Selling or Selling Out – Tomāto, Tomăto

On the radio last night I listened to a show about rock history. The topic was the use of mainstream songs in commercial advertisements.

The concept was birthed by an ad agency contracted by Levi’s Jeans in an attempt to associate a product with a target demographic by means of nostalgia. The astronomical popularity of the concept was bilateral – it sold jeans and it sold singles. Some of the first artists to license songs to advertisements include Elastica, Madonna, and even anti-establishment The Clash.

The most-used album, and the first album to license every song for use in commercials, is Moby’s 1999 “best-selling album” (in so many ways) Play.

The most famous event in commercial licensing is attributed to Bill Gates’ $12M purchase of The Rolling Stone’s “Start Me Up” to laud his upcoming Windows 95 operating system. The song was Gates’ second choice though – R.E.M. denied a $10M offer for “It’s The End of the World As We Know It”.

Like R.E.M., other artists felt commercial association would dilute their relevance and alienate their fanbase, so they choose to opt out of representing the corporate machine.

Or do they?

A quick search on Canada’s struggling Puretracks digital music store yields about $200 worth of R.E.M. fare. Another search on shows plastic media for sale, published by a little company called Warner Brothers. Pristine as their words may appear, the band expects fans to applaud with their wallets. I presume the chaps at WB take some small stake somewhere along the line.

So what’s the difference between hearing a song on your Ipod or in a Gap ad? It’s all about who’s paying your favourite artist’s salary, I suppose. Ad-happy artists are paid by corporations. Artists “with more scruples” are paid by you. Maybe The Clash did uphold their revolutionary persona after all – by selling pants.

You may ask, “But where do I get my music if not from greasy bearded suits in L.A.?” Well, I’m glad you asked by proxy!

Thanks to the underlying openness of the Internet, and the purveyors of freely distributable and modifiable content such as Creative Commons and other proponents of copyleft, music untethered from commercial shackles is abundant in a variety of formats.

Some free music sites:
Creative Commons Audio
The Hornet Archive
Nullsoft Shoutcast
The Internet Archive: Live Music
Brian’s Distraction (plug!)

Even free music repositories are not immune to the call of the almighty dollar. One of the first and most populated free music portals,, used to be a primary means of distribution for thousands of independent artists, offering streaming and downloadable songs and albums, message boards, concert listings, bios, and much more. The site was eventually purchased by Internet media conglomerate CNet, who subsequently took ownership of all the site’s assets. Though the company claimed to have destroyed all hosted files, the site’s illegitimate offspring,, seems to have given the old site’s entire catalogue a new home.

So, if you’re a self-proclaimed music purist who insists on supporting artists who are “for the scene”, you might want to double-check your records. If you’ve bought one of their albums you’ve perpetuated the very commercialism you’ve attempted to quash.


Play this game and you will go to jail!

An excerpt from Dreamcatcher‘s EULA from the manual of NiBiRu: Age of Secrets by Future Games:

You will not copy, decompile, reverse engineer or disassemble the Application Software, or otherwise reduce the Application Software to a human perceivable form;


Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

With the rise of gun violence in Toronto, the focus of the impending election has taken a turn from “the issues” to “the issue”. A recent poll shows Canada’s Conservative party taking the lead by a wide margin, showing nearly 7% of voters changing sides from the Liberal party in little more than a week. It seems likely that this change of heart is indicative of the social climate in Toronto – Torontonians fiercely hate guns, or at least guns that have been fired. Unfortunately, this noble sentiment may prove to be our downfall.

On boxing day at one of the city’s largest shopping malls, a 15 year old white girl was shot and killed by a black youth – an event that sparked nearly unprecedented outrage from Torontonian citizens and from various religious, political, and ethnic groups.

It’s been argued that Toronto didn’t truly care about gun violence until a black boy killed a white girl. It’s been argued that we didn’t make a fuss until it happened on Boxing Day. It’s been argued that the uproar was incited by political candidates in order to curry favour.

In a city where white is the minority, is it possible that race is the catalyst? Is it simply a coincidence? Was this shooting the last straw?

Regardless of cause, I surmise the spike in Conservative support is the direct result of this unpleasant incident – Toronto wants revenge. Bad. And they’re ready to elect whichever politician can put this 17 year old boy in a world of pain.

Which politician is that? Well, let’s take a look at the top 3 parties’ platform on gun violence.

Conservative Party: Increase police funding and presence, impose tougher minimum sentences, arm border officers, but allow citizens to own licensed handguns.

Liberal Party: Ban the ownership of handguns by all but police and border guards, impose tougher minimum sentences, increase police funding and presence.

New Democratic Party: Ban the ownership of handguns by all but police and border guards, increase school and job education funding, increase low income housing funding.

Is federal mandate even the correct course of action in this matter? Judges have traditionally decried direct government involvement in law enforcement – they feel the law should be determined by lawyers. How close is Canada to adopting some states’ nonsensical “3 strikes” policy?

The most disturbing factor in this fiasco is not the crimes themselves, but the reason for them. In all the media’s hubbub and all the police’s investigations, it seems that no one has asked the perpetrators WHY they have illegal guns. Surely, not simply because they know they can get away with it due to lax laws. There is a motive, a need, a fear, that they feel the country cannot alleviate.

Canada, at what price do you wish revenge? What is the best solution to the influx of illegal weapons smuggled from the USA? Is it wisest to trim the sharp edges from our weeds or to uproot them altogether?

If this issue is important to you, study the policies of the parties well and vote on January 23 for the party that will best serve you and your neighbours.