Comment: Audio Spoilers – Spoiling More Than Audio

It’s become a cliche to say the music industry is changing, but it is. The way in which new music is transferred from its makers, through its manufacturers, to the media and its consumers is changing too.

From holding listening parties to offering streaming links, labels are seeking alternatives to sending out promo CDs or (our preferred method) MP3s.

As the music industry flails about in this froth of anti-piracy measures, one reviewer here explains why audio spoilers spoil more than the audio on promos…

The aural welfare of music reviewers probably isn’t your firstconcern, even if you are a music-lover, and we wouldn’t be mischievousenough to suggest that it ought to be.But a relatively recent tendency forrecord companies small and large to fit the review copies we use with aggressiveanti-piracy measures is not only making our lives hell, it has broaderimplications for the industry as well.

By aggressive, we really do mean aggressive. Not to the level thata massive boxing glove springs forth from the jewel case to smack lestyou even think of piracy; but certainly a step-up from puddling aroundwith spending too much money on silly and flawed encryptiontechnology. In what seems like a fit of pique, certain companies haveresorted to smearing ‘aural spoliers’ across review copies.

Whomadewho‘s latest, The Plot, has, for example, a lovelylady interjecting “It’s Gomma Records. Don’t share, baby” throughout. We’venamed the spoiler voice from last year’s Hot Chip album Made In The Dark ‘Dalek’, as it sputters “THIS. IS. THE. PROPERTY. OF. EMI. RECORDS”across the eagerly awaited music. Most disappointing of all is DragCity’s decision to reproduce an air-horn, of all things, across thestarting and end seconds of each and every track of BillCallahan‘s Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle.

So what, you say? Well, besides the insulting lack of faith in ourprofessional integrity, there are practical issues. With the Callahanrelease for example, the reviewer was in the position of knowing thatthey were about to get a massive dose of air-horn in their ears, justnot when exactly. It’s a little bit like knowing you are about toreceive an electric shock – it makes concentrating on anything butwary anticipation difficult, to say the least.

Professionalism saw the Callahan release get the three stars itdeserved, but, understandably not eager to undergo the process again,musicOMH took the matter up with Drag City’s UK PR. The response? “The label say if peoplewon’t review (it) like this then (best) not to bother”. The PR,tasked with delivering this immense piece of arrogance, seemed on thepoint of despair. This seemed more thana little sad.

What’s truly disappointing is that it’s not the usual suspects.You almost expect the big bad majors to indulge in this stuff, though mercifully we’ve not had the Hot Chip experience repeated. That theminors and so-called ‘indies’, like Gomma and Drag City, are gettingtheir hands muddy with this sort of carry-on is another storyaltogether. While the smaller labels are likely harder hit by piracy,you also expect them to be altogether smarter in the way they handlethe impact of the internet on music sales.

Here’s the core issue: while a little revenue might be saved bythese measures, it won’t stop leaks. Nor does it take into account thefact that, put bluntly, it has the potential to piss off earlyadopters and tastemakers. How muchrevenue do you lose as a minor/indie label if you don’t have thesepeople on side? How much again if reviewers take you up on the offerto simply not review your product? Drag City seem to think they aretaking the cost-effective option, but it sounds like deeply faultylogic to us.

It all goes to show that the music industry, from the majors to theindies, is still not coping with the changes brought about by theinternet, almost two decades on. The popular analysis goes that theyare busy with ever more ridiculous anti-piracy measures, forevertrying to seal Pandora’s box – quite literally in the case of theenterprising internet radio site of the same name that actually, waitfor it, committed the heinous crime of introducing people to musicthat they might like and linking them to Amazon and iTunes forpurchase.

Indeed, it could be suggested at the very mention of the ‘I’ wordthat record executives froth at the mouth and become purelyunreasonable. Is it an inability to understand the technology involvedand its practical applications? Or, more woeful still, a downrightrefusal to?

What the issue of ‘aural spoilers’ highlights, in particular, isthat the industry hasn’t adapted well at all to the audience having avoice. The marketing model prior to the internet focused heavily ontransmission – sending a message out to a blank-faced public. Sure,there were focus groups and the like, but that was always anartificial construct.

Now, the receivers also transmit – and they are original andcritical transmitters as well. They find music they love and sharetheir enthusiasm with others. They criticise what they don’t like, andother people listen.

And in the face of this the music industrypersists with the idea that the ‘great unwashed’ can get fucked andlisten to what they are told to listen to. They should be encouragingthe new networks; supporting them; nourishing them; using them todevelop loyal and, above all, paying fans.

It’s a farce, really. The music industry has a gift that no otherindustry on the planet has: thousands, if not millions, of peoplewilling to talk about the product, for free, and at length, out of agenuine passion for music.

Audio spoilers justgo to show how woefully poor the industry is at recognising thatgift. Yes, in a society where information flows freely, piracy willalways be a factor. By all means, record companies should makecontingencies – just not by shooting out at the people who can helpthem gain extra revenue. One day we will look back and laugh… atthem. We really will.

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