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Archive for November, 2010

As we’ve all heard by now, Apple inc. announced Tuesday that their digital music retailer iTunes will finally be releasing The Beatles’ back catalog. This move was essentially the product of corporate desperation and new—relatively young— management between EMI and Apple Corps, the two companies that handle the dissemination of Beatles’ materials.

Presumably, the lawsuits that have plagued Apple inc. and Apple corps’ public relationships over their names had a lot to do with this deal coming so late in the iTunes game. But, because Beatles’ songs were never available on any of iTunes’ competitors (emusic, Rhapsody, etc.), its obvious the alleged trademark infringement wasn’t the only reason it took so long. One also has to take into the consideration the actual necessity of bringing pop music’s most famous—and accessible— group into a legal digital format (don’t people who like music already have most Beatles’ albums anyway? or, at least, favorite songs?).

This is where that corporate desperation comes in. EMI has dug itself a notoriously large grave in the last decade by not adapting to any of the myriad changes in technology and innovation. However, their new management team decided to give the world a taste of the digital-era Beatles with the release of the contrived but well intentioned Beatles: Rock Band last year. The game’s sales were modest at best, but gave an unexpected jolt in The Beatles’ back catalog sales. With a little help from a remastered box set, The Beatles sold 3.3 million physical albums in 2009.

That jolt is perplexing. Are people still discovering The Beatles? Or, do these reissues and reformats encourage fans to re-buy Beatles albums just for the sake of holding it in their hands again? The latter’s angle is an interesting microcosm of our “eat it up” culture, and makes one wonder whether its the music or the product that really excites fans.  We’ll have to wait and see with this new digital format, mainly because of its lack of tangibility. Either way, I’m expecting The Beatles to be top ten in worldwide sales by the end of this year, nearly 41 years after they broke up.

This deal is certainly going to make two rich entities (The Beatles and Apple inc.) much richer, but when thinking of wealth in an “accessibility” sense, baby, the fans are rich men (or women), too. Sorry, I had to.

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Also, in other Beatles news, Paste just made an awesome list of the 50 best Beatles covers ever, number 7 and number 9 are both incredible. Lots of soul on this list too.

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Earlier this year, Warner Music commissioned a few of its employees to become archivists of the company’s vast warehouses. Within these warehouses are tens of thousands of boxes containing tens of thousands of different artifacts that trace the history of the company back to the roots of its genesis: sheet music from 1811. Along the way, rare promotional photography, signed record contracts, and other memorabilia from the last 200 years appear in a slew of musical— and to an extent, cultural— treasure. The project is now beginning to gain some headway with an article in the New York Times; however, the longevity of this project remains to be seen, but partly because of its striving determination, it certainly has potential.

The project is nowhere near complete (they have warehouses all across the country, as well as some in Brazil and Japan), but Warner– and to be specific, Atlantic–is already planning a variety of ways to generate cash from these found gems. Coffee table books and auctions for collectors are some examples that they’ve mentioned, but many more opportunities and ventures will certainly arise once more pieces are uncovered.

To shove this news aside as just another instance where a struggling titan like Warner is searching out the means for an increase in revenue is easy, but also a little ignorant. Most of these artifacts— especially the photos— have rarely been seen by the public, and if they have, their exposure was limited. I’m willing to bet that there are enough fans of Led Zeppelin out there willing to shell out some money for shots of some of the group’s first recording sessions. And, with the holiday season coming up, news of this project— as well its relative success— couldn’t have come at a better time.

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NYC Deap Drops, Let’s Work!

Recently, I was introduced to a terribly inverted way of going about file sharing. In the past few weeks, an offline, semi-physical file-sharing network has populated in New York City. The initiator of this network Aram Bartholl was quoted in NPR by saying, “I am ‘injecting’ USB flash drives into walls, buildings and curbs accessible to anybody in public space. You are invited to go to these places (so far 5 in NYC) to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your favorite files and data.”

Right now, it is unclear what kinds of files are on these USB’s, but from Bartholl’s angle on that statement, it seems like he doesn’t really care. Not sure how legal a procedure like this is and how long it will last, but these USB’s— or “dead drops” as Bartholl referred to them— can certainly have an impact on a number of different industries.

Our digital generation, although constantly on the search for immediacy and convenience, is also very impressionable. This means we all cling onto new and interesting technological concepts, even if they are bit inconvenient. In (a?) dead drop’s case, its creative allure and guerrilla approach should assure the potential for at least a few month’s worth of tech fascination. And, if this infantile concept can be harnessed in a systematic—and beneficial— fashion, we could have some very cool future marketing plans for musicians (or media players: think about an iPod with a USB drive, where you could just upload tunes on your way to work, rather than before you left. A little ridiculous, but still intriguing, right?)

Inverted this concept is because the idea of file sharing was founded on the principle that you can get all of your music– new and old–  without having to leave your house. Dead drops signify a type of physical motivation that can result in a trip to find these files; a musical adventure, if you will. And, in a way dead drops have the potential to bring communal and tangible facets back into discovering new music, even if the music itself is still digital. Right now, the files on these drops are free, and will hopefully be regulated in a manner that is affordable for fans and musicians.

Bartholl also said he was encouraging people in other cities to catch onto this “dead dropping” technique. Let’s just hope that with numbers, the creativity of this project increases; because creativity still trumps convenience, I think.

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