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April 30, 2003

The Decentralization Payoff

Okay, so I've spent the last three entries on my music industry bashing soapbox. This entry is the payoff. If you read only one of these entries, read this one.

What is happening to the music industry right now is a microcosm of what is happening to society, politics, and power in general. We are engaged in a struggle between the traditional establishment of centralized power versus the new paradigm of decentralized empowerment of the populace in general.

It is a trend that has been ongoing since antiquity. Only, like the march of innovation and technology, we have reached a point where acceleration of the process is inevitable.

As the general populace becomes more educated and empowered with a means to easily pull information, the old establishment has no choice but to cede control. The reason is that the establishment derives its power from the active or passive consent of the people, and as the people wake up to the realization that they do in fact hold that power, they will begin to insist on taking back control of that power.

We stand at a critical juncture, where the bastions of the old establishment are struggling mightily to hold on to their power against the forces of decentralization. The establishment has many tools at their disposal: law, marketing, war, and control of the media, to name a very few. However, the people have discovered the means to ebb control of the media away from the establishment. Blogs are just one example of how individuals can publish material on the same medium that a multinational media corporation is able to. Lawsuits attempting to wrest control of the media back from the people abound in our courts, but the people, by virtue of their actions, determine the course of law. War strengthens the centralized establishment at the expense of the people, extending their grasp on power while diverting fiscal resources from areas which will educate and empower the people.

The centralized establishment has the advantage of being centralized and organized. Those already in power have always had that luxury, but those struggling to decentralize power have always had the people behind them, because they are "of the people" and "for the people."

What we are witnessing in today's social, political, legal, and business environment is nothing short of the latest step in the ancient struggle to bring power away from a small establishment and to the people. When I speak of empowering musicians and consumers, it is only a very small step to generalize that discussion to include all trades, and all people. It will take a few brave pioneers to cross the threshold, but they are out there. And if we as people and consumers remain conscientious of this struggle when we make purchasing decisions, when we vote in elections, when we write in our blogs, when we talk with our friends, and so on, we will be able to make an impact and affect the world and society as a whole. Truly, in all areas of life, not just environmental issues, Think Globally, Act Locally.

PGP Signed Entry

Idols of Greed

Not to turn my poor blog into the anti-music-industry soapbox, but I have to make another comment on the horrid state of affairs that is the music industry. And in this one I get to nail another bird with this stone: my absolute disdain for "reality" television programs.

American Idol. I look at this program, and the premise behind it, and it almost perfectly sums up everything that's wrong with the music industry today.

Let's totally ignore the thousands of struggling musicians out there who have the creativity and talent to write their own music and perform their own material, because hey, we want to give crap to the masses, not good music with a good message. Then, let's get some people whose sole aim in persuing a "career" in music is to make a lot of money for doing what they're told do by self-important suits. Let's throw a bunch of canned pre-fab songs written by driveling idiots, and have them sing 'em. The public will love it.

People, as consumers, we dictate the rise and fall of industry. This industry has made it extremely difficult to succeed financially as a musican without becoming a part of their machine. But now, with the Internet, there is a way to reach mass appeal without being a part of this machine. I know there are many struggling artists who want to make good music and make good money from their talents, but they don't want to sell out to the industry. And for their efforts, I applaud them. If we as consumers reward these musicians for their talents as well as their strength of character in resisting a tyrannical industry, we send a clear message to other artists to follow in their footsteps.

So instead of spending $15 on your next major-record-label CD, cruise over to mp3.com and check out some of the new artists. Send them that money via PayPal or in the mail instead of giving it to the RIAA to fund their efforts to stay relevant. Let's kill them off.

Oh, and turn off American Idol. Watch something useful, say, The Learning Channel...

PGP Signed Entry

Freedom and Music

The more I hear about the massive amount of effort being put forth by the RIAA to persecute people they suspect of violating copyrights, the more I realize that this whole industry just doesn't give a damn about music. It's ALL about money. And not money for the artists, really. Rather, money for the suits in the offices at the record labels. The RIAA isn't a musician's advocacy group... it's a lobby for the people whose very existence is threatened by artist and consumer freedom.

I'd feel so much better about plunking down $15 (or more!) for a CD if I knew I was truly supporting the musicians and artists. But in all honesty, I do not feel I can support an industry as divisive and exclusionary as the music industry. When I go to a live show and the indy band has printed up some CDs and are selling them after the show, I feel good about buying one of them because I know the band is getting all of those dollars. That's the power of the Internet, really... it frees us (the artists and the people who appreciate the artists) from the marketing and packaging that the industry wants to perpetuate. In the ideal conclusion, consumers would be able to browse for, sample, and purchase music directly online from artists who would be receiving all of the money (except for a small percentage for the overhead of the transaction). The reason the record labels came into existence was to give artists a means to reach the masses through their marketing machinery. It is a model that worked for decades because people didn't have an independent means to pull information. It was up to the record labels to market a band to the public. I propose that people today are smarter than that, and they are waking up to the fact that the marketing machinery has outlived its usefulness. Now, with the 'net, artists have a direct means of reaching their consumers, and, potentially, the revenue stream.

Ideally, people would be buying music for the music. Not all the hype and crap that the record labels attach to the music and make you pay for. That's why I think this iTunes thing is a good first step. The labels are still part of the picture, but at least there's a place where artists can legitimately expose their music online and consumers can immediately purchase their music. Now, the artists and consumers have to take the next step, and realize that the connection they're able to make online precludes the need for the record labels to be involved. Sites like mp3.com provide the same sort of exposure, and to a greater variety of artists. The next step would be for brave artists to release music independently and brave consumers to buy that music directly from the artists on a mass scale.

The problem is that the industry is well organized and well funded thanks to all the money they've taken from us. They are centralized and have the means to fight change at every opportunity. But I believe change is inevitable and despite the industry's best efforts, the RIAA will be long forgotten a decade from now. This is a movement that goes beyond music, as well; it is simply very convenient to use the music industry as an example because it figures so prominently in the news. At the very core, it is a movement concerned with freedom. Freedom of thought, freedom of choice, and freedom of creativity. I would like very, very much to see music break free from the stranglehold that this industry has placed upon it. I believe that this will eventually happen, if we are truly brave as artists and consumers.

PGP Signed Entry

April 29, 2003

iTunes and Music

I bought an Apple iPod a few weeks ago, and today, I returned it to Best Buy for a full refund. The reason was simple: Apple announced new iPod models today, and for the same price that I paid for a 20GB a few weeks ago, I could now get a 30GB with all the new features. Pretty much a no-brainer, if you ask me.

The first thing I want to say about this is that I think Best Buy (and Circuit City) has an admirable return policy. 30 days is a good amount of time to get familiar with a product and truly decide if you like it. Too many times we're forced to make buying decisions on something based on a spec sheet or others' experiences; this doesn't necessarily tell you how much you're going to like it. Plus it's nice to have the price guarantee, and (in this case) protection against the remorse that comes with buying something and then seeing it updated a few weeks later. This is one case where being a huge mega-coporation gave these companies the power to do something useful and good for the consumer. Now I don't want to get into the rights and wrongs of the super corps vs. the mom & pop shops... but in this is one case where they've used their power well.

The second thing I want to address in this entry is the new iTunes business model presented by Apple today. The gist of it is that you can now download music for 99 cents per song from this website. This is a pretty good model, I think, for most of the masses out there. Me, personally, I will probably continue to refrain from buying music online because the quality just isn't there, in my humble opinion. The reason I go out and buy a CD is because I've heard the song before; maybe on the radio or in a movie or whatever, and I like it enough to want to hear it on my stereo. Most of the time, I don't pay attention to the little nuances in quality. Certainly not when I'm listening to music while doing something else, whatever that may be. But I am one of these people who actually sometimes sit down in front of the stereo just to listen to music. And for those times, no mp3 or any other compressed format I've heard thus far, is going to cut it.

Along those lines, I haven't really been too happy with the offerings from the major record labels lately anyway. I read in one of the articles announcing Apple's new venture that CD sales have been down 7 percent in the last year, and the RIAA is blaming online music piracy. Well, I'm not going to speak for piracy here, but I'll tell you why I haven't bought a CD in a while: TODAY'S MUSIC SUCKS! I was listening to some of my old CD's, from the 80's, and some music from the 60's, and one thing that this music had that is just plain missing from today's music is content. I mean, the drivel that comes out of the recording industry machine today numbs my mind. Maybe they want it that way... hell, it seems to work fine for some people. But to me a good song is great musical composition, plus good lyrical content. Bonus if it's a socially or politically responsible theme. There's been so little of that lately. It makes me sick to see these artists making money for putting out crap... you know who I'm talking about.

I think we took a couple of good steps today with this iTunes thing today, though. If anything, I think this model gives the consumer a little more choice because they are able to purchase one song at a time. I would probably like to see some option where you could get the full 16-bit 44.1 kHz stereo PCM data (the data that you get on the CD) for an extra 50 cents or something... but it's a good first step.

PGP Signed Entry

April 27, 2003

New, Improved

Well, after a rather trying three weeks without my main server, the machine is back. Didn't really hear anyone complaining, so I'm guessing that my earlier assessment that only five people read this thing is probably right...

However, it was quite annoying having to re-reoute my e-mail, and even more frustrating to lose the website for my high school class' ten-year Reunion. April is kind of a critical month, and we pretty much lost all of it, so it's going to be a gargantuan effort in the next two weeks to get in touch with a long list of people who haven't responded yet. This would have been monumentally easier with a fully operational website.

The reason the machine was down was because we got hacked. Now, I happen to be one of the (I think very few) people who don't automatically think hackers are criminals or bad people. In fact, I think some hackers are a sort of modern day Robin Hood. Some. But when someone hacks a machine like ours, it's like stealing from a bunch of kids who are trying to save up to send a donation to Save the Whales. Pretty low, people. Pretty low. This machine is run by myself with a bunch of friends. We're not some huge corporate entity that has billions of dollars and the time and resources to deal with this sort of thing. That's one of the reasons why the machine was down for so long as a result of this attack. We pool our resources, in terms of money, time, and talent, to give each other a place to write about stuff that's going on, keep in touch with each other, and stay connected. That's it... we're not in this for profit or conquest or loot. So yeah, I'm pretty disappointed that some element of humanity chose to expend effort in making our lives difficult.

Anyhow. I do plan to make some changes to this thing. I know I've been saying that for a while now, but this time I sort of have a plan. Look for this in the coming weeks. Thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading my drivel.

PGP Signed Entry

April 3, 2003

Question for the Ages

If you choke a smurf, what color does it turn?

PGP Signed Entry

April 1, 2003

Random Tidbits

Came across this article about a mummy at Saqqara, a site I visited during my trip to Egypt in Nov 2000.

Also, I can't believe this action. I don't even know what to say... after all I've said about where I think aviation is going. I mean, this is an April Fool's joke?

PGP Signed Entry