Beyond DRM

by: John McMurria / DePaul University

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs posted his “Thoughts on Music” on February 6, 2007, calling for the eradication of digital rights management so that downloaded mp3 music files could be played on any listening devise, growing consumer dissatisfaction with DRM regimes had come to a head. The event was significant given the market dominance of Apple’s iPod and their success in getting the big five music labels to make their songs available for download on iTunes for 99 cents per song. But the manifesto was less than magnanimous as Apple faced opposition across Europe for tying its download service to its proprietary mobile mp3 player using its proprietary FairPlay DRM software. During the summer of 2006 consumer rights agencies in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany claimed that Apple’s DRM violated copyright law. In August 2006 France passed a law giving regulators the authority to require Apple to license FairPlay to other makers of MP3 players, which Apple called “state-sponsored piracy.” The Dutch consumer protection agency joined the opposition in January 2007 and advised consumers to stop buying iPods and quit downloading music from iTunes, and instead buy generic mp3 players and download music from DRM-free services such as eMusic, which does not carry the big five’s labels but offers a range of independent music. Recently Norway ruled that Apple’s DRM strategy was illegal and the Norwegian consumer protection agency called for Apple to make FairPlay available to competitors by October 1. Microsoft and Sony were not intimidated by this and created their own proprietary DRM-protected music services tied to their own music players. In his statement, Jobs said DRM licensing would be untenable because its secrets for protection would be leaked, though critics have pointed out that Microsoft has been successful in licensing its DRM system. The internet content innovator ZDNET, a network of CNET, produced a much watched video that lambasted all of these DRM strategies as CRAP, or Content Restriction, Annulment and Protection.

In addition to pressure from consumer advocates, Apple had incentive to scrap DRM because after nearly four years of selling songs on iTunes, only 3% of the music on users’ iPods was downloaded from iTunes. An independent study found that iTunes sells only 20 songs per iPod sold. Apple is therefore less dependent on iTunes to attract iPod buyers than the music conglomerates are in finding successful models for profiting from music downloads to offset losses in DVD sales. Research at Yahoo suggests that consumers would pay 20 percent more for music downloads if there were no DRM restrictions, indicating that DRM curtails demand for pay per downloads. In a different strategy, last year Microsoft agreed to share a portion of the sales price of its new Zune mp3 player with Universal Music. Warner is looking to cell phones as a potentially more secure network for copy protected music downloads. Ad-supported music downloading sites including Spiralfrog and Qtrax are developing new revenue models and have attracted the major labels. But the promises of these services were put in doubt at the recent Midemnet industry trade show in Cannes when these two services failed to announce launch dates and a panel of young music fans unanimously agreed that audio ads sucked.

Zune Squeeze

Zune Squeeze

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a legal advocate for “internet freedom,” has proposed “Voluntary Collective Licensing” for music distribution. This entails the music industry forming a collecting society that would allow music file-sharing for those who volunteer to pay $5 per month. These funds are then distributed proportionally to music artists based on the volume of downloads. Since 1914 similar licensing arrangements have been formed by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) for radio and television broadcasts. Unlike “compulsory licensing” which legally enforces the universal collection of fees, such as those that cable and satellite carriers pay to carry over-the-air broadcast programs, the government-weary EFF counts on “market forces” and voluntary good citizenship on the part of file-sharers and corporate music labels. A more far reaching proposal came from the French parliament in December 2005 when it introduced a bill for compulsory licensing for music and video over the internet that included an 8 to12 Euro added fee to broadband service. While receiving strong support from the left, the Green Party, the center right UDF and consumer groups, the French government bowed to intense opposition from the powerful music labels and killed the bill. The Universal Music Group vigorously opposed the legislation, as one commentator explained, “When you’ve reached 30 per cent market share, when you’ve pulled off the last big merger, when you’ve built up the barriers, there’s not a lot of benefit from equalizing access.” Meanwhile, the International Intellectual Property Alliance, an association that represents Hollywood and the US software and publishing industries, has lobbied the US government to eliminate compulsory licensing in countries around the world.

Universal Music Group CEO Doug Morris

Universal Music Group CEO Doug Morris

Despite Apple’s support for a DRM-free internet, the big music labels and Hollywood are not likely to dispense with DRM and their legal enforcement teams anytime soon. Yet the prospects for a post-DRM audiovisual economy and culture present a challenge to the neo-liberal frameworks that have largely guided internet regulation to date. Less an electronic frontier of market competition and consumer choice, DRM regimes expose the failed attempts of oligopoly capital to maintain market leverage over artists and consumers in an online environment. It is not the ethics of market competition and consumer choice that provides alternatives, but an ethics of collective bargaining where laboring artists and consumers share collective interests that require agreed upon mechanisms for user payments, creative compensation and electronic distribution. Collective societies in the US such as ASCAP provide precedents for collectively compensating creative content makers through blanket licensing agreements. The state consumer rights agencies in Europe demonstrate that internet music consumers benefit when collectively represented by independent government authorities. When consumers and laborers have organized representation through compulsory licensing arrangements they can negotiate with market players to develop innovative mechanisms and business plans for circulating audiovisual culture unencumbered by restrictive DRM regimes. This is far from the market evangelism and rugged individualism of the internet enthusiasts of Wired magazine or the cyber utopianism which grew out of a counter cultural movement that prognosticated the withering of corporate and government bureaucracies. Compulsory licensing requires representative organizations from the corporate, government and user sectors to set rates, apportion compensation and enforce compliance. Messy and bureaucratic? Perhaps, yes. A potential future for a more vibrant and just audiovisual internet culture? Perhaps, if we organize.

Image Credits:
1. Steve Jobs
2. Zune Squeeze
3. Universal Music Group CEO Doug Morris

Please feel free to comment.




Let’s Get Small: The Year When the Record Industry Broke and Listeners Became Crazy, Mixed Up, Downloading, File-Sharing Freaks

EMusic

EMusic

Like so many teachers, the end of the year for me is a time to catch up. Many of you may be catching up with unviewed programming, unopened letters or unread books you started in September but had to put down once the midterms, students and committee obligations rolled in for the next 10 to 16 weeks. For me, that means looking at end-of-the-year best of lists, particularly for popular music. Compared to film and television, trends in popular music move at light speed. The relatively low amount of investment capital it takes to produce a quality set of recordings has meant that significant aesthetic movements like local music scenes and subgenres can rise and fall without making an impact on the charts or popular consciousness. What this means for someone like me, someone who doesn’t get out to live music as often as they once did or has the free time to simply explore pop music with friends and music lovers alike, is that I play catch up when I can and my month-long holiday break truly becomes that most wonderful time of the year.

And Lord knows I need that time to catch up. To paraphrase Robert Christgau, unless you are obscenely wealthy or a professional music critic you probably aren’t going to have enough time and money to follow the vast set of genres and artists that constitute contemporary popular music. Furthermore, because social networks tend to depreciate and/or stagnate in terms of variety and numbers as one ages, an inverse relationship between your age and you’re your knowledge of contemporary popular music quickly develops. Put simply, the older you are, the less likely you will know or care to know who Young Jeezy is and why he is a “Soul Survivor.” So, in finding the time to read my issues of Spin, troll the web and have some old-fashioned discussions with my local hip baristas about “what I should be listening to”, a number of issues arose. While I finally had the time to listen to those Antony and the Johnsons, Bloc Party and Clipse records that had piled up, the story of 2005 lied not so much in what one listened to, or even in the fact that there was as much good music in 2005 as I can remember. The story of 2005 didn’t even reside in how one listened to music, but in how the listeners got those recordings. In other words, as I went about my days of reading, writing and grading, the kids had not only bought new music, but there were new ways of buying music. As illegal file sharing sources such as Kazaa and WinAmp were effectively slowed down, more and more legitimate distribution networks were established. In 2004 iTunes could claim a million song catalogue and by 2005 emusic, which specializes in independent music distribution, also met the million song mark. As one Major Label A&R person told me late in the year, “We finally plugged the holes in the system.” Furthermore, not only did those iPods get smaller and smaller, more and more listeners had gone from being curious about iPods in 2004 to finding them absolutely essential only one year later. But the most important story of the year wasn’t the iPod Nano, it was that an effective infrastructure of legal file distribution was finally in place. As a result, the music industry can put a stake in the heart of disk distribution. The combination of legal networks and a significant portion of the audience walking around with 60GB hard drives meant that, sometime in the last 12 months, both audiences and industry alike uttered a collective “iacta alea est” and crossed a “technological” Rubicon.

Just like any gamble, what exactly the outcome of all of these new organizations and their effects will be on listening and production is not clear. What is clear are the numbers. And the numbers tell us that audiences are buying significantly fewer and fewer pre-recorded discs. As the radio industry website fmqb.com noted in an end-of-the-year article (December 30, 2005):

“While there’s still two more days for cash registers to ring in 2005, sales of albums in the U.S. should come in around seven percent behind last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan, however, digital downloads have more than doubled in the past twelve months.”

There was even more bad news for the disk-oriented portion of the industry, which was already in a slow, but steady decline. With the exception of the less-than-outstanding 1.9% rise in number of CD units shipped in 2004, according to the RIAA the years of 2001 (-6.4%), 2002 (-8.9%) and 2003 (-7.1%) confirm the diminishing importance of pre-recorded music. Compare this to the rise of legal downloads skyrocketing between 2004 and 2005 and one certainly does not need a crystal ball to notice that the 148% upward trend (134.2 million to 332.7 million) speaks volumes. And less than 10 days into 2006, Billboard reports that, “In the seven-day stretch between Christmas and the new year, millions of consumers armed with new MP3 players (primarily iPods) and stacks of gift cards gobbled up almost 20 million tracks from iTunes and other download retailers.”

Again, the key is not to confuse consumption with distribution. Despite what Ken Tucker claimed on a December 20th, 2005 interview on Fresh Air, it isn’t consumption that changed. People may not be buying discs, but they are buying laptops and digital music players. Lest we forget, an iPod is little more than a small but powerful record and playback device. And while “podcasting” and “TIVOing” of television may be a radical change for television and radio, concern about “time shifting” performances began to dominate the music industry beginning in the 1930s. By the late 1940s, when long play and magnetic tape recordings began to outstrip sheet music in terms of sales and industry importance, time shifting had effectively become the rule of thumb for musicians and listeners alike. This isn’t to say that the musicians thought that time shifting was good idea. In fact, they vehemently resisted in the form of two national recording bans, but that’s another story (Anderson 2004).

Myspace Music

Myspace Music

What is interesting is that artists such as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Annie may be the first two critically revered pop music acts to rely more so on the distribution capabilities of the internet not simply to outflank broadcast radio, but in a direct-to-listener micro fashion that effectively grants music and bands a “personalized” aura. In fact, while major labels still aim for the distributive potency of radio airplay (it’s still the only way to move a million units or more), more and more artists are utilizing various computer and Internet networking techniques for viral marketing opportunity. And these techniques are effective. For example, while my students rarely speak about radio stations, they do talk about the songs they hear through their peers online playlists and personal sites such as those found on MySpace.com. And just like a virus that you can catch simply because you briefly connected with a fellow traveler, popular music is no longer something that we need to go some specific place to hear or purchase.

(a) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (b) Annie

What this has meant for someone like myself is that assignments I used to give in popular music classes regarding music purchasing no longer have the pedagogical impact that they once did even 5 years ago. Because more and more of us no longer go to record stores (or even frequencies on the dial), a specific musical geography is dissolving around us as the music industry has adjusted to make bricks and mortar. Over 18 months have passed since Virgin shut down a number of its US-based megastores, leaving my city of Columbus, Ohio with second tier acts such as FYE to fill the bill as a local catalogue store. At the end of December part of that second tier began to fall as Media Play, a chain associated with FYE through the holdings of Trans World, announced it would, close the doors to all 61 of its stores, including the four in the Columbus area. If poor fourth quarter reports slammed the doors of the chain shut, the poor Christmas season of 2005 was the equivalent of Snidely Whiplash throwing the chain’s possessions into the cold with one hand while changing the locks with his other. And while this Christmas season was bad for many retailers, for many music retailers it was simply beyond the pale. According to the same article,

“The biggest drop during the season was in music sales, which were down 15 percent. However, sales of electronics and other equipment were up 3 percent, he said.
The soft season comes at a time when many entertainment retailers are struggling. And the trade newspaper Billboard reported that U.S. album sales were down 10 percent in 2005, although digital sales tripled in the 53-week comparison.
Rocky Roy, owner of Music Shack in Colonie, can empathize. He said the CD and music store saw holiday-season sales decline 15 percent in December from a year ago.
I get the feeling, based on the sale of iPods, that’s going to continue,” he said.”

Indeed, that loss will continue and we should recognize that we are at the beginning of one of those unique cultural moments, a moment where we end one mode of distribution and begin another, a moment that cuts both ways. I assume I will miss my catalogue stores, look forward to my trips to San Francisco, Phoenix and New York so I can visit Amoeba, Zias and Towers, and continue to frequent a number of smaller used and specialty shops. But I can’t say this kind of longing for a media space has any place in my student’s lives. While the extinction of the large, well-stocked, colorful, multi-genre record store is inevitable in all but the most hip, urban American centers does not exactly signal the demise of a overly centralized system of control, it does make it clear that many of the centralizing forces of geography have been effectively removed. And while I may mourn the loss of the record store as an element central to the popular music experience, it is something that I hope artists and producers will continue to organize around. If we no longer have to press as many physical discs let alone pieces of cover art, then maybe our investments can get so low that we won’t have to worry so much about making a video or paying for the airplay that is so persuasive that when we see or hear it we are forced to get up, leave our houses, drive to our local Sam Goody and plunk down $15 to $19 on a CD with only two good songs. Maybe this will be one of those moments when the music industry can become, for lack of a better phrase, “fun” again, something it hasn’t been in years. And as bottom line excessive as capitalism wants us to become, perhaps we can find some time at the beginning of the post-disk era to explore what it would mean to live in a pop music world where artists and producers need not deal with those excesses that so many of us believed had become part and parcel of the music industry. Maybe we will get a chance to, like punks in the late 1970s and hip hop of the early 1980s, once again see what it means to get really small together.

Work Cited:
Anderson, Tim J., “Buried Under the Fecundity of His Own Creations: Rethinking The Stockpile, The Standing Reserve and the Recording Bans of the American Federation of Musician, 1942 to 1944 and 1948,” American Music, Summer 2004.

Image Credits:

1. EMusic

2. Myspace Music

3a. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

3b. Annie

Please feel free to comment.




The Cost of Not Selling Out

Old Radio

Old Radio

Radio? What’s that?

I recently discussed radio in a media technology class and found that it was largely irrelevant to my students, all of who were between the ages of 19 and 21. I asked them how they discovered new music, aside from the recommendations of friends. Many of them said through advertisements or placement on television shows. How is that, I asked. They replied that when they heard an intriguing song in an ad or program, they would catch a snatch of lyric and “google” the phrase to determine the title of the song and artist. In fact, they actually preferred to hear music in ads rather than on the radio: “You can hear the best parts of the song sooner that way.”

At the next meeting I distributed an article from the Los Angeles Times describing former Doors drummer John Densmore’s refusal to allow “Break On Through” to be used in a campaign for Cadillac Escalades, although his surviving bandmates had agreed after GM dangled $15 million in front of them. “Artists and corporations working together, that’s the 21st century. That’s the true Age of Aquarius,” said keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Densmore countered, “On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That’s not for rent.”

What did the students think? The students (including several aspiring musicians) all thought Densmore was a chump and a fool. And why should they believe otherwise? They’ve been steeped in an economic fundamentalism all of their lives, a fundamentalism in which virtually everything they see and do has been subsumed to the logic of the marketplace, a logic in which society serves the needs of economics rather than vice versa. They’ve never known anything else. If it makes money, it’s good. There’s nothing wrong with selling out; indeed, there’s no such thing as selling out, since no alternative exists.

So I went home that evening and listened to a compilation of unreleased live performances by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. Peter Green founded Fleetwood Mac in 1967 as a straightforward blues band. I always thought that the notion of “virtuosity” in playing blues was essentially meaningless, akin to “virtuosity” in saying Mass, but these recordings go a long way toward proving otherwise. Although Green trafficked in the traditional braggadocio of a bluesman, his work was marked by an understated power and otherworldly lyricism. Green may have been an unschooled musician, but he was innately aware of a principle in Indian music called the “unstruck,” in which the note you don’t play is as important as the note you do. Like Miles Davis and a few others, Peter Green knew that one note can speak as much as 20, that silence can say as much as sound. On one of these recordings, Green begins a song with five notes, as soft and dexterous as a lover’s caress, that summon a collective, involuntary gasp of pleasure from the audience.

But blues is more than a series of notes; it means accepting a life that you cannot escape, a life for which you are only partially responsible. Growing up poor and Jewish in the East End of London, Peter Green understood the blues better than most of his colleagues. His best work had a stoic sweetness streaked by a blade-cold despair. You can hear it in the loving bite of “Need Your Love So Bad” and so many others, but you hear it best in the terrible, shattered peace of “Love That Burns,” which conveys a heartbreak so devastating that it edges into nihilism.

By late 1969, Fleetwood Mac was hugely successful in Britain and making inroads into America. That year they won Melody Maker’s listener poll as the most popular band in England, edging out the Beatles. And then the clouds rolled in. Confused by the contradiction of sudden wealth and a working-class background, Peter Green grew increasingly disillusioned with success. He became obsessed with religion and began appearing onstage bedecked in long white robes. Green donated all of his money to charity and tried to convince the other band members to follow suit, but they refused. A bootleg tape from this period features a coda to perhaps his best-known song, “Black Magic Woman,” and it is the most terrifying music I have ever heard. Green races ahead of the band, his guitar screaming in rage and pain, until the band gradually drops out. Green plays a simple line high in the register over and over, an icy, spectral phrase that shimmers like the Aurora Borealis, until it too fades away. Five seconds of silence follow, the audience too stunned to respond.

Peter Green

Peter Green

Peter Green left Fleetwood Mac in May 1970 for life as a solitary ascetic, giving away his possessions and laboring as a gravedigger and hospital orderly. He was institutionalized in 1977 for jokingly threatening to wield a rifle against his one-time manager in an attempt to stop royalties from his former life. By the early ’80s Peter Green was living as a recluse in West London. He had grown four-inch fingernails to ensure that he couldn’t play, paying penance for his stature as the greatest bluesman of his time. A decade later he made a brief comeback. I saw him perform in Chicago. He shuffled onstage (a writer later described him as “Dickensian”) and was greeted by a standing ovation. He left most of the solos to his colleagues, still uneasy with his talent. At the end of the beatific instrumental “Albatross,” however, he allowed himself a shy, quiet smile.

Eric Clapton, not a man noted for his loquaciousness, once said about Jimi Hendrix,

“I think that that is probably the curse of genius, you know, that you are alone . . . Nobody can understand the depths that you go to when you reach down inside yourself to play or to express — you can’t take anyone with you to these places, and sometimes you find things that are very scary. And I think you have to survive that on your own, and that’s a very lonely experience and it’s not something you choose. It’s not something you would necessarily go after, it’s something you inherit with your gift . . . ”

Like Hendrix, Peter Green had this gift in abundance; like Hendrix (and Kurt Cobain), it was his undoing. I’ve been listening to Peter Green’s recordings for over 30 years now, and I still listen to them at least once a week, and I’ll do so for the rest of my life. And every time I listen to them, I remember how much it can cost to not sell out.

Image Credits:
Old Radio
Peter Green

Image Credits:

1. Old Radio

2. Peter Green

Please feel free to comment.




How Much Do I Love myTunes? Allow Me to List the Ways…

From Wired Magazine’s July 2005 “Remix edition”

From Wired Magazine’s July 2005 “Remix Edition”

As interesting as Wired Magazine’s July 2005 “Remix edition” was, I couldn’t help but ask why among the celebration of hip-hop culture, slash narratives, adobe photoshop, Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, Machinima and Robot Chicken, the lowly “mix tape”, the one form of modified media that almost every one of my friends who are 30 or older own, was left unmentioned. Lest we forget that well before the trend over file sharing spread across Universities endowed with multiple T1 lines and gained the attention of the RIAA and MPAA, there was the practice of home taping. As far as remix culture goes, while a home mixer may never receive a praiseworthy grant or honorary degree, there aren’t too many remix practices that have inspired as much consumer passion. Of the many “compilation tapes” I made and received, those that stand out are those cassettes of songs based on a theme or determined to make an “album better”. Long before college kids were “modding out” their favorite video games with television characters they wish they could get to fight in computer-driven combat (imagine Homer Simpson with a laser rifle tracking down Spongebob Squarepants in a real-time 3D “manhunt” such as the Unreal Championship video game and you get the idea), I had made a tape of all of the one album worth of “good songs” from The Clash’s excessive, three-disc set, Sandinista! Other compilations were put together under the romantic inspirations of friendship and love. As Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth puts it in the introduction of on his latest book simply titled, The Mix Tape,

“This book can only represent one zillionth of the people out there who have made the coolest tapes for themselves or others. In that respect, it simply exists as a nod to the true love and ego involved in sharing music with friends and lovers. Trying to control sharing through music is like trying to control an affair of the heart — nothing will stop it.”

To be sure, putting together the right compilation tape, the right playlist of songs, was something of a sacred affair. As Nick Hornby puts it in his novel on obsessive record collecting, High Fidelity, “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem.”

Of course, the practice both inspired debate and industry-sponsored paranoia. Memories being what they are, allow me to remind the reader of the “Home taping is killing music” campaign. The slogan would find itself on just about every record store shopping bag and on the lips of every record fan and music lover in the US. Music journalists often asked artists their opinion of home taping and the campaign’s ubiquity became spoofed by one of the most memorable critiques of a public relation message ever launched: the “Home Fucking is Killing Prostitution” bumper sticker. And it wasn’t simply because the sticker used the “F word” that you could buy this piece of latex commentary in independent record stores. By equating the at home practices of record listeners to a rather, ahem, intense pleasure of communication, the sticker underlined the complex set of ethics that have long accompanied the “personal use” of a very “public medium.” Ever since 1940 when in the case of RCA Manufacturing Co. v. Whiteman , 114 F.2d 86, 88 (2d Cir.) the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the claim of the music conductor on “common-law property in [musical] performances ended with the sale of records,” a consumer could now take his own collection of records and, as long as they had no intention of profiting from this stockpile of recordings, share them in any number of manners. In the US at least, this decision opened the door to view recordings as both a good that was at once both potentially private and social. Making a personal copy of my records to give away to friends may be legally contested, but what mattered was that it simply felt like another mode of generosity, one step removed from providing records for a party or dance. Indeed, no matter how high profile a campaign the RIAA initiates, it’s unlikely to change the fact that sharing recordings will almost always be seen as a mode of association, a form of communication that is personal and is none of the industry’s business.

Which is a long-winded way to point out that the “personalization/modification” of media by consumers has deep and entrenched connections with recordings in general. And as outmoded as the “home tape” is, your PC’s hard drive is simply another record and playback device, albeit an extremely sensitive and complex one. Of course, the kind of personal affection that inspired the compilation tape has found its way onto a whole new set of technologies. With the proliferation of mp3 players, CD burners and cheap CD-Rs the art of the mix is practiced now more than ever. Given the fact that the high end iPod now sports a 60gb hard drive that can hold well over 10,000 songs and work in concert with PCs and Macs, as programs such as WinAmp and iTunes that encourage listing and burning, the production of CDs with personalized playlistings has reached a new level. Uniting these technologies with file sharing programs, and the proliferation of DSL capabilities and you more of less have a supercharged in-home music publishing technology in every middle-class American home and office.

So what does a music industry that has been based on the sale of discs of some sort since the late 1940s do? Well, adapt of course. For one, this sort of adaptation has meant less of an emphasis on the direct promotion of discs and more on their indirect promotion through the licensing and cross-promotion of properties. Most specifically this has meant that the role of the music supervisor for any film or television program has become an even more important gatekeeper than it was before. When a company licenses the synch rights that place a band’s song on The OC it is doing the double duty of generating revenue and distributing their commodity. For example, after the screening of the much-hyped finale of Six Feet Under prominently featured Sia’s “Breathe Me” in the final few minutes in a sort of “montage of death” music video. The day after, the “soundtrack” to the show vaulted to the number two position on Amazon sales chart.

A Soundtrack Cover for Six Feet Under

A Soundtrack Cover for Six Feet Under

But moving units is only one method. The second includes the gradual co-optation of personalization, specifically the act of “playlisting.” MTV2 has produced Playlistism, a program which claims to feature “fans and bands talking about what’s on their mp3 playlists as well as the hottest new gear for your m3 player.” But most aggressive by far has been Apple. In its continual quest to commodify taste and style, the company most responsible for the success of personal mp3 players in 2004 launched both a paper and internet version of a music magazine simply titled Playlist through Mac Publishing, LLC. As a place where readers can learn about new portable media technologies, review submitted playlists, and access the occasional free mp3, the magazine conveniently provides a place to integrate consumer desires with the abilities of both its soft and hardware. And even more interesting is the manner in which Apple’s iTunes store regularly features “celebrity lists”, playlists that are ostensibly compiled and annotated by the likes of Tommy Lee, Robert Rodriguez, Bobby Brown, Nicole Kidman, Al Franken, both Brooks and Dunn, Kathy Griffin, Gus van Zant, Howie Mandel and so on. And if for some reason you care what Mr. Mandel has chosen for his listening pleasure, or you find his explanation for listing the Foo Fighter’s “Best of You” convincing, you too can simply download the song from the iTunes for your iTunes player at a convenient 99 cents a pop. At which time, theirTunes become yourTunes and what was once a practice dreaded by the music industry becomes a licensed mode of distribution. And what was once sacred, is now simple, convenient and profane.

Image Credits:
1. From Wired Magazine’s July 2005 “Remix Edition”

2. A Soundtrack Cover for Six Feet Under

Please feel free to comment.