Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who in God's name is this Moses fellah?

Moses Avalon is a former New York record producer and recording engineer. Today he is an artist’s rights activist, author and a court-recognized music business expert in New York, California, Florida and Porto Rico and has also acted in an advisory capacity to multiple State Attorney General Offices and the Senate Judiciary Committee in Sacramento in their campaign to help legitimize areas of the music business. His blog, MOSES SUPPOSES, reaches over 13,000 direct subscribers and approximately 100,000 readers though syndication. He has appeared on Court TV, MSNBC, CNN Money Line, Bill O’Reilly and other national TV shows.

Moses' latest post is an update on an older post which was an excerpt from one of his music industry books. I read the older articles several times and had been left feeling a little less than convinced of what he was assuming was a "fait accompli". When I saw this latest edition appear I thought, "Good! Maybe this time he'll convince me!"

As I read, however, I found myself keeping a mental score of sorts; keeping track of the points he made and those he failed to bring home. A few, I'll admit, infuriated me to the point of wanting to create this post in response. And so...

I decided to “score” each claim or supposition with a single point either in favour of the Music or Tech industries. Perhaps this is just one artists' insignificant underbelly viewpoint of the industry or, more likely, just simply that I don't know much about the business of music. Nevertheless, I hope this little experiment will in some small way help Moses further bolster his next update of this article...

You should really take the time to read the full article first then come back to read my comments after...

Go ahead... I'll wait.

Done? Good... here we go...

"The media induced conception is that labels sat on their laurels during the advent of the Internet in the late 1990s, thus creating their own hell with illegal downloading." (read more...)

I'm with Moses on this one. There is not one business, anywhere in the western world, large or small, that didn’t seriously consider the internet or its impact on their business model. Score one for the labels.

Music Biz: 1
Tech Biz: 0

"...It was the “success” of Napster that paved the way for other P2P based companies like Kazaa and LimeWire, both of which, unlike Napster, are still operating in illegal formats." (read more...)

To all downloaders and file-sharers (i.e. those who go miles beyond the "sharing amongst friends"): I don’t care what your reasoning, stealing is stealing. Just for that, score another one for the Music Biz:

Music Biz: 2
Tech Biz: 0

"...Napster claim they approached majors (...) as early as January of 1999. (...) Napster wanted to make sure that artists were paid..." (read more...)

Score a huge point for the Tecchies.

Music Biz: 2
Tech Biz: 1

"...important factors (...) were obviously lost on the aggressive and naive Team Napster, whose average executive was barely 25 years old..." (read more...)

I’d love to score one for the Tecchies here just to punish the labels for being utterly blind to the fact that these “aggressive and naive” Napster executives were actually in the coveted demographic that made up the bulk of their clientele.

I may have missed something so I won't score a point but it leaves me wondering "Who’s naive?"

"A fact ignored over by the media when criticizing record companies was that in 1999, (...) there was barely a single major label recording contract that granted the artists’ specific rights for Internet distribution (...) This was something labels probably did not tell the tech companies (...) for fear they would be usurped..." (read more...)

Honesty should have been the first policy. By not coming clean, the labels not only ensured the end-run but also negated any chance at negotiation that the artists might have had. They had a role... no... a duty... to act as facilitators, go-betweens, to BROKER a deal that would have been exciting, all-inclusive and favourable to all.

Another HUGE point for the tecchies.

Music Biz: 2
Tech Biz: 2

"The crux of this problem was that some key artists were not willing to give up Internet rights so easily. They were still feeling the sting from years back when labels asked for the rights to re-release their masters on the Compact Disc (CD) format. (...) They were told instead that they would get higher royalties because the CD would sell for about $12, instead of the usual $7.99 (...) But after getting these rights virtually for free, labels applied a “new technology deduction,” to the royalty formula, lowering payments by 25% and thus equaling the same royalty artists already received for LPs..." (read more...)

So..., what? Lay blame on the Tecchies for having duped artists in the 80’s? The hypocrisy is simply staggering.

I know people in the Music Industry hate this term, but really, in this case... Labels have to lay in the bed they made. If not, then they have to concede that Napster was merely applying a “new technology deduction” to the labels.

Tech Biz: 3
Music Biz: 2

"...for labels to give net-based entities complete catalog download rights in 1999, they would have to renegotiate with their 1000s of artists. That would take years. (...) Tired of all this spit-balling about rights n’ stuff, Napster forged ahead (...) sans authorization. It was war." (read more...)

Impatience never pays. Bad form on the Tech side.

Tech Biz: 3
Music Biz: 3

"Napster was a singles-driven format, something the industry had evolved away from over the past 20 years. But, misinformation has led consumers to believe that labels loved the Album format because it allowed them to package filler with the hits and charge more. This was never the case." (read more...)

This was never the case.”? Suffice to say that laying claim to this level of integrity would mean that labels would have prevented hundreds, if not thousands of artists from issuing albums and that describing a song as being “B-side” would be synonymous with calling it a “pleasant surprise”. In reality, it means garbage.

Tech Biz: 4
Music Biz: 3

Footnote: There’s a bit of “waxing nostalgic” going on in the comments (on Moses' site) about B-sides. The ones mentioned truly are classics, but let's be honest... they are the exception to the rule. Industry insiders may have their own view (and I can appreciate how difficult it is to deal with people who think their drivel is hit material), but no consumer on the planet will argue the fact that a majority of B-sides were, in fact, filler.

"...songwriters and artists didn’t want a “singles driven market” either, because, if album sales are no longer the means by which you quantify success, how are you going to determine the size of an advance..." (read more...)

I don't understand. Seriously. How can anyone who claims to have “started looking into the Internet as an opportunity in the late 1990s” not know as irrefutable fact that it would immediately cause a paradigm shift in the way the industry did business?

As with all other industries in the world, shouldn't the Music Biz have known some shift to a new model was imminent?

I really do want to understand, but if they want to cling to the claim that the industry never used “fillers” then they can’t also claim as immutable fact that labels and artists would rather sell their 14 song album for $9.99 rather than 14 singles at $0.99 each...The math just doesn't add up and... we all know everybody’s in it for the buck!

Tech Biz: 5
Music Biz: 3

"So, why [don't the Tech media] criticize artists? Because to imply that a songwriter deserves to have his songs “shared” because he’s clinging to a “dying business model,” doesn’t generate the same public sympathy for the tech industry. Instead, it makes them look like thugs. Better target: heartless record companies; a beard to hide the fact that stealing from majors was the same as stealing from the little songwriter too..." (read more...)

God, this one hurts. Moses goes on further in his post and, really, it's painfully apparent there's only one loser here...

Tech Biz: 5
Music Biz: 3
Artists: -1

"Due to antitrust concerns there were limits to the conversations that major labels could have with each other or a tech company regarding a standard for digital transmissions." (read more...)

This is a very valid point. Sticking to this kind of tangible real-world logic would gain the Music Industry many more PR points.

Tech Biz: 5
Music Biz: 4

"...the MP3 format, which at the time was thought sonically inferior by majors and did not include coppy protection, like DRM." (read more...)

Sonically inferior to what? Seriously... inferior by what standard? If you raise that as an argument, how come music was (and still is) allowed to be played on AM radio? A horrible transmission format if ever there was one.

And, while we’re on the subject... answer me this: Exactly what DRM is there on AM or FM radio? What DRM exists today? On the one hand you're claiming the Labels had an established business model that shouldn't be changed while on the other you ask for measures to be put in place that never existed. I appreciate the fervour. The "standing up" for your rights. But at some point, certain concessions need to be made.

It's called negotiating in good faith.

Tech Biz: 6
Music Biz: 4

"In order for copacetic progress to happen, tech companies would need to work within the labels’ existing standards." (read more...)

That’s dangerously close to dinosaur speak. Just because you were here first doesn’t mean you were doing it right or that everyone had to curtail to your standards.

By the same token, just because the internet was new didn’t mean they could arbitrarily throw out every existing business model either.

Once again, we know who really lost out...

Tech Biz: 6
Music Biz: 4
Artists: -2

"They were interested in building a business on the back of ours without compensating us. [Universal]..." (read more...)

Without compensating whom? Earlier the article claimed that Napster was “ironically” interested in paying the artist. Anyone who refused to negotiate in the new world order would have had to expect to see it all come tumbling down!

Tech Biz: 7
Music Biz: 4

"The rest is well documented elsewhere. Massive litigation (...) closed down the free version of Napster. (...) By December of 1999, one month before the new Millennium, a decision was made by the cabal of Silicon Valley companies: music would be the free toy at the bottom of their cereal box." (read more...)

Once again, regarding the file-sharing and over-the-top downloading (that goes beyond the perfectly acceptable sharing of a song or two amongst friends) ...there's no justifying stealing. I don’t care how unreasonable I am as a neighbour, it still doesn’t give you the right to pick and eat the carrots from my garden. Period.

Tech Biz: 7
Music Biz: 5

"Their PR machine in full swing, tech companies set about to make record companies the bad guy in an elaborate hearts & minds campaign." (read more...)

Yes, but deep inside, every single downloader knows they are doing wrong. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t see a need to so vehemently defend their “right to steal” all over the webosphere. Score a massive point for the Music Biz in that entire (tired) argument.

Tech Biz: 7
Music Biz: 6

"The music industry missed a chance (if they ever really had one) to partner up with tech-companies. Will this ever change? I think so."

Moses: +1

"Instead of “net neutrality” [ISPs] now want to charge different rates for different types of content. And why not? The 21st Century commodity is not Soy Beans, it’s Bandwidth. But, this requires them to make friends with their former enemies– movie and music providers. The “free toy” has become the new potential client. Time to kiss some ass." (read more...)

This is short-sighted, bordering on myopic (and I was so optimistic just a second ago...).

Time to kiss whose ass? I certainly don't see the Tech companies being compelled to kiss any industry ass. The changing tide is the real indie (shlocks like me who have no affiliation, no label, no nothing... what I call the "True Indie"). In the True Indie world, as yet undiscovered talent has been duped into accepting Terms of Service Agreements that essentially grant full, perpetual, exclusive rights to the next Tech company that comes up with the next fancy internet gadget. You think downloading is evil? This is eRaping and ePillaging of mammoth proportions going on right before our eyes. The only artists the "industry" will defend are those whose works they have designs on. Everyone else can rot in Indie Hell.

The True Indies may not be the Rolling Stones... but one thing’s for certain: Since all this mess started, I’ve learned that there’s far, far more talent out there than even the censored and scripted American Idol type franchises would lead you to believe.

Could it be that it's not "the song" but actually the Artists themselves that have become the free toy? And that not in spite of the label’s efforts, but because of the label’s efforts at stifling the future?

Tech Biz: 8
Music Biz: 6

"Last year I (...) predicted that within five years you’ll see a high-profile arrest for file-sharing." (read more...)

Like I said, stealing is stealing. And it should be treated the very same as any other theft. Period.

Tech Biz: 8
Music Biz: 7

"Since then, the Supreme Court of the US has upheld stiff fines from RIAA lawsuits." (read more...)

A victory in the courts for the RIAA is hardly a vote of confidence in the Music Biz. It’s merely recognition that stealing in cyberspace is the same as stealing in the real world. Period.

Tech Biz: 8
Music Biz: 7
Artists: -1

"Even beleaguered Warner Records reported that their Q4 2009 numbers showed only a 2% drop in revenue from last year (...) Could this be a sign?" (read more...)

A sign of what? Seems to me, the only sign I see is that the majors have learned nothing. Rather than trumpeting victory at every court decision in the RIAA’s favour, the Majors should be feverishly working out sweeping changes to both the Music and Tech industries that would benefit the most PEOPLE (read: not just owners of catalogs)...

As it stands, and this is admittedly a sinister view, but I harken back to the tactics such as those from the 80's at the advent of the CD... the Tech companies have found a way to tap the greed and lust for fame of every up-and-coming artist in the world to their distinct advantage. I cannot help but think that this has frustrated the labels and made them either lust for a piece of the pie or, more obviously, cry foul over the loss of the pie they'd already ripped out from existing artists' souls.

Based on the final score (which is too close to call), and as an artist myself, I’m not holding my breath for any kind of artist-friendly change to happen anytime soon...

Final score:

Tech Biz: 8
Music Biz: 7
Artist: -1

Oh yeah... I almost forgot... Because entrepreneurs such as yourself see an opportunity to make money off explaining the mass confusion that emanates from this whole mess, you too come out better off than the artists. Who was it that mentioned irony?

Moses: +2

The preceding text in quotation was reprinted from for the sake of presenting an opinion. I STRONGLY recommend you read Mr. Avalon's blog postings and articles and come to your own conclusions.


done gone said...

Hi Luc, thank you for this thought-provoking analysis of an article about a complex subject and also for your work on this blog in general. I think it's a great resource for the indie musician.

But do you know anything more about why "this Moses fellah" seems to be such a controversial character, at least for some readers of CD Baby Relaunch Debate?
I'm puzzled about the negative comments I've seen about him on various forums.

Luc Normand said...

Hi done gone,

I haven't been privy to the negative comments - other than the sometimes heated responses on his own blog. He seems to accept them and (sometimes) take them head on.

Have you read all of his blog postings? If you haven't, I think you should maybe take a moment and read at least the two back-to-back postings he had regarding CDBaby (and these go way back). He certainly doesn't mince words when it comes to Derek Sivers. If I were to hazard a guess, that may be the root cause of the negative comments authored by die-hard supporters of the indie musician guru.

So far, personally speaking, I've found Moses' views interesting, if not somewhat refreshing. Mind you, he certainly seems to have a penchant for the big business side of music even though he purports to advocate for the little guy. Just how little is what I wonder.

His musings still leave me feeling like the sardine swimming amongst the dolphins (signed artists), the sharks (managers, lawyers, advocates), and the whales (labels). They are all predators. I just didn't realise just how far I'd swam out in this digitally rendered ocean (the Tech Industry).

Thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to post. I swam over and checked out your blog... I'll keep coming back.

Luc Normand said...

...just a footnote realising I posted too soon. Having read through more of your blog, I now realise done gone was keenly familiar with the content on Moses' site.