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Archive for January, 2004

The New TuneRecycler.com

Thursday, January 29th, 2004

PEPSI IS ABOUT TO DUMP 100 million free iTunes songs into circulation. During the Super Bowl, they’ll be launching a promotion that gives you a 1 in 3 chance of winning a free iTunes song under the bottlecap of a Pepsi. Those 100 million caps could theoretically mean 65 million dollars for record labels and musicians (that’s what’s left after Apple’s cut).

But we have a hunch that most Pepsi drinkers won’t bother to download and install iTunes just to get a single song. To help remedy the situation, we are announcing the Tune Recycler which lets people donate their unwanted iTunes codes, which we will redeem. Of course, we would never send Pepsi’s money to the big five labels (that would be a little incestuous, don’t you think?). We’ll be using the codes to buy music from independent labels. We’re going to pick single albums and buy them over and over– each purchase sends a little cash to some cool people. We’re going to start taking bottlecap submissions when the promotion begins on February 1st, but we’re announcing the site today. Check out the Tune Recycler.

p.s. If anyone out there is adept at applescript (or if you have a better idea), we could really use some help getting our redemption system automated: contact us.

New Round of Filesharing Lawsuits

Thursday, January 22nd, 2004

SO THERE’S A NEW ROUND of lawsuits. The RIAA filed 532 suits yesterday; this time they have to go through the courts before they can get the names. Of course, these suits are the same corporate extortion– the cost of fighting is so high that no one who’s targetted will able to defend themselves in court. We were quoted in a couple newspaper articles today, including this Newsday story. Our main point to reporters was that even short-term success in slowing filesharing (which itself is arguable– check out this conversation with Big Champagne) will never succeed in the long run against secure filesharing software like MUTE or mesh-nets like WASTE. The major record labels’ current calculus is that the bad publicity is an acceptable cost if it helps stop filesharing. But when secure filesharing wins out, all that’s left is the PR game. That’s why we’re here.

As we’ve said so many times before, if the major labels stopped payola, started paying artists fairly, gave up on DRM, and worked on a filesharing licensing system, then they could win back public support and we’d all be on the same page. But it would mean giving up their monopoly and decentralizing the industry. That’s no good for record execs making millions of dollars a year, so they’d rather bet it all on a scorched earth strategy: crush a few thousand families with lawsuits, squeeze out a couple more years of personal enrichment, and then bail out to a top job in another industry while blaming their failure on pirates. If you pretend for a moment that you don’t give a damn about musicians or culture, their strategy starts to make a lot more sense.

Ian MacKaye Interview

Tuesday, January 20th, 2004

THE MUCH ANTICIPATED interview with Ian MacKaye is ready, and he’s got a lot to say about mp3s, the music industry, and how he runs his record label:

“So the idea that somebody in wherever, whether they’re in a small town somewhere in the middle of america or in Pakistan or whatever, if they’re interested, and they want to check out Fugazi, I want it out there. I don’t want them to have to pay some service to get to it and listen to it and hopefully that would compel them to do further research. I mean, how cool would it be to know that there’s some kid in Pakistan who downloaded all our records and listens to them all the time– I’m happy, I don’t give a damn. I mean the argument against it is always just monetary, and again, that’s the least interesting aspect of music for me.”

We are very excited about this interview, and we’ve even put up audio clips so you can listen to some of the best parts. If you don’t know who Ian MacKaye is, we really recommend checking it out. The interview.

Mirah Interview

Saturday, January 17th, 2004

FOR YOUR WEEKEND perusal, we are pleased to bring you a new interview with Mirah. If you haven’t heard her music before, listen to some of the mp3s we link to on the sidebar. It’s good.

CMJ Interview / Radio PSAs

Thursday, January 15th, 2004

THERE’S AN INTERVIEW with Nicholas running in the next 2 (!) issues of CMJ magazine. CMJ is a company that tracks what’s playing on every college radio station in the country, and they send their magazine to each of those stations. Since we’re getting ready to do a big outreach operation to college radio, this is a huge boost.

We’ve written some PSAs (public service announcements) for independent radio, so if you work at a college or non-commercial station, you can print them out and get them read on the air. And, of course, if there’s some aspect of this issue that you’d like to highlight, feel free to improvise. Downhill Battle PSAs.

UPDATE: We’ve started posting audio files of the PSAs being read.

Get Involved with Downhill Battle

Thursday, January 15th, 2004

GET INVOLVED. If you’re someone who cares about making a fairer music business and ending the major label monopoly, it’s not at all obvious what you can do about it.  There’s lots of places to read about the issue, but then what? We’ve been trying to make Downhill Battle very action focused, and now we’re setting up a system that can help you plug in.

Downhill Battle Contacts is a new section that makes it easy to tell us what city you live in, what skills you have, and what you kinds of things you might want to do.  When a project or event comes up we’ll let you know, and if you’re interested, we can work on it.  So, if you want to get involved with this fun, worthwhile, and very winnable fight, then do it.

Publishers vs. Major Labels

Wednesday, January 14th, 2004

THERE’S SOME HILARIOUS BICKERING going on right now between the major labels and music publishers. It all stems from copy-protection: on certain copy-protected CDs, the major labels have included Windows Media encrypted files so that people can listen to the songs on their computer but can’t share them. Music publishers, who represent songwriters, get paid based on the number of songs distributed. Since these CDs have two copies of each song- the normal copy and the Windows Media copy- publishers are demanding double the royalty.

Songwriters have been getting screwed by the major labels forever (just like everyone else) so they’re jumping on this chance to get back at the big five. The major labels, on the other hand, are desperate to stop filesharing and assumed there would be some unity on that…
They must have forgot how much everyone in the music business hates their guts. It’s all just a wonderful example of what ends up happening when people, a. think about music in exclusively monetary terms and, b. try to lock it down. Here’s an article.


Sometimes people tell us that pay-for-play radio was outlawed and doesn’t happen anymore. The law changed, but not how mainstream radio works. Now that we’ve found this link, we’ll be sending people to howstuffworks.com: Independent Promoters and Radio Play. Related, of course, is payola in print media, which Greg Ross discussed in our interview with him a couple months ago. We’ve just updated that page to match our new interview style. Interview with Greg Ross. (by the way, we’ll get the Ian MacKaye interview up as soon as we get a photo from him, so cool your jets!)


Our beloved RIAA Radar has just added a mobile version that you can access from your cellphone while shopping. If you shop at Wal-mart or Best Buy, you’re going to get pretty frustrated typing in all those UPC codes into your phone and seeing "WARNING!" come up for every single one. RIAA Radar is the perfect tool for fighting the major label monopoly and Magnetbox Ben, who runs the site, keeps on making it sharper. Now we need programmers to start incorporating RIAA Radar into filesharing programs and mp3 players.

Emm Gryner Interview

Wednesday, January 14th, 2004

REBECCA LAURIE IS THE NEWEST member of the Downhill Battle team and we are psyched to have her on board. Her first contribution to the site is an interview with Emm Gryner, a prominent Canadian singer-songwriter who runs her own independent record label and records hits in her own bedroom. As she points out in the interview, things are generally more hospitable to independent music up north, though the major labels are certainly a dominating force. Emm was on a major label for one album before deciding to go indie. As she says:

“There’s been such a spread between what the record companies are trying to do and what artists are trying to do. I’m sure those goals were aligned originally, but now they aren’t and it was bound to implode.”

If you’ve been following filesharing news (and we sure have been!) you may have seen that Canada’s equivalent of the RIAA, the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), recently decided to begin suing music fans, dispelling the hope that they would take a more enlightened approach. With all the attention that the RIAA has received, it can be easy to forget that the 5 major record labels are transnational corporations; the United States accounts for less than half of their total sales. We hope the interview will Emm Gryner will be the beginning of a more international focus for Downhill Battle; there’s been a lot of interest in the site from folks outside of the United States, and we’re working to get some of our articles and features translated. The Emm Gryner Interview.


The same Kansas City team that brought us photos of their stickering adventure a few weeks ago is back in a big, big way. Take a look. Definitely watch this video that they posted. And if that looks like fun, you can get your own stickers right here. Informing consumers about where their music dollars go is crucial if we’re going to succeed at changing the music industry.


This is practically obscene: lawsuit victims in a Pepsi ad. We certainly don’t blame the kids for taking the money (we would), but the whole thing is a filthy cycle of putting people in debt and then forcing them to shill to get out of it. Sure, Pepsi didn’t do the suing, but their promotion depends on the lawsuits being in place. (Related to this, we’re cooking up a project related to the bottlecap promotion, so stay tuned.)

RIAA-Proof Filesharing Software

Wednesday, January 7th, 2004

OUR BUDDY JASON Rohrer (who programmed the Peer-to-Peer Legal Defense Fund)
has just released version 0.2 of MUTE, a new filesharing program that is extremely resistant to spying by the RIAA or anyone else. This is real privacy, not the psuedo-security that a lot of other programs brag about: no one on the network can tell what anyone else is downloading or sharing.

The corporate record industry is banking its future on a risky two-part attack: lock down music with DRM, and use lawsuits to scare people away from the troves of unlocked music on p2p networks. In this context MUTE could be a very very big deal. Once filesharing becomes safe and anonymous again, the DRM music peddled by the labels will be more inconvenient than the free alternative, and the labels are back where they started.

The program is still in beta, so it can be a little shaky at times, but it’s getting better quickly. You can download it for Mac, PC, or Linux on the MUTE website, which also has some interesting info about how it works (ants! ants!!!). When you get the program running, let it sit for a couple minutes to establish some connections and then search for "mp3" and see what you can find. Thanks to the recent slashdotting, there’s plenty of anime and Weird Al Yankovic mp3s. We’re counting on Downhill Battle readers to, um, diversify the musical offerings. You can share your whole music library 24/7–there’s no way the monopolists can find out who you are.

And you can help the cause by giving Jason a couple bucks to keep on working.


Downhill Battle switched webhosts last week. We’re now using Crisis Host which has been very fast and reliable. Best of all, their prices are almost unbelievably low.


Today we talked with Ian MacKaye, who’s in the band Fugazi and runs the label Dischord Records. We’ll post the interview shortly.

Project Hudson DRM

Tuesday, January 6th, 2004

“PROJECT HUDSON” IS a plan being hatched by the major record labels and some electronic makers to lock down music with a new universal DRM system (the New York Times broke the story yesterday). Details are lacking right now, but if these corporations get their way then all commercial music will be required to use a single proprietary encryption standard. Apple devotees take note– with iTunes dominating pay-for-download services and iPod dominating mp3 players, Apple may be the only thing that can stop this. We’ll be writing more on this topic as information becomes available.



Richard and Danielle from Kansas City ordered a bunch of major label warning stickers from us and went to the mall for some adventure:

Take a look at their handiwork.

In other stickering news, we’ve sold out of our second batch of stickers (6,000 out the door so far) and a third batch of 11,000 just arrived today. Every time we get a bigger batch they’re cheaper, so now we can send you 100 stickers for only $10! Order some or print your own.


We’ve posted several times about the damaging effect that the major record labels have on artistic freedom, both by manipulating the work of their artists and by using copyright as a bludgeon to prevent sample-based music and mix tapes from ever being created or heard. These copyright issues should be a concern to anyone who cares about music, whether you’re a post-modern theorist glorifying pastiche or a bat mitzvah DJ trying to warm it up (most of us are either one or the other). Hip-hop– much of which is built on samples and spread through mix tapes– dominates youth culture, tops sales charts, and is finally being recognized as the most creative pop music (by far). Copyright was designed to encourage innovation, so why is it being used to stifle innovation in the most popular and the most innovative music form? Simply because the goals of individual corporations have no relationship to the public good, and a handful companies have been behind legislation that turns copyright laws into property laws (for more, watch this Lawrence Lessig flash presentation). But we still have parody, protected by the first amendment, and this week there was a big victory for the public. Last year, Mattel sued an artist for making sculptures and photographs of Barbie in a blender in and tortilla and other places. They claimed that he was infringing their copyright and damaging their brand, despite the fact that the art was clearly commentary. This time at least, art won.

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