Friday, September 26, 2008

Inside Baseball

Get music writers together and eventually, they'll mope about the towers of promo CDs that threaten to swamp their desks and consume all the available space in their cubicles/offices/bedrooms/apartments. The stacks become emotionally taxing as they represent people's hopes, and each stack represents a dream ignored.

The not-so-secret secret of promo CDs is that they often end up in secondhand stores or being resold on the Internet. The L.A. Weekly's Randall Roberts gets as into the issue as his sources will permit, revealing his own standing in the story and the sort of personal ethics you only face if you have a box of CDs that you can't imagine listening to serving as an end table:

Normally I use any money I receive to buy more music, and in this way I feel that I’m funding an arts grant writ small. Each dollar gained from swapping out mediocre music goes into a pool that I disperse to worthy musical geniuses. (These days, South American and African reissues, and black metal.) Also, I have a few hard-and-fast rules. First, I never sell a promo sent to me by an L.A. band. I don’t sell promos sent to me by small, interesting L.A.-based labels. There is also a list of artists and record labels with which I’m so philosophically attuned, that it would feel like a betrayal to sell one of their CDs. And I never sell a CD before its official release date, because I think leaking music on to the Web is lame, and does way more damage than selling a measly promo.

There are parts of the story that you have to be a music writer to care about - I think - but as the story pertains to the major labels, particularly Universal, things get more complex. He examines the disclaimer attached to Universal promos, which claim the label still owns them, even though they sent them to reviewers, frequently unrequested. In answer to a suit, on reseller of promo CDs found a legal analogy in the pages of Harry Potter:

In Roast Beast Music’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed against it by Universal Music Group for auctioning promos, lawyers introduced their argument with a dialogue from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

Bill Weasley: To a goblin, the rightful and true master of any object is the maker, not the purchaser. All goblin-made objects are, in goblin eyes, rightfully theirs.

Harry Potter: But if it was bought—

Bill Weasley: Then they would consider it rented by the one who had paid the money. They have, however, great difficulty with the idea of goblin-made objects passing from wizard to wizard.... They consider our habit of keeping goblin-made objects, passing them from wizard to wizard without further payment, little more than theft.

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