August 11, 2004

They Might Be Downloads John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants recently gave an interview to MSNBC wherein he makes some interesting observations about the future of music. One way in which TMGB is challenging the current paradigm is by securing the digital rights to their music, and selling mp3s of their latest recordings (and recordings of entire concerts!) on their website.

From the interview with Flansburgh: Popular music as its own self-contained world

  • As an aside, if you're a TMBG fan I highly recommend Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns), a documentary about the duo.
  • Y'know, I used to be a huge, completely obsessive* TMBG fan. I've just not been impressed with the stuff they've done in the last few years. I don't know if I've grown out of it, or if their quality has declined, but I find I have no interest in what they're doing today. *I had collected enough memorabilia that I sold it all on eBay last winter and scored myself an iPod with the proceeds.
  • I asked my nephew about a year ago to explain to me all about fair use and copyrights when it came to the music industry. He works in it, and while he's a wild-eyed radical when compared to me, I was taken by his explanations. I'm now a staunch believer in the fact that the public (who are buying the music) need some expectation that they can own at least a small piece of what they're buying. Be it sampling, making mixed cds for friends or posting files on a music blog, I support the fans who lay claim. Where does the prosecution/persecution begin and end? Are we allowed to play music in our homes when we have guests? Are rappers and electronic artists never again going to be legally allowed to sample? I'm a jazz fan, and I can tell you that the history of modern music is full of 'sampling' -- now the artists largely do it by cutting and pasting, but the older (like me) crowd used to riff off segments of songs in order to honour (and mock, sometimes) other players. There are only so many notes and chords to reinterpret. Will we end up seeing the time in which 'e-flat' gets copyrighted by BMG or Sony, and artists not on those labels will be forbidden to play it? My nephew explained something else to me. As a record collector, he pointed out that when I bought records, the label was allowing me to play them and if they wore out or were damaged, I had to buy another copy. What I'd purchased, then, was the object, not the music recorded on it. Making imperfect copies (cassette tapes) was possible, though the labels fought that, too. Now that cds and digital media are the norm, they've upped the ante in the war on sharing music. Apparently when I buy a cd, I now only have the rights to play it, and not share it in any way. Yes, smart kids all over are breaking the copy locks as soon as they appear, but the fact that the labels are so pernicious in their attempts to stamp out 'thievery' (and as a retired cop, I have a big problem with describing theft in this manner) invites more people to break the law. What kind of society does this build? I have little sympathy for those who only download and upload music and never buy anything. Artists need to be supported monetarily, and these true crooks are deserving of prosecution. The people I know (like my nephew, my wife and me) who download music are not like this, though. I frequent music blogs to discover new talent (who often offer their songs freely, as a form of promotion) and skim kazaa to locate rare tracks I'd probably otherwise never hear. In my opinion, the labels have brought the current state of affairs into being by acting like evil, greedy overlords. Some bands, too, have invited filesharing by deliberately releasing limited edition cds in small areas -- how is someone in Vancouver supposed to buy a live four-track ep (limited edition, 1000 copies) released in Manchester during a weekend concert? Good for TMBG (to whom I was only recently introduced by my nephew). Retaining and maintaining control over their creations should be the goal of more artists.
  • Nice to have you aboard, coppermac.
  • cabin: I feel the same way. I'm intrigued by their childrens' music, but I just feel so meh about their stuff lately. I'd rather just go back and Put My Hand Inside the Puppet Head. Viva Dial-A-Song, though! (Funny aside: Not too long ago, I called it up on a whim and someone answered. I just pray that it didn't get assigned to some poor individual who now must deal with all sorts of wackos calling up hoping to hear silly songs.) coppermac: "If you don't own the master, then the master owns you." - Public Enemy
  • well put, copper.