Category Archives: Music Business

Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business

In 2013, Digital Citizens Alliance set out to understand how content thieves operate and profit from the works of others. In an effort to determine how much bad actors earn through advertising, Digital Citizens commissioned MediaLink LLC to undertake a research project focused on the ecosystem’s revenues and profitability.

The findings, published in the report “Good Money Gone Bad: Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business” show that these sites are making incredible profits off of the works of others.

The highlights include:
• Content theft sites reaped an estimated quarter of a billion dollars in ad revenue alone in 2013.
• The 30 largest sites that make revenue exclusively through ads averaged $4.4 million in 2013.
• The most heavily trafficked BitTorrent and P2P sites, which rely exclusively on advertising revenue, averaged a projected $6 million per year in 2013.
• 30% of the most heavily trafficked content theft sites carried premium brand advertising and 40% carried secondary brand advertising
• The sites studied in the sample had a estimated profit margin of 80-94%.
This presentation includes screenshots from many of the sites reviewed by MediaLink.

Download Digital Citizens Alliance Report

Download More information (Media Packet)


In love with Vinyl LPs? You’re not alone

Frank Zappa’ s Freak Out

Don Was co-founded the eclectic ’80s band Was (not Was) (hit single – Spy in the House of Love) before becoming a highly regarded record producer having produced Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones.  Mr. Was has been writing a blog for MetroTimes in Detroit amongst other things.

Was’s blog post celebrates records.  Vinyl LPs. He celebrates not only the fidelity of LPs but also their artwork and the space they allowed for the artist to give credit to those involved in the making of the record.  He uses Frank Zappa’s 1966 release of the Freak Out! LP as an example.

It was a double album with an amazing gatefold jacket that retailed for $4.99. Inside there were extensive liner notes written by Frank Zappa that changed my life. In a subsequent interview, Frank said that the Freak Out! album package was designed to be “as accessible as possible to the people who wanted to take the time to make it accessible. That list of names in there, if anybody were to research it, would probably help them a great deal.” He was right: The first time I heard of Charles Ives, Willie Dixon, Captain Beefheart, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Eric Dolphy was when I read that list of 150 random notables.

The article underlines what recording used to be at its best – what records used to be at their best. How an album could be its own art form, not just a loss leader or a promo to get you to go to the live show and buy t-shirts. The album – the music, the artwork/design and packaging – could be its own artistic experience.

Was celebrates how albums of the past listed all the people that worked to create the project. Much like a movie that lists its credits at the story’s end, the LP had the room to print not only song lyrics but also the recording studio and engineer, the mastering studio engineer.  I can remember reading the names, Hit Factory, Record Plant, Power Station, as a kid.  They seemed like far-away temples to me.

The digitization of audio was originally lauded and welcomed by musicians and audio engineers alike. It seemed to make the work of recording so much easier.  But today, 25 years into digital audio, there is a different perspective amongst many musicians and audio engineers.  There is an on-going argument about the fidelity of digital recording and the use or over-use of digital audio techniques (i.e. brick wall mastering). Most devastating to the actual commerce of the recording industry, digitization has allowed exact copies of recordings to be freely copied and the Internet has made those copies available to millions.

Downloading music has also affected the album as an artistic entity. Here’s Dan Was again.

If Zappa released that same music today, we’d browse the 30-second samples on the iTunes store without the benefit of reading those mind-blowing liner notes. There’d be no context or depth to the whole experience. It’s no wonder that kids don’t wanna pay for music anymore – downloading a file of zeroes and ones for 99 cents has the same cultural allure as ordering a Ronco Veg-O-Matic from an 800 number.

It’s tough to find out who produced and engineered the music and you can forget about finding out who did the cover art (that cover art having now been reduced to 2 inches square at a resolution of 72 dpi)

Digital audio and electronic delivery have transformed how we consume music.  There are great benefits to digital.  Ease of storage is one.  But we have traded a lot for that.  Sound fidelity has been cheapened along with the whole experience of what an album is.

I had a talk with a young man recently and he was telling me about the 1000s of songs and albums he had downloaded mostly through file-sharing sites.  These included several modern classical albums like performances of Steve Reich’s “Music for Eighteen Musicians” and some Philip Glass instrumental works.  I thought to myself, yes, but how well do you know this music. How many times have you listened to it?

In fact, it takes time to really listen to music.  Especially challenging music.  It’s an investment of time.  Really digesting 1000 recordings should take years.  We seem to have become very good aggregators of music but we have forgotten or we simply don’t have the time to be good listeners.  For me, it’s more important that someone really know the music on 25 albums than to sport a library of thousands of recordings.

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” – Hebert Simon – Recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics and the A.M. Turing Award, the “Nobel Prize of Computer Science”

(I took a cognitive psychology class with Prof. Simon while at Carnegie Mellon in 1978)

I have a slight connection to Mr. Was in that I am originally from Windsor, Ontario (Canada) just across the river from Detroit. It was a cool place to live in the early-1970s. That area of the country now gets a lot of bad press, even from its own local media, but it has a great history and, to me, is one of the hidden gems in North America (the Detroit River!) – but that’s another story.

Postcards to Defend Copyright

We at UniqueTracks want to pass along this link to a very smart messaging program from (Defend Copyright). These are online postcards displaying easy to understand statements about the damage to artists caused by piracy and file-sharing. The postcards can be sent directly from the site.

See some examples below…





Spread the word at

How Advertisers Use New Music to Target the Young Female Demographic

I’m a big fan of the commercial jingle as a method of advertising.  I think jingles sell better than their much over-used alternative – the licensed hit song. Jingles are written directly for the ad and, to me, tend to create better campaigns.

Jingles from years past were slickly produced by top-notch studio musicians and professional jingle (commercial) writers.  New York City was the capital of jingle production and for decades there was a lively industry (recording studios, the music union, writers, performers) devoted to turning out jingle recordings.  That industry is almost completely gone now.

What’s replaced it is the solo singer-songwriter.  Not a famous voice, but a young performer with a very individual sound.  These commercials have a quirky, low-fi, indie, DIY feel.  Some very smart ad executives have discovered that this type of soundtrack really sells.

There’s recently been a slew of commercials employing this approach. For instance, listen to this commercial for Truvia.

Here are the lyrics.

I loved you sweetness, but you’re not sweet you made my butt fat
You drove me insane, self-control down the drain
We’re over, I’m so done with that
I found a new love, a natural, true love, that comes from a little green leaf
Zero calories, guilt free no artificiality, my skinny jeans zipped in relief
Its name is Truvia, I had no idea, no more sprinkling my coffee with grief.

Now the singing of this commercial is pretty, let’s say… idiosyncratic. Some might say amateur, off-key, or just bad.  But I think, if the commercial works, and it does to me, that the performance of the song adds a huge dimension to the spot.  It’s actually the minimal melody and the phrasing of the lyrics that makes this so quirky.  The singing is not really in sync with the guitar playing. It’s more like she’s talking or it’s stream-of-consciousness not really in rhythm.

The target audience for this commercial is younger women. It’s got a light, fun, innocent mood to it. It comes off as honest. There’s a playful sense of humor. That’s appealing. Capturing honesty in a TV ad is a hard thing to do.

Here’s another ad, this time from Bisquick.

We see a young mother preparing pancakes for her two children.  The lyrics reflect the thoughts of the children.

There’s one thing I’ll eat, any time of day
Dawn till sunset, I’ll never walk away
Blueberry pancakes, so good

The jingle creates a happy, laid-back, Saturday-morning vibe.

Here’s a recent campaign for the Subaru Outback.

I’ve been looking and looking my whole life through
Trying to find my way back to you
Cause I love you, I do
Cause I love you, I do

In this ad, the husband loses the car and basically creates a situation where the couple is stuck in the desert.  He’s meandering around with his keys.  And in the background, the woman is singing “I love you I do” but in an ironic, semi-tolerant way. (she rolls her eyes).

This is marketing directly to women.  I like the ads but I’m not the target of these products.  The Subaru Outback ad is targeting young couples slanting the ad towards the mom or wife.

The appeal of these jingles is their innocence and honesty.  Having a solo singer, accompanied only with a guitar, singing in an individual style is what gives these spots their charm.  It’s the exact opposite of what jingle advertising used to be and it comes off as fresh and youthful.

It’s hard for an ad or a corporation to capture innocence.  One way to do that is to use original music from an unknown source.  There is an anonymity to these jingles.  We don’t recognize the voices, the production is minimal, some even sound tossed-off with no real effort.  This low-fi approach adds to the overall effectiveness of the ads (It reminds me of films like Juno which came out of nowhere with unknown stars with a fresh new take on storytelling).

About the performers/writers

The Bisquick jingle is written and performed by Frances England She’s actually a kids music performer.

The Subaru Outback ad is by Miss Erika Davies

I couldn’t find the singer for this Truvia jingle (what is listed on YouTube is for an earlier commercial, not the one cited in this post).

If you have any comments or thoughts about this advertising trend, please post them as comments.  How about this.  How do you feel about ads that create a mood of innocence and honesty to sell?  The purpose of any ad is to influence (some might say manipulate) behavior.  These ads do that while pretending to be rather casual, even improvised.  The tone masks the intention (or not?).  What do your think

How Pop Songs Become TV Ads

  • Devo re-records their biggest hit “Whip it good” as “Swiff it good” in a TV ad for the floor cleaner Swiffer.
  • The Beatles song “All you need is love” is licensed by Luvs who use it for their campaign, “All You Need is Luvs”
  • “Blister In the Sun ” by the Violent Femmes, a seminal punk bank, is used in an ad campaign for Wendy’s hamburgers.
  • This summer Wilco licenses 6 songs from their new album Blue Sky Blue to Volkswagen who uses all 6 songs in ad spots for their latest campaign marking the first time a multitude of songs by one artist/band is used in a single campaign.

Where is today’s cash cow for the music business? It’s the placing of famous or upcoming pop songs in TV commercials. We’ve all heard and seen these ads. Led Zepplin’s “Rock’n Roll” has become the main branding vehicle (no pun) for Cadillac. The ad speaks to those 40-year-olds that can now afford Cadillacs by co-opting an anthem from their youth.

There’s no doubt the trend will continue. Commercial jingles are a thing of the past. Today’s ad strategy is about branding. You put a product, no matter how bland, next to a song that has a “coolness” factor to it, or, in the case of the Beatles “All You Need is Love”, acknowledged cultural value, and voila, the product achieves instant significance or even hipness.

But by glorifying a product, no matter how banal, the song is immediately devalued. If today’s protest song can be tomorrow’s theme for toilet tissue, then the power of a song to effect culture becomes weakened. The power of the song becomes about how much money it commands when it is licensed for commercial use.

The Culture Is the Commercial

Jay Babcock, the publisher of the art and music magazine Arthur makes this point…

“What kind of culture sets up a system where the only way to hear good music is through TV commercials for products you don’t need?” Babcock said. “What little art is out there has to sneak in wherever it can, being stand-ins for jingles. It’s the sign of an unhealthy culture. The culture is eating itself.”

A recent New York Post article reports that the recording artist Fergie recently inked a $4-million deal to sing about Candie’s teen apparel on her next album. “The 32-year-old Black Eyed Peas singer is the first global star to consent to product placement in her songs – agreeing to include the provocative clothing line Candie’s in her lyrics.”

I don’t know that this matters to some bands, they are living in a music business that is sinking into chaos by the day and they are looking for cash, a reward for their work. When Wilco, a major act, licenses 6 songs to Volkswagen saying they are doing it as a way to get their music out there, you know the music business has drastically changed and these artists are looking for the type of payday that used to be available to successful bands through albums/radio play/touring. That old model of success is, apparently, broken.

According to Greg Lane, senior vice president of ad agency GSD&M in Austin, Texas, ad pop is a mutually beneficial relationship. “It’s a marriage of two brands. It’s the client’s brand, be it AT&T or iPod, as well as the brand of the band itself,”Lane said.

“Part of the deal is, you’re never going to make everyone happy. And there’s no such thing as bad press. Even if fans are upset, it might not affect sales of what’s being advertised “it might increase sales.”

The artist does pay a price for dealing in “ad pop”. Their fan base can get turned off and look for music elsewhere.

As the great musician Tom Waits says “By turning a great song into a jingle, advertisers have achieved the ultimate: a meaningless product has now been injected with your meaningful memory of a song,” he said. “The songs and the artists who have created them have power and cultural value, that’s why advertisers pay out millions for them. Once you have taken the cash, you, your song and your audience are forever married to the product.”

Wilco song in Volkswagen commercial

Of Montreal song “Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games” re-recorded with the words changed to “Let’s go Outback tonight” for Outback Steakhouse

More on this subject…

Under the Influence: The Pop Song as Advertising

Where have all the Jingles Gone

Information Piracy and the Bottom Line

Internet piracy is a hot issue these days. As the amount of non-text media online grows, so does the amount of pirated media. But, just how much piracy is going on has largely remained a topic of speculation.

Until now.

Putting Hard Numbers to Online Piracy

A new study conducted by the British firm Envisional has shed new light on just how widespread the piracy problem is.

According to the study, in the United States alone, 17% of the content streaming, downloading, or otherwise being viewed via the internet is pirated material. That’s nearly one-fifth of all the content viewed by Americans.

To be clear, the study measured bandwidth usage. So, Envisional is not saying that 17% of the population in the United States is pirating copyrighted materials. However, it does show that a massive amount of piracy traffic is cutting into the bottom line of many companies in several industries.

The Magnitude of the Problem

If you own your own business, you can readily understand how devastating these numbers are. Imagine if, after paying for your employees’ benefits, covering workman’s comp insurance, paying business taxes, and shelling out for all the operating costs of your business, someone took 17% of your profits and walked out the door.

In fact, you don’t even have to own a business to understand how frustrating this situation is. If you’re a U.S. employee, you’re used to getting a pay check that’s missing a large chunk of the money you’ve worked hard to earn. As the old saying goes, “Who’s FICA and why is he getting all my money.”

Take another 17% off that and imagine how happy you would be.

The Good News

There is a bright side to the Envisional study. It shows a growing online market for a variety of new media. The interest is there, if we can find a way to control widespread piracy, it will open new doors for legitimate businesses to not only make money but provide additional jobs, which, in this economy, would be a welcome sight.

You can read the full Envisional report here.

Independent Filmmaker fights online piracy

I have noticed recently that, when one reads the comments from folks who participate in online piracy, their language is often filled with a kind of virtuous, take-from-the-rich Robin Hood-ism, where piracy is actually seen as the moral high-ground. Pirates are merely taking from overly rich global corporations that, in the case of music at least, are exploiting their artists anyway. The premise seems to be that piracy is good because it is fighting the good fight against fat, capitalist, power-brokers who are out there bilking the consumer.

Though this position is, I’m sure, both convenient and beneficial, it is also incorrect, as the following account of an independent filmmaker’s piracy travails will show.

Filmmaker Ellen Seidler and her partner poured $250,000 into their independent film, And Then Came Lola. The movie saw a good deal of success early on. Unfortunately, much of that success was achieved by content thieves.

Within 24 hours of the release of the DVD of “And Then Came Lola,” digital pirates had ripped the DVD and uploaded it to an internet distribution site where it was distributed for free download. Supported largely by AdSense ads, the site immediately began earning money off the movie.

Despite the fact that Google has a very strict policy against copyright infringement, they also apparently have an unwritten see no evil, hear no evil policy as Google’s AdSense ads are a recurring theme on sites that are pirating music and movies. Google claims that they cannot possibly root out every site that’s pirating copyrighted material and shut down their AdSense ads. Still, the frequency with which AdSense appears on sites completely dedicated to piracy, indicates that Google gives a cursory initial glance at a site before authorizing the site for AdSense and then never looks back.

And, Google isn’t the only advertiser that turns a blind eye to piracy issues. A number of major corporations (Walmart) continue to allow their ads to run on pirate sites.

So, Ellen decided to take matters into her own hands. She started filing take-down notices with every site she could find that was illegally distributing “And Then Came Lola.” Unfortunately, the task quickly became an overwhelming one.

Thousands of cyber lockers already offered her film for free download. Many of the sites have simply ignored her take-down requests. Several have complied with the take-down requests as they are afraid of having their entire site shut down (see End of 2010 sees crackdown on copyright infringement and online piracy), but many just don’t seem to care.

Add to this the fact that for every download link Ellen has disabled several more pop up. So, it seems that most of Ellen’s requests simply sail across the bow of pirate sites and fall harmlessly into the water.

In the end, Ellen (and all independent filmmakers) will need someone with some economic muscle to gather their navy and set sail against the digital pirates of the world. It doesn’t appear that will happen soon (read more on NPR or hear the story directly from Ellen), but independent filmmakers like Ellen Seidler have little choice other than to remain hopeful.

Best Drum and Bass break – Say Amen Brother

When I first heard Drum and Bass music (and Jungle) around 1995, I thought I had heard the next great musical movement. The concepts were fresh and startling. It was a new way to think about rhythm and, to me, most major musical innovations, whether in jazz or hip hop, center around new musical thinking regarding rhythm. Back then it seemed like I could not hear a bad or inferior drum and bass track. They all seemed to point in new directions.

As time passed, the breakbeat revolution I thought would happen never really did (at least not in America) and eventually, D’n’B music became watered down as more and more people started making it. It’s probably true for any musical movement that catches fire and finds a greater audience. The pioneers that create the form produce the strongest music and set the benchmarks. This is not to say drum and bass as a form of music is dead, far from it, but the early years were truly remarkable.

This video by Nate Harrison is an exceptional discussion about a drum break that almost single-handedly launched the D&B form. It is called the “Amen” break because it is a 6-second sample or break from a song recorded in 1969 by a group named the Winstons. The song is called “Amen Brother”.

The video is long at 18 minutes and, though it is not overly interesting visually, it’s very well written with plenty of musical examples as well as many insightful cultural comments. If you have an interest in drum and bass or are making electronic music, you owe it to yourself to watch this video.

Towards the end of the video, the author also talks about how the drum and bass music which was powered by the Amen break has never been challenged by the copyright owners of the song Amen Brother. He goes on to point out how this act, essentially putting the sample in the public domain, led to the creation of a new art form.