Tuesday 22 December 2009

Welcome to the online world ... Ben

Pray indulge me readers, for I have been infringed! Now it is a little known fact that some thirty odd years ago I was vocalist with a moderately successful punk rock band called The Ignerents. The band, formed in Whitstable, Kent, in 1977, played quite a few gigs and released one single on Ace Records in 1979 (Radio Interference b/w Wrong Place Wrong Time) which was then re-released on the band’s own label. The band also recorded two tracks for a local compilation album, the now quite coveted and valuable vinyl offering that is ‘First Offenders’ (and which features amongst the other artists one your drummer called Korda Marshall, more recently head of Warner Music in the UK and now back at the helm of Infectious Records). But I digress. The band lasted until 1981 when University and more importantly the tragic death of our drummer, Stan, curtailed the band and prompted a second vinyl release, Platform 5 b/w The Trouble With You, this time as The Beekeepers. There was then a long period of complete hibernation until the second tragic death in the band, that of bassist Chris Harris, in 1994, which prompted myself and the other surviving member, Steve Harris, now a Michelin starred chef at the Sportsman in Whitstable, to compile a full album from our archive of reel to reel tapes (and even cassettes) and release this as a CD in 1997, primarily as a tribute to Chris.

Both on my Music Law Updates blog and on the 1709 Copyright Blog, I have written acres and acres of text on both legal and illegal services and the varied musical offerings in the digital realm: from Nokia’s novel Comes With Music to Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ pay what you like offering to the rise of Spotify to the legalisation of Napster and to the dominance of iTunes I have blogged away. And from MGM’s famous case against Grokster to the numerous actions against Kazaa to the Recording Industry Association of America’s ill advised assault on their own customers through the widely publicised cases against file sharers Jammie Thomas-Rasset and Joel Tenenbaum to the ongoing ructions with The Pirate Bay and to the activities of ever present download sites like AllofMP3.com - friends, Romans, countrymen, I have blogged them all!

But my point is this - it’s all very well writing about this stuff, but I can’t say it ever really affected me personally, although the recent Google Books settlement debate got me interested in the effect on my more recent creative activities! Then a few weeks ago I got an email out of the blue from my cousin in Australia asking about ‘the band’ and just as a matter of interest I did a quick Google search. I had no idea what I might find – or any idea that our first seven inch vinyl single in original picture cover is now on sale for £35 (yes, thirty five fantastic pounds sterling!) at Netsoundmusic.com. Nor did I know that you can find the artwork for our single on boredteenagers.co.uk, an amazing website which aims to document all of the bands involved in the punk, powerpop, mod and new wave explosion of the late 70s and early 80s, no mean feat I should add! Or that Last FM had some of our music available for streaming (205 plays so far) and that I could create my own ‘Ignerents’ radio station . Or that in July 2008 on the ‘Always Searching For Music’ website there was a long discussion about our original 1979 vinyl release with some clearly very keen music fans offering up ‘ripped’ digital files to each other. You know what? I was flattered and rather pleased. But then I discovered that quite a few sites were offering ‘my’ music for free. Oh, thank you mp3cream.com and esm3.com for the quick thrill of knowing you have a 2.41MB file available to all. And then I found some sites SELLING our music …. and that is when it hits home and you suddenly say to yourself - HANG ON – THAT’S MY MUSIC AND I AM NOT GETTING PAID! And then you begin to think about things far far more carefully.

This is a legal blog, so I should throw in some salient facts here. When we started the band we almost signed to Step Forward Records (in 1979) but this never happened, so we own almost all of our sound recording masters, and as we wrote all our own songs, the songwriters own those copyrights and my own company administers the music publishing on all of these except the two tracks on the first single. We also created the artwork on the singles so that’s ours too! Now my publishing company is a member of PRS for Music but I have to say that our label, Rundown Records, is not a PPL member – and never have been – so when it comes to collection societies we are only half covered, although I should say that on music publishing I have yet to see a penny from any online activity (Lady Gaga’s recent complaint over a lack of income from online use springs to mind here) which is a tad annoying.

More interestingly no doubt I am now going through the same thought process as many members of the Featured Artists Coalition in the UK went through recently when the ‘liberal’ front of Radiohead and Pink Floyd came up against the ‘resistance’ of Lily Allen, who made it quite clear that she needed to be paid for her recorded music (something the record labels have been saying for some time!). Now I don’t ‘need’ to be paid for my music and nor do I consider it (in any way!) a pension fund, but it is out there on sale, I am not getting paid and others are! So that’s wrong, isn’t it? Hmmmm, a tricky one now. Apart from making the CD available in 1997, and a couple of more recent licences (late nineties) of individual tracks to two German punk rock compilation albums, was I ever going to make the music legally available on the web? Was I heck! I am all in favour of the ‘long tail’ of copyright, but as I have never uploaded a music file of any sort anywhere – or downloaded one for that matter, it wasn’t going to happen was it! And I guess if I was going to put the music out there, I would probably have made some of it available for free anyway, with Steve’s permission.

And should I really worry at all? Well clearly at this scale, no, not really. But even so, it does get you thinking and suddenly you see beyond the immediate problems of ‘piracy’ to the new opportunities that come with the web. First of all, now I know we have fans, I have my new blog (I know you are desperate to know, it is www.theignerents.blogspot.com). I then began to think of what other opportunities there are beyond those that just pander to my ego. Well with the Blog, I will soon have set up a mechanism for collecting fan data – and databases are king now (I think!). And if we were still a band we could try and get a gig at the annual Rebellion Festival in Blackpool in March, the highlight of the punk calendar in the UK – and maybe try for a European punk festival or two too! And we could definitely try and sell those last few boxes of CDs I have somewhere – fans in Japan and Germany seem increasingly keen on Ignerents’ collectibles, or I could empty out my cupboards and try and find those last few copies of our first single I have – at £35 a pop that would pay for quite a few nice winter warmers! And what if I autograph them? Hang on, will the value go down? And maybe some PRS monies will come through - eventually I imagine they will; and hang on, and what about that Glastonbury Festival thingy – I work there – I know the main booker! So many possibilities, so little time!

It’s a funny old thing the internet: yes it has destroyed a number of traditional business models in the music industry, and maybe “Ignerence was bliss” for me until a few weeks ago - but the internet has created many many other new and interesting opportunities. The clever bands of the future will be the ones who can seize these opportunities and move quickly and nimbly from technology to technology and embrace and react to ever changing patterns in consumer behaviour. But that is for the quick and the nimble – and where that leaves the traditional content industries remains to be seen.

See http://www.boredteenagers.co.uk/ignerents.htm and http://www.last.fm/music/Ignerents

1 comment:

Crosbie Fitch said...

Ben, they are not selling your music. They are selling copies. None of your rights are violated by this.

Someone somewhere will be the current holder of the privilege known as copyright that covers the copied work. As you know, that privilege represents Queen Anne's suspension of the public's right to copy printed works in 1709.

Only record labels are suffering from that privilege's ineffectiveness in protecting a monopoly in the manufacture and sale of copies.

Musicians need only make and sell music. Fortunately, music doesn't cease being in high demand simply because everyone can make their own copies for nothing. So, while we say goodbye to businesses based on selling copies, we can continue to look forward to musicians making and selling their music to their enthusiastic fans.

If you choose to go back into the business of making music I suggest you sell it to your fans directly. Do not look to a record label for custom. And for god's sake don't be so silly as to try and become your own record label and embark upon the folly of trying to sell copies. You might not have noticed, but the market for copies has ended.

Sell your music.