MAGNATUNE summary for March 2004Music Licensing continues to pick up, with several indie film licenses and a few videos and commercials. The following artists saw license deals this month: Drevo, Solace, Brad Sucks, Cargo Cult, Mr Gelatine, Belief Systems.
We exhibited at two trade shows this month.
We were in Austin, Texas for 11 days, first at the 3-day long "South by Southwest Interactive and Film festival" (www.sxsw.com). (see photos) During the day, we spoke to independent film producers and handed out about 2000 CD compilations. That week, 3 film license deals came through (all small, but it's a start).
Sadly, I found that most small film makers want major label "hit" music so that audiences will recognize the song, even though they can't afford to pay what major labels want. Part of this, I think, is that the film-makers just don't know where to go to find real music they can license.
The South-by-Southwest music show was less useful for us: lots of unsigned "southern rock" bands and singer/songwriters, looking for record contracts. We're happy to talk to them, but those categories aren't big sellers for Magnatune.
The Game Developer Convention in San Jose was amazing! (see photos) We gave away almost 3000 CDs, mostly electronica and metal/punk (but about 1000 of the other genres too) and met game designers from Lucasarts, Electronic Arts, Namco, and many other big names. Lots of medium-size game companies too, and people were really excited by our idea (*real* music on games, not the usual churned out synth-junk). I have high hopes for success from the contacts we made.
I've previously mentioned that we're going to have our music distributed through iTunes & other services. This is still moving forward, but is taking longer than expected because we've heard from several sources we trust that the company we were going to do this through is not trustworthy and tends not to pay unless sued. So, we're talking to other companies now.
I also previously mentioned a CDR-on-demand service that I was planning on signing up with. After talking to two companies that do this, it's obvious to me that both companies are not quite organized yet and not wouldn't deliver a good product reliably, at a decent price. So, I'm looking at doing the CDR-on-demand thing in-house, and have purchased a CDR printer/burner robot from Primera. I'll be integrating the CDR robot into our shopping cart software, and trying out a system where we burn and mail the CDs ourselves.
We sent about 20 custom CDRs, each with 3 songs on them, to various film and TV production companies who had solicited music for a specific scene in their productions. I'm paying a "lead service" who talks to these production companies, finds out what music they need, and tells us what the scene is, and what kind of music the producer wants.
Here are some examples: "SYNOPSIS: A classic B-movie Horror film. Starring scream queen Stephanie Beaton as a "one armed lady cop" who's chasing the serial killer who tore it off. Need High Energy Rock" and "Drama Starring Joe Estevez (I got the hook up, Rice Girl) set in the 70's when doctor is shot and becomes an anti-abortion activist. Need 70's classics or sound-a-likes. " We always pick 3 different songs from different bands which we think might be suitable, burn that with a custom label for the producer, and send it off with a cover letter. I don't think that many other companies go through the effort to pick relevant music, so I'm hoping this effort pays off.
I'm finalizing an agreement with a German record company to print and sell physical CDs of Magnatune's albums (in Germany only). They want to start with these 9 releases below, and if these go well, they want to try more Magnatune titles.
Major label executive doesn't like being called evilMy wife Jan and I run Magnatune, and she tends to speak her mind. A major label executive stopped by our booth and chatted with Jan (I was off somewhere at the time). The conversation they had is both humorous and enlightening, so I asked Jan to type out a transcript of it, and reproduced it below.
Transcript of a conversation at Midem 2004 (in Cannes, France, end-of-January 2004) between Jan Hanford (Mrs. Magnatune) and a major record company executive (who will remain un-named) who noticed our "We are not evil" stand.
Major Label Executive walks up to Magnatune booth:
Exec: (pointing to trade show booth logo) "We are not evil." That's not very nice.
Jan: Why not?
Exec: Well, you're saying we're evil.
Jan: No we're not. Only you can be the judge of that.
Exec: (snicker, frown)
Jan: Depending on how you treat your musicians, you may or may not be evil. How do you treat your musicians?
Exec: Well, I think we treat them pretty good.
Jan: Do they make any money?
Exec: Um… well, you know. It varies from contract to contract.
Jan: You mean that there could be a contract where a musician would not receive any money? That's evil. (giggle)
Exec: (frown) No, it isn't. So you really think this idea of yours will work?
Jan: Yea, we do. Everyone's really excited and many of the musicians are already making money.
Exec: Well, I don't see how this business model can work in the long term.
Jan: From what I read in the press your business model isn't working out too well.
Exec: (smirk) But mergers like BMG and SONY are going to have an impact.
Jan: Oh good, then they can go bankrupt together instead of separately.
Jan: I mean, your whole industry is based on stealing people's music. It's like running a restaurant and not paying the cooks. Eventually you're going to run out of food and then the customers will stop coming. It seems they already have stopped.
Exec: Yea, ha, you're funny. Well, it's been interesting talking to you. I mean it, really interesting. No hard feelings, ok?
Jan: (shaking hands) No problem, have fun at MIDEM.
Paul Beier: remastering a lute CDI received 3 CDs from the famous lute player Paul Beier of solo lute recordings of Molinari, Galilei (father of famous guy), and Piccinini.
Besides being excited at recruiting Beier for Magnatune because he plays so nicely and has a great rep in the lute world, I'm also happy because several of the albums are previously released on labels, now out of print, and he's been able to get the rights back to them. It's always nice to reclaim something from the black hole of copyright & legal hell.
What's interesting is that even real record companies don't bother to professional master the recordings they release. The recording quality is nice on all 3 CDs, but the level is way too low. No-one bothered to normalize these, so they're much softer than other CDs you'd listen to. While have a very soft CD will certainly make the lute seem "gentle" it'll also shock you when the next CD comes on at 2x the volume. Also, the songs are poorly trimmed, with with a lot of empty space at the end of songs (I found one song with 15 secs of empty background hiss at the end)
So, I load up Adobe Audition (formerly known as CoolEdit Pro), and look at the RIPped waveform:
I give it a volume kick, with a tiny amount of limiting for the one spike in the song:
I also noticed a 1/80th of a second blip at the very beginning of the 1st track, probably due to a burn error:
Voila, now it's a perfect album!
Victor Stone remixing C Layne & others
Victor Stone, the musician and producer responsible for the Magnatune Remixed project
is working with Magnatune artist C. Layne http://magnatune.com/artists/clayne and he's been producing/re-engineering C. Layne's newest songs with great results.
The thing that's really exciting to me is that C Layne is an incredible song-writer, but lacks polish and music production experience, while Victor is strong both as a producer/remixer, and as a musician in his own right (some of the C Layne tracks are reperformed by Victor to exactly mimic C Layne's original performance but with a cleaner sound).
You can hear his Victor/C-Layne's current works-in-progress at:
Victor tells me that he's started work with the ultra-talented Lisa DeBenedictis http://magnatune.com/artists/debenedictis along similar lines.
This kind of cooperation really excites me, because it's nurturing talented people to develop their art. Music is mostly a nasty, dog-eat-dog business, and I don't think this sort of talent development happens too often. I'm reminded of the 1950's Science Fiction Magazine editors, who honestly engaged their submission authors to help them hone their craft, yielding a flowering in science fiction writing. I'm hoping for a similar outcome in music.
South by Southwest - Magnatune & Creative Commons Party
Magnatune is going to be exhibiting at the South by Southwest film & music shows. If you'd like me to postal mail you a free exhibition floor pass, send me an email with the number of passes you want and your USA address.
We're throwing a party on thursday night with the Creative Commons folks. If you read this blog, you're invited
Two Magnatune musicicians will be playing at the South by Southwest music show.
Drop Trio, the incredibly cool & laid-back jazz trio, is performing Saturday night (20th) at midnight, at the Elephant Room (315 Congress), as a "showcase act" (evidently that's impressive).
Ehren Starks is playing with a band named The Belles (location & time unknown)
Why no African music?
Someone emailed me recently asking why I don't have any African music on Magnatune.
The problem is the all-too-common exploitation of African musicians, that I'm not willing to take part in.
I received two great African music CDs recently. These are musicians from Africa, recording in London. However, I can't accept that CD for Magnatune, because the recording is totally owned by a producer in London, who would then receive all the sales royalties, and none would go to the actual performers. This situation, where the recording company or producer owns all the rights to an album, is the norm in world music.
This exploitation issue has also been a problem for Latin music, though I received some self-produced that's amazing from Portugal on Friday, so there are hopefull signs.
Basically, I'm not willing to have Magnatune prop up the "world musician gives up all his rights to his recordings" system which mostly exists today, and that philosophy limits what I can sign (and also what gets submitted). But, like "free trade coffee" I think people expect Magnatune to do this "fairness audit" on their behalf, and trust that half the money from their purchasers really does go to the musician.
In time, I think we'll find good recordings (or record them ourselves with visiting musicians, but have them own the recording)
Darin Marshall (aka Belief Systems) visits
He makes all his music in a program called Reason, and he's something of a God at it. He runs his own record label, releasing 12" singles of his music, and that of his friends. Distribution has been hell the past few years, as trends come and go in 3 month waves in the 12" business, and his type of intelligent, interesting, electronic listening music (but still with a beat, he warns me) is just sooooo 2 minutes ago. But hey, it's great music.