Guitars and Geeks, Two Approaches To A New Relationship|
[ No. 44 - June 2000 ]
Established artists are finally getting a handle on the true
interactive nature of the Internet. A look at the latest version
of Joe Satriani's web site
provides a good example. (Disclaimer:
This section about the Satriani site is written by FezGuy #1 because
the other FezGuy #1 had a hand in the site's development.) This is
the second major overhaul of the popular guitar player's site and
features new ways for fans to contribute feedback (including what
songs fans want to hear in Mr. Satriani's live sets), share
information and learn about the artist.
The opening splash page is simple and loads quickly. Mr. Satriani
gets familiar with his people through a streamed welcome message
in RealVideo (at multiple bitrates) or downloadable as a Quicktime
movie. There's a listing for the next live show (updated every day)
that links to the complete itinerary for the current tour. On the
itinerary, links lead to fan comments about each specific show.
Even shows in the future have fans chatting back and forth about
hooking up at the venue, creating a pleasing sense of sociability.
Some shows have photographs. Subscribed members can mark their
attendence at a show, entering them in a random drawing for aftershow
The community has a host of ways for fans to interact. A "lookup"
function allows fans access to other specific fan nicknames' real
names, locations, and email (this can be limited if the user has
chosen not to share that info). There's a well-organized contest,
the winner of which was announced during a Quicktime webcast of a
live show in Seattle. Using his resources within the industry to
benefit his fans, Mr. Satriani's sponsors (Ibanez Guitars, Guitar.com,
Epic Records and Apple Computer) award one winner a guitar, an amp,
a complete videography and discography of Joe's material and, to
top it all off, transportation from anywhere in the U.S. for a
guitar lesson with Joe. What fan could resist?
You must become a member to get full use of site (only registered
members can post to the comments page or talk in the chat room)
but, thankfully, the signup process is very simple. Unlike a typical
corporate web site, only a nickname and valid email address are
required. The email address is necessary so the site can automatically
return a password. Unwanted spam can be de-optioned by not signing
up for the mailing list. The site doesn't require a phone number,
address or your real name. That's refreshing.
Of course the site also features streaming and downloadable music
and video, tons of information (including an electronic press kit
or "EPK") and many photographs. Really, this site has to be seen
to be beleived. Almost every major-label owned band web site designer
could benefit by spending time studying the methods of this artist's
online presence. Let's face it: Joe really groks the Web. And, of
course, he groks his fans, too, knowing their supreme importance
to his life and work.
Speaking of using the Internet to connect with your fans, Metallica
made a big splash recently by attempting to pull the plug on
unauthorized online sharing of their music. Hundreds of thousands
of Metallica fans have been using Napster (see
<www.fezguys.com> column #43)
technology to trade MP3 files of the band's songs. The
band wants to put a stop to that, citing the reasonable position
of: it's ok to share, but the band should decide what and to whom.
It makes sense but Lars Ulrich, the drummer, takes it into the
realm of the absurd by saying he doesn't like to see Metallica
songs traded as a "commodity." Gosh, Lars, what do you call the
sale of compact discs? Thankfully, Metallica hasn't sank too deep
into the typical 100% anti-copying stance of the corporate music
industry. The band points out that it's only their released album
material they are concerned about, not the bootlegs, interviews,
and other related underground materials. We respect their desire
to be in control of how the music from their recorded masters is
sold. Any musician who isn't concerned about such issues will be
hard-pressed to make a living.
The wild popularity of Napster begs the question: How totally will
the existing commerce structure of the music industry get hammered?
Some Napster supporters say music should always be free to trade
and artists should make their money through live performance and
other merchandise sales. Others claim that free trade of music
(bootlegs or released recordings) only increases overall sales for
the artist in the long-term because true fans will patronize the
band. The FezGuys feel that this is beside the point. Technology
is merely a tool. This particular technology is about moving bits
around, and it should serve the needs of both those wanting the
bits and those making the bits. It should be easy for fans who want
to support a band to support them. Napster could benefit everybody
by re-inventing itself to serve the needs of artists making reasonable
decisions about the distribution of their music. Perhaps an artist
wants to release one song within the context of a set of other
related songs. Maybe they want to charge $10.00 for the whole thing
or give it away for free. It's the artist's choice.
Interestingly, the Grateful Dead, forever known as a shining example
of the positive effect of sanctioned live bootleg trading, doesn't
allow their released recordings to be traded. It's interesting that
Metallica and the Grateful Dead are now in the same camp.
In a recent staged media event, Metallica's drummer and lawyer
arrived at the office of Napster, in San Mateo, CA, to deliver a
whopping 60,000 page printout containing over 350,000 user names
purported to be actively trading the band's music using the Napster
network. Though the music, per se, doesn't live on the Napster
servers, the band wants Napster held responsible. During a mediated
online chat with band members
it was suggested by a fan that criminal charges for "aiding and abetting
piracy" would be more appropriate than a lawsuit.
So what does the lawsuit specifically say? Filed in the middle of
April, the suit claims that Napster has violated three different
areas: copyright infringements, unlawful use of a digital audio
interface device, and the Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt
Organizations Act (RICO). Specifically, it alleges Napster has
infringed by "encouraging and enabling visitors to its web site to
unlawfully exchange with others copyrighted songs and sound recordings
without the knowledge or permission of Metallica." In a related
lawsuit, popular rapper Dr. Dre seeks damages from Napster amounting
to $100,000 per illegally copied song. It's not clear if the same
holds true for Metallica's suit.
The situation is complex because it wraps multiple issues into one
big confusing ball. One thing the lawsuits are *not* about is MP3
as a format. Rather, the focus is on how MP3 is used (similar to
piracy not being about CDs, but about how they are illegally
trafficked). At the heart of this tempest in a teapot is frustration
and fear over the increasingly easy methods people use to pirate
music. Napster (to quote a link on their website about the legal
issues) is "Ground Zero" for this hot debate.
Bottom line? The FezGuys feel (as usual!) that litigation isn't
the only answer. We hope the press fallout (which has been
considerable) will raise awareness of the real issues and set the
stage for musicians to continue to make a living in this emerging
landscape. Piracy will always exist in some form. Lawyers don't
have to worry, they will always have work.
Let's Get Philosophical, Baby!
All this brouhaha about litigation actually points to a much deeper
issue: decentralization and control of intellectual property (i.e.:
Typically, thousands or even millions of fans flock to a handful
of large web sites for music. Napster and Gnutella (see
<www.fezguys.com> column #43)
eliminate the need for this giant central location by
allowing fans to become small servers, trading with each other.
Any fan can call up the availablity and location of another fan's
music files and swap. Viola! An authentic network is born. The
Internet actually acts like a web.
Now imagine a near future where home connectivity continues to
expand. Almost everyone has broadband access. Data flows from one
place to another and no one knows where it resides at any one time.
When you want it, it can be found. Home users become common carriers
(or small servers) and can't be sued for content they aren't even
aware they have (and may not have moments later). How, in the name
of all that's equitable, do you create a practical commerce model
out of a giant beehive where all the bees make their own choices?
Woah, bad trip, dude! (We said "dude." ;>)
The FezGuys hold these axioms to be self-evident:
- Musicians deserve to get paid for their work.
- Musicians have the right to give their work away.
- There will always be piracy and theft.
Technology's role is to make the first two possible. The user's
role (that's you and us) is to use it in a responsible fashion.
This is better achieved through education and collaboration than
litigation. Perhaps Napster should stop playing the role of middleman.
Perhaps it should get involved in monitoring its traffic and
facilitating the sale of protected works. Perhaps enormously
successful musicians can set a positive example by adopting new
technology, leading the way in educating fans and acting as positive
role models. Let's not leave it to the lawyers!
The scruffy indie music web site washed behind its ears and reached
a moment of clarity last month. Rock headliner Primus played at
the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, CA, with four IUMA-sponsored
college battle-of-the-bands finalists opening. As part of the
elegibility, each band had to have at least one member enrolled as
a college-level student.
This is a fine example of the tangible results web companies are
producing these days for independent musicians. The finalists were
undoubtedly excited to be at a venue with as much rock-n-roll
history as the Fillmore. And any rock music devotee can tell you
the value in getting your music introduced to fans of a band like
Primus. And hey, $10,000, 7 days in a recording studio, a 5,000 CD
pressing and promotion on IUMA and EMusic's web sites for the winner
ain't exactly chump change!
The event webcast is archived at
The RIAA has been granted summary judgement in its suit against
My.MP3.com (their service allowing
users online access to MP3 files of CDs they already own). Though
the judgement doesn't require MP3.com to shut down the My.MP3.com
section it has kicked the company into actively talking with major
labels about an agreeable solution. That's a step beyond MP3.com's
stonewall tactic of the last couple of years.
Like anyone else, your FezGuys make it up as we go along.