The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'emi'


Struggling major record label EMI (you know, the one whom a venture-capital firm bought out a few years ago) has come up with another plan for snatching defeat from the jaws of slightly more prolonged defeat: to cut costs, they are now going to distribute records only to big "one-stop" retailers like Wal-Mart. Independent stores wanting to carry EMI-signed artists (like, say, Sigur Rós or M83) will now have to send someone down to Wal-Mart to pick the records up at the retail price. Of course, anyone wanting non-current back-catalogue material not likely to be found on the shelves of a big-box retailer is out of luck. Way to go, EMI.

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And the award for chutzpah in music marketing goes to EMI for their "Independent Vol. 2" sampler CD:

This artefact was found at Rough Trade Records, in the area by the door where the free magazines and sampler CDs are left. Note the cover, with its semiotics screaming "keeping it real", with the photo of a lovingly tended independent record shop, and above all things, the blurb:
Independent Not depending upon the authority of another, not in a position of subordination or subjection; not subject to external control or rule; self-governing, autonomous, free.
Note the word "independent". Not "indie" (which, in today's popular parlance, means music by white boys with guitars, stylists and skinny jeans, and has long since lost any connection to the prickly, unmarketable socialist-contrarian aesthetics of its origins in the Thatcher era), but "independent". If that wasn't enough, the word's definition is given. When we say "independent", the cover seems to say, we mean it

Turning the disc over, however, we see an entirely different story:

It turns out that the record is not actually a compilation of independent artists or recordings from independent labels, but rather a sampler from major label EMI and its various imprints. Granted, some of them are more "alternative" or leftfield than others (veteran post-punk indie label Mute, acquired some years ago, New York mutant-disco imprint DFA, and indie-pop retirement home Heavenly, not to mention Regal, best known for the underground hip-hop of Lily Allen, Voice Of Da Streets). Though somewhere along the way, they stopped trying to fool anyone and slapped on the logos of establishment cornerstones like Capitol and Parlophone.

As for the content? Well, there are some interesting bits (Loney, Dear and Jakobinarina, representing Sweden and Iceland respectively), a few credible veterans (Dave Gahan, who appears to have bought a copy of Native Instruments Massive), and some truly dire Carling-indie (the Pete The Junky Show kicking off the record, doing exactly what you, I and The Sun would expect from them), with a fair amount of workmanlike garage rock. Being the sorts of acts that a major label would convince its accountants to pour money into, though, it's considerably more conservative in style and tone than what you'd expect from independent artists. Independent this ain't.

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Major recording label EMI has confirmed that it will sell its entire music catalogue in high-quality, DRM-free formats. In a joint announcement in London with Apple's Steve Jobs, EMI's CEO announced that the "premium" versions will be available on iTunes from May for 99p a track, with upgrades from previous downloads available for 15p; standard-quality, DRM-encumbered tracks will remain available for 79p. It is anticipated that the DRM-free downloads will become available on other services (presumably in MP3 or FLAC formats). Doing this, EMI becomes the first major label to join a slew of indie labels selling MP3s through services like EMusic.

Apple boss Steve Jobs shared the platform with Mr Nicoli and said: "This is the next big step forward in the digital music revolution - the movement to completely interoperable DRM-free music."
He added: "The right thing to do is to tear down walls that precluded interoperability by going DRM-free and that starts here today."
Other record companies would soon follow EMI's lead, predicted Mr Jobs.
Reports of Edgar Bronfman Jr. throwing a chair through the Warner Music boardroom window have not been confirmed.

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In the wake of the consumer backlash against DRM, major label EMI (you know, the ones who made all their CDs "Copy Controlled" a while ago) have started tentatively experimenting with selling unencrypted MP3s. Will wonders never cease?

Don't get too excited yet, though; the only things EMI are selling as easily-copiable MP3s are adult-contemporary and Christian rock, because nobody'd want to pirate those the audiences for those would be less inclined to copy them. And even so, there was apparently tremendous opposition to this move within the label's management. So don't expect to be able to buy official MP3s of Hot Chip or I'm From Barcelona just yet.

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Even after EMI's herculaean effort to keep the new album from schmaltz-rockers Coldplay off the net (giving it to reviewers as "The Fir Trees", routinely searching pressing-plant employees, sending nastygrams to student radio stations), the terrorists pirates have already won. Mind you, the fact that EMI's goons couldn't routinely strip-search the entire population of Japan, where the album was released shortly before ending up on the file-sharing networks, probably had something to do with it. Oops!

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EMI have dropped David Bridie and My Friend The Chocolate Cake (scroll down) for not shifting enough units, some two years after releasing his album Hotel Radio, crippled with iMac-killing "copy control" mechanisms, and refusing to listen to his concerns about it pissing off his fans. (And it was quite a good album; kind of like Ian Brown's Music Of The Spheres only more interesting.) Anyway, Bridie walks out of the deal with full ownership of his music, and into deals with Shock and Liberation, so all's well that ends well.

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Does anybody know whether either the US or UK release of The Thrills' So Much For The City is "Copy Controlled" (i.e., intentionally defective)? The Australian one is (as all EMI releases are here); though the US releases of the last Radiohead and Massive Attack were clean. Unfortunately, online record shops don't tell you.

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EMI executive waffles on "copy control", the behemoth's vaunted CD copy-protection scheme, repeating the usual homily about CD-R/MP3 piracy killing the music industry and unconvincingly denying consumer concerns. Meanwhile, EMI are quietly releasing unprotected Red Book CDs; first the new Radiohead single came out clean, and now the new album from those known anti-corporate radicals The Dandy Warhols is out and bears no "Don't Buy Me" stickers.

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Melbourne designer type Stephen Marovitch picked up the new Norah Jones album, with the intention of playing it on his PowerBook. Unfortunately for him, the disc in question is from EMI, who are in the habit of releasing intentionally defective CDs which choke Macintoshes. So he did what anybody would do and made a copy of the CD, exactly what the "copy control" mechanisms were meant to prevent.

"Just a courtesy email to inform you, that as a result of problems experienced playing the Norah Jones CD containing your Copy Control measures on Apple OS10.2 Titanium Laptop, Windows 2000 workstation and Windows XP workstation, I have now been forced to copy your CD just to listen to it," he wrote.
"Please congratulate the genius that concocted this anti-pirating strategy."

Marovitch said he was unlikely to buy anything from the same label again.

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Recently, David Bridie released a new album, probably his best solo work. Unfortunately, he's signed to EMI, so it never came out in Red Book format. Bridie doesn't have enough clout with EMI to get them to release a legit Red Book pressing that rips on your Linux box, doesn't kill your iMac and plays on your iPod, so he has taken matters into his own hands.

Here is the word from EMI Australia's projects manager for new media. "The new David Bridie CD has been released on a Copy Controlled CD. It has an embedded player that will allow you to play the CD on the PC so it is not impossible to play the CD on a PC." This obviously doesn't apply to all and so is still a pain. I apologize in this. I'm not a big enough seller to determine policy. If anyone so desires, send me an email, and I'll burn a copy off the master and send out with the artwork in return for a cheque for the cost of the CD in the store so that you can still enjoy listening to music the way to which you are accustomed. Hopefully this will not get too out of hand, and I won't be spending 6 hours a day in the Enormodome burning CDs.

Bravo to David Bridie; it's good to know that there are artists with the courage and integrity to take a stand like this. I'll definitely be sending him a cheque.

Incidentally, having heard the album, I strongly advise people to take him up on the offer. Hotel Radio is a great mix of Not Drowning-esque songwriting and world-class glitchy electronics (from Nick Littlemore). However, the version in the shops is corrupt, and such chicanery should not be encouraged.

(Speaking of EMI releases, I saw a limited edition version of the new Blur in PolyEster; it comes in a red book (like the Amnesiac limited edition, only smaller and with a Banksy stencil on the front), and appears to be, appropriately enough, a perfectly kosher Red Book disc. Chances are the regular version will be fux0red like every other EMI release made in Australia.)

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is investigating complaints against EMI over its crippled CDs. The complaint does not claim that copying CDs is a right, but instead argues that the audio provided for PC users is of inferior quality. Though isn't the ACCC now run by a pro-business figure appointed by Howard? I suspect that it may not be as keen to take on big business as it was during the Fels days.

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Apparently that poxy "copy control" thing EMI are putting on all their CDs isn't confined to Australia: they're doing it in Canada too. And they've made this guy pig-biting mad; so much so that he's starting a campaign against it. He actually went to the EMI offices, threatening to post details of circumvention, and demanding one hundred billion dollars proper Red Book copies of the CDs he bought which won't play in his car stereo. (via Graham)

Hmmm... there are direct-action possibilities there. Anyone up for a die-in outside the local EMI offices? Or perhaps a Ron Rude-esque hunger strike would be more appropriate? What's your best anti-copy-denial protest idea?

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Quelle surprise: Those "Copy Controlled" CDs EMI have been foisting on the public aren't proving very popular. Apparently, they don't play in some car stereos, and the top-s3krit Windows software that auto-installs when you try to play the CD may do things to your registry without your consent. EMI, of course, won't tell you what it does because it's a secret and if people find out how it works, then the terrorists pirates will have won. I've heard of people successfully ripping them on Windows and/or Linux, though they may have been mislabelled clear CDs (given that no software automatically started).

I wonder how long until recorded music comes with a shrink-wrap license prohibiting you from circumventing copy-denial mechanisms or making unencrypted MP3s of it, and indemnifying the company for any changes made to your system software?

(I can't see EMI's security-through-obscurity scheme holding up for very long, especially since it doesn't rely on "trusted client" PCs or anything. Soon enough, some guy without a girlfriend will break it and upload the details to a server somewhere. Yes, he may go to jail for it, but that hasn't stopped virus writers.)

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I just got a copy of the US pressing of Massive Attack's 100th Window (thanks, Lisa; I hope you're enjoying the Ninetynine CD). Why the US release? Well, the main thing that distinguishes it from the Australian release is no copy-denial mechanisms; i.e., it's a Red Book CD which plays and rips in any drive.

(Yes, I know that some people have successfully ripped the Australian "Copy Controlled" release. However, it's the principle that's at stake; and I'm sure that if people swallow this imperfect "copy controlled" disc, EMI will attempt to iron the bugs out of future releases (such as, say, the upcoming Morrissey album, and the next Radiohead album). However, if EMI's beancounters (who largely run things at major labels these days) notice that sales are higher in unrestricted territories, that may make them stop treating customers as potential criminals.)

(Does anybody know what the economics of the "copy control" technology are; i.e., how much does EMI pay to cripple a title, and do they pay per CD, per title, or outright? If they pay a percentage of the CD price per disc, then the tide may turn sooner against copy-denial, unless it actually makes people buy more CDs. Of course, the suits in charge would want to hold on despite losses until there are no unencumbered copies available in any territory. Though how long they hold on after people start MP3ing their CDs through the analogue outputs of their CD players is uncertain. Eliminating sound cards without built-in watermark detectors with anything less than a perfectly efficient global police state would be impossible; as far as audio goes, the "analog hole" is here to stay.)

Anyway, back to 100th Window. The album differs from the, umm, prerelease slightly (they've chopped a second or two off the start of Future Proof, and padded the space after the last track with some sort of filtered arpeggio texture). The artwork is also quite nice. Anyway, if you're in Australia and wish to buy an unrestricted copy, places like Amazon will sell you the US release. Or just find a US penpal and offer to trade them something from here. Think of it as globalisation for the people.

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There goes another one: Multinational recording company EMI buys up Mute, the more-credible-than-most independent label and home to the likes of Depeche Mode, Nick Cave and Einstürzende Neubauten. Mind you, they're also behind the last two Moby albums, so their glory days were probably behind them. Mute, which was founded by Daniel "The Normal" Miller in the glory days of punk and New Wave, now becomes an imprint of Virgin (another once credible label and current home of the Spice Girls and Robbie Williams).

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