The Other Other Other Side of My Writing Life

You know, when I’m not writing here, or on By the Way, or working on a novel, or a non-fiction book, or banging out a corporate brochure, or mugging little old ladies for their gerunds, I’m often writing magazine articles. Here’s one of them, on a company called MediaDefender, which is a company that tries really hard to make sure your attempt to illegally download that popular song or movie is a truly unpleasant experience. It was the cover story a couple months back for Jungle magazine, a magazine aimed at MBA students and new graduates. I’ve done work for them before, and, indeed, at the moment I’m writing another article for them, too, this one on the UFC. Interesting stuff.

11 Comments on “The Other Other Other Side of My Writing Life”

  1. changterhune – Before you hear lies from Chang Terhune himself, we thought we’d tell you the truth: without us, his old action figures, he’d be nowhere. He loved science fiction from way back and began reading it at an early age, but it was through us that he acted it all out. That’s what led to the writing. He watched a lot of science fiction shows like Star Trek, U.F.O, and movies, too. But we were always there to do his bidding. And it’s like they say: you always forget about the little people on your way up. Oh, the 70’s and early 80’s with him were good times! He’d use these blocks and make all the crazy buildings for us to be in his stories. I gotta say the kid’s imagination was pretty damn fertile. Oh, he had friends, but they just weren’t into it like him. He was like the Lance Armstrong of action figures. And of science fiction. At first, when he began writing in the eighth grade, we didn’t mind. He still made time for us. And we knew that when he was holding us in his sweaty little hands and he got that far off look in his eye, he’d come back to burying us in the back yard or - god forbid! – blowing us up with firecrackers. But it was worth it for a part in one of those stories. We loved him for it. He kept us around even when we were minus a leg or two - or even a head. In that mind of his, he found a use for all of us. Then he discovered girls. October, 1986. It was like the end of the world. One day we’re standing in the middle of this building block creation he’d pretended was some marble city on a planet near Alpha Centauri and the next we were stuck in a box in the closet. Not even a “See ya later!” Nope, it was into the closet, then we heard some high-pitched girly-giggles then silence. We didn’t see him for years. We got word about him once in a while. Heard he took up writing, but it was crap like “The Breakfast Club” only with better music. We couldn’t believe it. Not Charlie. What happened to those aliens with heads he’d sculpted out of wax? Spaceships? Those complex plots? All gone. For what? You guessed it: Girls. Emotions. “Serious fiction.” I tell you, it was like hearing Elvis had left the building. During our two decade exile in the closet, we heard other things about him. He went to college. He wrote a lot, but not much he really liked. We knew it even then. It was like he didn’t dare write science fiction. Some of us had lost hope and just lay there. Others kept vigil, hoping for a day we didn’t dare speak about. Then we heard he’d stopped writing in 1996. Did he come to reclaim us? No. He took up music for ten years or so. He took up yoga. Once in a while, he’d visit us in the closet. But it was half-hearted. His mind was elsewhere. Then one day, he really did come back for us. One second we’re in the dark and the next thing we know we’re in a car headed for Massachusetts. Suddenly we got a whole shelf to ourselves out in broad daylight! Then he bought a bunch of others form some planet called Ebay. He’d just sit and stare at us with that old look. But why were we suddenly back in the picture? He had a wife now, who didn’t mind that he played with us. So what had happened? Turns out he’d never forgotten about those stories. He’d been thinking about all of us and the stories he’d made up and then remembered he’d been a writer once. From the shelf we could see him typing away. Before long he’s got a whole novel together! Then he’s working on another one. Word is there are two more in the planning stages! Some short stories, too! It’s good to see him using his imagination again. Its good to know he never abandoned us. He returned to his true love of science fiction. We hear the stories are pretty good. Someday we’ll get one of the cats to score us a copy of the manuscript. Man, it’s good to be out of the damn closet! --- I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me
    Chang, father of pangolins

    And Tony Snow!

    But old lady gerunds are the best!

  2. I think they are failing. I would, of course, never download music from the net without paying for it, but from what I’ve heard its a fine experience. Of course, that may change.

  3. Jim Millen – Windsurfing, reading, biking, tech, PR, social, marketing, politics, sports. Big geek at heart, interested in most interesting stuff. :-)
    Jim Millen

    Interesting article! I’ve known that this kind of thing has been going on for a while, but it’s the first time I’ve read anything about the actual mechanics of it.

    I do find it pathetic, however, that the content companies employ people to “mess up” illegal downloads as you describe, all the while employing DRM that makes the legal option almost as painful. It’s something of a case study in cluelessness.

  4. Odd to me there is no discussion about the ethics of downloading free music or film. One day, I was looking at a royalty check of $13.52. I went to Napster and saw hundreds of hits on a song I had written recorded by a popular bluegrass artist.

    So many songwriters and musicians who aren’t in the top 100 depend on every little scrap we get to keep the beans on the table. Many of us have our own small record companies, often selling our work at shows and though small outlets like CDBaby. Selling 5000 CD’s is a big deal to the little guy. File-sharing kills us and we don’t have the protection the A-list artist have. Just a thought.

  5. Nick,
    I’m not saying this to be mean, but other than a chance download online, where else would I hear your music? And I enjoy bluegrass when I hear it, but I rarely hear it anymore. Downloading may be the best advertising you have.


  6. You may be right, Phil. As I’m not on the road these days and pretty much out of the music biz other than doing soundtrack work, I certainly am not generating a high profile. I’m a blues musician, though oddly I’ve had more success writing bluegrass and country music. I’ve always thought of musicians like myself as more a specialty product than mainstream artists. Every now and then a blues or bluegrass song or whatever hits the mainstream market, but a most of us depend on point of purchase CD sales. That’s changing and I figure things with sort themselves out. But if books were easy to reproduce, then writers would be facing this same dilemma.

    Our audience is a little older and less inclined to download music digitally. They still want CD’s. I own an Ipod, but I’m still not in the habit of downloading music, other than samples and loops I buy for my soundtrack work, but I always pay for those loops or download loops by people willing to give some away to get you to look at their other stuff.

    Mostly, I’m just railing against the wind. I realize it’s a complicated issue. My daughter works for a dance music company in Chicago, and they’re really stuck between two worlds. They produce vinyl and down-loadable music. She has the same take you do, and you’re both probably right.

    At the same time, I still have a gut reaction to the belief some have that intellectual property has no value. Most songwriters see their catalogue as a retirement plan. My songs will not provide a very good retirement anyway, so I like I said, I’m just railing at the wind. Thank God I have writing as a backup :)

  7. I don’t know about novels or straightforward prose nonfiction, but there’s certainly a lot of PDFs of roleplaying game sourcebooks floating around in the filesharing world.

  8. 1) That Media Defender guy comes across as a weeny. A lying one at that.

    “That’s something called error checking, and it’s done to thwart us,”

    Uh, no. Error checking is something done for reasons ranging from disk corruption or filesystem corruption to network errors to problems writing the files on the client end. The fact that it’s useful against his little scam is bonus.

    “No one wants to admit it outright,” adds Lee, “but one big reason the newest file-sharing networks are decentralized is that there is no one person or company to sic the lawyers on, like there was when the original Napster went down….”

    No one? What a weeny. EVERYONE that isn’t running or writing some sort of distributed file sharing system admits it, and even some who ARE running it admit it. Tim May, probably the first one to describe a *truly* decentralized file sharing system called he called “blacknet” talked specifically about it being resilient against lawyers and LEOs.

    And the proof that either he’s an idiot, or he thinks “we” are (if he’s mostly been dealing with hollywood and music execs then he can be forgiven for thinking so):

    “Malicious hackers who know who we are will plant a virus to bring us down,”

    If his company is running servers exposed to the internet that can be *phased* by a virus, much less brought down by one then the Music Industry and Hollywood ought to sue his butt for incompetence.

    “First things first, however. “If you don’t stop the piracy, you can’t do other things—you can’t make an offer more compelling than piracy,” says Saaf.”

    Yes, you can.

    You price songs appropriately and you provide clear transparency as to who gets how much of that. And get the *artist* the “lions share” of the change.

    There is no reason why most songs can’t go for around 20 cents a piece, with at least half of that going straigt to the artist–with modern digital technology the costs of recording and distributing are MUCH lower than a decade ago, and for most of the back catalog there is *NO* marketing or advertising to soak up the expenses.

    2) If you download music and don’t pay for it after the first four or five listens you’re a dirtbag. If that statement makes you want to get up in arms, you’re probably a dirtbag too.

    3) I firmly believe that artists should get compensated according to their talent. Unfortunately people like Justin Sullivan can’t afford good dental work and poor Brittany Spears can’t afford panties.

    4) For my headaches.

    War, out.

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