By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Now, "the virtual world is worse than the real world." Artist Activity suspended Jiga + Jinno three days after MP3.com solicited their testimonial. Jiga wrote a paean to the service, celebrating her liberation from labels and the "dirty" industry. She didn't know she was implicating the site's new boss. When the KGB e-mail arrived, Jiga cited her written praise as proof of her loyalty: "I wrote back, 'But we're still on your testimonials!'" Artist Activity responded, "Thank you for your commentary." The testimonial disappeared.
Jiga spent hours combing over Analog Pussy's P4P statistics, looking for evidence of automatic plays and mass downloads. She noticed strange visiting habits coming from IP addresses in Malaysia and Taiwan, although the repeat listings were too obvious to have affected the group's MP3.com ranking. She forwarded her findings to Artist Activity, "but they said, 'No, that's not it. It's not in the raw data.'" Baffled, Jiga wrote back again, beginning an eerie cycle of correspondence with an anonymous Orwellian entity. "What we look for . . . is candor from the artists involved," wrote the entity. "Then we can discuss modifying our stance." To which Jiga replied, "Are you asking me to admit to a mysterious crime that I HAVE NOT DONE? I declare to you with all my brain, mind, heart, body, soul, spirit: I DID NOT do anything . . ." The correspondent, at firstname.lastname@example.org, then began referring to itself in the first person: "I understand your denial is heartfelt. I suppose we've reached the end of our discussions on this subject, but please, should you feel more inclined to be a bit more forthcoming, contact me."
Jiga sent one final e-mail, on June 4: "I am a little person," she wrote. "I am a musician. I'm not a lawyer, or a professional industry person. I know very well how to operate synths; I know how to rock the house in raves. I can take a cello connected to flanger-distortion and play weird melodies on a fat beat.
"This is what I cannot do: Deal with something mysterious I am accused of doing, earning money and not getting it . . . confronting an unknown entity called 'Artist Activity.' Sure you have a lot of money, and power over me. But I have something you don't have: I believe in the power of music."
ANALOG PUSSY'S INTERNET SUCCESS DIDN'T start with MP3.com, and it isn't likely to end there; they still have 6,000 visitors a day to their independent Web site, and other models for attracting audiences and distributing music on the Internet are evolving, ways of working that will remain outside of any conglomerate's control. Don Joyce of the art-collage group Negativland, for instance, contends that the best public-relations move he can think of is to release all of his collective's music for free. "Free stuff attracts a lot of attention," he says. "I don't know how we'll make a living out of it. But I've never known how we make a living. We just do."
Several Web music services, such as Fair Tunes and Pay the Band, already give listeners a chance to donate directly to the bands of their choice. Eben Moglen, a Columbia University law professor and general counsel for the open source software movement, has an even more immediate compensation system in mind: He sees a future in which audio players allow listeners to tip their favorite musicians by clicking on a "credit" button. "It pops up and lists all the people who contributed to a work, and that list of contributors is clickable. Maybe they want PayPal to come up, or just get a list of who's listening and who clicks." But if such a player is ever to be invented, it's going to take an alliance among individual artists and open-source-software programmers -- something that's on the horizon but hasn't yet jelled. "Don't expect Winamp, which is owned by Nullsoft, which is owned by AOL, to be in any hurry to write the code for something like this. I mean, why should the people who want to control content make technology for cooperation between artists and audiences? Only the free-software world is the place where we can create player software that will make a direct connection between the artist and the fan."
And once the artist is connected with the audience, says Moglen, anything is possible. Should anyone scoff at the concept of a tip jar, Moglen reminds me that this is how art museums and public radio work; it's also how IUMA got its start. In the online music business, the donation model just might take some time to get off the ground. "We don't understand how all of this will be used, any more than the first two guys looking at the Model-T Ford knew about drive-in movie theaters. We can see only the underpinnings of a world in which people who listen to music can live in a closer relationship to the music they think is beautiful, and to the people who make it."
What about the Big Five? "They might decide to become advertisers, presenting a package of services artists need," he posits. "Or they might decide to devote themselves to the business they've been involved in all along, which is loan-sharking -- handing out promotional advances and then terrorizing their customers. But they can't insist on controlling by law the means by which music is distributed."