Much ado about nada

19 Sep



Imagine my excitement when Mr. D. brought me the Living section of the newspaper yesterday morning, proud of the article that he found and wanted to share with me. Under the headline, “Web site offers free legal downloads”, it enticed my ever observant husband to read the article and encourage me to “download as much as you can before they shut it down”. What he didn’t understand, however, were the limitations.

But, let’s back up a minute. First, SpiralFrog is a venture in coordination with Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group to offer free downloads legally. My first thought….maybe SOMEBODY is finally getting it. Maybe this was the tipping point to rip the whole thing wide open. Then, I read. Then, I went to the SpiralFrog site.

Yeah, Spiral Frog offers downloads for free. However….there’s a catch. Or a few catches.

  1. You must endure “ads” that basically pay the label for the music.
  2. It’s only Universal Catalogue. While 800,000 songs might sound like alot, it’s not.
  3. You have to register on the site, specifically providing your email address.
  4. You have to download software to facilitate the SpiralFrog downloading.
  5. SpiralFrog downloads are not compatible with iTunes, so you cannot import to your iTunes Library.
  6. You cannot burn downloads to a CD.
  7. You can only sync to an alternative device twice.
  8. If you don’t log in to SpiralFrog and “do” something within 30 days, your previous downloads lock up and can’t be played.
  9. It isn’t compatible with Firefox. Internet Explorer only.
  10. The name SpiralFrog is comprised of some of the most difficult letters on the keyboard to type resulting in wrong url links.

Um, excuse me, but exactly why is this “revolutionary”? It’s not. It’s simply a record label’s attempt to subsidize some income through advertisers for the money they are hemorrhaging from the lack of customers buying their expensive CDs.

I cannot see how this model will be successful. It is so restrictive and counter-intuitive that it borders ludicrous — and not the rapper. When I went to the site, it was excruciatingly slow, hard to navigate and the choice of music, woefully inadequate. I just don’t understand why somebody doesn’t “get it”. How some rich, powerful artists don’t band together to change the paradigm instead of jumping off the cliff with the rest of the lemmings is just beyond me. If only I had real musical talent.

Forgive me if I have trouble understanding why savvy internet users who are currently downloading free or nearly free music with ease at other sites are going to switch over to a site that’s overly restrictive and cumbersome, at best, to use. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. It’s not understanding the market. I’ll give Universal some props for at least looking at changing the dinosaur paradigm of expensive physical CDs. But, in their attempt to protect a semblance of a revenue stream, they swung and missed.

So, you want to know, “What DO you want, Music Maven?” Well, here’s what I think is salable and could produce some kind of revenue stream for THE ARTIST. Subscription to DMA-free music, compatible with iTunes or any other format for a base price per month. Um, sort of like I can get 30 downloads per month for $9.95, 50 songs for $14.99 or 75 downloads for $19.99. In today’s world of the Netflix model and cellphone plan mentality, it’s a no-brainer. Then, music proliferates through the masses, people flock to live shows and a rising tide raises all boats.

If musical artists, past and present, provide their music in this kind of pricing model, people who may have NEVER heard or purchased their music are exposed to it and at least they’re selling something. It’s a basic volume pricing model. The days of people buying an entire CD for $14.95 for 10 tracks are gone….and, it’s a brave, new world.

Artists are in the driver’s seat. They just need to give themselves permission to change the world. In the meantime, I predict that SpiralFrog will die a slow and painful death.

ETA:  Right on cue from the Libra Dragon hot line, I get this email from Amazon today:

Dear Amazon Customer,
As someone who has recently shopped for music from, you might be interested in learning how you can make that music portable. Many customers have already discovered that one cheap way to get copy-protection-free MP3s is to buy them on CD and rip them themselves. Luckily, the Amazon Music Store offers everyday low prices on many terrific CDs to help you stock your portable player. For those who haven’t yet dabbled in ripping CDs, we’ve created this handy ripping guide that takes you through it. It’s easy, and if you own a portable music player it’s a legal, cost-effective way to fill it up. Take a look at some of our fabulous deals and start building up that collection of “pre-backed-up MP3s” today.

So, how stupid am I?  I’m going to buy “ripping” software from you and purchase expensive CDs that I might only want two or three tracks of off and think I’ve just hit the jackpot?  UGH!  I’m telling you, you can make a living selling just about anything in this country….

Also, I don’t think that the CD labels and artists think it’s “legal” to rip CDs to strip away the DRM.  Isn’t Amazon supposed to be helping to protect the artist?  Yeah, right.



Posted by on September 19, 2007 in music biz


18 responses to “Much ado about nada

  1. morewines

    September 19, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    How about 35 tracks for $14.99.
    I was just looking at Alligator Records 35X35 at Amazon.

    I’ll stick with CDs the sound is
    better than compressed files such
    as MP3s.

  2. Gray Charles

    September 20, 2007 at 5:22 am

    Problematically, with the eMusic model – money doesn’t flow to the artist in any fair way. The subscription dollars go into a “pool” of money that is then redistributed to all artists whose music subscribers purchase. An artist who is popular can sometimes be paid very little for selling lots of music to subscribers. While the model works well for consumers many artists are starting to complain.

    Much better in my opinion is the total – “sell it yourself” model. Sure, most of the money an artist makes is in touring/merch but why employ a middleman to take part of your profit when you can simply sell your own tunes.

    What you ask? Isn’t that complicated? Check out Nimbit for an example of someone who is doing it right. This space is really heating up with a company like Snocap getting most of the current buzz due to their VC backing but Nimbit has a much better package.

  3. music maven

    September 20, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Exactly, Gray….we’re getting closer. I need to delve into Nimbit and Snocap a little further, but it looks like a private iTunes for artists to sell their wares. Is there a subscription option for a monthly fee? Can I import these into my iTunes libary?

    I don’t see why eMusic, or that model, couldn’t work out a proportional revenue distribution for the artists. The databases surely tell them who sold how many, so it couldn’t be that hard. I really think if these kind of subscription models were made readily available and not restricted by DRM, that the overall revenue for the music industry would rise. I could be dilusional, but I really think that people would pay a reasonable subscription price for a specific number of downloads per month.

    To me, it’s like the video business. While I realize that some people “steal” video, the vast majority of people buy and rent videos legitimately. I think the music biz could pull off the same business model, still pay artists and make money. I think the big problem is that the middle man (the label) loses their purpose, so they are largely resistant to moving any where near that model. It is a major threat to their existence.

  4. brc

    September 20, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    MM I still think there’s a second career for you somewhere in all of this.

  5. Gray Charles

    September 20, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    MM, Nimit and Snocap allow artists to sell DRM free MP3’s. eMusic COULD distribute revenue fairly, they choose not to.

    Snocap has made some great inroads with MySpace and is funded out the Wazoo by Venture Capitalists so watch out for their motives. Nimbit, is run by two guys who are both long time musicians. Their motives are “pure”, they want to help artists (granted they’d like to make a little cash doing it).

    Full disclosure: I’ve spoken with the Nimbit guys at length – cold calls do work!

  6. music maven

    September 20, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    Oh, from your lips to God’s ears, dear brc. Dare to dream, right?

    Good to hear from you. Hope all is well.

  7. Gray Charles

    September 20, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Also, I don’t think that the CD labels and artists think it’s “legal” to rip CDs to strip away the DRM. Isn’t Amazon supposed to be helping to protect the artist? Yeah, right.

    There is no DRM on a physical CD – unless possession of the object itself is the DRM.

  8. morewines

    September 20, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    If the artist does go to the sell yourself model.
    How do they advertise to those who don’t spend a lot of their time on the Net? These people may not
    go in search of music like those who post
    messages on this blog and other music blogs and message boards.

  9. Gray Charles

    September 20, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    The point is to control the distribution of your music whether digital on physical.

  10. music maven

    September 20, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    You’re right, Gray. I’m thinking iTunes. I think that’s basically what Amazon is sort of positioning themselves against with the “copy-protection-free” part. That’s what I get for trying to do five things at once.

    I think you are dead-on about the controlled distribution of the artists. If something like Nimbit allows the artist to control a larger share of the revenue from selling their own music, then there are other avenues for advertising and marketing an artist (and new money available to do so). Perhaps there is a second job there for me and a few of my Marketing buddies here (**cough**brc & Shrew**cough**).

    I think that there are good, solid people who could honestly and effectively help artists with promotion and advertising that could do a much better job than the labels are doing for most artists. If the model of distribution changes, then everything else is up for grabs as well.

    Think trains and transportation.

  11. Gray Charles

    September 20, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    What does a John Candy movie have to do with this?

  12. music maven

    September 20, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    It’s the old analogy of the railroads not understanding that they were in the transportation business.

    ….or maybe it’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles. There’s some kind of analogy concerning Candy and Steve Martin in a cheap motel bed.

  13. morewines

    September 21, 2007 at 9:57 am

    MM did that email come from Amazon or was it SPAM
    appearing as if it did come from Amazon? Look at the full header of the email message. I would be
    interested to know.

  14. music maven

    September 21, 2007 at 10:05 am

    No, it was from Amazon. I get them every week or so suggesting something to buy.

    Sorry for my obvious cynicism. I was obviously “in a mood”.

  15. Gray Charles

    September 21, 2007 at 10:49 am

  16. morewines

    September 21, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Well isn’t that something? That would put an
    artist and label in between a rock and a hard spot. Lots of CDs sold at Amazon. Simultaneously Amazon is telling people how to steal their music? hmmmm

  17. music maven

    September 21, 2007 at 11:42 am

    I imagine that the “Software” sales team isn’t talking to the “CD” sales team — but they are competing within Amazon.

    Point is — the software team is much more in touch with the public’s attitudes.

    For Amazon as a whole, I say that this is an obvious “rut row”.

  18. Kurt

    September 25, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Have you guys checked out
    Its a UK ad funded free music website with the backing of Peter Gabriel. Unlike Spiral it allows users to keep the tracks, which are DRM free, you can play them on any music device. Its definitely worth comparing Spiral with.


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