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Archive for April, 2005

Our Biggest Project Ever

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

This is a big day for us. A couple months ago, the Downhill Battle team started a new (funded) non-profit organization called the Participatory Culture Foundation . Today we’re announcing our first project, the biggest one we’ve ever undertaken– it’s not ready yet, but we’re releasing sourcecode and we want to start building a community around it. It’s an internet video publishing and watching software platform. We are super psyched about the possibilities for independent video.

The project is a a free, open source set of software tools for watching and distributing high quality, full screen videos over the internet at almost no cost to the publisher (BitTorrent, baby). For viewers, this means you can elegantly and simply subscribe to your friends’ channels, a channel for your zipcode, or organizations and watch a truckload of videos that you can’t get on regular TV. For videomakers, you’ll finally have a publishing tool for all your videos – it will be as easy as blogging– just upload your files and you have a channel. Anyone can find out about your channel and start subscribing to it, just like anyone can find out about your blog or your favorite blog.

We are releasing the video player’s pre-beta source code today because we’re really excited to be a part of a such a great open source project that will help independent video-makers and their audience put out bigger and better videos in a completely sustainable way. We want to help build a mass audience for independent videos as soon as possible and we hope that more developers will get involved on the software side. The code is very well designed and coded, and should be a nice cross-platform project to work on. We’re shooting for full release of the video player and and our easy-to-use publisher in June, along with some featured content to get the ball rolling. We’ve been doing a lot of outreach to get video channels lined up.

This all means that anyone with access to broadband and a videocamera can have their own channel with a real audience. We think people are ready to start including independent videos into their 3 or so hours of TV-watching and we think that simple tools can make all the difference between a few people making videos at the margins and everyone making and watching videos as part of an exciting new culture of sharing art, creative ideas, and knowledge. Building on open standards, like Bittorrent and RSS, makes it easy for everyone to have a channel. And the video player will download videos automatically from any RSS feed “Channel”. That means that anyone can subscribe to the “Downhill Battle” or “Tiffiniy Cheng” video channel and every video I want to let people know about is offered to my subscribers. All of a sudden my nieces’ punk video is playing on your screen, like a direct video delivery system from individual to individual. The video application is cross-platform and supports all video formats that play with VLC. So check out the announcement. And please join in! BTW, we want to get some independent music videos channels ready, interested in putting something together or have videos you want to submit? email tyc (at) ppolitics.org.

Is indy rock a rut?

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

VICE Magazine is generally full of crap, but this is a really sharp point:

“I feel like there has been created, in the past two to three years, an indie-yuppie establishment. Bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Iron and Wine, the Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, they are great bands, really great bands, with great albums, great songs, high quality. And to me, it’s just so fucking boring,” he says. “It’s like fancy-coffee-drinking, Volvo-riding music for kids. And kids should be listening to music that shakes them up more, makes them uncomfortable. … I don’t think we’re ever going to sign an indie rock band. … I want to sign stuff that is more immediate and shakes you up a bit.”

Indy rock definitely walks a dangerous line sometimes, and the idea of teenagers getting yuppiefied by music is very scary. And even though VICE is starting an imprint on a major label, they did just sign the Boredoms, who are so damn amazing, so I have to give them some credit there. (via SVN)

Please Donate to Us

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

We’re starting a 5-day fundraiser today because we need your help to keep fighting for independent music. You can stop reading here and just donate. Alright, it’s getting to be summer and we want to start ramping up, helping to push for public wifi in many more cities and towns (possibly your city/town) and keeping apace of one of the most important court cases, Grokster! This is a great time to donate. We’ll put your name into a drawing for one of 9 copies of “Freedom of Expression” if you donate.. You can also add your name by writing to postal(at)downhillbattle.org. Kembrew McLeod is helping us to thank you for donating by giving us these copies, He’s pretty great to us. Please visit Downhill Battle to donate to us!

This book on intellectual property insanity is a great way to jump into the issue and why not play with fate to see if you should be one of the nine who will take IP on. And if you’re reading this in your RSS reader, be sure to not miss Nicholas’ face on the new edition webpage to our website.

Philadelphia Will Announce the First Large-Scale Public Wifi Plan Tomorrow

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

This may be a seminal moment for cities going wireless and going through a cycle of economic development. Mayor Street of Philadelphia and his office have decided to go municipally-owned with their wifi plan, despite Comcast’s opposition to the fact that they do not have rights over the plan. The city is creating public and private partnerships so that the whole city goes wireless in just a few years with some areas completely free and some areas subsidized. It sounds like a great plan where there will be some room for commercial ISP’s and non-profit ISP’s, but we want to make sure that what is at the top of the agenda is the public’s interest, getting wireless across depreciated communities and in places of gathering.

So if you’re in Philly you can stop by the Mayor’s Reception Room at 12:00PM tomorrow, Thursday. If you miss that you can get on an audio conference call-in and web conference hosted by Dianah Neff, CIO of Philadelphia, which will be offered at 3:00 p.m. Here is more info on that. We suggest you push for the public’s interest at every step.

House of Reps on D-Music

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

A “Digital Music Interoperability and Availability Oversight Hearing” at the House of Representatives happened today at 10 am and you can watch the webcast. Interesting people on panel.

The major labels won’t survive the death of the CD

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

Mark Cuban reminds us in this post that CDs are a doomed format and that with the explosion of sales of mp3 players, the rapid decline of the CD is imminent. We totally agree up to that point.

I think Mark is off-track in the second half of his piece: he thinks the transition to digital can be good news for record labels (presumably major labels, since he’s referring to mall music) if they are willing to allow DRM-free mp3 kiosks to replace ever shrinking racks of CDs in stores. But I doubt that very many people will take their mp3 players to a store to get music, when they already connect their mp3 player to a computer every few hours to charge it. Maybe in-store downloads could be a decent niche for a while, but it just doesn’t make very much sense in the long run.

What really matters is that CDs are about to hit a tipping point: stores like Best Buy and Walmart keep shrinking the rack space they give to CDs and when it gets too small, people won’t be able to find what they’re looking for. They’ll be forced to go online (with either iTunes or p2p) and they’ll quickly lose the habit of buying any CDs, even the hits that are still available in stores. This will accelerate the shrinking CD shelf space, which will accelerate people switching, and things will get faster and faster until mail order is the only way to find any real offering of CDs. This could happen even if a huge chunk of people still want CDs– at some point it’s just not profitable to stock them anymore. In as little as a year and a half from now, the corporate music industry could be overwhelmingly dependent on digital distribution (a popular iPod phone would be the real death knell for the CD).

To survive, the major labels need to keep people in their clutches as everyone makes that transition from CDs to audio files. But that’s a tough task– first, once you’re online, there’s a long tail of indy content that people can choose from. When you have limited money for music and a big selection to choose from, you’re less likely to buy major label. The monopoly starts cracking.

Second, when you’re online, any audio file is as good as any other, and there’s not much incentive for fans to pay for major label music since they know that hardly any money gets to musicians, and that the industry has been screwing over music culture for decades. Why not spend your music dollars where they’ll do some good?

Third: there will be a population of people that can’t get CDs the way they used to, but still aren’t ready to switch to mp3 players. It’s a much more complicated transition for people than it was from vinyl to CD. Those people could just drop out of the market.

And fourth, the industry is alienating key tastemakers and tech adopters like Mark Cuban by insisting on putting DRM on all their files. From the selfish standpoint of the major labels, we think DRM on CDs is probably a money maker because it stops 90% of people from being able to make a CD-R copy– but they haven’t made that kind of DRM really work. DRM on downloaded audio (which they did make happen) is a much bigger gamble: people who get frustrated by the restrictions will just find the files for free. When people want to switch mp3 players or mp3 stores, their old stuff is unplayable and they won’t pay to replace it. But on the plus side for the major labels, they will keep a lot of people from dumping their whole iPod onto a friend’s iPod. Lots of commentators think the major labels are screwing themselves by putting DRM on audio files. I think it’s a toss-up as to whether they’ll make more money with or without it– damned if they do, damned if they don’t. But either way, they’ll lose a certain number of people, and that’s another blow to their reign.

All of this, of course, is good news for people who care about independent music finally getting a chance in the mainstream. Remember, as always: don’t buy major label music in any form and do buy music from independent labels. You’ll help ensure a brighter, more vibrant music future.

Update: CD sales starting to tumble.

Signal/Noise2k5 4/8

Tuesday, April 5th, 2005

The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard is having an interesting conference this Friday, starting at the chillingly brisk hour of 8:30am, which will have a chilling effect on our ability to get there on time. It is called “Signal/Noise2k5: creative revolution?” Our friend, artist friend, and collaborator on 3 Notes and Runnin, Mike Bell-Smith is speaking then (3:30pm). Mike’s awesome band, Professor Murder just played a show in New York and posted some live mp3’s– David said “they KILLED”. So, the other people who are going to be there is dude from Machinima.com, Beatallica, Soul Coughing (Mike Doughty), Dan the Automator, and Grateful Dead. Intellectual highlights are Wendy Seltzer from EFF, Jenny Toomey from Future of Music Coalition, Kembrew McLeod and a collection of fan art. In addition to the Harvard theme, we’re planning to talk about how when corporations get out of the way and bottling of culture, things get way better. There is still time to register/go.

The Starbucks Delocator

Monday, April 4th, 2005

Here’s some nice resistance to the general climate of fear surrounding anything that invokes a corporate brand-name: Carrie McLaren is running a campaign to get people to link to the Starbucks Delocator by its proper name, instead of “The Delocator” which was the name forced upon it by a legal department afraid of getting sued. Here’s the story in two short parts: part 1 and part 2. Now that you’re up to speed, let’s see how high up in google we can get the Starbucks Delocator when people search for “Starbucks“.

From someone who ordered a shirt from us:

Monday, April 4th, 2005

“Just for the story, I saw this shirt for the first time in Vientiane, Laos. It’s a great worldwilde shirt.”

“The Problem with Music” in Spanish o “El Problema de la Musica” en Ingles

Monday, April 4th, 2005

A few months ago before we got incandescantly busy, Alfredo Vargas from Colombia sent in a great Spanish translation of Steve Albini’s “The Problem with Music”. This is the English version on Negativland’s site and here is the long awaited Spanish version. It helped me brush up on Spanish and reminded me of the major points of Albini’s article – the picture that major label A&R guys paint to young, striving bands is one that glosses over how much they’ll be paying to get a record out and play a month of shows, and how record companies make millions while bands that only sell about 250,000 albums (!) make around 4,000 dollars. The glory of selling 250,000 albums seems to easily diminish after these bands realize they are still locked up in their contracts for at least the next few albums. Albini points out that the t-shirt companies these bands are hooked up with also charge more than bands can afford, so that’s why we think indie bands should go to our man, Jake or to vgkids. We believe it is possible and we think it is important for music that everyone who wants a chance at fame shouldn’t have to run the major label dungheaps to get there.

Speaking of fame sans dungheap, independent labels and bands seem to be doing well; especially Beggar’s Banquet since the M.I.A. album blew up (with the help of internet-say). She’s everyone’s favorite, (especially Holmes’) because she’s good at fashion, dancing, singing, creating art, and thinking. Anyone have actual record sales numbers? I’m also delighted that people I don’t expect to have heard of Mirah have heard about her. There’s lots of reasons to like her work, she’s very inclusive. We went to TT the Bears to see a major label band the other day and afterwards, the club was listening to Mirah there and my friend there knew about her. Mirah, like other K Records bands play shows where “there is no “difference” between the musician and the audience, you can ask them to hang out afterwards”, says Tricia. It seems Mirah and K Records are doing well for themselves without all the slime.

Alfredo also had the help of Jupiter from CC. Thank you so much to the both of them for reaching out to Spanish speakers. Alfredo says he’ll also be translating our flyers into Spanish too, so watch for them in your Latin American and Spanish-European countries soon. Alfredo, we might have another translation job for you too!