Second Edition of iTake-Over coming 2020

I’m very happy to announce that I am working on a second edition of iTake-Over to be Streaming Erapublished by Lexington Books. This will be the first book in the new series that I am editing for Lexington called Critical Perspectives on Music and Society. The title will be changed a bit to iTake-Over: The Recording Industry in the Streaming Era.

When I completed the first edition of iTake-Over, we were on the cusp of the music streaming era. While the argument remains accurate, the discussion about iTunes needs to be situated in terms of the evolution towards streaming. My overall goal of undertaking a second edition to the book is to emphasize the importance of streaming, but with the continued critique of the recording industry’s rhetorical strategies. In the streaming era, the major record labels and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) continue to use rhetoric of decline to change both the policy and perception of the music industry.

Approximately 2 months after the release of the book, what I called the “piracy panic narrative” took an interesting twist at the 2015 GRAMMYs. At that GRAMMYs awards show, then-President of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow contended that Spotify pays too little for people to continue to want to record music. The moral panic shifted to streaming, specifically ad-supported streaming. In 2016, the scourge shifted to YouTube. I will update the concept of the piracy panic narrative to include these shifts. The newest piracy panic narrative revolves around what the RIAA and the International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) label the “value gap.” The value gap is the amount that the recording industry argues that YouTube and ad-supported streaming services underpay recording artists.

These and other topics will help to situate iTake-Over in the streaming era!

Critical Perspectives on Music and Society

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I’m happy to announce that I am editing a new book series for Lexington Books. The book series is entitled Critical Perspectives on Music and Society. If you have a book or a book idea that you think could work, do not hesitate to contact me.

Critical Perspectives on Music and Society

This book series produces books that present a critical perspective on popular music and the music industry. Two dominant strains of thought exist for the study of popular music. First, many texts in the popular culture tradition celebrate the artists, fans, and cultures that arise from popular music. Second, Music Industry Studies texts give students a “how-to” perspective on making it in the music industry. In both cases, texts rarely address the way that the music industry produces and reproduces power. The purpose of this book series is to provide a platform for authors who explore the social production of music; as such it is broadly interdisciplinary.
The series invites submissions by scholars from the fields of cultural studies, American studies, history, sociology, literature, communication, media studies, music, women’s studies, ethnic studies, popular culture, music industry studies, political science, economics, and history.

Specific topics addressed:
Musicians as Labor
Identity (Sex, Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability, and Sexuality)
Critical Representations
Music Industry Studies
Music in the Global South
Production of Genres
New/Old Technologies
Sound Studies
Access inequalities to music production and consumption
Spaces of music production, creation, and consumption

Editor(s): David Arditi (darditi@uta.edu)
Staff editorial contact: Courtney Morales (cmorales@rowman.com)

RIAA wants to rewrite the DMCA: No!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/44/Image_removed_DMCA.pngWhen Congress passed the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, it was an unmitigated hand-out to the recording industry. Now the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) wants to revisit the debate to litigate the “tech industry” this time. Ironically, the tech industry was in its infancy at the passage of the DMCA: Google was founded in 1998, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify, and SoundCloud were not even imagined at the time.

In a recent tweet, the RIAA announced:

Well it is absolutely time to “fix” the DMCA, if by fix they mean eliminate. When the DMCA passed into law, only copyright stakeholders were included at the copyright negotiating table. Stakeholders, by definition, had to be around in order to be at the table. None of the tech companies they currently attack were around when they negotiated the DMCA in the mid 90s.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f0/DRM_Is_Killing_Music.svg/190px-DRM_Is_Killing_Music.svg.pngThe DMCA gives record companies the ability to include Digital Rights Management (DRM) in digital music files. DRM are files that track where a file has been.While the DMCA does not mandate DRM, it does make it illegal to circumvent DRM. And DRM does all kinds of messed up things to users’ privacy: from knowing where a file circulates to acquiring information about the users.

Furthermore, the idea that the RIAA has the interest of “music creators” is entirely disingenuous. Record labels exploit musicians. When an artist signs a record contract, they receive an advance on future revenue. They have to pay back the advance from their portion of the royalties. Record labels begin to profit long before artists see any money, and most signed artists see no money.

The RIAA is a lobbying group that works for major record labels. By characterizing themselves as representatives of music creators, they do more than just rhetorical harm. The problem is that the public, and Congress, wants to believe that the RIAA has their favorite artists interests in mind. However, as I’ve argued, this gives them the leverage to strengthen their position in the music economy, and further exploit those same artists.

In the early 2000s, teenagers downloading music were the RIAA’s bad guys. Today they want you to believe that the “tech industry” companies are the bad guys. This is what I call the “Piracy Panic Narrative.” We can’t be fooled into allowing Congress to make wholesale changes to copyright law again to advance the interests of a corporate oligopoly.

Much ado about Spotify’s 87 Million Subscribers

Spotify began November 2018 with an announcement that they reached 87 million subscribers. News outlets from the Wall Street Journal to The Verge, and Variety to The Hollywood Reporter covered this news as a competition with Apple Music, and the overall shifting of the music industry. However, little was said about the real impact on music consumption as social activity or the excess profits this generates for everyone in the recording industry.

In my essay “Digital Subscriptions: The Unending Consumption of Music in the Digital Era,” I explore the way the recording industry changed our consumption habits and increased profits exponentially. What we can’t lose is that the average consumer used to buy about $40 worth of recorded music per year, but with subscriptions, they are paying $120 per year. Think about $870,000,000/month in music consumption on Spotify alone (another $530,000,000 on Apple Music). In the essay, I analyze this further.

Here is the abstract:

When Apple purchased Beats Music in 2014, it signified a major moment in the transformation of the recorded music commodity. This is the second time in the digital era that Apple has catalyzed a transformation of the recorded commodity after first disrupting the recording industry by creating the iTunes store. Now, the recording industry is changing from a business model dependent on the sale of commodities to a model based on subscriptions and streaming. I call this model unending consumption because it traps music listeners in a cycle where they must continually subscribe to have access to music. By giving subscribers unlimited access to music in exchange for $10 per month, the recording industry aims to increase the amount that the average consumer spends per year on music by 200%.

Please contact me if you need access to the full article behind the paywall.

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MusicDetour Launch

MDLogoI am happy to announce the launch of my newest project MusicDetour: The DFW Local Music Archive! This website is both a local music archive and a music community. UTA faculty members Dan Cavanagh, Micah Hayes, and Chyng-Yang Jang work with me on the project, along with the UTA Library and UTA Radio. Continue reading

All musicians deserve a wage

fist-micMusicians must be compensated for their labor. While musicians create music in a number of ways, very few are paid for the time they spend making music, especially those musicians signed to record contracts. Prince, David Byrne and Courtney Love have described how recording contracts trap artists in highly exploitative relationships with their labels. The fact that an artist must recoup their advance before they make any money exploits the vast majority of recording artists because few ever recoup their advance. Alternatively, not signing a record contract and playing small bars/clubs is no way to pay for a mortgage. This means that many musicians are forced to work multiple precarious jobs to make ends meet while most would like to find a way to earn a living from performing, recording, and writing. For instance, a study in Austin, TX found that three-fourths of musicians who earn all of their income from music make less than $25,000 (pre-tax). Enough is enough: musicians deserve a living wage. Continue reading

How record companies induce panic about music piracy to increase their profits and exploit artists

vp-bogeymanFrom UTA Inquiry, Fall 2015:

On May 2, 2000, Lars Ulrich, drummer for the band Metallica, announced that his group was suing Napster, a free file-sharing service that let fans download music online. During the press conference outside Napster’s headquarters, Ulrich presented the company with a giant stack of papers listing the names of 300,000 Napster users. His assertion: Napster was enabling these people to steal music. Continue reading

The New Distribution Oligopoly: Beats, iTunes, and Digital Music Distribution

i_like_a_little_competitionRead “The New Distribution Oligopoly: Beat, iTunes and Digital Music Distribution” in Media Fields Journal‘s special issue on Digital Distribution.

Digital music distribution changed everything, and yet it changed nothing. Stoking the techno-utopian vision of the Internet in the late 1990s, Napster signaled the promise of a decentralized music distribution system that eclipsed the authoritarian stronghold of the major record labels’ distributors. People thought that by exchanging music as bits and bytes, the recording industry oligopoly would be overthrown as musicians gained the capacity to distribute music to fans directly, part of what Tom McCourt and Patrick Burkart term the “internet nirvana theory.”[1] The Internet brought the possibility of a robust music commons where everyone has access to all music; a commons which could be used to create new culture.[2] But the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into law in 1998 restricting the free flow of digital information using Digital Rights Management (DRM) before Napster was even developed. Where major record labels always controlled distribution under physical media regimes, the DMCA, along with repressive surveillance of peer-2-peer (P2P) file sharing networks,[3] has allowed the major labels to reestablish their dominance in the digital era.

Continue reading

Grammy Alliance: Another Round of Piracy Panic Narrative

video blockedAfter 3 hours of music and a much needed public service announcement on domestic violence, the Recording Academy decided to end the show with a selfish lobbying effort to create tougher copyright laws. By starting the Creators’ Alliance (dubbed #GrammyAlliance for Twitter), the Recording Academy placed itself strongly on the side of major record labels against the recording artists who constitute the bulk of the Recording Academy members. Continue reading

Grammys: Not about the Music

While the term Grammy is derived from “gramophone,” the first device to record and playback music, this year’s Grammy Award Show will be largely about profit, not music. Heralded in the past as a moment when recording artists come together and vote for the best music of the year, the choices they are given is highly structured by the Grammy Nominating Committee and major record labels. And while voting members still have ultimate say in nomination and voting, the system propels the biggest pop names to the top the same way that our political process favors big name politicos (read “serious candidates”). Because there are so many voters, with over 20,000 members, the Recording Academy‘s Voting Members, eligible only to musicians who have “commercially” released music, favors widely popular major label music over obscure indie music. Continue reading