Friday, September 06, 2002

AT LAST SOMEONE SPEAKS UP FOR THE RIAA: Hey, soundbitten, the last thing we need is for balanced, considered pieces in support of the music industry. This is the internet, pal, and we're kind of like the G-Men in reverse - seeking out legitimate businesses and smashing their stills and scattering their customers. Seriously, though, you make some fair points of a 'hey, the big five are doing their best, let's cut them some slack' nature, but what you say isn't quite as convincing as you'd hoped.
Of Pressplay and Rhpasody prices, you say "First of all, there's the price: Both charge $9.95 a month for the basic service, which may seem reasonable at first, but look at how it works out. If a typical song is 3 minutes long, and you listen to this service two hours a day, that's 1200 songs, or almost a penny a song-listen!" Very droll - and a penny a song sounds like a great deal when you put it like that. But it's a bit silly, isn't it? Why not make a supposition that the person will be listening to the service 24 hours a day on three machines? Wouldn't the price get even lower? And what if they only liked punk, so the average song would be two minutes long (as all great singles should be)? More seriously, you forget that you have to sign up to both services, doubling the price at a stroke - and with a third service looming, you're looking at forking out thirty bucks before you get anywhere. And, remember, this is for a service that basically is competing with radio, not CD sales. It's not a huge sum, certainly, but we're at the stage where they'll be offering tempting rates to establish themselves and force the competition out of business, whereupon they'll be free to whack the price up to anything they choose. They did this with our buses, you know.
Oh, and to even get a chance to try the system, you need to have a credit card, so lets ask all the under 18s to leave the debate right now, shall we? Thank you for creating and sustaining the rock industry for the past fifty years, teenagers, but your parents can take it from here.
"Almost as annoying as the ridiculously high prices of these services is the terrible "selection" of artists they offer. While Rhapsody may have over 190,000 songs to choose from, they're all from artists who are so obscure you won't even find them on MP3.com. Frank Sinatra?" - goes on to list all the great artists you can hear on Rhapsody... "where's the variety? Where's the genuinely established acts? Where's the hot new talent? " Now, this is quite a compelling, seductive suggestion - maybe we should throw away our MP3 software and sign up. All these great acts, waiting for me to hook up with them? Excellent.
Oh, hang on... Due to licensing restrictions, Rhapsody's on-demand music subscription service is available to U.S. residents only. Righto. So even if I do want to pay, I - nor anyone else in the entire fucking world - can actually access the bloody music? Right, well, that's going to stop me downloading stuff - why would I want to have a NERD MP3 on my 'puter when I know that I could be listening to a legitimate version. If I lived in New Jersey.
To truly preview new tracks, you need to burn them to CD. You need to take them with you to the beach. You need to spend some commute-time with them. You need to share them with a thousand friends or so, to see what they think. Buying a CD is like getting married: it can take years of evaluation to really know whether or not you like a song enough to commit to it.
Well, actually - yes, to a certain extent. I'd say that one of the things that has shaped my record buying in the last few years has been the covermount CDs that come with magazines; tracks that didn't catch into my soul on radio play have, subsequently, wormed their way into my affections by dint of being next to something nice on, say, one of the mighty fine Uncut CDs - but, really, of course, you're attempting to argue that the labels are right to only stream the music, rather than to allow the people who've paid for it to choose where and when they want to listen to it. Now, I don't know what your neighbourhood is like, but mine has no broadband access. The whole of the area I live in, from the waterfront, up past the tapas bar, across the park and all the way to the Motorway? There's neither BT nor Cable broadband, and if you ask them when they plan to bring the future to a not unaffluent area, they snort, and say "there's no demand, pal." So, when I am at home, I'm left with a standard dial-up modem. So, unless I want to do nothing but stream music with my computer, I get a load of drops, stutters, rebuffers and the whole deal and - unless I move - there aint no prospect of anything different. Assuming Rhapsody does roll out its service globally, if I can't download tracks to my hard drive in order to play them smoothly, I'm not interested. Further, being young-ish and still in possession of much of my own hair, I like to sometimes venture away from my Mac. I get driven round in a car; I go shopping. I walk into work. Sometimes I go to the toilet, or upstairs. Now, why is it unreasonable of me to expect to be able to make use of the music subscription service I'm paying for to provide me with music for these parts of my life? Apart from anything, most people's PC have nasty little speakers, and it would be better to play the music on the device they've bought for that purpose.
See, your explanations sound reasonable, but let's not forget the labels have been bounced into getting their act together by the existence of downloading - this sort of stuff would have made much more sense if it had been introduced five or six years ago, rather than as a struggle to snap lids back on Pandorean boxes. And if the new services don't start to try and work out why people have taken to MP3 - and its not simply or even mainly because its free, it's more the flexibility, the global reach, and convenience - then there's simply no point in even bothering. Rhapsody and its siblings are currently the equivalent of town criers - alarmed by the rise of newspapers - offering to come and shout the news to you while you're in the cluddgy. Rhapsody lets people listen to music on computers. MP3 uses computers to enable people to listen to music. The distinction is important.
[Thanks to The Minor Fall, The Major Lift for bringing this to our eyes]


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