Friday, June 16, 2006

DIGITAL SAND FOR THEIR FACES: Music reviewers indifferent

Music journalists have the spines of jellyfish. They're thought to be easy to push around, they act easy to push around, and so they are pushed around. Ask a free-lancer. Or ask a features music writer at a daily newspaper. They're only a little better off, getting a salary for the privilege of being shoved about.

The next item shows one aspect of this. I filched it off I Love Music's "Rolling Country 2006" thread. Here music-writers and fans convene to talk about stuff wonderful and lousy from the world of country music. The thread is long -- book length almost -- as a result of the energetic and enthusiastic contributions of its readers.

Anyway, posted into the thread by a regular was the news that Universal Nashville was pulling a nasty under the sham of modernity. "Hello to all, Universal Music is proud to announce, effective immediately, the digital distribution of all advance and final music via email and the Promo Only program/player," began an e-mail from Universal Nashville p.r. to one record reviewer for US altie-weeklies. "Most of you are probably familiar with this delivery in working with our sister labels (Interscope, Geffen, Verve, etc...)," continued the excerpt.

Universal would happily walk you through registering for the service of promotional distribution.

Music journalists -- rock critics -- get most of their review copies of new music the old-fashioned way, through the mail. But driven mad by the leaking of product onto pirate networks, big corporate record companies have fought back by adopting methods of controlling the remote computers of consumers, and by extension, record reviewers. In this case, Universal is trying to get rock critics sucking on the teat of promotional copy to download digital rights enforcing software to their computer so that the listening to of new music can be administered by the corporation. Universal's policeware is called "the Promo Only program/player."

And its cheery e-mail is a way of saying, "Here, take this shit sandwich and eat it."

But since many rock critics are so used to having sand kicked in their faces, now some of them pretend to like it. This is because if you do anything to make the record company angry, they churlishly take you off their distribution lists. And when they've judged you against the game plan, sub-optimal and not cost-effective, oh no -- no more promotional copies. And since everyone else who agrees to eat the crap sandwich will still get something, those who won't, work handicapped with respect to the intellectual cripples who cave in.

It's a cynical move designed to harass and it's another reason to detest major record labels. By its very existence, it blames music journalists for leaking music for purposes of piracy and tells them they have to put the company's manacles on so they don't do inappropriate things with promotional copies. This at a time when Biblical floods of independent artists (read that people doing it on their own dimes) distribute review ccopies daily with no strings whatsoever attached.

Of course, no promotions person at a big major label is going to stop sending the weekly physical bale of new music CDs to daily newspapers and big journalism outfits. They know the people on staff get flooded with material. And that if they give someone a choice, an opportunity, or a reason to ignore their product -- as in, do I want to go to an Internet portal, jump through hoops and download an unknown quantity of policeware to the company PC I'm working at, or do I wanna move on through that pile of 50 CDs on the desk, then lots of people will probably just hit delete.

At least, the intelligent ones would.

But what if you couldn't take advantage of Universal Nashville's plan of digital control and distribution?

"We will keep you on the hardcopy list so that you will still get cds," was posted into I Love Music. "We'd appreciate if you give the program a chance b/c it's so convenient and the quickest way for us to get you new music promptly but understand that not all are compatible with this. And just know that you don't have to download the music to hear it. Of course, it still requires you sitting at your computer. "

Yes -- conveniently and quickly download the Universal music administering policeware to your computer. Because, you blood-sucking parasite, you won't ever again leak our music to the Internet!

Of course, rock critics don't like to think about policeware. They don't think about it making a hash of their system, or making things work poorly, or giving the company permission to do anything it wants when they click "I agree" on the contract page that they didn't read. And they don't care for a moment if the company's policeware does something the opposite of what it said it would do, because that's too complicated. And when their computer stops working or makes listening to music such a chore that it can't be listened to because Universal Nashville's policeware is arguing with the policeware of other companies, who could figure that out? (Whew- it makes me sweat just typing it.) And it's not an issue editors would let you take up, anyway.

Too technical! I just wanna review records!

Actually, an editor at the Village Voice did let me take it up in the "essay" section, which was later sacked. Here it is: A policeware bad thing and why you're a jellyfish if you cooperate with anyone's similar plan.

So consider, once you've been saddled with Universal's policeware "Promo Only program/player" and something eventually goes wrong, will the promotional person make a housecall to reboot your computer?

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