making machine living off the industry - making a fortune for doing nothing? !!!

At 6/22/2012 09:07:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

strWow. This sure does spark some great dialogue.

Jonathan brings up the whole Napster debacle. IMO, that is where the whole problem with stealing music really went over the top and started to become a real problem for artists.

There was a big deal made about Lars Ulrich and Metallica selling out their ideals, i.e. they used to promote bootlegging of their demos and concerts, but went after Napster for facilitating the theft of their music.

I think there's a big difference between ripping off someone's album and bootlegging their concerts or even distributing demo tapes.

Lars had it right, as much as it pains me to admit. Napster was being used as a facilitator of theft, and from Napster sprung LimeWire, and then the torrent services we have today, which allow us even more power to download vast troves of albums at once. You can get an artist's entire discography in one click.

The ease and simplicity of it is what separates the tapers of yesterday from the downloaders of today.

Copying of any commercially available material IS wrong.

Whether off the radio, from tapes, CDs, mp3s, etc., it was always wrong, but the difference is that now it's become the primary method of obtaining material for an enormous swath of the population, whereas before the internet it was much, much less of a ubiquitous enterprise.

The argument can be made that the tapers of yesterday were an acceptable component of the distribution of music, simply because of the fact that they had so much less at their disposal in terms of technology and ability to widely disseminate their goods. One friend making a 2nd gen. copy of a cassette tape for another couldn't bring down the music industry, and didn't really take money out of a musician's pocket in any meaningful way.

But obviously now that we are all connected by the internet, we can transmit facsimiles digitally to thousands of people at once, and download tens of thousands of songs in a day...

I've known people who rarely buy any music. Musicians even, who understand the value of music, and want people to buy theirs! From where does that disconnect arise?

And how, if so many of us have come to accept the digital theft of music as an acceptable act to such an enormous degree, can that be counteracted?

Neil is doing a pretty good job of finding ways to push back. By distributing his material for free via audio streams, videos, etc., he's giving people a way to hear the music and enjoy a multimedia experience, partially I think in hopes that this will help alleviate some of that. But it seems a little futile.

At 6/22/2012 09:07:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

I think, the answer to, "How can you pay for a new iPod, a new computer, an iPad, thousands of dollars in devices, and enrich giant corporations, and then turn around and use these devices to steal music and livelihood from musicians?" is that those devices are physical.

People still view physical products as tangible and real, but digital products are somewhat more like illusions. How can an illusion that has no material existence have the same kind of worth as a physical object?

It's much easier to dismiss a digital file, which can theoretically be replicated infinitely, as having worth.

I mean, obviously it does, it just seems that, with all types of digital media (movies, pictures, music, etc.), the concept of intellectual property and ownership doesn't seem to resonate as deeply with people as do the same concepts in connection to their physical possessions.

So what's the solution? Shutting down Napster didn't work. Creating a new industry of digital music distribution hasn't worked. They can't shut down the concept of file sharing as a whole, because that abridges peoples' freedoms. They've tried prosecuting downloaders, but that hasn't made much of a dent in things.

It seems to me that people need to be taught to behave in a more ethical manner. It's probably a matter of educating people to understand the moral implications of digital theft. I really believe that our society has bred amoral behavior into itself by promoting concepts of selfishness, materialism and laziness. The solution probably lies in quite literally breeding that out and replacing those behaviors with ideals like respect, gratitude and personal responsibility.

Or I don't know, maybe I'm just a dreamin' man.

At 6/22/2012 11:04:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This is probably getting a little off base here but I went last night to see the Iron Maiden tour opener in Charlotte, NC. The actual performance was awesome and cheesy and extreme. But I have to say that I am fed up with the whole amphitheater/shed system of live music that is pretty much designed with the sole purpose of ripping fans off and taking their money. I bought the Iron Maiden tickets from their fan club and paid approx $200 for tickets for both my wife and myself. They were awesome seats so I didn't mind paying a little more. However, we get to the venue and we have to park in BFE, go through security, get herded through the gates in 90 degree North Carolina June weather only to find that there were no beers cheaper than 12$$!!. Yes, 12$ for one crappy domestic 24oz beer. Yes, I got one because it was hot and I was thirsty. Because I had to work yesterday and had to leave later in the day than I would have liked we had to go straight to the venue when we got in town and did not have time to eat dinner before the show. We will just pick up something at the venue we said. The only options were the venue refreshment stands and we ended up paying $26 for two cheeseburgers and fries that a high school lunchroom would be ashamed to serve. Again, it was 90 degree weather in North Carolina. Water bottles were $4.50 a piece. We bought 3 of them because of how hot it was and of course you couldn't bring anything into the venue with you. So in addition to the tickets we ended up spending approx $50.00 once we got in the venue. This is all in addition to basically being treated like cattle by the venue staff and security.
Did I have to buy any of this? No! But that is not the point. Why do prices have to be so high in the venue? Why does the food have to be so crappy? Why does NO ONE seem to care about the experience of the concert customer and consumer? I paid a lot of money to see the show and we should be treated better. At the very least water should be cheaper and there should be some decent food options if it is going to be that expensive. It seems that no one in the business cares about the customer experience anymore. Guess what, it is not the late 90's anymore. There is no more mono culture and people do not go to shows like they used to. They are too expensive. Music fanatics like myself who still go see live music and give hard earned money to the music/concert industry should be treated better. It is going to take an artist of Neil's stature to stand up and say this is wrong and make some changes in the industry. I know , I know the artist supposedly has no control of what the venue does but the artist are the ones who work with the promoters and I know if artists were willing to actually fight for their fans and customers they could make changes happen. If they wanted do. It is okay to leave some money on the table sometimes.
This all goes back to piracy and "stealing" music. The recording industry ripped off consumers for years and years with CDs and then when technology created a new system of music distribution that actually catered to people's enjoyment and tastes instead of the industry predetermined format that was designed for optimal profit rather customer enjoyment the industry did everything they could to stop the technology. Again, with no thought towards making things easier or better for their customers. If CD’s were priced more appropriately they may not have stopped selling in such great numbers during the 2000’s.
Stealing music is wrong but the entire industry from the concert side to the recording side need to take a long hard look in the mirror and realize that without their customers they are nothing. Artists and musicians need to lead the way. Don’t hide behind promoters or venue owners anymore and take responsibility for your prices. We still love music and love it very passionately. I personally still love it so much that I went through all I did last night for the few hours of bliss when the band was performing. Make it better for us.

At 6/22/2012 11:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That gap btw the Neil youngs and Simon cowbells of the world is almost indistinguishable. Neil is every much a player and pirate when he's not pilfering somebody elses cache. He can put on a good front but he's there with all the other pirates when the ships roll in. His brand of of piracy - nostalgia - That bullshit about sound quality was pirate Neil pushing fools gold on his own maties. Endorsing it using a dead man? Only a pirate would rob the grave of a deadman. Oh ya, when Steve Jobs went home he listened to vinyl was not only bad taste, it was a goddam infommerciaI for his maties. I don't care how much money people make or who they sucker into making it but don't make him into something he is not. He's a goddam pirate complaining about piracy.

At 6/22/2012 12:36:00 PM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

I gotta say, Brent brings up some good points.

There is something to be said about the fact that we are, and have been, getting totally fleeced by the industry without regard for the "customer experience."

IMO, this doesn't make piracy okay, but it does make a compelling argument to artists to create a new model that caters to optimizing the fans' experience, outside the control of monopolistic corporate entities who continue to jack up prices and slash quality at every turn, and work against innovation whenever possible.

I will add on a broader level that customer service throughout most industries has become a joke over the past 15 years. I remember when things were different.

Again, all this doesn't justify stealing songs, but it does underscore the need for change.

How about the distribution / sales model that Radiohead used with In Rainbows? That seemed to work pretty well, at least for album sales.

Perhaps the artists should start playing smaller venues, and stop supporting money-sucking arenas. I saw Monster Magnet at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ earlier this year, and it cost like 20 bucks. Beers cost like 4 bucks there. It was a great show, and I didn't have to go broke to see it.

At 6/22/2012 01:13:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

When you make an album covering songs that you claim are "protesting" greed and then charge what he's charging for tickets you're being a greedy hypocritical asshole.

At 6/22/2012 07:33:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Wow - lots of good points made by all...I come back to two main points and both may be completely assinine and foolish...

1) itself is an art form that when exhibited, flies through the air and hits our ears and then our brains process the signals to create an impression which generates a reaction...often emotional. It is a beautiful thing which I attribute as a gift from God. Yes I believe in God...look around...duh. How can anyone place a value on this subjective artform? It's ridiculous. That leads to my 2nd point.

2)Money...wealth...currency...ughhh..The concept is also quite silly in my opinion if you really break it down and analyze it. Money came about naturally as goods and services were exchanged over hundreds/thousands of became a system which was helpful to mankind's development in a growing society. Here we are in the modern age and yet I marvel at how people place a higher value on say a $100 bill over a $20 bill. In reality, they are simply two pieces of paper which people placed perceived value upon because everyone else does so and thus it perpetuates the game...

What is real value? What matters?

Family if you are blessed to have one
Music (to me)

no particular order above...

The fact that Brent is venting about his Iron Maiden experience last night speaks to my point. Was it worth it? I love Iron Maiden and have never seen them live (although once that 3rd guitar player was added I pretty much tuned out)Brent - you went and spent that money because in the end, the money didn't matter to you more tham seeing the band did.

The same concept applies to Neil Yound and everything else in life to me. Yes prices are overpriced at concerts and sporting events...that's life...the price of tickets and a burger and beer speaks not to the genuine value of those speaks to human beings obsession with the perceived value of money...

At 6/22/2012 07:59:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

typing too fast - pardon the typos

At 6/22/2012 10:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is everyone so freaked out by typos?


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