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Universal Music Goes To War Against Popular Hip Hop Sites & Blogs

from the bizarrely-misguided dept

A few weeks ago, leading ad firm GroupM, a part of marketing giant WPP, proudly announced that it had "adopted an aggressive new anti-piracy policy" for its digital media buys. What that meant was that it prohibited vendors that it worked with from putting ads on any of a giant list of sites that it had declared were "pirate sites" -- defined as "sites that support piracy or contain any illegally distributed content." That's pretty broad. In fact, TorrentFreak got their hands on the list and noted many rather bizarre entries, including the Internet Archive (archive.org) and BitTorrent's corporate page -- neither of which have anything to do with "piracy" at all. There are some other shockers on the list, including the popular web video site/YouTube alternative, Vimeo, which is about as far from a "pirate" site as you can find. Stunningly, there's also SoundCloud, which has become one of the most popular tools for musicians to promote their own music these days. That's the site where the Beastie Boys streamed their latest album. A pirate site? Are they crazy? You can see the full list embedded below.

While there are many oddities on the list, we wanted to explore one aspect of the list, which is that it appears to show that Universal Music has decided to declare war on the online hip hop ecosystem that promotes its music in a big way -- and some of those sites are hitting back. First of all, it's worth noting that these blogs and sites are considered instrumental to promotion in the hip hop world, and Universal Music knows that. In talking to some of the folks at sites involved, you learn pretty quickly that they get sent tracks and other promotional info from insiders at Universal Music -- including high level execs -- all of the time. On top of that, hip hop artists themselves regularly rely on these same sites, and link people to them via their own blogs and twitter feeds. And yet, a whole bunch of these sites are on GroupM's list... and they got there because Universal Music told GroupM to put those sites on the list:
GroupM's own content producing clients -- such as Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal Music and Summit Entertainment, which produced the popular Twilight series of vampire movies -- have shared their own lists of pirate websites to help create a master copy.
While I don't know which of those companies may be responsible for some of the other headscratchers on the list, the attack on hip hop sites is being pinned squarely on Universal Music by many of the sites involved, and they're not happy. Among those on the list, for example, is Vibe.com, the online site for Vibe Magazine, founded by Quincy Jones of all people, and still considered one of the key sources for news and information about the hip hop and R&B worlds. And yet it's on the list as a pirate site? Really?

Back in 2009, Vibe produced a big list of the "50 hottest rap blogs." This is basically a who's who list of the top sites in hip hop, and the places that most music producers want to see their music appearing, because it's how they get attention these days. Yet, if you run down that list, you start to notice a pattern. An awful lot of those sites are on GroupM's "banned" list. I went through the top 12 sites on that list, and seven of them are "banned" as piracy sites, despite being some of the most popular promotional vehicles for artists and labels alike. Also, a bunch of the top hip hop blogs teamed up a while back to form what was called the New Music Cartel -- and every one of those sites is on the "banned" list.

And, of course, that Vibe list is a couple years old. There are plenty of other top music/hip hop sites that for unclear reasons were also put on the list, and they're not happy about it. For example, there's Complex, an up-and-coming and incredibly popular lifestyle magazine for the 18-34 male demographic. Somehow, they're on the list, and the magazine/site's editor-in-chief recently took his frustration to Twitter, calling out Universal Music and saying this means Universal Music will get less coverage:

Other sites on the list are similarly pissed, though not everyone's willing to talk about it publicly. The ones who should be angry are the musicians who rely on these sites to get their works heard, to build up a fan base, and to become popular, because Universal Music is making that more difficult for them. There are mixed opinions as to why Universal Music is attacking the hip hop blog ecosystem. There's the "left hand/right hand" ignorance theory, in which the lawyers at Universal Music who helped put together this list are so disconnected from reality that they don't realize they're trying to shut down the very sites that the promotions side of the business (and the artists themselves) rely on. There's also the more nefarious theory that Universal Music is sick of having to rely on such sites for promotions, and is seeking to shut down a bunch of them to limit where it can focus its promotions efforts -- perhaps even trying to prop up a few "friendly" sites that it wants to rule the market, over the competition.

Either way, this seems like more evidence of how ridiculous it is to claim it's easy to define "rogue sites." Given the chance, it looks like Universal Music has defined it as sites it doesn't like. The fact that this list includes all sorts of sites that clearly are not piracy sites should give anyone who supports bills like PROTECT IP pause. Defenders of these laws like to say that it's obvious what is and what is not a rogue site -- yet here you have Universal Music and GroupM showing how that definition can be quite broad, and extremely questionable.

No matter what, it seems likely that this move is going to backfire on Universal Music in a big bad way. It's like what would have happened if a record label suddenly declared radio as "piracy" and said that its artists couldn't appear on radio any more. It suggests a company so out of touch with how people find out about new music these days that it has no business being in the business of promoting artists. It also should serve as a warning sign to any artist thinking of signing with Universal Music. Why would you sign to a label that is actively working to kill some of the best sites for promoting your music? I reached out to Universal Music, asking for some comments and answers to a few questions raised in this article, and (not surprisingly) have heard absolutely nothing in response.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 10:57am

    ICE was busy

    There are mixed opinions as to why Universal Music is attacking the hip hop blog ecosystem.

    Obviously ICE was just busy actually working on our borders at the time. Or was on a Disney protection run or something like that ..

    As soon as ICE has a bit more time on its hands and the current news about them blows over, this entire list will be taken offline for supporting child pron and terrorism and all the other bad things they can make up to scare people with at the time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Donnicton, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 11:37am

    Wow, we all knew Universal Music hated The Pirate Bay, but who knew that they hated it so much that they listed it TWICE?

    Oh man, Universal Music just threw down the gauntlet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 11:39am

    "It's like what would have happened if a record label suddenly declared radio as "piracy" and said that its artists couldn't appear on radio any more."

    Where have you been Mike? Radio is piracy!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 11:41am

    I Can Do Them One Better

    1. Stop selling new music in any portable form (CDs, mp3s, etc.)
    2. Create "music centers" where people can go to put on a pair of headphones and listen to the recordings in person.
    3. Put six layers of security screening in front of the centers to grope would-be customers (no secret recording devices!)
    4. Charge $29.99 a song.
    5. ???
    6. Cultural relevance and profit!

     

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  5.  
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    RadioactiveSmrf (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 11:43am

    Nelly had it right

    Isn't this what Nelly was complaining about on Twitter when his latest album was released? He made what he felt was quality music but the label did nothing to promote him or his new record. http://www.eurweb.com/?p=68002

    I checked and his label is Motown Records, part of Universal Records. Looks like his ranting was on the mark.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 11:49am

    Gatekeepers

    If you're not a gatekeeper you must be a pirate. There is no middle ground.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 11:53am

    Get ready for the "Great 'Alleged' Pirate Site Wars"

    If company (X) doesn't own site (Y), then it's on their "Pirate List", even if site (Y) is totally legit and legal.

    Once company (X) buys out and owns site (Y), it will fall off the (X) list, even though the content won't change. Of course that won't stop them from showing up on the company (Z) "Pirate List".

    And on and on the battle will be waged, until the day when only one company will be in charge of all.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 11:59am

    "The fact that this list includes all sorts of sites that clearly are not piracy sites should give anyone who supports bills like PROTECT IP pause. Defenders of these laws like to say that it's obvious what is and what is not a rogue site -- yet here you have Universal Music and GroupM showing how that definition can be quite broad, and extremely questionable."

    Good example why the judicial review policy of Protect IP Act makes sense.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Yup, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 11:59am

    Thank you for reporting on this mike.

    It's unbelievable groupm doesn't even check the validity of the lists the label sends them.

    Same with our corrupt donation taking politicians (and especially vp Biden), whatever the labels say goes. It doesn't matter what the truth is, what the facts say, or what case studies or reports say. If a label doesn't like you, you're fucked.

     

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  10.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 12:06pm

    What a list

    Just ban *.*

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 12:16pm

    Tech support for UMG Executives:

    1. Open My Computer
    2. Search for a file named "hosts"
    3. Open file in notepad
    4. Enter on a new line: "* 127.0.0.1" (without the quotes)
    5. Save file
    6. Piracy problem solved.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 12:17pm

    Re: I Can Do Them One Better

    3. Put six layers of security screening in front of the centers to grope would-be customers (no secret recording devices!)

    That means a memory wipe of the audio before leaving said centers, so you would not remember what you just heard and disseminate it to the public at large (whistling, humming, singing the words on a YouTube video, etc...) without proper copyright clearance and appropriate jail time if you did it without owner authorization. Just look at all the unauthorized performances of the "Happy Birthday Song", and all the lost royalties, so sad.

    Wiping of said memories would also have the added benefit of the RIAA not having to actually find and pay talented singers and musicians, because not having anyone remember the songs, the RIAA could just stick to focusing on the packaging and advertising of said artists, with no worry of bad publicity.

    Instead of some reviewer saying: "I heard the new album/song and it sucked", it would be replaced with the same reviewer saying: "I heard the new album/song, and after my memory wipe the RIAA told me I really liked it."

    Hell, with that kind of technology they could even release old albums from the same artist and say they were new, based on the fact that you would never remember you had listened to them already because of the memory wipe. It's like selling you the same thing in a different package over and over (an already patented business model???)

     

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  13.  
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    mildred coo, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 12:26pm

    How do I get this list? Where can I find it to see what sites are on it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Gatekeepers

    Is true, which is what puts the gatekeepers in such an awkward position. They have to sell to the competition.

     

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  15.  
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    sehlat (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 12:35pm

    The Bottom of the Press Release Tells the Story


    ABOUT GROUPM
    GroupM is the leading global media investment management operation.

    In other words, they're a bunch of accountants and lawyers, not people who want to provide anything useful or do anything except demand money at gunpoint (The root word for "enforcement" is "force.") who won't be satisfied until they own your wallet.

    Meh.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    A non-mouse, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 12:40pm

    Why ask why

    "There are mixed opinions as to why Universal Music is attacking the hip hop blog ecosystem."

    Me thinks it has an awful lot to do with...

    "...a bunch of the top hip hop blogs teamed up a while back to form what was called the New Music Cartel..."

    It's a good ole turf war, they're "going to the mattresses" as they say in those circles.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Mike42 (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 12:41pm

    The archive.org entry tells it all. This is a war on free, plain and simple.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 12:49pm

    I think that the honest sites are going to suffer because there are so many illegal, questionable, copyright infringing sites out there hiding content on free hosts and playing games. At this point, the labels have little interest in filtering out who is who, they would rather just pull the plug and try some other methods for promotion.

    All the abusing of the system doesn't help anyone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    anymouse (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 12:54pm

    Re: Get ready for the "Great 'Alleged' Pirate Site Wars"

    Why do I get the feeling that Taco Bell is going to win the Franchise wars again....

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Drew, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 1:03pm

    The key part of this entire article is in the very first sentence.

    A few weeks ago, leading ad firm GroupM, a part of marketing giant WPP, proudly announced that it had "adopted an aggressive new anti-piracy policy" for its digital media buys.

    Unless I'm missing something here, this only has to do with digital ad buys, and has nothing to do with editorial coverage.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 1:17pm

    Holy gracious

    the more i mention the term "copyrightards" the more and more examples i see crop up that confirms it

    i mean seriously, internet archive?? wtf??

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 1:32pm

    Re: Re: Get ready for the "Great 'Alleged' Pirate Site Wars"

    Hey, as long as everyone finally understands that the only songs that are wholesome enough to even be played on the radio are 1960's commercial jingles, and the most popular music ever, it's a small price to pay. Those that don't agree will be eating ratburgers, and not know how to use the three seashells.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 1:33pm

    Re:

    Good example why the judicial review policy of Protect IP Act makes sense.

    Yes, because judicial rubber stamps stop law enforcement from doing dumb things, like putting a CP notice up on 84,000 sub-domains of a dynamic DNS hosting service.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110215/01092813096/did-homeland-security-seize-then-u nseize-dynamic-dns-domain.shtml

    Oh, wait.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 1:45pm

    v

    I can understand archive and vimeo being on the list.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 1:59pm

    Re:

    My future brain just stroked out from this nonsense. Thank you for proactive murder of music and me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 1:59pm

    Re: v

    Archive beiung on the list? They must be smoking something worse than crystal meth. That's the onyl explanation for stupidity of that size.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 2:14pm

    Re: The Bottom of the Press Release Tells the Story

    > who won't be satisfied until they own your wallet.


    Wrong.

    Greed begets more greed.

    There is no 'enough'.

    It is insatiable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 2:15pm

    Re:

    If you are a software developer, and know about open source, you realize there has been a war on free for over a decade. Maybe it's just now hitting other forms of creativity outside of software.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    HothMonster, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 2:19pm

    Re:

    its at the bottom of the post. ^^^^ right up there

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    harbingerofdoom (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 2:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Get ready for the "Great 'Alleged' Pirate Site Wars"

    i for one am happy to be far outside the san angeles metroplex.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 2:49pm

    Re: Re:

    OK, have it your way. No judicial review.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    Mike42 (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 2:54pm

    Re: Re:

    True and depressing...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 2:59pm

    Re: Re: v

    Are you saying there isn't any files on archive being illegally shared?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Yup, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 3:07pm

    Of course sound cloud is on the list, they want to destroy independent music. If the riaa isn't getting paid I guess the music must be illegal huh. They see that independent music it's the future. Shame on you groupm, industry shills

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Yup, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 3:08pm

    Anonymous douchbag, shouldn't google be on the list then? Stupid fuck

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 4:18pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Four laws good, two laws bad.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    icon
    Jeremy2020 (profile), Jun 20th, 2011 @ 5:10pm

    That's some fine police work there, Lou.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    fine then, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 8:54pm

    go ahead

    Go ahead and lose that free promo and rightfully so the cash that goes with it. If it wasn't for the mixtape culture. And deejays in general pushing.... symbiosis. Get it

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jun 20th, 2011 @ 9:53pm

    Re: I think that the honest sites are going to suffer ...

    Honest folks have always suffered. Trouble is, itís been the labels themselves inflicting the suffering.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Jun 21st, 2011 @ 12:00am

    Re: Re: Re: v

    it's an archive. There is no discrimination, else it wouldn't be an archive.

    In this case, it's a general archive. You can have Computer Science archives, and Physics archives, too.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    chris, Jun 21st, 2011 @ 4:33am

    yeah!!!

    yea no hiphopcanvass.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    icon
    ComputerAddict (profile), Jun 21st, 2011 @ 5:59am

    I love that thepiratebay.org is on there twice. just for good measure.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2011 @ 10:00am

    Re: Nelly had it right

    :O I love Nelly and I didn't know he had a new album! *shuffles off to purchase it*

    Hey, I buy from people I

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    icon
    RadioactiveSmrf (profile), Jun 21st, 2011 @ 1:34pm

    Re: Re: Nelly had it right

    My point exactly. He has a fairly strong fan base and yet nobody heard about his new album. Universal has lost sales because it sucks and letting people know about it's product. Universal should focus on their core business a little more and worry less about piracy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 3:46am

    Universal can kick rocks!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 7:47am

    Response to: Drew on Jun 20th, 2011 @ 1:03pm

    Which means they are attacking the ability to make money on those sites. They are attacking the money stream. Much in the same way as if they were to tell the company you work for to fire you and then give bad reviews so you weren't hired anywhere else.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Tony / SpareFoot.com, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 1:29pm

    No nahright?

    CTRL+F "nahright" - no results found? SMH...

    I can't believe NahRight isn't explicitly mentioned in this article. It topped Vibe's 2009 list and is a necessary promotional venue for success in the world of hiphop. It's listed TWICE on GroupM's list, and is one of the few leading hip hop blogs that makes a concerted effort to prevent illegal sharing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jun 26th, 2011 @ 12:49am

    Where's the rabid lawyers?

    How come none of the crazy lawyers of the world have jumped in to help these legitimate companies sue for slander? Vibe is a pretty clearly NOT dedicated to piracy and would have the legal guns to sue Universal or GroupM for alleging in writing that they are. Remember, you don't need to make a public allegation for it to be slander, it just has to be in writing and given to someone else. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jun 27th, 2011 @ 12:54pm

    Re: I Can Do Them One Better

    Yeah this will work....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    identicon
    read it properly, Jul 19th, 2011 @ 2:32pm

    if u actually read their press release you will realise this is just to do with where they place their clients advertising. It has nothing to do with Universal's promotion strategy and Universal will continue to work with blogs and music sites. They just wont be paying those sites with advertising. In other words, from now on if a blog writes about a Universal release, it's because the blog thinks it's worth writing about, not because they want to give pay back.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    identicon
    Isaiah G, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 6:28pm

    My Mixtape

    youtube.com/watch?v=JuMXCdHOAvs....this is a single of of my mixtape

    limelinx.com/files/51c0b112646c7bd9666cbd89f8d16cfc...this is the download link copy and paste it please

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ym4C8HrYniI&feature=related....another single if you'd like to listen

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2011 @ 5:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Get ready for the "Great 'Alleged' Pirate Site Wars"

    You just made an illegal cultural reference to Demolition Man, now give me ur moneys

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53.  
    identicon
    Muzyka Relaksacyjna, Sep 22nd, 2011 @ 2:11am

    War with piracy will kill the culture one day

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54.  
    identicon
    praveen, Oct 16th, 2011 @ 9:07pm

    comment

    O I love Nelly and I didn't know he had a new album! *shuffles off to purchase it*
    mtechcomputers

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
    identicon
    praveen, Oct 16th, 2011 @ 9:07pm

    comment

    O I love Nelly and I didn't know he had a new album! *shuffles off to purchase it*
    mtechcomputers

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56.  
    identicon
    Johnnie Newkirk Jr, Nov 25th, 2011 @ 10:29am

    HAD TO DO WHAT I HAD TO DO

    New hip-hop release by NewCharles Entertainment recording artist Johnnie Newkirk Jr @ http://www.newcharlesentertainment.com Will be released on Itunes on Dec 16, 2011. This track is receiving rave reviews from fans and industry insiders

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  57.  
    identicon
    Connor, Jan 14th, 2012 @ 6:09pm

    Awesome! Thanks for the awesome Piracy List WarnerBros! :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  58.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2012 @ 12:51pm

    Just wanted to thank groupm for giving me a detailed list of sites that have just what I'm looking for...lol

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  59.  
    icon
    AzureSky (profile), Jan 18th, 2012 @ 3:17pm

    Re:

    so true, and 8 track/cassette/cd recorders where going to destroy the music industry....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  60.  
    identicon
    Rick Tillman, Jan 23rd, 2012 @ 6:54pm

    Music Industry.

    With over 27 years in broadcasting, I have seen many changes. We currently live in a got have it right-away type of society. I believe, If the companies like Universal Music would take a step back and look at how they could maximized the use of the techonlogy, they may find a win-win situation for all parties involved.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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