Extraordinary Machine

Fionabot2005webberFiona Apple’s unreleased new CD, Extraordinary Machine, had 5 tracks pre-released on an AngelFire page. The host was quickly thereatened and the tracks were removed.

Yes, I grabbed them for myself. No, I won’t make them available. I’ll bet they are widely availalble on Kazaa/ Bittorrent already.

Here’s the thing: This is her most compelling music since Tidal. Its intriguing, ambitious, oddly haunting — and beautiful.

I want to hear more. Indeed, only having access to the first few tracks is a major tease. I must buy this when its released.

Here’s where things get interesting: It turns out Apple’s label (Sony) isn’t releasing the CD — they have had the masters since Spring 2003. Rolling Stone notes that the album has been "indefinitely shelved", deemed too non-commercial for release by the brain trust at Sony.

If you go to Fiona’s site (via Sony’s page) and click on Fans, there is an ongoing discussion about getting the CD released. There’s even a website, freefiona.com, dedicated to prying the CD free from Sony.

Thus, we see yet another valuable usage of P2P — it provides artists a way around their lables when they get heavy handed or take advantage in a contract dispute. We won’t have to wait very long to find out if this was yet another "accidental" P2P release. I have no doubt this was a purposeful tactic by Fiona or her management/producers . . .

(The new album leaked online in its entirety here).


As I was thinking about the title — Extraordinary Machine — I came to realize that it referred as much to P2P as it did the the name of the disc.

Consider:  P2P allowed a frustrated artist in a struggle against a
titanic company to reach her fans. Not only did she disintermediate the
label, bypassing them to go right to the end consunmers of the music, but the "Extraordinary Machine" leveled the field in a David versus Goliath battle.  (And now there are at least 7 tracks floating around).

Intriguing . . .


I knew none of this when I first came across the tracks earlier this week. I merely thought they sounded great.

Now I learn that this is unavailable by a conscious decision made by her label not to release this — as too non-commercial. That’s simply unreal to this music fan.

The Freefiona.com FAQ notes:

Why does Sony/Epic think her new album won’t sell? Didn’t her last two albums go platinum? Yes, Tidal and When the Pawn… are both RIAA certified platinum in the United States. Sony Music recently replaced chairman and CEO Tommy "Love ya, baby!" Mottola with former NBC president Andrew Lack, a businessman with no prior music experience. He immediately shifted Sony Music’s focus to pop and hip-hop acts that are traditionally bigger sellers. The master recordings of Extraordinary Machine were sent to a warehouse, where they remain to this day.

Is this industry not its own worst enemy? I do not like to draw broad conclusions from mere anecdotal evidence — but damn, these people are frighteningly incompetant.

I am astonished at this poor judgment. Quite frankly, the music industry’s corporate management is simply out of touch
for the business to survive in its present form. Something must change — and it actually is, thanks to technology.

They shoot horses, don’t they? At this point, it would be merciful to put the industry out of its own misery.


In Brief: Fiona Apple aired
Rolling Stone, Posted Mar 01, 2005

Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Songs Leaked On The Radio
Seattle station the End 107.7 played five tracks from the unreleased LP.
MTV,  03.01.2005 3:07 PM EST

March 6, 2005

REVIEWS AND COMPLAINTS-Fiona’s Extraordinary Machine
The Village Broadsheet, Friday, 04 March 2005

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Andy Nardone commented on Mar 7

    Barry –

    I don’t know the inner workings of the music industry. But my question is how did the music get made? If it was on Sony’s dime and there is a contract in place governing this material both sides have to live by it. It appears Sony is exercising one of their rights under the contract.

    If it is so easy to go into a studio, lay down tracks and head to iTunes, why don’t more musicians do it? Especially big names like Apple. Granted, this material may be legacy work to a contract dated a few years before the explosion in online distribution. Tough luck, she likely took some good upfront money when she entered into this deal. If her work is so viable in the marketplace she should chalk this up to experience and move towards self production.

    And of course head over to Sony and try to plead her case with reams of online documentation showing a market for the shelved music.

    Off topic, I think you underestimate what a 30% haircut would do in this market. You have a slew of buyers with equity approaching 0 or, dare say, even less in their homes. A 30% whack will unglue the housing market.

  2. rt commented on Mar 7

    is the music industry’s top management any more clueless than any other top management? I think not…based on my experience….open your eyes.

  3. wcw commented on Mar 7

    One party at fault whom you do not mention are artists and their lawyers.

    Smart artists — Beck springs to mind — write contracts that explicitly allow them to release “non-commercial” recordings. When signed, Mr. Hansen held out not for money but for “long-term artist development and personal freedom.” Cf this 1993 Billboard article, http://www.beckbeckbeck.net/articles/1993/billboard_11-27-93.html

    The story of Apple’s shelved LP is incredibly distasteful, but that sort of thing is as old as the music industry. Apple signed in 1995 — after Hansen — an ambitious young woman with a gifted manager who landed a good contract. She signed on the dotted line. Blame Sony first, blame her lawyer second.

  4. Barry Ritholtz commented on Mar 7

    Fiona Apple was 18 when she was first signed up, and all of 19 years old when Tidal was released.

    While you can’t blame a teenager for not knowing that the Label would eventually screw her, you can hold her lawyers and managers at least partly responsible.

  5. David Bennett commented on Mar 8

    Sony’s rights are one thing. It has the right to make stupid business decisions. But it flabbergasts me that an album that would have sold significantly (even if not platinum) was shelved, there is a bit of money in lesser sales. There are also long term advantages to an artist (and the company which sells her records) if some of the work is highly respected by the “serious,” it opens up niches, sells other work and provides the long term reputation which brings in steady money. Then alienating fans and consumers at a time when Sony is in trouble… The whole shift of from market head to tail thing bodes poorly for any enterprise depending on mass hits.

  6. Irisa commented on Mar 10

    Ever hear of the Peter Principle? Each person is, at some time, promoted from their highest level of competency to incompetency and then that’s where they stay. Sounds to me like Lack got promoted one too many times. And now we don’t get Fiona’s music … Neither will we get other artists’ music that don’t meet the hokey standards of mainstream pop/hip-hop and we may never know about it. Frustrating to me, definitely. I’m not one to condone or participate in downloading music for free, but in this instance I’m all for it. Because I WOULD pay for it if it was available. Just like several tens of thousands (FreeFiona.com) of people appear to also be. Knuckleheads at Sony need to forget about their IDEA of good music and actually believe that the public knows what it wants. Besides, they’d actually be making some money if they sold it … whereas they’re making NOTHING with it sitting on some shelf.

  7. Jarno commented on Mar 23

    And the thing is that with the free publicity this unreleased record has received, Sony could release it with the bare minimum of marketing costs!! It seems to me like an extremely poor business decision to pass up on the opportunity, and in the process take a hit in the record lables reputation among the audiences that do appreciate the fact that good music doesn’t have to be mainstream, and truly great music rarely is.

    What Fiona needs is to get out of her contract, and sign up with a lable more suited to her – I’m thinking of Epitaph’s “Anti” lable for example… they treat their artists with respect, and aren’t affraid to release music that breaks convention.

    Shame, shame Sony!

  8. james smith commented on Mar 29

    I hope one day artist can distibute there own music. Its disturbing such a great album is sitting on the shelf. I downloaded and loved it. I would rather send her money then thise fat cats of sony. Fuck big bussiness Sony Walmart i love indualalagy i cant spell for crap. But i am a small bussiness owner and big bussiness sucks the life at of small bussiness nevermind me FREE FIONA.

  9. FAN commented on May 31

    I’ve heard the entire album off of Bittorrent and I just love it. Not only is it perfect in the light of bands blowing up like Brighteyes and such, but Fiona fans from the 90’s will find it fresh and enjoyable.

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