Amber is no sap

As a result of several discussions I’ve had in recent weeks I’ve become a rather adamant opponent of professional artists. My resolve hardened a little more with every mention of DRM, copy protection, RIAA lawsuits, Stephen Harper’s swift action to condemn camcorders in movie theatres, and other such instances of the co-mingling of business and art.

However, I’ve thought long and hard on the issue recently and have come to the conclusion that professional artists do what they do very well, that their talents enable them to create things ordinary people cannot, and that it’s not wrong for them to try to make a living doing what they love. I’ve softened up on the issue a smidge, validating the profession of artist, provided the professional is in tune with the realities of today.

And what is this reality I speak of? Simple. It’s the inevitability of the unauthorised digital duplication of art, coupled with the unbridled ease of mass distribution of those copies. Simply stated, if you make something it will be “pirated”.

I just love the supposed definition of “piracy” these days:

pi·ra·cy (pÄ«’rÉ™-sÄ“)
n. pl. pi·ra·cies

    1. Robbery committed at sea.
    2. A similar act of robbery, as the hijacking of an airplane.
  1. The unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrighted or patented material: software piracy.
  2. The operation of an unlicensed, illegal radio or television station.

Source: American Heritage Dictionary

In other words, to pirate means to:

  1. take something without permission.
  2. copy something without permission.
  3. create and distribute something without permission.

Doesn’t leave much wiggle room for “content” authors and consumers, does it? This term has been thrown in the spin cycle a couple of times too many. If we are to accept these dissimilar definitions verbatim, art lovers are classified as either consumers or pirates, and artists are classified as licensed or pirates.

This is, perhaps, all well and good for the world of yesteryear, but the 21st century marks the birth of World 2.0 (not to be confused with the commercially enfeebled alternative, Microsoft World 2.11 for Workgroups). Thus, a professional artist who accepts the realities of today is an artist who embraces World 2.0.

I don’t think I can give a better example of such an artist than San Francisco’s DJ Amber.

I discovered Amber while searching for local DJ mix tapes to buy in anticipation of my trip to California last autumn. While I came up empty on locating stores featuring local electronica talent, I was thrilled to find many free mixes for download on her website.

To my delight, my favourite mix of the bunch, Live With Friends and Family, was available both for download and for purchase. Cheapskate that I am, I was more than content with my free copy of the content. But, like all people, I enjoy wrapping my mitts around plastic goods so I emailed Amber to express my interest in a CD. She replied with a PayPal address into which I transferred $10 USD, gave her my home address, and under a week later I had the disc in my hands, as illustrated below!

I had a special request for this order, and as you can see, Amber heartily fulfilled it!


This seemingly insignificant order of events was what helped me solidify my feelings toward the way the music industry ought to be. I’ll try to lay them out as succinctly as possible:

In the age of the participatory internet, World 2.0, people are free to share and download content in nearly any format. One of the media mankind was most enthusiastic to share was music, and the unregulated sharing of this medium is now widespread and irrepressible. This fact spells one thing – music is now worthless. To sell music in the 21st century is to sell sand to Bedouins.

Copy protection is not the solution to this equation. Copy protection only frustrates those who purchased the product. Laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act only wrest citizens’ right to control the products they legally own. Digital Rights Management is merely a pseudonym for “Consumer Rights Revocation” and only makes “unmanaged” “pirated” media appear that much more attractive. To close is to shut out. To open is to invite.

The music industry still has one last hope – to sell NOT music. What is NOT music? Everything but music! DJ Amber’s is a wonderful example of this. I was given the privilege of speaking personally with the artist I admire, I paid a nominal fee that went directly and entirely to the content creator, I received my product in a timely fashion (with no additional shipping fee), and I got my album freaking autographed!! I don’t think anyone ever bought anything more valuable with a $10 bill.

Amber continues to work as a professional musician. She is paid for her performances and her “meatspace” albums. These are unique products and services that only she can provide the world and it is her right to be compensated for her presence and materials. However, Amber is living in the World 2.0. She knows that the internet is a free marketing tool, not a beast to be slain, and she has embraced it by giving her intangible, non-physical creations freely. She knows this material would have been mass-distributed by the populace anyway, so she decided to embrace this inevitability by distributing good-quality copies herself. She’s lost nothing, gained publicity, and smells like roses.

MPAA, your business model is gone with the wind. RIAA, the times, they are a-changing.

By brian

About Brian Damage:

Who is Brian really?
I live in Toronto, Canada, and work for an IT firm. That's about as much real-world info I'm comfortable divulging here. What you read on my blog is the real Brian, but, for the sake of freedom of speech, I feel most comfortable leaving a gulf between my cyberspace and meatspace personae.

Who is Brian at work?
My ridiculous job title is "Marketing Specialist" since I wear so many hats at work. I'm a technical writer, a specialist in enterprise search technologies, an electronic forms designer, a newsletter author, system administrator... but I'm in the Marketing department so for the time being I'm stuck with this inauspicious title.

Who is Brian at play?

Who is Brian

6 replies on “Amber is no sap”

The above comment links to a blog that seems to aggregate other blog posts related to boycotting RIAA products. I posted this story at 12:41 PM today and the above trackback is timestamped at 12:47 PM. Rather odd.

I’m not about to go on a tirade about copyright, though. I publish in plaintext which is the most open format there is. I appreciate that the commenter above credits me with the content and links to my site and that’s all I ask of anyone wishing to republish my material.

Feel free to use my works however you wish. The internet is for sharing.

You have a very naive view of the music industry. You are also taking out of the equation in most of your writing the role of the songwriter. Certainly artists may get paid if their music is utilized for free on the Internet. They may get more gigs and sell merch etc. How about the non-performing songwriter who writes for other people? He doesn’t get a dime. You are making he mistake that all artists are songwriters. Most are; many aren’t.

As well, I feel it should be the creators’ decision if they want their music picked up for free. Yes it benefits them some times. But sometimes it does, like when people download their music and paly it and then send on copies to their friends. How does the profesional artist eke out a living.

Your comment about the industry flouring only because it controlled recording or replication is all off base for years and now cheap recording is everything. Not true. It’s been cheap to record for decades. In fact, the ’60s were the era of lo-fi garage rock as were the ’70s. The labels flourished because they had control of distribution and sales.They still do.

Just because a band can move itself around the Internet is a missed blessing. It competes now with zillions of others trying to do the same thing.

You still have to have some sizzle in the marketplace. In cyberspace, that’s tough to do.

Larry LeBlanc

I admit I am naive of the intricacies of the music industry. My knowledge comes mostly from my omniscient as a consumer, not as a producer.

You’re right that I’ve only addressed artists who compose and perform themselves. There are, no doubt, countless exceptions to this example. In the end they’re pretty much all commercialised via the same avenues, I imagine, and are sold in pretty much the same stores. I don’t think it matters much to the merchandisers how their product comes through the door – they just want to be the sole distributors of said product. Look at the recent debacle with Prince giving his album away for free in England, and the furious backlash of the record stores who felt he’d betrayed them. Surely Prince isn’t a one man band. Why, Prince doesn’t even call himself that anymore due to his protest of the music industry.

But I digress. Your point is that I am pigeonholing my definition of a musician. However, my point is that the music industry has pigeonholed its definition of a consumer. Humanity is now forever enabled with the tools to distribute bits to each other, and it is a trivial task to convert music into bits. Computers don’t know who wrote a song, how many people collaborated, whether names go uncredited, or even whether a file is music at all. It’s just bits, and nothing will ever stifle the transmission of bits. The music industry as we know it is over.

What does this mean for musicians, songwriters, producers, audio technicians, and the like? Maybe it means it’s time for a new beginning. Maybe it means it’s time for a new job. Maybe professional musicians will have to work Speed Stick and Diet Pepsi into their lyrics. Maybe once peer-to-peer music trading becomes more accepted we will see online communities where people can give their music to the public who in turn will vote today for tomorrow’s superstars. Maybe music will become completely unprofitable and only hobbyists will create it.

My beef with the industry is that they’re trying to stifle communications innovation just to cling to the old ways. That’s like China banning aeroplanes to ensure the Great Wall’s effectiveness. Forward ever, backward never.

The bottom has fallen out of the established marketplace and it’s time to redefine it somehow. Trailblazers like DJ Amber pave the way for future success, though her methods, and my own as a songwriter and producer, are certainly not the only option.

Thanks for writing, Larry.

Very intriguing article about the music industry, pirating, and their last hope. I’m actually in a small band with a few buddies from work, we don’t do shows but we made a short list of songs and had this company duplicate them for us with some nice artwork similar to the stuff on the Amber disc. I wish we had a website to do what Amber does cause right now we are selling them off our MySpace music page.

My web hosting company costs me $3 a month, and there’s plenty of free resources to build your own web pages. If you’re serious about making your music available to the public for free you should really consider slapping together at least a rudimentary web page. It”s really not any more difficult than making a MySpace page, though you should hang on to that one too since it’s a popular destination.

What’s your band called? Where can I get your music? Hook me up with a song or two and I’ll give you a little free advertising on the blog!

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