27-May-2002 (Mon)

I'm enjoying this Kidneythieves album that they sent us -- yay club swag! (You're coming to the show next week, right?) All I'd heard of them before was a two-song single that someone gave me a few years ago, which I liked. This is industrial-rock with female vocals and occasionally-trip-hoppy electronics. They're a bit like Radio Iodine, or maybe Curve, if Curve were Kittie. (No, that's not right. Oh, nevermind, I couldn't write a music review to save my life.)

I will say, though, that I really miss industrial with guitars.

(Of course I really miss old-school EBM as well, which the arrival of guitar-industrial pretty much killed off in the early 90s. But whichever; the progressive house and/or retread-synthpop that most people seem to call ``industrial'' these days just doesn't cut it for me.)

I got a nice email from Phil Western apologizing for the Download cancellation mess, which made me feel a lot better. I'm still edging closer to deciding that the webcasts are just not worth the fucking hassle, though. I haven't reached that decision yet, but doubt grows. Here's a summary of the debate going on inside my head:


Webcasting rules!
Webcasting sucks!
It's the way of the future: as the net becomes more pervasive, net-based music will only become more common, and this shows the artists, labels, and media that there's more to it than warez-kiddies violating copyrights. What we're doing is legitimate, moral, legal, and in the best interests of both the artists and consumers. It's good to set that example.
It's insanely expensive: the very limited amount of webcasting that we're doing costs us over $20,000/year in bandwidth and ASCAP/BMI/SESAC licensing fees. (And that price tag will get lots larger if the CARP-pushers get their way and we have to pay RIAA as well.) It's nice to stand up and be an example... but so very expensive!
It exposes the artists we book to an even wider audience than those people physically in our building: this is good for the artists, and thus good for the music scenes in general. Providing wider exposure for small artists increases diversity and gives the opportunity for non-corporate-controlled music to become known and to thrive.
About twenty simultaneous listeners. That's what that $20k/year buys us. Even the smallest terrestrial college radio station has hundreds or thousands of potential listeners. We're not even on the map as far as webcasters go: we can't afford to be. Even after all this expense, it's still just a symbolic gesture: our audience is so minuscule that it won't make a bit of difference one way or another.
It lets people who couldn't otherwise attend our club in person experience it, and be exposed to new music.
We charge people to come to the club, but we pay so that those who don't come can listen in. What kind of sense does that make?
It's a neat gimmick that gets us talked about. It gets us good publicity, and thus more customers.
It could be drawing people in to the club, or it could be keeping them away: ``oh, I'll just listen from home.'' It's impossible to tell.
We're giving a gift to all the artists whose music is played here at the club. Sure, it costs money, but it provides even greater exposure to the artists than they would otherwise get just by playing at a venue of our size. Spending money to support the arts is good.
The artists don't generally seem to see it that way, so every time we book someone, we have to have extensive debates with them about it. This takes a lot of time, which costs money. It is also very frustrating and discouraging. They generally react to our philanthropy as if we're trying to rip them off!

Except for Download, they've always come around and agreed to it so far. But we've never had any artist actually be excited by the webcast. The best reaction we ever get from any artist about it is ``complete indifference.'' It goes downhill from there.

Also, we do very few live shows: mostly what we do here are dj nights. Since there's no way in hell we will ever convince the djs to type in their playlists, our dj webcasts will never have the names of the actual artists in them. If a listener likes a song they hear, what can they do about it? It doesn't help the artist if nobody knows who they are. It might help the dj get more bookings, but so what? Most djs just play other people's music. (Oh dear, here comes the hate mail for pointing out that the emperor of ``dj culture'' still has no clothes.)

But wouldn't you feel like a fuckin' idiot if you just gave up now, after all this work?
Absolutely. But that's not a very good reason.

I wouldn't be having this debate with myself if it was any of: cheap-and-easy; or influential; or appreciated. But it's none of those, really.

6 Responses:

  1. king_mob says:

    I've already stated my primary reason for pulling for the webcasts: I *can't go* to the fucking club. The commute would be a bit of a bitch. And bands like Halou and Pigface play out here in flyover country somewhat less regularly than full eclipses, these days.

    That said, that $20k/year/20 listeners number just seems insane. I've even seen you work the math and I still can't grasp it. Does cutting the top bitrate of the streams down help out at all here?

    • jwz says:

      Does cutting the top bitrate of the streams down help out at all here?

      Sure, I think it does the obvious multiplier: if I make all the streams be 64k (which sounds like hell) then I get 40 simultanious listeners instead of 20. That's not exactly the order of magnitude I was hoping for...

  2. evan says:

    To summarize:

    You're paying $1000 per year per viewer (who doesn't give you any money in return), with the end result of aggravating your bands and even losing a few.

    And the benefit? It's cool. I guess only you can decide whether "cool" is worth the cost.

    Maybe ask each artist if they want it, summarizing the benfits as you summarized there, and letting them decide? That way, you're still doing a good faith effort to support the arts and expose their music, but you're making the bands the most important.
    Or maybe webcasting is even more important than they are? (I would've watched a webcast of Download...)

    (While you're talking about hacks, you might like this, especially since it's about 20 lines of my code wrapped around a project of yours.)

    • jwz says:

      Maybe ask each artist if they want it, summarizing the benfits as you summarized there, and letting them decide?

      Well, two things. First, I fear that if I make it optional, it will just always get turned off, because that's easier. Like I said in my last update, the difference between "never" and "sometimes" is that "sometimes" means "always."

      Second, I think that it wouldn't significantly affect our costs, because we're already saturated: we have way more people trying to listen than we allow, so if none of the live shows were webcast, we'd still be full up from the dj archives. So in that scenario, I'd be paying the same amount of money, but also not webcasting some things, which is a step in the wrong direction on both counts.

  3. The artists don't generally seem to see it that way, so every time we book someone, we have to have extensive debates with them about it. This takes a lot of time, which costs money. It is also very frustrating and discouraging. They generally react to our philanthropy as if we're trying to rip them off!
    Except for Download, they've always come around and agreed to it so far. But we've never had any artist actually be excited by the webcast. The best reaction we ever get from any artist about it is ``complete indifference.'' It goes downhill from there.

    for reference: i'm an artist who's played at the DNA, and i was damned excited about it. my only regret is that the video streams aren't archived.

    i can tell you for a fact that the webcast has been great for us. people have emailed me complimenting the two acoustic songs we played that night (neither of which have we been able to record in studio yet), and asking where they can get more. that's why we play these shows to begin with. well, that and my own personal amusement.

    we're also taking one of the tracks that came out particularly well (and sounded nothing like the recorded version; "hardcore!") and using it as a promotional thingee. we're going to do some minor mastering-type fixups and "officially" release it to promote the album when we press it in a few months.

    ...as for the 20-simultaneous-listeners problem: keep in mind that it's not always the same 20. and the 20 people who wanted to hear pigface are probably not the same 20 who wanted to hear VNV, and furthermore people listen to the streams after the fact, meaning that there may be a shitload of other people downloading/listening to old stuff at any given moment.

    finally: as ronan said at the last vnv show, their show at the dna might have been the most bootlegged show they ever had, but it was also the most worthy. all in all, he seemed pleased about the situation. i suspect that his point was that if a band is that afraid of having people hear their performances without paying, they're probably either 1. embarassed of the performance or 2. in the case of electronic acts, not changing enough in their live show musically to make it worth the listener's while to pick up the album.

    ...that said, i can understand cevin key's desire to not let totally new material out to the masses before it's ready. especially keeping in mind download's fanbase. they'll already have to deal with rmi and the like screaming about how great/horrible the shows were and unnecessarily coloring the opinions of casual listeners. if he was to, say, gear his live show towards the hardcore fan, the new tracks he plays might not be too representative of the new album, and its overexposure might discourage other potential buyers, etc., etc.

    anyhow it's not what i'd do, but he does -kinda- have a point.

    blah blah blah. done ranting now.

    • jwz says:

      So, about VNV -- I haven't actually heard a non-hearsay version of the story, but who was it exactly who was pissed about what? One version of the story I heard had it the band (or the manager?) freaked out when they realized that the webcast actually sounded pretty good (apparently they had never actually clicked on the "Listen" links on the DNA site before signing the agreement.) Do you know what actually happened, if anything?

      Regardless, it's impossible for me to imagine a parallel universe in which someone is going to get a hold of an MP3 of a VNV show and have it cause them to not buy a CD. Anyone interested in hearing a band like VNV live is a rabid fan who owns all the CDs already.