Friday Mar 03, 2006

Bands that "Get it" and companies that don't

These days, while most bands are being completely undermined by destructive (but utterly useless) DRM technologies (see: Sony BMG Lawsuit Settlement), it is refreshing to know that there are bands out there that "get it" and are taking advantage of new distribution channels offered by the internet rather than fighting them and treating their fans like criminals (thank you, RIAA).

Pearl Jam has long been a favorite band of mine. When their contract with Sony ended a couple of years ago, they decided to take things in a different direction. They are rolling out a new album in May and will be releasing their first single from that album next week - available as a FREE, Non-DRM-encumbered, MP3. Nice. What a novel concept - give people music in a truly portable format, don't try to force them into using a proprietary music player or platform, just give me (or sell me) the music and let me decide how/when/where I want to play it.

Since 2000, Pearl Jam have released CDs of every concert immediately following the shows. You could usually order the show from the internet the next day and you would receive a link to where you could immediately download the entire show in MP3 format (albeit in a low-quality bitrate) while waiting for your double-CD to arrive in the mail about a week later - with no DRM crap to restrict your use of it. Their ticket sales for fanclub members (of which I am a proud member, #183XXX) are handled smoothly and fairly (compared to the fiasco with the recent U2 tour and their fanclub tickets). Seniority counts, I was in the 10th row last time they came around to the DC area and hope to do at least as well this year. Again - they get it. They saw that fans were selling crap quailty bootlegs for $20 or more and decided to put out high-quality CDs of all their shows for $12 a pop. Its a win for both the fans and the band. The fans win because they can purchase a copy of their show for a great price, the band wins by getting a little extra revenue from the sales and ALOT of goodwill from happy fans. Why don't other big bands do this (U2, I'm looking at you) ? Heck, for the prices I paid for U2 tickets (face value, I did not scalp), they should be including an autographed CD for free!

Established bands like Pearl Jam or U2 have enough clout within the industry to make their own rules (to some extent) and give their fans what they want. Unfortunately, too many younger, less established, bands don't have the power to control how their companies distribute their music and treat their fans. So, you end up with crippled and destructive CDs being sold as "enhanced" and marketed as if they are actually doing YOU a favor by giving you inferior quality compressed tracks in a proprietary media format (WMV). Thank God they are still forced to deliver real CDs that actually play in cars and older CD players and computers.

When I buy a CD, I immediately want to rip the tracks and put it on my iPod. I am not ripping the tracks and sharing them on the internet, I just want to play them on my device and on my terms. I also want to rip them at better quality than what is offered by iTunes or some of the other online music stores. Thankfully, anyone running an OS other than Windows can do this pretty easily - Mac OSX, Linux, and Solaris all have tools for quickly and easily extracting the raw .WAV files from a CD which can then be converted to whatever format you like and stored on whatever device you like. On Solaris (at least in recent Nevada builds - see OpenSolaris.org) you can use the cdda2wav (1) command to quickly extract the .wav files and then use other tools to turn them into MP3 or WMV or whatever format you prefer. Similar tools are available on Linux and Mac OS X obviously has it's own utilities (iTunes for one). On Windows you can also do this as long as the CD is not encumbered by lame DRM "protection" and/or you have your CD "autoplay" feature disabled.

It all comes down to the culture of openness and freedom versus the culture of lock-everything-down-and -try-to-control-everything. People want openness - open standards, open source - and freedom - freedom to use media on their terms, not someone elses. Success will come to companies that embrace these concepts not those that fight against them (hello again RIAA and MPAA).

Friday May 13, 2005

Hello Hello... U2

Remember the day when concert tickets were in the $10-$20 range? Me either. Well, that's not true either. I do recall paying around $14 for several shows at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena (since renamed "Mellon Arena"), back in my high school years. Today, great seats for a popular tour can easily go well above $100 a seat, (which, I \*think\* is well above the inflation rate). I read that the Rolling Stones are offering their "Gold Circle" seats for their upcoming tour for about $450. Ouch. I like the Stones (or, at least I like the music they made back in the 1967-1971 period, plus Some Girls and Tattoo You a little later), but I think I would have to settle for some of the cheaper and more distant seats if I were to go to that one.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to my real topic ... U2. I love U2. Really. I'm going to the show in Philadelphia tomorrow night. Then I gotta wait 5 months for their 2 October shows in Wash DC. For all of these shows, I decided to pay up for the expensive seats and have a good view of things. It worked out great last tour, I was right next to the stage, about 10 rows up. I suppose I could have taken my chances on the $50 GA tickets and tried to get lucky to get into the "bomb shelter" (i.e. inside of the catwalk circle that extends out into the floor). Odds are low (I've read its about 1 in 5) and if you don't make it you are likely stuck craning your neck all night and dealing with lots of pushing and shoving for a bad view. I'd love to get into the cirle, but I'd prefer to pay for a known quantity in this case.

The cool thing about this tour is that Sun is powering the "ONE" campaign, as fellow blogger MaryMary has blogged about extensively. She was actually lucky enough to meet Bono (and some other celebs). I am not hooked into that part of the business and will have no such access, but I am looking forward to the show(s).

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