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Down With The Man | Part 6

How music got its groove back. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 6.

DANCING IN THE STREET

Lately, we’ve been focusing on the music industry a lot, what with all the massive tectonic shifts it’s undergoing. Artists big and small are sticking it to the Big Label Man, anyone from big-leaguers like Madonna and Radiohead to indie mavericks like Ghost Away and Jill Sobule.

The latest shaker: cult British 90’s trip-hop getup Portishead just released their first album in 11 years, Third, exclusively on Last.fm on April 21, where it could be streamed for free until its official release today. (You may also recall our fervent raves about Last.fm and our early predictions of its revolution potential.)

PORTISHEAD – Hunter

It’s the very first exclusive for the social networking music site. But even more interestingly, Portishead was also the very first artist to join Last.fm’s catalog, with their track Cowboys as the first one to ever be played on Last.fm when the site went live in 2002.

And here’s the fascinating thing: traditionally, the music industry has employed an event-based model with album launches, where the launch is heavily promoted and positioned as an object of anticipation by sending the album out to music critics and reviewers well in advance, building up solid media hype. Then, that the record label and retailer can monetize this by pricing the anticipated new release much higher than other stuff.

Recently, in an excellent piece for Wired, the Talking Heads’ David Byrne and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke tackled the current business model, probing the capacity for change. And we think this Portishead/Last.fm move is tell-tale sign of days to come, where artists use new media and the power of the social web to promote, publish and eventually distribute their work, creating a loop of self-sufficiency that not only puts the fans first, but also completely circumvents the red tape of the Big Labels model.

BP

Down With The Man | Part 7

How to do peer-to-peer sharing without entering Jesse James territory. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 7.

LEGAL AND WILLING

Speaking of things shaking the music industry, we couldn’t gloss over the huge and highly polarized issue of piracy. Worst part: it’s a vicious cycle. In a nutshell: a handful of big music retailers (a.k.a. “The Man”) dominate 90% of music sales; they exert pricing pressure on everyone else, asking consumers to shell out too much for music, most of which doesn’t even go to the artist due to brutal licensing deals; in turn, many music fans flip the bird and just download music illegally through P2P file-sharing.

But there’s actually a way to get free music through “file-sharing” that doesn’t make you an outlaw.

You may recall from pickings of yore services like Paperback Swap and SwapaCD — networks of everyday people who exchange books and CD’s they own via the mail. Now there’s a better execution to the same idea: swaptree, officially launched last July, is a similar concept, but has a broader media catalog — books, CD’s, DVD’s, even video games — and a massive member base of hundreds of thousands of users, with an astounding 30% monthly growth rate.

Seems like the newest media-shaker comes from the oldest medium of all: snail-mail, regarded today as barely a step up from pigeon post.

swaptree is free, simple, and here’s how it works: first say what you’ve got (build a “have” list of all the read books and old CD’s you’re willing to bid adieu), then say what you want (build a “want” list of stuff you’ve always been dying to read/hear/play). Then just sit back as the swaptree algorithms find you a trade and get the ball rolling. (We’re currently awaiting The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the brilliant book by one of our heroes, Michael Pollan.)

So how could all this be legal? Flashbacks of copyright class remind us about something known as the “first book doctrine,” a loophole in copyright law that allows you to transfer (for payment or not) a lawful copy of copyrighted work (like a book or CD) once you’ve obtained it. Everyday translation: whenever you buy, find, receive as a gift or get your hands on a book in other ways, it’s yours to do whatever you like with. Including swapping. And now it’s being applied to other media.

Sure, the big media dictators may not be happy. But in this power- to-the-people age, getting the latest from Postal Service through the postal service is an in-your-face constitutional right “the people” are learning to exercise…and lovin’ it.

BP

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Starting Monday, we’re trying something a little different — because we’re all for experimenting with the best ways to tickle your brain.

The idea: because each weekly theme features a bunch of different things across various categories, separating them out will make it easier for you to comment on specific pickings, link to individual articles and generally navigate better across category tags.

So we’re keeping the concept of the themed weekly issue, but we’re moving away from the “magazine” format where all sorts of different articles rub elbows with each other on the same “page” and share the same permalink. Now, each piece will get its own spotlight as a separate blog post with a separate permalink.

Erm, user-friendliness and all that shebang.

You can start getting friendly with it all on Monday, so stay tuned.

BP

Earth Day the Wired Way

This year, celebrate Earth Day with a simple but tangible touch to your wired ways.

We’re all for sustainable sustainability — the concept of making simple, everyday changes that enormously benefit the environment in the long run.

So, to celebrate Earth Day this year, we’ve created a neat little graphic to put in your email signature, show off your green bone, and remind people to think about the simple things that matter. We call it an eco-signature.

This Brain Pickings original is a digital freebie, and completely open-license and copyright-free. So snag away — download the image here, or just right-click/ctrl-click the image below and save it to your hard drive, then pop it in your email client’s signature preferences.

Got doubts about how much of a difference this little thing will make? Doubt not: The average employee prints 6 unnecessary pages per day, amassing a grand total of 1,410 per year. How many people did YOU email today?

Learn a couple more smart, handy tricks for easily relieving the daily tree-trashing epidemic.

BP

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