I Read A Book: Robert Levine’s Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back

Creative Commons licensed photo of a parasite

The best thing about this book is the title. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to learn about how to stop parasites? Especially when they are digital! But the book offers little more than the simplistic model of payment is good for copyrighted materials – and pirating is bad.

One of the ways that I judge books that talk about culture and copyright is based on how fans and fandom are written about. And this book doesn’t disappoint, by carefully discussing elements of fan culture and their importance to the continued economic success of multiple media properties. I joke. There is no mention of fandom at all, beyond a page-long dismissive mention of the concept of 1,000 true fans, no mention of consumer buy-in, nothing beyond “you parasite.” In a book about digital culture, this is an EPIC fail.

I also judge books in this oeuvre by their description of Nine Inch Nails’ effort to release music via Creative Commons and other more open means, including the Creative Commons-licensed albums The Slip and Ghosts I-IV, and the label-delayed therefore placed online for the free remix album, Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D (AKA Year Zero Remixed). And lest we forget, Trent Reznor decried his labels at every opportunity, including praising fans for … wait for it, engaging in illegal downloading, Levine’s “parasitic” behavior, extorting them to “steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealing.”

But Levine’s description of T. Rez is:

“the acts that have most successfully used free music to promote major tours –Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails—have benefited from millions of dollars’ worth of marketing from their respective major labels.”

What ho, Jeeves.

If you think I’m playing the detail game, Levine calls out William Patry, one of the pre-eminent copyright scholars for getting the sales of Grand Theft Auto wrong, and then intimates that he would not have the viewpoints he does, but for being Google’s attack dog. Correlation does not imply causation – and Patry held the same views before starting his present job. Levine’s anti-scholar bent is not just directed at Patry. One of the most detrimental aspects of this book is the implication throughout that academics (and academic institutions, like Harvard and Stanford; and non-profits, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Creative Commons) that are not copyright extremists are activists and in the pocket of big companies (read: Google and its ilk). He directly calls Pamela Samuelson an “activist [,] who wanted to weaken copyright in other ways” (26), calls Jessica Litman someone who ignores the law (46), but saves the majority of his directed fury towards academia towards Lawrence Lessig.

There are actual well-reasoned critiques of Lessig’s work – but this isn’t one of them.  And to publish a book in 2011, critiquing Lessig with nary a mention of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, where in 2008 Lessig spends a whole book discussing the ways that remix culture can work with traditional media so everyone makes money, is just intellectually lazy. Or deliberate.

Because I am *that* sort of reader, I checked the acknowledgements, which include mentions of Fred von Lohman, Jane Ginsburg, and Marybeth Peters – all huge figures in the area of digital culture and copyright. Highly surprisingly, there are no quotes in the book from them –  except for a brief snippet of Peters’ congressional testimony in her role as the Register of Copyrights, but nothing from the interviews Levine conducted.

In an odd way, I actually prefer Mark Helprin’s “alone in my room, I reign supreme” copyright-should-last-forever-because-I-am-a-brilliant-author diatribe because he was straightforward about what he wanted. And if you want to read about the dangers of Google, read Siva Vaidhyanathan’s The Googlization of Everything. If you want to read about how the music industry took things in the wrong direction, read Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music.

Summary: Not recommended. Save the entertainment and publishing industry through paywalls! Google bad!

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Guide for the Perplexed: The Baddest Female Seoul City Ever Had: The Rise of Korean Rappers

Here in the U.S., it seems like there can only be one highly successful female rapper at a time — now Nicki Minaj (and hence the “Eve wants Lil Kim to settle her beef with Nicki”). But in Korea, mostly as part of pop groups, but also as individual artists, there are several popular female MCs.

For example, CL from 2ne1 (rapping above — self-proclaimed “baddest female”), HyunA from 4Minute (formerly from Wonder Girls), Yubin from Wonder Girls, Miryo from Brown Eyed Girls, and Amber from f(x) all are known as rappers within their girl groups. In addition, Tasha (AKA T, Yoon MiRae) has been a very successful rap solo artist. And as shown in the video below from an awards show, including a performance of Tasha’s Pay Day, they can share the stage.

And what is the reason for the lack of Highlander-ish “there can only be one” female rapper at the top of her game in Korea? Perhaps a large thanks goes to the highly manufactured aspect of most Korean pop. Because groups are put together by labels, usually after years of training, as long as having rappers in groups sells, then they will continue to be added to groups. And considering present Korean pop music seems to be very international pop with a light R&B twist plus rap, this likely won’t change.

But it is also because their styles vary — ranging from the gritty underground sound of Tasha, to the very pop-friendly raps from Yubin and HyunA, to the barely recognizable as rap from …, well, I’m just not going to name them. Another major influence is the U.S., where many Korean musical artists have lived for a while, and brought back these influences.

So if you haven’t already started listening to Kpop and Korean rap, you should consider it.

In this post, I’ve decided to mostly include live performance videos to show this isn’t studio-crafted perfection — these are all excellent live performers.

Nine Inch Nails fan video project rebrands as pan-fandom collective

Interesting news for both fans of NIN and followers of fan culture, fan-works and ownership. The grassroots fan organized video production collective This One is On Us made some waves for their organization and dedication to documenting Nine Inch Nails last tour with high-quality video and audio recording. As mentioned in a TLF post from last year, this was done with the  approval of Trent Reznor, who loosened venue taping policies so that fans could participate. And as we presented at MIT, Nine Inch Nails has been highly supportive of fan remix/reuse.

With NIN on an indefinite hiatus, the TOIOU  fan community has announced a “rebranding” of the collective, now with  a broader, pan-fandom focus. The organization will no longer be NIN specific, based on the collective’s early draft of a mission statement, that states:

We aim to restore live music as a shared, passionate entity, and work with those who embrace new media and the realities of the Internet to build on their relationship with fans through collaboration and to create unique documents of their live events. Providing organizational, technical and financial support, we encourage fan communities to plan and execute first-rate film and audio recordings, and turn the resulting content into professional quality releases.

In addition, the organizers intend to formally establish TOIOU as a non-profit organization.

Interesting news, and worth watching. TOIOU was able to exist and succeed based in part because of the unusually collaborative and open relationship between Reznor and his fans. If TOIOU is to take this model and attempt to replicate it in other music fandoms, particularly for mainstream, big-ticket musical artists with particularly devoted live fanbases,  but a more restrictive approach to fan relations. I expect challenges for the group in future.

Metallica and their historically tight rein on fan-produced live recordings comes to mind because the band has been charging members for high-quality recordings of live performances for years now (yet they have also previously made money from fan recordings). Will TOIOU become a sort of fan advocacy organization? One that assists  fan-producers with the infrastructure support to pull of what the NIN fandom did? The current draft of the mission statement seems to imply this, but it is, admittedly, a work in progress.

YouTube has become a sort of live music library where fans (including myself) may share and upload videos of their favorite musician’s latest performances. For live music junkies there’s opportunity in this.  For record labels and big-ticket live music  promoters, there is a perceived threat. TOIOU has a lot of work cut our for it, but I am excited to see where it goes next.

When is 1000 true music fans not enough?: Faith No More, Kylie Minogue, hallyu, and J-pop

If you don’t know the artists (Faith No More & Kylie Minogue) and musical genres (J-pop & hallyu) mentioned in the title of this post, that doesn’t make you odd. You just aren’t aware of these music more popular outside of the U.S. (and the “hallyu wave” is not limited to music).

But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have fans — they have many! The U.S. music audience often doesn’t get to hear the music popular elsewhere, yet American music is popular worldwide.

As Frederick Stiehl in his article about J-pop/Hallyu artist BoA,

America has known few foreign artists outside of Latin America or Britain. Indeed, America has proven itself to be quite resistant to foreign singers, and especially to non-English artists. A few exceptions include Icelandic Bjork and German Rammstein …. However, both of these artists demonstrate a specialized style, known to but not followed by “mainstream” Americans.

So where does subgenre begin when it includes an international superstar like Kylie Minogue?

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I Read a Book: Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music

Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music is a must-read for those interested in how economics combined with listener actions have led the traditional music industry to its present morass. And therefore, the subtitle should be: How the music industry decided short-term profits were more important than life-long fans.

While I prefer a more linear style, the book is written in chapters focusing mostly on one artist or group per chapter — which makes sense, considering this is a work of music journalism. I appreciate that Kot, a non-lawyer, explains the law and cases correctly (yet with the dismayed “this is really the law?!?” tone needed). And while not using the terminology of one thousand true fans, he explores what having dedicated fans means for bands now — versus under the old regime.

But there are some seriously odd moments while reading as a fan. I’m not really sure why when describing the backstory of Metallica, Dave is mentioned, but there is literally no mention of Kirk! (Or Cliff. Or Jason.) But I’m digressing…

I expect a certain degree of errors in any work, but please, dude, know your halos! Any NIN fan knows that Broken counts. Especially when writing about T.R.’s dealings with record companies.

Give it away: Why releasing music (and video!) through Creative Commons licenses is good for fan relations

NIN + Creative Commons = Remix(es)

NIN + Creative Commons = Remix(es)

We write about Nine Inch Nails a lot around here at Learned Fangirl. It’s not just because at least one of us is a hugely obsessive NIN fan, it’s because Trent Reznor’s been consistently breaking new ground in his approach to music distribution and fan relations.

While not mentioned in his recent book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce thrive in the Hybrid Economy, Laurence Lessig has used Nine Inch Nails previously and recently as a positive example of the hybrid economy. (Ghosts was released under a Creative Commons license).

Since the Creative Commons blog has already put together links:

First, there’s the critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, which testify to the work’s strength as a musical piece. But what has got us really excited is how well the album has done with music fans. Aside from generating over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week, and hitting #1 on Billboard’s Electronic charts, Last.fm has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

Even more exciting, however, is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

The post (mirrored on Laurence Lessig)

Yes, this is a still from the official Meathead video

Yes, this is a still from the "official" Meathead video

has an explanation for this:

So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked. The next time someone tries to convince you that releasing music under CC will cannibalize digital sales, remember that Ghosts I-IV broke that rule…

There are a couple of caveats here: number 1, the free/purchased files were not completely identical, as only the first quarter of the album, Ghosts I was free, Ghosts II-IV were not. Moreover, I think there is legitimate criticism from many unsigned and underground artists that this approach won’t work for them: NIN has an unusually dedicated and passionate grassroots fanbase for a band that’s not getting a great deal of mainstream airplay, Trent Reznor’s got the fan support to take a risk like that and win.

However, I do think it’s an approach that major record labels should heed and adopt. If you give just a little, if you’ve got a good product, and you extend even a little bit of trust and goodwill to the fans that want to support you, they will repay you in kind.

Recently, NIN went a step further in extending creative control to fans by “discovering” 400GB of high definition concert video footage online and inviting fans to create their own video projects.

There’s a bit of history behind this: after learning that a home video release of the most recent tour NIN was not in the cards (long story behind that, but at least according to Reznor, it was due in part to his former record label roadblocking him), some disappointed fans took it upon themselves to organize an online community to create a fan-produced video of the last show of the tour.

From fan website http://thisoneisonus.org

On 5th May, 2008, Nine Inch Nails released their latest album, The Slip, free online, as a gift to their fans. Or as Trent put it: “This one’s on me”.

On December 13th, 2008, dozens of Nine Inch Nails fans recorded the last show in the Lights In The Sky tour at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas. By working together, we aim to create a DVD to document this show that will be released free online, and possibly as a not-for-profit physical release. This one, is on us. Our time. Our effort. Our present to all NIN fans.

This was all with the indirect “blessing” of Trent, who loosened up the video security at the the show.

Now to be sure, artists condoning and supporting fan video isn’t entirely a new concept either: back in ’04, the Beastie Boys gave video cameras to fans and released an entire feature concert film of fan-shot video. And long before they became Public Enemy number 1 to grassroots fan activity, Metallica released a video, Cliff ’em All., that featured some fan-made video record during their early years

But providing what is essentially a DVD’s worth of video footage for fans to play with is notable: it’s a gesture that’s based on listening to one’s fans, and responding to their needs.

It’s also based on trusting your fans enough to know even when giving something valuable away, their support will be the best marketing campaign you could have. These are individuals willingly giving away their fan labor for the good of the artist and the fan community. And at first, the artist didn’t even have to ask. The initial fan video project was from organized from the bottom-up, because fans wanted “pay forward” Trent’s generosity and keep up enthusiasm for the next leg of the tour.

Seriously, even the best marketing department couldn’t create this for an artist.

Interview: Heavy Metal Writer/Publisher Ian Christe

sofbI was pretty psyched when I learned that music journalist Ian Christe had started his own book publishing company focused on heavy metal, Bazillion Points. His 2003 book Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, is a favorite of mine: highly informed, without being snobbish and accessible, even for music fans who you couldn’t pay to listen to a Slayer album.

It was one of the few books that I feel gives metal an honest, critical examination that’s free of the usual sweeping generalizations that seem to come with a lot of writing about metal, as a genre and a subculture. You know what I’m talking about: people thinking it’s just noise, appealing to only numbskulled, uneducated teenagers, and so forth.

As a metal fan, good books on the genre are hard to find, I’m looking forward to Bazillion Points expanding the critical coverage of heavy metal – the music, the musicians, the fans. There’s a lot to cover, as it’s a scene that’s quite active and diverse, despite very little mainstream airplay or major label support. As a writer and publishing geek, I’m interested in how this DIY company is going for a pretty narrow niche (but dedicated) audience, kind of like blogs. I’m pretty sure this approach is going to be the future of the print publishing industry. I sent Christe an e-mail last week and asked him for a phone interview. Here’s some of our chat:

Keidra: So without getting too fangirly on you I just wanted to tell you that Sound of The Beast is one of my favorite music criticism books.

Ian Christe: Yeah, thanks. It had to be done, it was about 10 years overdue when I started writing it. It just seems so obvious of a topic.

K: Yeah, I feel like it’s kind of a red-headed stepchild, like there’s a feeling that it’s not worthy of exploration, and I feel like the book gives the genre some critical legitimacy. Was that a big motivation to start Bazillion Points?

IC: It was borne of frustration for sure, even though I think Sound of The Beast was a success by mainstream publishing standards it didn’t make it make it any easier [to get a book on metal] the second time around. I knew a lot of writers who were experts on different subsections of metal, like Jeff Wagner with progressive metal and Jon Kristiansen, “Metalion” from (extreme metal ‘zine) Slayer Magazine, and these guys would never get a mainstream book deal, and yet if you look at other genres like 70’s folk rock, something that’s very micro-niche, and there’s like two dozen books about it, because it appeals to the sensibilities of many book editors, it seems like a safe bet. Meanwhile, the progressive metal scene is thriving, obviously black metal is thriving.

I felt like it’s a very frustrating process to work with a mainstream publisher anyway, and you do about 90% of the work yourself. I learned a lot from doing Sound of the Beast and the Van Halen book [Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga, 2007], and basically I felt like there’s only a few aspects of the [publishing] industry that I don’t know anything about, so I think I can probably learn those and fill a void, you know?

K: There’s a big fanbase for this kind of stuff that’s probably not on the radar of a lot of publishers. Even within mainstream music magazines there’s not a whole lot of options.

IC: There’s a lot of talented music writers writing for the metal magazines, but where do they go outside of that, I dunno? How do you break out of that, where do you go next? It’s tough.

K: Are you working on any kind of follow up to Sound of the Beast through Bazillion Points? A lot’s gone on since 2003.

IC: Nomit still belongs to Harper Collins, the only thing I can do is release it in a language it hasn’t already been licensed in, which I thought about .. but right now there’s about 15 translations, and in the past 15 months, they’ve licensed to Japan, Italy, Portugal, which includes Brazil. Those were the three big translations that I wanted to see, and it took six years for that to happen, but I am perfectly happy to let Harper Collins continue to do what they’re doing. I still think they are super surprised, though. I think the reason they were happy about the book coming out when it did was because “The Osbournes” [TV show] was really popular at the time.

K: Oh wow…

IC: It kinda showed their awareness of heavy metal. But that’s OK, metal is supposed to be underground, it’s supposed to kind of an outsider appeal.

K: Yeah, but it’s funny because now you’ve got all these documentaries out now that have done pretty well: Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey was on VH1, the Global Metal sequel, Heavy Metal in Baghdad. Has that helped Bazillion Points at all?

IC: Not as far as I know, it’s helped me get on random VH1 documentaries on metal, and get back in touch with people I haven’t seen since elementary school by being on those shows, I guess it does impress people in someway, makes me seem more legitimate than I really am [laughs] actually I think the big cultural motor right now for heavy music is Guitar Hero. Metal’s kind of in danger of taking itself too seriously, so now you’ve all these goofy 14-year-olds flopping around to the stuff. Assuming that maybe later these kids start getting into bands like Dragonforce or something; To come from a place that dorky its kind of important.

K: I feel like most metalheads usually start out dorky to begin with, I think there tends to be a big correlation between being dorky and liking metal.

IC: Yeah, the whole outsider thing, definitely, dorks are welcome!

K: So I know you’ve got the Slayer book, a book on Nightwish, what else is planned for Bazillion Points in 2009? I know there’s one on prog metal…
IC: The progressive metal book comes out in fall 2009. In general, I’m taking on new books as I can handle them, the next one for sure will be the [biography] of Andy McCoy from Hanoi Rocks. That was actually the very first book we were working on, it’s just taken longer for different reasons, first being that it had to be translated from Finnish. Hanoi Rocks, next to Van Halen, were probably the biggest inspiration to the glam metal scene in Hollywood in the 80’s, yet they were basically a bunch of homeless, Finnish Gypsys living in a subway station in Stockholm. They’re the real deal, and Andy McCoy is a pretty interesting guy. The book originally came out in the 90’s and Hanoi Rocks has kind of comeback and started playing a lot of festivals since then.

I’m working on a metal logos book with [artist] Mark Riddick, who’s done a lot of metal logos (Decesased, Dethklok, God Forbid, The Faceless, Black Dahlia Murder).

I was working on my own book and found out that he self-published his own book on a smaller scale, so we joined forces. He a designer, so talks about them in terms of headers and descenders and scaling, it’s really great.

Part 2 next week! More about Nightwish, fan culture, micro-niche publishing, and other stuff.