Monthly Archives: November 2007

paid content means badly paid musicians

Jaron Lanier editorial in the New York Times:

How long must creative people wait for the Web’s new wealth to find a path to their doors? […] Information is free on the Internet because we created the system to be that way.

We could design information systems so that people can pay for content — so that anyone has the chance of becoming a widely read author and yet can also be paid. Information could be universally accessible but on an affordable instead of an absolutely free basis.

Lanier doesn’t understand music economics.

Advertising allows some people to specialize in attracting eyeballs and others to specialize in turning attention into revenue. Content creators, like musicians, do the attracting. Advertisers do the monetizing.

If you have the musicians do the monetizing, they will do very stupid things like sell $80 CD box sets, which have a high ticket value but don’t move enough units to be a great business. If you have the advertisers do the monetizing, and you take the ones who pay the highest prices, you will have an alliance with whoever is best at turning these eyeballs into a living.

If some musician is putting his music on the web because he wants to sell CDs, he’s competing with advertisers to monetize the eyeballs his music is attracting. Maybe he’s the natural winner of this competition, but probably not. Frozen peas are generally a better product than CDs. Cars are a better product. iPods are a better product. Pretty much anything is a better product than a CD.

And that applies to downloaded song files as well as songs on hard media. The packaging and distribution are not the issue. The issue is that not many people want to continually purchase music. It’s a small market.

The business of music is not to maximize the number of songs sold. It is to maximize the amount of money earned. And it happens that lots of people want to enjoy music in a transient context. They like a good DJ at the club. They like radio when they’re stuck in traffic. They are interested by whatever their friend plays when they visit. This is a market that’s big enough to matter.

Musicians will make less money from paid content than ad-sponsored content because there is less demand for paid content. Regardless of whether paying for music is a declining business, it was never much of a business in the first place. The economics have always sucked and they simply continue to suck. The rate of decline in the CD business just doesn’t matter because the CD business is so small in comparison with other businesses that music can complement via advertising.

Paid content means you sell the music. Ad sponsored content means you use the music to sell whatever is most profitable. Since paid content means that musicians are probably not selling the most profitable product, it’s a bad business.

Portable playlists at Media Web Meetup in SF

I’ll be in San Fran on December 11 for the Media Web Meetup at the Songbird offices.

Here’s the event description:

Subject: Portable Playlists and other POSH-ibilities
Speakers: Tantek Çelik, Lucas Gonze, Scott Kveton and Tom Conrad

This Media Web Meetup should be HOT! We are having a panel of people who will lead a discussion on the possibility of portable playlists and other ways for media lovers to carry around their data with themselves as they move around the web.

Think about it…wouldn’t taking that Amazon data with you as you browse other sites (last.fm, iTunes, Pandora, the music web in general) to get better recommendations rock? Perhaps we can get a base discussion of what kinds of solutions there are out there and where to go forward from.

Question: what does POSH (“Plain Old Semantic HTML”, a ) have to do with it? Why must tech religions crush everything in their path? Per Wikipedia:

The purpose of the term ‘POSH’ is to:

  • educate HTML authors who want to use microformats, but haven’t understood the intermediate step of ‘semantic html’ markup.
  • encourage use of the term ‘microformats‘ only for semantic html patterns which have been through the rigor of the microformats process.

Musicmobs XSPF archive

Two posts by Paul Lamere –

  1. Toby Padilla is leaving the Musicmobs project for Last.fm: Musicmobs was clearly ahead of the curve – pioneering many aspects that are now seen as requirements in the ‘Music 2.0’ space. Social playlisting, recommendation, open web services, implicit gathering of taste data, – the ‘hipster <-> mainstream slider’, excellent design, cool name: Musicmobs has it all.
  2. A parting gift from Musicmobs:

    As Toby shuts down Musicmobs, he has left us with a gift – an archive of all of the playlists that Musicmobs has collected over the years. It is a nice set of data for anyone looking to do research around artist or track co-occurrence in playlists. Some stats about the data:

    Playlists 1,899
    Tracks 429,873
    Unique Tracks 111,604
    Artists 23,463
    Users 577
    Tags 9,268

    This is really good data! Thanks Toby.

Amen. Thanks for posting it, kudos for doing such interesting work, and good luck at the last FM station, Toby.

music is $$$ free

Windows Is Free (A TLUG Article):

If every user who had a cracked copy of Windows had a legitimate version of Linux instead, what would the percentage of computers running Linux be? More than there are now, that’s for sure.

That’s also true for music.

Unauthorized distribution is bad for open media.


gurdonark:

This whole technological revolution is useless if all it will amount to is the enhanced ability to misappropriate mainstream culture. It is as if everyone suddenly got the ability to play guitar like Hendrix, but only wanted to play covers of “Purple Haze” in shows at the Holiday Inn.

This drives me bananas.

We get to live though a major transition. Huge changes are happening at an artistic level, bigger than any in our lifetimes so far. Much bigger than the change from swing to rock, or from rockabilly to electronica.

Personally, I want to be right there in the middle of the new thing, not over on the lagging edge with Pirate Bay. Why would anybody want different?  I don’t get it.

From ten days that shook the world:

NEXT morning, Sunday the 11th, the Cossacks entered Tsarskoye Selo, Kerensky (See App. VIII, Sect. 1) himself riding a white horse and all the church-bells clamouring. From the top of a little hill outside the town could be seen the golden spires and many-coloured cupolas, the sprawling grey immensity of the capital spread along the dreary plain, and beyond, the steely Gulf of Finland.

There was no battle. But Kerensky made a fatal blunder. At seven in the morning he sent word to the Second Tsarskoye Selo Rifles to lay down their arms. The soldiers replied that they would remain neutral, but would not disarm. Kerensky gave them ten minutes in which to obey. This angered the soldiers; for eight months they had been governing themselves by committee, and this smacked of the old régime….

persistent URLs for songs

In the conversation about musicians controlling their own web site, Farsheed said:

The trick is getting rid of all the middlemen, and having a *really* reliable URL that represents the band. From there the band can dish out reliable URLs to MP3s (could be 3rd party) which can get aggregated and indexed by search engines. That will in turn improve the search relevance of indexed mp3 links so that music bloggers, Songbird, Google, Facebook, etc can quickly see that the most relevant and reliable source for music is the band itself, and link directly.

Perhaps the simplest solution is just encouraging ultra-solid URLs. Have bands register their domain name, and maybe have a service or script using Apache rewrite that resolve to the most current mp3 of a file

Example:

http://www.radiohead.com/album/in_rainbows/song/nude

I do think they need their own domain name to maintain ownership over the URL, even if the root domain redirects or redisplays their myspace page.

I could see a whole service being built around providing redirect links to other webservices, but giving the band control over these redirects (or having multiple sources to cycle through).

I really like the idea of enabling musicians to create ultra-solid URLs for their works. It’s inspiring.

Over on Webjay we found that the stability of URLs was highly variable, and stable URLs out-competed transient ones. This worked courtesy of viral URL sharing — people got new instances of songs by copying URLs rather than by uploading their own rips, and it takes enough time for a URL to get passed around that only the stable ones can really compete.

Stability is correlated with being on the up and up.

Authorized hosts are in a position to keep the URL going. The system administrators work *towards* stability rather than against it. Unauthorized ones get a DMCA takedown request, or an internal audit discovers a file that is counter to policy, or they were based on a transient account like a college student’s.

In my visualization of a Webjay-friendly future for internet music, I pictured bands actually changing the target of the URL as time goes on and their needs change. At the beginning they just need exposure and the URL would be a full length MP3. Midway through they would have a dispute with the label over rights to the recording and would convert the song to a 30 second sample. Further on they would have the full song, but with an an audio ad appended. They might provide a high bit rate version if your cookie indicated that you had filled out a survey. They might use HTTP content negotiation to return a version in the file format which is best for your player.

Etc — the general point is that the URL would be persistent, while the representation of the underlying song would change. It’s RESTful, and because of this the musicians would be taking advantage of web architecture.

band web pages

Comments on music distribution where people don’t have to host files went towards the issue of band’s web pages:

Greg said:

– A very low percentage of bands are actually tech savvy enough to create their own websites.

-MySpace, which is by far the most popular way for bands to gain a web-presence, hosts mp3s and makes them available for listening, but goes to relatively draconian measures to prevent them from having reliable, publicly available urls.

Together, these two obstacles constitute a killer one-two punch: MySpace lures artists into using it as a stop-gap against building a real website; MySpace only lets artists put their music online in a crippled innovation-hostile way (in a flash widget, hidden behind temporary on-demand-generated urls, un-linkable, and un-discussable).

This means that most of the indie, unsigned, and local bands — exactly the ones who should have the most to gain from making access to their music for bloggers, fans, and other people in the conversation as easy as possible — are locked into a service that reduces the ability of their music to participate in things like mp3 blogs, XSPF content resolvers, and more general content detection services.

Farsheed replied

“A very low percentage of bands are actually tech savvy enough to create their own websites.”

This is a bit unfair. The reason most bands don’t have their own website is likely more financial than technical. It also takes a long time to do it right, time that most bands don’t have.

The trick is getting rid of all the middlemen, and having a *really* reliable URL that represents the band. From there the band can dish out reliable URLs to MP3s (could be 3rd party) which can get aggregated and indexed by search engines. That will in turn improve the search relevance of indexed mp3 links so that music bloggers, Songbird, Google, Facebook, etc can quickly see that the most relevant and reliable source for music is the band itself, and link directly.

Perhaps the simplest solution is just encouraging ultra-solid URLs. Have bands register their domain name, and maybe have a service or script using Apache rewrite that resolve to the most current mp3 of a file.

Example:

http://www.radiohead.com/album/in_rainbows/song/nude

I do think they need their own domain name to maintain ownership over the URL, even if the root domain redirects or redisplays their myspace page.

I could see a whole service being built around providing redirect links to other webservices, but giving the band control over these redirects (or having multiple sources to cycle through).

music distribution where people don’t have to host files

Mike Love — Songbird and XSPF for sharing music:

I’ve been thinking about way to do music distribution where people don’t have to host files.

Specifically, with a player like Songbird you could make an XSPF playlist that you could then send or post somewhere. On the other end people receive the playlist and find the audio using search engines, downloading from artists’ websites or buying.

Pros: no one gets sued, bands that host their mp3s retain ownership on the data about who is listening to them

Cons: at this point it’s too much work for the benefit.

About the amount of work for the recipient, it’s true that On the other end people receive the playlist and find the audio using …, but this doesn’t mean that the recipient manually tracks down every file. The XSPF plan is for the recipient to have a piece of software which knows how to locate the tracks automatically given a minimal amount of guidance from the user; this relies on the sender to provide enough metadata to support an automated search.

As it stands people share music references by uploading their own rips to a hosting service. That ensures that the songs they have in mind are globally available. This is a reliable process which is easy to figure out: rip, upload, send the URL via email or web. Most of the time the sender doesn’t even need to rip, since they were listening to an MP3 in the first place.

What are the drawbacks of this process?

* It’s inconvenient to have to upload. But not *that* inconvenient. And it’s getting easier all the time. I’d be surprised if there isn’t client software which integrates everything about the process.

* The media URLs go 404 pretty quickly because of takedown requests and the general instability of life in the underground.

* The file hosts are often sleazy.

Anything else? If the plan is to compete with file hosting, that’s not much to work with.


Greg’s comment in the Attributor thread comes to mind:

Content trackers get it from all sides. In the new Hype Machine redesign, a fear of the record labels is plain as day. And, in reducing access to mp3s — de-emphasizing playlist-access, etc. — they’ve greatly angered many of their users (they’ve actually done a good job responding to the feedback and so have moved to reinstate some of these types of features in the weeks since the relaunch).

It seems to me that content trackers are going to have to become diplomats. Stuck between the copyright holders and the users they have three choices: 1) Take the side of the users, a la The Pirate Bay: ‘User experience is all, quaint local copyright custom be damned!’; 2) Take the side of content holders, a la Attributor: ‘I’m taking my ball and going home; and if you don’t like it, taste the business end of my 1000 staff lawyers!’; 3) Find a third way that tries to negotiate a peace between both sides. This third option is the one that is the least obvious, but also, I think, holds the most business opportunities: if you grant both sides the right to exist, and take it as a given that both have demands that need meeting, you have twice the number of possible products and you stand to be in the best position to participate in really sustainable solutions that constitute wins for all sides.

Attributor Launches Service to Track Copyright Infringement Across the Web

Attributor Launches Service to Track Copyright Infringement Across the Web

Links are the currency of the Web. They are the way attributions are made. In most cases, media companies would be better off if they could just get everyone who is copying their stuff to link back to them than by trying to extract licensing fees out of them or suing them. There is a lot less friction in asking for a link, and it doesn’t cost anything to give one out. Yet all of those links can turn into traffic, both directly and by imbuing the original source with higher search karma (i.e. a higher ranking on search engines).

Links may be the currency, but domain names are the gold backing the currency. This works because domains actually cost something.

songs as instruments (spirit rappings #3)

Conversation on the Spirit Rappings #2 post wandered over to the idea of releasing songs in the form of the raw source files used for the final mix, starting with this comment of mine:

Releasing songs as their raw multitrack sources would carry this idea to its practical extreme. Every sample and every track would be preserved in the best possible detail. And why not? It’s true that these would be very big files, but bandwidth and disk space keep getting better.

Jay replied that this is doable, but misses the point:

The raw multitrack sources for my musical output over the last year are on the order of 25 gigs total. It’d all easily fit on any current iPod-like device or be inexpensive to store and serve up from Amazon S3 or Dreamhost.

It’s absolutely practical to now release many versions and raw sources of music online–it’s in many respects simpler to release 25 gigs of raw audio sources online than it is to get 650 mb of that onto a CD that is shipped to people.

But, at what point are we just talking about recorded sound objects vs music? Not that I think there is a big distinction that needs to be made in absolute terms, but rather in any specific relationship between music creator and listener (or, co-creator).

There is an art to the “release” of music, which reflects the process of curating, editing, aggregating, sequencing, packaging etc., as well as the relationship with the music’s potential audiences.

You can’t sidestep the need to make a definite statement, to say something specific, to be clear about what you aren’t saying. And given that, what does Jay feel he’s definitely saying with his music?

I see my own recorded music as creating musical instruments that other people play. I think everyone’s recorded music really functions in this way, but I definitely feel this way about my own. Everyone (who listens to or plays the music) makes it into their own music when they play it. And, with my own, I am excited by the possibility that some people will find creative and interactive ways to play it beyond just the songs passively showing up in the shuffle on iTunes. (But, even in the passive case, the music itself is interactive and can become your own–can change into something new and personal to you.)

And gurdonark articulated his experience as both a sampler and source of samples within the endless feedback cycles of the remix subculture:

I love the use of my own and others’ available sound clips as samples for manipulation and processing.

In an earlier time, one had to worry about concepts like “plunderphonics” to realize the possibilities in appropriation of sound. That idea seems more quaint than revolutionary now.

With Creative Commons and public domain sources, the whole paradigm shifts. I can go to the Freesound Project or the mixter or librivox or netlabels which permit sampling and snap up a recording of this or that. I can then sequence it through my 25 dollar softsynth and create something new. The sound is not just an instrument, but also a string, or a motif, or a loop, or even an indescribable discordant pad. The customary definitions are merely touchstones, old-technology concepts inadequate to describe the starchild of possibility inherent in captured open source sound.

When sound manipulation offers so many possibilities–most of which are accessible via use of freeware or inexpensive shareware–then the “buy my record, worship me, make me a star” thing eventually fades away into some obscure past. Collaboration and exploration step in and create arguably fewer fankids and groupies, and more pioneers and innovators.

Generations removed from peoples’ tastes tried to create a rarified form of music appreciation, accessible to only a chosen few. But now, the experience of being bathed in the possibility of manipulated sound creates huge niches of listeners no longer bound by the old conventions of how they “must” or “should” make music. Instead, new ways of experiencing music and sound can arise and evolve with quantum software-release speed.

I can take Lucas’ voice, and make it into a monastic drone. I can take his guitar and make it into a warm blur of gorgeous echo. Yet the fun begins when the next remixter takes what I create, and turns it into something new and unexpected. It’s no longer arty condescension to make some abstract point. It’s a swimming pool of sound, remixed and reveled within, and the water is just fine. That’s the possibility in open source music, and, like the myth of salvation, it’s available to all.

In my personal explorations of sheet music from before the recording era I have to think a lot about how that level of abstraction is special. Music notation is an incredibly skeletal way to describe or communicate a piece of music, and it changes the music to be written down. Writing out music sends the message that what is eternal about a composition is the selection and order of pitches, regardless of what instrument you play them on: it says that “this is song is ‘C’, then ‘B’, then …”.  And I don’t know that this is *true*.