I get played, Celine gets paid

News site Slyck reported yesterday that 6 major-ish Canadian recording labels have abandoned the CRIA for their incongruent philosophies of fair use and piracy. Unlike CRIA, these labels are proponents of DRM-free digital music and argue in favour of peer-to-peer file sharing as a vehicle for marketing and try-before-you-buy. While the CRIA spreads its greedy gospel of illegal file swapping, Nettwerk Records has conversely opted to foot the legal bill in defence of an American file swapper who “stole” one of the label’s songs.

A recent hubbub ensued between CRIA and Ottawa law professor Michael Geist over the true meaning of the numbers published by a research agency allegedly in cahoots with the recording industry. In summary, CRIA argues that immeasurable losses in music sales can be attributed to theft by Canadians aged 18 to 29, while Geist retorts that this same demographic is the second largest purchaser of music. (thereby strengthening the argument that music downloads result in sales)

There are obvious arguments supporting both sides of this issue, but as a hobbyist musician I have unique take on this whole situation.

I produce techno DJ mixes, and once upon a time I composed original music. From the get-go I’ve offered my compositions to the world for free, at my expense. Sometimes I deem my composition unfit for publication, or I record a practice session; otherwise I upload the file to my high speed web host or burn copies for friends.

Let’s first take a look at how my music is put together.

My original compositions are, in essence, original in arrangement only. Although I created many audio samples and instruments with my own 2 hands (also my voice, a recording, a MIDI keyboard, and\or some software), the majority of my instruments are sampled directly from commercial CDs or from other homemade open-source music. Basically, each of my songs potentially constitutes tens of thousands of dollars in copyright infringement in its raw elements alone (not even to mention my unauthorized and misnamed remix of Send Me An Angel). I like to think its my generous distribution more than my insignificant obscurity that has saved me from litigation.

Is what I’ve done really illegal? Yeah, almost definitely. Would any court convict me? Unlikely. Although I’ve made something irrefutably unique and personal with tools, regardless of their suspicious origins, artists (like DJ Jazzy Jeff) have been convicted for doing the same. No, my body remains on the free side of bars because I don’t make money from my music.

But is the same argument true of my DJ mixes? I take a bunch of songs and play them in order, overlapping the beginnings and ends to make a nonstop cohesive realtime composition. Many of my tracks are ripped from CD, many are downloaded from my peers. I’ve practised for years to be a good DJ and my mixing style, track selection, samples, effects, and edits are all examples my own personal flare. Yet, the basic building block of a DJ mix is a bunch of commercial songs.

Do I put myself at greater risk by hosting an 80-minute MP3 containing many commercial songs than I do by hosting a 3-minute song made of commercial samples? Is my DJ mix really mine? Is this situation any different from composing music with commercial samples? After all, the original songs can’t be extracted from a DJ mix any more than an entire song can be reconstructed from a few samples.

Whatever the answer, I pay for it. And so do you, fellow Canadians. For 15 years the CRIA fought to enact a levy on recordable media to compensate the industry for piracy. It’s surprising that it happened at all, so therefore not as much of a shock that it took 15 years to convince the Canadian government that every citizen with a dual-tape recorder or CD burner was a criminal. After all, after a decade and a half even I might be convinced that blank CDs have no use but duplicating music. Hell, I might even be persuaded, as was the government, that this insane tariff should be in the ballpark of 50% the sale price.

Of course, it’s not so cut-and-dry. How many Canadians burn data backups, photographs, documents, lectures, audio books, and home videos onto CDs every single day? Is it appropriate for these people to admit their criminal guilt by paying recording artists? How many CD burns fail, rendering the disc useless? Do we get our tariff back in these cases?

Better yet, a question with a less obvious answer – is it fair for me to pay this levy when I burn one of my own DJ mixes or songs? Does this arrangement sway in favour of one party or another? Do the Canadian artists (if any) that I’ve “ripped off” see much or any of the tariff I pay?

Apparently the aforementioned 6 record labels side with Canadians in finding this scheme unfair. Nobody trusts an organization that taxes us for theft and then criticizes the taxed service for being a sink hole.

So, mysteriously, the CRIA been lobbying for the past 7 years to renege on this tariff in favour of more restrictive distribution. This is good news for legitimate users of recordable media and bad news for consumers. If (and when) CRIA’s proposals pass you can expect DRM-heavy content from coast to coast, restricting purchasers from making legal backups and quashing the very Canadian ideal of sharing culture with friends. For now the CRIA fights an uphill battle to convince judges that peer-to-peer file swapping is different from library lending (the main argument defending our right to trade music), but with noisy southern neighbours and especially with a Conservative government we can expect the winds to change sooner or later.

When I find the right office to complain to I’ll share it. Until then, vote with your bucks. Support your local artists, but REALLY support them. Support them by seeing their shows. Support them by telling your friends about them. Support them by trading their music. Most of all, support them by enjoying and appreciating their compositions. Support the art, boycott the business, sez I.

And in the mean time, please support me by enjoying my music and sharing it with your friends, free of charge.

My original music:

My techno DJ mixes:


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.