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A Little Ink for A Fusioneer

Chad Ramey - photo by Joeff Davis, Creative Loafing (Atlanta)

Chad Ramey – photo by Joeff Davis, Creative Loafing (Atlanta)

One of the things we do under this big umbrella is host a website and forum at fusor.net where people all over the world discuss their work building nuclear fusion reactors.

Yeah, nuclear fusion.  Like the sun and stars. Not so much like a hydrogen bomb (although based on the same fundamental nuclear reaction).  The promise is that someday fusion will lead to a clean, safe, and inexhaustible source of energy.

At least, that’s the idea, and the dream that Philo T. Farsworth pursued when he developed the basic science behind the reactor that young scientists like Chad Ramey are experimenting with in their basements and garages.

And we like that, besides being a geek of the first order, Chad dabbles in the arts, too:

Ramey is also a musician of sorts, counting guitar, bass, mandolin, and banjo among his instruments of choice. He dabbles in piano and keyboard, as well as computer music software such as Ableton and Reason. Over the holiday break, Ramey spent time using an Xbox Kinect and Ableton to create music based on body movements.

Mad science and high art – it all fits together somehow…

Scotland, Day 1: Edinburgh

After several months of not doing much with it, I’ve been giving some thought to what I’m going to do with this domain/website in the future (if anything)

This might be one indication.

Ann and I spent the first two weeks of October in Scotland.  We brought back so many photos that its already taken two weeks to get through the first day.  So here ya go:

The whole thing only takes about three minutes.  And it’s all in HD, so by all means, click the arrows and blow it up to “full screen.”

Must We Continue to Be “Consumers” ?

Derek Webb

Last night, as I was seeking a moment’s diversion from working into the wee-hours, I encountered this post to Facebook, linking to this post by Derek Webb, one of the proprietors of NoiseTrade (a service I subscribe to but don’t use much, since it is mostly about downloading, which I really don’t do much any more).

I had a hard time reading Derek’s post at first, because it’s displayed with a light-grey text against a slightly darker grey background (aspiring web designers please take note) — a combination that was tough on old eyes tired from several non stop hours (days… weeks… years…) of staring at a screen. This morning I took another look while having coffee with my iPad, and was able to forge my way through Derek’s commentary.

I do agree with much of what Derek says about the value of giving away music in order to develop a fan base and eventually derive commerce from those relationships.  But I also took exception to his assertion that “I will withhold any new releases from Spotify in the future.”

What’s curious about Derek’s post is that it expresses some of the same antiquated notions as the David Lowery screed – the insistence that we continue to regard music a ‘product’ and treat the customer/fans as ‘consumers.’

So I posted the following comment:

The good new is Derek’s grey-on-grey Tumblr blog reads much better in the Facebook iPad app than it does in a laptop browser (in itself a first – the first thing the FB app excels at).

The bad news is that, now that I’ve read it more closely, I actually disagree with a lot of Derek’s premise.

His dismissal of streaming services like Spotify (“…I will withhold any new releases from Spotify in the future…”) is simply a denial of the inevitable. That statement wreaks of the “we must stop this new technology” mentality that the major labels advocated at the dawn of the digital era.

I do agree wholeheartedly with the premise that it is better to have a fan relationship than a “sale.” It’s how that relationship is embraced, where we differ some.

The disconnect for me stems from the apparent desire to then use that ‘fan’ access to continue to “sell” them music in discrete units – downloads or discs. We want to connect with fans so that we can continue to treat them as consumers and sell them… well, stuff. But in the digital era music no longer qualifies as ‘stuff.’

That fundamental idea of selling units of stuff is a lingering hangover from the industrial era, when commerce was predicted on manufacturing, distribution and retail delivery. I contend that for any IP that can be delivered digitally, that model is on the bubble now.

A lot of the critics of new technology (David Lowery, for example, and boy has he outlived his 15 nanoseconds…) contend that the Emily Whites of the world need to be re-educated to be more “moral and ethical” consumers. In the long run it is going to be better to re-educate both the creators and the users around the venerated concept of patronage.

The fans were always the patrons in the end, but that vital role was obscured by the layers of delivery that reduced patrons to consumers. The technology is now restoring that role, as evidence by the emergence of the Kickstarters of the world.

Derek can withhold or distribute his content however he sees fit; That is certainly one upside of this whole new environment. But in withholding from Spotify, I think he’s got one mental foot firmly planted in the old “make them buy products” paradigm.

There is an end-game to the inexorable march of this digital technology. There is a Celestial Jukebox in our (perhaps not to distant) future: whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it, wherever you are (if the bastards ever let us). Withholding content from the Spotifys of the world is not going to keep that from happening. And when it does arrive, roles and relationships will have to be redefined, because we’re just not gonna be able to “sell stuff.” Not the actual music, anyway.

For the record, I mean no disrespect to Derek (or does saying that mean that I do, like when Lowery tells Emily that he’s “not trying to shame” her and then proceeds to do exactly that…?).  I did discover Derek’s music a couple of years ago.  I found the music quite appealing and checked myself into the “fan” column. And while I never really followed up on that initial impulse (that’s a subject for a different post), I might not have had even that opportunity if Derek had not found some means by which to make his music freely available.  On that much of his gist, I believe we are in complete agreement.

–Paul

Digital Music: A Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Go ahead, ask it, "What is the Future of Music?"

Last week the Internets were all abuzz with blog-posts and comments about digital music and the moral imperative to “buy” music.

The dialog began with a blog post by a Emily White, an NPR intern who marveled at the fact that she has over 11,000 songs on her iPod despite having purchased in her life only 15 CDs.

Ms. White’s post generated a long, rambling and at times incoherent harangue in the form of an open letter from one David Lowery (formerly of the bands Camper Von Beethoven and Cracker), who accused Ms. White of being morally and ethically challenged since she had not actually “paid” for most of the music in her collection.  Between the two of them, the two posts generated thousands of comments, responses, and further blog posts through the course of the ensuing week.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of the original messages or flood of verbiage that ensued – a Google search for “emily white david lowery” will generate 127,000 returns – but I do want to pass on two items that, between them, draw some interesting distinctions between how difficult digital technology has made the environment for some musicians, and how it has enabled others.

First the grim news, from music industry blogger/curmudgeon Paul Resnikoff (whose perpetual cynicism compelled one friend of mine to suggest that the “Resni-” part of his last name is actually a euphemism for “jerk” — do the verbal calisthenics yourself).  At his well trafficked blog Digital Music News, Resnikoff tells us that “Our Digital Innocence Just Died. And David Lowery Killed It…” — a post that goes beyond Lowery’s ‘moral and ethical’ challenges and sees doom in every nook and cranny:

(6) Sadly, most artists are worse off in the digital era than they were in the physical era.

Actually, we have David Lowery himself to thank for this realization.  Because the implosion of the recording has impacted nearly every other aspect of music monetization (though certainly not music creativity itself.)  And its replacement is generally a fraction of what a ‘lucky’ artist could expect in an earlier era.

But what I really feel compelled to pass along is a post by Mike Masnick at Techdirt, who takes both Lowery and Resnikoff to task with a post that asserts that A Business Model Failure Is Not A Moral Issue.

Masnick outdoes himself with a passage that has countless links to an abundance of  good ideas about how rich and plentiful the digital landscape is if you can stop thinking in the ‘buy my products” mentality of the Lowerys and Resnikoffs of the world.  Just click on a few of the “over and over” links in this paragraph:

This is about failed business models, not morals. If you have a bad business model, you fail. End of story. If you have good content, an ability to connect with fans, and a good business model, you’ll absolutely succeed today. We see it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And those were just the stories I could remember off the top of my head. There are tons more.

…and you will find enough interesting ideas to sustain a dozen careers.

Yes, we are definitely in a transitional period, and, I contend, very early in that period, despite the efforts of countless observers to tell us what the future is going to be.  Technology may be moving at “Internet speed,” but the fact is people still move at “people speed.”

Perhaps the gist of the argument was best summed up by the ineffable Bob Lefsetz.  I have a lot of issues with Lefsetz (who doesn’t?), but with this particular observation, he’s entirely prescient:

We’re in the midst of a wrenching transition. Anybody who says they know where it’s gonna end up is just plain wrong. But one thing’s for sure, we’re not gonna be where we started.

The future isn’t here yet, and anybody who tells you otherwise is looking at at one of those “Magic 8-Balls,” not a crystal ball.