The FezGuys
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 passes.

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,, 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.

Good Cop/Bad Cop

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 <> 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.: your music).

Typically, thousands or even millions of fans flock to a handful of large web sites for music. Napster and Gnutella (see <> 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:

  1. Musicians deserve to get paid for their work.
  2. Musicians have the right to give their work away.
  3. 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!

IUMA's Music-'o-Mania

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 <>. Slapped Down

The RIAA has been granted summary judgement in its suit against (their service allowing users online access to MP3 files of CDs they already own). Though the judgement doesn't require to shut down the section it has kicked the company into actively talking with major labels about an agreeable solution. That's a step beyond's stonewall tactic of the last couple of years.

Like anyone else, your FezGuys make it up as we go along. <>.



About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

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