Hard News by Russell Brown


Another nail in the coffin of music DRM

The news that Warner Music, until now the most fanatical holdout on digital rights management, is to allow Amazon to sell its releases as DRM-free MP3 downloads has a happy implication for New Zealand: it might finally get the Flying Nun catalogue where it belongs.

Warner has not done its deal with Amazon out of any particular sense of enlightenment -- it's an attempt to knock back iTunes' dominance in retail downloads and thus force Apple to shift on its pricing stance -- but the genie won't be going back in the bottle.

It's not that we'll be able to access the Amazon music store any time soon. That's US-only for the foreseeable.

But … without any fanfare, EMI Music in New Zealand, whose global parent agreed last year to let iTunes sell its catalogue at a higher bitrate, sans DRM, has been building a catalogue on Amplifier, the New Zealand download store since late last year. Until now, Amplifier hasn't been able to offer EMI (or other major-label) releases, because it delivers DRM-free MP3s.

Now, you can have Goldenhorse, Greg Johnson, Space Waltz(!) and OpShop (but not Salmonella Dub, for some reason) as downloads from Amplifier. Warner has something bigger. When it acquired Festival Mushroom Records, it got the Chills, the Clean, JPSE, Sneaky Feelings et al in the bargain, as well as the Mint Chicks.

The people running that catalogue for Warners have been knowledgeable and engaged. They got the 25th anniversary box set out the door. But the next step is surely to start bringing the further reaches of that catalogue to the places where people will find it. That means Amplifier -- and the similarly DRM-free eMusic.

The overall list of New Zealand music on eMusic these days includes the Phoenix Foundation's Horsepower and the Fat Freddy's album, as well as releases from Pitch Black, Shona Laing, the Renderers and the unsung (here at least) Roy Montgomery.

Through some vagary of licensing, you can actually buy The Clean's Anthology on emusic (complete with a loving review by Ira Kaplan) -- even from New Zealand. Ditto for a Pin Group compilation. But it's haphazard, and it doesn't do justice to a catalogue that should be crucial for the eMusic audience.

What I'd do if I owned the Nun back-catalogue is start talking now to both Amplifier and eMusic to present the label properly. It would easily warrant its own celebrity playlist on eMusic (Kaplan would doubtless put up his hand) and wouldn't it be nice for the Alpaca Brothers' sole EP to be available, and for the Bird Nest Roys cult to actually be able to download their album legally?

Speaking of whom, I went along to the Roys' reunion show this week, and it was a bit disappointing. Not so much the band, as the sound, which was shrieky and (as is invariably the case with Nick Roughan at the controls) very, very loud. Jeez. Not everyone should sound like Bailter Space, and I shouldn't have to stand at the back of the room to enjoy a band that was known for its vocal harmonies and the warmth of its sound. By the time the Roys had finished (I liked 'Alien' and 'Bided My Time' best) my ears were hurting (and ringing and partially deaf) and much as I wanted to see Ghost Club I wasn't really up for much more of that in a hot, low-ceilinged venue. I hope the Roys play again, and this time perhaps with Mario Posa at the controls.

I had some politics to, but Graeme has covered that topic at some length today, so I'll drop that on Monday and leave you with a link: Blam Blam Blam live at the King's Arms and mixed very nicely by Radio NZ's Andre Upston.

PS: I've suggested to the Warner folks that remembering to pay the domain name bill for Fying Nun would be a good idea …

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