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Wednesday, Apr. 14, 2004 - 12:26 a.m.

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Talking Heads and Heads Talking on the Radio about Downloading

Hmm, I probably should have written this like a week ago, but since I just read this David Byrne interview at The Onion, for some reason it came to mind. Stuff about him using Power Point to make artwork, and him doing a song called Empire which he wrote years ago (apparently was performing in 1994), but hadn't put on an album before cuz he thought it was too dark and serious... and now apparently it is so fitting with what has happened with the US's war on terrorism in the world etc. He imagined what the Republicans National Anthem would be like. But he says that he worries that people take it literally, that since it is HIM doing it, it is ironic, but he has this horrid vision of some other band covering it and Monsanto calling him up to use it for a commercial for them.

Now what does this have to do with what I am going to bring up... well, he also talks in this interview about putting together a 4-cd boxed "Best of Talking Heads" set, and how when you do that you can sort of rewrite history... as he says, you can take out all the glitches, and you can also make it look like your musical artistic evolution was a straight line, rather than here there and all over the place. You can edit out everything you don't want, and rearrange the good songs into an order so they seem to follow in a stately artistic parade of stylistic evolution whereas in real life you go forward and backward, and some things you do are "ahead of their time" and sometimes you loop back to previous ideas or styles etc.

And THAT is how I got onto this week-old topic. At least a week ago, they had a phone-in on the radio about dowloading music on the internet. It is fascinating the reasons people give for WHY they should be able to download for free. And a few of them had to do with the previous paragraph about reediting a career (and admittedly a star-studded career, the Talking Heads, no one-hit wonders)

Ok, to start off with, some major record corporations wanted to get internet servers to give them the names and contact info of clients who had used the servers to download free music, so that they could prosecute them for copyright theft. This issue was not about whether people have the RIGHT to make free copies of something. It was actually about whether the servers could be forced to break client confidentiality and forced to fork over the names. A privacy issue vs a copyright issue. The record companies said that the server who had a website FOR the downloading of copyright material was actually basically helping people break the copyright laws and therefore should be forced to give up its client records.

Now the judge in the case (who I personally think is a bit naive), said he sees no difference between a download site provided by a server and a photocopier provided by a library full of copyrighted material. Ie both are an invitation to break copyright laws. Therefore he denied the petition by the record companies against the server. Some people have taken this to mean that he has said that downloading is legal and not a broach of copyright law.

Now let's look at that analogy. Is a photocopier the same as a download program ? This could be in one of those Emode IQ quizzes. I would say a b&w photocopier is to a library book, what a really bad mono cassette recorder is to a music cd. That would be a good analogy. Both make a really bad copy of the thing in question, and it is in a different packaging. I have never seen a photocopy taken from a book that could in ANY way be mistaken with the actual book. Especially the quality of photocopier found in a library. On top of it, no one can use a photocopier in a library for free. Often they are 25cents a page (singlesided)... so to copy the entirety of a $20 book of 400 pages would cost at least $100 in bad b&w copies with the binding showing on the copy page as well, and any black where the book didnt cover the whole page.

I would say that an automatic print-on-demand printer/binder is to a book, what an internet music download program is to a music cd. Ie it makes a highquality or same-quality copy of the actual same packaging. I have yet to see a library offer a free color print-on-demand hardcover binding system to its customers, to reproduce any book they happened to like on its shelves. THAT would be a similar system. And believe me that if that is what was happening then the book industry would be similarly screaming. So much for Mr. Judge's very bad analogy.

Now let's look at a few of the arguments that people used to justify downloading for free over the internet. One of the final callers to the program made the astute remark that all the callers who said it was good, were people who got something for nothing out of it. Ie it wasn't like they were arguing for better healthcare for old grannies or something good for society, but they were all directly benefiting with NO cost to themselves, monetary or other. Why WOULDN'T they be for it?? This is like asking small children if they think that they should be allowed to steal Elmo dolls out of the Toys R Us. I don't think many will say "gee, no".

The I am a poor student so I cannot afford to buy lots of cds argument. I am stunned that so many phoned in with this argument. Hot, *in*, happenin' groovy music is not a necessity of life, like healthcare, lodging, food, education, even haircuts or tampax. It is a luxury. Hell, anyone with a cheap radio (and believe me there are a lot of cheap radios on the market) can listen to round the clock free up to date music everyday. This is like saying "I should be able to steal a car cuz as a poor student I can't afford one". Duh??!! A car is at least a transportation device, not something to funk along to. When I was a poor student I bought like 5 cassettes (yes, it was the pre-cd era) a year, and asked for them for gifts for my birthday or christmas. I did have some copies on cassette tapes made by friends. See above library photocopier analogy. You are allowed to copy some material for personal private use (which the internet is not... it is a public thing, much like a store that opened up, supplied high-quality copying facilities (ie the equivalent of a recording studio), and then allowed people off the street to bring in blank cassettes and copy the bought ones for free... THAT is illegal). So yeah. "I'm a poor student and I should have unlimited access to things artists produce for no money out of my pocket."

The I should be able to get it for free even if it is illegal because they are overcharging for the real thing and that is making too big of profits and its a ripoff. Yeah. This one works. We should be able to squat in hotels for free cuz they charge too much for their rooms. We should be able to steal from the banks cuz they charge too much interest on a loan. We should be able to steal cars if we think their markup is too high and we can see that the bigwigs who own car companies have private jets and big offices. Um, why does this argument work for music but not for anything else in society?? If something is too expensive, you just don't buy it. If there is no demand, the price will come down. On the other hand, if you keep stealing half the merchandise from the store, they will just UP the price to make up for the cost of theft. Duh.

These two arguments (the poor student one and the I'm being overcharged one) have in common $20 is too much to pay for a cd of music... which I find fascinating. Yeah, the price could probably come down to $15 or so. But let's see. You get a cd of music. You get to take it home, listen to it for an hour or three, or a year or more. You can give it to a friend for a present. You can resell it when you get tired of it. You could even wait three weeks and get it second hand when someone ELSE has gotten tired of it. $20. The same people who say that they are being ripped off for $20 for like 20 minutes-40 minutes of music that a band has worked on to compose, learn to play, gotten a studio, gone in and recorded, edited it, produced it, etc etc etc, found a distributor, a store etc etc, would probably spend $20 on beer in an evening. They would spend $30 to get into an afterhours club to dance for three hours and go home. They would spend $45-150 to hear a band live for 2 hours. They would spend hundreds of dollars on a cellphone, on a iMac, on Playstation games, on a dvd player, on a widescreen tv, on a pair of running shoes that will be out of style in a year.

Funny. I don't buy all of that shit, but I can pay for cds. Do they steal all of these things? Maybe they do. But it is hard to steal a widescreen tv sitting on your ass in front of your computer at home. But it is easy to steal the equivalent of the $20 cd from the internet.

I suggest that all these "music lovers" are not such music lovers after all. They are fuckin cheap and then rationalizing. That's what they are.

Then there are the "artistic" arguments. Some people say that free downloads of songs online help them to know new artists they wouldn't know before. That that is good for the artists. Well, great. Then don't download the songs. Listen to them on RealPlayer or half a song on MP3, and see if you like it. THAT is letting you hear what the artist is doing, and then you can buy his stuff if you want it. Why should the artist give their stuff to you for free, to "get known"?? Do you give up your life's work for free so people can "try you out"?? One woman who is a singer/songwriter called in to the radio. She said that one fan came up to her after a show and said that he liked her music so much that he made at least a dozen copies of her cd to give to all his friends. She was not too impressed, since of course how the hell is she supposed to sell her cds if all her fans give her music out for free??? I mean, if you love a small artist, buy copies of their cd from them to give for presents. Or invite your friends over and play them the cd and maybe they'll be thrilled and go out and buy it themselves. I dunno. The "downloading for free gets their music around" is lovely. If you want the only artists to make money to be the ones who do commercials for Coke and Pepsi. sheesh.

Finally, the argument that brought me to this topic tonight, via the 4-disk compilation of the Talking Heads. If we don't buy albums that have only one or two good songs on them, then it will force artists to make better cds with ALL the songs good. Yeah right. If you steal for free the one or two "good" hit songs an artist, the artist will be inspired to make a fantastic hit-filled record?? Duh?? So you can steal 14 songs per album off the internet instead of 2?? I don't get it. The caller who said that, basically justified stealing one or two songs per artist off the internet cuz he was being "ripped off" by having to buy a whole cd for just a couple good songs. Now there is some merit in that. Perhaps the record industry could be totally set up differently. Perhaps artists instead of recording cds, could record files that would be sent to all the record stores. And then the record stores could print out cds to the specifications of every client that came in. They could pick whichever 14 songs they wanted on a cd, and the record store would engrave those on a custom cd, so no client would be dissatisfied with a single song, and happy to pay for his "good" cd. That could be a cool thing.

But this wonky idea that somehow downloading single songs SHOWS artists that they better make a "better" album per cd, with all excellent songs... I dunno. I suppose there is a lot of dross out there. It is usually people who are backed with money, who can afford to put out cds with songs they don't think are so good. And corporately manufactured crap and made-up groups picked by talent scouts.

But to somehow imagine that an artist isn't going to put out a record until every song is a hit?? Hello?? No one knows which songs they do will be hits. No artist, musical or visual, makes everything great. No one could afford to only sell the "bestsellers" (and ironically most things that are bestsellers are sold on reputation AFTER they have one hit, and not cuz it is all good), because most of us only have one to twenty bestsellers in us in our whole lifetimes.

It is sort of like telling your mom you are not going to eat dinner unless every meal is Christmas dinner. Um duh. If it takes Annie Lennox three years to write the songs for an album and put it out, you get the songs she thought were worth putting on an album at that time in her life. Should she wait fifteen years so she never has to edit out the "non-hit" songs, so that that she doesn't have to put a "best-of" album out... she would only have ONE album that was "best-of"?

Sounds like a great way to kill music to me. Let's see, if the Beatles had waited until they had 14 hit songs, before they released an album. They would never have come out with anything in the early 60's and become the phenomenon they did. Cyndi Lauper would never have put out "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" in the early 80's when she was young... cuz there are a few other songs on that album that really aren't my absolute faves. And it would totally get rid of things like "These Boots are Made for Walking" by Nancy Sinatra. Can you think of a single other hit song that woman had? I guess if you don't have more than one song that's a hit, you should not waste the public's money at all. Or you should let them all download it for free so they can hear your music without paying a penny.

BTW, I tend to HATE "Best-Of" and "Greatest Hits" albums. They tend to be the most popular songs, the most accessible to the lowest common denominator, the songs that we have heard so often we could barf. I love the B-sides of albums (what a meaningless term in the age of cds). I love the songs that are in-between the hits, that make the album flow, so that it becomes a concept, a narrative. An album that I listen to over an over for the initial hit I heard on the radio becomes my friend over time. The songs I didn't notice are like the quiet girl standing at the back... less obvious but just as interesting. Perhaps with deeper thoughts.

And I like hearing the output of an artist... as it comes out. You can see the evolution of the music in real time, in the artists' lives. What musical influences of the moment inspire them, what new instruments have they discovered but not quite mastered? What raw moments come out into the public eye?? I like that more than a re-written history, with all the loose strings clipped off, the dead-ends and the backtracking, and the visions of the future all put into an edited perfect package.

Quite frankly, I think right now, I will turn on my stereo and put a record (yes, vinyl) on the turntable. The Talking Heads, it is. Yum Yum.

Happy downloading everyone!

da wench

ps, for your information and edification, here is what the Swiss think.

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previous meanderings - future past

Goodbye Michael. May your next life be kinder to you. - Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009
Taking Care of Your Cows - Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009
Saint Joseph robs the cradle and eats spaghetti - Sunday, Jun. 14, 2009
sticky notes and broken irises - Friday, Jun. 12, 2009
The FOODCOMMANDER - Monday, Jun. 08, 2009

 

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