Copyright Symbol

Lawrence Lessig & Reviews of Ray Davies and Belle & Sebastian

Sound Opinions welcomes Lawrence Lessig, the pre-eminent expert in copyright and cyber-law, to discuss music in the digital age. In addition, Jim and Greg review the new albums from Belle and Sebastian and former Kinks frontman Ray Davies.

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Music News

Making news are recent announcements about upcoming summer concerts. First, there was release of the lineups for the annual Coachella and Bonnaroo music festivals. The Coachella Festival in southern California usually has one of the more exciting and diverse bills of the summer, with past headliners like Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails, and Radiohead. This year, though, Jim and Greg are skeptical of whether headliners Tool and Depeche Mode can be enough of a draw. It's up to support acts like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Massive Attack and Wolf Parade to make the desert heat bearable. There is also exciting news for Chicagoans: Lollapalooza will be returning with an expanded three-day format. Plus, indie rock fans can look forward to not one, but two new festivals in the city—the Pitchfork Music Festival and the newly independent Intonation Festival.

Joining Jim and Greg for the news this week is former Supreme Mary Wilson. Ms. Wilson made headlines recently when she began a national campaign to support legislation that would prevent imposters (but thankfully not cover bands) from posing as major artists. To prove the point that there is only one true Mary Wilson, the singer did an a cappella rendition of The Supremes' "Stop! In the Name of Love" for the Illinois House of Representatives.

interview

Lawrence Lessig

Next up, Jim and Greg play a bit of The Grey Album, a mashup of The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album made by DJ Danger Mouse. This album received a lot of critical praise in 2004 (it even topped both Jim and Greg's year-end lists). It's a completely modern work that could not be made without recent digital technologies. The rub? It cannot be purchased anywhere, and most people who have heard it don't own a hard copy. This is because according to current copyright law, what DJ Danger Mouse did was completely illegal. To discuss how laws like this are stifling art, and how music in the digital age is changing, Jim and Greg welcome the definitive expert on this issue: Lawrence Lessig. Professor Lessig, a faculty member of Stanford Law School and founder of its Center for Internet and Society, has authored three books on cyber law and free culture, tried cases before the Supreme Court and founded Creative Commons, an organization trying to expand the range of creative work legally available to share.

While copyright laws have existed for over 200 years, music was not protected for a long time. Early in the 20th century, protections for musicians and songwriters were put in place, but these laws did not necessarily hinder creativity. Once a song was recorded, anyone had the right to record it. This encouraged artists and was fundamental to the growth of the music industry — so much so that even the RIAA defended this right. The 21st century version of this kind of conversation between artists is sampling — but under current law, Professor Lessig explains, sampling is considered piracy. Therefore, creative expression and evolution are not fostered the way they were in the last century.

Digital copyright laws also affect the consumer. In fact, Lessig suggests that“creator”might be a more appropriate name. In the last century, fans would buy music or make mixtapes, but current technology allows listeners to take part in the creative process. The law currently treats these creative consumers, many of whom are kids, as thieves. While our guest doesn't condone illegal behavior, he hopes to see existing laws change, rather than prosecute fans who are hardly criminals.

In addition to changing laws, Professor Lessig recommends that record companies use the Web rather than fight it. If he ran a label, he says, he would encourage people to participate in the creative process and remix an artist's work. Lessig would also allow and encourage artists to release their music on the internet. A small number of bands including Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Wilco have been able to do this with really positive results. Finally, if he ran a label, he would not bite the hand that feeds him, backing away from the harmful DRM technologies that labels are bundling into their content.

reviewOther People's LivesOther People's Lives available on iTunes

Ray Davies Other People's Lives

The first album up for review this week is Other People's Lives by former Kinks frontman Ray Davies. This is Davies‘ first solo album, and he seems to be returning to some of his original themes. Many of Davies’ previous songs, including Jim's recent DIJ pick, captured how it feels to be an outsider. Now, as a British rocker living in New Orleans, Davies is writing about those feelings again. The critics are split on their opinions of the album. Jim believes Davies' songwriting is as strong as ever and gives Other People's Lives a Buy It rating. Greg agrees, but doesn't think the sound of the record lives up to the lyrics. For him, it was Pro Tools run amuck and only a Burn It release.

JimGreg
reviewThe Life Pursuit (Bonus Tracks)The Life Pursuit available on iTunes

Belle and Sebastian The Life Pursuit

Scottish indie pop band Belle and Sebastian recently put out their seventh studio release, and Jim and Greg are in agreement about this one. On The Life Pursuit, the band turned to producer Tony Hoffer to break its mold. The result is a sound that is tougher, poppier, and not overly precious. Like Ray Davies, singer/songwriter Stuart Murdoch is a witty and often acerbic lyricist who wrestles with feeling like an outsider. He tackles issues of identity and religion, but wraps it up in an up-tempo, disco-inspired package. The result is a double Buy It rating.

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“Egg Man”The Beastie Boys,The Beastie Boys

Greg's Desert Island Jukebox selection this week was inspired by his discussion with Professor Lawrence Lessig. Thinking about fair use, free culture and digital copyright law got this rock critic downright nostalgic for the days when great art was made using other people's art. "Egg Man" by The Beastie Boys is a perfect example of this. The song was released on Paul's Boutique, the follow-up to the hip hop trio's successful (albeit frat boy-ish) debut Licensed to Ill. The group linked up with production team The Dust Brothers to create a sonic collage of samples, beats, loops and raps. In "Egg Man" alone, astute listeners can hear parts of the songs "Superfly" and "Bring the Noise", bits of dialogue from Taxi Driver and E.T., as well as the film scores to Jaws and Psycho. Sadly, shortly following the release of Paul's Boutique, a series of lawsuits made sampling on this level too risky and too cost-prohibitive. Listening to "Eggman" is enough to send a music fan into mourning. Thankfully the Desert Island Jukebox will keep it safe for posterity.

Featured Songs

  1. Jane's Addiction - Superheroes
  2. The Supremes - Stop in the Name of Love
  3. Danger Mouse - December 4th
  4. DJ Shadow - Organ Donor
  5. Nirvana - Where Did You Sleep Last Night
  6. Ray Davies - Is There Life After Breakfast
  7. Ray Davies - Other People's Lives
  8. Belle and Sebastian - The Blues are Still Blue
  9. Belle and Sebastian - We Are the Sleepy Head

Footnotes

marywilson.com Mary Wilson's homepage ilga.gov The Illinois House of Representatives coachella.com Coachella bonnaroo.com Bonnaroo coldplay.com Coldplay's homepage nin.com Nine Inch Nails' homepage radiohead.com Radiohead's homepage lollapalooza.com Lollapalooza pitchforkmedia.com Pitchfork archive.org Hear ‘The Grey Album’ salon.com The mash-up revolution allmusic.com The White Album allmusic.com The Black Album allmusic.com DJ Danger Mouse metacritic.com praise for ‘The Grey Album’ lessig.org Lawrence Lessig's homepage stanford.edu The Center for Internet and Society amazon.com Buy Lawrence Lessig's books wired.com Lawrence Lessig's Supreme Showdown creativecommons.org Creative Commons riaa.com The RIAA youtube.com Bill Monroe,“In the Pines” youtube.com Leadbelly,“In the Pines” youtube.com Bascom Lamar Lunsford,“To the Pines, To the Pines” youtube.com Joan Baez,“In the Pines” youtube.com Grateful Dead,“In the Pines” youtube.com Nirvana,“Where Did You Sleep?” allmusic.com Rancho Deluxe,“In The Pines” allmusic.com Smog,“In The Pines” youtube.com Clifford Jordan,“Black Girl” youtube.com Mark Lanegan,“Where Did You Sleep?” youtube.com Dolly Parton,“In the Pines” youtube.com Louvin Brothers,“In the Pines” allmusic.com Youth Gone Mad,“In the Pines” npr.org Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on NPR wired.com Wilco talks to Wired wikipedia.org DRM allmusic.com The Kinks raydavies.info Ray Davies' homepage belleandsebastian.com Belle and Sebastian's homepage allmusic.com Tony Hoffer's production credits seeklyrics.com“Eggman”lyrics allmusic.com Beastie Boys allmusic.com The Dust Brothers allmusic.com Superfly allmusic.com Bring the Noise