Job Bites, Prince Reigns

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

The record business is buzzing since Steve Jobs, Apple executive #1, went on the offensive yesterday, publicly urging record labels to abolish DRM, the acronym for Digital Rights Management. DRM is a computer code iTunes uses to limit the number of times music can be transferred to other devices and hard drives. It's is called a closed system of file management. Jobs is now asking for labels to approve an open system, where music can be transferred freely to any hard drive consumers want without DRM.

In his memo, titled "Thoughts On Music" Jobs blames major labels for the iTunes DRM. But his thoughts only reveal one part of the story. Apple constructed their DRM and, the truth is, a number of international countries have been legally trying to force Apple to change to an open system.

The idea of abolishing DRM strikes fear in the heart of major labels, and for good reason. Big Champagne, the download-monitoring service, estimates over 1 billion digital tracks are traded for free each month. Without some kind of monetary system in place, it's hard to believe the record business can survive this kind of hit for long.

Regardless, the debate rages on. It will be interesting to hear people's comments on the Grammy Awards, airing this Sunday night.

In other music news, it was deeply satisfying to watch Prince deliver an outstanding performance on the Superbowl half-time program last Sunday. The energy was electric, and the torrential Miami rain only added to excitement. Performing effortlessly onstage, I almost forgot the painful road leading him there.

Back in 1981, just as he was starting his professional career, Prince was pelted onstage with tomatoes, while opening for the Rolling Stones at the LA Coliseum. It was so bad, he had to leave.

He became a star nonetheless, with the release records like 1999, Sign of the Times and Purple Rain. But his stock fell far in 1994, after he spoke out against his record label, Warner Bros, who demanded artistic and financial control. He appeared in public, often with the word SLAVE written across his face to advertise his torment.

Then in 2004, Prince jumped back into the public eye in a performance with Beyoncé on The Grammys. The following month, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The same year, he released Musicology on Columbia Records. Once again, he surprised the cynical industry. As the album was to be released, Prince launched a stadium tour across America. When fans arrived at the show, they were surprised to get a copy of his new album as part of their ticket. The album went on to sell over 600,000 copies in five weeks, owning in large measure to having these touring CD count as sales. It was a history first, and Billboard soon thereafter changed the rules to keep it from ever happening again. But the deed was done, and Prince was back, beating the record industry in his own way.

So watching him on television last Sunday night, I found myself cheering on so many levels. That he could have the comeback he richly deserved and his performances could still electrify millions. That he could reveal such strength, and endurance, effortlessly offered. That millions around the world were now cheering for this Princely underdog.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat.