Same game, different rules

I think I might finally forgive Sasha Frere Jones for this bit of ridiculousness (unless I can somehow prove a direct cause and effect to it and this ridiculousness) because of this post on Radiohead’s “Nude” remixes.

You know, what Radiohead did in giving away its album for free was pretty impressive, even though it’s only applicable if you’re a band with Radiohead-level status in the music industry. They were able to prove once and for all that giving away your music doesn’t automatically mean you’ll hurt your sales. But it was still just marketing. Brilliant marketing, but marketing nonetheless. It didn’t create a model that didn’t already exist, and it didn’t make anyone redundant (except maybe Doug Morris).

And the “Nude” remix idea is also brilliant. But it was brilliant a year and a half ago when the Barenaked Ladies did it. So maybe we should stop calling these moves brilliant, and just call them precedent-setting instead. Because the thing you can really give Radiohead credit for is making it easier for everyone who comes after them to do the same thing.

And if they could do it in a way that doesn’t make it seem like they were finding new ways to charge you again (five times over!) for something you technically already bought once, that would be even better.

On fooling some of the people some of the time

By now, I’m sure you’re aware of the little prank TOC pulled on Chicago last week. Some crab-asses protested by saying “It’s not April 1st!” But since this issue fell on April 1, we had little choice but to go with the joke a little early, and I think it worked better that way as it caught so many people off-guard and really helped to “sell” the joke. We even extended it to the blog that day, with a whole series of fake posts from Trump as well as some music, film and comedy “news.”

Here’s the “problem” with all this though: the internet knows no calendar. This stuff is going to stay up in perpetuity without the benefit of context. I’m enormously pleased that a few other lazy sites picked up our blog “scoops” and reported them as actual news (seriously, does “Shane ‘Handsy’ Butterscotch” sound like a real name to anybody?) and that on Wednesday we gave the home page a Trump-centric makeover. So I wouldn’t change how we rolled things out online. But there’s a decent argument to be made for making sure that six months from now, people know we didn’t really give Sixteen an 11-star review, James Lipton didn’t actually review Wicked for us and we acted like jerks during David Schwimmer’s interview for a reason.

In the past year, I’ve worked really hard – as has the rest of the staff – to establish TOC‘s bona fides online. We still have a ways to go, but we’re now seen as a trusted source for news just like other sites. And when sites like ours play jokes on April 1, we’ve got cover for our editorial integrity. But if we report that Vampire Weekend is starting a preppie clothing line on March 26 does that end up hurting us in the long run? I’m inclined to say no, especially when we led the day on the blog with stuff like this. But again: we had the benefit of context, and Google searches strip all that out.

So today, instead of pulling another elaborate joke on the TOC blog, we’re going to be explaining the one we pulled last week, and tagging our satirical posts and articles as such. It might seem like babying our readers in a way, but on the Internet, some jokes are only funny the first time you tell them.

Right decade, wrong continent

In my inbox today was this:

For Immediate Release

THE ORIGINAL ASIA to play the House of Blues, April 20

Worst part about it? I had “Africa” by Toto in my head for the rest of the night. That’s not even a song by Asia. I expect tomorrow I’ll get a press release about Europe’s reunion tour and end up humming Neil Diamond’s “America” for the rest of the day.

Side note: Check that date. How many people you think are going to end up at that show because they’ve gotten high and someone said “Hey you know what’d be awesome….?”

Not looking for a new MySpace, just looking for a new business model

Fresh off his SXSW appearance, English punk-folk artist Billy Bragg wrote a guest op-ed piece in Saturday’s New York Times* about the lack of attention (and money) paid to artists whose work is published on social networking sites like MySpace and Bebo, a company that was recently sold for $850 million to AOL.

Bragg makes some rather salient points, the clearest of which is this: why is it that the contributions of artists to the value of social networking sites are not, in fact, valued in some kind of monetary way? To that point, Bragg says this:

The claim that sites such as MySpace and Bebo are doing us a favor by promoting our work is disingenuous. Radio stations also promote our work, but they pay us a royalty that recognizes our contribution to their business. Why should that not apply to the Internet, too?

I’m not wholly against Bragg’s point here. But offering analogies as a catch-all gets complicated in discussions like this.

Yes, websites make money through advertising just like radio stations do. And video and audio clips are part of why AOL thought Bebo was worth $850 million. But with radio stations, you’re paying to reach a certain audience segment and demographic. That’s really the service that radio stations are providing, and entertainment – whether in the form of music or talk or other programming – is the only content radio stations provide to make people stick around long enough for the ads to reach them.

But the truth is, social networking sites, as well as sites like Blogger, or feed readers or what have you function as publishing entities. And the reason why people choose one site over another – thereby giving them value, one might say – is because of who uses them to publish. I’m more likely to use one site over another if my friends use it (Facebook) or if I find content there worth checking out (Flickr).

In most cases, this comes from user-generated content. So why couldn’t I make the argument that Facebook owes me a penny every time I post something to my Wall, or Flickr should drop a nickel into my bank account when I post new pictures? While I won’t flatter myself that more people on the whole are interested in checking out a bon mot from me on Facebook than are hoping to hear a Billy Bragg song, I can at least say there’s a certain segment of my audience (meager as it may be) that IS more interested in witticisms from me than in “Old Clash Fan Fight Song” (if only because they’ve never heard Bragg’s music). So in essence, for a (teeny, tiny) portion of Facebook’s audience, I am adding more value to the site than Billy Bragg. In Bragg’s radio example, I’m just as valuable as him for advertisers who are seeking to reach the “friends of Our Man In Chicago” demographic. So why shouldn’t he and I both partake of content licensing fees?

I’m exaggerating a bit here. But it isn’t out of the realm of possibility – in fact, it’s happened a handful of times in the last few years – that an everyday person comes out of nowhere and produces content that so many people want to see that it makes a significant contribution to the site’s bottom line. It pains me to offer this particular example but Tia Tequila has 2,952,620 MySpace friends while Billy Bragg has “only” 33,121. (For a less problematic example, see Warren Ellis who has about 21,000 friends). So at what point do we say “This person needs to be compensated for their contributions to the site?”

I don’t really have a blanket solution, and I doubt most other folks do, which is why it’s applying one medium’s licensing and payment structures to the Internet doesn’t cover all manner of sins. It really is its own beast.

Having said all that, I think Bragg has a point, but he’s using the wrong analogy. Internet sites that use previously-created content in this way (meaning content not created specifically for the site like a Wall post or a Flickr picture) are a lot like bars that play music on jukeboxes or over PA systems. These bars all pay a licensing fee to organizations like ASCAP which then distributes this money to the artists (ideally, anyway). Perhaps it’s time to set up a similar system for corporate-backed internet sites as well.

* h/t to The Daily Swarm, which I’m pleased to see is regularly seeking out the work of Chicago writers and critics whether they’re writing for the Tribune, the Sun-Times, Chicagoist or the sexiest blog in Chicago.

SXSW wrap-up

My final post on SXSW went up Sunday night, complete with my top five acts and bottom four (hint: I will not be picking up the Juno soundtrack). While I did see some middling shows, I was unable to name more than four bands that I thought were really lousy, which says a lot about this year’s SXSW.

Also, in this week’s issue, you can read my top five picks of SXSW acts that will be touring here soon. Clare and the Reasons aren’t coming here so they got bumped, and if I had to do it over again, I’d swap Saul Williams out of there for Fleet Foxes, who I just learned are opening a Schubas show for Blitzen Trapper – I’m afraid they’ll be overshadowed by their much-buzzed opener – on April 6th. If I were you, I’d get tickets right now as that sucker’s gonna sell out fast. I will personally refund your money if you don’t dig that show.

Had me a real good time

“Make sure you got it.”

These were the words spoken by Ian McLagan of The Faces, seconds after he was gracious enough to take a picture with a whiskey-soaked me.

But let me back up.

By Saturday night in Austin, I’d spent the better part of four days at SXSW working, in one form or another. After taking in a set from Justin Townes Earle, I headed to the Time Out showcase at Emo’s with The Donnas and X. As it would be ethically wrong for me to review a show my employer is sponsoring, I considered myself off the clock, and proceed to sip Maker’s throughout the night.

I drifted into a conversation with Matthew Albanese, who works on the Seaport Music Festival. He told me that he saw Ian McLagan of The Faces on his way in. I’d had just enough whiskey to make it my mission to meet Mr. McLagan.

Though I know what he looked like back in the day, I was a bit fuzzy on what McLagan looks like in 2008. One of my bosses corraled a Time Out New York marketing guy who had an iPhone. He ran a Google image search, and armed with a visual I proceeded to walk around Emo’s Main Room in search of my quarry.

About thirty seconds later, I think I’ve spotted him.

Aware of my previous mis-identification of Amy Winehouse, I get confirmation from a few of my co-workers before approaching him. Then this occurs:

Me: “Are you Ian?”
Him: “I am!”
Me: “Sir, thank you for everything you’ve done.”
Him: “Am I Sir Ian now? Was I there for the ceremony? Did I enjoy it?”

What more could you ask of a moment like this?

As we talk, I let him know I’ve from Chicago and he lets me know that he’ll be at Fitzgerald’s come August or September. And then I ask him for a picture.

Know this: ever since I started writing and reviewing people of some renown, I’ve made every effort to avoid any sort of star-fuckery. But faced with a man who has a direct line to rock’s booze-soaked heart, I couldn’t help myself.

As soon the flash snapped, McLagan said “Make sure you got it.”

Ian McLagan and meArgue, if you like, the notion that nowadays McLagan is someone who doesn’t often get lauded by a fan, or asked for a picture. But even if that’s true – and I’m fairly certain it isn’t as I watched several people hail him throughout the evening – does it necessarily follow that he’d be concerned with me capturing the right photographic representation of that moment? No. He’s just being a decent bloke. And frankly, there aren’t enough guys like that in the biz.

So thanks, “Sir” Ian. Thanks for making me remember why I wanted to do all this in the first place. Not because I would get to meet and worship my idols, but because guys like you make me think it’s worth all the thinking and writing in the first place.