For the last six months, Oliver Wang, a thirty-two-year-old San Francisco DJ and freelance writer, has been transferring soul and hip-hop classics from vinyl to MP3 and posting them on the Internet. “I have 7,000 albums,” he says. “I figured I might as well digitize some of them.” With the record industry increasingly turning to the courts to stop illegal file-sharing, Wang, who posts the MP3s without permission, would seem to be setting himself up for a lawsuit. But record labels are taking a hands-off approach to his MP3 blog, Soul Sides, and dozens of others like it. And some labels, particularly indies, have started sending bloggers promotional CDs in the hopes that their music will be posted on the sites.
Because many MP3 blogs are primarily about a specific musical obsession (Word in the Alleys is dedicated to arty indie rock, Gabba Pod features European electronica, Cocaine Blunts offers old-school hip-hop), they provide an expertly curated selection of music that you’d be unlikely to find on your own.
There’s no question that the majority of what is posted on MP3 blogs lacks permission from the artists or the labels; in the past few months, unreleased material from Fiona Apple, Interpol and Bjšrk has made it onto blogs. A representative for the Recording Industry Association of America told Reuters a few weeks ago that, in terms of piracy, MP3 blogs were “an issue we’re monitoring” and that the RIAA “could decide at any time to make this an enforcement priority.”
But almost all of the MP3 blogs trace their roots to Fluxblog, a site that set a few standards that continue to give record companies pause about sending cease-and-desist letters. Launched about a year and a half ago by Matthew Perpetua, a twenty-four-year-old photographer and DJ who lives about an hour north of New York, the blog mainly offers lesser-known bands that are unlikely to threaten major-label revenue. He almost always includes a link to an online record store, and early on he posted a disclaimer asking anyone with a copyright complaint to contact him so he could remove the offending track immediately.
Perpetua says he gets about 2,500 unique visitors a day. To an indie label without much of a marketing budget, or a major trying to generate buzz on a new act, those are prime eyeballs and eardrums. Labels including SpinArt, Artemis and Outpost have begun sending promos to the blogs, and Warner Bros. was recently involved in a clumsy scheme to get the psychedelic Texas band Secret Machines onto MP3 blogs by mass-e-mailing their music to seemingly every site the company could find. Perpetua says any embrace from record labels is great: “Having some kind of implicit permission to post things is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Best of the Blogs:
West Coast R&B, soul and hip-hop aficionado Oliver Wang drops classic tracks and serious knowledge, giving each selection lots of useful historical context. Sample picks: Al Green, Big Daddy Kane, Ahmad Jamal, Ray Charles, Gang Starr.
Fluxblog maintains a simple but effective format, offering a few songs a day with a paragraph of insightful commentary. Big on U.K. grime, twee dance pop and Brooklyn indie rock. Sample picks: the Fiery Furnaces, Dizzee Rascal, LCD Soundsystem, Bis.
Music (for Robots)
Music (for Robots) is frequently updated by a team of ten contributors scattered across the country. Not much curation or in-depth commentary, just lots and lots of songs of all genres. Sample picks: Rilo Kiley, Mouse on Mars, Randy Newman, Basement Jaxx.
Stripped-down and well-organized, Gabba Pod brings fresh electronic music with an emphasis on beats from Europe. A great place for Kompakt-style micro-house, Italo disco and crunchy electro. Sample picks: Junior Boys, the Knife, Jurgen Paape, Mr. Oizo.
The Suburbs Are Killing Us
JazzTimes editor and former indie rocker Christopher Porter’s blog features everything from Cure bootlegs and Brazilian hip-hop to dancehall-riddims-based Tracy Chapman songs. Sample picks: HŸsker DŸ, Burning Spear, Arthur Russell.
Cocaine Blunts is the home of Washington, D.C., college-radio hip-hop DJs whose overbearing critical swagger is redeemed by great taste, with an emphasis on obscure rappers of the Eighties and Nineties. Sample picks: Ghostface, Saafir, Ras Kaas, Odd Squad.