April 30, 2004
Good Riddance To the Music Industry
Gawker.com posted a depressingly classic story about V2, an "indy" record label which is actually owned by Virgin. As background to the story, you need to know that the label signed a band called Pre) Thing, but their album never sold any records. Check out the story below, and then, just when you think you've heard it all, check out the plot twist to Bob Rubenstein's tale here.
Gawker: V2, Virgin's independent record label which puts out The Datsuns, Mercury Rev, and Tom Jones, apparently lost an employee today. Fortunately, Bob Rubenstein, the disgruntled employee in question, fired off one of the best "take this job and shove it" emails we've ever been privileged to see. [We've done some checking around (you know, like "journalists" would) and the word is its all true -- even the part about the seances.]
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> From: [Bob Rubenstein]
> Sent: Thursday, April 22, 2004 3:44 PM
> Subject: Good Riddance
> Dear everyone,
> I just wanted to drop you a line to let you know that today is my last day at V2. I was let go this morning. All I can say is this is messed up-I was brought into V2 to specifically work on the Pre) Thing record a few months ago. Everything was setting up nicely on the record, radio was reacting, the single "Faded Love" was kicking in at Active Rock, we created this super cool video game that was going to be on the commercial cd, etc. Then, out of the blue, the main guy from Pre) Thing, Rust Epique dies of a massive heart attack and everything goes haywire. Radio started to back off the single and the CD came out 2 weeks ago and got virtually no press. So, today, they let me go! How messed up is that? Wait, before you think this is nuts, let me leave you with this. So, before i got let go, we had our weekly marketing meeting yesterday. They brought in a psychic person and everyone joined hands and did a seance to talk to Rust! I'm not kidding, even if I wasn't fired I wanted to quit on the spot. They were like "how do we get radio to continue to play this song?" and "Rust please talk to press and tell them to write about your record." I mean come on, that's just rock bottom!
> Whatever! Good riddance to the label and the industry. I'm done with all of this.
> Bob Rubenstein
Posted by matt at 02:42 PM
April 26, 2004
I was talking to my brother recently, and he mentioned that while he enjoys the articles I've been posting on this website, the subject matter of my more recent posts is lacking in some of the wackiness of earlier ones (I assume he's talking about some of the oddities you can find in my weird pop culture category). So to correct the situation, here are a few of my favourite very strange things that I've encountered on the web recently. I hope they're silly enough for ya.
Subservient chicken: This is just plain creepy. Watch a "chicken" on a webcam and order it to perform for you.
A song about badgers: Be careful this little number doesn't get stuck in your head.
Mo Kin: A truly amazing amazing music video of Mo Kin, a cute, three-year-old North Korean girl performing a very complicated and interesting song on the xylophone.
Posted by matt at 12:37 PM
April 22, 2004
Baboons make love, not war
There's a great article in a recent New York Times (April 13, 2004) about a troop of baboons who have learned to live peacefully for over 20 years, but only after the most aggressive male baboons were killed. I've excerpted the most interesting bits below.
New York Times: Among a troop of savanna baboons in Kenya, a terrible outbreak of tuberculosis 20 years ago selectively killed off the biggest, nastiest and most despotic males, setting the stage for a social and behavioral transformation unlike any seen in this notoriously truculent primate.
In a study appearing today in the journal PloS Biology, researchers describe the drastic temperamental and tonal shift that occurred in a troop of 62 baboons when its most belligerent members vanished from the scene. The victims were all dominant adult males that had been strong and snarly enough to fight with a neighboring baboon troop over the spoils at a tourist lodge garbage dump, and were exposed there to meat tainted with bovine tuberculosis, which soon killed them. Left behind in the troop, designated the Forest Troop, were the 50 percent of males that had been too subordinate to try dump brawling, as well as all the females and their young. With that change in demographics came a cultural swing toward pacifism, a relaxing of the usually parlous baboon hierarchy, and a willingness to use affection and mutual grooming rather than threats, swipes and bites to foster a patriotic spirit.
Remarkably, the Forest Troop has maintained its genial style over two decades, even though the male survivors of the epidemic have since died or disappeared and been replaced by males from the outside. (As is the case for most primates, baboon females spend their lives in their natal home, while the males leave at puberty to seek their fortunes elsewhere.) The persistence of communal comity suggests that the resident baboons must somehow be instructing the immigrants in the unusual customs of the tribe.
"We don't yet understand the mechanism of transmittal," said Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford, "but the jerky new guys are obviously learning, `We don't do things like that around here.' " Dr. Sapolsky wrote the report with his colleague and wife, Dr. Lisa J. Share.
Dr. de Waal, who wrote an essay to accompany the new baboon study, said in a telephone interview, "The good news for humans is that it looks like peaceful conditions, once established, can be maintained," he said. "And if baboons can do it," he said, "why not us? The bad news is that you might have to first knock out all the most aggressive males to get there."
Dr. Sapolsky has no idea how long the good times will last. "I confess I'm rooting for the troop to stay like this forever, but I worry about how vulnerable they may be," he said. "All it would take is two or three jerky adolescent males entering at the same time to tilt the balance and destroy the culture."
Posted by matt at 12:42 PM
April 16, 2004
I'm back from Prague, had a lovely time, thanks to Matthew and Linda for their hospitality. I've stumbled upon a great web page by a Montreal artist who goes under the name of Lope. Check him out here.
I've also added a new section under the "Links" heading on the left of this page called "Musical Friends." It's devoted to friends of mine (most of whom have some connection to my home turf of New Brunswick, Canada) who are currently making all kinds of strange and wonderful music.
Posted by matt at 01:48 PM
April 05, 2004
Hi folks. It's reading week over here at Stirling University, and in an act of total self-indulgence, I've decided to take this week off and fly over to Prague for a little vacation. That means no updates until later next week, but I'm sure you'll survive. I know I will... Until then, take it easy, friends!
Posted by matt at 02:30 PM
April 01, 2004
Fightback or death-rattle?
The Economist recently published an article about the music industry's recent practice of launching lawsuits against folks who download music illegally, titled "Fightback or death-rattle?" (31 March 2004). I've posted the interesting bits below for your convenience.
The Economist: The recording industry has launched a wave of lawsuits outside America in a bid to curb illegal file-sharing on the internet, which has contributed to a steep decline in music sales. The industry is cutting costs, consolidating and—finally—getting to grips with legal online distribution.
DESPITE a wave of hostile publicity, the 1,500-plus lawsuits launched by the music industry in America since last September seem to have had some success. Final figures for 2003 have yet to be released, but preliminary estimates suggest that the decline that has seen worldwide music sales fall by more than a fifth in the past four years (see chart) was arrested in the second half of last year in America. Heartened by this, the industry’s lawyers launched a second wave of lawsuits—this time in Canada, Denmark, Germany and Italy—on Tuesday March 30th.
None of these actions has done anything to change the public's view of the music industry as one that gouges its customers. One reason that the illegal sharing of music files online is still so widespread is that music-lovers know how little of the price of a compact disc goes on its manufacture, or to the artist. Musicians, too, are becoming fed up. In an interview with BBC radio at the weekend, Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall described recording contracts as an “absolute disgrace” which belonged to “a Dickensian era”. He was particularly annoyed that musicians pay for recordings, but the music companies retain the rights to these. He suggested that this “immoral” system be replaced by a leasing type of arrangement, in which the artist gets control of the music once his relationship with the record label ends. Mr Hucknall has set up his own company and plans to re-record old output and release it in competition with existing recordings. Another pop star, George Michael, has said he will release his songs free on the internet, to remove himself from “all that negativity” surrounding the pressure to produce new records that comes from major labels.
When it comes to the internet, the music companies have, after years of burying their heads in the sand, finally got the message. The industry has at last given its backing to online music stores, such as Apple Computer’s iTunes and Roxio’s Napster 2.0 (not to be confused with the company killed off by the music industry for aiding illegal downloads). Even so, the number of 99-cent tracks sold by these companies remains dwarfed by the free downloads still available using the likes of KaZaA and Grokster. The industry has failed to shut down file-sharing companies whose peer-to-peer software has legitimate applications. However, behind the scenes the big labels are understood to be in talks with these pirates, to see if they can agree on a way to extract payments for songs.
Despite the industry’s official optimism about its legal strategy, it has limitations. Even after lowering the bar to go after those who have shared hundreds of songs—rather than thousands—the big labels have still sued less than 0.1% of illegal file-sharers; the lawsuits have made many of the others think twice before downloading illegal music, but plenty have continued regardless. Moreover, the strategy has created public-relations problems, exacerbating the public view of the industry as rapacious.
Meanwhile, there are signs that the industry is looking at more imaginative ways to arrest the decline in music sales. Universal Music and Sony Music are both working with their stars to remix songs into shorter versions, up to two minutes long, that can be sold through mobile phones. A.T. Kearney, a consultancy, reckons this market could account for almost a third of all music sales by 2006 if it is priced attractively. There’s the rub: songs on handsets are currently being sold for a pricey $4.50 a time in Britain and $3 in Germany. Anyone for illegal ringtones?
Posted by matt at 01:48 PM