The ever-enigmatic Radiohead had their own big release recently, distributing their latest album Rainbows to over a million and a half people since the album was released on 10/10.

While I can’t gauge teens’ interest in Radiohead, I can say that this release is pretty important to libraries for at least one reason: they released it themselves, they released it online, and they let fans set their own price.

Yes, no record label was involved in the process of creating this album and, unless you’re willing to shell out $80 for the discbox (CD, LP, bonus CD, and artwork), digital downloading is the only way to get it in the forseeable future.

Lots of bands and artists are moving this route, selling digital tracks through the Snocap service in order to retain control over the rights to their music. In my other blog post, Chris commented, “Maybe it is difficult to discuss music collections because the industry and the format are in flux, and we’re not sure what role the public library will play.” This is certainly one of those cases, as current interpretations of copyright law leave libraries incapable of distributing these works. Radiohead does not provide any license with the download (I downloaded it myself to check), which means they retain all the rights authorized under copyright law. This leaves libraries without authorization under section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Code, which effectively wags its finger at our attempts to burn or otherwise distribute these files. We could each work out an individual license with the band, but I can’t imagine it would be easy. Nor could I imagine how this would play out in a future where thousands of artists are distributing their music solely through a decentralized digital network.

What can we as a library community do about this? Can we lobby Snocap to include rights for libraries in its agreement with musicians? Can we engage the open source community to develop a secure distribution system for MP3s (which would garner us leverage in providing digital downloads of purchased song files)?

Last month saw a formal challenge erupt between Kanye West and 50 Cent, whose Graduation and Curtis albums were both set to be released on September 11th. This album showdown, in which the Kanye and 50 would be battling for first-week album sales, drew lots of press. The two squared off on a Rolling Stone cover, countless news articles said that the sales figures would predict “the future of hip-hop,” and 50 Cent promised to retire from rap in the face of a loss.

This resulted in one of the biggest first weeks in album history, with Kanye posting the highest sales total of the last two years with 957,000. While 50 Cent only sold roughly 691,000 units (being beat pretty handily), it still marked the first time that two CDs sold over 600,000 on the first week.

What does this mean for your library? You might notice occasionally that two big-time books, CDs, movies, video games, manga, or graphic novels are being released on the same day. Or if not the same day, perhaps in the same general time-span. This is an opportunity to challenge fans of those items to see who can get the most holds first. For example, will the next volume of Bleach have more holds than Naruto? Perhaps you can add some real-world consequences, like buying a poster of the winning manga. Or perhaps an extra copy of the winning book, CD, etc. (You’ll probably need it anyway, if things work out.) It’s another opportunity for teens to become advocates for their favorites and get the hype machine churning.

One member of the YA-MUSIC list recently proposed we expand the topic of the list to cover all teen non-print media and technology. For one, YALSA doesn’t have a forum for librarians to discuss these topics, so lots of people are forced to write YALSA-BK or YA-YAAC for help. Secondly (and more to the point), our list has been pretty quiet lately. This means, as part of the list and blog, I’ve been quiet lately. So why’s that?

Perhaps you share a lot of my reasons: boredom, disinterest, and even discontent. In a lot of ways, music seems to be in a pretty unhealthy state. I don’t feel that it’s a case of fuddy-duddyism to say that creative otuput is weaker, music sales are dwindling, show attendance is generally down from what it was before (you can read one disgruntled indie promoter’s account). Many of the same bands and artists from the late-90s and earlier are still producing songs for the radio, often at their most uninspiring. Li’l Wayne, Britney Spears, Foo Fighters, etc. are all still kicking.

Popular new bands and artists are mostly still riding out the sounds that seemed fresh and exciting from earlier this decade (poppy emo-rock, crunk, metal-core, etc.). I just asked one of the most vocal proponents of music at the library what new bands are providing him with inspiration, and I got nothing but a blank stare and stammering. And this is someone who listens to music hours upon hours each day. This is also someone whose favorite bands are Offspring, Sum 41, and Pearl Jam–none of which formed after 2000.

I also wonder if librarians get weak knees in discussing music when so many popular artists are knee deep in guns, drugs, and other legal trouble and stints in rehab? Would YALSA-BK go hush if John Green was arrested for a deadly weapons charge? If Meg Cabot got brought in for DUI? At ALA 2007, I shared a knowing glance with another teen librarian, after we mentioned needing to reorder new copies of the most recent Akon CD, Konvicted. This was, of course, right after Akon threw a teen into the crowd from a stage in Fishkill, New York–which itself was hot off the heels of Akon simulating sex with a 14 year-old while on stage in Trinidad (you can find them both on Youtube, if you’re so inclined).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t interesting and invigorating things going on, many of which have implications for library service beyond music. I’ll blog about those soon. But when there’s such a stark contrast in the music and publishing industry, from the industry to the personalities, it’s hard to get motivated enough to actively discuss and promote music to my peers, no matter how much of an advocate I might fancy myself.

But enough about me. What’s been keeping you from feeling chatty on YA-MUSIC?

I finally got around to reading Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. Basically, the book details how recent revolutions in the development, production, and distribution of consumer goods are creating a whole new way to organize markets. In these markets, scarcity becomes a non-issue and consumers are presented with unparalleled choice. Technologies are then connect shoppers to items off the beaten path, so to speak, creating a scenario where almost every book, movie, song, etc. is bought or accessed at least once.

Nowhere does this seem more evident than music. Teens tune into iTunes, torrents, music blogs, file uploading sites, and social networking to have access to an unprecedented amount of access than ever before (legally or otherwise). As a result, it’s hard to imagine even the most obscure niche musician without some fanbase. It got me wondering: when was the last time I talked to teens about music beyond telling them what we had in the collection? I used to a lot, before I got burnt out trying to keep up with the million bands, singers, and rap artists that I had never heard–let alone heard of–before.

It also got me thinking about how much teens love the process of discovering new things. It lets them be a tastemaker, the first person to, say, hear about Dr. Steel and start spreading the news to friends. Or it lets them keep it secret, giving them a sense of their own unique identity and interests.

So, are you including surprises in your music collection? Are you giving teens the opportunity to discover new and underground artists? You might find them on Elbo.ws, The Hype Machine, the Last.fm hype list, the Myspace Music page, or even the Alternative Teen Music Podcast. Or you might try talking to the teens themselves, finding out their means of discovering new music, and doing a little detective work from there. Then add these artists to your collection, and see what kind of interest you pique.

The death knell of internet radio may have struck a dull note last week, when SoundExchange offered smaller and non-commercial internet stations fee caps and possible individual, fair negotiations with broadcasters. However, the Radio and Internet Newsletter reports that the Digital Media Association (DiMA) rejected the offer, after SoundExchange offered a last-minute reveal that part of its offer involved the forced implementation of DRM technologies on their online streams. This comes after their recent effort to hype a little-used form of music piracy called “stream ripping,” which entails people recording streamed tracks into hard copies on their computer.

I was reminded to check on this when a teen approached my desk and asked if I had heard about “a new site called Pandora” (those of you who saw or heard about our presentation at ALA Annual might get a chuckle out of that one). Our ensuing conversation reminded me that teens are actually using these technologies to discover music along the long tail, and that the demise of such services would be an unfortunate setback for teens looking to connect to new bands and artists through the ones they know and love. I have a feeling, though, that teens are hardly batting an eye as the music industry continues to sag under the weight of its own misguided profiteering.

Random thoughts tangentially related to the above:

  • Services like Pandora make me think: are there any reading resources that allow links based on the writing style instead of content? For example, where could I go to be linked between–for example–the tersely poetic prose of Joyce Carol Oates’s After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away, Laura Kasischke’s Boy Heaven, and Matt de la Peña’s Ball Don’t Lie?
  • How many of you use these sort of services to listen to bands and artists related to what your teens are listening to? Or for collection development purposes? It’s not just the music itself that would be lost but the massive amount of listener-generated metadata.
  • For that matter, why do CDs cost as much as they do?

It was bound to happen sooner-or-later, and it looks like sooner-or-later is here. Apple’s iTunes store—in partnership with EMI—is now selling DRM-free mp3s. These mp3s are priced at a $.30 premium (though full albums are still at the same rate) and are encoded at 256 kb/s. That means roughly double the quality of their traditionally 128 kb/s AAC files.

This is terrific news for individual consumers, who will likely appreciate the quality boost in addition to the convenience of not having to deal with all the hassles of DRM. Libraries, unfortunately, more or less need DRM under current laws and licensing agreements to retain any fair use argument for circulating MP3s at libraries. And while 128 kb/s files aren’t ideal, one (admittedly unscientific) study comparing the two files finds that the younger listeners are less tuned into the differences between the files than their older counterparts. Like “analog” teens dancing around to music from tinny portable radio speakers in past decades, many of today’s teens have lower expectations for digital sound quality, even as they develop a preference for vinyl LPs over all. So, it’s not too much of a loss.

Shameless self-plug: you can learn about developing MP3 collections (and other fantastic digital music topics) at ALA Annual this year in the “To iPods & Beyond” program. I am developing this program with the fantastic Tanya J. Brown and Christina Roest, and we think it will be a very informative and fun session of digital rocking and rolling. Look for us on Sunday, June 24th @ 1:30 PM.

To begin, let me apologize–because this is going to be a long one. Recently, rappers have become quite a target for media to blame anything from drugs, violence, or even public school performance. For example, the rapper Cam’Ron (notorious for promoting pretty much everything that the average person finds objectionable) was put on 60 Minutes to discuss the “stop snitching” policy, an informal law by which anybody who cooperates with police in any way, especially with regard to violent crimes, drug dealing, and gang-banging, is subject to retribution. The rapper Serius Jones responded to this media portrayal with an AllHipHop.com editorial.

So you know what my initial thought to this whole show was right? “Get tha f**kada here!” These white American media dudes are hilarious! First of all, the only reason they trying to pull this attack on Hip-Hop trick out the bag is because some racist old white radio host finally got caught out there talking reckless (Don Imus) calling a group of Black female student/athletes “nappy headed hoes” for no reason.

So, in an effort to take the spotlight off the fact that there are still a bunch of reject Klan members running around in positions of power, they decided to re-direct the public’s attention and blame Hip-Hop with the same tactics of a snitch. Talking ‘bout, “Well they say the word hoe too!” Then using more media trickery they spin it to act like rappers made up the term “snitching”! Like it’s a race, and they have snitch rights or something… Since when does anyone like a snitch? Even the Feds used to put black bags over snitches heads in court just to humiliate them.

This topic’s been the subject of much debate–at least among adults. The rapper NYOIL followed up with a post that (among other things) included the following ideas:

First, I am an adult and, as a parent, I agree wholeheartedly that the language and images portrayed in Hip-Hop today are damaging and destructive to the minds of our children. I bare witness to this everyday in my hometown of Staten Island, NY, where I watch kids emulate lifestyles they aren’t even living – until they are truly living that lifestyle. They invariably find themselves trapped in situations that they are ill-equipped to escape.

Secondly, as an MC and a devout Hip Hopper who loves the complete culture and this lifestyle. I am concerned because I can see a “lowering of the Boom ” on Hip-Hop as it is being made the scapegoat for mass media’s systematic corruption of our nation and people in the international community. It is being used to cloak the nefarious deeds of corporate entertainment companies and corporate radio. All the while focusing on the bad elements and further promoting them and their presence while totally ignoring artist such as an NYOIL, Wise intelligent, Immortal Technique, Little Brother, Uno the Prophet, Dead Prez, and so on. Artist that make the sort of music that these demagogues seem to be screeching for.

Why is this debate important for teen librarians? Two reasons:

  1. As alluded, lots of the debate about rap music is really a veiled commentary about teens–especially young African Americans. We’re still a profession struggling to maintain diversity, so it’s important that we maintain our professional filters when it comes to not letting media messages affect our perceptions and judgments of the teens we serve.
  2. We’re a media provider who can use this discussion to inspire us to provide balanced collections that pair rap artists like Cam’Ron with those who don’t glorify violence, drugs, misogyny, homophobia, and a whole host of other issues that people take with commercial rap music. The idea isn’t to censor or judge the interests of our teen patrons but to ensure that we are providing a wide array of alternatives–not just among genres but within them.

That’s why the YA-MUSIC list recently compiled options for contemporary rap artists and hip-hoppers that you can use to provide more balance to your collection. Our criteria focused more on general feel than analyzing music for any instance of something that we might find objectionable. It’s still not the most diverse list possible, but it’s a start! So without further ado (and in no particular order):

Mos Def
Talib Kweli
Immortal Technique
Lupe Fiasco
Psalm One
MF Doom
Aesop Rock
Blackalicious
KRS One

Common
The Roots
Murs
Rhymefest
J-Live
Dead Prez
Deep Dickollective
Lauryn Hill
Kanye West

Eve
Nas
Outkast
LL Cool J
De La Soul
A Tribe Called Quest
M.I.A.
The Coup
Saul Williams

Q-Tip
Beastie Boys
Busta Rhymes
Public Enemy
Queen Latifah
Black Eyed Peas
Wyclef Jean
Jungle Brothers
Wax Tailors

Sage Francis
5 Deez
Madlib
Quannum
Mr. Lif
The Preceptionist
Dr. Octagon
El-P
Lifesavas

Brother Ali
The Saturday Knights
DJ Shadow
Gift of Gab
Latyrx
The Poets of Rhythm
Lyrics Born
Gang Starr
MC Solaar

Lady Sovereign
The Streets
Gnarls Barkley
Mint Royale
Matisyahu
Dujeous
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Guru

Jill Scott
Missy Elliott
Northern State
J Dilla
Handsome Boy Modeling School
Deltron 3030
Del tha Funkee Homosapien
Ghostface Killah
Wu-Tang Clan

Dilated Peoples
Afu-Ra
Wiz Khalifa
Ladybug Mecca
Will Smith
Black Star
Jurassic 5
Anthony Hamilton
John Legend

Rubber Ducky
Alfred Howard
Eyedea and Abilities
Digable Planets
More or Les
K’naan
k-os
Cadence Weapon
Shad

Buck 65
MC 900 ft. Jesus
Mix Master Mike
Peanut Butter Wolf
The X-Ecutioners
Money Mark

Whew! And for a couple of additional resources:

Hip-Hop Summit Action Network

Take A Stand Records (new resource started by Master P)
Beyond Beats & Rhymes (resource guide surrounding the documentary by Byron Hurt)

This morning on NPR’s Morning Edition there was a segment on High School Musical, which continues to be popular with tweens and teens. The segment reporter talked about the popularity of the movie – and its numerous offshoots – and he also highlighted the performances of the story that are taking place in middle schools and high schools around the country. One middle school reported an overwhelming number of students that auditioned to be in the musical and one 8th grader at the school talked about how the story of High School Musical resonates with her and her peers.

While the excitement over something like High School Musical can’t be planned for – who knew that it was going to be the hit that it is before it aired – libraries can start thinking about ways they might celebrate the release of the sequel with teens. What about asking teens if they are interested in getting the High School Musical karaoke disc for the library and having a High School Musical sing-along? Since tweens are also hooked on High School Musical, maybe teens in the community want to teach tweens the musical’s dance routines at the library. Or, maybe teens want to create YouTube videos of dance routines they produce based on High School Musical. What are the ideas that your teens have to celebrate High School Musical in your community and to get ready for the sequel’s release.

The Copyright Royalty Board, an arm of the Library of Congress, recently reinterpreted the original date of its massive royalty hike for Internet radio from May 15th to July 15th. Such news comes as a huge relief to all small and independent stations, who would have been decimated by the new rates. This is especially true because it gives Congress time to pass House bill H.R. 2060, the Internet Radio Equality Act. This bill would nullify the Copyright Royalty Board’s newly proposed rate structure and make it on par with other commercial radio structures, such as satellite radio.

What does this mean for teen services? Such a bill would save great listener’s advisory resources such as Pandora and Last.fm from ruin, as well as maintain our ability to promote our own music collections through streaming audio.

Please contact your representative and show your support for copyright sanity.