Whistling in the dark

Yaffa Phillips writes sporadically

Aram Sinnreich, David Byrne, Chris Ruen & Flash Rosenberg

The upside of not publishing my blog post on talks I went to in NYC by Aram Sinnreich, David Byrne & Chris Ruen is that the videos have been uploaded. If you like ignore my notes and just watch :o)

December 4th, 2012, thoroughly enjoyed Aram Sinnreich’s talk based on his forthcoming book Piracy Crusade. Read the full draft of the book for free on http://piracycrusade.com. The presentation embedded below, and the book, are both freely available under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. [If you give feedback on the website piracycrusade.com before the book goes to press you will get a mention in the book too though it may be too late for this since I’ve taken so long to put this online.]

The Piracy Crusade on Prezi

This talk along with the  Brad Burnham talk previously were part of Evan Korth‘s Computers and Society course at NYU. Guest lectures are open to the public and are also listed by the ISOC-NY via meetup.

Here is the video

My summary

He began the presentation with the nugget that most of the world does not care about these issues. At most it is to most an annoying screen before the beginning of The Smurfs DVD.

He comes at it as someone who has consulted for the music industry, and is now a media professor at Rutgers and a musician.

He asked how may people in the room were pirates. Most of the people in the room raised their hands. He replied that that was quite a high percentage – where are the ships? We are losing track of the metaphor and it is an inaccurate metaphor. Sharing a song with a friend is not the same as firing cannons on another ship.

Laws, ethical frameworks, what we do on a daily basis have completely converged.

The first third of the book is about the history of intellectual property and how we look at music. It is entertainment, a product of the human psyche, helped us become human as music helped us to organise into hunting parties and family units.

The music industry has a love-hate relationship with technology. Format replacement was a great boon to sales. Attempts to deal with file sharing have been a disaster from lawsuits, to DRM to infamous Sony rootkit fiasco.

P2P is viewed as a massive threat. It is a set of protocols like email. There is no empirical way to confirm whether file sharing is a hindrance or help to sales. Sales revenues are only part of the story of industry profits as technology has created additional revenue streams like broadcast and sync rights so that the music and entertainment economies have grown.

Some artists have profited from new technology/the new landscape is fuzzy.

Radiohead: In Rainbows on a pay what you wish model, followed by traditional cd release.

Prince  released 3 million Planet Earth free via British newspaper The Mail on Sunday and then played a 3-week residency at London’s O2 arena and made millions.

Sufjan Stevens posted 1 email, tweet, facebook message about a new ep that was able to be streamed for free via bandcamp. 10,000 copies were bought in the first weekend.

Amanda Palmer raised near $1.2 million via Kickstarter.

Justin Bieber got his start as a pirate doing unlicensed cover songs on youtube.

Arnel Pineda covered Journey on youtube and they hired him when they needed a new lead singer.

According to Don Passman for every $1000 in music sold, the average artist makes $23.40. Chuck D. gets $80.33 for every 1,000 iTunes downloads and referred to P2P as power to the people.

It’s easy to look at charts and assume you know what they mean. A tanked economy has an impact on sales, which may explain why album sales predicted v actual (Chart Depicting The Effect of P2P on Music Sales by Stanley Liebowitz), looks similar to a chart on kerosene sales. This part of the presentation reminded me of this XKCD comic.  The end of the CD replacement cycle has an impact on CD sales. Minimum advertised price in a time of a good average household income has an impact on profits. The ability to buy a few songs versus an album with filler has an impact on sales.

Minimum advertised price going away as price fixing, the closure of brick and mortar stores and the advent of digital and the ability to buy singles all have an impact on sales.

Some sales go through tunecore, cd baby, bandcamp, The Orchard, reverb nation. IFPI does not look at this part of the market and these dollars go unmeasured by them.

The competition for entertainment dollar is also fiercer so wallet share for music may very well be smaller.

On piracy impact financial estimates, NY Senator Chuck Schumer is quoted as saying “American companies lose roughly  $250 billion a year through intellectual property theft.” This figure is not sourcable according to the Government Accountability Office.

The next part was on whether the music industry was its own worst enemy.

with a quote from a Tribe called Quest, a reference to Kenny Rogers lawsuit of the industry, payola, price-fixing, album filler, negative option (BMG record clubs or book of the month clubs), and self-scalping.

The industries have turned their customers into an enemy with negative campaigns and lawsuits.

Parsoft a games company was shut down through mistaken accusation of piracy.

Congress proposed a bill to allow companies “to hack into, and destroy, any private or commercial computer suspected of hosting unlicensed content.”

Without it passing Sony created the rootkit fiasco.

Staff at RIAA were were caught pirating TV programs.

He then referenced the sad case of the case of Melchior Rietveldt, a freelance music producer who was totally screwed by industry groups. BREIN (the Dutch entertainment industry trade association). He composed a piece of music for a film festival psa against piracy in 2006 which was then used without consent in at least 70 DVDs.

He tried to get Buma/Stemra the royalty org he was represented by to act on his behalf and get the money for him.

Even more scummy, Buma/Stemra board member Jochem Gerrits  tried to get him to sign over his rights to the song to a record label he owned, claiming he could get him his money minus a 33% cut, which was recorded in a sting operation by local media.

The case was in the courts until July 2012 when they were ordered to pay him.

The next part of the presentation which corresponds to chapter 7 in the book was about innovative attempts to move forward in the music industry stopped dead by the industry. Uplister, Muxtape, myplay, mp3.com, and a blanket isp immunity model put forward by Warner Music Group. The most interesting piece of this was quoting Larry Kenswil of UMG (Universal Music Group) on the fact that there were quotas on senior management to produce profits and it was easier to sue people and make a lot of money off of them rather than license them the music and let these enterprises go forward and only make a little bit of money.

The next section was on the amount spent on lobbying and legislations that have been put forward. The issue of harmonization and that people making decisions are not elected, no transparency to public on how decisions are being made.

Rules become stricter and the industry wishlist is scary. The industry admits it cannot feasibly check all content properly and so mistakes would be made with any policy implementation. When content is so vast even a tiny percentage of error would cause a great number of  people damage.

The questions surrounding piracy will get even more interesting as 3d printers become more commonplace.


Great question from the audience was about accepting the absence of concrete evidence that file-sharing hurts the music industry what about an artist’s right to choose how their work is distributed.

Aram Sinnreich responded that as a recording artist he thins more control over how we communicate is great but what is worth giving up to gain this ability to control. To control these things that may not be of harm, we may be giving up loads that we don’t even realize.


The only depressing take-away from the talk and reading chunks of the book is that the majority of people don’t care about these issues, and may not until it is too late.

All of the interesting, detailed examples in the book are extremely interesting to a very small subset of people. What is necessary to change hearts, minds & policy? I don’t know. Is it a much less detailed tract, video, something yet to be done?


That evening, on my way to meet up with Josh, Jocelyn and Fidencia hit a Housing Works thrift store selling everything for $1. Got some awesome stuff. El Tequilazo continues to deliver fruity margaritas and we hit cold stone for some ice cream on the way home. A good day.


I was so glad to have gone to Aram’s talk before going to see NYPL: Live – Music and Copyright in the Digital Era: DAVID BYRNE in conversation with CHRIS RUEN on December 5th, 2012. Some of the same graphs were used and understood in very different ways.

One of the greatest things about this talk was meeting Flash Rosenberg. At the back of the room during an NYPL Live talk you may see her live drawing the conversations going on – check out some previous ones here. Can’t wait to see this one.


It’s a really interesting question how young people starting out can make a living really in any field these days. David Byrne admits he retains a legacy from a pre-existing massive media complex. I’m thinking of books/talks by Lawrence Lessig, Chris Anderson and Seth Godin about how media is changing and the one-way communication/attention model of one to super-many as it existed with network television in its heyday and with big record companies  was a historical anomaly.

At the same time, there are loads of opportunities that never existed as many barriers to entry have been reduced.

And yes, these are First World Problems thanks for asking.

posted by Yaffa in books,music,New York,technology,videos and have No Comments

Serendipitous discovery of the day

While on the wrong train hearing these 2 lovely women playing violin at Hoyt-Schermerhorn Station. Thank you GreenHerring2 for uploading this video to youtube.

I love NYC public transit, for the convenience, for the people-watching, for the mashup of 5 people’s headphones with the sound of the tracks, for the hours it keeps & for poetry in motion.

Two poems on public transport today

Untitled by Jeffrey Yang, Art: Holly Sears Hudson River Explorers

Poetry in Motion - Untitled by Jeffrey Yang

Ragtime by Kevin Young, Art: Raul Colon – Primavera

Poetry in Motion - Ragtime by Kevin Young

Tags: , , ,
posted by Yaffa in art,music,New York and have No Comments

Gregory Liszt’s Deadly Gentlemen at the Cluny2 in Newcastle

Went to see the Deadly Gentlemen at the Cluny 2 in Newcastle this past Wednesday. It was a Jumpin’ Hot Club gig – they put on lots of folk, alt-rock good stuff on in the area.

Serious Sam Barrett opened. A guy from Leeds singing country…I had an amusing misheard lyric moment on one of his songs.  “She’s as pretty as the hair on the mossad? what?!!…spoke to him between sets to ask him what he was singing…She’s as pretty as the heather on the moorside  – makes a lot more sense. : )

Gregory Liszt is the banjo player from Crooked Still. We saw them at the Cluny 2 also. They are amazing and the venue was packed that night. Greg Liszt was very entertaining and as soon as I saw this new project he was doing was coming I immediately bought tickets. I was stunned that there weren’t more people at the gig, maybe people were scared of winter weather.

Happy to document a very fun gig (their first ever in England). First off they are really talented musicians – Mike Barnett on fiddle, Stash Wyslouch on guitar, Sam Grisman on bass, and Greg Liszt on vocals and banjo. They bring to mind a cross between Chris Thile and Mike Ford from Moxy Früvous bluegrass mixed with speed, the ability to communicate lyrics that are super-quick and clever. See for yourself.

Love Hobo Rockstar cause it reminds me of Kitteh and Pip.

Kitteh and Pip the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats

Kitteh and Pip the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats

Shot videos while my battery lasted with Greg’s blessing (I asked before they went on stage).  Shot it with my new Kodak Zi8 with the internal microphone. The neat thing about the Zi8 is that it can also take an external mic (though I didn’t bring one).

Kodak Zi8 on amazonI was pretty close (2nd row) and there was an empty seat in front of me that I could lean the camera on as a makeshift stabilizer. The Zi8 is pocketsize and many people mistake it for a largish smartphone. Nope, just a decent pocket video camera that shoots HD.  Should have also brought another recent purchase a portable, rechargeable power supply for when your battery runs out…oh well.

Shot the videos up until the battery went dead which to be fair I didn’t charge it before I left the house so it was on half strength from shooting random stuff.

Wish it would have lasted to the end. The encore was especially great. The small but enthusiastic crowd cheered them on to get back on the stage. They agreed to play another song but did it unplugged, off the stage – near the door with the crowd on their feet. I was not even 2 feet away from them. It was in the dark and awesome.

It would be great to see them in a festival setting like the Cambridge Folk Festival; they’d be loads of fun in one of the tents.  The next night they were going to be at Celtic Connections in Glasgow. Check out their myspace page for upcoming gigs.

Random extra info: At one point during the gig, Greg asked if anyone in the crowd or the band plays a banjo. He thinks they’re cool and that people should pick it up. Just don’t give one to a beautiful woman anonymously according to this ask.mefi thread.  The consensus is it’s creepy.

posted by Yaffa in music,videos and have Comment (1)

Whistling in the Dark – 1930-1932

Whistling in the Dark {Silbando en la obscuridad}
Fox Trot
1144 – Durium Products Corporation – New York
Music by Dana Suesse
Lyrics by Allen Boretz

Original video I had on this post is no longer on youtube but above find a playlist of the song by different performers.

Whistling in the Dark was a 1931 Hit of the Week. These were cardboard records sold via newsstands for 15 cents during the Great Depression.

Hit of the Week records were promoted in 1929 with the following:

“This is the new Hit-of-the-week record. It is made of Durium, the great invention of a Columbia university professor. Its tone is as rich as the costliest record made. It is guaranteed to play perfectly longer than any other record. It won’t break if you drop it. It brings you the latest dance hits each week played by Broadway’s best orchestras, at the sensationally low price of fifteen cents! Each week our music jury, composed of Florenz Ziegfeld, Eddie Cantor and Vincent Lopez, selects the outstanding dance hits of the hour for the Hit-of-the-week recording. A new Hit-of-the-week record is on sale each Thursday at all news-stands in this city. Fifteen cents!” (source)

Digital Sheet Music Download for sale here (unless you are in U.S., Canada or Venezuela).
Shirts, posters, greeting cards and mugs with an image of sheet music for the song available here.

Radio Dismuke – Online station of 1920s & 1930s Popular Music and Jazz

They Might Be Giants’ Whistling in the Dark here

posted by Yaffa in music,whistlinginthedark.com and have No Comments

Bon Iver kicked my ass tonight

Went to see Bon Iver perform at the Sage Music Centre in Gateshead tonight. It was in the smaller Hall 2, sound is as amazing as Hall 1. We were on level 3 (as high as you can go) and the view was still great.

Anais Mitchell opened for them. She was pretty good…best song of the set Cosmic American from her 2004 CD “Hymns for the Exiled”. Her latest CD is “The Brightness” released on Ani DiFranco’s Riteous Babe records.

The main event was Bon Iver (pronounced: bohn eevair, though when I heard Anais Mitchell say it it kind of sounded like bonnie bear) is mainly Justin Vernon plus Mike Noyce and Sean Carey and a bass player who I can’t find the name of for the life of me.

Justin Vernon has a gorgeous voice and a wicked collection of guitars and the four musicians on stage work together tightly for a really rich sound. You can hear the album (there’s only the one) on their virb.com page. They also have a myspace page and an official site.

Mike Noyce was stunning as he sang a beautiful cover of Graham Nash’s “Simple Man,” and the whole group sang a cover of Sarah Siskind’s “Lovin’s For Fools” after it was requested by an audience member. The video to the right is the same cover, different night.

Justin Vernon kept commenting on what a nice, professional venue the Sage is and the caliber of the crowd…he seemed a bit surprised and bewildered to be there at times. For me I can’t imagine hearing Bon Iver in a place with flawed sound – what a travesty it would be not to get the full range of emotion and beauty in the songs.

All well and good, the part that kicked my ass – the song that came on after the encore song when the lights came on: “Love Me Sexy” by Jackie Moon aka Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro (one of the many movies I saw on flights on this summer, surprisingly entertaining).

Get live music on amazon

posted by Yaffa in movies,music and have No Comments