Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Pub conversation primer

A pint, earlier.

(This post breaks all of my rules about not writing about something unless I know what I'm on about. Never mind)

Off to the pub in a minute? Want something to get people arguing? Then start with this (fairly inoffensive) little joke.

Q: How many bass players it takes to change a lightbulb?

A: None. Get the keyboard player to do it with her left hand.

There’s plenty more like that here if you’ve never seen the canon of musician jokes.

And if your audience are warming to your sparkling sense of humour, then you can step the conversation up a gear with this one:

Q: How you shut guitarists up?

A: Put some sheet music in front of them.

Now if they're still eating out of your hand thanks to a bunch of lame gags, you've got them where you want them. You can start an argument (yay!). Because it’s true that most guitarists are hopeless with sheet music. We have a mickey-mouse version of it called ‘tablature’. It is simply a visual representation of the fretboard showing you where your fingers have to go.

And because it’s easy to recreate, we like to share it with other guitarists.

The Register has the latest installment of the cat-and-mouse game that guitarists have been playing with musicians who aim to share guitar tablature. Over the years, all sorts of shenanigans involving proxy-servers have been deployed, but in the end, OLGA - one of the first filesharing systems (long before Napster) has had to succumb to the demands of The Man.

I mention this because the defence offered by the contributors to OLGA (and other such sites) is that they only offer ‘by ear’ transcriptions.

So, I hear a song on the wireless, work out how I think it’s being played, write it down and circulate it. It is more widely acknowledged, I think, that the defence would be too flimsy if file-sharers were circulating carbon copies of published sheet music or tabs? But, to date, The Man is winning the argument (probably because no-one can afford to take The Man on in the courts).

I’m guessing that – if I work out a tune without the help of sheet music, and I were to teach someone else, I would be breaking the industry’s definition of copyright? And where does this leave guitar teachers?

And what about impersonators? Next time you hear an advert on TV, listen to the voice-over. They obviously pay the more recognisable celebs for a sample of their voice (often without the celebs being seen). But what if a good impersonator started touting their trade doing duplicate voice-overs? Would the celeb have a case?

And what about buskers? As someone who kept a number of little barmen in work for most of the 1980s using the proceeds of my rendition of 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' (in that long tunnel at Green Park tube - the best busking pitch in London IMHO), can I expect a writ from m'learned freinds? And don't get me started on cover bands....

My own way of resolving this argument is that it is fair to copy something to address a market failure. If you create a demand for something, and then can't fulfill it in a reasonable way, then expect others to do so.

So, if The Man can offer people tablature that is either free or very cheap to anyone who can prove that they've bought the CD, then there is no need for piracy. But if the only way you can get the tabs for 'The Wind Cries Mary' is to shell out £15 on a book that is no more accurate than the version that you can find free on t'internet, then we all have a moral duty to confound The Man, to work it out, and show as many people as possible.

Thing is, everyone has their own version of my perfectly reasonable position on this. None of them as smart, obviously...

Thus the argument.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I only started learning 20 months ago, and I was amazed when I saw how much the 'official' books cost! £10 maybe, but I haven't yet managed to justify £15.

It's all backwards, anyway. If I find a decent tab on ultimate guitar, chances are I have the song already, or if not I'm happy to pay for it. Whenever my guitar teacher suggests a song I don't have, I just go buy it from iTunes. I'd think that 'by ear' transcriptions actually make money without the companies having to do anything!