CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: We’ve harnessed the internet, now let’s lead it out of the stable

By | Published on Friday 13 January 2012

Andy Malt

Hello. Happy new year. It’s a little bit late to be saying that now really, but as this is my first Editor’s Letter of 2012 I think such pleasantries are still allowed. I hope you’ve had a very good year so far and continue to do so for the next eleven and a half months.

And during those eleven and a half months, what are we going to talk about? Well, fingers crossed we’ll mainly be talking about artists making great new music and delivering it to their fans in innovative new ways that are mutually beneficial for all involved. We probably won’t though, because we’re going to have to spend quite a lot of time discussing web blocking.

For the last couple of years (in the UK at least), we’ve mainly talked about three-strikes as the preferred method of stopping those bloody music fans from trying to listen to music in the easiest (or certainly the cheapest) way possible. Now it’s court injunctions forcing ISPs to block access to websites that infringe copyrights.

Of course, in some countries a fast track court process for obtaining such injunctions has always been higher up the agenda, but as the three-strikes system seemingly flounders in the UK and the US attempts to pass the web block enabling Stop Online Piracy Act, the blocking method has come to the fore even more in recent months.

And the injunction route does seem more likely to succeed than three-strikes. It’s potentially a lot less costly (well, it would be if a fast track system was created), allows content owners to react more quickly, relies less on extremely unreliable web monitoring software, and acts as a deterrent to casual file-sharers without completely alienating them. Of course it also sets the content industries up as potential web censors, and means we have to rely on them not to abuse the system.

Which is something those who oppose simpler copyright injunctions are very worried about, and in the US where SOPA is very much on the agenda those concerns are helping the opponents gain more support. All of which makes last year’s ‘Mega Song’ debacle all the more problematic for the content industries, busy, as they are, trying to convince the public and Congress they will use any web blocking system responsibly.

But if we assume that those campaigning against web blocking in the US and elsewhere are ultimately unsuccessful, and simpler, faster but responsible web blocking systems become the norm, we might finally be able to get on with creating great music and great products that people will want to pay for, rather than wasting so much time on the ‘file-sharing problem’. And the industry’s PR people, rather than talking up and justifying tougher copyright laws, can put more effort into educating the public about why paying for music is a good thing to do – and hopefully come up with something a damn site better than the still lacklustre Music Matters campaign.

Talking of great – or at least interesting – new music services, much as I’ve been disparaging about Facebook’s ‘frictionless sharing’ offer in the past, the latest part of that initiative was launched this week and I really think it could go a long way to drawing people over to legal music platforms. The ability to listen in real time with friends was promised back at the f8 conference last year, but has only now gone live.

The feature allows people to listen to music in real time with their friends and discuss it on Facebook’s instant messenger. When users click play on a track, Facebook simply loads the song in whatever they’ve named their streaming service of choice. There are other services that do similar things – such as and Soundrop – but no one makes it this universal and simple. Not even MySpace, which announced almost the same thing this week, but confused it by talking it up as a ‘second screen’ TV service and locking it within the MySpace system.

Of course, if this does take off then it’s going to be even harder for artists to justify not having their music on streaming services – and all streaming services at that. And not just at some point down the line, but on the original release date. Or even before the official release date. Deliver your music to streaming services at the same time as radio, try to organise all of your fans to listen to the same track at the same time when the track premieres, build a buzz. We’ve all spent so long saying that the music industry needs to “harness the internet”. Well it’s been harnessed, you just need to stop fucking about and lead it out of the stable.

There’s so much potential in what’s on offer technology wise right now, and even more will become available in the coming months, so let’s please make 2012 the year that we stop debating whether or not what is already happening (and can’t be stopped anyway) should be ‘allowed’ to happen.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU

And now, check out what else we’ve been up to at CMU this week…

For more discussion of web blocking, check out the first CMU podcast of the year, in which CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke and I also discuss the continued decline of HMV, the rebirth of MySpace (the social network that refuses to die), Meat Loaf’s new rap collaborations, Jay-Z and Beyonce’s daughter Blue Ivy Carter, and the BRITs nominations (which hadn’t actually been announced when we recorded it). Listen, download and/or subscribe at

Still on the subject of web blocking, the major labels decided this week that they were so displeased with the new anti-file-sharing proposals the Irish government hasn’t actually announced yet that they would sue for breach of European law. EMI Ireland boss Willie Kavanagh said that he thinks the soon to be announced measures are “unlikely to satisfy the music industry’s requirement for injunctive relief”.

Over at HMV, the new year brought more doom and gloom, as it was announced that Christmas sales had been disappointing again, and this time there was no snow to blame it on. In order to save the flagging retail business and stay on top of its loans, HMV decided to sell off its profitable live division, the MAMA Group, with numerous interested parties apparently already lined up to take it.

The nominations for this year’s BRIT Awards were announced at the Savoy hotel in London yesterday (just after we recorded our podcast), with Ed Sheeran picking up the most nominations. Emeli Sandé was also named one of the best artists who broke through into the mainstream last year (to go with her prize for being the artist music critics think is most likely to break through into the mainstream this year). The BRITs ceremony itself will take place next month.

Over in the world of rock, it was sadly announced that Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has been diagnosed with cancer. However, his lymphoma having been caught in the early stages, it seems the prognosis is good. He and the band’s original line-up will continue to work on their first album together for 33 years while he receives treatment.

Iommi’s illness reportedly meant that Sabbath were forced to pull out of this year’s Coachella festival. However, the line-up for that festival does feature a number of other reunions. Both At The Drive-In and Refused delighted fans by announcing that they would play at the Californian fest.

There was another reunion in the news this week too, with Popjustice claiming that the original line-up of The Sugababes are in the process of recording new material. The Guardian promptly published an article saying they weren’t, though as that was based on one fairly non-committal tweet from Mutya Buena and a misreading of the Popjustice article, the odds still look pretty good that it is on.

Also in the news this week, Graham Coxon accidentally launched an online archive of Britain’s worst indie bands, the 100 Club was denied Grade II listed status on the grounds that granting it wouldn’t be in the punk spirit, and Wu-Tang rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard‘s lengthy FBI file appeared online.

This week we spoke to The Big Pink’s Milo Cordell about the duo’s new album and his day job as head of Merok Records. We also got London quartet Trailer Trash Tracys to put together a ten track playlist of some of their favourite songs. And in his column this week Eddy Temple-Morris launched a search to find a singer to guest on a new track by Hervé.

In the CMU Approved column this week we had some great new music, with Jay-Z endorsed Gayngs spin-off Poliça, new 4AD signing Grimes, Norwegian pop types Philco Fiction, and a Mogwai remix of downbeat electronic outfit Laki Mera.

We also heard new music from Jay-Z himself, as he rushed down from the hospital to the studio to record his thoughts on new daughter Blue Ivy Carter. She also appears on the track, and became the youngest person to appear in the US Billboard chart – it’s been quite a busy first week for her.

As well as that, the trailer for LCD Soundsystem’s swansong documentary ‘Shut Up And Play The Hits’ appeared online, Grinderman released a Nick Zinner remix from their forthcoming remix album, plus Andrew Bird, Prinzhorn Dance School, Olafur Arnalds, Of Montreal, and Amateur Best all previewed tracks from new releases.