Interview with Ha Ha Tonka [Podcast]

Ha Ha Tonka is a rock band from Missouri with a sound influenced by life in the Ozarks. We recently had guitarist and vocalist Brian Roberts on the phone for an interview, because we wanted to find out his thoughts on Bloodshot Records, the value of buying music, and getting through a personal run-in with cancer and the American healthcare system.

Here’s a transcript of our interview, along with the Soundcloud link below for your listening pleasure.

438958-largeWho: Brian Roberts; interviewed by Kayla Liederbach
When: Thursday July 16th, 2015
How: via phone

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

K:  So Brian, how do you like being part of Bloodshot Records and that family over there?

B: Well I’m glad you used the word family. That’s basically what it is. I mean really we’ve been with Bloodshot since we started doing this professionally, since 2007. So yeah, we love all those guys. They’re the smartest people in the industry and just a great label to be a part of. We’ve been really fortunate to grow our band with them as our main supporters.

K: Are there any other bands on their client list that you’re following pretty closely?

B: Yeah, the Banditos are really having a great year. They’ve had such great acts in the past, like you know some of our favorite records, and I think can speak collectively for the band too. Ryan AdamsHeartbreaker came out on Bloodshot, and I wore that album out listening to it so many times. Justin Townes Earle was on the label recently and put out a couple great records. Of course the Old 97’s earlier on. They’ve had so many good acts, I could just talk about them all day. Bobby Bare, Jr. There’s some phenomenal acts on Bloodshot.

K: Cool. Well you’re in good company. You know the music business is an interesting thing, it’s always changing. I was wondering what your thoughts are on some of the recent trends in the music business, including the infinite access to music that people have.

B: Well you know I don’t…obviously it would be great if people still bought records the way they did in the 90’s or anytime prior to that. I don’t hold out any hope that that will come back. So I am thankful that we are a touring band, and the touring side of things hasn’t changed. We generate most of our income from the touring side of what we do. When it comes to the debate over streaming services or digital downloads, or any of the Napster or post-Napster stuff that’s gone on, really that’s just technology. And I don’t know if the music industry was ready for the onslaught like some of the other digital industries were, whether that be gaming or movies or the film industry. I don’t know. I don’t really know how to talk about it in a way that doesn’t make me sound like an asshole. I love that people can go online and check out a band—check out our band—and not have to pay for it right away. But the problem I think comes into the fact that people then never pay for your music. Or rarely do. Or there’s probably a whole generation that doesn’t think that music costs anything. And I think Bloodshot’s tried to educate people, Nan Warshaw has spoke on it several times about how not buying a record from a band like the Banditos or the 97’s 25 years or 20 years ago would have meant they got less money for next time they want to make a record. Less tour support. They get less of everything.

K: Yeah I agree with some of the things you pointed out, especially I believe that maybe the next generation of music consumers doesn’t even expect to pay for music.

B: Right, what does that mean?

Continue reading Interview with Ha Ha Tonka [Podcast]

6 Reasons Why Music Ownership Matters

Why own music in the digital age? When you buy digital downloads or streaming subscriptions, you’re sacrificing important benefits that are tied to ownership.

Buying CDs and vinyl gives you several ownership rights, and with the Murfie service, you don’t have to choose between owning music and the convenience of streaming and download access. In short, Murfie exists to give your physical collection the cloud upgrade it deserves. We rip your CDs and vinyl and upload the music to your Murfie account for you to download and stream on all your devices.

But still, why even start with owning CDs and vinyl when you can just download and stream music? Here are six reasons why ownership still matters in the digital age.

  1. Your music will always be yours.

You can obtain digital music in a snap nowadays. Whether it’s streaming with a service, or listening to digital tracks you bought online, you have access to the music—as long as the service exists.

If you’re renting your music with a streaming service and the service closes, or you decide not to subscribe anymore, you end owning nothing. If you bought a digital download somewhere, you won’t have access to re-download that music after the service is no more. Even if the service stays put, oftentimes you’re limited in the number of times you can download.

When you buy CDs and vinyl records, you’ve made a real investment in your music. These are properties you truly own and control. Your money is well-spent, and Murfie helps maximize the enjoyment of the music you own by moving it to the cloud for you. And if you’d rather not store the physical disc on a shelf at home, well, store it here at Murfie!

  1. The quality is better.

Let’s take a look at popular music services and their bitrates, shall we? iTunes = 256 kbps. Amazon = 256 kbps. Spotify = 160 kbps (ouch!). Spotify does have 320 kbps available to subscribers who pay $9.99/month.

At Murfie, your CDs and vinyl are ripped in lossless FLAC format, providing 1411 kbps of audio quality. FLAC is a favorite of audiophiles who enjoy the highest quality music they can get. At no extra cost, you get unlimited downloads of your Murfie collection in FLAC, ALAC, 320 kbps mp3, and aac, and free streaming in 320 kbps mp3. We too have a paid streaming tier for $10/month—but it’s lossless FLAC streaming of course!

  1. You’re not limited to a device or service.

Buying downloads or a streaming subscription limits your listening in key ways. Many services are walled gardens that make it difficult to transfer your files when you change devices. When you own your music, you’re always in control of where, when and how to listen to it.

  1. There’s no “Buyer Beware” terms and conditions.

Did you read the terms and conditions? When you purchase digital content online, you’re agreeing to whatever that fine print clearly (or not so clearly) says. Sometimes the fine print gives the vendor rights to alter or take away what you purchased. The “Buy” button itself historically implies ownership, but that’s not true anymore.

  1. You have rights to sell, trade, or gift.

Ever heard of the first sale doctrine? It allows you to sell your CDs and records if you no longer want them. It’s a freedom that we as consumers deserve. At Murfie, you can buy any CD, stream it, and return it within 24 hours if it’s not for you. You can also decide what CDs you no longer want and sell them on the site. We also have a nifty gifting feature that lets you gift an album to a friend!

  1. You can will your music to your next of kin.

Unless you own your music, you won’t be able to pass it on to someone after you die. The fate of digital assets after death has lately become a buzz topic. Your Murfie collection, in all its digital glory, comes from your physical CDs and vinyl with ownership rights attached to them—so you can will your music just like the contents of a safety deposit box. It’s yours, after all!

Ownership Matters: A way to own digital media you buy online

In his piece for PoliticoMagazine, Kyle K. Courtney describes the questionably precise positioning of the “buy” button so commonly found next to music and movies online.

“When Amazon, iTunes or any digital retailer explicitly says ‘Buy Now’ and the consumer clicks that ‘buy’ button, there is a definite presumption of purchase, and, with that purchase, ownership. That presumption, however, is not reflected in reality,” says Courtney.

If you read the pages of fine print, which many of us don’t, you’ll see you’re not really “buying” anything. Your content is only as protected as the terms say it is, and only if the retailer maintains your access to the content you paid for, as they or their service can close at any time. Most of the digital content you buy is not protected by the solid legal rights you get when you purchase media in its traditional physical format.

So why do people keep buying into media they’ll never own? Courtney says, “We are attracted — and have become accustomed — to the convenience of rapid purchases and on-demand content. When it comes time to move our online MP3 collection or transfer digital content to another device, then we face a surprising reality: We do not really own our electronic music, books and movies in the same way we do when we purchase physical books, CDs, records or DVDs.”

With the Murfie service, we’ve created a hybrid of physical and digital ownership: digital content with true ownership rights in the underlying media you own. The music you buy on Murfie can be available instantly to stream, and you can sell it to someone else if you decide it’s not for you. This is possible because each album you buy is backed by a corresponding physical copy that we store at our headquarters. It’s up to you if you want to store your titles on our shelves or yours, but the digital access is available to you anywhere.

On-demand music and movies are convenient, and it’s true that not everyone will care about owning everything they pay for. But the main issue, Courtney seems to be saying, is transparency. If we’re not really “buying” the digital content from these other big-name services, that should be clear. Then people will have the information to make informed choices about real purchases vs. rental contracts, and go for an ownership-based model if that’s what they desired in the first place.

In the future, we could have ownership that’s free of the physical backups. This could be possible with better contracts around digital content, which could allow buyers to have permanent and transferable rights connected to the media they bought, in formats that work across vendors and services. At Murfie we refer to this as a Physical Equivalent License, and we’re working on offering one down the road—and when it happens, we’ll be sure to state what you are really paying for clearly, right on the buttons in the shops.

Phonorecords: A Matter Where Matter Still Matters

 

Judge Sullivan’s decision in the recent Capitol Records versus ReDigi ruling allows for what we all know is perfectly legal; exchange and personal uses of original physical media, like the original commercial CDs that Murfie stores for an owner, providing access only to the owner.

Beyond that, the ruling was a bit of a letdown. In this modern era of digital audio delivered across high speed networks, we all wanted a profound decision about the future of ownership of our media.  We wanted a ruling that clearly let us know whether our iTunes downloads were albums we really owned versus data we’ve merely licensed. Instead, the case came down to the copying of… phonorecords. Phonorecords?

As defined by copyright law, phonorecords are the “material objects” in which the music is fixed. When the law was created in 1976, this meant vinyl records, eight-track tapes, and cassettes. The various music formats which followed over the years were also very clearly material objects. In the ReDigi case, the judge takes the definition of phonorecord to an entirely new level that now includes the physical section of magnetic bits stored on our harddrives in the case of iTunes downloads. By contrast, an album that is sold or accessed on Murfie’s platform simply is a CD phonorecord, stored for its owner’s convenience in Murfie’s disc vault.

And, this is where ReDigi ran into trouble. The instant that original, licensed download of Thriller was saved on our harddrive, that tiny section of bits on our physical drive became the material object associated with that phonorecord. Short of teleportation, it didn’t matter how fancy ReDigi’s system of transferring data was because, in the end, ownership of the concrete physical thing wasn’t conveyed to the buyer. The judge ruled that the laws of physics made it impossible to transfer a phonorecord (i.e. a material object) across a network in a manner that didn’t involve making a copy.

Extending the definition of a phonorecord to account for bits on a drive leaves open some interesting questions. The judge ruled that the first sale doctrine “still protects a lawful owner’s sale of her ‘particular’ phonorecord, be it a computer hard disk, iPod, or other memory device onto which the file was originally downloaded.” This seems to imply that we’re able to sell a harddrive containing a bundle of original mp3 downloads. But what about those mp3s that were transferred over to this harddrive when we upgraded it to a larger size? Or, even those files that were copied over to a new directory (file system specifics aside)?

In tying the case back to elements of copyright in place long before the rise of digital audio, the judge took a conservative approach and declined an opportunity to chart a path for first sale in the digital realm. He cited as much in his decision: “Congress has the constitutional authority and the institutional ability to accommodate fully the varied permutations of competing interests that are inevitably implicated by such new technology.”

In other words, congress needs to update our laws if the original copy of your iTunes download on your harddrive is going to be considered something more than a phonorecord that’s stuck with you (or whomever has your computer). So, for those of us waiting around for a digital first sale doctrine, it could be a while.

In the meantime, Murfie already provides a path forward for music ownership in a digital world. We’ll continue to maximize the value of your music within time-tested laws, but we also applaud any work entrepreneurs, legislators, and courts do to modernize those laws to reflect how our systems for transacting, storing, and accessing music, books, and movies that we own actually work. These advances are good for all parties and can hardly fail to lead to many new opportunities for creators, the various supporting media businesses, and fans alike.

Please drop in and check us out.

Last updated: 04/02/2013 at 4:22pm; a draft was posted by mistake