Record Store Day, Pirates and Girls with Black Hair and Icy Stares
This could be a picture of my local record store, but we live near the desert so the snow is a dead giveaway that I ripped it off from some website with the click of the mouse.
Not that I use a mouse, because my Mac is best navigated with my track pad. But if I did it would just take a click of it. And just as easy, should I dare, I can click and have the complete Alan Lomax Collection in my iTunes library in a matter of minutes, work that took him decades to acquire under dire circumstances and little financial support.
You can buy this stuff at your favorite e-tailer or over at the Smithsonian site, and you can find it on any number of slowly disappearing blogs whose owners took their old vinyl, ripped and uploaded it, and offer it for all to take at no charge. Those people would be the ones some refer to as pirates, and others might consider them a modern technological folklorist or archivist who just want the old stuff to stick around. Truth lays somewhere in the middle of that I imagine.
Brief interlude: I was walking the dog today and all over the suburban streets on light poles and backyard fences, someone or several folks have pasted KONY 2012 flyers such as these shown here all over the place. My mind speeded ahead to election day in November, and some poor fool stepping into the polling booth. Taking his finger he scans the list of presidential candidates and slides past Obama, Mitt, the Libertarian guy, Green party person, few independents and finally pulls back the curtain and yells out to the poor poll worker…”Hey…how come I don’t see Kony’s name listed here? He’s the one I support.” The power of marketing.
Pirates. On the week that the corporate-sponsored Stop Online Piracy Act gained attention in the press and both Republicans and Democrats back-pedaled and made noise about not rushing into things and keeping the internet open and free, something strange happened. The US government chose this particular time to seize the domain name of Megaupload, a file sharing site, grabbed $50 million in assets, and convinced New Zealand police to arrest four of the site’s key employees, including enigmatic founder Kim Dotcom. In a 72-page indictment unsealed in a Virginia federal court, prosecutors charged that the site earned more than $175 million since its founding in 2005, most of it based on copyright infringement.
Artists, musicians and fans who play it straight cheered loudly for the good guys, and the corporations like Universal, SONY, Warners and little EMI all were very happy that finally someone had the guts to stick the their fingers into the dyke and stop the flow of illegally downloaded music, and films and games too while they were at it. But in a case of too much too fast, yesterday a judge here in the US has put a bomb under the Megaupload case by informing the FBI that a trial in the United States may never happen. The cyberlocker was never formally served with the appropriate paperwork by the US authorities, as it is impossible to serve a foreign company with criminal charges. Could it be that the agents were too busy cavorting with New Zealand prostitues and missed a key step? In the meantime, steps have been taken by other file sharing sites that block access to US users, despite that most operate in small countries once known as being “behind the Iron Curtain” and who believe they are far from the long arm of our said cavorting agents. No reason not to be careful I suppose. And ditto Google…they have been under fire by the RIAA (corporate music industry mouthpiece) to change their search engines to exclude or at least make it harder to find all the thousands of blog spots….these would be those of music fans and lovers for the most part…that rip their collections and share, write lovingly and with exhaustive research about niche genres and times past, and have the historical sensibility that they are saving the music that iTunes and Amazon and Universal and SONY could care less about. The market is small for Trinidad Spirituals 1922-1935…really it is.
But on the other hand, will the actions to kill off pirates have an upside for roots artists, whose sales potential averages maybe 3500-15,000 units sold per album? Instead of seeing album revenue slip away from the evil-doers…at best a couple bucks per album after distribution, marketing, advertising, recording and other costs…they will start to fill their coffers again with the green. Or will they? Because here lays the conundrum: with the huge amount of releases these days due to the low cost and ease of home recording, there’s just not a market big enough to support every indie-alt-folk-singer-songwriter-band-blues-instrumentalist that’s out there. So instead of seeing sales of albums increase, they will find that awareness of their art declines because folks who were acquiring it for free no longer can. But isn’t that a good thing? No. Because if people don’t know about you, if word of mouth turns into whispers…your little tours and small shows will have a tiny audience. And ones that have already legally bought your albums. So say goodbye to venue sales where you make more selling a CD for twelve busks than you do on Amazon, and adios to a packed coffeehouse or bar. While the pirates stole your music, they also helped create your audience. Conundrum indeed, but worth it to think about.
A couple weeks ago I spent a few days trawling the shelves at The Strand, the worlds greatest indie bookseller….yes I’ve been to Powell’s in Portland but The Strand is just better. Staffed by old men like me and twenty-something female NYU students and grads with black hair, icy stares, ink and metal piercings, it feels more like an old indie record store than anything else, aside from the last few hundred record stores still standing I suppose. A great vibe and if they had the space and could turn some of the joint into affordable apartments, I’d move in. Got a few books while I was there, and they sent them back to me here in California rather than me taking them home on the plane. First of all, I don’t pay NY sales tax on items shipped to another state. Second, the cost of shipping is less than the tax. Third, at $25 per suitcase that United wants, I save oodles letting the black haired girls with icy stares pack and ship ’em. Like the pirates and the downloaders….am I gaming the system? Am I denying someone the chance of revenue by looping the loopholes?
That’s the Saturday morning ramble and now I’m off with the kid. There’s a roots festival down in Normal Heights in San Diego, and we’ll be looking forward to street musicians doing their thing. Twenty stages, hundreds of acts. Can’t recall if there’s an indie record store left standing in the area, but if there is we’ll stop in and buy something from a black haired girl with an icy stare. It’s supposed to be hot today…so I hope she skips the black boots and tights. Klezmer music at four. Bye y’all.