Wednesday, February 23, 2005

super/sub legal, super/sub culture

I’ve been thinking about mainstream and subcultures a lot lately. I think my connections to both might explain some of my take on copyright.. seems perfectly consistent to me, but I guess it’s a funny mix of subculture, radical, and I dunno what you call it, sociolegal, maybe?

As I was working on all the trappings of the CD – all the attendant information for the track list, asking the friend and design genius dropthelime for artwork, talking about promotion, waiting for permission (not given) for using a track, re-editing it to include a track by someone who didn’t want a stupid pile of money for 45 seconds of a song on a mix, etc. I was realizing that for my purposes it seems like depending on physical copies of a CD might not help me as much as freely posting mixes online...

I’m not trying to make money off recorded music. I always wonder how realistic a goal that is for any musician, since it's statistically pretty rare, but especially dj mix CDs seems odd to expect money from. If anything, they serve me like they serve the artists I represent on it, only more so, they are a way to spread and share and highlight the sounds, and our skills, so we get hired to do it live. The more widely the mix reaches, the better chance I have.

So even as all this preparation and promo was going on, I was realizing that, ironically, releasing a phsyical CD that should be paid for might not be so good a direction for me as a DJ. Besides, formal release also pointed up more formal liability issues, copyright issues for the label and for me, should anyone get antsy, and use the law – which doesn’t recognize the promotional aspect of mix CDs for the artists represented on it as well as the DJ, or that aspect of sampling (ditto), or other such flexibilities and nuances.

On the other hand, as I sent out emails about the mix, I got a whole slew of kind words and congratulations, and especially a kind of recognition about what I’m doing from people who don’t mess with electronic music much. It reminded me how very subculture a lot of my life is. By choice and accident, and because it’s pleasant, and by no means is it only one subculture, but musically these days I know a whole hell of a lot more djs and laptop and electronic music peeps, techy peeps, sampling/looping peeps, all of that. A lot of music is experienced in forms that don’t have much physical manifestation (did I mention again how cool the artwork is on the CD?) (and hold tight my tape-loopers).

But I started to remember that many folk don’t operate that way. It was significant to them (to my Dad, for example, but he’s actually a 20thcentury composer, so maybe a better example is some folks I know through the academic world, who are music fans of other genres) that I had a CD officially released, on a label, not toasted with handmade artwork in my living room. I do think non-mp3, physical phonogram releases serve a purpose, give you entree into different places. I don’t have a lot of sense of how that might benefit me a as a dj and as part of the music that I'm into, but I’m curious.

My academic work is about copyright. Usually I just stick to making the point that the law doesn’t necessarily serve who people think it serves, copyright doesn’t automatically benefit who you might think it benefits, most people don’t recognize where most of the money in the music industry comes from or goes to, and simply enforcing or extending copyright isn’t going to fix that.

So, take the CD – in my earlier post, I requested that folks who read my personal blog don’t upload it for a while. I can’t bring myself (nor do I really want to ) ask you not to download it.. Let’s be clear, I don’t give a fuck about copyright law in its(ever-mutating) self, and I’m not invoking it in my favor, nor am I gonna sue anyone. You could say that having read my request it would be rude to ignore it… so you’d have to live with that.. But on the downloading side, if you’ve got the music (and especially if you like it), I’m pretty much psyched. Of the many things that matter more than money in the hand: email me and tell me what you think about it, introduce yourself, send mp3s of your own (or vinyl, always appreciated), come see me dj, bug your local promoters to book me, tell all your friends, (and of course download the free mixes from links like the one at left and share share share)!

So, yeah, my point is that what it means to upload and download is really specific to the situation of artists involved. If they speak up about it, you have to just make a decision/ judgment call. If you haven't heard from them, it's another judgment call.

for the death$ucker mix, I (willingly) gave up my copyright. Actually, it wasn't discussed, but I'm assuming that's one material thing the label should have (to a reasonable extent) in exchange for doing so much work to help me make it happen. Fuller disclosure: I agreed to a flat fee, minus costs of whatever copies of the CD I asked for. I worked on the mix, practiced, re-ordered and practiced again, searched out music, tried to construct forms and ideas, etc. Kid Kameleon helped me with technical stuff in DP, i.e. cut together 3 chunks of sound, and then helped me clip out a disputed track (stupid copyright law) and cut in another mix. Artists represented either didn’t care or were psyched their work was included, since they were properly credited as much as possible. The (contradictorily-named) Parasite took care of everything logistical, is mailing promo copies all over the fricken planet, finding distributors, doing what music labels that are 1) moral 2) genuinely support music, and 3) generally don’t make money, do. None of us did this because of laws, but because of how we like to work together.

So yeah, this doesn’t contradict my points about copyright law. or file-sharing. It's the relevance of these thing to your purposes that matter, yeah?

On a slightly different note. I think the tension between physical and non-physical manifestations of music are still pretty interesting. I do think it’ll be nice when there is a simple, reliable pay-per-download system, or one for more general file-sharing like downhillbattle talks about, that does allow some money to go to artists. But I do like holding records (especially 45s) in my hot little hands! I like cover art. I guess I like good tshirts and pins too, so maybe folks can get that paraphernalia going as well, with the magic of cafepress and americanapparel no-sweatshop thingies. Maybe I should have pins (badges, for you UK peeps)?

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