Still beating a dead pig: a conversation about OiNK.

I promise that when this interview began, it was supremely topical. Although it's no longer on the tongue-tip of every Internet troll this side of Pitchfork (F them and their year-end list, btw), the implications of OiNK's demise continue to interest me, even though my account was deleted for inactivity long before the hammer dropped.

Although I rarely shy away from an opportunity to bloviate about the state of the music business, it would be a very generous interpretation of the truth to suggest that I've ever had more than a peripheral role in the industry. The subject of this interview, however, has managed to hold down a job in the thick of it, and to his credit, he has maintained his dignity, integrity, and sanity through it all. He's a good guy.

So...this is a few weeks late. But I think it came out nicely, and it'd be a shame not to post it just because it's not the topic du jour anymore. With no further delay, I present to you an interview with an anonymous radio programmer at a wide-reaching alternative rock radio station about OiNK.

Mike McClenathan: You're a radio PD. Let's start there and talk business (not necessarily music business). What do you do every day? Who do you talk to? Who are your customers, and who do you answer to?

Anonymous Radio Programmer: I have an endless supply of answers to the "What do you do" question, but there one or two primary answers:

The station I work at fosters a lot of new talent, so I spend the majority of my time training the staff that creates content on air. That includes, jocks, production staffers, news anchors, etc.

I work alongside our Music Directors to pick the music we play, and set the overall vision for the station. I maintain relationships all throughout the industry and stay in the know about the momentum of as many musical projects as possible. We interact with people all over the industry, but the bulk of our contacts are labels (RIAA Major, RIAA indie, and unaffiliated indies), band management, and booking agents.

MM: From the perspective of someone gainfully employed in the music business with ostensible access to all the legitimate free music you desire, what was the appeal of OiNK?

ARP: OiNK was the most deep, organized collection of high quality music that the mainstream sharing world has ever seen. It was mind-shatteringly good. You know the OST to the SNES game Chrono Trigger? It was there, in 3 or 4 different qualities, including lossless. You know the other disc with the jazz arrangement tunes? Yeah. They had that too. Mp3/Lossless. At 600k a second. Oh, you want every recorded version of Love Will Tear Us Apart? Original Master? Remaster? Re-remaster? John Peel Session? Good, cause they had them. Lossless. 600k/sec.

This interview was started months ago, and since, several replacements have started up. Some seem well on the way to OiNK's depth. So, even though OiNK is getting less attention nowadays, its piglets will take its place, quietly, until they're purged, and new replacements/paradigms grow from the ash.

MM:When you talk about OiNK and the future of music distribution with people who are cogs in the current machine, what do they say?

ARP: Some have some optimism about the future of a music business on new terms. Most get at least a little bit defensive. Most defend artists rights, as though all artists themselves are sitting at the table talking about what they want.

Its unfortunate. Rather than 100% villainizing these user-created systems, these companies should take P2P as market research. Sharing = a very intelligent, very passionate segment of their consumer base waving their hands and screaming that they want something.

Granted, the dam is broken. Maybe what they want is free music. A lot of those people will never pay for media again. But I'm not one of those people. If I could pay for a legal version of something like OiNK, I'd eat PB&J for a couple weeks to do it if I needed to. No question. But maybe I'm not a large enough demographic to warrant the copyright law changes that would fix all this.

MM: Have you spoken with any RIAA artists about this sort of thing?

ARP: Not directly. I've heard plenty of opinions on-air in interviews, and they run the whole range, from hyper-critical to totally-supportive. Many RIAA artists in the building have loudly hated on the tactics of the label they're signed to, even in the presence of the record rep that brought them to the station. The tactics I'm talking about are mostly related to slowness/lack of change, and usually contrasted against new distribution systems that their fans are using.

Generally, the actual people in RIAA companies that we work with are smart, friendly, and often very music passionate. Artists recognize this too. They seem to be frustrated with the content distribution issues.

MM: From where you stand, is a legalized OiNK equivalent even remotely possible in the short term? Nope.

ARP: Short term? hah. No. If by short term you mean 5-10 years, maybe. These days, I contend that the primary issue is in copyright law. Until these companies recognize digital media as something vastly different from a physical product, and lobby to have copyright law adjusted, nothing like OiNK will take place legally. I'm not saying I can cleanly spell out a copyright law that is fair to both artists and consumers in the age of information - maybe there were some savvy lawyers on OiNK that can help out more there. Then again, isn't that why the EFF exists? Surely, they're more eloquent and equipped than blabbermouths like me.

chrono triggerMM: What legal music acquisition service do you think most closely resembles the way it will/could/should work in the future?

ARP: I know one or two people hooked on emusic, as well as rhapsody. Amie St strikes me as a pretty awesome, forward-thinking model. I'm glad to see it take off as it has. But again I ask - can you get Chrono Trigger - The Brink Of Time, in a lossless open-format? Or in a high high quality Mp3?

Maybe that kind of deep/esoteric library would only be important to a handful of hardcore collectors (the types of people that would shop at the record store in High Fidelity).

Maybe it isn't a worthwhile enough market for anyone to really care/make a profit. Maybe Hannah Montanas will be able to roam the earth as long as mainstream media promotional tools supersaturate every nook and cranny of human attention.

But it obviously is a worthwhile enough principle for 200,000 or so people to spend their lives hooked to the internet, setting it up in their own time. Sounds like a volunteer public library to me.

MM: Any closing comments?

ARP: This is not a time of sorrow; it is a time of great opportunity. Clever minds and music passionate people have a future in this business. I have a little experience in the old-paradigm music industry, and I am confident saying that intelligence and music-passion are abundant. The people I've worked with are great. We all just need to embrace the changing technological/intellectual frameworks. Models will change, scales will change.. but music is still loved, and there is a place for people to get involved, and make enough money to support their families. There might not be as many Ferrari toting coke heads, like the 1980s churned out, but you won't find me crying a tear over that. It takes forward-thinking, some courage, and an appreciation for the increasingly-free flow of information, but I believe it's possible. Build new paradigms!


Endless Mike and The Beagle Club interview posted at Amie Street

This interview has been in the can for weeks, and I've been dying to share it for just as long, but it was done with Amie Street in mind, and I've had to wait for a few things to fall into place to get it posted. Regardless, I'm extremely excited to point you to it now, because I think Mike really accomplishes something I've been woefully incapable of accomplishing myself: he spells out, rather concisely, some of the things that I love most about this band.

Excerpt below...full text over at Amie Street. While you're over there, why not sign up and download some music?

Amie Street: When you started this band, it was little more than a loose collection of friends. People played what they knew on whatever instrument they could, when their schedules permitted. From then to now, what's changed and what's stayed the same?

Mike Miller: it used to be easier to look at it like it was just one guy's band, meaning me. i guess i was the only one really "in" it at first. everyone else was only in the band while they were playing. now, it makes more sense to say that we're all in it, even when we're not all playing. there are close to 20 of us who do this these days. we don't all play the same show, of course. when we leave for tour on saturday, we'll be a seven piece. but that won't mean that the other thirteen people aren't in the band. they're just not there that night. i don't know exactly when or how that shift was made, but i know that it did, and i can't imagine thinking about it any other way now. but it's still somehow managed to keep it loose enough so that no one feels obligated. to us, it just seems unnatural to have to play in a band the same way you have to go to work or go to school - with a bunch of rules and times and all that stuff. a lot of bands can work that way, but i don't think i could ever do that.

AS: I've heard you say before that The Beagle Club's guiding principle was that anything "uncool" should be avoided at all costs. What effect does consciously avoiding uncool things have on life in a band? Shouldn't every band work the same way?

MM: most bands probably do work that way. but it gets tricky when you think about the fact that there is a difference between "not doing something because it's uncool" and "doing something because it IS cool," you know? and it's just our interpretation of what's "uncool" that we're going by. it's not about pandering or endearing ourselves to someone else's expectations. it's just about a set of principles that i noticed and related to and respected back when i first got into music that mattered to me, especially punk rock.

there's this really weird objective point of view that runs through this band for all of us. it's very strange. there are times when it feels like we're just a bunch of kids having a sing along, like when you'd go to a party and an impromtu "weezer cover band" would start up, just because everyone knows how to play those songs. so, it doesn't even have to be all that much of a conscious decision, honestly. i don't know quite how to say what's "uncool" and what isn't, but i guess it's sort of like the supreme court's definition of pornography: i know it when i see it. we're never ever ever trying to be cool to someone else, just not uncool to ourselves.

AS: Tell us a little bit about Johnstown, PA.

MM: johnstown, pa used to be a big steel city, like most of western PA. it was at one time on a nazi hit list of places to bomb in order to cripple american economy, so it used to be a very big deal in that regard. it's still a city. the mills are still here. they just kind of sit, though. my friend jacob koestler is working on what will be an amazing book of photography about the correlation between that sort of working-class, blue collar ethic that our parents instilled in us and how it still comes into the lives and methods of the artists who work here now. the city was still booming back in the late seventies/early eighties, but all we have to go on is stories we've heard and old run-down buildings. but it's beautiful to me, and to all of us, and it's my favorite place i've ever seen in this world. and good things are happening here as far as art and music goes. there's a new artspace/warehouse opening up, great new bands that truly sound like they're from here are starting to make some really great music, and a lot of the older "scene" kids who moved away for college are coming back now that they're done with school. we all keep joking about what we're calling the "johnstown renassiance," but in all honesty, i think we're all only kind of kidding. things feel good around here, even though it's starting to get cold at nights again.

AS: What are some of the less obvious difficulties of a DIY approach to rock and roll?

MM: i honestly believe that the DIY approach is the only way to do it. nothing else makes sense. the difficulties that come to mind right away are things like filling in every date of a tour, getting time off of work and still having enough money to do whatever you have to do, having a van that works, getting gas money for show to show transports, all stuff that wouldn't be difficult with a big label, or a big hype machine, or a booking agent. all that "uncool" stuff, really! but i love every part of it and i wouldn't want it any other way and i honestly don't think it's all that difficult. it just is what it is, i guess.

AS: What is the single most rewarding thing about being in THIS band?

MM: for me, the most rewarding thing about it is just how naturally and easily it all comes together. we never practice, but we always sound perfect to me. and when we write songs, they come together pretty quickly, like it's just what it sounds like whenever this group of people make music, without even trying to make it sound like anything in particular. it works that way when i write the words, too, like it just comes easily at this point. it makes me feel like it's what i'm supposed to be doing as an artist, like i've finally found a voice and a place, and that's the most rewarding thing i can think of, period. sometimes it seems like everything in society is working against the people who have to live in it. like money and government and work and all that is doing everything it can to keep someone from finding their voice or finding their place. so it's pretty rewarding to have something that makes you feel like you beat the system in some small way. small to anyone else, that is. to us, it's the whole world. and that's what music was to me when i first started to get into it, and that's even more the case for me these days.


The new ringtones

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, recorded music was a consumer product. Sold by judgmental and hygienically-challenged clerks in dingy indie stores to be displayed on a shelf as a badge of honor, or repackaged into NOW! compilations and sold in brighter, cheerier places for the faint of taste*. Radio and MTV moved product. Movie soundtracks were sure-bet cash cows. Everyone in the music foodchain (even sometimes artists) made money.

Of course, all that's changed now, and you don't need me to tell you so. A solid decade after the mass adoption of the .mp3, the moneymen still standing remain tragically befuddled about the whole technology thing, and as a result, the music industry is in danger of losing its direct contact with the consumer marketplace completely.

Oh, the major labels will never go away. Not really. Unless copyright law dissolves completely, there'll always be a way to make money off old IP. But because of its baffling unwillingness to serve individuals in a way that's agreeable to the customer, the music industry continues to become less and less able to get its hands into consumer pockets without the help of a third party (movies, television, video games) that still knows what the f it's doing in the marketplace. Imagine a clothing retailer realizing it couldn't figure out how to deal directly with customers anymore, and going into the zipper business instead. Providing indirect, ancillary value to the same market to which it used to provide direct value.

This is why the ringtone business was once touted as the ailing business's savior. Cellular providers were willing to play by the rules that music customers had ceased to directly accept from the music business: polish turd, overcharge, repeat. For a while, anyone who wanted to hear "Who Can It Be Now?" whenever their phone rang had to pay for the privilege. Shareholders rejoiced.

But most people these days can find ways to get their ringtones for free. You know what they can't get for free (yet) though? New Rock Band tracks! Kaching! The business is saved!

So the new Metallica single might make its debut as a Rock Band track. Think for a minute about what that means for...I dunno...fans of Metallica. Unless they own a next-gen video game console and spent the cash to pick up the game, the first time they'll be able to hear the song is probably going to be on YouTube, sounding about as good as this. And if they want to (gasp) buy it? Well, they'll just have to wait.

Believe these two things: there are a lot more Metallica fans in the world than there are Rock Band owners. And a lot more of them than would usually do so are going to find a way to steal this song and not even feel bad if it's released this way. Metallica and their people are chasing a guaranteed paycheck and in the same breath hastening the demise of recorded music as a valuable, purchasable product in and of itself.

Yeah yeah, I know. It was going to happen anyway.

* Actually, this second part still happens. But (crosses fingers) that well has to dry up eventually.