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War on Drugs, War on Terror, War on Leaks
January 2, 2008 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Steal this album. "In the dying days of the music business as we once knew it, record labels are waging war on leaks—only to discover that many of the saboteurs come from within the industry itself." It's easy to arrest a geek or lay draconian fines on a single mom; what happens when their witchhunt leads to their own offices? Animal Collective won't always be around to get the culprits off the hook.
posted by Coherence Panda (62 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Record labels consider the spread of unreleased music to be the most damaging of all file-sharing because it effectively renders every new record out of date and cuts into one of their most significant streams of revenue—sales in the first few days after an album comes out. By attacking OiNK, the music industry has indicated where it will dig its trenches and fight for its life.

But unlike the war on terror, everyone knows the outcome of this war: the fish flops a few more times on the shore. Then it stops flopping. Then flies eat the flesh. There is no future in selling copies of recorded digital anything.

The internet - and the culture breathing life into it - has killed the music industry "as we once knew" without offering the slighest glimmer of a viable commercial replacement. The problem is what comes next.

Radiohead's recent experiment went apparently so badly that Radiohead refuses to release any sales information. For artists, this is really bad news. It means the only money to be made is from touring and tee-shirt sales. Thom Yorke might still be able to make his rent, but for thousands of more or less nameless studio musicians making union scale in a studio somewhere, it's a friggin' disaster.
posted by three blind mice at 9:16 AM on January 2, 2008


Radiohead's recent experiment went apparently so badly...

What? Everything I've heard has Mr. Yorke and company swimming in pools of lucre. Still, expecting huge profits from this sort of operation does not appear viable for the majority of bands. I'd recommend re-reading David Byrne's take...
posted by suckerpunch at 9:28 AM on January 2, 2008


There is no future in selling copies of recorded digital anything.

Bing!

The internet - and the culture breathing life into it - has killed the music industry "as we once knew" without offering the slighest glimmer of a viable commercial replacement.

Why must we have a commercial replacement? There are a lot of amateur resources I rely on more heavily, and with a more secure feeling, than the professional, commercial versions. From operating systems to education to journalism, "amateur" is starting to mean "better". Why not music?

(Blah blah blah, gotta eat. So get a day job.)
posted by DU at 9:28 AM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not convinced that Radiohead's online release went badly. That they aren't releasing sales information may be indicative of quite the opposite -- that it went so well they don't want to show their fans just how much they made off the exercise.
posted by kowalski at 9:29 AM on January 2, 2008


Because nor all forms of media can be accomplished from the financial means of people with a "day job". Do not give me youtube and tell me it's hollywood.

Music, fine. But until we see the equivalent of http://movies.metafilter.com and http://videogames.metafilter.com I don't see amateur coming to the rescue.
posted by zabuni at 9:33 AM on January 2, 2008


three blind mice writes The internet - and the culture breathing life into it - has killed the music industry "as we once knew" without offering the slighest glimmer of a viable commercial replacement. The problem is what comes next.

The Internet is just an agreement to network all our computers together. The Internet has no power of its own, and it's not really a thing, therefore, it's a bit much to expect it to "offer alternatives." If you are asking the culture to offer alternatives, can I ask if you have the minutes of the last board meeting? Oh, wait, you mean the culture doesn't have a board of directors, or really any organization at all? How is it supposed to "offer alternatives?"

"Radiohead's recent experiment went apparently so badly that Radiohead refuses to release any sales information. For artists, this is really bad news. It means the only money to be made is from touring and tee-shirt sales. Thom Yorke might still be able to make his rent, but for thousands of more or less nameless studio musicians making union scale in a studio somewhere, it's a friggin' disaster."

The only disaster is if you've come to depend on the way the system is set up, which has been in existence for less than a century (and, for studio musicians, only a few decades). I guarantee music will continue to be written, recorded and played as long as people have the capability to do so. You may not be able to hitch a ride on the industry way of life, but that doesn't mean you have to stop playing music.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:34 AM on January 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Because nor all forms of media can be accomplished from the financial means of people with a "day job".

Specifically which forms? (cf: Primer)

But until we see the equivalent of http://movies.metafilter.com and http://videogames.metafilter.com I don't see amateur coming to the rescue.

Damn, I wish I'd noticed you were trolling before I took all the time figuring out what movie I was talking about. Video games with no good amateur base. Heh, nice one.
posted by DU at 9:40 AM on January 2, 2008


Radiohead's recent experiment went apparently so badly that Radiohead refuses to release any sales information.

I think one of the biggest problems with online sales is that there's no easy way to make impulse purchases online, other then iTunes music store, I guess. But you've got to be 'plugged in' to that system already. If Radiohead had tried their experiment on iTMS they probably would have done a lot better then trying to do it on their own. People are always wary of giving their credit card information to yet another organization. We need a real easy to use micro-payment system in place to facilitate this stuff.

This is kind of embarrassing, but I've purchased those goofy facebook "gifts" before they started with the applications and obnoxiousness. I've probably spent like $20 on those things. But once I signed up, they were so easy to buy, and right there.

The radio head website was kind of a pain, and it didn't even work (as far as I could tell) when I went to go buy it.

The other problem is that people just don't value music recordings that much. I'd never pay $1/song, especially with the money going to the RIAA. I'd pay $1/album maybe.

The subscription model is most likely, but it needs to be "all you can download" not "all you can stream" I mean, cheapskates might sign up once every 6 months and download all they can get, but if they are that cheap they wouldn't be spending much on music anyway.

The way to make money here is to charge for convenience, not content. Make your products easier to use then the Pirate Bay, and at a cost-effective price point and people will use it.
posted by delmoi at 9:40 AM on January 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Radiohead's recent experiment went apparently so badly

Links, please.
posted by dobbs at 9:43 AM on January 2, 2008


Radiohead's recent experiment went apparently so badly that Radiohead refuses to release any sales information.
In the first month, about a million fans downloaded In Rainbows. Roughly 40 percent of them paid for it, according to comScore, at an average of $6 each, netting the band nearly $3 million.
(via)
posted by danb at 9:44 AM on January 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Radiohead's recent experiment went apparently so badly that Radiohead refuses to release any sales information.

LogicalFallacyFilter?
posted by Mikey-San at 9:48 AM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The internet - and the culture breathing life into it - has killed the music industry "as we once knew" without offering the slighest glimmer of a viable commercial replacement. The problem is what comes next.

It's not clear that the Internet culture is responsible for music industry woes. Do you have some data other than music industry claims to support this? My sense is that the music industry revenues were tanking at about the same time music downloading was taking off, but this similarity of timing does not equal cause and effect. If, for example, there is evidence that vigorous prosecution of file-sharers has lowered downloading and that CD and iTunes sales increased subsequently, that would support the assertion much more than industry execs whining.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:52 AM on January 2, 2008


Apparently, security for the President of the US is so bad that they refuse to release any info on it.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:01 AM on January 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


I know more than your average music fan about record labels and how leaks can hurt them. My ex-boyfriend is the aforementioned Ben Goldberg, the owner of Ba Da Bing. This fall, he planned to release The Flying Club Cup, the second album by Beirut, a well-received indie band. [...] On August 26, a full six weeks before the record was to hit stores, it hit the Internet instead.

Here's the story of how that happened, as told by the culprit.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:05 AM on January 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


In the first month, about a million fans downloaded In Rainbows. Roughly 40 percent of them paid for it, according to comScore, at an average of $6 each, netting the band nearly $3 million.

Wow, I bet they're really smarting from getting only $3M. Hope they kept their day job.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:05 AM on January 2, 2008


Sales figures of In Rainbows are a national security issue?
posted by basicchannel at 10:08 AM on January 2, 2008


In the first month, about a million fans downloaded In Rainbows. Roughly 40 percent of them paid for it, according to comScore, at an average of $6 each, netting the band nearly $3 million.

That's probably not too great for Radiohead, but for a new band making $3 million dollars would be a pretty huge deal. It's not uncommon for bands with bad contracts to make jack squat from their albums.
posted by delmoi at 10:08 AM on January 2, 2008


This reminds me of the whole brouhaha raised by Metallica when they found that an unreleased song was already on the P2P networks. It seems ridiculous that it didn't occur to them that someone involved in their production crew was responsible for the first leak. In any case it was much, much easier for Lars & the gang to go after P2P, reaping much publicity in the process.
posted by clevershark at 10:12 AM on January 2, 2008


The problem is what comes next.

I honestly see it going back to how it used to be for classical composers... ie grubbing round and creeping up to rich idiots, either the individually wealthy showing off to their friends of charitable institutions, in the hopes of sales or commissions. Or getting the modern equivalent of a prized choral masters job (academia?). Kind of like how the art world has been until it very recently when it all went a bit stupid and over-fashionable.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:13 AM on January 2, 2008


Hi, the info about Radiohead is available on page 4 of the first link if you wanted to, you know, read it.

That's probably not too great for Radiohead

$2.7 million in the first month? What do you think their cut of a traditional CD sale is?
posted by yerfatma at 10:13 AM on January 2, 2008


Ever since I read that article I've been wondering how watermarking advances actually works, you know, technically.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:14 AM on January 2, 2008


That's probably not too great for Radiohead...

If $3 million wasn't enough for Radiohead, the problem isn't the business model. It's the lifestyle.
posted by DU at 10:15 AM on January 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


I honestly see it going back to how it used to be for classical composers...
So...everybody back to the 18th century?
posted by Thorzdad at 10:20 AM on January 2, 2008


fearfulsymmetry writes "I honestly see it going back to how it used to be for classical composers... ie grubbing round and creeping up to rich idiots, either the individually wealthy showing off to their friends of charitable institutions, in the hopes of sales or commissions."

I disagree. Music is now a ubiquitous cultural commodity, which is slightly different than art, which is only sometimes a commodity. The art world is not really accessible to most people, or at least they think it's not accessible, whereas those same people probably have musical preferences and some sort of collection, mp3, CD or otherwise, and we're surrounded by music all the time through all sorts of mediums. The fastest growing and selling genre right now is pop country. Do you think pop country will need wealthy patrons to survive? There will still be plenty of work, particularly if you're willing to be hired out as a live musician, but the studio musicians will probably shift into more commercialized ventures in general. They'll still get hired to play for commercials, artist recordings and so on, but the commercial work will come to dominate most of their time. The only way we're going back to the wealthy patron era of music is if the middle class completely collapses. Not to say it won't, but ...
posted by krinklyfig at 10:30 AM on January 2, 2008


A waffles invite would be much appreciated..
posted by localhuman at 10:33 AM on January 2, 2008


Apparently In Rainbows is now available via iTMS.
posted by basicchannel at 10:39 AM on January 2, 2008


I honestly see it going back to how it used to be for classical composers... ie grubbing round and creeping up to rich idiots, either the individually wealthy showing off to their friends of charitable institutions, in the hopes of sales or commissions.

Or they could just embed commercials into the now free albums. It's how other free services pay for themselves. And it's not like musicians have the integrity that would be lost by shilling for a corporation to profit off your product.
posted by kigpig at 10:42 AM on January 2, 2008



A waffles invite would be much appreciated..


Apparently, they are as rare as hen's teeth, however, my email is in profile if anyone wants to give me an invite.

I must admit that the NYMag article didn't really add anything new to anyone who was even vaguely aware of BT. I am glad to have properly re-read the article with Byrne and Yorke. Very interesting.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 10:48 AM on January 2, 2008


I honestly see it going back to how it used to be for classical composers...

If it worked for Supertramp, it should work for everyone.
posted by sleepy pete at 10:49 AM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]



Because nor all forms of media can be accomplished from the financial means of people with a "day job". Do not give me youtube and tell me it's hollywood.


So let's think about this from an economic perspective: the economic value of, say, hollywood comes from the people's desire to view the movies produced, not from the existence of the movies themselves.

If it becomes economically unfeasible to produce movies as Hollywood does due to piracy (wherein people's desire to view the films can be satiated without money changing hands), then movies will no longer be produced as Hollywood does.

Of course, that's a reflection of the lack of economic feasibility, not the lack of desire to see these movies, presumablly. So your test starts at this point, when you say "Do not give me youtube and tell me it's hollywood", which is accurate because it is not.

So what happens when there is no Hollywood? Well, perhaps YouTube and similar no-cost options will fulfill the consumer's desires and that will be that.

Take a look at television, though; it certainly reduced the popularity of movies as a regular family outing, but it did not kill the Hollywood movie. I can't imagine YouTube doing this more successfully than television ever did.

More likely, then, will be a change in the way Hollywood does business, and that change is already underway. More of a focus on DVD sales, and international distribution; premium movie theaters opening up and successfully charging significantly more for the theatrical experience; tighter controls on distribution of the physical medium, and/or transitioning to a pure proprietary digital format to reduce theft options.

Either the desire will be there -- and Hollywood will be the only ones who can scratch it, and it's up to them to figure out how to do it profitably -- or the desire will not be there -- unlikely, but then again, who mourns the loss of the telegraph?
posted by davejay at 11:00 AM on January 2, 2008


who mourns the loss of the telegraph?

I do. And the era when the fax machine was the integral electronic communications medium of business and journalism. But I guess that's neither here nor there.
posted by kowalski at 11:10 AM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


DU: "If $3 million wasn't enough for Radiohead, the problem isn't the business model. It's the lifestyle."

Oh, sure. You try to scrape by on $600K a year.
posted by octothorpe at 11:17 AM on January 2, 2008


octothorpe: I recognize your humor, but also understand that the $3 mil was from the first month, not total sales (which I realize likely drop off fairly dramatically) and also ignores any other income they have from residual works, commercial licensing, songwriting, etc etc. And then any live performances.

So, it is quite likely they are reaping several multiples of $600k per year.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:29 AM on January 2, 2008


They made that much the first *month*, so extrapolating out that out to a year, that'd be a little over $7 million. Each. (Of course, initial sales are always higher. But still.)

What do high-end name-brand bands make as a percentage of profit on CD sales? 10 percent? If it's 10 percent, then for them to have equaled that via labels doing the marketing and selling, they'd have needed to sell more than 20 million CDs the first month, or 5 million a week for four straight weeks. I don't know if any CD has ever sold that much that fast. So, I'd rate their experiment an enormous success. But they're *also* releasing it via labels, so they get the best of both worlds. (Few bands in the world could do that though. But still.)

Honestly, I'm not very worried about musicians. They'll always be able to make money via merchandising and live performances. Big-time movies may go the way of the dodo; I could live with that. The folks I worry the most about are *writers*. They don't do live performances (because how boring would *that* be, watching a dude read a book out loud), and they don't really have merchandise to fall back on. If ubiquitous sharing of copied literature becomes widespread, that could really put a damper on the number of folks entering the already-difficult world of producing it. And believe it or not, the average salary of a fulltime writer is not six figures, much less more. Cut 25 percent into the sales of the average writer, and their goes their home via foreclosure.
posted by jamstigator at 11:44 AM on January 2, 2008


Grr, 'there goes their home'. Heh, glad I'm not a writer! ;)
posted by jamstigator at 11:45 AM on January 2, 2008


Of course that's $3 million minus costs of recording and production (I know they have their own studio, but utilities, equipment and Nigel Godrich aren't free), hiring the programmer to develop the website and I bet they got a pretty hefty bandwidth bill after all was said and done.
All that divided by 5.

Still, it is a nice chunk of change.
posted by chillmost at 11:56 AM on January 2, 2008


localhuman: A waffles invite would be much appreciated...
Yes, seconded!
krinklyfig: The only disaster is if you've come to depend on the way the system is set up, which has been in existence for less than a century (and, for studio musicians, only a few decades). I guarantee music will continue to be written, recorded and played as long as people have the capability to do so. You may not be able to hitch a ride on the industry way of life, but that doesn't mean you have to stop playing music.
Exactly. Music is joyous, cultural, and ubiquitous. Too much has been written and said about how essential music is to our lives, our use of language, and our sense of self for me to try to phrase it better, but the idea that without money, music simply won't happen is ridiculous.

Really, what would be lost without a global music "industry" to make sure we all listen to the same 40 artists? Almost nothing... we'd return more to how music was before the advent of recorded media; people would attend live performances of local or traveling musicians, they'd sing or dance along with the music, they'd fondly remember those experiences with their close friends. And the people performing? Oh, they'd support themselves, whether it was busking on a street corner or packing the coffee shops and 200-person venues. Why must we all have the same bands to love- can't the people of Minneapolis have their beloved local bands that people in New York or LA or Seattle or Miami have never heard of, and vice versa? 6 billion people on this planet, that's a lot of clapping hands and stomping feet, a lot of voices singing along.

The musicians, though, they'd have to work at it, just like everyone else supporting themselves in this world. The idea that you deserve to retire for life after writing just one derivative pop or rap song, to relax beside your Olympic sized pool in your MTV Cribs mansion simply because you wrote the immortal classic "Da Thong on da Bitches, Yeah Yeah" and the whole world and the music industry should pay you millions for this? Fuck that shit. Radiohead and their ilk would still be rich, because the internet + bittorrent + mp3s + collaborative, interactive sites means that bands could put their music out there for free, people could hear it, get excited, tell their friends, and collectively the fans could express their demand for live shows. Radiohead could plan a tour around where their fans and downloaders were located (someone recently on the blue linked in a comment some site that helps you 'demand' an event from artists, as a way of telling the musicians that there are X people in Duluth who'd really, really like to hear you play live), and make quite a tidy living. If enough people really, really liked your music, you'd easily work 200+ nights a year, and if careful and professional about your finances, you could actually retire off that in a few years. That's... not bad!

The world never promised you a Rolls Royce in a swimming pool full of cocaine and Penthouse Pets just because you can play three chords and keep a 4/4 beat.
delmoi: I think one of the biggest problems with online sales is that there's no easy way to make impulse purchases online [...] People are always wary of giving their credit card information to yet another organization. We need a real easy to use micro-payment system in place to facilitate this stuff.

The other problem is that people just don't value music recordings that much. I'd never pay $1/song, especially with the money going to the RIAA. I'd pay $1/album maybe.

The subscription model is most likely, but it needs to be "all you can download" not "all you can stream" I mean, cheapskates might sign up once every 6 months and download all they can get, but if they are that cheap they wouldn't be spending much on music anyway.

The way to make money here is to charge for convenience, not content. Make your products easier to use then the Pirate Bay, and at a cost-effective price point and people will use it.
I couldn't agree with this more, and it's what I've been saying all along. It's not even the price that throws me, it's the convenience. I hate giving out my CC to yet another company, but if Thom Yorke was standing outside my favorite coffee place with a CD and said "$3", I'd probably buy it because it's the cost of a latte and I like their stuff.

But the price does bother me; $1 a song, for a highly compressed mp3 of the CD version? Fuck you! That means I either spend tens of thousands of dollars to build a media library of songs of which any one I only listen to a handful of times, or have a highly limited song selection a la Top 40 radio. The artists was only making $1-2 on the whole album anyway; why shouldn't the artist just put the whole album out as a FLAC or 320Kbps torrent, essentially costing nothing to host and distribute, and ask a $1 for the album? If anything, this would see more albums released, because the cost to do a press run of a niche album was high and prevented albums from being released, but the cost of hosting a new torrent is effectively nil.

My own feeling is that music, and distribution, is so cheap and disposable that effectively music should be as free as operating systems, with only commercial use (i.e., those who are profiting from your work as opposed to using it privately for free) using the law to enforce royalties.


Someone really needs to start an artist portal that provides the following:
1) A torrent tracker that's free but registration required
2) Integrated in the same site is a concert tracker, like that iTunes concert calendar that scans your music collection and tells you when your favorite artists are coming to town
3) An ardent musician and music fan community for people to interact with each other and the artists- kind of like what myspace was allegedly meant to be
4) A datamining operation that can determine that, say, 5% of your most ardent fans are in Seattle, and can help organize your next tour organically for small shows around the country, knowing that you've got people willing to pay more to see you live.
5) Potentially down the road a flat pay-per-month subscription rate, which is then divvied up to the artists as a little extra cash
posted by hincandenza at 12:02 PM on January 2, 2008 [9 favorites]


jamstigator writes "And believe it or not, the average salary of a fulltime writer is not six figures, much less more. Cut 25 percent into the sales of the average writer, and their goes their home via foreclosure."

Well, Dickens sold all of his novels in serial format. This proved to be a very popular distribution model back then, because - believe it or not - many people could simply not afford to buy a complete novel. The idea that everyone deserves cheap entertainment is rather new, but it was helped by the publishing industry, which eventually brought prices in line with what most people could afford. I can foresee some models like that for the future, but for different reasons.

I know the average salary of a writer is not six figures. Is the implication that it should be? Do you think the market will adjust to this new distribution model, or will it just wither and die? If the latter, do you suppose anyone will write anymore if there's no money in it? I used to frequent several open mic nights in Albuquerque. Among the group were several published authors, but none who made enough with writing to pay a decent living. A few did live like paupers in order to be self-sustaining with their work, but they didn't even earn five figures, yet they continued to write.

I am not sure the world owes writers a living. We should do what we can to encourage and support the arts, but the business of writing will take care of itself, as long as people are willing to pay for it.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:06 PM on January 2, 2008


hincandenza writes "My own feeling is that music, and distribution, is so cheap and disposable that effectively music should be as free as operating systems, with only commercial use (i.e., those who are profiting from your work as opposed to using it privately for free) using the law to enforce royalties."

Well, I do take exception to a small part of that. Recording music can be done rather cheaply these days, though a very high quality recording will require studio-quality equipment. The mastering is still very expensive, however. Of course, you don't need expensive mastering, but it makes a pretty big difference in quality. That will put the price of recording over six figures, typically.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:17 PM on January 2, 2008


So this is where we beg for waffles invites? Alright.
posted by sveskemus at 12:27 PM on January 2, 2008


I'll take one!
posted by stenseng at 12:37 PM on January 2, 2008


I just had a thought about the cost of recording and mastering. How much does it cost to outfit a studio like that? A few hundred thousand dollars, maybe? Less, more, I have no idea. Has anybody tried building and running a studio as a co-op? You, as a musician, invest in the overhead, and then you get to use everything. Has this worked? Could it?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:54 PM on January 2, 2008


"Well, Dickens sold all of his novels in serial format. This proved to be a very popular distribution model back then, because - believe it or not - many people could simply not afford to buy a complete novel. "

The works of Dickens and Verne were serialized because they were originally printed in periodicals. Same goes for Doyle and a host of other authors at the time, some of which haven't survived. In fact this is where the idea of chapters comes from. Each chapter was an installment to be printed in a separate issue. Why we still do that is beyond me.

It's true that in the 19th century many couldn't afford to buy a whole novel, but many could afford the weekly periodical that would pass today for a local newspaper. The latest installment of Oliver Twist or Sherlock Holmes' latest case would be as big a deal back then as the next episode of Lost or Ugly Betty or Grey's Anatomy is today. Well.. was. Before the strike.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:58 PM on January 2, 2008


We will not run out of art because of the demise of the monetization industry. It's a fallacious argument, because it does not take into account two things: the decreasing cost of production (or increasing quality of production at near-zero cost); and the fact that already-produced art will not disappear with its authors or their industry - quite the converse, it would become massively more available without an artificial mechanism to choke supply.

Music is mentally difficult to produce but physically easy. If I had the skills to sing, use music software, and use mixing software, I could put together an MP3 in my bedroom that isn't easily distinguishable by the common non-audiophile non-expert radio listener such as myself, minus the theorized production skills, from a rip of a studio-recorded track. This is especially the case if the track is to be me singing and playing a guitar. In practice, I can do neither. But someone exactly like me, with musical skills and the necessary software, and a reasonably soundproof room in which to record themselves singing, could. It's within my near-zero budget, if not my skills, to produce a hit song the equal of any played on the radio today. (At least in the "one person and a guitar or piano" style, which works very well for a whole bunch of famous singers.)

Movies, on the other hand: well, maybe. Animated features are getting pretty good. Rendering software is almost real-time now. This has about six people listed on the credits. It could probably be duplicated by one person, who had the necessary skill set. Machinima puts, theoretically, almost anything the software characters can portray within a film-maker's grasp. If you want to produce a near-zero budget film with cameras on people rather than generated characters, you can: your dialogue, locations, and your actors can all be basically free. Your only costs are your camera, your microphone, and your editing software. Remember lonelygirl15? The near-zero budget film does not imply a bad film, any more than the near-zero budget stage play implies a bad play. As the software gets better and better, more things come within the reach of the near-zero budget film-maker.

The ultimate example of what art can be produced on almost exactly zero budget is, of course, the novel. Writing a novel in 2008 costs you only time. You already own a computer and already have all the necessary software to make your characters do absolutely everything you want them to do wherever and whenever you want them to do it: Notepad, or equivalents. Sculpture, drawing and painting incur materials costs, but these don't have to be high.

The demise of any given monetizing industry, at this point, be it the RIAA, Hollywood, the book publishing industry, or the invention of fabricators capable of producing exact copies of any physical work of art the user wants, cannot stop art for the sake of it from being produced.

As for existing art, with the demise of the industry, the art they oversaw will not be destroyed; quite the opposite. Without the MPAA, no-one would stop anyone from recording and uploading entire video/DVD stores' worth of films. As time goes by the bandwidth will improve to the point where, as we now download a 5MB MP3 in a few seconds, we'll be able to download a 2GB movie. No human being will ever run out of movies to watch. If you started right now, watching four movies a day, five days a week, fifty days a year, a thousand movies a year, for forty years, you could not get through all of the movies generally agreed to be good (say 3+ star). Same applies to books to read, music to listen to, art to look at. And over those forty years, even if they started right now, a certain amount of good art would be produced on zero budget. If your algorithm for selecting movies and TV series was "highest-rated film as rated on a 1-100 scale by my chosen website, that I haven't already watched", you'd probably never have to drop out of the 90's except to catch up on sequels and series.

On the other hand, the high-budget industries of course will use the same technological improvements, and their existence to some extent drives them. So we can expect that high-budget movies will continue to get better, and by the time machinima tech reaches, say, the level of production quality that would allow you to replicate Casablanca from scratch on your home computer, the high-budget industries will be using it to do things we haven't thought of yet. So if we got rid of them now, we have to consider that we may be losing those advances, whatever they may be, or at least delaying them past our lifetimes, which amounts to the same thing.

Copyright term reduction amounts to a nationalization argument. We already agree that artworks should be 'nationalized' after a period of time. Political corruption in the USA has caused the extension of that period to a ludicrous length of time. As with any nationalization argument, it's a good thing for the people of the country (in this case, the people of the world) for the industry or whatever to be nationalized. Only the owners of the industry will suffer, and that's a question of morality in that they deserve to be rewarded for their work, and of practicality in that if we like high-budget art, we need to enable people to produce it. That requires a privatized industry that has a profit motive to produce popular art. I'm currently convinced that there's no other way to do this - a grants funding scheme would fail due to excessive risk-aversion, the overwhelming temptation to censor the art produced at government expense, jurisdictional questions in that the internet is international, and vulnerability to rent-seeking from scam artists.

Which is all a long way of saying that the utter destruction right now of the RIAA/MPAA etc would be just fine for us plebs, but not quite as good as a mere reduction of copyright down to some sensible term like ten or 14 years, such that an individual could realistically keep a copy of the thing aside to add it to the public archives when it's legal to do so. (And of course it ought to be mandatory to add the artwork to the public archives at the end of the copyright term, in order to have the copyright term exist at all.)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:02 PM on January 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


The sad part of this whole mess the recording industry has gotten into is that they are now failing to bring along new artists with the same vigor of the past, and it is getting worse every day. This includes not just failing to identify and bankroll promising new artists, but the critical role of matching them up with talented producers and recording engineers to make great sounding records. (By the way, I am not blaming the plunging CD sales solely on downloading.)

As zabuni pointed out up thread, the movie industry faces a similar fate and the devastating effect on the end product could be even more dramatic. Hollywood relies on DVD sales for its profits and if they start drying up the way music sales who knows what will happen.
posted by caddis at 2:05 PM on January 2, 2008


ZachsMind writes "The works of Dickens and Verne were serialized because they were originally printed in periodicals."

Right. The reason being that they could sell to a much larger audience, who could afford say one shilling for a serial publication, but not the whole 20 shillings for the novel, at least not at once.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:24 PM on January 2, 2008


There are plenty of options out there for musicians to record and distribute their music based on their financial, artistic, and status needs. Some of them can record at home in front of their desktop and throw it up on a website and be perfectly happy. Many others would prefer to have at least a remedial home studio setup and maybe some extra help from an indie distributor, but even that model is quickly becoming less necessary thanks to the internet. Many other artists still need to work with a producer to hammer out their sound and help guide the band on the fine points. But again, thanks to modern inexpensive technology that is becoming less essential.

But there are other artists that still need (or think they still need) the big studios and the leisure of spending lots of time there working on the record. Usually that also means a big name producer and experienced engineer. And once that type of investment is made self releasing a record just doesn't cut it - you need the machinery of a big label that has radio promotion departments, international marketing departments, and various other services that can't be done soley by the artist. Although some of the indie third party marketing companies have become powerhouses to rival the major labels, but they don't come cheap at the level either.

It costs a fortune to release a record on a major label, and for the small number of bands that work hard and are lucky enough break out there's a shitload of money to be made. But most of them just end up owing a lot of money and becoming disillusioned, which is sad. So many bands that sign with majors would really be better served by an indie - or at least an indie distributed by a major. For many they just want to get their CDs into Best Buy and Target and usually the best route to that is via a major. That's a huge albatross to wear just to make sure you can see your CD in the same store that you buy your socks and vacuum cleaner from.

The artist pays for everything up front all the way through to the back end - including the advance. They get some money along the way as the record sells, but the label makes it's money back first. That's how it's always been, and I still think that a lot of the new bands still don't understand it. Which is why so many of them go into debt so fast before they ever even get a shot at the brass ring.

That's why I think it's nice to see the playing field leveled out a bit more for artists recently. It's almost impossible for an artist to have a multi-platinum hit album without the cash outlay of a major, but in the past year or so not even the big superstars are selling a million records, so that model is collapsing too. But as Thom Yorke says, the Radiohead model worked for Radiohead at this particular moment in their career. It probably wouldn't have been as successful at an earlier stage in their career - especially if they didn't already have their own studio, fan network, and reputation amongst the digital early adapters. There are going to be some huge mis-steps this year as other artists' egos lead them to believe that they can do the same thing with similar or better results. Hopefully there are also as many (or more) success stories of artists that tweaked it a bit to suit their career and fanbase. Hopefully soon the press will also going back to covering the actual music more than the back-end business successes and failures.

Hey, wasn't this thread about advance music leaking early? On that point, it's not one leak, it's a whole bunch of leaks. It's like trying to set sail in a kitchen strainer. The leaks are from unscrupulous record label employees, studio and mixing employees, writers, music retailers, press relations, concert promoters, the artists themselves, and just about anywhere else along the path from artist to consumer. I would assume that a lot of it comes from the innocent handing off of advance music "just between us", which happens a few times until somebody posts it to a file sharing service, and then it just explodes. But that might not be right, since the article implies that regular users are putting up loads of albums on a regular basis which means that they're in that network somewhere. Advance music leaking has always been a probelm (anyone remember the crazy glued shut cassette walkman's for Prince or Radiohead?), but now the delivery means are so much more instant and the reach is much greater. Plus there's that "I had it first" bragging right that makes the drive to get as much up as early as possible. As long as advance music exists, advance music leaks will be around. The best anyone can hope for is to slow it down and maybe lessen the quality of the files.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 2:31 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Aescenkarnos - great post.

I think the article was a bit simplistic, and when I read the bit about "my ex-boyfriend," I realized why the entire piece was as one-sided and unformed and silly as it was.

Second, I've got loads of CDs which were recorded 'at home' for a few hundred dollars. Sure it takes some expertise to record well on a home set-up, but not as much as one would think. For instance, as I write this I'm listening to a Pete Shelley / Howard Devoto (both ex-Buzzcocks, the latter ex-Magazine as well) album recorded about seven years ago (home recording become much easier since then.) It sounds as good as the Buzzcocks stuff recorded with Martin Rushent (who produced the Human League's "Dare") or some of the Magazine stuff. I heard a nice Roddy Frame album the other day - it sounded beautiful and was recorded on his Mac, apparently. And when one considers what Lee Perry did with a broken four-track thirty years ago . . . well, those six-figure recordings aren't actually necessary! I know bands who's had stuff mastered by "big names" like Bob Ludwig (U2, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna) for only a couple of thousand dollars. A good artist with technical recording skills can make great recordings for nearly nothing.

And last, I'm originally from a country where it's practically impossible to find "real" CDs by anyone, national or international. In fact, I'm not convinced that many of the "big sellers" are even pressed as authentic CDs. This neatly sidesteps the whole argument - artists in Bosnia still find ways to survive (merchandising, touring, selling their own bootlegs) and while no Bosnian artist has reached Radiohead status (mostly for good reasons!), they manage to pay the bills. And because the music scene there is artist- (not label-) driven, all sorts of quirky things survive and flourish in tandem. During the war in my country, the old Monkees' tune "Today Just Doesn't Seem To Be My Day" was a big hit (for reasons of black humor; I don't think it was a hit anywhere else ever, not to mention that it was a 30 year-old song) alongside Nirvana and a 1930's "revived" patriotic song (with original arrangement) as well as the odd disco number and sevdalinke (a melodramatic folk style), and you'd hear them all next to one another, quite like what it seems to me that American radio must have been like in the 1950s or 1960s, before it became so consolidated, when one could hear real soul and fuzzed-out rock and Nancy Sinatra and bubblegum and other things right next to each other.

In much the same way as Disneyland has taken the experience of, say, visiting European castles by train, and turned it into a paste so ludicrous that it's enjoyable (at least for sane people) only in its utter ludicrousness, the recording industry has taken what taken a business that once championed genius and turned it into an industry that has foregone any attempt to support "serious" art in favor of producing things like the Paris Hilton album. And just as I do with Disneyland, I want to see them burn for their stupidity, greed and senselessness.

And that's sad for them, as I've bought over 5000 CDs in a small number of years and I've never downloaded any copyrighted material ever. But the over-compressed mastering, the albums followed by "special edition" albums with one bonus track three months later, the poor promotion of artists who actually matter, the viciousness with which they pursue dubious legal actions (it's now ILLEGAL to download one's own CD to one's own MP3 player or computer, if you believe the RIAA!) and the stupidity of not allowing for reasonably priced lossless or AIFF file downloads. Anyone want to trade CD burns? ;)
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:35 PM on January 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


To be a pedant, ZachMind, chapters go back much further than the 19th century. Our modern chapter is, I assume, a development of the late-medieval division of books into chapters (Latin capita, the source of our chapter). In any event, the usage of chapter as "a division of a book" (regardless of whether the book is a whole literary text or a division itself) is attested in English all the way back to 1225 (according to the OED).
posted by dd42 at 3:21 PM on January 2, 2008


It's not uncommon for bands with bad contracts to make jack squat from their albums.

"Not uncommon"? Even with a very generous contract from a major label, it's still almost impossible for you to make money on your first album, no matter how well it does. This classic article is even more valid today than it was ten years ago.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:24 PM on January 2, 2008


Some ill-informed person: Why must we have a commercial replacement?

Some other ill-informed person: Music is mentally difficult to produce but physically easy. If I had the skills to sing, use music software, and use mixing software, I could put together an MP3 in my bedroom that isn't easily distinguishable by the common non-audiophile non-expert radio listener such as myself, minus the theorized production skills, from a rip of a studio-recorded track.

I'm curious... have you ever done it? Or talked to some who did? I did. I produced a whole album in my basement with my band and it took quite a lot of time and money. More to the point, it took a long time, spread out over a year, as all of us had day jobs, and these days, day jobs take an awful lot of your time.

Sure, if you're just some person with a guitar it's much easier -- but there's only so much room for the guy with guitar. You certainly don't hear much new music like this on the radio, do you? And there's a heck of a lot of competition. I can go home and listen to Nick Drake or Robert Johnson doing something similar.

I have hundreds of hand-made albums by obscure bands, almost all of which I bought at shows, and I love them. I got one last night! But I can't help but notice that almost every one of my top favorite albums were made by people who were full-time professional musicians when they made these albums -- Stockhausen, the Beatles, the Orb, Bach, the Butthole Surfers, the Boredoms, Kraftwerk -- in fact, I'm having a lot of trouble coming up with one band in my top 25 that isn't a professional act.

The reason is that music generally takes a huge amount of time and effort and money and you simply cannot devote that many resources to the problem *if you are working at a day job*.

It's also the case that most people who are talented musicians aren't particularly good at other fields where they can make money -- you could say this about any talent, it's just the luck of the draw! -- so they are working long hours for very little.

"Play live," you say. Well, I live in New York City. I have to *pay the space* to play most of the time. I get to keep much of the door but once I've paid for people's carfare and such I lose money almost every time. There are some parties that reliably pay for acts -- but the police have been ruthless on cracking down on them (despite the fact that these parties are very careful to get permits, fire inspections, security and the like, the police still demand shut parties and/or demand bribes for NOTHING.)

And I used to compose music -- but I stopped doing it (all that stuff is from the 90s). I couldn't really see the point -- you put a huge amount of work into it and you get nothing back except the occasional email. I'd get my stuff in compilations, submit it to contests, labels, had some success but never ever made any significant amounts of money -- I do still do things for plays and such but never write "pure music" -- it's simply too depressing after 10 years or so.

So as a musician and a lover of music, this totally sucks. Totally totally totally and you can hear the results by turning on the radio.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:49 PM on January 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Most of the records that come out through major distribution don't make money for anybody, or at least not much to speak of. The whole damn major label industry makes it's profit off the few big success stories, which also pay for all of the failures and near misses. That's a pretty crappy business model, but it's worked in the long run for several generations so there wasn't a need to retool the machine. But now there's even less money being made on the superstars, so that fiscal short sightedness is too glaring to ignore anymore. At least in the old days it was still in the labels best interest to stick with artists for at least a few albums to see what happens. Now there's a much shorter window to make money before being discarded, which is just awful.

The numbers from the Albini article still look relevant, but most bands are signing to a major for the long haul, or at least they should be. I thought it was pretty well known that first albums are seldom mean get-rich-quick revenues - and if the band doesn't know that, their manager should. The financial hurdle of the first album is a bitch to overcome, and it takes some savvy business skills, some luck, and a hell of a lot of work on the part of everyone involved. But there's money to be made on the slow and steady path of the first few albums. Not crazy private jet money, but money to make a living off of (and combined with touring and publishing revenue and such it should b an even more comfortable living). And when a successful artist negotiates their next contract the money can be crazy big. Unfortunately the artist's risk is disproportionate to that of the labels. The label has a whole pool of artists to spread the risk over, while the artists only have themselves to draw money on. And like most businesses, the party that fronts the money and takes the initial financial risk often gets the biggest piece of the pie.

Much of the music I listen to tends to either be on independent labels or from earlier eras when the money for artists skewed a bit differently. But I assume that most of my favorite major label albums in the past decade lost money, which is pretty sad. I remember years ago being floored to hear that Andy Partridge (XTC) was doing some side (non music related) work because he couldn't pay the bills. It just didn't seem right that an internationally respected artist with a catalog of albums wasn't making enough money to live what I assume is a pretty modest lifestyle. But then again, XTC didn't tour and they seemed to take the high road when it came to licensing and business compromises.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:57 PM on January 2, 2008


Totally totally totally and you can hear the results by turning on the radio.

Worse than 1990? Really? I cannot say I've seen any decline in the quality of popular music *at all.*
posted by mrgrimm at 4:21 PM on January 2, 2008


That "classic article" has always been a stretch. It's actually kind of hard to sell 250,000 copies only. Very few bands on a major sell that much of a debut (95% of major label debuts lose money for the label), but once they do, there's a very good chance they'll go on to sell many more. So the article catches a very foolish band with a very crappy deal at the exact point at which things pan out the worst for them - if they sold more they'd start making more cash, if they spent less it's not unlikely they'd do just as well and could pocket the savings. It's happened to plenty of bands, but it's not nearly as common as one would think. It's certainly not "almost impossible" to make money on one's first album (unless you're talking about money from actual sales, not advances, in which case it's mostly impossibe because most debuts fail for everyone involved.) I think that article really speaks to "fresh out college" types whose faith in their own genius causes them to give everything up for the cause . . . until, 95% of the time, they fail. A bit like how casinos make money, only casinos don't give you a big advance when you walk in the door. But plenty of bands whose major labels debuts absolutely stiff walk out the door with six-figure dollar amounts, you just don't hear as much about them.

re: XTC. They had a stupendously bad contract, even by the standards of the day (thirty years ago), which have vastly improved sense. They also did take the "high road" as you say, plus they didn't tour after the first few years, released hit singles in sleeves so expensive they couldn't possibly break even, spent *loads* in the studio and suffered from crazy setbacks. A bad luck and bad deal story all around.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:27 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The reason is that music generally takes a huge amount of time and effort and money

Yes, and not just the time and effort of creating that song, but the time and effort of learning how to use the instruments to create that song. I mean "physically easy" in the same sense that it's physically easy to make sounds with one's voice and tap keys or strings with one's fingers, and the difficulty of producing a great result is in the knowledge and the skill. (Well, performing can be hard exercise, but a person with no talent could get the same exercise in the same way, they'd just be making crap music.)

Another example: there's absolutely nothing physical stopping me from writing out a mathematical proof; what stops me is knowledge. I could copy one out by hand. I could even make it look a lot nicer and be more readable than the original handwritten scrawl. I could even take a mathematician's notebooks and turn them into a well-formatted textbook, but I'd never be able to create the textbook from scratch. Since the desktop publishing industry has advanced so much since the 70's, the mathematician could produce the textbook personally and distribute it as a printable PDF. Once that took a workshop of typesetters weeks to do.

My point is that as technology advances, the time and effort and money of the artist produces a better result, which conversely means that the result you get now will be available later with less time and less effort and less cost than it takes you now. Computer hardware and software will be more powerful in the future. Probably powerful enough to let you compose a song, have it played on whatever instruments you want, have it sung in any voice you want, all with home computer hardware and software. Is this necessarily a good thing? I'm not sure. I would hope it would enable good things to be done.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:58 PM on January 2, 2008


Your average band is not making a great recording on their own. The tools are there, but most of these recordings sound like amateur high school play crap. You have a few amateurs who can get there (Cortex) but most don't get good results, and frankly those amateurs who do are probably not so amateur in this area. A good producer and engineer make a difference. You want Rudy recording you, not Bubba.
posted by caddis at 6:00 PM on January 2, 2008


You are all invited by me: we'll go out and have some tasty waffles.
posted by ersatz at 7:07 PM on January 2, 2008


I must say the rather glib attitude that "musicians will continue to produce music, even if there's no money in it" that I've been reading here is rather upsetting, especially when it's coupled with a platitude that music is culturally necessary and ubiquitous. What this says to me (as a musician) is that, due to my chosen profession being both necessary and desired by the public at large, I should earn waaaay less than minimum wage doing it? I'm not asking for a swimming pool full of cocaine here, but the possibility of doing my job for a living wage is reasonable, methinks (if I happen to have made good, marketable music, but that's a whole 'nother story). Then again, I have a day job, but it really does cut into your productive time, particularly if you have the gall to have a family or modest social life. Then again, there are always methods of making money on associated goods (merch) and a verrrry small margin on live performance. However, the death of the industry as it has operated for years is a good thing for most of us.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 10:49 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


you are exactly right. people are caught up in the greed of free. the nonsense of people paying a nominal few bucks per album directly to the musician has become just nonsense. the greed of the consumers thieves is almost enough to start rooting for the RIAA. I am not sure who is the worst actor here, but they are both fucking selfish beyond compare. OiNKers, what a bunch of punks. yeah, yeah, bootlegs of concerts and unreleased studio material, I have no problem with that, but pre-release albums? Jail their asses. Sue a couple of leakers for a few million while you are at it. Some people are just pigs (OiNK), and these Oinkers posting pre-release albums are on the same moral strata as the gropers in India - lowlife, piggish, selfish.....
posted by caddis at 11:35 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is one thing these threads always seem to lack and that is appreciation for what the good and ethically run independent labels do for music.

Let's take Asthmatic Kitty for an example -- Sufjan Stevens' label. And when I say Sufjan Stevens' label, I mean his label: there are a handful of other artists currently part of it but he is far and away the only one making significant profit. That profit doesn't go into a 90 ft solid gold statue of Jesus for his front lawn -- much of it goes back into the label to support the other artists' development, recording costs, promotion -- all items none of the rest would remotely be able to afford on their own. Not to mention the hope, however slim, that the rising tide of his success might just lead other people to check out what the other people he's chosen to bring into the fold are doing.

But there is more to it than that, and that's where we get into the intangibles. I get so utterly tired of the premise that because music (some of it, by no means all) can be made cheaply, it is somehow easy. It is not easy to sell music in a saturated marketplace, but it's also not easy to know what the hell to do when you are just starting out. What a good label does is nurture people. You get people to mentor you, to connect you to services, to help you navigate scams and crises and catastrophes that might otherwise put a halt to your career. When one artist succeeds, everyone has a share in the good that comes from it. When one artist fails, everyone rallies around them.

That model is what led me to so much of the music I loved when I first started building my own collection -- K Records, Sarah Records, good old Sub Pop -- because the people running them at their start were smart and tasteful but more than that, committed to bringing out records that they believed in, whether they were guaranteed monsters or not. So many of the artists I care about would have either had a much tougher time getting off the ground or would have never made records at all were it not for their label support. The vast majority never got rich and more than that, never expected to do so. But some of them made truly great records that shaped whole genres of music and made my life and the lives of my friends better.

So when you download a Sufjan Stevens record without paying you are undermining not him, but a collective endeavor that may yet produce another artist you love, or help build a genre that means more to you than any other. One comment from these threads that has always stayed with me is one someone made comparing music was to sonic wallpaper -- something to fill up his iPod with and recycle out as soon as the novelty wears thin. I recognize that not everyone will feel as fiercely about music as I do, but seeing it devalued to something disposable, forgettable, unworthy of paying anything for -- not even attention -- it's a true heartbreak to me. It breaks my heart for the music I make, but more for the music I love.
posted by melissa may at 7:45 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I mean "physically easy" in the same sense that it's physically easy to make sounds with one's voice and tap keys or strings with one's fingers, and the difficulty of producing a great result is in the knowledge and the skill.

But it's not "physically easy" to perform music. The correct analogy to copying a mathematical proof would be notating a piece of music. Anyone can write down a Beethoven symphony, but that doesn't mean they could compose it or that they could perform it.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:03 AM on January 3, 2008


I want to say this again. I'm not sure the problem with the music industry is file sharing, per se. As someone mentioned before, they depend upon a few acts making a lot of money and the rest breaking even or losing some. So you need a population that flocks to a few acts in great numbers to succeed in this business model. However, the Internet has made readily available a large diversity of music, and so the tip of the pyramid has been squashed down quite a bit by the broader tastes of much of the buying public. And if the companies don't offer those at the bottom of the pyramid, then mega-record company CD sales will go down even as the home-brew, small outfit sales go up.

Couple this with the stupidity of the executives of the recording companies who feel that the high-overhead, high-cost CD market should take precedence over the low-overhead, low-cost download market and so enforce large hurdles on the latter. I would love to buy CDs by downloading them, but I hate Apple and they have only some of the music I like (see above paragraph). I tried using the Real site, but I wasted 3 hours on a few Beach Boys tunes that I currently can't play on any of my machines due to the DRM and can't seem to figure out how to restore them. I never could play them on my iRiver MP3 player, either.

Well, I make a pretty good amount of money per hour consulting, and those were some f**king expensive, useless files. And I am a goddam paying customer that they crapped all over with their DRM. What right do they have to do this? And why would they do this? I make a lot of money, and can afford a lot of music, but don't like going to stores and hate the tediousness of ripping CDs. Why, oh, why do they do this? I really think they are stupid.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:44 PM on January 3, 2008


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