Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Week 9

This is a summary of my thoughts on Week 9's readings, which includes Chapters 14, 15, and 16 in Gordon's The Future of the Music Business and various website reviews.

The Future of the Music Business

Gordon interviews John Buckman, the owner of Magnatune, a record company that bills itself as "not evil." They do not use arbitrary DRM rules and seem to give their artists a lot of freedom. The contracts with artists are nonexclusive, meaning in theory that the artists could pick up another label or independently sell their merchandise and music. The website allows users to listen to an entire mp3 stream of an album. John Buckman the owner, then hopes that people are interested to get a high quality physical copy with which to listen to the album elsewhere. Buckman also splits the profits with artists 50/50, which judging from other record contracts Gordon has chronicled, is unheard of. I think it's interesting that Apple and iTunes currently dominates the online music market and aren't terribly friendly to indie labels. Buckman was lucky enough to garner enough interest in his website that Apple became interested in helping him. It seems like quite a hurdle.

Gordon's next subject, Creative Commons, is a term used to describe a community in which musicians can build upon and use each other's music without fear of financial difficulties and lawsuits. Thomas Goetz from Wired magazine released an issue with a CD full of Creative Commons-licensed music, meaning subscribers could freely take that music and improve upon it, remix it, sample it, or any other variety of changes without recourse from the artists or labels. There are "Some Rights Reserved," meaning Creative Commons does not give complete control over a track. For example, one song might allow sampling by anyone while another may only allow noncommercial use. Goetz makes the argument that all musicians are thieves, always being inspired by other artists. This is only a continuation of using other musicians as muses and makes it much easier to sample and enjoy the music of others.

Gordon speaks next with Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby. CDBaby is an online music retailer. Sivers got his start by building the website to sell his own music online, with credit card capabilities and a "shopping cart" feature. Sivers also runs Hostbaby, a hosting site in which a band can have their own .com domain name for a reasonable price. CDBaby's connection with iTunes is much like Magnatune's, in which Apple came to them. It seems that this is the only way to compete with iTunes is to essentially buddy up with them on their own terms. Many companies come to CDBaby asking to be able to distribute their catalog and some want to "cherry pick," or choose a certain number of the best artists. CDBaby does not allow this and only sells on an all or nothing approach.

Global Music Archive

I found this to be a particularly user-friendly and helpful archive. There are very specific collections included in this archive, such as a Ugandan popular music cassette collection and East African music collections. According to the website, they will also be including an Indigenous Mexican music archive. My browser unfortunately did not recognize the player the website used to listen to the music. Also, I assume East African music is obscure and difficult to search for, so they should have designed an archive that highlights the collection rather than giving users a search bar.

International Alliance for Women in Music

This website is a coalition to raise awareness of women's contributions to music. I found it insightful and interesting that they have a link to names to request to radio shows. Although they say they request both contemporary and classical musicians, most seem to be classical. They also hold an annual concert, which seems like a good way to raise awareness.

Photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz

This website allows you to search for photographs, but also offers a few links with which to browse: by venue, by artist, or by subject. I browsed by Carnegie Hall and found a picture of Charlie Parker playing a gig. It seems to be a small collection, but a cool little piece of history that the Library of Congress has successfully digitized.

Trouser Press

This is a British alternative rock magazine archive. In the reviews alone, there is enough material to get lost for days. I read a lengthy and cohesive chronicle of the Smashing Pumpkins' career and discography, the writers not-so-cheekily calling Billy Corgan a megalomaniac. Great website, lots of reviews, easily found search bar.

Voices from the Dust Bowl

Another highly specific music collection, archivists from the Library of Congress took the time to convert almost 18 hours of Dust Bowl farmers in 1940 and 1941 singing folk-story type songs. In most, there is no musical backing, just country-like flat voices of farmers singing tales or telling stories. The website is not terribly easy to navigate, but it is an impressive collection.

Virtual Instrument Museum

This is a searchable archive of most of the instruments known to man. The website allows the user to search by region, instrument type, and a variety of other options. For most instruments, the user can listen to an audio sample to hear what the instrument is like. I listened to an instrument from Southeast Asia called a gender that is made of wood and sounds much like a vibraphone.

The Canadian Encyclopedia of Music

This is another browse-friendly music encyclopedia. I read up on Disaster Music, music inspired by various disasters. In Canada, a fire in 1825 and a few mining explosions produced mostly folk songs telling the story of the disaster and remembering those who passed. The archive is surprisingly updated to 2000, with a Canadian pop article referencing Avril Lavigne.

The ARChive of Contemporary Music

This website has a delightfully cheeky outlook, saying their archive of 1950s to present music will be important when the "spacemen" take over. They have a list of every music genre one can think of (or can't) from aboio to zoukous. Website design-wise, it is frustrating because the entire website seems to be contained in a small square in the middle of the computer screen. There also doesn't seem to be a whole lot of content here.

Black Grooves

This is a blog that has many resources and links to African American music. Unlike a few of the other sites, this one seems to truly embrace all genres of music involved in their niche. The introductory post mentions a punk rock band called Death and Aretha Franklin in the same sentence. The entries are all bite-sized reviews, often with Youtube links to hear the music that is being reviewed. The scope may be too large for the authors of the site to keep up with, but the content that is here is quality.

Chicago Jazz Archive

This Chicago Library-run archive has documents, pictures, and samples of jazz from the Chicago area. The front page has many links, depending on the user's needs from research links to jazz humor links. There are also links to maps of famous Chicago jazz clubs over the years, showing what is still there and what was once there.

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