Interview with Shawn Gordon of Mindawn
Interview with Bernard Gueffier, president of Musea Records
Interview with al Rain
The exchange of musical files in Internet is seen as a big threat for music labels and artists, on the other hand somebody found with it a big opportunity for spreading his own ideas or even exploited this new logic, trying to ride the tiger, creating alternative forms of commerce. Little known artists putting on the web for free their own music can promote themselves making their name get known and online shops, selling music under the form of musical files, can reach in a while a wide number of customers.
It is still soon to tell where exactly this new system will take us. We tried to get testimonies about nowadays scene with this article.
We interviewed the owner of a virtual shop (Mindawn), the president of a Progressive label (Musea) that recently opened to the digital market, and an independent artist (Rain) that exploited the diffusion of musical files in Internet as form of promotion. Good reading.
Interview with Shawn Gordon of Mindawn
Can you please introduce the project Mindawn?
I'd be glad to. Mindawn is a digital distribution service for both music and video. Sure, it's one of a number of systems available and it doesn't even have the biggest selection of music, but it does have some very important differences for both customers and artists that make it a compelling place to be:
• Client software and tools run on Mac, Windows and Linux
• Provides for both CD quality audio and for lossy audio via FLAC and Ogg file formats, neither of which are encumbered with licensing time bombs like MP3. Since FLAC will easily decompress to WAV or AIFF that means you can transcode to any format from lossless to whatever you want, which means any portable device can play those files, or you can burn a CD from it.
• Any artist can join Mindawn without any approval, you simply pay $50 to open an account and your material will be for sale as soon as you up load it.
• We pay monthly royalties, up to 75% on sales.
• We accept payment via credit cards or PayPal
• We give you a credit back on each purchase that we call Mindawlers that you can use to buy more music. We have a number of customers that seem addicted to Mindawn and have racked up quite a few Mindawlers at this point.
• There are referral systems to earn money for getting people to buy clicking through a link on your site, or by using a code to give friends a discount to sign up.
Do you think that such a system could help to spread Progressive Rock Music and other genres of niche? What response have you got till now?
Mindawn can certainly help with making access to progressive rock easier, or any niche or non-mainstream style as it gives you a simple way to find and preview songs and discover new music. The response by customers and artists that are on the system has been overwhelmingly positive. We've managed to have about a half dozen people think they were buying physical CD's somehow, so we've questioned them to see how they got that impression and done our best to make sure it is as obvious as possible, but other than that, it has been excellent. People really like the quality of audio and the complete freedom of choice provided.
Making a first balance, do you think that this platform gave any advantages? Which ones?
Some of the obvious advantages are that we don't exclude anyone. In other words our software runs on Windows, Mac and Linux (the only service to do so) and we offer actual CD quality audio, which no one else does, and the files can be transcoded to virtually any portable media player in any format you want or burnt to a CD that will be the same quality as if you purchased it. That's at the customer side of it, for the artist side of it we have a similar inclusion philosophy, no artist is excluded from the service, you just pay $50 to open an account and then you rip and load your songs on Mindawn and they are immediately available for sale. You get paid once a month and have access to all your sales reports online, so there is nothing that is hidden.
How has your project been welcomed by music labels and bands? Do artists gladly accept this new kind of commerce? Are the draws that they obtain equal to those coming from CD selling?
The response has overall been very enthusiastic, there are still some bands and/or labels that are very nervous about the whole digital distribution thing. One of the best things is that it is basically free money, you have no manufacturing or distribution costs, but you also need to do some promotion to let your fans know that you are available like that. One of the things we like
to do is get a lot of out of print material or songs that haven't been released anywhere
else. Vince Di Cola is a good example, he's a famous keyboardist that has done a number of movie soundtracks and albums, but he had about 5 hours of material he had recorded that was never released anywhere, stuff with Steve Walsh of Kansas as one example, and we put it all up on Mindawn and now people can finally get their hands on it.
It's been discussed for long time about possible economical damages caused by file sharing but valid data are lacking. A recent study called "P2P, Online File-Sharing, and the Music Industry" demonstrated that ¾ of less popular artists get to sell more thanks to file sharing while the most popular ones sell less. Less popular artists in fact get more popularity from P2P being exposed to a larger number of users and famous artists, having more files available to be downloaded, lose sales. What do you think about file sharing? Do you think that your project could be considered as a good alternative? Do you think, finally, that P2P can damage a small market like Prog?
I've been in a number of heated online discussions on this topic just recently. First of all, the main problem in trying to quantify how stolen copies results in lost sales, the assumption on the part of organizations like the RIAA is that there is a one to one relationship, in other words, each stolen copy is in fact a lost sale. This is not true for a variety of reasons, the person wouldn't have ever bought it to begin with, they might buy it after they listen to their illegal copy, etc. It's like saying that since all of Mozart is dead, then all dead people must be Mozart.
With that said, far too many people feel perfect justified in belonging to CD trading groups, this
is where you have a group of say 10 people, they each buy 1 CD and make copies for the other 9, so they get 10 CD's for the price of one. People in these groups will often claim that it results in sales, but if you follow it up, it hardly ever does.
Now to your point on exposure. My gut feeling is that P2P hurts big artists more the little artists because there is an innate feeling with people that since the big artist is so big, their stealing the material isn't going to hurt them, this may or may not be true, but it doesn't change the fact that making illegal copies is still illegal no matter what justifications you come up with. I'm not making up the law here, just telling you what it is.
Mindawn does away with the whole "I just wanted to check out the band" argument, because you can listen to any song in full up to 3 times without paying for it. That is more than reasonable to make a decision on if you want to buy it or not, so all those arguments now go away and there is no legitimate reason for making illegal copies, assuming of course the material is on Mindawn to sample.
Do FLAC files you sell come from original master tapes or are they processed as audio files by your software MARS ? In the first case can you demonstrate it?
We provide MARS as a convenience so artist can easily rip FLAC and OGG files, but they don't have to use MARS, they can use whatever they want and they could do it from source WAV files or CD's or however they want. We do enforce that OGG files have to be a quality of 5 or higher to ensure that customers are getting the best quality.
Why can't we download CD covers? Do you think this will be possible in the future?
We get asked this once in a while and we might do it, but it would be a separate charge. There are a lot of variables however, such as the song versus album thing as I described earlier with Vince Di Cola, so there is no artwork. Then you have to decide what and how much artwork, for example. The CD tray cover? The CD label? The whole booklet (if it exists)? The CD tray card? I could see something like the CD label so you could put the CD in a slip case and be able to easily identify it, but then you are also dependant on the artists and labels putting the artwork up, we don't control that, so you never know how many people will do it. It's an idea that just needs to be better fleshed out. I think I might start with something simple like the CD label and go from there.
Do you think that this kind of selling is the future for Progressive Music record business going to substitute traditional record stores?
Just as the cassette tape replaced the 8 track tape and the CD replaced vinyl and cassette, I think we are at the forefront of a paradigm shift in the distribution of entertainment, both audio and video. Today you can get a portable audio player with a 100gb hard drive in it, that's like 100,000 minutes of music, that's over 1,600 hours in your pocket. That is a huge convenience factor, and it applies to the entire industry, not just progressive. The possible downside to progressive in this medium is the tendency towards concept pieces where included lyrics or stories or art work is part and parcel of the package and isn't as big a deal for a band like the Rolling Stones for example, but we are going to see a total shift over the next 5 years.
Picture this: a concept album where the songs are released every month or two like issues of a comic book where the story will unfold over time, there might be 50 pieces and take 5 years for the whole concept to unfold. It's an entirely new way of thinking about how to release music.
What kind of role will record label have in this kind of market?
A record label will still deal with the mechanics and expenses of recording an album, doing promotion, finding airplay, getting the material to the digital distribution companies, but I think the playing field is a bit flatter and allows an indie artist to get the same kind of access to distribution, but they are still responsible for the other items like creating awareness.
Do users download more frequently one or two tracks from an album or the album in its entirety?
My experience is that about 80% of the people buy albums and about 80% of the people opt for the higher quality FLAC files. I'm glad to see this because it was what I was predicting before we released the service.
What do you think about DRM technologies applied by majors to their products as in the case of Sony Rootkit? Do you think that in the future these technologies will be more diffused, as declared by several producers, or will users refuse this policy?
I think what Sony did was a crime and a disgusting one at that. I have a real problem with treating your customers like criminals when they haven't done anything wrong. If someone breaks the law, then prosecute them, but I believe that most people are honest and want to do the right thing. I don't like DRM and I don't have DRM in our system and I think customers are pushing back against DRM pretty hard. A good example is iTunes, you are really renting the music, you don't own it, you are restricted in what you can do with it. Why are they putting more restrictions on a customer than they have when purchasing a typical (non-DRM) music CD? I will never install DRM in our service, and if that means we don't get some music in our system, then so be it.
Which aspects do you think to improve in your system/website in the future?
I don't want to give too many details, but fundamentally what I'm trying to do is reproduce the experience of buying music at a physical music store as much as possible, I'll leave it to the readers to think of what those aspects might be. We also continue to fine tune the site and the software based on customer feedback, which we value highly, if you try out Mindawn and have any suggestions or comments, please let us know.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk more about Mindawn.
Interview with Bernard Gueffier, president of Musea
Why and with what kind of commercial strategies did you decide to “take the big leap” offering to customers, through the Mindawn web site, legal downloads of CDs produced by you?
In fact, we signed our first on-line distribution contract ten years ago. During several years, we did not get any revenue at all from these first experiences. Two years ago, we made a comparison between several offers for the on-line distribution of our catalogue: a specialized site called Muse-Wrapped, a mainstram site, iTunes and a specialized company which could place our catalogue on hundreds of sites, an agregator called World Music Office.These are the general three types of proposal any label may receive and from which a choice must be made.
In accordance with our independant policy, we chose the option of the specialized site Muse Wrapped. After a few weeks, over 5000 tracks from our catalogue were available on-line through this site. Unfortunately, after three months of existence, the company went bankrupt. We then moved to another specialized site called Mindawn.
Why did you choose Mindawn and not other well known internet distributors?
Since 20 years of Musea existence, we found out that the meanstream distribution chanels were not very usefull for the distribution of Progressive Rock, which is considered by the music business as minority music.
We thought that the same conclusions apply to on-line distribution and chose the option of a specific Progressive Rock site, rather than being completely lost amongst millions of other bands in iTunes site.
By precaution, as things may evolved rapidly, we made in parallel a limited test on approximately 50 Musea albums which have also been given to iTunes and World Music Office. This test is planned to last for one year. After this delay, we will take our final decision regarding digital distribution.
Have you in mind to make available on Mindawn all the Musea catalogue, even including recent releases, or just a selection of titles based on certain criteria (for example out of stock CDs which won’t have enough market if re-released)?
At present time, we offer through Mindawn all titles for which we have the digital distribution rights, which means 75% of our complete catalogue.
We offer as well deleted titles as brand new releases. The only exceptions are our recent concept albums compilations such as "Odyssey", "Kalevala", "Spaghetti Epic" or "Colossus of Rhodes".
What do you think about file-sharing and about Mindawn policy concerning that (see FAQ page on Mindawn web site with “blessing” of free file-sharing)?
I guess you are talking about the fact that Mindawn digital files are not protected against copy and that Mindawn thinks that customers generally don't offer for free what they paid for. We agree with this statement.
What would be your reaction knowing that someone, on a file-sharing network, is giving away one of your products free of charge? Would you consider every download a loss and so an indirect damage or would you consider those people as potential new customers who might discover prog rock and Musea for the first time?
This is already the case. We found lots of our track on file sharing sites and even on paying bootleg sites. We are not really worried about this. I mean it may be a big danger for commercial artists or major companies, but in case of Progressive Rock, we trust our customers.
Considering an early balance, would you consider the sale method through Mindawn as profitable? If yes, what are the advantages?
All experts think that 25 to 50% of the music business will consist of digital distribution within 10 years.
We consider that we have no other choice than to move to this technology. The positive side is much more flexibility (no need to press CD's, for heavy shipment, for lots of employees making parcels etc.). The negative side is the free copy, but it already exist with physical CD's. We consider digital distribution as a worthy addition to music distribution.
Do you think that such a system will represent the future of marketing for prog CDs? Will it replace traditional record shops?
As said above, this will replace only a certain proportion of the physical distribution. CD's will go on existing, like vinyls still exist and records shops as well.
What would be the role of record labels in that market?
Absolutely the same as before: make a selection between a pletoric production, make promotion, help artists in their carreer, contribute to concerts and festivals organisation, take care of many legals aspects (author rights, producers rights etc.)
Are customers usually downloading one or two tracks of a CD or the entire compilation?
90% of them are downloading full albums at present time. This may change in the future.
Would you like to tell us about your experience with “Muse Wrapped Records”?
It was a very positive and fascinating experience. We put a lot of hope in this adventure. The guys beyond this project, Jack Foster and Trent Gardner were very trusty and efficient. I think they made some wrong alliances with other companies for the development of their project, which caused their end. But we learned a lot through this first attempt and have absolutely no regret.
What do you think about the recent approval, by French Parliament, of a law legalizing the downloading of songs from internet, considering this like a “private copy”?
I am not really afraid of this big mistake. Some consumers lobbies succeeded to propose this new law allowing free download for a cost of a few euros per years. At present time, this is just a proposal, and I really think that there is no risk of seeing this proposal approved. The main reason is that it would be in contradiction with all European rules, and even with the French law on copyrights.
Interview with Rain
Hello Rain, please, introduce yourself to our readers
In April, 2005 in released my first official CD on my own label TelosMusic,"Cerulean Blue" by Rain (the name I use for all my artistic projects). The CD is available for sale directly from the website (www.telosmusic.net) as well as from various distributors in UK, USA and Europe, including Steve's Hackett's webshop at www.camino.co.uk . The album has attained radio play on, among others, XM Satellite Radio across continental USA.
The entire CD is available for free download at the website as 96kbs MP3 files.
Usually on some band's web site you can download music samples, or live alternative versions or demos. In your web site there are samples of your music and all the complete cd tracks which, as you clearly state in a disclaimer, anyone can download, copy and distribute. What is the reason of
There are several reasons for putting the MP3s of the full album on the site and allowing people to download them freely. Firstly, it would only be a matter of time before the CD was "ripped" and put on someone's P2P anyway so it made sense to me to do it first. At least by doing it myself, I had some measure of control over how this was done. Secondly, before I released the album myself, it was simply "sitting on the shelf". None of the major labels was interested in releasing it and I had to turn down some offers from smaller labels as the terms in their contracts were so poor. I was considering simply making it available freely on the internet just as a way of sharing the music with other people. I had heard several stories of musicians setting up a website and pressing CDs only to sell maybe three copies in a year, so I wasn't optimistic about going down this route to start with but as I had nothing to lose, I thought I'd try it as an experiment. Having no budget for promotion and radio and TV exposure being inaccessible, the free download was the only real option in order to gain interest in the music of an unknown artist. I know many artists have short samples of music on their websites, but personally I don't find this is usually enough to convince people to buy a CD. With new music, I think you need time to listen properly, to hear it several times and "live with" it
before it makes its true impact.
What was the feedback from the audience? Do people just download the mp3 files or share them on p2p networks? And what about the CD? Are you satisfied with the selling?
I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised at the response to the CD. The audience feedback has been wonderful (see -http://www.telosmusic.net/comments/comments.htm ). I've had many, many positive responses regarding the free download with large numbers of people buying the CD after hearing the download. Currently the statistics show that there is about one sale for every 11 full downloads and I have just had to repress another 2000 CDs. The music has had large amounts of radio play and several excellent reviews. Having done no promotion other than distribute some review copies, I have to put this level of interest down entirely to the free download (as well as - I would hope! - the quality of the music).
I think the record companies could learn a lot from this when attempting to promote an unknown artist. In essence, every person who downloads the CD is an unpaid promoter working on your behalf, disseminating the music around the world in way that would otherwise be completely impossible. I see no real difference between this and other distribution of the music, such as radio play (which can easily be recorded and has been for many years). In the Seventies and Eighties it was very common for music to be passed around via cassette copies of radio broadcasts or LPs. Personally, I discovered most of the music which I have subsequently bought via these methods. File sharing and CD copying is essentially similar to this. Statistically, people who "illegally" download music from the internet buy five times as many CDs as those who don't. There are many other businesses that follow similar methods. Software companies in particular will often give away free versions of their products and then try to sell a more sophisticated version on the back of that once the user is "hooked" into using their product. Some of the record labels would like us to believe that every P2P download is a "lost sale" but I think this is being a little hysterical. I might hear a certain song ten or twenty times on the radio or TV but if I don't buy it, it doesn't constitute a lost sale, it just means I didn't like the track. Most downloaders are just looking for music they like and are not finding it on the very narrow range of music exposed on radio or TV. People have to hear music first in order to buy it and downloading is often the only way this is possible.
Yes, CD sales from major labels via record shops etc are globally in decline (although still rising here in the UK) but I think there are many reasons for this. There are many other consumer items competing for people's disposable income, such as DVDs, computer games etc, which didn't exist fifteen or twenty years ago. Also, large record companies are releasing far fewer titles, and in many people's opinions, becoming increasingly conservative in the music they sign and promote and thus pushing audiences toward independent releases (such as "Cerulean Blue"!) whose sales are not
recorded in the official statistics. It has been estimated that sales of CDs by individuals like myself who have set up a website and pressed CDs (something which was simply not possible a few years ago) may account for 10% to 15% of global CD sales.
In earlier years, record companies did not expect to make a profit with a newly signed artist or band. They would consider the first one or two albums to be aimed simply at establishing the artist's reputation. If they believed that the artists had genuine talent, they knew that they would eventually return the investment by the third or fourth album. As an example, the band Genesis did not make a profit for their record label until after their fifth album but with the confidence of Charisma records, they went on to sell over 100,000,000 albums. If then, the first album is not about making money but purely for promotion; why not give it away as a download? It's the best and cheapest form of promotion there is.
If you have confidence in your music, then you have to believe that if people hear it, a percentage will always want to buy it.
So I can heartily recommend this method to any band or artist looking to launch their career.
Your CD is sold on Mindawn where is available in ogg format and in FLAC format. The files in FLAC are in terms of quality comparable to the original CD music while OGG files are worst quality wise even if superior to MP3 files. How do buyers behave in choosing files format? Do they prefer the FLAC format or OGG?
As far as I can tell, the FLAC format seems to be the most popular. The "Cerulean Blue" CD is more aimed at serious music fans rather than the more disposable pop market, so I would imagine these listeners are more concerned with audio quality. The OGG format, although superior to MP3, still seems to be too obscure to have made a significant impact.
What would be your reaction knowing that your CD is shared on a P2P network in FLAC format, with scanned artwork and any other extra included in the original CD package?
As far as I know the CD is already available on P2P networks. If people are happy to spend hours downloading it (at least 300MB), burning it to CD and printing an inferior cover rather than spent £5-99, then good luck to them! Seriously, as I said, I'm happy if people are listening to the music. If they like it enough, they will buy this CD or the next release. If not, then either they don't like it or the music just isn't good enough!
What do you think about DRM technologies used by majors in a growing "invasive" way, often without informing the customers, if not when it becomes a headline news like Sony rootkit? Do you see a future for those technologies? And if you see it, what future?
Given what I have said earlier, it won't surprise you to hear that I think almost all the DRM technologies are counter-productive in several ways. Firstly, none of them prevent copying. They are usually hacked within a week or two of release or can easily be bypassed by recording a digital stream. For better or worse, CDs, music in general and digital content of any kind is extremely difficult to make "copy-proof". However, although the DRMs certainly have no impact on piracy, counterfeiting and P2P distribution, they do effect the legitimate customer. Apart from the disastrous computer-killing efforts of Sony and others, these subversive DRMs are also compromising the rights of those who have bought the music. In UK and US law one is legally allowed to make copies of copyrighted works that one has purchased within reasonable limits, such as for back-up purposes or to play on different equipment. The only achievement of DRMs is to deter legitimate users from buying CDs from major labels. I for one would never buy a CD that installed copy protection on my computer. I copy every CD I buy as WAV files onto my hard disk as a music server. Most DRMs would prevent this.
I think that the record companies need to reconsider their entire attitude to this issue. They need to understand not only that easily copyable media actually will enhance their sales and exposure, but also why it is that people buy CDs. They need to accept the idea of digital copying and think of ways to make their physical product more desirable. For example, CDs are far too expensive to be a casual purchase - retail prices could comfortably be half what they are. The standard CD box is an appalling piece of design and doesn't encourage anyone to want to own it. These are some of the reasons why I decided to put the video extra on the CD, to have a nicely printed, gatefold cover and to sell the package for only £5-99. Record companies need to look at why sales of DVDs of TV series are so huge when they could easily be video taped.
Considering the digital technologies progress, do you think musicians will be able to produce music more independently and with reasonable costs, becoming some sort of manager themselves?
I think this process is very much underway already. To a large extent, musicians producing and selling their own CDs have replaced the small, independent labels of earlier years. Recording and pressing a high-quality CD is easily possible for most artists now and is probably the only way forward for many artists producing music outside of the mainstream. In the future, I can only see this approach growing as more and more people become comfortable about discovering new music on the internet and buying CDs directly from the artist in this way. For those still looking to be signed by a major label, it's worth bearing in mind that they will expect you to have gone through this process and sold a good few thousand CDs before they will show much interest.
In Italy there's a well-known band, Elio e Le Storie Tese, which sells live cds burned just after the concert with soundboard quality. Do you think that those ideas might increase the interest around live performances compared to studio work and somehow change the customers' point of view regarding the old LPs or CDs?
I think the "post-concert CD" is a great idea for bands that perform live. It gives the fans something unique to take home instead of just a programme or t-shirt. It may also encourage interest in the band long after the concert has been forgotten but I'm not sure whether it has an impact beyond those who are already fans of the band and would have gone to the concert anyway.