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April 13, 2009

Why Is This Still So Goddamn Hard?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Once upon a very long ago I wanted to hear a very specific song. I was at work, and was making a point to a coworker about how certain male and female voices went together. This duet was part of the point I was making, but I didn't have it at hand. Had someone said "Give me a buck and I'll give you a copy of that song you can play on your computer" I would have cheerfully handed over my USD and been pleased at the exchange.

Instead, one of my coworkers pointed me at Napster, and sure enough I had a copy of the song on my hard drive minutes later. I also had a large bucket of other music, none of which I paid for. Much of it was illegal, but not terribly interesting. I did, however, find that I could get tons of remixes, covers, and DJ mixes this way. That was interesting and I spent most of my time downloading things I couldn't have bought in almost any store.

Fast forward ten years. It's now 2009 and I still love this kind of thing. A friend recently pointed me to 8Tracks, one of many sites where DJs and folk can post mixes. Their motto, "a simple, legal way for people to share and discover music through an online mix" is just exactly what I want. Like anything new, it's very hit-or-miss. But sometimes it turns up real gems. Like La Roux - In For The Kill (Skream's Let's Get Ravey Mix). Go ahead and listen, I'll wait.

In many ways this is exactly what I like about remixes - Skream has stripped out La Roux's beautiful and eerie vocals and laid them over some interesting beats and vibrato thrums. Gone are the insipid pop bits you get with the original. I want to own this specific mix legally and, ideally, have my money compensate the artists. But once again, there's just no way to do that. I can come up with two or three ways to get the tune illegally, but none that involve the kind of "I like that I want to buy it" commercial transaction.

Maybe it's a uniquely American conceit of mine to think that I should be allowed to purchase things I like. Maybe neither the artist nor the remixer intend for this track to be sold. But set aside that specific idea; much as I respect the art-as-performance-only, I think it's pretty commonly the case that musicians and DJs want to be compensated for their work.

So why the hell is it still impossible for me to do just that?

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies


1. Crosbie Fitch on April 14, 2009 3:22 AM writes...

It's not impossible, it's just so extremely difficult, that no-one in their right minds would go through all the hassle.

Folk such as I are working on ways of making it easier, e.g. via the

I'm currently using it to produce which will hopefully make it easy to pay you a penny for each blog post you publish. NB Nothing changes, you simply have a button that lets people who want to give you a monetary incentive to write, provide it very easily. And it's not a donation. If you stop writing, you stop getting paid. You receive incentive in proportion to your output and the number of people who like your work.

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2. Jayel Aheram on April 14, 2009 3:31 AM writes...

Thanks for pointing us to the mix, Alan. I agree that it is a lot better than the original.

To answer your question, it is too inconvenient for everyone involved! The time spent on setting up the transaction and making sure everything is done legally and all the red-tape requirements is time better spent on creating more music.

I am a photographer and of the 500 commercially-viable images I could be selling, only 60 of it I have been able to sell. Model release forms, audits, tax forms, and so forth I do not have a time for.

It is easy to be an artist and to produce. It is the various requirements I need in order to take your money is the most difficult part.

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3. DrWex on April 14, 2009 5:47 AM writes...

Crosbie: I wish you well on 1p2U. I hope you, or someone like you, can solve the micro-payments problems. Every attempt I've seen so far falls down in terms of the effort needed to think about making the micro-payments is larger than the payments themselves.

Jayel: I feel your pain. I love taking photos myself but I just give them away because otherwise it's so much a headache, as you mention. I'm fortunate that I'm not trying to make a living that way as I suspect I would be an utter failure.

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4. Crosbie Fitch on April 14, 2009 7:39 AM writes...

DrWex, I suspect you are confusing the decision cost of payment, spontaneously deciding that you wish to pay someone a penny for their work, with the decision cost of submitting to a charge, the unwanted decision of whether something is worth being charged a penny to see or hear.

I will refine my argument and terms, but I wrote about it recently in Micropayment vs Microcharging and not so recently in Reaccrediting Micropayments.

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