Local Rhythms – Record Store Day

picture-11Music business news is giving me whiplash.

Take the RIAA lawsuits.  Last December, the industry organization announced plans to stop going after fans, focusing instead on Internet service providers.

But they’re milking all they can out of their ongoing cases.  A UNH student was initially sued for sharing 7 songs but, her attorney recently told the Union Leader, “the number keeps changing, and unfortunately, it’s going in the wrong direction.”

The growth of legal download services is an industry bright spot, right?  Fans are getting with the program.  That’s a good thing.

Here’s the industry’s idea for how best to capitalize on this success – raise prices.  That’s right, “Stairway to Heaven” used to cost a buck on iTunes – now it’s $1.29.

Head spin, neck snap – huh?

Here’s another puzzler.  Apple Corps responded to Beatles fans clamoring for MP3s of Fab Four songs by – wait for it – remastering and reissuing their entire catalog on CD.

Talk about partying like it’s 1999.

“Discussions regarding … digital distribution … will continue,” read a clueless press release.  “There is no further information available at this time.”

One glimmer of hope is Record Store Day, a worldwide celebration of indie retailers happening this Saturday.  Participating New Hampshire stores include Bull Moose, Turn It Up! and Newbury Comics.

Granted, a 28-store chain can’t exactly be called independent, but one Newbury Comics clerk typically knows more about what’s in the bins than the entire staff at Best Buy or Wal-Mart.  That’s still unique and worth preserving.

A lot of musicians agree, and are chipping in with store appearances and RSD-only releases.

Locally, Static-X takes a break from the Sno-Core tour to appear at Bull Moose in Portsmouth, while big names like Lamb of God, State Radio and Sarah Borges are among those listed for Newbury Comics (including a 4-band show in Nashua, roots rocker Michael Bernier in Salem, and an open microphone in West Lebanon) .

Special product includes Americana chanteuse Tift Merritt’s “Buckingham Solo” live collection, special 7” singles from the Stooges, Andrew Bird and Brandi Carlile, along with 12” platters from Talking Heads, Radiohead and Regina Spektor.

There’s also  “This Album Crashes Hard Drives,” an audiophile-grade vinyl indie sampler specially released for Record Store Day.

“In a rare act of collective goodwill,” says a blurb about the disc on recordstoreday.com, “[artists] have come together and made a high-quality LP at a price you can actually afford.”

If only the RIAA cared that much about fans.  What else is happening?

Thursday: Bluesberry Jam, Salt hill Newport – Arthur James holds forth in the weekly blues-tinged jam session, with amps and microphones provided.  James usually rocks it up with his band Northbound, but calls tonight’s ensemble “Unacoustic Mayhem”. This is a standard open mike affair, with a bluesier touch. It beats American Idol by a country mile.

Friday: Herman’s Hermits, Paramount Theater (Rutland) – Peter Noone is still at it, 45 years after topping the charts with the Carole King/Gerry Goffin-penned “I’m Into Something Good.”  These days, he’s as likely to cover David Bowie as dip into his catalog of smashes like “There’s a Kind of Hush,” “Silhouettes” or “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.”

Saturday: Mary Gauthier, Lebanon Opera House – A benefit for COVER that also features Anais Mitchell.  Listening to Gauthier, who’s lived as hardscrabble a life as any musician around, you know her songs come from a very real place.  Tomorrow night in Bellows Falls, she plays an intimate show at Boccelli’s on the Canal, a great little restaurant which seats less than 100 people. As of Sunday, tickets were still available.

Sunday: Gavin DeGraw, SNHU Field House – The singer-songwriter came to prominence the way a lot of musicians are doing it these days, by way of a youth-oriented television show.  “One Tree Hill” featured his “I Don’t Want to Be” as its theme song.  The Berklee grad just released his 4th studio album.  “Free” is a deliciously soulful, yet rough around the edges affair that should please fans and newcomers alike.

Monday: Todd Rundgren, Iron Horse – It appears that Todd’s in the same boat as Leonard Cohen.  He made a few bad business decisions (like selling his share of Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell,” which he produced) and now he tours a lot.  Rundgren is directly or indirectly responsible for some of the best pop to come of out the 1970s, writing “I Saw The Light” and “Hello It’s Me” and producing Grand Funk’s “We’re An American Band.”  A night with him is a tuneful journey.

Tuesday: Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, Hopkins Center – This week’s eclectic pick blends the classical dance forms of India with contemporary concepts.  It’s colorful and kinetic, combining “magic and spirituality with the sensuous flow of Odissi, the oldest of India ‘s classical dance forms,” according to the troupe’s web site.

Local Rhythms – RIAA Gives With One Hand, Takes With Other

lipstickpigMy first thought when I heard the news was, Panera Bread is sure gonna be crowded.

Since 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America sued over 35,000 people for illegal downloading of music from the Internet.  Unsurprisingly, this approach failed to make a dent on music piracy or increase legal music sales.

Now, after six years of legal intimidation aimed at college students, grandmothers and at least one dead person, the RIAA announced last Friday an end to lawsuits.

But it’s not an end to their ruthless brand of frontier justice, just a new approach to the same old – really, really old – game.

Henceforth, this hapless industry organization will let Internet service providers do their dirty work, through a policy called “graduated response.”

Here’s how it works.  RIAA learns of an illegal downloader.  How is a mystery, and since they’re a law unto themselves, probably beside the point.

They pass word to the ISP, who in turn emails the evildoer with threats to cut their service.

Miscreants ignore the charges at their peril.  According to news reports, after the third missive, a customer’s broadband connectivity is cut.

This may cause free Wi-Fi hotspots like Panera to grow in popularity.

Remember all the recent talk about lipstick and pigs?

Trading money for bandwidth may be a new tube of lipstick, but trust me – it’s the same old pig.

The ARS Technica blog asked RIAA president Cary Sherman, “is this essentially the system you used for the lawsuit campaign, only now directed at slightly different ends?”

“Yeah,” replied Sherman.

Are these guys ever going to enter the 21st century?

Consumer advocates are pushing for a flat tax solution, with everyone paying a monthly fee to download unlimited music.  The money is paid to copyright holders.

But since that approach won’t bring back the 100 percent margins of 1984, the industry keeps fighting the tide.

They see the Internet as the enemy, not a way to revitalize their business.

There’s more music today than ever before, but that doesn’t seem to count for much.  Maybe it’s because artists are smarter and less inclined to sell out their interests to people who know more about money than music.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The RIAA is fooling no one.  They may deputize new soldiers, but they’re still fighting a misguided war.

Here’s some non-RIAA entertainment for your consideration:

Friday: Last Kid Picked, Electra – Now in their 13th year, LKP plays an energetic mix of rock, soul and pop, covering the likes of everyone from the Commodores to Green Day.  For its part, Electra has been a steady supporter of live music in the area, presenting a range of shows from the hip-hop Rap the Vote gathering to country music from local faves Little Memphis.  Here’s hoping the trend continues in 2009.

Saturday: Rich Thomas, Casa del Sol – Ascutney’s recently opened Mexican eatery expands its musical menu to Friday (with Ted Davis playing) and Saturday nights. Rich fronts the popular About Gladys; tonight, he’s solo, with a funky voice that’s a hybrid of Tom Petty and Wilson Pickett.  Next week, Wise Rokobili settles into a winter-long Saturday residency.   Jason Cann continues to run the Thursday open mike night.

Sunday: Mike Gordon, Portsmouth Music Hall – While rumors swirl about a possible Phish appearance at this year’s Bonnaroo Festival, the band’s bassist Gordon is touring smaller venues in support of his recently released album, “The Green Sparrow.”  The show, which also features local heroes Bow Thayer and the Perfect Trainwreck, stops at Killington’s Pickle Barrel Monday.

Monday: New Riders of the Purple Sage, Iron Horse – Almost 40 years after they began as a vehicle for Jerry Garcia to practice steel guitar, these early progenitors of country rock are still going strong, albeit without founder John Dawson, who retired to Mexico a few years back.  Fitting for a man who wrote songs like “Panama Red” and “Henry,” the tale of a smuggler who headed south with hopes of returning “holding 20 keys of Gold” – and not the kind that open doors.

Tuesday: Ted Mortimer, Canoe Club – This hard working guitarist had a busy year, releasing a great album with his band Dr. Burma, and playing in a variety of configurations all over the area.  Tonight, it’s a quieter affair than the raucous shows Ted plays with Dr. Burma.  Elegant, stylish and evincing a wonderfully soft touch, his music selection will be drawn from standards like “Misty” and “The Way You Look Tonight” – very pleasant indeed.

Wednesday: Revampt, Imperial Lounge – If you like hard rock, you’ll enjoy this Springfield quartet.  There’s plenty happening tonight, though, like Dog Dayz at Salt Hill Newport, About Gladys playing the pub’s main location in Lebanon, First Night fun from Burlington to NoHo.  Check out yellowhousemedia.com or midrivermusic.com for a full breakdown.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Local Rhythms!

The Ownership Society?

This is the full text of an email sent to Bob Lefsetz from Larry Hoppen, former member of Orleans.  He wrote the great mid-70’s ode to marital fidelity, “Still the One”.  The song has been appropriated by many political candidates since then.  Hoppen takes issue with how the song’s been used and abused, typically without permission from the artist.  Even lawsuits won’t stop this artistic theft, he says, speaking from experience.

More importantly, he slams one party’s cavalier behavior when it comes to compensation.  In short, one party talks alot about an “ownership society” but seems unwilling to abide by the rules of the game.  I think this is blatant hypocrisy, and speaks greatly to the character issue.  Hoppen points out that the other party asks permission, and pays for use of music.

Here’s the letter, draw your own conclusions:

Bob, the recent unauthorized McCain Campaign use of Heart’s “Barracuda” is the latest in a decades-long tradition of (mostly Republican) misappropiation of popular Artists’ work.  I applaud the public response Heart had to this fresh offense. I REALLY applaud Jackson Browne for filing suit against the unauthorized use of “For Everyman” recently.

As lead singer and a royalty artist on the 1976 hit “Still The One”, I have hands-on experience with the anger, embarrassment and false image this outrageous practice causes. When George Bush and the RNC were caught using STO as W’s new re-election “Theme Song” by its co-author John Hall (now a Congressman, D-NY, 19 😉 and myself, the usual “cease and desist” legal letter went out. The RNC claimed, as McCain did with Barracuda only days ago, that  they had paid “all the required licenses” because they “respect artists’ work”.

The truth is, they only get a “Blanket License” from one of the performance rights societies, which covers mainly ‘background’ use – and then they use these songs as featured thematic material in major venues – like national campaigns that are televised and/or potentially reach hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, on a given Campaign tour.

The first time I remember this happening was Reagan using Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” ( in 1984, I believe). He was asked to stop … and there are many other examples.

In fact, McCain ALSO started using Still The One recently, and was VERY quickly sent the standard cease and desist letter. Another example of his similarity to Bush, I guess.

For the record, Sen. Ted Kennedy had PERMISSION from the author and artists to use Still The One both in 2000 and 2008. I presume Fleetwood Mac authorized Pres. Clinton to use “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”, or it wouldn’t still be a Clinton ‘signature song’!  Sure seems like only one Party ever asks.

Also for the record, only months after the RNC pledged to stop using STO with Bush’s re-election in 2004, I saw a film of a Tom Delay rally using the same recording of ours.

I bring all this to your attention because I think it’s timely and important to say:  When people who think nothing of doing this say that they are being respectful of artists’ work, when they say they are respectful of Copyright Law, when they say they are in favor of an “Ownership Society”, they are LIARS.

Let’s call the unauthorized use of massively popular hit records what it is: grand theft, at the very least.  One unanswered uestion is: WHO is accountable for this behavior? And let’s point the finger at who’s doing this most of the time: Republican candidates.

ASCAP’s Buggy Whip Protection Act

dima2.jpgI caught word of the excellent Royalty Week interview with Digital Media Association Executive Director Jonathan Potter via Radio and Internet News. RAIN reported on DiMA’s response to the CRB decision; Potter’s take is exactly the same as mine:

I think the marketing departments and the promotions departments at the record companies are at war with the finance guys and the lawyers. The lawyers want to confirm that they have the right, and they have the ability to cut anybody’s throat whom they don’t like that day—take them to court. The finance guys need money. Their business is falling off a cliff, they need current revenue. The marketing and promo guys say, “Wait a minute, we should be giving these guys the music, and letting them play it. And begging them to play it.” The record companies need to figure out the business of the future, and they’re still figuring it out. And I think that Internet radio is suffering as a result.

“Begging them to play it.” Web radio has the potential to reach more listeners, and with more focus, than ever before. Yet Scarecrow John insists there’s no promotional value.

Potter’s thoughts on another matter, the recent ASCAP suit requesting an broad expansion of the definition of a “public performance,” are also dead on. If the court grants ASCAP’s request, listening to a song on an iPod would be considered a public performance subject to royalty.

Potter sees this desperate act as an inappropriate response to a dying business model:

Creators of new technologies, those creators of new business models, should not have to pay those who relied on the old business model merely because they changed the way things operate. The manufacturers of the automobile did not have to ensure employment for the employee of the buggy whip company when the automobile put the buggy whip out of business. And I’m not being harsh, this is reality, it’s economics. If you fly an airplane to get from New York City to Boston, the owner of the toll road in between can’t say, “Hey, transportation of any form needs to pay a toll on my toll road, because you could have taken my toll road.” The answer was I didn’t, I flew.

Read the entire interview at the Royalty Week website. You’ll need to the Acrobat Reader to view it.

RIAA Blowback

shotinfoot1.jpgThe music industry’s blanket lawsuit habit may soon backfire, says ARS Technica’s Eric Bangeman in a recent post. RIAA typically requests that actions against accused file-traders be “dismissed without prejudice” – this means that lawsuit defendants have no recourse against what are often frivolous cases. Some of them have recently asked that their suits be “dismissed with prejudice” so they can collect court costs and attorney fees from RIAA.

Writes Bangeman:

The hundreds of cases filed have all proceeded along the same lines, with which most of us are all too familiar. The music industry’s exit strategy from cases it deems undesirable to pursue—due to mistaken identity, poor likelihood of winning, or other factors—has been just as consistent. The record labels file for a dismissal without prejudice and everybody goes their own ways, footing their own legal bills, and no one is officially cleared of wrong-doing. Recent events may be casting a shadow over the wisdom of the RIAA’s strategy.

Now they’re trying a new approach – dismiss without prejudice, but with an additional promise not to sue the defendant again. One of those defendants, however, isn’t willing to accept less than complete exoneration of wrongdoing, which isn’t part of the settlement package. In Warner Bros. v. Tallie Stubbs, says Bangeman:

Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange split the difference. She granted the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss without prejudice while denying their motion to dismiss the counterclaim, ruling that “there are independent bases for subject matter jurisdiction over Defendant’s declaratory judgment counterclaim.” In other words, the defendant can seek to have her name cleared of any wrongdoing, regardless of the plaintiff’s decision to dismiss.

The industry’s dual approach is fraught with problems, continues Bangeman:

In choosing this course of action, the RIAA is taking a calculated risk. Dismissing a case without prejudice while promising not to bring further legal action could be interpreted as the functional equivalent of a dismissal with prejudice. As a result, the judge may very well decide to dismiss the case with prejudice after all. She could also then dismiss Stubbs’ counterclaim, as a dismissal with prejudice would mean that she is the prevailing party and leave the labels vulnerable to an attorneys’ fees awards.

Read the whole article here.

NMPA Sues XM

Time-traveling back to 1979 in an attempt to re-fight the cassette tax legal battle, there’s another music biz lawsuit happening.  This time the National Music Publishers Assocition, or NMPA,  has sued XM Radio for making a device that’s able to record broadcasts.  Via ARS Technica comes this precious quote:

“Filing a lawsuit was our last resort, but we felt that we had no choice,” said David Israelite, NMPA president and CEO. “We want new technologies to succeed, but it can’t be at the expense of the creators of music. All that we ask is that music publishers and songwriters be fairly compensated for their efforts.”

What Israelite really means is that new technology can only succeed as long as it doesn’t change anything.  Seriously, though, these guys have been trying to skim from any and all duplication technologies since the advent of the piano roll.  It’s not like XM isn’t paying royalties – they pony up plenty.  NMPA, like RIAA, doesn’t appreciate paradigm shifts unless they don’t cost them a dime.

The notion of NMPA’s enthusiasm for the new electronic order is as laughable as George W. Bush calling for “bipartisanship.”  It means the same thing – in Bush’s case, “putting political differences aside” really means “shut up and do what I say.”  ARS Technica’s Eric Bangeman  sums it up quite well in his piece:

Despite assurances from music publishers that they “want new technologies to succeed,” the music industry has demonstrated that they are opposed to any and all devices that pose a threat to their business model. New technologies and devices are fine and dandy, as long as they allow the music industry to control how, when, and where we listen to their offerings.

In RIAA Protest, Chicago’s 9 FM Bans CD Giveaways

In a post-millennial update to the Loop’s legendary 1979 “Disco Sucks” record-smashing party, NewsWeb Radio Company’s 9 FM in Chicago has banned CD giveaways and invited any and all past winners to return their discs; they’ll get a station T-shirt for their efforts. Via FMQB:

“When I read that the RIAA and SoundExchange needed money so badly that they were going to price gouge independent Web streamers and radio stations who stream online, I knew we had to do our part,” said Matt DuBiel, Director of Programming for 9 FM. “In the face of the RIAA’s struggles, it just doesn’t seem fair for us to be giving away CDs (for free) to music fans fully capable of paying for the music themselves. We’re inviting everyone who has won a CD from 9 FM or any other radio station in Chicago this year, to return it to us and we’ll exchange it for a 9 FM t-shirt and give the CDs back to the RIAA. Radio stations need to be able to stream online affordably.”

One piece of advice to fans sending back their discs – be sure to rip them to MP3 first!