Music This, Music That

Continuing the recent music and copyright theme….

It turns out that I wasn’t the only one who thought the BuyMusic.com ads looked a little familiar. Rob Walker wrote about the New Apple Clones for Slate.com.

“…I kept re-watching the BuyMusic ads to try and figure out what I was missing. Is there a hidden critique here? A satire? Not really. They’re just knockoffs. It’s as if, by borrowing the look and feel of Apple’s ads, BuyMusic is explicitly interested in underscoring that its service is a copycat.”

It appears that public sentiment was quick to swing against BuyMusic.com. Already I’ve seen http://www.boycottbuymusic.com/ and this site where the author claims to have cracked the copy protection.

Which sorta, kinda sorta, brings things back to music downloading. The BBC online has an interesting article about the real music pirates. According to the BBC’s Mark Ward, organized crime does big business in bootlegged CDs which sell for as little as $4 in a legitimate looking case with liner notes. But even without such wholesale pirates, music sales are likely down for other reasons: “the music [industry] is weathering a hangover after the 80s and 90s boom, when everyone was buying CD versions of their old vinyl records.” “Now the CD replacement cycle has drawn to a close,” says analyst Mark Mulligan.

There is no doubt that some piracy is going on via peer-to-peer systems but maybe not to the extent the RIAA fears. Perhaps it is about time they sang a different song.

[b]New Apple Clones [/b]

There’s a reason those ads for BuyMusic.com seem so familiar.

By Rob Walker

Posted Monday, August 4, 2003, at 7:19 AM PT

[url=http://slate.msn.com/id/2086408/]http://slate.msn.com/id/2086408/[/url]

When Apple launched its online iTunes music store not long ago, it promoted the new service with a set of distinctive ads. The spots (see them here ) each featured an individual, against a white background, listening via headphones to an iPod portable music player and singing along to a favorite song. We couldn’t hear the song, of course — just the person, singing a cappella, with or without musical ability. You could love these ads or be driven to distraction by them, but they stood out.

More recently another music-download service has emerged, BuyMusic.com , with its own commercials. (See them here and here .) In those spots, individuals wearing portable digital music players with headphones sing along to music the viewer cannot hear, against a plain white background. In other words, they’re basically the same ads. (The only thing they seem to have overlooked is calling their service BuyTunes, to get the rhyme.)

This is odd. So much so that I kept re-watching the BuyMusic ads to try and figure out what I was missing. Is there a hidden critique here? A satire? Not really. They’re just knockoffs. It’s as if, by borrowing the look and feel of Apple’s ads, BuyMusic is explicitly interested in underscoring that its service is a copycat. Why?

Presumably the answer can be found in a phrase the pops up on screen partway through the BuyMusic ads — “Music Downloads for the Rest of Us.” The great weakness of Apple’s service right now is that it works only for Mac users who are running the OSX operating system. This is a relatively small number of people. Apple is supposed to release a PC-compatible version before too long, but in the meantime, “the rest of us” is a large market.

Actually that bit about making something “for the rest of us” is also borrowed (intentionally or not) from Apple, which pushed iMacs with the same phrase . In this case it seems that BuyMusic is employing it in a vaguely populist way that suggests only some sort of privileged elitist would own a Mac.

The Apple ads each focus on a single individual — such as a boomerish-looking guy singing “My Generation,” or a young woman singing Pink’s hit “Get This Party Stared,” and sort of charmingly messing up the lyrics at the end. The BuyMusic spots each cut back and forth among several people (the masses, I guess) singing the same song — “Rapper’s Delight” in one ad, “Superfreak” in the other. And instead of charm, there’s a tendency to play for low-comedy laughs. An overweight woman and a central-casting middle-aged square are among those dropping lines from “Rapper’s Delight.” Another Clark Kent whitey gets to sing “She’s super-freaky” in the other ad, which also inexplicably includes a man who apparently is supposed to be a Hasidic Jew and who has a very bad singing voice.

The attempted humor is probably meant to make BuyMusic seem more approachable, but this notion is more or less drowned out by the overwhelming message that BuyMusic is a me-too idea. And that message ignores the fundamental truth that advertising is a form that’s essentially antithetical to self honesty: It may be true that in real life “the rest of us” are trend-followers, not trendsetters — but none of us like to think of ourselves that way.

[b]Stopping the pop-swappers[/b]

DOT.LIFE – the weekly guide to changing technology

By Mark Ward

BBC News Online technology correspondent

[url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3117505.stm]http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3117505.stm[/url]

They used to say “home taping” was killing music, now it’s meant to be internet downloaders. But the real pirates these days are crime bosses – and the rewards are plentiful.

The net has given rise to many novel ways of doing business but the methods of the Recording Industry Association of America has got every twisted e-commerce scheme beaten.

Last month, the association began suing hundreds of its customers. For the RIAA – which represents the major US recording companies – this makes perfect sense.

The people being sued are sharing music with millions of others via peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa, Grokster and Morpheus.

This tidal wave of subpoenas is the latest in a series of steps the RIAA has taken to stop “file-sharing” which, it believes, is causing CD sales to fall through the floor.

According to the RIAA, CD sales dropped by 10% in 2001 and a further 6.8% last year, largely because of file sharing.

Crushing the counterfeiters – extreme measures in Thailand

But the figures tell a different story.

In America and the rest of the world the biggest culprit in falling music sales is large-scale CD piracy by organised crime.

In just three years, sales of pirate CDs have more than doubled, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

Every third CD sold is a pirate copy, says the federation.

The IFPI’s Commercial Music Piracy 2003 report, produced in early July, reveals pirate CD sales rose 14% in 2002 and exceeded one billion units for the first time.

Not least in the East

The pirate CD market is now so big, $4.6bn (?2.86bn), it is “of greater value than the legitimate music market of every country in the world, except the USA and Japan”.

Pirate CDs on sale in Malaysia

In some countries it is hard to find legitimately produced CDs. Ninety percent of CDs in China, for instance, are pirate copies.

Counterfeiters have forced the price of a fake CD down to about $4, which only makes CDs in the music shops look even pricier.

Embarrassingly major record labels and distributors have been fined twice by the US Federal Trade Commission for price fixing their products.

However, pirates are not solely responsible for the crisis in the music industry. After all, it is actually producing CD titles.

Replacing vinyl

According to the RIAA’s own figures, over the last two years the US music industry has produced 25% fewer CDs.

The peak of production was in 1999 when 38,900 individual titles were released. But by 2001 this was down to 27,000. Releases grew again in 2002 but were still below the previous high.

Singles are important to fans but few record firms

Musician George Ziemann says if only 3,000 copies of each of the “missing” CDs were sold, the fall in sales would be wiped out.

For Mark Mulligan, an analyst with Jupiter Research, the music is weathering a hangover after the 80s and 90s boom, when everyone was buying CD versions of their old vinyl records.

“Now the CD replacement cycle has drawn to a close,” he says.

Also the global decline in CD sales is taking place against the background of a general economic recession that is depressing sales of almost everything.

After piracy and the production of fewer CDs comes the changing dynamics of the music industry.

Competing for kids’ cash – mobiles are another new demand

Many of the people using file-sharing systems are looking for singles. By contrast the music industry is focussed on shifting albums.

This is reflected in sales figures. In the US sales of CD singles generate only a few percent of the total market. In the UK, it’s 10% of all revenues.

Typically, singles are used to drum up support for an album, being hyped weeks in advance and played heavily on radio and TV long before they go on sale.

With nowhere to get these singles and no desire to buy an expensive CD album just for one song, it is no wonder many fans turn to file-sharing systems.

Finally, music just isn’t as important to young people as it used to be. There is more competition than ever for the cash in a teenager’s pocket.

“Youths are no longer defining themselves by music in the same way they used to,” says Mr Mulligan.

New markets springing up

Now, he says, brands, clothing and lifestyle are as important as music.

Added to this is the rise of the mobile phone, the increasing popularity of computer games and DVDs.

In the past the music industry had young fans almost to itself. Now it has to compete for the limited cash in a young person’s pocket like never before.

The music industry cannot hope to sue everyone using file sharing to find music as that would take hundreds of years and already the US legal system is complaining about the work the RIAA is heaping upon it.

There is no doubt that some piracy is going on via peer-to-peer systems but maybe not to the extent the RIAA fears. Perhaps it is about time they sang a different song.