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My Angry Email to Sub Pop in 2005

In 2005 I wrote an angry email to Sub Pop because the album I wanted to download from iTunes could only be purchased one track at a time. In fact, I wrote an angry email and then accidentally sent it before I could make it sound at least slightly intelligent. But what followed from that first stupid email was a short series of emails where a Sub Pop rep (who’ve I decided to call SPR in these emails) and I debated Sub Pop and the music business.

For those who don’t know, Sub Pop was an indie label that got bought up (49% bought up anyway) by Warner Music. This means they aren’t indie any more, but since it is cool to be “indie” they still try to put on a good show. However, indie is more than just a business status, it’s a mindset. Sub Pop fails miserably in that regard to matchup at all with the spirit of independent music. A quick look at their FAQ speaks volumes (emphasis added):

A sync license for a Sub Pop artist will run you $500, ….If you do not want to pay money to use the music then why are you here anyway? Trust me, people, this is cheap. AND, you like this band, right? So now all of the sudden you’re going to try to take food off their tables by trying to bargain with me?! It ain’t gonna happen. Just so we’re very clear here: this is a festivals, student film or non-commercial license only. Any “for profit” uses of the film are not authorized under the $500 license. That, my friend, is an entirely different lecture.

This “lecture” was what sent me into an email rage. So, away I wrote…. (note: these are excepts, not the whole full text dealy)

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Sent: October 05, 2005
From: Jon

…I had just stumbled onto Sub Pop’s FAQ where I learned that students can’t get permission to use any music without paying $500. That to me rings of greed, considering students are not making money, or more accurately, that school is costing them money. What’s more it is petty to complain when someone tries to do right and get permission that doing otherwise would “take food off their tables” especially when there is no logic to such sentiment— people aren’t going to watch a movie instead of buying an album and if anything demanding $500 only decreases the chances of getting any money from students— but I doubt anyone at Sub Pop cares about that, which speaks volumes in itself.

…I read things like that and I see the mindset of a big label that disdains everything about its customers but their money.

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Sent: October 05, 2005
From: SPR

Jon! It’s called the music business for a reason, and I hate to burst the bubble, but if these awesome bands weren’t interested in making some money for their efforts they probably wouldn’t be ON a label. If you think you can find more another label this size that cares less about the business I’d be intrigued.

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Sent: Wednesday, October 05, 2005
From: SPR

Oh one more thing—regarding the use of music in student films: Did you know that most of the time I don’t even respond to people’s emails regarding using songs when I can tell that it’s just for some school project? …we have to give you the LEGAL* answer? Does this make any sense?

*jon’s note: apparently “legal” here means belligerently accusing student-fans who would like to share their enthusiasm for music with others of stealing food from artists. Rings eerily of the RIAA.
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Sent: 05, 2005
From: Jon

SPR, the first label that pop’s into my head is Dischord— maybe you’ve seen it already, but Ian MacKaye gave an interesting interview here* that is worth a read. What I find interesting is he responds as both a musician and the owner of a label. I’m not so optimistic as to assume that everyone could be like him, or fanatic enough to think everyone should be, but I have the hope that the artist and the idea of music take precedent over business. I really have to question any musician that is in it for money more than music, regardless of apparent talent.

…I like the idea of buying music over the internet because if it gets to the point where people can see it as a legitimate and feasible way to distribute music over time it will erode some of the power major labels have over musicians— which in my silly dreams means more creativity, more musicians, and more money for them (and less to gigantic labels). I think sooner or later labels will see that their role in music has changed, and that only the labels that can adapt to that change will survive. …but music wasn’t designed to be an industry in the first place, it’s inevitable that there would be business elements, but industry was never a logical conclusion. All of this is to say, yes times have changed and they will continue to do so in a very noticeable way despite anyone’s effort to suppress it.

*jon’s note: interview available here
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Sent: October 10, 2005
From: SPR

That is a very thoughtful response, Jon! I agree and disagree—I think Dischord is a little smaller than SP, but I see where you are going with it. I also understand the whole idea that the industry, for lack of a better word, is heading in a different direction with the internet and all …The real honest to goodness fact of the matter here is that there are always going to be HUGE companies pushing utter crap that the majority of the people eat up, whether it be by downloads or whatever. Additionally, there are ALWAYS going to be kids putting out records in their basements and small to large indie labels doing the same.

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There was one final email I sent but it is in the land of lost emails I’m afraid. My memory it could be summarized as something like:

  • The points MacKaye makes don’t really concern label size.
  • Change is inevitable, the big labels won’t change— they’ll just die.
  • People may still listen to crap, but maybe they wont.
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The MPAA Might Need a Better Public Image

Recently a satirical news story had some people up in arms. The idea of the story was that the MPAA wanted to start charging each person that watched movies at home. The idea being that the MPAA though everyone who watched a movie ought to own it or at least pay for it. Outrageous, yes, but not outrageous enough to be put beyond the realm of possibilities. Lots of people thought this was the real deal. The question is why?

Could it be that people think the MPAA is greedy? Looking at the news we can see that just recently movie studios came out saying that they want to impose heavier limits on iTunes store movies (there are already some pretty crappy restrictions), people have a good reason to think they are greedy.

mpaaThe interesting thing is that they keep saying they don’t want to have the problems that record companies have had with downloading music. They say that, the question is whether they have considered that part of the reason record companies have done so poorly (aside from releasing terrible music) is because they were unable to adapt to new consumers.

Consider yourself that a movie ticket in Seattle costs $9.50, then you’ll have to watch five to minutes of commercials, and most of the movies out at these huge theaters are, at best, mediocre. Does this have anything to do with people not going to the theaters anymore? A family of five has to spend money on gas, probably some crappy over priced food and then there’s the tickets and maybe even parking. We are talking well over $60 for them to see a movie. Or they could watch one of the movies they just got from netflix for $17 a month. Best of all there are no commercials, annoying people in the audience (unless your family and friends are annoying), and if the movie sucks you just send it back— you’ve barely lost any money on the deal, certainly no where near $60-$70 dollars.

But that isn’t the reason movie studios are doing poorly. It’s clearly pirates, lurking in the filthy darkness where they grow rich off the sweat of the sweet hard working movie execs who just want people to play fair.

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Why Microsoft is Dumb

Microsoft’s new operating system is called Vista. From what I’ve read it is going to give pirates a heck of a hard time to steal (for a few months at least), but the real bonus is that it’ll frustrate legitimate users— not only that, it will place all sorts of limits on how legitimate users can use Vista just because Microsoft claims that somehow it will save them money.

Yes, piracy is a problem, especially in some places outside the US. The thing is, people who live in some places outside the US can’t afford a $300 operating system. We can say “tough,” but that is pretty ridiculous considering computers are the only way to participate in a global economy. Computers are a necessity not a luxury.

I don’t think piracy will change because of Microsoft’s new piracy measures, but I’m not even sure that was the genuine intention. When Microsoft puts limits on how many times you can transfer the operating system (only once) from an old computer to a new one, or even outright deny any transfer (for computers shipped with Vista) it rings to me more in the key of greed.

What else is new with Vista? Besides only being able to transfer the OS once? You also won’t be able to use the regular version of Vista as a virtual OS— this means folks using mac will have to the more expensive version (currently set to cost $300-$400). And failure to activate Vista within 30 days results in the computer doing nothing but allowing 30 minutes of internet access.

Fair use seems to dictate that some of these things are illegal, but I am no lawyer, and fair use laws have been weakened thanks to things like the DMCA. That is to say, our rights as consumers to use things we’ve purchased however we like has been, and is being, pulled out from under us inch by inch.

It’s time to go with a Mac everyone, Apple won’t pull things like this anytime soon. Right now you can buy the latest Mac OS for about $100, or buy a family pack (good for five computers) for just $160. That’s a far cry from the adware and virus friendly Microsoft line of products. If you don’t like Apple, that is fine too, but sooner or later people are going to have to consider other options, out with the old in the unix based OS’s like SuSE, Fedora, or Ubuntu. No, they aren’t a Windows replacement, but then again that’s part of what makes them good.

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