Category Archives: Music

What Are You Paying For When You Buy Music?

I have a question. It’s one I’ve been wrestling with for a while now, and don’t have a definitive answer, as you can make arguments for both sides. It’s not the one in the title, we’ll get to that in a minute. The question is this:

If you own a vinyl or cassette version of an album from a record label, does that entitle you to the digital representation of that album, even if it was ripped from a digital source that you didn’t pay for?

The easy answer is “no”, and I would say the argument for that goes something like this (the need to make more money aside): if you only had to pay once for a recording, going from vinyl to cassette to CD would be a simple trade-in, maybe with some compensation for the media itself (which is more substantial with new media formats, but over time goes down dramatically).
The not-so-easy answer, “yes”, opens up more questions. Let’s assume that I’m honest, and all I want to do is to enjoy the music I’ve already purchased on some form of digital playback device (computer, iPod, whatever); I’m not planning on sharing it. Fair use says I can make a backup copy of the media I’ve purchased. Then the solution becomes: well, just rip the original media. Let’s say, however, that I no longer have access to the necessary equipment to do that (which is true: I no longer have a record player). Do I need to invest in obsolete equiment (sorry, DJs/audiophiles!), not to mention the pre-amp I’d need to get the signal into the computer, to get music on my computer, when I can just grab it online somewhere?

I’m not a lawyer, and I haven’t researched this question, so maybe legally it’s a cut-and-dried issue and the answer is “no”. But that then leads to the question in the title: What are you paying for when you buy music? If the answer to the first question is “yes”, then the answer to the second question is easy: the right to listen to that music in any form, anywhere. If, however, the answer to the first question is “no”, then the answer to the second question is along the lines of “the right to borrow the work to listen to it as long as you’ve got the technology to do so in the purchased form”.

Which means it’s not about the music at all, it’s about licensing the right to something. Now I’m not so naive that I think it’s not about licensing, and I’m all for artists being compensated for their work, but when I hear how dismal that compensation can be sometimes, I can’t help wonder who I’m giving money to when I buy a CD of an album I already have the vinyl or cassette of, and why I need to be doing this when the music I thought I had already purchased is a few (questionable) clicks away.

Oh, and before it’s pointed out that $0.99 per song on iTunes isn’t that much to get the digital version of a song, I will agree with you as soon as iTunes gets a comprehensive collection: for the current size of it, I still can’t find most of my older music on it (and I’m not even going to touch the DRM issue).

I could get into analog vs digital copying, and other side issues, but I’m not sure that’s relevant. I just want to know if I really need to pay to have the ability to enjoy all the music I’ve spent money on.
What do you think? Does anyone know the definitive legal answer to this? Have I missed anything obvious?

A New Live Rig

This weekend, I’ll have my first live gig with reverential, a project started by my friend Dan. We’re playing a youth retreat at a camp in the Poconos in nothern PA. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been practicing for the gig, and over that time, I’ve been refining my rig. There will probably be a further refinement over the next day (which is a little scary, because we leave tomorrow afternoon!), but more on that in a bit.

Going for minimalism, I purchased an Ultimate Support center-column 2-tier stand on which will be my Korg Karma above a controller. Currently, that controller is my ancient Ensoniq Mirage (the only other board I have that does velocity (shows you the age of my collection!). The MIDI out from the controller goes into my Alesis Nano Piano, and the thru goes into the Karma. When I’m not playing piano from the controller, and change of the MIDI channel will allow me to play sounds on the Karma seperate from the one triggered by the Karma’s keyboard (done with a combi made up of different programs on different channels). At some point, adding the Kawai K1m and Roland U-220 would be nice, but for this one, I’m keeping it simple.

I said the Mirage is currently the controller because in the next day, I hope to be the proud owner of a CME UF7, a 76-key, semi-weighted MIDI controller. I say “hope” because the only way to get one of these apparently is to order it, and I’m not about to buy one without playing it. Thankfully, Sam Ash in PA was able to order one (I did have to put down a deposit) that I’ll be able to try first. Cutting it close to the wire, they should have it in by tomorrow morning, and hopefully by tonight. I’ll post my “review” once I get my hands on it, whether I buy it or not, and if I do, I’ll probably be posting remotely from the gig (assuming network connectivity).

Oh, by the way, I did consider M-Audio, but rejected them for two reasons: one, the semi-weighted board they have doesn’t have much in the way of front-panel controls, and things like changing MIDI channels on stage would have been hard (they’re after the computer market, not the stage musician), and their 88-note hammer action controller had (for me) a really bouncy feel to the keys that I just didn’t like. Too bad, too, because I loved the control surface, and really wanted to like it. Oh, and I didn’t go for fully-weighted/hammer action because I wanted something a little more versatile, and I thought playing synth-like sounds from a hammer action keyboard might be a little strange.

More later.

An Evening With Fred Hersch

Michelle and I went to the first concert of the Institute for Advanced Study 2005 season (from a past association, I have friends there who can get me tickets – thanks again if you’re reading this!). These are always excellent, and this one was no exception. Fred Hersch is a jazz pianist and composer, and, even not knowing much about jazz, it’s easy to see how he pours his personal style into the interpretations of the music of the other composers he plays. The evening consisted of a rotation between the music of Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter, and his own compositions, with a conversation with Jon Magnussen, the Composer-in-Residence at the Institute, part way through.

As a virtual newbie to jazz music, I found some of the peices more accessible than others, but came away from the evening with a better appreciation, and at least some notion of where to start to listen to develop that appreciation. Fred Hersch’s repertoire, by his own admission, consists of composers whose music seems to be acting as a framework that allows for improvisation in performance (up to 90% of what’s played!), and that, to me, is what makes listening to, and watching the performance, interesting. I’m also curious to see if that interest holds when I can’t watch the performance, ie listening to a CD. This could be the start of a whole new world of music listening, and possibilities, for me…