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Music News

In what is turning into a regular Sound Opinions segment:“The Recording Industry vs. The Consumer,”Jim and Greg turn this week to a news item coming out of Oregon. Earlier this year the RIAA filed a lawsuit accusing 17 unnamed suspected University of Oregon students of illegally sharing music. The suspects are identified only by an Internet address, and industry lawyers have demanded that the university identify them. Previously when the RIAA has done this, universities cooperated. But the University of Oregon's response has been quite remarkable. UO officials are refusing to identify the students without an investigation, saying that this would compromise their privacy and property rights. Oregon's Attorney General has backed the school and is accusing the RIAA of bullying. Jim and Greg speak to Tony Green, a reporter at the Oregonian, about what is fast becoming a contentious battle.

While they may not be effective, the record industry lawsuits are an attempt to maintain ground in an ever-changing landscape. The next two stories speak to this music industry flux. Universal, the top music label, has ordered its artists to take full tracks off of their MySpace pages. While MySpace was once viewed as a great promotional tool, it's now been added to the list of digital distribution enemies. Therefore, commercial successes like Colbie Caillat are having to remove content from their sites and explain the issue to hungry fans. This move might have been a response to losses Universal experienced last quarter. They're also laying off a number of top and mid-level executives, and Vivendi, the company that owns the label, has announced plans to acquire video game publisher Activision. Activision produces Guitar Hero, the game that has proven to be more successful than any music release this year.

Another area the music industry is struggling with is commercial radio. With an increasing number of alternatives to radio including internet radio and the iPod, broadcast radio listenership has been gradually diminishing over the past few years. In an effort to maintain listeners, program directors are actually choosing to play fewer songs, more times. New York Times reporter Jeff Leeds explains that commercial radio stations are oddly choosing to keep the listeners they've got, rather than get new ones. The most recent example of this strategy is the tremendous amount of airpla{artist: y given to OneRepublic's hit single "Apologize." The Timbaland} produced track recently broke the record for the most plays of a song on the nation's Top 40 stations in a single week. It was played almost 11,000 times in one single week and was heard by more than 70 million listeners.

Go to episode 106

Music News

After the RIAA started to crackdown on the selling of mixtapes a few months ago, Universal Music has decided to sell legal, corporate sanctioned versions of the tradionally grassroots compilation. These "Lethal Squad Mixtapes," will sell for $5 to $6, but it's unclear whether there is a market for a series like this. Part of the appeal of mixtapes is that they are underground, and, as Greg notes, Universal is about as“street”as the next company they discuss in the news. Fellow corporate giant Walmart announced that it will sell DRM-free downloads at a lower price than competitor iTunes. Jim and Greg are surprised that the music industry would agree to sell their digital songs for lower prices, but Walmart is the world's largest retailer. Also, this fits into the big box store's M.O.: give consumers what they want at lower prices, even at the expense of other retailers.

Auto manufacturers such as Toyota's Scion brand, are planning on getting into the Internet radio business to provide special content to their drivers. Jim and Greg think this is an interesting move considering the recent hikes in webcasting royalty rates and their effect on small webcasters. And, this follows suit with Scion's attempt to establish a“cool”identity for itself. The Toyota brand was one of the few corporate sponsors of the Pitchfork Music Festival, and now they've tapped Vice Records and Ninja Tune Records to program their channel. But, despite this indie pedigree, Greg points out the reality: "You can't buy cool."

This summer's biggest blockbuster movie, Spiderman 3, racked up well over $300 million in the U.S. In fact, there were a number successful films that eclipsed the $300 million mark. The music industry, however, cannot boast such impressive figures. They were banking on big name releases from the likes of 50 Cent and Kelly Clarkson, but of those two, one got bumped, and the other tanked. The number one selling album of the year so far is from an American Idol rejectee Chris Daughtry, but that was actually a 2006 release. So, in light of these industry discrepancies, Jim and Greg wanted to invite New York Times music reporter Jeff Leeds on to the show to discuss the summer season. Jeff explains that movie studios have many sources of revenue from a film like Spiderman (DVDs, toys, etc), but record labels depend on a single revenue stream. Their only saving grace is concert sales; a live music experience, like a live movie screening, can't be replicated with a download. These three critics are curious to see what big fall releases have to offer.

Famed jazz percussionist Max Roach died last week at the age of 83. Roach was the last link to the Bebop era of jazz, but Jim and Greg explain that his love of music and his style of playing continually evolved. Greg explains that it's impossible to talk about rock drumming and hip hop without mentioning Roach. Unlike some jazz purists, the musician saw those contemporary forms as natural extensions of African music, like jazz. You can hear his unique style in the composition "Freedom Day," which also features vocals from his wife Abbey Lincoln.

Go to episode 91