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Archive for August, 2004

Critical Mass Radio Network

Saturday, August 28th, 2004

Here’s something hot from some of the folks who started Killradio in LA: it’s called Critical Mass Radio Network. The idea is to forge a national radio network out of the efforts of small, independent radio stations. You’ll hear more from us on this later–we’re all about taking the push against the major labels off the internet, and radio is a huge piece of that.

Anyway, Critical Mass Radio made the L.A. Times, so check out the article.

Most of us (Nick, Tiffiniy, Holmes, Nick) are down in New York this weekend. If you’d like to meet up, give a call.

GrepLaw Interview

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

With a little help from my friends, I did a very long interview with GrepLaw that got posted last night. It’s a good rundown of where we’re at with Downhill Battle and where we hope to be headed. GrepLaw interview.

Intern for Downhill Battle

Tuesday, August 24th, 2004

This summer, Downhill Battle had an excellent intern, Ian Callahan, who is now headed backed to school for the fall. Ian was awesome in taking on projects and keep things working smoothly around here. So, with Ian leaving, we have a bunch of stuff, especially volunteer outreach, that’s falling back in our laps– and we need some help! If you’re interested in interning with us this fall, please email me: npr(at)downhillbattle.org. We are especially looking for interns who go to school in Massachusetts or nearby. You don’t need to be physically close to us to work with us, but it usually makes things a lot easier. If you’re farther but a really serious about making an ongoing time commitment, that’s cool too. The most important thing we need from you is reliability. And if you want to try to get credit or funding from a program at your school for the internship, we’d be happy to help you write up whatever you might need or schmooze your professors.

Globe columnist despises filesharing, but now supports VCL

Tuesday, August 24th, 2004

Tech columnist Hiawatha Bray at the Boston Globe has literally been the most fervent and vocal opponent of filesharing in the mainstream American press, but as of today he’s on our side, at least in practical terms.

The Boston Globe is a semi-local paper for us (I used to deliver it when I was a kid) so we’ve been really tempted a few times to spend afternoons taking him to task in letters. But now in his latest column, he basically agrees with the practical side of our platform: he opposes the INDUCE Act because of the huge damage that repealing the Betamax decision would wreak on the tech sector, and he supports the EFF’s proposal for Voluntary Collective Licensing (just like us). Check it out.

None of his columns are still online, as far as I can tell, but seriously: up until now he’s been dripping a pool of venom on the floor whenever he mentions the word “filesharer”. And in his first column on the INDUCE Act, I believe, he was making Fred Von Lohmann from the EFF out to be paranoid. All you college kids and corporate types with lexis-nexis accounts should run a search for “Hiawatha Bray filesharing” to see the older columns. This is a huge about face for a very prominent mainstream commentator.

File this one under “music monopoly eats INDUCE Act backlash”. The RIAA lobbyists may have overplayed their hand. The problem is, a few powerful people in Congress could still pass the thing, even if nearly everyone in the public interest, tech, and independent music communities oppose it.

Movies With Live Soundtracks

Friday, August 20th, 2004

After this past weekend I have an excuse to link to this awesome thing. Finally.

It’s by paper rad, a group of three friends (two in Easthampton, MA and one in Pittsburg) that make awesome art with Flash, wacom pads, and animated GIFs. Their style is so honed, you could spend hours on their website (no, seriously, spend hours on their website). Their live show, billed as Dr. Doo, is amazing too. I saw it in Worcester last Friday as part of the Movies with Live Soundtracks tour, where folks make short movies and play the soundtracks live (see it if it comes near you).

Dr Doo was a robot and human duet. The robot had a TV for a head and a flash animation for a face, and the human (named Ben) was drumming like crazy along to really nice, nintendo-ish synth melodies which, presumably, were coming from the robot. On the movie screen played one of paper rad’s signature narrative-if-you-stretch-your- imagination animations (have you checked out the website yet?), to which the music provided the soundtrack. The whole thing was incredible, hilarious, and uplifting.

My partner Trish went to see them the next night in Easthampton, and asked how much the CDs were. “Two for three dollars” they said. Let’s forget about music industry commentary for a second: selling CDs at 2 for $3 is such good style. They’re down with free culture too, if in a funny, punk, and unusually self-aware sort of way: check out the Tux Dog comic, which comes with an explanation of open source.

Things like paper rad are what makes us so energized about breaking down the barriers that keep independent/DIY music (and art) out of the mainstream.

We’re not pushing for a culture where art like this is in the mainstream; I don’t want to force my favorite art on other people for the same reason I don’t want other people forcing bad music down my throat. We’re pushing for a culture where stuff like this can get in the mainstream–if it’s got what it takes.

Of course, the internet was already making that possible way before Downhill Battle ever started: Get your war on went from website to book tour to Rolling Stone (more on that). But there’s still a long way to go before random kids have the same shot at reaching a mass audience as a veteran TV producer, provided said kids have humor, talent, and their finger on the (or at least a) zeitgeist.

As Downhill Battle approaches the one-year marker, I’m confident to say we’re moving in the right direction, at a pretty quick pace. Battle Torrent would make publishing everyones’ Movies with Live Soundtracks as easy as having a blog, and that’s just the beginning.

The Rescue and a Brooklyn Show

Friday, August 20th, 2004
rescue mainstream music

When we’re working to break the major label monopoly and give independent music a level-playing field, it doesn’t mean that we’re trying to get rid of pop culture or the mainstream. There will always be music stars and that can be a good thing– we’d love to see a music industry without narrowly-defined radio formats where musicians can get popular without having to compromise their musical integrity or pay off radio stations. The major label monopoly has lead to a narrowing of mainstream music around certain commercially reliable (but often dull) formulas, which end up giving “popular” a bad name (since to get popular music must conform–at least a little–to a formula). But once we break the music monopoly, musicians will be able to get popular without compromising their sound, and mainstream music can finally shake its bad rep. Check out our new stickers in the postal department.


A perk of having a website is shouting out your friends once in a while. This Saturday, our hometown Andy Ross (who organized a Downhill Battle benefit show in NYC a couple months ago) and Will Schachterle are having the first show of their new rock-electronic-dance-explosion-band: Andy Influence and Will Collision featuring Travis Gravitas. In my own biased opinion, this is a band that could rescue mainstream music, and they are good-ass performers. The show is at the Serious Business recording studio in Brooklyn. Details / directions are on the AIWCTG website and you can check out an mp3: Summer Jam. See you there.

Filesharing Software Ruled Legal

Thursday, August 19th, 2004

In an expected, but significant, victory for filesharing technology, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that filesharing companies are not responsible for what users do with the technology– just as ISPs aren’t responsible for what you do with email or what websites you visit. What’s most important here is the message that the courts sent. I’ll let them tell it:

“The introduction of new technology is always disruptive to old markets and particularly to those copyright owners whose works are sold through well-established distribution mechanisms… Yet history has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology be a player piano, a copier, a tape recorder, a video recorder, a personal computer, a karaoke machine or an MP3 player. Thus, it is prudent for courts to exercise caution before restructuring liability theories for the purpose of addressing specific market abuses, despite their apparent present magnitude.”

If there was ever an industry that needed some healthy disruption and reorganization it’s the current music industry. And that’s exactly what’s happening.

Here’s a short article, a detailed article, and the court’s ruling (pdf).

New Free Culture Chapters

Thursday, August 19th, 2004

This fall is the first new school year since FreeCulture.org was launched. If you don’t already know, we created FreeCulture.org with the Swarthmore Coalition for the Digital Commons, and it’s the organizing center of a new student movement for free speech, free software, and a de-corporatized culture. The fall, the number of student groups dealing with these issues is going to explode from 3 or 4 to…. a lot more than that. We already know of about a dozen schools where students will be starting FreeCulture chapters and we want to make a big push to get more. That push begins here.

A lot of the Downhill Battle crew did serious organizing in college, including myself, and we’ve put together a 5 Step Guide for starting a Free Culture chapter and a customizable, ready to go flyer to make things even easier. If you know anyone who’s in college and is at all interested in these issues, please get them to check out the guide and encourage them to start a chapter at their school (it’s easy). And even if you don’t know anyone in school, you should check out the re-designed FreeCulture.org and spread the word far and wide.

We said when FreeCulture.org started that the campus Free Culture movement could be the biggest student movement in the past 20 years, and that is still true. These are non-partisan issues that can bring together kids who care about arts and music, corporate control of culture and media, linux and free software, and filesharing. It’s an unholy union of activists, geeks, and indie rockers– and it could be incredible. Please, please get this out to college students you know.

Phony and Inept

Monday, August 16th, 2004

There is a very funny story in the New York Times today about a Warner Records attempt to get a new single posted on tastemaker MP3 blogs. On the one site that did post the song, Warner employees wrote obviously fake positive comments (“This track is amazing!! Thanks for letting us listen to it!!”) in the blog and the whole thing backfired (link).

Blogs, and the internet more generally, dramatically narrow the gulfs between musicians, reviewers, and fans. With these more connected relationships, authenticity becomes much more important than it already is. And authenticity is very difficult for lumbering corporations to fake. So as the internet becomes more important as a way that people find out about new music, it’s going to be harder and harder for a top-down corporate music industry to manipulate fans.


More good press about sp2torrent.com: Cnet, The Register, and the BBC.

Tilly and the Wall

Monday, August 16th, 2004

This past June, New York City-based label Team Love released its first album, Tilly and the Wall’s Wild Like Children. In addition to an in-store release, the entire Tilly album was made available on the label’s website, (www.team-love.com) in mp3 format, completely free of charge.

Team Love will be making all of their music freely available and in doing so aims to refute the record industry assertion that downloading hinders sales and success. The label was founded in late-2003 by Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and manager Nathaniel Krenkel. The decision to make the music free is especially notable because of their serious indie rock cred. It could be a sign of things to come from other labels. Although it’s still early, free has been working very well for Tilly so far: the album is selling well, and Tilly shows have been packed with enthusiastic fans– it’s an extremely fast start for a new band.

The Tilly album has been on rotation here at Downhill Battle for the past couple months; we recommend heading over to team-love.com and listening for yourself. Team Love’s second release, Willy Mason’s Where the Humans Eat is scheduled to come out this October. And you can catch Tilly and the Wall on tour this fall with Rilo Kiley and Now It’s Overhead (check the website for tour dates). I’ll be posting more updates over the next couple months about how Tilly and Team Love are faring.

Downhill Battle’s Rebecca Laurie also interns at Team Love in New York City, where she lives. You can peep her at points in the Tilly and the Wall video for Reckless .