Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Various scumbags do the math

The record industry, like the computer industry, is built on several layers of lies and deceit and is in general so completely rotten that it make people wince. In the computer biz every salesperson lies about just about everything; release dates, bugs adressed, hardware speed, product requirements. The skilled buyer knows that when the salestwerp says it will run good on his current computer he probably has to make major upgrades. Whan the salestwerp says the cost will be a hundred dollars a seat he knows to multiply it by four, since the salestwerp is hiding the costs of additional support software and everyone has to get a hundred bucks worth of training to operate the new thing. Everyone knows it, so no-one rocks the boat by pointing these things out.
The music biz has been fleecing artists since day one: paying them too little too late, charging them for more or less fictional costs of making the record happen, and generally behaving like plantation owners of the past. Don't take my word for it - look at this insted. That is Courtney Loves article about where the cash actually goes. It isn't new, but I am convinced the contract basics are exactly the same today. I don't share her views when it comes to the Napster part, but the math is intriguing.
Another angle: Janis Ian has been around since the sixties and knew all the cool people before they stepped on a rainbow by taking all kinds of chemicals in the seventies. She has been around the block, and she if no-one else has cred with these things. Her take on the "Internet debacle" is here. It is a long read, but it is a lot better than this one so hop over and read it. NOW.
Still here? Don't think it's worth hopping over? Then download and listen to her song "Welcome to Acousticville", then buy the album. When you listen to that song you'll realize that she is in fact a genius and you will do the hop. If that song doesn't get you (remember, when you listen to it, that she actually knew Hendrix), you either know nothing of the blues or have a defective heart, and I pity you.
Anyway, what we have here are insider descriptions of what the biz does to the artists, and it ain't pretty. Maybe the porn racket is worse. Maybe.

One thing the computer and music biz have in common is the approach to creative accounting. What they are most adept at is describing their huge losses due to piracy. The arguments are more or less hilarious. ("Hilarious" may or may not be a word constructed from the name "Hilary Ros*n".)
In the software biz the approach has always been "people are stealing our product, and we lose X million/billion dollars a year/week because of this". Such as Micr*softs Office suite, costing somewhere between $500 and $800 depending on various options that are incomprehensible to the common user. It used to be that everyman needed something basic to write or count with, and since "most people" used Office it was logical to borrow it from someone who had a legit version. This way you could ask the lender for help when something went wrong. Of course, this meant that more and more people learned how to use Office and they helped influence companies to buy MS instead of other brands at their workplace. MS has always seen this as a huge problem, and counted every copy as a lost sale. That means they actually expect a single mother who uses Word ten times a year for writing personal letters and job applications to fork over $500 for the privilege? Yeah right. A solution is now at hand, thankfully.
Aut*desk makes the amazing Aut*cad system. Costs like a Buick, but in all fairness you can draw a Buick in it if you want to. In every minute detail. With the right add-ons you can use it to build one too. This is a heavy-duty tool used by heavy-duty designers, and the designers sometimes need to take the job home with them to continue working at home. Not so easy in a business environment, because the next shift may be using the computer so the hardware lock cannot be removed and taken home. Therefore engineers use hacked copies at home and legit versions at work. This costs the maker billions in revenue, based on the thought that the company would gladly pay for two licenses per engineer just in case. Seems likely? Even more interesting: this software is not for the newbie. It is HARD to use and requires skill. It's not likely that someone sits and doodles in it simply for his own amusement.

The record industry has another interesting way of dealing with numbers. It selects a year where something pretty devastating happened, like Mich*el Jacksons "Thr*ller" album. That thing sold about one copy for every three persons on the northern hemisphere, as my memory serves. Fantastic album. Should have been a top-seller year, so the biz sets its expectations based at THAT sales level. The next ten years are slumps in comparison, since no Mozart steps forward to produce a miracle. After all, an album like that happens once a decade, tops. These years are touted as "loss" years because sales are lower than expected, and that must be because of piracy. Never mind that the business made $40 billion in revenues, it wasn't 50.
This behaviour of fixedly staring at past highlights leads to the obvious question "how can you go forward if you keep looking back all the time?". You can't, and the record biz hasn't.

Apparently, the only sane man in music is Steve J*bs who actually has a court order on him that he can't be in music. His company (Apple) had a clash with the Beatles much older and bigger and more lawyerful company (Apple) over the name, and the Beatles let him keep his version provided he did not go into music. Now we have iTunes, and Steve has a legal problem.
The intriguing part is that unless I'm wrong, the remaining Beatles have a lot to say at Apple still. Sir Paul is the richest man in Britain. I think I can safely say that he does not need more cash. I wish he would merge the relevant parts of the two Apples and create a music company (as opposed to record company) that produces and sells music with a real and serious kickback to the artists. Let the performers keep the money, and finance the company by small fees from the artists and ads on the web pages.
Another thing that no-one has tried: most compressed music formats have a way to store information about the file, such as the MP3 tag. Why don't aspiring musicians simply write "if you like this, send two bucks to my paypal account" in the tags? I have NEVER seen or heard of anything like this in a tag, which means no-one has tried it. Come on people - look forward. If no-one puts up a cash register somewhere of course no-one gets paid. At least try. Same thing with authors - put a paypal line in the beginning and end of your text and see what happens. What have you got to lose?
There was an attempt back in early Napster days to put up a clearinghouse where people could send money and the clearers forwarded it anonymously to the artists. I seem to remember a check for six dollars going to Met*llica mostly as a taunt. I heard of the site but never found it myself. Maybe it was an urban legend. Can't Google put up a nice, huge adress book of paypal links direct to artists so we could send them money without involving the more hideous bastards in the recording industry?
Wouldn't this be a step forward, for once?


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