Sunday, December 21, 2008

Illegal music download sites

Earlier today I sent the following post to Songbirds, a Yahoo list of which I've been a member almost since the era of the steam-driven pc.

"There have been several Songbirds posts recently that direct readers to Blogspot music download sites. (There are such music sites on other blog services as well.)

These free, hydra-headed download sites are being closed down -- and rightly so-- by Blogspot at a fairly vertiginous rate. But, in my opinion, still not fast enough! One that was recently shut down had a fair number of recordings that myself, Pinky Winters, Denise Donatelli, Carol Sloane and others (known by most members of this list) SHOULD be receiving royalties from, or as my grandmother woulda said, they're "taking the bread from our mouths." (And yes, the record label that I'm associated with DOES pay royalties. Will wonders never cease?)

The sites usually contain a proviso in their mission statements to the effect that the recordings in question are out-of-print, but that is just so much legal shucking and jiving. (Oh, you mean it ISN'T out-of-print? I FORGOT!) This is usually followed by a phrase, something to the effect that if the rightful owner of the copyright contacts the site and confirms that the recording in question is in print, then it will be removed from the site. But that is usually a flatout lie. Recently I tried unsuccessfully to get several BRAND NEW releases that I am associated with removed from one of these music download blogs -- but to no avail. Jeez! I have enough on my plate already without having to deal with such nonsense.

Frankly, I don't expect that most who read this post will have much sympathy with my dilemma. I suppose it's just too much of a temptation to save $15.00 or whatever with a couple of keystrokes of one's pc... and too much of a temptation to the latent anarchist that lurks within most of us. But for every day that these sites are allowed to continue to proliferate, that's just one more nail driven into the coffin of the music we all love, and hope would prosper and prevail. Plus -- small matter -- they're illegal and immoral!

In addition, these sites are as responsible as anything or anybody for the death of that once venerable institution... the record store. A cultural calamity of incalculable proportions.

I have a blog, and occasionally upload a truly long out-of-print or public domain track, but NOTHING LIKE THIS. I would humbly suggest to OFL that he go so far as to -- if you will -- CENSOR these posts. They really are a classic case of the questionable first amendment right to shout "fire" in a crowded theater.

If Songbirds readers want to seek this stuff out, let them undertake the net search themselves."

6 comments:

Tom B said...

Bill,

I read this post with extra interest. I have been scouring mp3 blog sites for years. I do occasionally download things from them. But what mostly draws me to them is music discovery.

I have found out about all kinds of music from these various blogs that I would have never known about otherwise. While some of them non-discriminately throw up anything for download, many are run by people with a passionate interest in the music, and they blog about the music they like, complete with their personal commentaries.

Your premise is that by having the download links available, you and the people you listed are losing legitimate sales. That certainly may be the case in some instances. For the well-known, iconic acts – Rolling Stones, et al., download links probably replace legitimate sales in most cases.

But Carol Sloane? I don’t think so. I’m a huge Carol Sloane fan. I have bought every album I could find of hers. I would submit that fans of Carol Sloane are more than willing to pay the money to purchase her albums, if given the opportunity.

Ms. Sloane has a vast and rich recorded legacy. Good luck purchasing it, however. As I write this, there are only three Carol Sloane albums available for download purchase on Amazon. Three! If I want to purchase her albums on physical media, there are 36 entries listed, but only about six that are in print and available directly from Amazon. The rest are mostly being offered as used albums with the tag “This item has been discontinued by the manufacturer.” Ms. Sloane makes just as much money from the used CD purchased on Amazon (of which Amazon takes a 20% cut) as she does from the free download on the music blog.

So who is promoting the music of Carol Sloane and Pinky Winters and Denise Donatelli? Not the record labels for which they recorded. Not the broadcast media. Not what is left of the music critique side of legacy print media. And not even you, Bill.

With all due respect – and I really do mean that – you had a golden opportunity with this blog post to mention the specific albums at issue, and direct us to where we could learn more about them and even purchase them. You said, “Recently I tried unsuccessfully to get several BRAND NEW releases that I am associated with removed from one of these music download blogs…” but did not state what these releases are. I would LOVE to know the projects with which you are involved, as more than likely they would be the kind of music I like.

The huge untapped opportunity of the internet is music discovery, and the ability for legacy, niche artists to find a wider audience for their craft, and for fans to interact with one another. Unfortunately, we have allowed the major corporate copyright holders to set the agenda and the mindset as it pertains to music downloads. We’ve adopted their mantra that download equals stealing.

How can someone “steal the bread” from the mouth of the artist when most of that artist’s works are not available for legitimate sale? Where’s the outrage towards the major copyright holders for keeping most of the music we like rotting away in vaults? These corporate giants have plenty of resources to sue grandmothers and teenagers for downloading a Top 40 track or two. Why don’t they apply a fraction of those resources to the remastering-for-download of the Carol Sloane discography? And maybe even some resources towards the promotion of Carol Sloane?

How can someone “steal the bread” from the mouth of the artist when no one knows about that artist or their releases? Is it not better that a passionate blogger raises our awareness of Carol Sloane by digitizing and posting one of her old LPs, complete with commentary of the beauty of the album? That is free promotion. That is discovery. The potential of a post like that is that Ms. Sloane finds new and renewed fans who then will buy what they can. Again, if not for those bloggers, who else is promoting Carol Sloane?

The RIAA and the like have taken an adversarial stance towards the internet, as in their view it threatens their legacy business model. Regrettably their litigious army has gone after far more than just straight download sites. Any site that has sprung up for sharing of playlists, sample streaming, fan interaction, have all been targets of lawsuit threats. Most of the sites have disappeared, and few new ones are being initiated. That is a travesty for niche artists like Carol Sloane who need wider exposure, and for fans like me who want to discover new music and artists and interact with others of like musical minds.

But there still is a lot that can be done. You have a blog that certainly has some reach. You could devote some posts towards specific artists and releases, with links for legitimate purchase of both download and physical media versions. You could create your own Amazon affiliate store and help promote Carol Sloane and Pinky Winters and your own projects.

You have certainly more leverage than I to get remastering projects started, to get iTunes and Amazon “shelf-space” to help promote these releases, to provide unique and compelling commentary to help drive sales.

And here’s a thought: you could even reach out to some of these bloggers. Offer them unique content and color on a particular release. Offer them an interview opportunity. Offer them a cut of the sales through an Amazon or CD Baby affiliate links. Offer them review copies of your projects. Help build a community that promotes your projects and help build the infrastructure that ensures people can purchase the product.

I understand the emotions involved when you see a work of yours being offered as a free download. I run a software company and I deal with this as well. But in the case of your projects and your music and artists like Carol Sloane, there has to be a better way than to attack the fans who just want to acquire and hear the music, and who are willing to pay if given the opportunity. And in many cases, these specialty music bloggers are the ultimate fans who just want to share their love for the music they like.

Thanks, Bill, for letting me respond. Sorry for the long, rambling nature of the response, and I do hope I conveyed the high respect I have for you and the artists you mentioned.

Tom B.

Bill Reed said...

I can only speak for myself. SSJ Records (Japan) spends thousands of dollars a month promoting and distributing its recordings. It would seem that all this effort and expenditure is seriously undercut by free downloads of its---you should pardon the expression---"product."

Anonymous said...

As a collector of CDs from the Sinatra Society of Japan (SSJ), I find it very frustrating to even buy these excellent CDs. There seems to be only one good dealer in the USA (Dusty Groove in Chicago), but they don't carry all of the SSJ titles and when they get some titles in, they often sell the few copies before you can order. Some of the other dealers often double the prices to $50, even though they are supposed to be in print and sell in the $25 range officially. (Who is getting that extra $25? Not the artist or SSJ) The SSJ website:

http://www.sinatrajapan.com/index.html

seems to be impossible. Very little English to none, and you cannot even figure out how to order the discs.

Many collectors would gladly buy the SSJ releases if they could manage to order them at the suggested list prices. SSJ should make their website English friendly, as other international specialty CD dealers have (e.g. Bear Family). There are a good number of SSJ titles that I have never seen for sale in the USA, and many that Dusty Groove has never seemed to carry.

As Japan has now seemed to have overtaken England as a source of classic jazz/pop vocal CDs, the Japanese companies should make it easier to find and purchase these CDs.

Bill Reed said...

Just this morning I contacted Dusty Groove to see if I can't get them to be more assiduous about keeping these CDs in stock. There is a site that I maintain that updates the ongoing releases of SSH. The link is: http://ssj-records.blogspot.com/

bigfatsatanist said...

Just thought I'd drop by here and say that Tom B's comment is one of the best and most insightful contributions to this debate that I've read.

Mahendran jaganathan said...
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