Clarifications, Communications, Corrections, Complaints and the Cold Truth

Awright, dear reader, let’s you and me get one thing straight between us: Despite the fact that both this column and the previous two I’ve written for Razorcake have largely centered around online music, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the quote-unquote “online music” column. That just happened to be the topic on top of the stack — the most appropriate thing to get the ball rolling, so to speak. Even if I wanted to continually write solely about music transmitted from computer to computer, I don’t think there’s really that much to say on a week-to-week basis other than “Band X has a new song available online now at their site. Check it out.” Or, “Songwriter Y’s new track, available for download now at her site, really sucks, doesn’t it?”‘ Not too riveting. Of course, the time may well come within our lifetimes when the whole idea of there being any significant difference between buying music at the local indie shop and getting it online seems ludicrous, but that time’s not quite here yet.

That said, here’s more of my yammering about online music.

————————————————————–
From: “Sal Canzonieri”
To: [email protected]
Subject: EF piece
Date: Mon, 16 Apr 2001 12:45:13 -0400

Hi;

Thanks!
I see you “get it” and what Mp3.com has to offer that Napster didn’t, an experience that connects you as a fan.

Well, we are done recording the new album for September release this week, it will be mixed and mastered in Victory’s hands by May 6th. It blows away anything we ever did.

Sal – EF
————————————————————–

Sal, of course, is the talented rhythm-guitar-playing mainstay of Electric Frankenstein, whose online presence was the main subject of “Perfect Crime.” Thanks for writing, Sal. I must confess, though, that I’ve certainly done my share of what some call “fair use” and others call “piracy;” formerly mostly with Napster, now mostly with Audiogalaxy — in the interest of full disclosure, I even used it to get the EF versions of Iron Maiden’s “Aces High” and the Clash’s “1977” (sorry Sal), so I’m not necessarily totally on one side of the issue or the other. But then, I am a spoiled music writer who gets most of his music for free or near free via trading at the local indie stores, and when I was a kid I never had any problem with taping my friends’ records either.

Sal’s email got me thinking, though. Here’s the thing with Mp3.com vs. Napster: they’re not really comparable services. Let’s be honest, Napster is largely used to get commercially available music the listener doesn’t want to pay for, and, thus, stands with other file-swapping services. Mp3.com, on the other hand, is a service for bands to make their own music available online. The former is listener-driven, the latter, artist-driven. I won’t waste words here parsing the rise and fall of Napster; lord knows if you want to read about that there are gigabytes of computer space and millions of pages of blather on that subject.

The more appropriate comparison seems, to me, to be between Mp3.com and IUMA (Internet Underground Music Archive), which I prematurely pronounced dead in my last column. Since then, the site was purchased by a new owner and has reopened. Both IUMA and Mp3.com allow users to create a site featuring links to their own music, so that’s what I did: created mp3’s of some recent tunes and uploaded to both Mp3.com and IUMA during the space of a couple of days so I could compare the experiences.

Both sites allow the same basic operations, but with some crucial differences: Mp3.com is locked into the 128kbps bitrate for all files, while IUMA allows a higher bitrate, which generally results in overall improved sound. There are a lot more pages of hassle to click through each time you upload a file to Mp3.com than IUMA, and I couldn’t upload a cover version of the 13th Floor Elevators’ “Roller Coaster” to Mp3.com, whereas IUMA seems to have no problem with covers. (In randomly checking out IUMA sites, I noticed Grateful Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra has uploaded seemingly hours of Dead covers. O be still my beating heart.) Finally, the IUMA page I created was up and running within a few days, and since then I’ve been able to upload new files and update the page freely. As I write this–a week-and-a-half after uploading–the new files I uploaded to Mp3.com still haven’t shown up on the page. For some reason, every file has to be checked by Mp3.com’s staff, a process, which I envision, consists of interns listening to one song after another saying, “Yep, this one’s fine.” “Yep, this one too.” Whatever.

Another thing that bothers me about Mp3.com is the whiff of exploitation that surrounds the site: they seem to go out of their way to mislead the gullible and stupid by encouraging ‘payola’ and jockeying for position on their meaningless charts. Look, the top 40 charts, the real charts, are as fake, bought and paid for as Donald Trump’s wives. Why duplicate this idiocy in the “underground” other than to profit from it? At least if you get on the “real” charts that’s something you can stick in the press kit, or tell the grandkids about when you’re rationalizing in your declining years: “Yeah, we almost made it…had a single go to number 28 on the charts for two weeks back in ought-one….” If you hit number one on the Mp3.com “alternative>punk>folk-punk” charts for a month, who gives a shit? Does that make you any money? As usual, Mp3.com is unclear on this issue. As they try to make so blatantly clear throughout the site, somebody’s getting paid. They emphasize those payback earnings stats like they’re blood-pressure readings for Websites, and they imply that they’re pitching your work for TV and film use. Thing is, you have to pay them $20 a month if you want to get paid, and they won’t give any hard info like, “You get this many downloads, you make this much money.” They won’t even tell you where the money comes from! Sound like a scam to you? Even the slimiest record label says the artist will make such-and-such amount per record in royalties (even if they know they’re never going to actually pay those royalties, but that’s another article…). I doubt any musicians are really making enough off of creating downloaded music that they don’t have to go to work doing other things to survive, and paying MP3.com $240 a year doesn’t seem like the way to solve the problem.

But here’s one thing Mp3.com has going for them over IUMA: they didn’t go out of business. They give the impression they’ll still be around in a year, while IUMA has lost a lot of momentum with their setbacks. Also, none of Mp3.com’s tasteless diving-for-pennies payback-for-playback gibberish really impacts the basic functionality of the site, which is (again) simply to provide a platform for people to upload their own music and a location for others to then download that same music. That’s pretty much it, and you can’t really blame them for trying to mislead others for their own profit. Hell, that’s the American Way! As long as the basic level of Mp3.com allows free uploads by totally unknown artists, it serves its purpose; anything else is gravy.

So, as an artist, I pronounce IUMA the clear winner in providing a rewarding experience for me in posting my music to the Web–but the downside is that my opinion doesn’t necessarily mean squat if they can’t keep their funding and keep the site up.

Next time, something else–I swear to God I’m done talking about online music for now.

 

Aaron J. Poehler has spent far too much time online this week and has the feeling
it’s only going to get worse from here. If you want to see the results of his
grappling with mp3.com and IUMA go to http://daisyglaze.homestead.com/ and
click “download audio.” If you don’t, well, that’s fine too.