1. DMB enters right race, but bets on a lame horse

    brian on 2004.07.15
    at 10:46 pm

    As a follow up to a previous story, today, the Dave Matthews Band announced an exclusive online music downloads deal with Napster.

    Previously, the DMB had only sold limited music via its own website. Is it possible for their downloads to go from bad, to worse?

    Why? First of all, file format: Napster uses the Windows Media Format. Problem one, proprietary format. Problem two, poor musical quality. Problem three: draconian DRM. Problem four: requires Windows (2000/XP) and the dangerously insecure Internet Explorer. Problem five, requires a player blessed by Microsoft. Problem six: the tracks you download will not work on the world's most popular and iconic digital music player, the Apple iPod. Problem seven, the tracks will not play on computers that were likely actually used to make the music, and I'm willing to bet are used by some of the band members: the Macintosh.

    "So, Brian," you say. "You're a bit biased."

    I agree. But facts are facts. AAC is an open-format, one of the highest audio quality formats, that works on any platform (granted, the FairPlay DRM-enabled AAC tracks only play on Windows and Macintosh.) Oh, and sold on what is by far and away the world's most popular online music service. Which by the way, happens to work on the world's most popular music player... yeah, you know which one.

    "But, Brian," you say. "FairPlay DRM AAC is just restrictive as WMP."

    Yes, and no. First off, iTunes software and its legal agreements allow you to use your music on seven machines, Mac or WinPC. Napster? Three PCs. Also, iTunes let's you use your music elsewhere, without tethers: you can write a downloaded track to CD an unlimited number of times, which then you can use anywhere you want.

    So, do I sound like sour grapes? Maybe. But, I understand that DMB's management make TicketMaster look friendly. For example, many bands have a fan club. Most are free. Some who offer more charge a menial $5 or $10 a year. DMB's "The Warehouse" cost $30/year. I was one of the very first subscribers. Without question, I thought I'd get a lot for my money. What did I get that first year? A sticker, a five-track live CD, and access to a members' only site with very little content and rarely updated. I also had the chance to buy tickets for any concert before they went on sale to the general public.

    About those tickets, did my membership get a discount? Nope, full price-gouged. How about great seats? Ha! I was entered into a lottery! Someone in the general public who got tickets over the phone could easily get better seats than me. The first time I used the lottery, I got stuck so far off to the side at Foxboro, that I could only see Dave's nose around the stack of speakers! I was very pissed. I had better luck in other lotteries (my best being 7th row center), but that's not the point. Fan clubs are meant to treat a band's greatest fans with extra special treatment since they are the bands' best supporters, both financial and otherwise. But the DMB used the Warehouse as a way to keep their fans close as to keep them within gouging distance. Needless to say I haven't been a member since that first year (or was it two, I think I gave them one more chance to underwealm me). They disrespected me.

    This brings me back to my point: once again, the management is doing something good for them, not the fan. More of their fans use iTunes and iPods than likely all the other players and services combined. But because the management doesn't want to trust the fans to buy the whole album (iTunes only sells your album if you allow someone to buy the individual tracks from your album), don't expect DMB's management to do the right thing for its fans. By the way, at least 40% bought on the iTMS is bought as full-album. With the DMB's album being traditionally designed as such (versus say, a Brittney Spears album which may have one popular song, and a collection of unrelated ones), it's full-album percentage would likely be much higher.

    So what do I do as an iPod using, DMB devotee? Same as always: by the CD, and rip it. And then condemn it to a life as a high-fidelity backup. What would I do if tomorrow DMB released its music on iTunes? Same. Why?

    Well, as great as I feel iTunes is for me, I feel its much better for your average music fan. I buy a large percentage of my music on iTunes. But for certain music, I buy a CD. Why do that? Audio fidelity. I listen to my music at a higher bit rate than iTunes Music Store currently provides. Most people can't tell the difference, so iTunes is perfect for them: good prices, fast downloads.

    Where as I prefer to get my music via the internet, the only lossless place I can do that at the moment is, which I do use regularly. Until iTunes provides a lossless download option, I will continue to buy lossless music (currently mostly CDs) from my most-favorite artists, like Dave Matthews Band (and other DM stuff) Phish studio stuff, Soulive, etc. I rip it to a high-quality AAC. Should audio trends change (say, like last year when I switched wholesale from MP3 to AAC) I have the original lossless files to reimport. With the switch from MP3 to AAC, I got better sounding music, and 20% more space to store it. I expect that to happen again. Perhaps soon.

    What would I do, if I were in charge of DMB's audio download strategy? First, I'd sign up for iTunes. Right now. No brainer. Second, provide for lossless non-proprietary downloads from our site (FLAC or SHN) for our album work, like they do now for their live downloads. If Apple ever came around to lossless, I would then switch that to their servers, and save our bandwidth. Personally, I would also not bother with the cost of DRM... all it takes is one person to crack it, and your music is everywhere. So to cripple all your music is useless. IMO, iTunes uses reasonable DRM to satiate the music industry, until they can learn that protection is lose-lose game. If you can make your music worth its price tag, then people will support you by buying. Respect is a two way street, artist and music industry should respect their fans' fair use, and then fans can respect their artists by monetarily supporting them.

    Respect starts at $0.99 a song.

    Posted in: Music · Web


    Comments (1)

    1. jake said on 2004.07.16 at 11:12 am

      I'm not as "crazy" about Apple as Brian, but I definitely agree about consumers respecting artists and artists respecting consumers.

      Everywhere I look, DVD's (DRM), CD's (DRM), and PC Games (DRM) all try to stem the tide of copyright infringement and fail miserably. All this "technology" does is piss off people like my parents who would never copy a DVD unless it was for back-up. Luckily no one in the house is so young that needs to be done to protect the discs.

      Not to mention all the people out there who equate this crap with lost sales. There's no way you can draw a direct connection to me copying a product equals you losing money. If I didn't copy it, especially if I'm the age of my 13 year old brother, there's no way I could afford to buy the damn thing on 5 bucks a week allowance when I've been eyeing that new GameCube game. ;)

      Every time the RIAA sues a child they reinforce the fact that there is no direct correlation.

      And let's hear it for Brian, who now has the longest post ever!!! ;)

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