Local Rhythms – SpiralFrog is a Leap Forward

free-music.jpgAppears in the August 31, 2006 Claremont Eagle Times:

Partially adapted from an earlier post
Watching the record industry come to grips with the new realities of the music business is a bit like watching Sam I Am’s evil twin at work. You remember the Dr. Seuss character? Sam tried to force an unwanted breakfast on a poor guy who was probably studying for his cholesterol test.

“Would you eat them with a fox, would you eat them in a box?” Well, now it’s music instead of green eggs and ham. “Would you buy it in a stream, a cell phone beam with an encryption scheme?”

But the cute little music business muffin-head has now turned mean and ugly: “How about if I sue your spouse, lien your house and smash your mouse?”

I do not like this, Sam I Am….

SpiralFrog, announced Tuesday by Universal Music Group, is the industry’s first credible attempt to confront the new economic order. In an unprecedented move, the service plans to make UMG’s entire catalog available for free online – with restrictions.

Tracks can’t be burned to a CD, but can be copied to a Microsoft-sanctioned portable music player, which also has to be re-docked to the computer periodically. Plus, you’ll have to look at ads before you download. It’s Windows-only, which makes perfect sense. They’re trying to slow down the Apple digital music juggernaut, which means no iPods, no iBooks, no iNothing.

Some, most notably Bob Lefsetz, consider SpiralFrog another big dud by the usual suspects. Much as I love Lefsetz, I think he misses an important point. Magazines, papers, and now television have all latched onto web-based advertising as to pay for making free content available online. Now, here comes the music business – can Hollywood be far behind?

For Lefsetz, it’s the restrictions that kill the deal. People want to own music, the argument goes, and this scheme makes them rent it. Well, something that’s free can’t be rented. In this case, it also can’t be owned. But it also won’t get you arrested.

Besides, stealing music online is a huge pain. For every quick track pulled from LimeWire, there are five more stuck waiting for available hosts, or completely dead on the vine. Spiral Frog, at the very least, will behave more like iTunes and less like Kazaa.

Claremont’s last record store closed months ago, but there’s more music to be had, and at better prices, than ever before. That’s a reason why a column called “Local Rhythms” is so often about the world beyond the Twin State Valley. Here are my local music picks:

Thursday: Matt McCabe, Canoe Club – A quiet storm in downtown Hanover. McCabe’s piano playing has been known to liven up records, as a sideman to Roomful of Blues and Duke Robillard. At Canoe, he settles into a jazzy space, with sophisticated music that inspires dinner conversation, not booty-shaking.

Friday: Pete Merrigan, Sophie & Zeke’s – Sadly, the season’s nearing a close for my favorite ex-pat, with just a few appearances before an Irish vacation and a return to his Florida home. Fortunately, two of them are in downtown Claremont, consecutive Fridays at a venue that’s building a following for music as well as food.

Saturday: Stonewall, Royal Flush Diner – Vermont’s grittiest power trio takes over Springfield’s new hot spot tonight. Stonewall’s been laying down tracks for an album of late, at former Ingrid’s Ruse drummer Shamus Martin’s Exsubel Records studio. Check out their MySpace site for a taste of things to come, or see them live. They always bring out my inner headbanger.

Sunday: Josh Maiocco, Front Porch Series – Speaking of the now-defunct Ruse, their excellent lead guitarist showcases his solo work at this, the final installment of the Bellows Falls Front Porch Series. It’s a movable “Picnic Potluck” feast held today at the Village Guest Suite, 6 Hapgood Street. Josh has a nice bluesy singing voice, and great taste in covers to go with his own stuff.

Monday: Bread & Roses Folk Music Festival – In 1912, Lawrence, Massachusetts became an international focus for the debate on child labor, workplace safety and subsistence wages. On Labor Day, that legacy is celebrated in music. It’s as much about learning as listening, with Phoebe Legere and Anne Feeney carrying on the Woody Guthrie tradition, and Corey “The Singing Lecturer” Dolgon (a full-time Worcester State College professor) playing historical songs. The roots rocking Mammals headline.

Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt Hill – Blue Monday is dark this week, as the Tuohy brothers get into the Labor Day spirit. But Tuesdays will once again burst forth with sounds of the old country, with Dave Loney and whatever friends happen to drop by. They always play in a circle at the center of the room, like a heartbeat. It’s lovely, and even better with a pint.

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