Monthly Archives: May 2007

portable song IDs and music influencer networks

Mike Love said:

We all agreed that there is the potential to sell a lot more music through influence networks than through radio, but the burden of distribution and copyright infringement currently rests on the recommender or the recommender’s platform.

He proposed separating the recommendation from distribution of the actual song – either by referencing an audio fingerprint or some other unique id (CDDB?). Then each listener can choose a hierarchy of how they would like to find the audio: find the mp3s on the web, last.fm, amazon samples, purchase the songs, etc. This would involve the creation of some standardized XML style format for playlists, and we talked about how Songbird seems like a good open platform for receiving these playlists and then using a diversity of networks to find the audio or at least a sample.

Paul Lamere replied:

We need universal song id and a standard playlist format. The latter already exists. There is a XML playlist format called XSPF (pronounced ‘spiff’) that captures all the information needed for portable playlists. […]
As for SongID, there are many commercial audio fingerprinting systems out there that can derive a unique (or nearly unique) ID just based upon the audio. The problem, however, is that they all cost money to license, and because of that no system has become the standard (defacto or otherwise). The MusicDNS system probably has the best chance, since it is very low cost (essentially free for all but the biggest users), and it ties in with the public domain music metadata being created by the MusicBrainz folk. Still, the problem with a songID system is that unless it is universally used, it is not too useful. Companies like Apple have little incentive to use such a system, since they already own the market.

About portable song IDs, the problem is not so much technical as it is economic. No major content provider has an incentive to use anybody else’s song IDs. Maybe if there was a huge installed base of playlists that used Musicbrainz song IDs or iTunes IDs then it would make sense for Rhapsody to resolve these IDs to their own catalog, but until that point Rhapsody would be unilaterally disarming by allowing a third party to define the namespace.  This market is just getting established, and we’re currently at the point where the major players are competing to own the identifiers.

XSPF tries to address this issue by redefining the concept of portable song identifiers as query strings. For now, anyway, that hasn’t hit a sweet spot in anybody’s business model.

Listening/hackery

Listening: (grabbit the rabbit) (nibbling on) (Mike Relm’s mixes).

Grabb.it is a major rewrite of that site. It includes a lot of stellar XSPF work, and Chris Anderson, one of the grabb.it makers, posted this announcement to the XSPF list:

===
Grabb.it
  An online music player that will create playlists for any web page
that links to music files. You can remember, download, and share the
songs you find.
===

Thanks!

And an informal api announcement:

Grabb.it can now directly output xspf for any web page that links to
mp3s (...I know I wish 95% of browsers could play ogg... and there's
no reason we won't support ogg in the future.)

The API call is designed to be compatible with the standard xspf flash
player (it has not query params, so it can be passed into the
playlist_url param to the xspf_player.swf), and it is super simple to
use.

http://grabb.it/api/grab.xspf/my.domain.com/path/to/page.html will
output an xspf file of http://my.domain.com/path/to/page.html

We can also generate rss and jspf.

So for those of you that want to convert xspf to jspf, you can do it
with a line like this

http://grabb.it/api/grab.jspf/mfdz.com/jchris.xspf

or for rss, it is like this

http://grabb.it/api/grab.rss/mfdz.com/jchris.xspf

One caveat is that this API uses the internal grabb.it processing, so
the mp3 links returned are all @ grabb.it and redirect to the original
sources - this is so we can add content resolver features to provide
redundancy among urls. The other idiosyncracy is that if you are
requesting that Grabb.it parse a page it hasn't seen before the first
response will not be xspf. Once the page is parsed, it will be useful.
So if you are using the API to embed a flash player on your blog, it
won't work right away, but once the pump has been primed it should be
reliable.

The "official" announcement is here: http://grabbit.tumblr.com/post/1777237

$.99 is not the market rate for downloads

Some of the major indies are complaining about the per-piece rate they get for sales on eMusic vs sales on iTunes music store (iTMS). Per Reuters:

After factoring in distribution costs and other expenses, some labels receive as little as 12 cents per song in profit, sources say — far less than the 60 cents to 65 cents per track received from iTunes.

These labels are complaining that the market rate for paid downloads is the $1 price at the iTunes Music Store. And this isn’t the only place for the idea that the going rate is $1. The recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board to quadruple the rates paid by webcasters also used the iTMS price as the marker:

The Board concluded that the rapidly escalating rate was justified as it brought the statutory services closer to the interactive services as the advertising market grows over the next few years.

But here’s the problem: people who use the iTunes Music Store don’t use it enough for their purchases there to count. They get their music by ripping CDs and by filesharing. The actual price for these users is not what iTMS charges — they don’t really use iTMS. The actual price is free, because they have opted out of the paid download market completely. If iTMS is setting the market rate, the market rate is $0.

eMusic users, on the other hand, are real customers. They spend three times more on downloads in their first paid month than iTMS customers spend in the lifetime of their device, and they probably own tens or hundreds of times more paid downloads than iTMS customers. iTMS customers spend about $3 per device, which lasts a couple years at least, and own about 3 paid downloads. eMusic users spend at least $10 a month, for which they can have 30 downloads. Over the course of ten months an eMusic subscriber has paid for 1000 times more downloads than most iPod owners will pay for over the lifetime of their device.

It’s true that iTMS supplies the vast majority of paid downloads, but their customers don’t take their product seriously, because $1 is the wrong price. eMusic’s customers, on the other hand, use the service for a large portion of their music acquisition. iTMS’ customers pay far less than $1 for music, because they hardly ever pay for music at all. eMusic’s customers spend at least $10 a month; given that they don’t download their maximum every month this comes out to an average download price a little north of $.50.

The market rate for paid downloads, then, is $.50.

“Recording Industry vs The People” is a good blog

Ty Rogers and Ray Beckerman

I am a compulsive reader of a legal blog called Recording Industry vs The People, which describes itself as a blog devoted to the RIAA’s lawsuits of intimidation brought against ordinary working people. It is about the law as it relates to the Napsterization crisis, mainly in the small scale cases of filesharing lawsuits brought by the RIAA.

I love this blog because of how much I learn about law as it relates to Napsterization. Even though this blog is clearly advocacy, it is more truthful and informative than any other source I know of.

Most of the posts are dry reports on minute developments in one case or another, like this one:

Magistrate Levy has appointed Eli Uncyk, a Manhattan attorney, as guardian ad litem for the defendant Rae J Schwartz, in Elektra v. Schwartz. The appointment was made necessary by conditions arising from Ms. Schwartz’s Multiple Sclerosis.

It’s painfully dry sometimes, but in a way similar to sports scores. You are supposed to be able to place the raw data in the context of some story. The story in this blog is always about a filesharing lawsuit where the specifics of the law are being explored in real time.

I think that the narrative behind this posting is about the limits of who can be considered competent, or maybe its about painting the RIAA member labels as heartless bastards. Ray Beckerman, the blogger, keeps coming back to these posts about guardians being appointed, as part of a general theme of responsibility — what obligations does a person who owns an internet-connected computer have? Should you keep it locked up and tightly controlled? Are you responsible if somebody uses your computer for filesharing?

The reason that this approach to blogging is valuable is that very few court cases related to filesharing have gone all the way through. They get settled out of court because the cost of losing a case could be extreme, and as a result most of what we think we know about the law as it relates to filesharing is no more than a guess. Internet law overall still has a lot of unknown territory, and until case law is established through actual rulings much of the consensus reality on filesharing will be based on bluster and gullibility. In these court cases the reality is being discovered.

Most tech bloggers write regularly about copyright, the RIAA, and Napsterization, but don’t have much to say except that they’re mad as hell. This guy adds light to the conversation as well as heat.

why not peer to peer?

Remember those hypey days of 2000-2001, when peer to peer was going to sweep the world of internet software development? What happened? Why is the current hype *web* 2.0 rather than p2p 2.0? Why is hip software these days written for the browser rather than for client-based P2P? What were P2P’s technical shortcomings that led to the LAMP stack becoming dominant in its place?

The [decentralization] list, which was a home for p2p discussion during the hype bubble, briefly revived from its long deep sleep this week when, as Phil Wolff put it in a blog post titled Skype Journal: The decline of P2P and Decentralisation,

Ecademy’s Julian Bond kicked the decentralization mailing list to life with a post asking about The decline of P2P and Decentralisation.

Phil did a great job summarizing the conversation, so don’t read me, read him.

vlog soundtrackster pile up

Back on 4/20 I posted about a collaborative project I did with Jay Dedman where he did a videoblog and I slacked together a soundtrack for it in a bloggy style. On his own blog entry about it Jay contrasted it with the remix scene:

CC Mixter would be a great place for people to put out requests for collaborations. This goes beyond the idea of a mashup…and starts entering the way that commercial media is created. People with different talents work together to create something none of them could do alone.

Now enough time has gone by for comments to accumulate there. One thread is about resistance to cultural oppression:

I think the boundaries of Fair Use need to be pushed. […] Bring on the stupid copyright battles!

GirlTalk (http://tinyurl.com/p8t9v) is a good example of how someone pushes Fair Use in a smart way.

I appreciate the point that the best solution to copyright extremism can’t just be to withdraw from the world into a perfect ivory tower of all-Creative Commons all the time. Still, we’re hardly at that point. The vast majority of what’s happening in the real world is childish regression — “I’ll do it until I get caught” and then “Fuck you for catching me!” To my mind it’s idiotic to keep doing that, over and over again, year in and year out. Hello, Lab Rat? Quit pushing the button that gives you the electrical shock. Try this button over here, the one that requires you to be an adult but that also accomplishes something. Isn’t it kind of nice to be able to demand respect?

Another thread — more interesting if less volatile — is about the conversational interaction between music and video in a soundtrack:

new track – completely different feel.It’s funny because I was playing around with this video last week. …
I’ve been thinking about videos for my wife Kate’s new album …
So just as a little experiment for myself, i ran about five of her tracks with it. Amazingly different experiences, even though the tracks themselves are not *wildly* different. There was one that really worked (although it was 30 seconds too long).

And that’s exactly the point of the exercise. This whole situation started when Jay released the same videoblog with different music, music that he didn’t have the rights to use. There was a flood of comments on the copyright situation, then this third party tried out five different alternate pieces of music, then Jay himself changed the music over. And each one of these steps was about conversational interactions.

When we were creating CC Mixter, the idea was to unleash an art form that needed permissive licensing to survive. The original interaction design was in the form of threaded comments — Bob’s mix responding to Ellen’s Mix of Sally’s original. Similarly, my music was a response to Jay’s video, and if somebody remixed my audio the thread would be one deeper.

This whole vlog+blog-musician business is no different. It’s culture happening in real time. The video and the music are part of a back and forth flow of works, and the flow is a primary component of the art.

time for Internet Radio 2.0

It’s time for Internet Radio 2.0:

Independent and forward-thinking artists have an enormous opportunity now to get in front of listeners. Online stations have a chance to become next generation leaders, to provide rich new music, and most importantly to engage the listeners with them in their battle to find new sources of content.

Please, people, stand up and do the right thing, MOVE ON.

Sure. It’s a great opportunity for Creative Commons music — which sometimes allows on-demand redistribution — and for URL playlisting — which puts together a continuous listening experience without involving the webcasting regulations.

(link via Mike Dierken)