Monthly Archives: December 2009

jwheare’s web of music and the Media URI spec

Towards a web of music:

Playdar isn’t really a browser. It’s more of a search engine. But can you imagine using a web browser today that didn’t have Google built in? The idea of a browser goes hand in hand with that of a search engine; in my efforts to relate the two I may have blurred the waters.

I’d like to talk a bit more about what the web looks like today, and how we can make it friendlier to the idea of a music browser.

So far, this has led to a web of control, with content centralised in the hands of publishers. The distribution of creative works is stifled, not to ensure the protection of rights, but due to a careless muddling of formats. And this sloppy integration of multimedia into the browser ensures we’ll be mired in codec hell for years to come.

Can we do better? Can we create an ecosystem for browsing, subscribing, sharing, discussing, listing and rating the stuff of the web that’s separate from HTML? Music is an obvious area of opportunity, and we’ve already got music browsers that have escaped the gravitational pull of the browser. The problem is, they’re still locked into the publisher’s web of control. The iTunes Store and Spotify represent bold new ways to access a wealth of music, but they’re essentially blind to a world of sound outside their borders.

(via James Wheare’s Blog |

Audio itself isn’t hypertext. I wonder what it would be like to have music audio be hypertext. Would you click on a Led Zeppelin lyric to go to the blues tune that it came from? Maybe you could navigate from a chord progression in one song to the same chord progression in other songs.

When you share a set of songs by putting them all in the same MP3, you can’t address them individually. When you use a playlist, the playlist is a hypertext container for each song.

And then there’s Media Fragments URI 1.0, which is a specification for pointing inside of multimedia files. That’s full-fledge music hypertext, even though it is used for audio bytes rather than musical songs.

Which makes me speculate about metafiles that attach semantics to audio files. The metafile would link to a range within an audio file in such a way that high level concepts were communicated. Like:

<div class="song-meta-map">
<a href="example.mp3#t=0s,15s" class="intro">intro</a>
<a href="example.mp3#t=16s,45s" class="verse">first verse</a>
<a href="example.mp3#t=46s,75s" class="verse">second verse</a>
<a href="example.mp3#t=76s,106s" class="chorus">chorus</a>
<a href="example.mp3#t=107s,137s" class="solo guitar">guitar solo</a>
<a href="example.mp3#t=138s,178s" class="chorus">chorus</a>
<a href="example.mp3#t=179s,210s" class="outro">outro</a>

My Web of Songs deck is different that jwheare’s concept in that it doesn’t conceive of audio-specific forms of hypertext, but thinks about general systemic issues preventing music from being a first-class citizen of the web.

Universal Postal Union

Universal Postal Union – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The UPU established that

1. there should be a more or less uniform flat rate to mail a letter anywhere in the world;

2. postal authorities should give equal treatment to foreign and domestic mail; and

3. each country should retain all monies it collected for international postage.

I’m thinking about this as a predecessor to internet protocols, and as a possible model for confederations of music subscription services.

vevo => single distribution point

A genuinely informative story about Vevo from Matt Rosoff at CNet :

The music service was not created to serve a new need for consumers. Rather, it was built to help advertisers and content owners (including labels, artists, and music publishers) capitalize on music videos, and to help Google (YouTube’s owner) offload some of the cost associated with administering rights to them. In other words, this isn’t a business-to-consumer play, it’s more of a business-to-business arrangement.

Vevo is meant to provide an online clearinghouse for label-approved music videos–the kind of professionally shot videos that often cost half a million dollars or more and used to form the backbone of MTV. Vevo will be the exclusive distributor of these videos, and will handle all licensing and ad sales, although partner Google is handling the actual video hosting and streaming. In other words, if you’re running a video site and you want to post a video that’s in Vevo’s catalog, Vevo will be your only source. By enforcing scarcity, giving advertisers a central place to buy ads, and controlling the user experience–for example, ensuring that there aren’t many copies of the same video on YouTube–Vevo believes that advertisers will be willing to pay much more to appear next to these videos.

You’re not supposed to go to to see their videos. That content is intended to be embedded elsewhere, including every site that licenses the videos. So Yahoo’s music video site will be “carrying” the content, but not hosting the videos themselves.

fog of war and Lala

Best pieces I’ve seen on Lala:

Jonathan Strauss


I have one major point to make: don’t assume you know whether it sold for a high or low price. The consensus that it was a low price is from Kara Swisher on All Things Digital and is completely unconfirmed. Some credible gossip is that it was relatively high. This is an issue of the fog of war. Whether or not you think you can see through the fog, never forget that your vision is impaired. At this point only Apple and Lala know the price. Techcrunch knows nothing. All Things Digital, Tech Dirt, Read Write Web, the NY Times — all know nothing. Whoever you learned what you know from probably got it from one of those sources. You know nothing. At least know that one thing.

For myself, the one thing I have concluded from the iLike-iMeem-Lala threefer is that every single streaming music business may well be a pretty house full of termites. Lala looked great in many ways, including the execution of their product and the massive exposure they’re getting on Google music search. Outward appearance is not an indicator of inward stability.

cloud songs a reality

It’s hard to conclude much from the Apple acquisition of Lala. Except this: it validates Lala’s model of cloud-based song purchases.

Lala’s product model is that you pay for the right to listen to a song on demand, even if you don’t download it. One streaming listen is free, more are ten cents, download is a dollar.

This is central to what Lala is, so it’s not going away unless Apple is planning to gut Lala and keep just a few resources. The iMeem acquisition was that kind of thing. But Lala is on top of its game and this isn’t a desperation deal.

So it seems pretty likely that we’re going to see something like Lala’s cloud-based purchases in the iTunes store.

living sheet music vs the dead kind


Periodicals publish corrections in subsequent issues and some successful books are (expensively) reissued in new, improved editions. But in a better world, the book, magazine or newspaper in your hands would itself be updated when mistakes are discovered by its publisher. Thanks to the advent of electronic reading gadgets, like Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader, such magic is getting closer.

This catches my attention because I’ve been thinking about the impact of correctability on written music.

Let say you have a piece of music written out using symbols like clefs, staves, and notes. You’d think the written music was pretty much set in stone, in that the song itself has a permanent nature and the written music can either reflect it accurately or not. But that’s not so. How a piece is written out depends on typesetting and interaction design issues, as well as issues of genuine meaning like whether alterations to chords need to be written down. How you communicate it and your understanding of what it is will keep changing.

So the written stuff needs to become a living document. It’s not about errors, it’s about growth.

free sample embeds — who’s left?

You can’t use Rhapsody to provide free listens in-place in your own site anymore. Soon you won’t be able to use iMeem or iLike. Spotify has never done them. YouTube isn’t anywhere near comprehensive.

There are lots of vendors that will give you a free sample if you’re on their site. That’s what’s powering music on Google — they do a pop-up to the vendor’s site.

The only healthy vendor supporting embedded players is Lala, which has an embed in third party pages like a Rihanna review on Pitchfork.