Monday, April 23, 2007

MUIN 495 FINAL: Rap Lyrics, Broadcasting and the Objectification of Women

The Media. It is everywhere. Assailed by multiple forms, media can be felt, heard, seen, tasted, and even smelled. Television. Radio. Billboards. Fast food. Promotional giveaways. We are surrounded, it’s true. In a society that is so saturated with media, be it in forms of entertainment or news, it is almost impossible to avoid disagreement and controversy. This can come in many different forms, from taking sides and voting for one contestant or the other on American Idol, to a radio broadcaster or news reporter using offensive language on the air. Regarding the latter, Don Imus and the recent uproar is a fitting example. A long time radio personality, Imus is known for having a fiery mouth. Equipped with strong opinions and the ability to not leave anyone out of his ring of jokes and insults, be they serious or playful, his most recent comments have undoubtedly become his most notorious. Geared towards the players on the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, some of his comments raised more than just a few eyebrows.

“That’s some rough girls from Rutgers…Man, they got tattoos…”


“That’s some nappy-headed hos there.”

Really? Really?!

Aside from the fact that Imus genuinely knows how to butcher the English language, and that he is generalizing that possibly any girl with a tattoo is rough, it seems a bit peculiar coming from a 66-year-old white male. Is this what he really thinks? Does he believe that black female basketball players are nappy-headed hos? Does he even know what that means? Do you or I even know what a nappy-headed ho is? I can’t say for sure I understand the connotation, as slang words can have several different meanings. But why did he call them “rough” and “nappy-headed hos”? Does he associate all black women with what he sees on rap videos and hears in popular music?


Here is a possibility: In a situation of age reversal, Don Imus became a child when he nonchalantly, maybe unknowingly spoke those words. It is entirely feasible that he had no clue what he was saying. Like a toddler imitating his parents or schoolmates and proudly displaying knowledge of one (or several) curse words that only “grown ups” are allowed to say, it could be that Imus was merely observing his surroundings and concluding that, since there have been relatively few uproars about the way women are depicted in the popular media (be it African American culture or not), it would be OK for him to say something like that. Heck, all the kids are saying it, right?

But this thought brings attention to a much more real possibility. There is the possibility that the content of music, specifically rap and hip-hop, has a profound influence on our culture and significantly blurs the line between what is acceptable and what is not. Here is a striking example of this conundrum, brought to you by none other than multiple award-winning rapper Eminem:

“Now I don't wanna hit no women when this chick's got it coming
Someone better get this bitch before she gets kicked in the stomach
And she's pregnant, but she's egging me on, begging me to throw her
Off the steps on this porch, my only weapon is force”

Not enough? Here is a less violent, equally disturbing display:

“Girl, you looks good, won't you back that ass up
You's a fine motherf-----, won't you back that ass up
Call me big daddy when you back that ass up
Ho, who is you playing with back that ass up”

Provided by the rapper Juvenile, these lyrics blatantly represent women, or a certain girl, as nothing more than objects that men use for their pleasure. Though this phrase is not in context with the rest of the song, if it were put into context this point would only be reinforced. To see or hear for yourself, the song is called “Back That Ass Up” by Juvenile. This music is heard all over the airwaves. I distinctly remember hearing this song and even seeing the music video on MTV during the day when I was in middle school. This media is exposed to anyone who has access to radio, television, or the Internet, ready to corrupt young malleable minds.

As a society, we embrace this type of music and even praise it. Dana Williams brings up a good point in her (2/28/03) article:

“If [music] industry nods of approval like the Grammys are any indication, lyrics promoting hatred, objectification and exploitation of women are increasingly accepted as authentic forms of artistic expression – particularly in some rap and hip hop music.”

This is such a valid point. We absolutely love this stuff. How can we start to deal with the issue if we continue to encourage it? It is hard to preserve freedom of expression while ensuring that as few people as possible are offended. Going back to Imus, furthering this are words from Naomi C. Earp, chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

“The offensive remarks of Imus and McGuirk, the belated reaction of the networks and radio station, and Imus' defense of his comments by pointing to rap lyrics -- as if two wrongs make a right -- indicate the need for a clear and unambiguous dialogue about racism in America.”

She indicates that rap lyrics are in the wrong. Why, then, is there more of a concerted effort to lash out against Don Imus when he makes a mistake then to lash out at the music industry as a whole, particularly the rap and hip hop sector? It only makes sense that in order to create a “clear and unambiguous” dialogue about racism there must be equal effort in reaching out to those who prominently put forth racist and misogynistic ideals for all to see (artists) and those who make mistakes due in part to confusion of what is OK to say and what is not (Imus). Thanks to television, radio and the music industry, many get the impression that it is acceptable to call women “bitches” and “hos”.

If Ludacris is saying it why can’t I? It’s on TV, so it’s OK, right?

This may be the train of thought for many people. Though it may seem childish, (remember your mother asking you if you’d jump off a bridge if so-and-so did?) it is how corporate America works. If it sells and makes money, then there is considerably less thought about morals and the possible consequences of such behavior. If there is going to be dialogue, the record companies that produce this music and push these videos must come into agreement with those that are hurt by the lyrics and images.

How can we come to a consensus that music containing these lyrics is hurtful if our country promotes it? By promoting it, I mean to say that Americans are buying it. We are in love with rap and hip-hop. Listen to a Top 40 radio station and odds are in favor of the majority of the songs being played are rap or hip-hop. For example, I just checked the KIIS FM Los Angeles radio station website to see the last 10 played songs. They include: “Irreplaceable” by Beyonce; “The Sweet Escape” by Gwen Stefani; “Because of You” by Ne-Yo; “Impacto” by Daddy Yankee featuring Fergie; and “I Wanna Luv U” by Akon. Four of the first five songs fall into the rap/hip hop/R&B category, with Gwen Stefani on the borderline. People love the beat. They love the aggressive nature and sexy content. It just makes one want to dance. Something so prevalent in our society should not be such a problem, but it is.

Luckily the issue of rap lyrics has long been in the minds music executives and social leaders alike. In fact, just recently the hip-hop icon Russell Simmons called a meeting for top-level music executives to discuss the use of offensive lyrics in music (Daniel Trotta, 4/23/07). Simmons called for “voluntary restrictions” on words such as “bitch,” “nigger,” and “ho.” He said that these words should be considered as obscene as the ‘extreme curse words’ that are bleeped out for television and radio. Of course he has a point, and it is admirable that those in charge of releasing this content are at least talking about it. We live in a free country. America is the land of the free. We say it is, and so do others. Though the current administration may be a little more Big Brother-ish than others, I find it hard to believe that we will begin to censor music lyrics. Russell Simmons thinks so too, which is why he is calling for voluntary restrictions. This leaves it up to the artist’s themselves to make the decision. Sometimes, though, it’s all about making the cash, and being sexual and vulgar is what’s hot right now. Probably always will be, but that’s a different story. James Poniewozik makes a great point in his Time Magazine article (4/23/07):

“…we also live in a culture in which racially and sexually edgy material is often--legitimately--considered brilliant comment, even art.”

If albums sales and Grammy awards presentations are any indication, then this statement is true. We really enjoy making fun of and degrading each other, as long as we aren’t the ones being made fun of or degraded. It seems that we aren’t secure enough with ourselves to take the heat, so we’ll just bash others in order to feel better about ourselves. This can happen in many forms and rap music is one of them (along with other forms of music, of course). It’s about power. The alpha male. Misogynistic values incorporated into lyrics and video. And yet, women participate. This is another issue: Women volunteering themselves into this position.

Here’s an interesting thought: Even though it may seem outrageous that women would want to be a part of overtly degrading, sexual videos, can it possibly be equally empowering? For without the female and her body, what would the man have to talk (sing, rap) about? It’s like the video vixens are doing the job they want to be doing, collecting the cash, and laughing all the way to the bank about how pathetic it looks for someone to surround themselves with dozens of beautiful women knowing that in reality it would never happen. Sigh, we all need therapy.

While the problem of objectifying women through music does not adhere specifically to the United States, it seems less of a problem in some other countries. Take Brazil for instance. A program started in 2003 by Gilberto Gil, the Brazilian government’s minister of culture, is all about hip-hop and teaching its aspects to the country’s lower-class youth (Larry Rohter, New York Times 3/14/07). By giving monetary grants to community groups throughout the country, this program is teaching the arts of hip-hop to eager students. This art includes graffiti, emceeing (rapping), DJing, break dancing, and recording music. In America, teaching this to our youth would be looked down upon by countless eyes. We associate hip-hop and rap with gang violence and sexual promiscuity and surely don’t want our kids to fall under these influences. But in other countries like Brazil, hip-hop is regarded as more of an art form. Rappers that flaunt excess jewelry and women are looked down upon, while those with socially conscious lyrics are hailed. The goal is to cultivate creativity in poorer sections of the country and spread the positivity that hip-hop can inspire. Sign me up, Mr. Gil!

At the basis of all of this lies the definition of what is right and what is wrong. Unfortunately, there really is no general consensus as to what is permissible and what is not. Every person has their own set of morals and beliefs. While some may think that degrading lyrics are offensive to women and should be abolished, others take it with a grain of salt. Of course, lying within this is the issue of personal restraint. In most cases, individuals have the right and means to see and hear only what they want. Especially with children, I feel that it is up to the parent to do their best to control what the child is exposed to. A parent cannot be with a child at all times, but especially at home television and music can be filtered judging by what a parent feels is appropriate for the child. There are no specific guidelines for each person has a different set of values, but I wouldn’t let my 10-year-old (if I had one) watch “Tip Drill” by Nelly.

As a country, we may never come to an agreement about this issue. That is a given; there will always be people who disagree, sometimes just for the sake of disagreeing. While the lyrics in some music can be offensive, it is important to have the mindset, “To each his own.” For every despicable act and unimaginable thought to you, there is at least one person who thinks the exact opposite. What we must learn to do as individuals and as citizens united by our country and by the world is to think before we act. We must realize that we all have our own mind and that some opinions will differ from others. We cannot be influenced by rap lyrics and videos to the point that we begin to say genuinely hurtful things. It’s not OK just because someone else is doing it. Adhere to your own set of values. Believe in your own morals and form your own opinions. If they happen to be offensive to some, then so be it. Don’t change for others, but don’t deliberately hurt them either. We are all entitled to our own beliefs and it must be realized that it is up to every single one of us to deal with our surroundings. Sometimes those surroundings are dark and scary. Sometimes they are hurtful and mean, deliberately lewd. But sometimes they are beautiful. Keep in mind that there exists a balance in everything: With evil, there must be good. Determine how you will react and your attitude will be shaped from that determination. Make a conscious effort to see the good, and things just might start to clear up. There is not just one answer that can solve this problem, but we are all in it together and if we are open and understanding then we can accomplish great things.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Facebook And Its Promotional Possibilities, an online social gathering space that was once reserved only for college students, has become a legitimate contender in the arena of online promotion. Comparable to other social networking sites like MySpace and countless others, Facebook was once unique in the fact that it was open only for college students. Now, however, Facebook is available for anyone to join, much to the chagrin of many college students. While the decision to become non-exclusive may have upset the feeling of belonging to something small and intimate, connected to similar college people with similar college interests, it has opened the door for wide scale promotion.

Members of the site are designated to certain networks. As stated on the main page of the site, "Facebook is made up of many networks, each based around a workplace, region, high school or college." For instance, each college is its own network, so my Facebook profile would be in the USC network. This used to be a hassle, even as recent as last year, because not every college in the country was represented by Facebook, so some students could not participate in the fun. Now, every major city has its own network, as well as colleges, and even those without networks can join. Everyone can get involved.

Also stated on the main page is the purpose of the service:

"You can use Facebook to:

-Share information with people you know.
-See what's going on with your friends.
-Look up people around you."

While this may sound like the description of a feeding ground for stalkers and socially awkward gossipers (I'm not judging), and it very well may be, there also lies the possibility of mass marketing and word-of-mouth promotion.

Facebook has advertising features. Once the user is logged in, on the left side of the page is a proportionately small rectangle space for advertisements. Called "flyers," these ads are unique to each user's network. What is cool about the flyers is that anyone can create one. The price to pay is $5 per 10,000 views, which is relatively cheap considering how many eyes could possibly see it. A new flyer will show with each new page view, however all of the flyers (advertisements) for a network are posted on a page called the flyerboard. One can find flyers ranging from students looking for other students to sublease a room and people trying to sell extra concert tickets, to major corporations promoting new campaigns. This can be taken advantage of by bands looking to promote live shows or CD releases, for example. Another perk to this system is that flyers can be posted to other networks the user doesn't belong to. It's like a hip online classified section.

Another useful tool lies within Facebook's digital walls: Events. An event can be created for any type of social gathering, be it a party or study session, and invitations can be sent out to the people of choice by the user that created the event. All of the necessary information is included in the event description and on the event page is displayed a guest list of those invited, those who declined or accepted invitations (as well as those who opted to RSVP "Maybe Attending"), an area to post photographs, and a "wall" for people to comment on. This is essential for gauging just how many people might show up to one's event.

What are the implications of this? For one, we may soon see the death of small paper flyers. You know, the ones that are handed to you whenever you walk out of a concert or down the boardwalk at Venice Beach? Those annoying scraps of colorful laminated paper that inevitably (and usually immediately) get tossed to the ground? Yeah, those are the ones. Online promotion almost eliminates the need for street teaming altogether. For one, it would help reduce the amount of litter in popular flyer-handing-out spots. Of course litter is a ridiculously large problem, but every little bit helps, right? While billboards, bus stop bench ads, and posters on community flyerboards are still effective, there seems to be little use left for the little handouts. A much more effective way to attract attention is to do so online where the person doesn't have to deal with physical clutter. Surfing the Internet, one knows that the Web is full of clutter, so a little more won't really hurt. Digital litter isn't quite the same as physical, Earthbound trash. Also, advertisements and promotional campaigns can be targeted to more specific demographics online on services such as Facebook, MySpace, and music social networks like and

The power of social networking is huge. If utilized correctly these online communities can draw countless new fans and create revenue for artists and bands. As paper flyers are analogous to the analogue age, online promotion is obviously the digital way. Digital, the Internet, is the future. As more and more people worldwide become connected and involved in social networking communities, the possibilities for advertising and promotion grow exponentially.

Monday, April 16, 2007

ChoiceStream and Personalized Internet

Before I start writing about music industry-related subject matter, I want to take a little time to pray for those people affected by the unthinkable killings that occurred on the Virgina Tech campus today in Blacksburg. This is a stark reminder of how prevalent senseless violence is in our world. Though this is an unnecessary tragedy, this happens every day. Think about Iraq and every corner of the globe where innocent people deal with widespread death on a daily basis. Now think about how many experiences you have with murder. Correct me if I'm wrong but the majority of us Americans, assuming you haven't served in a war or police department, do not deal with this regularly. Take some time to realize that everything we have, everything we've all worked for can be gone in a single second, with one squeeze of the trigger or one slip down the stairs. We truly are blessed to be alive. Think about those who may not be so lucky, who may not have as many conveniences as we do. Life is a gift! Send some love to those you care about!

Now, on to the news!

Almost every day there are new happenings that suggest the world is ready to firmly set foot in the digital empire. CD sales are dropping, record labels are losing money and struggling to adapt, etc. You know the drill. What is the latest development? Well, it may not be huge, but it is something. ChoiceStream has recently received $25.79 million in investment money, following an earlier $13.1 million check, according to Digital Music News.

What is ChoiceStream? Why does this matter? Why should I care?

ChoiceStream is a Cambridge, Massachusetts based company that caters to online service companies. They provide personalization features on websites, especially online stores. For instance, look at Amazon or You will notice at least one recommendation feature, especially if you are logged into the site as a member. This exists even upon visiting the site for the first time. These "recommendations" can be similar products based on what you have previously purchased, or other products that people who have purchased a product you have also purchased have ordered. That was a mouthful. Or, eyeful. Sorry. The bottom line is that it is, sometimes in a creepy way, personalized to you, tailored to you by your shopping habits and your personal information. Big Brother is watching you! Or, is he watching out for you? Apparently, people (and companies) with money have been noticing the positive effects that this can have on customers. They are excited about it and investing money into developing this. While it may seem like certain websites may be infringing too much on your sensitive personal information, the service has not been shunned by online shoppers (if it had, firms would not be investing millions of dollars into ChoiceStream and other personalization companies).

This is all well and good for your run-of-the-mill Wal-Mart type online stores, but what about the music, man?! Oh, it's there too. One such digital venue this can be found is on the ever present iTunes music store. If you have ever purchased music from the service, there will undoubtedly be a "For You" section, based on similar artists. Along the same lines, when browsing music on iTunes there is a section off to the side that is titled "Listeners Also Bought" that lists albums from similar sounding artists. While just browsing for music, possibly looking to buy music from an unknown (to you) artist, this can be an extremely helpful tool. I actually utilized this not 20 minutes ago. While searching for certain music (the new Norah Jones) to buy with a newly acquired gift card, I decided to check out other artists using this feature. It led me to put several albums into my "shopping cart," notably the bands Great Lake Swimmers, Explosions In The Sky, and This Will Destroy You. Interesting that their names are similarly atypical...Regardless, I will probably buy a few albums from such bands whom I have had no previous contact with, namely due to the personalized recommendation feature.

Outside of iTunes and online stores, this comes in the form of social music networks like and Pandora, to name the most prominent. These websites, as discussed in previous posts, create personal online radio stations and introduce users to new music. Very, very hip. In my opinion, that is.

This all may be applicable only to the "young folks" that are as attached to their computers as politicians are to their lies, but it may in fact be transcending generations. While physical music sales across the world are slipping; the Australian Recording Industry Association recently released figures for 2006 sales, confirming a 3% decline in revenue; digital sales are soaring, if not at least holding ground, which is much better than CDs can say (if they could talk). More and more music connoisseurs are looking to the Internet to purchase their music, including older generations. My father is one of those. Belonging to the Baby Boomers generation, he is and has always been an avid music collector and lover. His cassette, LP, and CD collection is both voluminous and varied. With the advent of file-sharing and online sales, however, he has become a hybrid buyer. He still purchases CDs, but frequents iTunes does not hesitate to use the gift cards his wonderful children buy him for his birthday. This type of consumer may be an exception within an older generation, but it seems that humans of almost all ages are spending more time on the Internet, especially to find music.

The Internet is becoming, nay, has become an integral part in the lives of Americans and citizens of other developed countries. With new developments like ChoiceStream's personalization programs not just for music but for all forms of media, the connected world is in full transition. Just like the music recording industry's transition from analogue to digital, with this change brings good and bad. The pros and cons can not be standardized at this point, but one thing is for sure: We've got options. Variety. Everything is at our fingertips, and it is amazing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

CD Sales Drop, Digital Sales Falter

As reported by the The Wall Street Journal on March 21 (three weeks ago, sorry for being behind the ball), CD sales for the first quarter of 2007 were down an alarming 20% compared to the same time one year ago. Digital sales of songs (I repeat: songs, not albums) have not fallen as sharply as CDs as far as raw statistics are concerned, but their sales haven't exactly picked up the slack left by the endangered species known as CDs. According to Nielsen SoundScan, online digital song sales are actually up 54% from a year ago to 173.4 million units so far in 2007, but that is still not enough to make up for the lost revenue. Overall, music sales are down 10% from last year.

We've seen this before. It's been happening for the past seven years or so. Should this news be shocking? While it is encouraging to see that digital sales are at least holding steady and still growing, executives are unhappy with the rate of growth. Sales just aren't meeting expectations.

Record stores are closing left and right. Tower Records, once a powerhouse in the music sales market, has gone bankrupt and closed down. Altogether, 800 stores shut their doors in 2006. This is appalling and unbelievable to the avid record buyer, but not so much to people of my generation. Not to say that Generation Y, the "always on" generation, doesn't buy records...Just not in the volume that the record industry is used to. Ever since the Internet became popular and file-sharing was introduced, however, this should have been forseeable. But no one really wanted to believe that the death of the CD was possible. Record companies failed to embrace the digital age and come up with back up plans just in case something like this actually happened. The big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy that have gouged smaller music-focused stores are noticing the downfall and are devoting less and less floor space to music. There are fewer and fewer places to sell CDs anymore. A falling demand means a falling supply, and it seems very likely that the CD will soon become an antique.

Digital music was supposed to be the answer. iTunes was going to save the record industry. Not the music industry, but the business of selling records. That's what record labels do. Artists are their business, but their business is not succeeding anymore. Money is no longer made by selling records. No, revenue is now generated by live shows and merchandise, among other things. Artists used to be able to leave the record label out of this part in their contracts; in other words, artists used to keep a solid percentage of what they generated from ticket and merchandise sales. Now that CDs aren't making any money and frankly cost more to produce than what they recoup in most cases, contracts are being written to take away more and more from the artists in terms of touring and merchandise profits. They are becoming desperate and are looking for other ways to scrape some cash, unfortunately usually from their artists. The problem is that they have been slow to develop other ways to make money. Ringtones looked promising but those sales have begun to slow down as well.

But why is it that stealing music is so popular? After all, it is stealing. Theft. Not a whole lot of people would have the guts to illegally take products straight from a store's shelves, but millions are willing to do it electronically in the safety of their homes. Is it any different just because there is comparably little risk of getting caught? This has been the issue. Is it that people just don't realize that it is stealing? Perhaps becuase so many people do it makes it a little easier for others to. Peer pressure, in a sense. It dumbfounds me. It is so easy to become absorbed in ourselves and not think of the consequences stealing music can have for the artists. Not to say that I have never illegally downloaded music. Oh, I have. But there has been a great deal of hesitation and I do think about my actions. But still! It's just so easy! We live in a world of convenience, and we expect to get music for free even if by illegal means.

Consider the other side of the argument, one that could be made by proponents of file-sharing: If CDs are at a point where they hardly generate any money, why is it so bad to just download the songs for free that aren't making the artists any money anyway? And, isn't file-sharing a form of promtion, especially for small-time artists trying to get their name out?

Hmmm. Good point.

As long as there is a debate there will at least be two sides, and there will never be a consensus. This is where the industry, the music loving world, makes a decision. It must be decided that:

1) Yes, CDs are dead. There is no longer money to be made in the record business, and music should turn into an unprotected public utility, available in unlimited quantity as long as a monthly fee is paid (that's just an idea).

2) Or, NO! CDs are not dead, and we are going to find our way through this!! There will be a federally-backed shutdown of all file-sharing sites domestic and international, and digital music will be dripping with DRM.

The recent trend is moving towards a DRM-free world, but that doesn't mean much right now. The future is still up in arms. I have a hard time believing that the major labels will accept "defeat" and realize that they can't make the money the way they used to. Anything is possible though.

So where does this leave the Internet, more specifically, social networking sites? Well, if the industry shifts into a "music-like-water" plan where music is abundant and cheap and easily distributable, then the Internet will continue to be the Godsend that many think it is. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and every other social network will be a means of promotion like it is now, but without any restrictions. This will definitely be beneficial for bands trying to spread the word. If the industry falters and does little to change, though, the Internet will be caught in between much like it is now, constantly walking the fence. Until everyone can get on board with one idea and fully commit, there will always be disagreement.

Social networking promises to be a tool that can be utillized by all players, both artists and labels, to promote new music and inform people of tour dates and other venues that can produce income. It is as much a part of the upcoming generations (including my own) as producing offspring was for the Greatest Generation. While CD sales continue to plummet, it may be time to embrace this and reinvent the music industry.

Monday, April 2, 2007

It Has Begun

Steve Jobs and the major record label EMI have agreed to release almost the entire EMI music catalogue on iTunes free of DRM (Digital Rights Management). As of today, the digital music world has shifted. There is , in essence, a revolution that is just beginning; a revolution against conventional corporate thought and the way traditional record companies have been run for decades. This is a landmark deal that goes against the very foundation of what the major record companies have established for their digital music: protected files. Mainly due to the rampant illegal downloading that has characterized online music, record labels have been extremely opposed to releasing unprotected music (even though CDs have always been unprotected). They wanted to ensure that it would be as difficult as possible to download and share music for free, although most of us know how easy it is to download almost anything we want...for free. So what does this mean for the record industry, and the music industry as a whole?

For one, pertaining to iTunes, customers that download from the music store will be able to play the downloaded unprotected files on any MP3 player, not just an iPod. This could spur the popularity of iTunes, though the point of the music store is not to sell music, but rather to sell iPods. Nonetheless, it gives music consumers one more outlet from which to buy music. Furthermore, the unprotected files will be of a higher quality than most MP3 files on iTunes (LA Times). This benefit, however, could have one of two effects: in a world where the iPod w/earbuds is king, audio fidelity is of little concern. This may not be a major selling point for a lot of people. On the other hand, people may realize that music CAN actually sound good. This may spark a demand for high quality headphones and computer/home loudspeakers, and perhaps a shift back to buying CDs until a better sounding format is adopted, creating a growth in CD sales, causing label execs to wipe their brow in relief and revert to their old, stubborn thinking. Like the McDonald's commercials, it could happen. Right? I digress.

Probably the most important point to this whole adventure is the ability to share. While DRM severely limited sharing of purchased online music, the EMI catalogue (minus The Beatles, who have not allowed any of their music to be sold online to date) will now be free for the consumer to do anything and everything with. One can purchase a track and give it to the whole family if one so chooses with no limit. Ever have trouble with e-mailing a certain song to someone, only to have it not work because it needs a password? I know I have. It is a great thing to share music that you love with people who have never heard it, and this makes it that much easier to do (and more legal).

However, all of this goodness comes at a price. This will all be available at the figure of $1.29, or one can update previously downloaded EMI songs for 30 cents. This may seem high, but dig this: albums of this unprotected, higher quality content still cost the standard $9.99! I like!! It seems like this may be a subtle gesture back to the album. It has been a singles world since the beginning of online music, and this pricing option may push buyers into purchasing full-length albums again. While $1.29 per single track may seem expensive, $9.99 for a full album does not. And, I predict that soon enough the price for higher quality, unprotected tracks will fall in line with the standard 99 cent rate.

What is exciting to me is that, quoting my Music Industry professor Jerry Del Colliano, "Leaders in the record industry follow." Of course this wasn't sound advice aimed at an eager and aspiring young lad like myself, rather a bleak but true analysis of how the record industry has always worked. They are reluctant to change, reluctant to fix a system that, to them, wasn't broken. Well it's broken for a little while now and EMI has taken one of the first steps towards repair. Now that they have taken the leap of faith the other majors will follow. Pretty soon, all online music will be DRM-free. We all expected this to happen, but maybe not as fast as it did. Only two months after Steve Job's infamous "Thoughts On Music" and the music world is already starting to change. He is running the digital music show. Do you think that he had this deal with EMI worked out long ago, and released that statement as a ploy? Sneaky. Very sneaky. Enticement for all other labels to follow suit is that sharing music can lead to buying it. There is evidence of this being true. When someone introduces me to an artist by playing a song or two and I like it, there is a strong probability that I will do further research on said artist and more than likely buy some music, whether it be at a record store or on iTunes (usually on iTunes for me). Especially coupled with same-price albums for higher quality files, this could mean a major spike legal downloading.

What does this mean for music promotion? It means that songs can be passed around like hot potatoes. Word of mouth. Of course this exists with illegal file sharing, but this is legal, and people love obeying the law! On top of that, the high audio quality is attractive, and those interested will be prompted to buy the whole album and share that with others as well. This type of grass-roots promotion can be huge for bands. Take 311 for instance. There is a good chance you have not heard of them, for they have had little mainstream success, but they have been around since the late 80s and possess a massive grassroots network of fans. A huge, loyal, rabid following. They make enough money to live comfortably, pursue entrepreneurial enterprises, and tour nationally every summer. Watch the following video to gauge the crowd response and see how big bands that receive little spotlight can be.

311 - "Freak Out" live in New Orleans on 311 Day

While the decimation of DRM may be frightening to some, it is inevitable. As Dale Carnegie wisely suggested, cooperate with the inevitable. Music without DRM is inevitable. It is the future, and resisting change and worrying about what could happen will only debilitate the chances of success. Props to Steve Jobs and EMI. Let's hope this deal sparks a fire under everyone else!

Friday, March 30, 2007

The So-Called YouTube Rival

Last Thursday, March 22, NBC and News Corp. officially announced their plans to unveil a new online video service aimed at rivaling the ever-popular YouTube. Since its inception, YouTube has put corporate media companies on edge with the rampant unapproved use of copyrighted material so often found on the video sharing website. While some have decided to freak out about it (Viacom is currently suing YouTube and Google for $1 Billion, citing copyright infringement-MSNBC), others have decided to embrace the technology and make deals (read: Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, and Bucking the trend, joint coordinators News Corp. and NBC have decided to create their own online video website.

How original.

The goal of this project can be summed up in a quote, taken from this New York Times article. Peter A. Chernin, COO of News Corp., says,
"We’ll have access to just about the entire U.S. Internet audience at launch. And for the first time, consumers will get what they want — professionally produced video delivered on the sites where they live."
Let's dissect this statement. The claim of having access to "just about" every American on the Internet is quite possibly true, as such sites as Yahoo!, AOL and MSN are under the NBC/News Corp. umbrella. As far as claiming to know what consumers want...Well, that's another argument. It seems like a careless assumption made by a money-mongering COO. And you all know what assuming does! ( makes an ass out of you and me...excuse my English).

There is a reason why YouTube is so popular, and it is not because of professionally produced videos. No, it is because of amateur, user-generated content. YouTube makes it possible for the most untalented of filmmakers to become an Internet superstar, almost based solely on content, not the quality of the video. After all, the slogan you see under the YouTube logo at the top of the site's homepage is "Broadcast Yourself", not "A Place To Watch Professionally Produced Videos". While the most popular content is unprofessional video, are the head thinkers at NBC and the News Corporation really thinking? Well, of course they are. About themselves. But that is a given, right? In fact, according to this article by Kevin Kelleher on, there was little talk between Jeff Zucker (CEO of NBC) and Peter Chernin about the consumers when the idea was being formed. Rather, the buzz to them was all about the advertisers and copyright holders. Why? Because advertisers make them money and providing only licensed, copyrighted material will keep them out of harm's way and in the good graces of the law. Because if they can help it, there is no way the average citizen will view their content without going through them.

Then again, there must be a reason why they believe this idea will work, and possibly pose a serious threat to YouTube's popularity. What leads them to believe this is that people are willing to watch a TV show on with all of the advertisements. Apparently if one misses a favorite show, little will stop that person from catching up on what was missed, even if it means laboring through numerous ads and watching it on a computer screen. All of the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) allow free viewing of their major shows online after the show has aired on realtime television, with marked success. But how big is the audience that actually watches network shows online? I'm going to guess that it is not as large as the number of people who spend time on YouTube every day both uploading their own and watching other videos.

The questions to ask are as follows:

-Do people want to see professional video, or homemade?

-What is special about professionally done video?

-Isn't the draw of YouTube the user-generated content and freedom of distribution?

The whole Internet world knows that YouTube is awesome because it is for the user, by the user. When Google bought YouTube there was some thinking that the introduction of a major corporation would commercialize and de-personalize the service, but so far that has not been the case. So is there reason to worry, or even care about this new thing from NBC/News Corp.? I think not. I predict that the site will be used to view network shows that aren't available on YouTube, and YouTube won't be affected much at all, in terms of site hits. So, go for it! It may or may not be the success that Peter Chernin and Jeff Zucker think it can be, but either way YouTube will remain the number one video site on the Internet (unless MySpace catches up).

All of this leads to another thought, however: Is it appaling to anyone that so much attention and money is being focused on such a trivial issue such as online video, minor copyright infringement, and what coroporation is winning or losing these money battles? The amount of money and effort expended in the altogether silly and contemptible entertainment industry could probably clothe and feed our nation's homeless and educate those unable to receive ample education. And of course to help clean up the mess that Katrina left. But I suppose that's not what is important here. No, instead of focusing on ways to better ourselves to in turn better others and create an environment/culture that stimulates love and compassion, we are more concerned with ourselves and how to watch that missed episode of Grey's Anatomy. What a world we live in. But I have hope!

"And I broke down at the break of dawn and saw looming in the clouds above the Pentagon (as real as the Holocaust, as strong as the Parthenon) visions of Sudan, Iraq, and Vietnam. And I stood silent upon a flooded levee and stared at the ruins of a merchant city and the president who came to dine with the noble elite. He didn't do a thing. I saw three ships come sailing in through the passage of the Caribbean. I saw children coming home in coffins; Millions marching on Washington. And I asked, when is the revolution?" -Brett Dennen, "I Asked When"

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fame by MySpace

If you are a member of MySpace, or have ever visited their music site, then it is probable that you've heard of Tila Tequila. If the name does not sound familiar, you must not be hip to the MySpace community. She supposedly has the most "friends" on the online social community, with the count somewhere in the range of 1,745,000. As the often labeled "Queen of MySpace," her online stardom must be spreading beyond computer screens and into the real world, right? Well, in her own right, she has done many of things that your typical celebrity does, such as gracing the covers of various national magazines and becoming involved in various business ventures (her full bio and list of accomplishments can be found on her MySpace page as well as on her official website. This Internet superstar as gained that adoration of millions of (mostly male) mainstream media addicts. Recently, she has begun her transition into the music industry. Most notably a model, she has as of late created some stir with the release of her first hit single, "I Love U." That's not a typo...apparently it is hip to shorten three letter words down to one.

This raises the question: Can Internet personalities, and primarily MySpace stars, become big-time celebrities and platinum-record selling artists?

According to a recent article on the Digital Music News website, so far, the answer is a resounding maybe. While it is too early to tell with Tila Tequila, her single was launched on iTunes only in late February, the response thus far as been modest. Since its release, the single has failed to crack the Top 50 most downloaded tracks on iTunes, though it peaked at #52. Sales of the single were not pinpointed, but labeled as "in the thousands" in the Digital Music News article. These numbers would be very encouraging for a small-time artist just cracking the scene, but for a million-plus friend holder on MySpace with interviews, event appearances and photo spreads across the country? Not so hot. So wherein lies the problem?

Since Tequila already possessed a solid fan base before she released her first single, which was produced by the infamous Lil Jon, it would not be impossible to imagine that the track could have sold at least 100,000 copies by now. It's been out for roughly a month now, she has one and three quarter million online friends, and the track was released digitally. If one does the math, that sales figure does not seem like a stretch. The problem must be a combination of a few things: sub-par music, or a reluctance to purchase music.

Seeing as how her fan base is seemingly well involved with the Internet and its inner workings, it makes sense to assume that many of those fans are familiar with purchasing music online, especially on iTunes. And considering that the single costs only 99 cents, it seems that her sales thus far should, or at least could, be much higher. Therefore, I do not believe it is the unwillingness to purchase music, especially when we are talking about a 99 cent track.

I believe it has to do with the quality of the music. Of course this is just my personal opinion so don't take it like it is the final word. That being said, "I Love U" is darn near awful. OK that was a little biased, seeing as how the type of music she produces is not my favorite. I'll rephrase. The single "I Love U" by Tila Tequila does not have what it takes to be a hit, and it is no surprise that its sales figures and popularity so far have not met expectations. The only song on her page that isn't offensive to the senses is "Paralyze." The others, including "I Love U," are unnecessarily lewd and profane, with far too many references to MySpace. In the world of Rap and popular music it is acceptable, nay, expected, to be a bit crude and on the edge. However, this sounds like an insecure teenager attempting to rap to overused beats. That may have been harsh. I apologize. I have the utmost respect for Tila Tequila for her work ethic and the way she has risen to stardom and gotten her name known. I just don't hear or see a future for her in music.

I think it all depends on the quality of the music. If Tila's music was interesting, then she would be selling millions. But it's not. MySpace and the Internet are great ways to launch yourself, but you must be legit in order to be successful for the long run. It is possible, but the fickle nature of MySpace and the Internet definitely make it a difficult task. Though it may seem like the Internet can serve as a shortcut to fame, it is deceptive in the fact that it usually produces one hit wonders and short-lived phenomena.