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What are we to do with Emusic?

A while back scunner pointed me to Emusic, an online site where, for a monthly fee, you can download as much music as your bandwidth can cope with. It’s all legal and above board: the artists get royalties per download, and all in all it seems like a fine model for how music can be distributed.

Obviously not every artist on the planet is going to be on there, so it can be kind of disappointing sometimes. However, the kind of artist that is there (in my brief study of the matter) is kind of off the wall, left field stuff that maybe doesn’t get major mainstream distribution. The sort of stuff I tend to like, in other words.

Furthermore, I have no problems using Mozilla at their site, and their download manager is available for Linux as well as Windows. They just get it, I thought.

So I just started a trial subscription period: fourteen days, fifty files. Plenty to choose from, and it’s all going very well.

Or it was, until I started seeing this message appear alongside some albums: Not available outside North America due to licensing restrictions.

And this is alongside, for example, everything they have by The Birthday Party. Bugger. Bastards.

I’m expecting comments from scunner and swisstone about this, because they specifically said that Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle And Sebastian was on Emusic; and it is: a Scottish band, not licensed outside of North America.

So does anyone know how to get round this? I could change my registered country to the US, but it would cause some problems as my credit card billing address, I fancy.

Though its not like they’re sending anything…

Open up

Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis kind of thing. As my thirty-ninth birthday rolled around the other day — thereby taking me into my fortieth year — I decided that it was time to do something I’ve been vaguely thinking of for quite a while.

So I’m going to start studying with the Open University. And as a Physics graduate, and long-time programmer, obviously I’m going to study Humanities. Specifically, in February I’m going to start this course. Before that, though, in November, I think I’ll probably do this short one: Start Writing Essays.

Then, in years to come, there are courses in Literature, Music, History, all kinds of stuff. Even IT, should the mood takes me; thought I suspect that OU courses may be less than cutting-edge in that area.

Which only leaves the inevitable question: since I don’t have time to do all the stuff I want to now, how the hell will I find time to do this?

Open Source rocks…

… as we all knew; but now we can see how it’s helping rock ‘n’ roll. This is a great story about how Ernie Ball, the guitar string maker, switched form Microsoft to Open Source software.

What support? I’m not making calls to Red Hat; I don’t need to. I think that’s propaganda…What about the cost of dealing with a virus? We don’t have ‘em. How about when we do have a problem, you don’t have to send some guy to a corner of the building to find out what’s going on–he never leaves his desk, because everything’s server-based. There’s no doubt that what I’m doing is cheaper to operate. The analyst guys can say whatever they want.

I got the story from a blog I originally knew as “A Book In Ten Days”, but which now appears to be called “Stakeout”. It’s LiveJournal feed is still at abookin10days; though if you click that link you’ll see that the details there say “Stakeout”, too.

It never sleeps, you know.

We had a rehearsal last night, we Burn members. Well, more we Bu members — or should that be ur, or maybe rn? Because ‘s still on paternity leave, and phoned in sick (hope you’re feeling better, Tony); so only and I were there to hold the fort.

Which was quite limiting, but also interesting. We hadn’t rehearsed at all in nearly a month, and our last fully-plugged one was on the 8th of April, if my diary is to be believed. So we were, to say the least, rusty. It was appropriate, then, that we should close with ‘Powderfinger‘, since that comes from Rust Never Sleeps.

And indeed it doesn’t. But still, we did some good work. Memories were refreshed and songs were practised. We showed a definite pattern of “play it badly, try it again, play it better; sometimes repeat.” Which is as it should be, of course.

It was good to be back in Backstreet, with its strange, mouldy, under-the-railway-arch smell; it was good to crank the guitars up and let rip; and it was good to drive there on a sunny evening with all the windows open and Bruce Springsteen‘s The River blasting.

I arrived at the studio just as ‘Hungry Heart‘ was playing, which was appropriate, as we considered covering it once, when we heard that Springsteen originally wrote it for The Ramones.

Weapons of Mobile Inflation

This article in The Observer tells us that the Iraqi “mobile bioweapons labs” were nothing of the sort: they were, in fact, almost certainly mobile units for producing hydrogen to be used for artillery balloons.

Artillery balloons are essentially balloons that are sent up into the atmosphere and relay information on wind direction and speed allowing more accurate artillery fire. Crucially, these systems need to be mobile.

Iraq bought them in 1987. From Britain.

Don’t bang the doors on the way out, BlairyBush.

It ROCKS!

Saw The Matrix Reloaded the night before last. Arse was seriously kicked.

From the few comments I had read while trying to avoid spoilers , I had got the impression that people thought the action was good while the philosophy was overdone — not blended in as well as in the first film, I believe was the sense of it. This was utter bollocks.

In fact, if anything the fight scenes, etc, were too long — though I did find myself chortling with glee throughout several of them.

If we hadn’t had to get back to kids and babysitter, I would have been in favour of going back in for the 11pm show — which is something I’ve never done.

I suspect that the mixed reviews had lowered my expectations sufficiently that I enjoyed it more than I expected too. So, all thanks to the mixed reviewers.

Roll on Revolutions.

With liver tea and just this for all [1]

Shortly after I posted it, I realised that my previous post could be taken as a “comedy mishearing” — and indeed, it duly was so taken. That’s not what I originally intended it as — and indeed, if I had, it wasn’t very funny.

No, when I started writing it, I was genuinely wondering what Robert Johnson was talking about. Why was he thinking about methane? Could he, perhaps, have been interested in the search for life on other planets, where the existence of methane might suggest the existence of oxygen-breathing life?

Or might he have been using a methane-burning stove? A dangerous and unpleasant cooking solution which might well have weighed on this thoughts and made him think of rambling.

Or perhaps “methane” was code for a drug or sexual practice — we are talking about the 1930s US, after all: a less enlightened time and place than our own.

But the dreary reality was that I had misheard “mean things”. Perhaps when I discovered that I shouldn’t have posted; but I was only a click or two away and it’s hard to stop.

Still, it all gave and the chance to have a little chat, and for the latter to point us to Kiss This Guy, where some of the mishearings actually are funny.

Anyway I hope that this has made it clear that I wouldn’t waste precious posts on such a thing as a comedy mishearing.

At least, not unless it was funny.

[1]See http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/carroll/mondegreens.shtml

Why has Robert Johnson got methane on his mind?

I was listening to The Complete Recordings earlier, and in the first of two versions of ‘Rambling On My Mind’ (though not in the second), he sings (I’m sure), “I got methane on my mind”.

You don’t want to dig too deeply into these things, though: they can spoil things.

I feel the need to quote Billy Bragg at this point: “The temptation/to take the precious things we have apart to see how they work/must be resisted for they never fit together again”. Not quite what he was talking about, but still.

Home taping was good for music…

… and it still is.

(I’ve been drafting this piece for a while, and I’ve done as much as I’m going to . It’s been a bugbear for a long time, and it’s time to put it out there.)

Anyone who bought records during the eighties and probably early nineties, at least in the UK, will be familiar with the propaganda I’m referring to there. At some point during those years, the record companies, in their wisdom, decided that the common practice of people making tape copies of their friends’ records (or records borrowed from libraries) was seriously eating into their profits, and had to be stamped out.

Hoist the Joyless Roger

Part of their programme to achieve this aim was the printing, on all album inner sleeves that didn’t have pictures or lyrics, of the slogan “Home taping is killing music” above a large skull-and-crossbones with the skull formed from the silhouette of a cassette. Below this device was the text, “and it’s illegal”. You can see a reproduction of it here

Obviously, when first the young, would-be home taper saw this, they immediately gave up their nefarious acivities, destroyed any tapes they had already made, and went out and bought all the albums they had taped.

Oh no. Sorry: that was just in the dreamworld of the record company executives.

Is any of this — even if you’re too young to remember those days — starting to sound vaguely similar to events in our present (and more recent past)?

The parallels with MP3 sharing are undeniable; but are the conclusions the same?

Divided but undimmed

Before I consider that, let me just say why I think home taping was/is good for music.

The fundamental point that the record companies never got, I think, was that records taped were not lost sales. Taping was always a poor second-best to having the record. I speak here from the point of view of a teenager at school, of a student, of a young adult on the dole: mostly we taped records that we wanted to hear or have, that we couldn’t afford to buy.

Imagine, for a moment, that taping had never existed: that records had been released, but that there was no technology available to individuals that would allow a copy to be made. Would we — would I — have bought all the albums that, in reality, I taped?

I think it’s easy to see that the answer is “no”.

I might have wanted to, of course; but there’s no way I’d ever have been able to afford to.

So I, and thousands — maybe millions — like me, made tapes. And in doing so, I got to know the music of the bands I liked. And what do you do if you like, say, a band’s first two albums, which you have on tape, when their third album comes out?

You buy it on record, of course.

Especially if, by that time you are working and generally financially better off. This is exactly what happened to me with, for example, The Pogues. I heard them on John Peel, taped the first two albums (from , as it happens) and gradually fell in love with them.

Then when their third album came out, I bought it. Same with their fourth and fifth.

Make the switch

But it gets better than that, as far as the long-term income for the band (and record company) is concerned (or at least it did during the years of vinyl’s fading and aluminium’s growth). Because tapes degrade; after a few years of heavy use, they sound shite, quite frankly. But of qcourse, the music they hold doesn’t; our love for the songs doesn’t.

Sooner or later you need replacements.

This is why I have the first two Pogues albums on CD and the remainder on vinyl. Same with others. Or take The Fall: I have a mixture of vinyl and CD, and a still incomplete collection. Keep them out there, the record companies, and eventually I’ll buy the missing ones. On CD, almost certainly.

I am, of course, a trivial statistical sample; but I strongly suspect that I’m a long way from unrepresentative.

So my conclusion is that my taping activities didn’t deprive the artists or record companies of any sales; and did prepare me to buy the material later. A net gain for artists and record companies. And for me, for that matter: a no-lose situation.

It’s got to be perfect

But things have changed — or they might have at least. Nowadays you can borrow a CD and make a CD copy of it: a bit-perfect, nondegrading copy (on the assumption that CDR doesn’t degrade, which is another story entirely). Or you can rip it to your hard drive. The MP3 encoding is of a lower quality than CD, of course, but most of us, most of the time, probably can’t tell the difference; and if it doesn’t bother you — or once you get used to it — again, there’s no deterioration.

This all, I must admit, bothers me.

Clearly there’s no problem with ripping your own CDs, for convenient playback. Ripping, or copying, borrowed ones, though: there’s the rub.

Because it completely blows my repacement theory out of the water, doesn’t it? You’ll never replace your copied CD, because it’ll never become muffled and stretched like a tape.

Rip it up and start again

Well… I can think of a couple of occasions where you might go back and buy a copied or ripped CD. One is to get the packaging. A not completely unreasonable possibility; many albums are attractively packaged, with lyrics, sleevenotes, and so on. But in equally many, even ones that contain glorious, deathless music, the packaging is at best an irrelevance (and I’ve long felt that twelve-inch vinyl records are better to own as artifacts than CDs anyway; not least because of the bettter printing quality on the bigger covers).

The second is when you’ve ripped it and you lose the ripped files through a disk crash or similar (in conjunction with poor backup discipline, of course). Indeed, there is a growing belief or acceptance that “the CD is your master copy” while your working copy resides on your hard drive, or in your iPod or whatever.

So, it’s not impossible that we may go on to buy a once-borrowed CD. But I think it’s a lot less likely than it was with tapes.

So where do I stand on copying CDs? is home duplication killing music? Well, no: it’s clearly not as bad as that. I’m not totally comfortable with duplication, so I rarely do it. The fact that people out there will, however, doesn’t mean that the whole edifice of the music industry is going to come crashing down any time soon.

Stay tuned for more rock ‘n’ roll

Indeed, the other side of the digital music revolution probably balances out the problem of making copies: downloading. The record companies don’t get this yet,of course, but on the whole I think even they will have to admit that downloading is good for music.

This argument has been discussed to death on the net, so I can hardly bear to write it, but in a nutshell: you dowload — legally or not — a few tracks by an artist; if you don’t like them you never listem to them again and/or you delete them to save space. If you like them, you go out and buy the album. It’s as simple as that.

OK, there are alway exceptions. There are no doubt people who’ll be prepared to take the time to download entire albums; but they’re surely in the minority. For most people the download model will, or does, work broadly as I’ve outlined it above.

Also, I’m fairly sure that most people will be willing to pay a small fee to download tracks, once a suitable payment mechanism is found. So all in all music-downloading culture is good for music — especially, of course, for the smaller artist without big record-company backing.

All of this has been said before, and will be said again (for example, this guy presents a good discussion of it); we’ll have to keep saying it, I suppose, until the record companies listen — or until they just go away and leave bands to get on with doing it themselves.

What I did on my holidays (and off)

Too many people to mention been filling in “what I did n years/days ago” questionnaires (I hesitate to call it a meme, because that word is becoming so overused). And who am I not to join in?

20 years ago: Just starting second term of first year at Uni. Hadn’t been to Eastercon — hadn’t been to a con yet: RaCon was later, I think; and anyway, a good Catholic boy like me had been at home with his parents, going to midnight mass and all that.

However I had got into SF fandom, via the EU SFSoc (of which I was later President, for what it’s worth). Had started making several of my closest friends, whom I’m don’t stay in nearly close enough touch with these days. Must have seen the Architects of Fear (seminal Edinburgh punk band, without whom Burn would probably not exist) a few times by then. It was through SF Soc that I met and, indirectly, because they were a bit after my time, and Ol (my turn to say, “Get an LJ, mate”).

15 years ago: I had started work in London the previous August (and had a long-weekend trip to Brighton for reasons many of you will remember, if vaguely). Exactly fifteen years ago I had probably recently returned from Follycon. I was living in Tooting with some members of a band called The Pleasure Thieves — they had some fine songs which I remember fondly (so I was pleased to find, while researching this, that they’ve put a lot of them out via MP3.com).

Also in the same house was their recently-left singer. He left because the other band that he was involved with had recently got a deal. Tensions were high, but largely unspoken. The Jazz Devils put out a couple of albums on Virgin, but they had never played a gig before they got their deal so they had no following.

The Pleasure Thieves regrouped as a three-piece and gigged heavily over the next couple of years. I sometimes helped them out with a bit of roadieing.

Later that year I bought a house in Walthamstow with two friends called John (if any of these people had sites I’d link to them). Big mistake financially, given what was to follow, but we had a fun few years including putting a band together for a bit. Never got past the rehearsal-room stage, though. In fact, we never even settled on a name. We tried out many, with The Void being the last and longest-serving, but we were never very happy with it.

I wonder now whether we’d have done more if we’d had a name.

10 years ago: still in Walthamstow, but by this time the house-partnership was sundering — amicably enough: it was all to do with other relationships starting. By this time I had met and was going out with Frances, (whom I’ve been with ever since), so I was spending a lot of time in Hackney, too.

5 years ago: Daniel, our son, was 1. Living in Hackney, commuting to Wimbledon. Holidayed in Normandy, on a farm where there was a donkey which Daniel loved at first, but then got frightened of when it charged down the hill braying loudly (safely behind a fence, I should add). I had hardly touched my guitar in several years, but Burn were in the near future.

Last year: Fiona, our daughter, was 1. We were starting,very gradually, to get the house done up, a long-term project. I had been in Burn for four years, I think. Holiday in France again, camping in the Loire Valley this time. No donkeys seen.

Yesterday: At work: tail end of Meridian 4 development (soon to be shelved as we redevelop it using EJBs — though that release will probably still be numbered 4). Collected kids, Frances working late.

Today: At work again; more of the same. band rehearsal at Ol’s tonight: mmm, pizza, beer.

Tomorrow: It’s the working week, what do you. think? Don’t expect the Mayday celebraions to affect me much, though work have warned us to be careful, “to avoid accidental involvement in violence”. Yeah, but what about deliberate involvement?

Next year: should repeat this, to build up a year-by-year picture.