Thursday, June 11, 2009

But that means your giving it away for free!!!!

I love the internet.  Never has something so trivial come to mean so much to so many people.  When I tell people I don't believe in the internet, it's like I was telling Tomas de Torquemada that Jesus was just my ancestral cousin who spent too much time in the desert.  And the web is considered akin to Santa.  Presents appear, but I am telling you "no guy in a red suite is involved".  Everyone is bamboozled, holding the false belief that all commerce and cultural life will benefit from everyone spending large chunks of their day sitting alone staring at a screen while life goes on without them.

Yet the web is hysterically funny, and bizarre flotsam of ages past washes up on the cyber shore to amuse and consternate. There are a number of lessons about technology in this story, so I will meander a bit in hopes of sparing some of you a lifetime of painful memories and lasting regrets.  

Long long ago, in a far away land that used to be called San Francisco (bearing little resemblance to the San Francisco post double bubble) there was a band called Comic Book Opera.  This band was a crazy power trio of Sax Bass and Drums, the pre Go Van Gogh project by the Walkershaws.   This spunky little band played regularly in all the likely, and unlikely places, and being made up of young people, was always looking for the main chance.  Back in the 80's, pre internet, for a band that usually entailed some sort of record 
deal.  CBO had a lot of get up and go, and not the most radio friendly sound (as they predated the Jazz and World music revivals). Check out their tune Dragon, and then compare it to The Top Hits of 1987  ,the year the band decided to forge ahead and record an Album on their own.  
Their pal Eric Cope had a small label Insight Records which put out interesting music. Eric was seriously into DIY punk enterprise.  He agreed to help get the record out, as long as it only cost him time and information, so the band(and their financial backer Bobo Bubalisky) co released their one record as Insignt/The Laryngitis Label as a LP (long playing record. In other words vinyl).

CDs were first brought to public attention at a press conference called "Philips Introduce Compact Disc" on March 8, 1979.   While technologies are making their way from the lab to the store shelf at ever increasing rapidity, in 1987 when CBO was deciding how to release their magus opus, they knew exactly one person with a CD player (Mark, you always were ahead of the curve).  The compact disc selections in record st
ores were meager at best.  Yes a clear case of "Coulda Shoulda Woulda".

A difficult disc put out by a difficult band might have done exceedingly well. After all, who were these CD owners.  Monied, educated, and young.  The very people who would in a few short years, be filling the Up & Down Club, and hanging onto every note from Charlie Hunters guitar. But yet another self made record by some weird band could not get distribution beyond where the band could reach in their 1970 Toyota station wagon.  So like many other great groups, finding the way forward to be tripped up by the decisions of the past they eventually moved on, and their record after selling 80% of the 1000 pressed, faded away to an undeserved obscurity.

But the internet, as I was saying above, knows nothing of obscurity.  It's all about niche.  And if you have filled a niche anytime in the past 10,000 years, someone somewhere is looking for you.  In this case, due to the excellent taste of Mr Cope, there is a far flung tribe of dark rock post punk aficionados who value his releases, and consider them all the more valuable per their obscurity.  As Comic Book Opera bares the Insight imprint, Curious Guy who writes the Phoenix Hairpins blog  posted not only a review of the Comic Book Opera record on his February 14th (Valentines day, how apt) blog, but also put the complete LP up as a zip file for any and all to download.

So what does this all mean.  Nothing to most people, who due to the vastness of information/garbage available, will never become aware of this twist in the fabric of history.  A few of those post punk fans have found a new flavor due to this (new to them) Insight.  The band can have a chuckle.  Oh look dear, our old LP on the internet.  Weren't those solos cute. 

But what of the great lie.  That the internet is where not only culture is going, but where commerce is going.  Curious Guy looks at this old CBO LP as a quaint find from musics colorful past.  Similar to archivist putting out the early 20th century Rembetico records of Rita Abadzi I so adore.  Yet Eric Cope from Insight, and Bobo from The Laryngitis Label are still alive.  The Walkershaw, as rights holders, still own the music.  Yet no royalty or sales dollar will be forthcoming from this micro activity.  Just considered to be another user generated content in the web 2.0 world. So the commerce being created here is advertising revenue from Google and selling eyebal or clickthroughs .

Don't get me wrong.  I am overjoyed on a personal level that Curious Guy has reviewed and posted this gem from Bobo's past.  I do not fault him, or wish to hinder him in any way.  In fact, I did not have a digital copy of the record I financed, so due to Curious Guy's efforts, I have the tracks in my itunes, available to share with whomever.   But the fact remains, the model doesn't work, if we all labor like slaves, alone in front of our screens, spending our intellectual capital, while the chains tighten, and our real world opportunities shrink away.  Content isn't free.  The CBO LP cost money to record, and to press.  Curious Guy spent money to buy it.  His time  was spent putting up his blog, just as mine is spent telling this story.  

Who gets paid ?

Thats all for now.



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