Medieval troubadours

Sounds All-Too Familiar

Bad Dog is a band you’ve probably not heard of. It consists of two guys, David Post and Craig Blackwell, and is based in the Washington, DC area. They’ve been bumping around for a few decades now.*

And you may have heard music produced by Bad Dog but you may not think that you’ve heard Bad Dog because the given song was purportedly by someone else even though it was by Bad Dog. Perhaps that would provoke nothing more than a shrug, but think about how Post and Blackwell must have felt upon discovery of that.

Welcome to the Age of Ephemeral Digital Non-Ownership.

It’s like this.

As a story in The New York Times, appropriately headlined “Their Songs Were Stolen by Phantom Artists. They Couldn’t Get Them Back,” the band recorded a CD last July it planned to give away at a party in December.

The album was appropriately named—at least as regards to what has happened—“The Jukebox of Regret.”

In July Bad Dog uploaded the album to SoundCloud.

Then, as the NYT reports, “nearly every song on it somehow turned up on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and at least a dozen other streaming platforms.”

Which might have seemed to be a Big Win for Bad Dog, except for one thing:

The songs weren’t necessarily with their actual titles and they were labeled by “people” who aren’t Bad Dog.

As in:

  • “Preston” by Bad Dog became “Drunk the Wine” by Vinay Jonge, about “whom” the story says “He didn’t seem to exist.”
  • “Pop Song” by Bad Dog became “With Me Tonight” by Kyro Schellen.
  • “The Misfit” by Bad Dog became “Outlier” by Arend Grootveld.
  • “Verona” by Bad Dog became “I Told You” by Ferdinand Eising.

These are not covers of the Bad Dog songs. They are the Bad Dog songs as performed by Bad Dog.

What made things more troubling was that Disc Makers, which was contracted to press the CDs, checked the metadata of the songs that it had received from Bad Dog. . . and discovered that they were digitally owned by others, not Bad Dog.

Craig Blackwell is quoted: “It felt like someone had broken into my house and stole my prize possessions.”

And here’s the kicker: “And it’s not like I’m looking to make $10 from Spotify. It’s about attribution.”

The good(ish) news for the duo is that Blackwell is a practicing lawyer who deals with IP and Post is a retired law professor who had focused on internet copyright. So they had the wherewithal to pursue the situation.

Takedown notices got quick responses from Amazon Music and YouTube. Others were more robot-response oriented.

It was determined that Level, a music distributor owned by Warner Music, had uploaded the Bad Dog music. And Warner Music somehow managed to take it all down.

While it was certainly bad for Post and Blackwell, clearly Bad Dog was not something that they were going to predicated careers on.

But what of those who are starting out? What of those for whom a few bucks from Spotify can make a difference to their livelihoods, small perhaps, but one nonetheless? What about those who feel their pride has be ripped away by some variant of Vinay Jonge?

Piracy, in one shape or form, has long been an issue for musicians. Presumably minstrels, troubadours and trouvères of the Middle Ages turned up in a given town only to discover that their carefully crafted repertoire had been heisted by someone who had heard them in another town and then quickly made their way to the next, taking the original musician’s music with them.

But now it happens in an instant, though the recourse for those who have been robbed are no better centuries later.

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*If you think about it, most bands that are widely known are those that have been around for quite some time. This year is the 30th anniversary of Wilco, and if we still consider it to be in some bizarre way in existence, the 60th anniversary of The Who. It seems, however, that 30 years from now (or 60, though it is highly unlikely that any of us will be around to determine whether this is true), it is unlikely that there will be as many bands that will have had a long run (speaking of which: The Eagles: 53 years). As a story in The Guardian in March 2021 put it, “Popular music’s center of gravity has undeniably moved toward solo artists, at least when it comes to serious commercial success.” This is still the case. Looking at the Billboard U.S. Singles Top 100 for January 20, 2024, it isn’t until #45 that there is a group, Dan + Shay, a country duo. The Guardian article quotes Ben Mortimer, then co-president of Polydor, now singular-president: “If you’re young and inspired to become a musician, you face a choice. If you go the band route, you need to find bandmates with a similar vision, you need expensive instruments and equipment, and you need to get out on the road to hone your craft. On the other hand, you could download Ableton [production software], shut your bedroom door and get creating straight away. Culture is shaped by technology.” That’s not changing any time soon. And the writer of the article, Dorian Lynskey, observes: “Social media is built for individual self-expression. Platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Twitter – and even the portrait orientation of a smartphone screen – give an advantage to single voices and faces while making group celebrity less legible.” Today Talking Heads would more likely be in the singular.

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