Always Watching The Watchers

Sat 01 May 2010 by Jim Purbrick

On May 17th, the first 100 robots single, Always Watching, will be released online via Amazon, iTunes, emusic, Rhapsody, napster, spotify and many more digital outlets.

Always Watching has been one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on. Using a commodity PC and the incredible Ableton Live music production software, Max and I were able to compose, record, arrange and produce the track, sharing versions online using the free and open source Subversion revision control software and downloading freely reusable samples from the amazing freesound online sample site.

With the music done we were able to produce a DIY video for the track, filmed and directed by our friend Chris Cole again using digital technology that would have been out of reach of anyone but film studios a few years ago. After an incredibly fun day running around Brighton recording shots we could again get additional material from the internet, in this case footage of internet luminaries Chris Anderson, John Battelle, Sherry Turkle and Lee Tien interviewed about online privacy for the BBC virtual revolution series which were released online with a permissive license that allowed us to reuse them.

With the video in the can it was time to promote the track online using the social network sites MySpace, Facebook Sound Cloud and Last.fm, make a remix pack available via Bit Torrent and sell the track via Zimbalam, a site that that makes music available for sale on all of the major online stores, using artwork that we found on Flickr and that Rainer Messerklinger kindly let us use.

It really has been an amazing and eye-opening experience. Using cheap digital technology, the internet and a DIY spirit we have been able to create, promote and sell our music to the world and while I don’t expect to make a ton of money from selling the track, being able to sell it is important.

Computers and the internet have put the means of production back in to the hands of musicians, creatives and other workers in the digital economy. Whereas musicians in decades past would have had to rely on recording facilities and production and distribution chains owned and controlled by major labels, musicians now can choose to do it all themselves and potentially get much better deals. Historically record deals have been incredibly unfair on artists who have to pay for their recordings from their royalties but still don’t own their recordings once they are paid for. Right now sites like Zimbalam, TuneCore and CD Baby are fiercely competing to provide the best deal to musicians who are doing it themselves.

The last time ownership of the means of production changed hands from workers to factory owners the disenfranchised rose up to smash the machines until they were suppressed by the government. This time the disintermediated are turning to the government to defend and enforce the old business models by crippling the new machines that are handing back the means of production to the workers.

Always Watching is a song about biometrics, click tracking, online privacy, Phorm, governmental data loss, corruption and the increasingly Orwellian surveillance state. Even while we’ve been recording it the state has rushed through the Digital Economy Bill which further endangers our digital rights and freedoms. With a general election coming up, it’s even more important to always watch the watchers.


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