Sunday, March 26, 2006

Lawrence Lessig Blog Mention

There's a famous question that asks: "If you could choose just three famous people to have dinner with, who would they be?" At the top of my list would be Lawrence Lessig. His biggest influence is on the balance between copyright ownership and culture's requirement for freedom of information. From his writings, he truly seeks a balance, not abolition of ownership. His understanding of musicians like us who depend on copyright, but also require some measure of freedom in order to be able to be creative is very insightful.

Unfortunately, the scales have tipped too far in the ownership side, rather than of a free culture, and the arguments that Lessig makes to restore the balance is truly absorbing. This is best explained in his book, Free Culture. Beatnik Turtle HIGHLY recommends this book, which is available free from his website.

A dinner conversation with someone like Professor Lessig would be fascinating. Certainly, Beatnik Turtle found his ideas to be compelling. We quote him actually multiple times in our Indie Guide. And, in some ways, the File Sharing section was inspired by Lessig's Free Culture book (and OSCon Presenation).

Professor Lessig was good enough to mention us in a blog entry, and for that, we want to tell him, "Thanks!" And also for all of the hard work that he is putting in to restore balance.

For those of you who have wandered over to our website from Mr. Lessig's, welcome! We realize that not all of you are musicians, so the part that you most likely to find interesting is the chapter on File Sharing for Independent Bands, where we assert that File sharing is good for indies and put together a very careful argument about it, starting with how File sharing works in the first place, and moving on to the economics of file sharing for indies (rather than the same, tired economic arguments that are from the point of view of the large labels, who have never been a friend to indie bands, or, arguably, musicians in general.) The file sharing section was inspired by Lessig, but also Eben Moglen of the FSF, Professor Ed Felten, and others that discuss file sharing and DRM in a more balanced manner.

The Survival Guide is--of course!--released under a Creative Commons license, so feel free to share it with anyone you wish!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Wronged by Digital Rights

Waves Ltd. considers Beatnik Turtle to be a criminal.

Beatnik Prisoner

We'd like to feel special on this one, but actually we're not alone. It's more fair to say this:


Which would make sense if they sold, say, lockpicks. But instead, Waves makes plugins for recording tools. Including, quite unfortunately, a very decent one for vocal equalization and sound processing, called "Renaissance."

This is another story about Digital Rights Management (DRM), but instead of being about DRM being imposed against our customers against our will, this is one where Beatnik Turtle is on the other side of the story. We are subject to it in order to use the Renaissance plugin.

We are not merely complaining about the fact that they have DRM. This particular form of DRM is extremely intrusive, cost us money to implement, required us to give up our privacy, and is so flawed that it hard-crashed our studio computer repeatedly many times during the installation without warning or explanation.

We want to be clear about this. It is the DRM driver that crashed our computer, caused the headaches told below, and wasted a lot of time and energy. Time and energy we should have spent recording and creating, not on the phone with Waves. If there had been no DRM, there would have been no problems...and no blog entry.

Unlike a Quentin Tarantino film, this story is best told from the beginning.

When it comes to recording questions, Beatnik Turtle relies on the sound and recording expertise of John Lisiecki, a professional recording engineer, Sound Guru, and all-around great person. John helped us work out how to redesign our studio when we decided to go for a computer based recording solution. One of his pieces of advice was to look into the Renaissance plugin, although he did warn us about some new Digital Right Management they were enacting that was pissing off the professional music community.

For those of you who are not familiar with what a plugin is with regard to recording, it is an separate mini-program that is incorporated into your recording software to add new capabilities. Plugins run the gamut as to what they can do. Some typical plugins are compressors or equalizers. Others are specialized effects processors that may add flange, reverb, or even make the sound have higher pitch. There are literally thousands of these plugins available that allow you to have millions of different effects. What Waves' Renaissance does is compress vocals and add EQ to help punch up and sharpen the sound. When we first tried the product out (while it was still in demo mode before we authorized it but after we paid for it) we were amazed at what it did. We were informed by John that most studios just use this on all vocals, and we could see why.

We purchased Waves' "Musicians Bundle II" via an on-line store and installed it while we were setting up and relaunching the new and improved studio. To our surprise, during the installation, it crashed our computer--hard. Locked it up. Went to "blue." Hosed it completely.

All we could do was reboot the machine.

At first we blamed Jason and his horrible computer-karma. But then only when he complained enough that "it wasn't his fault" and "seriously, he had no idea what was going on" did we realize there had to be a reason beyond him as to why the computer kept crashing.

Obviously, few activities depend on the flawless functioning of a computer like studio recording. It is time-based. A lockup at the wrong time could miss a performance or worse, damage an entire song and all time and progress on it. (Okay, we realize that it's here where you Mac folks point, click, and laugh, but that's a discussion for another day. Just be assured that we are well aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each, and believe us that Windows makes the most sense for our purposes.)

We tried the installation sequence a few more times "just in case," with a crash being the inevitable result. Eventually, we removed the device driver that Waves installed, and got on the phone with their tech support.

After about a hour on the phone - and, get this: pushing "1" every two minutes to remain on hold and not get disconnected as you wait - we started the long process of going throughthrough the standard list of possible problems (yes, the computer is receiving AC power; yes, the CD is in the drive). Their final suggestion? Call another tech support phone number: the one in charge of the DRM attached to the software purchase. Their guess was that there was an updated driver for it.

At that time, since we already purchased "Musician's Bundle II" we weren't sure if Waves would let us return it if it was unable to run on our computer. Some terms of the EULA led us to believe that we would have a hard time getting a refund. Our research on Waves on Google found many other blog entires and even webpages like this one where people were quite angry with the company and documented similar problems.

So, we ended up calling the DRM company. And, it turned out that there was a new driver. And, sure enough, it fixed the problem and the DRM software was installed.

And the problem was solved.

Or so we thought. But Waves proved us wrong.

When we finally got the program to install, we were back on the Waves tech support line (pushing "1" again every two minutes to stay "in queue") because it wasn't registering correctly over their complicated and bloated registration system.

That's where we found out the next surprise: we needed to buy a USB device called an iLok key in order to use this. The key cost $40. It did not come included in the software box. In fact, neither the instructions nor the box stated that an iLok key was needed.

Waves' explanation? We "must have old packaging, cuz the new ones tell you you need to purchase a key."

Yeah, but this one didn't and we got it shipped to us - it wasn't sitting on a shelf of a store for us to read.

"That's weird."

Now you're telling us we have to shell out more bucks so we can use your product?

"Yep. You need a key."

That's a hidden cost we never factored in when we originally bought it weeks ago.

"What's a hidden cost?"

This didn't seem fair to us. So, we asked them to send us a key since it was required to make their product work. But they refused. They don't give their customers all the necessary components to make their products work. We guess they just sell boxes at $100 a pop.

Since they wouldn't provide a key, we then asked for a rebate toward the purchase of the key. Or, if that didn't work a Waves-credit toward the purchase of a future Waves product. They refused. The key wasn't their responsibility. It was a separate company. They just make plugins.

Plugins that you can't use.

So, let's sum up. What this means is that Waves wants us - the customer - to pay for proof that we aren't stealing from them.

Actually, we're being unfair again, Waves wants EVERYONE who buys their products to pay for that proof so Waves can sleep easy at night.

It took a few days to calm down. After that, we decided, hell, since we bought the damn thing, we might as well see this thing to completion. The thing is, we wanted the plugin when we bought it, not weeks and headaches later. So, we decided to suck it up and purchase an iLok key. A week later it arrived.

And, it still got worse.

The key was easy to install. It plugs in and takes up one of your USB ports. However, to make the key work, you had to register the key at BOTH the DRM manufaturer of the key's website AND the Waves website! And, you need to provide them with your real contact information.

So, the purchase of the key for the purchase of the Waves' product required giving up our information and privacy to two separate companies just to finally use a $100 plug-in. And, it's not like we wanted to give them this personal information. Based on how we were treated and based on how they treat their customers, we didn't want to give either of them - Waves or the DRM company - any info. They didn't deserve it.

We're sure, given this horrible attitude toward their customers, that Waves probably had a lot of problems with piracy in the past. We're also sure, that this new elaborate, customer-supported anti-piracy and digital rights management surveillance system has solved all their worries. And, we're also sure there's no sarcasm in this blog entry.

The old business axiom that "the customer is always right" seems to be replaced here with the 2.0 version: "the customer is always digitally right when managed." That's certainly how we felt Waves' treated us throughout this unnecessarily hard installation process. A process that should have taken 5 minutes, tops. As a result of this entire month long headache, we have no intentions of purchasing any further plug-ins - or iLok keys - from or due to WAVES.

So, if you're a musician who intends to purchase a WAVES product, be forewarned.

Of course, we have heard that the people who pirate these types of products don't have any such problems. They simply install and go. They don't have to deal with the unstable drivers that crash their computers, give away their privacy, pay hidden costs for iLok keys, and deal with unhelpful and non-empathetic tech support lines all the while pushing "1" repeatedly to stay on hold and not get disconnected. While we don't pirate software nor advocate pirating any software product, the M.B.A.s running Waves should know that it is an attractive alternative for many other people just to avoid the problems they put their customers through.

Maybe we'll write a song about it making fun of them. You can bet we'll use their Renaissance to help punch up the vocals so they're loud and clear.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Righting a Digital Rights Wrong

Digital Rights Management (DRM) doesn't only affect major label musicians, it now directly affects independent bands as well. By way of a short introduction here, DRM is a method by which it's possible to use technologies to limit what people can do with music, video, or other works. Often, it affects how they can copy a work. It can also restrict what formats these works can be copied into. Some DRM is embedded into CDs. Others are applied by the digital music services that sell music.

And since most of us indies have music up on those online music stores, it affects us too.

It recently affected Beatnik Turtle very directly, when in July of 2005 a fan of ours posted a blog entry about being dissatisfied with Napster - a digital music service that sells our albums. (Note - this is not the original Napster - this is the new "legitimized" Napster where music is sold with the blessing of music companies and everyone shares in the profits.)

It turns out that our music is available on Napster through our association with CDBaby. Unfortunately, our blogger fan bought one of our albums and, according to his post, could no longer get access to it once he stopped paying the Napster subscription fees. Once we heard about his predicament - which we discovered quite a bit later when his blog came up on a search for our name - we knew we had to do something to help him out.

Now you might be thinking that he only bought a subscription, and just lost access when he stopped the subscription. Not so! He paid for the album, and we got reimbursed for it. Napster's business model (at least at the time of his purchase) revolved around paying subscription fees to get (and maintain) rights to the music on its service. You can just pay a general fee to listen to anything in their library, but you also can pay for a particular album to have it available to you on other devices. For the subscription-only purchases, Beatnik Turtle gets about .01 or .02 a play. For the purchases, it is similar to other systems that go for about .65 to .70 a song. Our fan had paid for the songs, but of course, had some DRM that restricts what you can do with it. Once he stopped his subscription with Napster, he couldn't listen to the songs that he had paid for anymore.

Our remedy? Send him a DRM-free copy of our album, with our apologies.

The last thing that any indie band needs is to make it harder for people to listen to their music. Beatnik Turtle feels especially strongly about this and covers this topic more thoroughly in The Indie Band Survival Guide.

But why do you put your music up on these services then, huh?

Well, although we hate DRM, we also love the distribution the internet and these services provide for our music. At the end of the day, some people just want to purchase music from them (e.g., iTunes). Many fans would be disappointed if our music wasn't on that service. In fact, there isn't a week that goes by where someone doesn't ask me if our band is even up on iTunes. It has become some sort of right of passage - some sort of proof that "you've made it" in some respects.

Which is odd, because it's not hard to get your music up on these services.

So we at Beatnik Turtle, along with many other indie bands, find ourselves in the ironic position of placing those same restrictions on our fans as the major labels, as if we only cared about the money that we got from them and that they don't do anything illicit with the music afterwards. We certainly don't feel that way, and don't mind if people share our music with friends. Or even enemies. Hell, we're not picky.

So, to practice what we preach, we're offerering anyone who, like our blogger fan, has legitimately purchased Beatnik Turtle music only to have access to it stripped away, a DRM-free version, on request. Just contact us at our comments page and tell us the story. We'll figure out a way to get you a DRM-Free copy. We further suggest that future purchases come from a DRM-free site, such as, which gives you just plain old MP3's.

As we talk about in the Indie Band Survival Guide, DRM tends to really only affect (and bother) legitimate customers while leaving those who got the music illicitly untouched (and unbothered). DRM is not only completely ineffective, it punishes the very people you should treat best: the fan. The major labels and the large music industry players have it exactly backwards. We don't see how they could get something so wrong.

At least we don't have to act the same way.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Academically My Dear

Based on our research for the Survival Guide, the Sony DRM incident captured our interest, and we've been spening a lot of time working on aspects of this. We also ended up writing about this in the guide, in the DRM section.

Searching on Sony DRM will catch up up on what has ocurred in this arena, at least, on the surface, but if you want to know what really went on behind the scenes we highly recommend reading the paper Lessons from the Sony CD DRM Episode written by J. Alex Halderman and professor Ed Felten. Professor Felten is notable because of his original work on digital watermarks, which almost ended up going head to head with the DMCA. This recent DRM paper is an academic work, which goes into detail about not only what happened during this DRM incident, but exactly how the DRM works from a computer science standpoint. Even if you aren't technically inclined, the paper is quite interesting as it discusses the economic and some legal effects of DRM.

The exciting part is that Randall Chertkow (or Randy as he's known to the band) commented on the paper. They made some changes from an early draft based on his comments, and have acknowledged him in the paper on page 26.

If you're interested in DRM, we really think that the paper is a very good read.