The word went out yesterday

about a big Apple-related event at EMI Music this morning, and without more advance notice than that, we found out today that EMI Music will be selling DRM-free superior sound quality downloads across its entire digital repertoire, starting in May. I doubted that Apple would ever sell DRM-free music alongside regular, but it’s obvious now that the two-fer – no DRM and improved sound quality – sets a high enough bar for Apple to do this in ITMS. I suppose it’s important that the distinction be greater than just DRM/No-DRM (or price).

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber

asks an important question: Would Apple Mix DRM and Non-DRM Music at the iTunes Store? and refers to longtime Mac developer Peter N Lewis, whose blog post about Why Apple Cannot Allow DRM-free Indie Music is a worthwhile read as well. Lewis covers ground that I covered in my initial post about Jobs’ letter and reaches the same conclusion that I did. However, I think Gruber makes (as usual) some very valid arguments, in particular pointing out that there are interface conventions available in iTunes that make it possible that ITMS could stock non-DRM songs alongside DRM songs without causing too much confusion.

Compare and contrast these views with Cory Doctorow’s analysis, presented in an article in Salon today. Doctorow (who is a friend of a friend and someone whose views I tend to agree with) doubts Jobs’ sincerity and simply doesn’t believe that the DRM hasn’t given Apple the lock-in as Jobs suggested. I disagree with Doctorow that Apple is an eager DRM advocate – I think the evidence is pretty clear that they were overly cautious at the beginning (and so were more pro-DRM in the past) and now they’re only very grudging supporters.

On the DRM front,

Apple’s Steve Jobs published a remarkable open letter yesterday called simply, Thoughts on Music. The article comes at a time when a) Apple is under increasing pressure from European consumer groups to allow ITMS-purchased music to play on unauthorized devices (i.e., other than iPod); b) Microsoft has left its multi-manufacturer system in the dust with the launch of the Zune; and c) there have been reports that the majors themselves have been considering distributing non-protected music. So there’s lots of context in which to fit Jobs’ statement.

I have always thought that Apple’s commitment to DRM of any kind was executed with a pretty obvious wink-and-a-smile. If Apple had been more serious about it, there are all kinds of things that it could have done but didn’t do – things that the Zune has (stupidly) built in to the device that limit what people can do not only with Microsoft-purchased music but all music.

So now Jobs has come right out and said it – if the majors will change their licensing contracts with Apple, Apple would welcome the opportunity to sell unfettered music to its customers.

There has been a lot of commentary on this about the implications of this to the DRM story, but what I find most fascinating is that one of the chief implications of this is that Apple is saying that it believes that the iPod and iTunes and the integration of the two is so superior that it is willing to compete on no other basis. Even more: it’s saying that they already HAVE been competing on that basis (and not just through tying), and no matter who has entered the market, Apple has remained dominant.

This is a pretty remarkable thing, if you think about it. Apple is (and, according to its possibly self-serving numbers, always has) competed and won on interface and integration alone. This marks a new aggressiveness on Apple’s part, a new willingness to not only define but to move markets, and to compete on Apple core values.

What I wonder is how this translates to the PC world, particularly with Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) right around the corner? After all, if the iPod can win on interface and integration alone, could not their still-flagship product? Will this new aggressiveness and confidence spill over to the (more complicated) PC side of things?

PS: I don’t think the European suits are even a small threat to Apple. Even if the consumer groups were to win, they can’t force Apple to unilaterally change their contracts with suppliers (the major labels), so the only result will likely be to force the closure of ITMS in the countries where they are successful.

PPS: I would be surprised if the very reason Apple has been so successful with the iPod is also the reason they will never implement non-DRM downloads alongside others that are encumbered by DRM. To Apple, and I tend to agree, the status of ITMS downloads should be and will remain an all or nothing game – All-DRM or not – to reduce the overall complexity of the system for users.

In Jamie O’Meara’s column

this week comes the news that CBC’s Brave New Waves has been cancelled. At least that’s how I got the news. Jamie and I are exactly the same age – I might be a couple of weeks older – and I remember that even in Ottawa, BNW seemed like it was coming from Mars it was so different than the early-Muchmusic, Video school dance environment I came from. The show has always been an oddball on CBC Radio 2, but still, it’s a sad development at the Corpse that they couldn’t find a spot – in the middle of the night – for such innovative – after all this time – programming.

“Free” Music

has seemingly not been a hit on campus: Free, Legal and Ignored (from the Wall Street Journal). Sampling only works if it’s a product people want.

Since last year

when we learned that Leonard Cohen had been fleeced by some people who have worked for him for a long time, he has slowly but surely started to raise his profile once again. Knowing the circumstances, I haven’t heard anyone begrudge Cohen this sortie to make money, which is refreshing. Claire Crighton in Maisonneuve magazine makes a very good point in her article about Cohen, “Canadian Idol,” when she suggests that he should really be considered as a writer and poet more than as a songwriter or singer.

Musicians in Canada

have been responsible for some huge shifts in the advocacy landscape in Canada related to copyright, file sharing, DRM, and related issues in the past few months, and yesterday they moved the goalposts again with the creation of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition. Check out the names of CMCC members: it’s a who’s who of established and rising stars of the Canadian (and international) music scene including Sarah McLachlan, Dave Bidini, Andrew Cash, Sloan, and the Barenaked Ladies among many others. [via Michael Geist]

Nice start:

yesterday Hugh McGuire introduced his new projectCollectik – to the world. I haven’t looked at it in detail yet, but what I have seen looks really great. Collectik is “like mixtapes for podcasts” as they say in their tagline.

The buzz last week

was high about Neil Young’s upcoming protest album, and the most predictable nay-saying followed a pretty facile script: Neil Young is a drug-addled loser who clearly doesn’t know much about anything, blah blah blah. Today’s Video Dog clip with Young from some entertainment show clearly demonstrates that nothing could be further from the truth were Neil Young is concerned.

File sharing and the Canadian

music scene: New paradigm opened market to new music. The Toronto Star’s Christopher Hutsul on the real center of new music in Canada. “After last’s week’s Junos, it dawned on me that the only real threat to music in Canada is the ongoing glorification of pablum over art.” I think Hutsul overstates the impact of non-official downloads, but his comments on the overall environmental change in the music biz are right on the money.