Category Archives: remix culture

attribution and reuse

Play the Web is a blog with the premise of exploring technical hurdles for making chains of derivative works:

On this blog we want to talk about media reuse on the Internet and enabling reuse in a responsible way. Media companies’ reactionary response of restricting all use is throwing the baby out with the bathwater but conversely doing away with copyright on the Internet altogether is no better. There’s a middle way and we need to build tools to facilitate that path. Tools to recognise media and enable reuse.

They’re assuming that the end result of their work will be part of The Initiative:

Our immediate challenge is discovering what licensing and ownership attributes are associated with a given piece of media. There are millions of discrete pieces of media on the Internet, how can software tell which are reusable, which are licensed, which are public domain, etc.? A simple solution to this problem is offered by microformats. By embedding meta-data with media in a standardised, machine-readable way we open the door to all kinds of applications that rely on this knowledge.

And they already have an excellent post on how to do attribution for a reused photograph:

I’m now kind of concerned with what to call “Attribution”. In the Creative Commons attribution is a legal term, but what I really want to relate is:

  1. From where did I find the content: Miss 604’s blog. (The Copied Source)
  2. From where did the original content come from: Squeaky Marmot (The Original Source or at least the source Miss 604 found)

Do you reuse content? Do others reuse your content? If so, what do you think? How would you like to see the “attribution”?

I have a couple data points to offer.

One, non-commercial users don’t care about copyright. They know zero about it, they don’t know of any reason to care, and they aren’t going to change. (Software developers, who deal with free and open source software, are an exception to this rule). Commercial users may care, but can’t use content under a non-commercial license. So in practice the issue of attribution only has a real-world impact for derived works created by commercial entities. Source works which are licensed to allow both derivative works and commercial use are the ones we’re talking about.

Two, in XSPF there is an element for giving attribution to the sources of derived works. The idea is that one person would incorporate another person’s playlist into their own, and would use this element to give credit. It is defined as a chronologically-ordered stack:

An ordered list of URIs. The purpose is to satisfy licenses allowing modification but requiring attribution. If you modify such a playlist, move its //playlist/location or //playlist/identifier element to the top of the items in the //playlist/attribution element. xspf:playlist elements MAY contain exactly one xspf:attribution element.

Such a list can grow without limit, so as a practical matter we suggest deleting ancestors more than ten generations back.


The stack framework is a pretty elegant tool for handling this requirement, and I’m happy about how we did it. However this element is rarely if ever used because no current playlist sharing sites that I know of both expect playlists to cross site boundaries and expect users to make new playlists out of old ones.

marketing songs the lazy way

I have added some new formats for my song Frog in the Well.

For people making videos, I created cuts of 20 seconds, 30 seconds, and 40 seconds. I have noticed that the length of a piece of music is a big factor in choosing it, so these cuts are to increase the number of situations that this music fits.

For people doing remixes, I created a sample pack with eight clips under five seconds. I did this because chopping up a song into samples is a fair amount of work, and eliminating that work increases the number of people who might use samples for the song.

With both of these sets of cuts, the goal was to increase the potential growth of my music. The popularity of my song can only grow linearly, as the sum of listens. For each song or video that it is incorporated into, there is a multiplier on that growth curve. If songs or videos that incorporate my work are themselves incorporated into other works, there is exponential growth in the listenership for my music.

I also created a clip to be used as a ringtone. My thinking was that supporting more playback contexts, and especially a playback context as common as cell phones, would again do good things for the potential growth curve.

Lastly, I created a page which can transpose and play back the sheet music using the Scorch browser plugin. This should increase the number of contexts that the sheet music and tablature are useful in and the number of people who can follow the sheet music. Having people incorporate my musical work by learning from a piece of sheet music that I created is again a way of hitching a ride on other people’s works.

What I didn’t do was go out and plug my song. I didn’t make CDs to mail to radio, press, and booking agents. I didn’t email bloggers one by one. I didn’t post comments on other musicians’ Myspace pages. I didn’t email all my friends. All of these ways of marketing are good things to do, but I am lazy and would rather have other people do that for their own stuff and bring mine along for the ride.

I also didn’t make a new song. It’s good to keep up a steady flow of fresh work, but winner songs don’t come along all that often and once you have one you’ll probably get more growth overall by focusing your efforts on the winner.

You can see all this stuff in context on the song page for Frog in the Well.

Here is a video that used this song as background music:

</p> <p><a href=";fmt=18">General George Gordon Meade Monument</a></p> <p>

value of samples

An insight on the economics of remixes from the Creative Commons blog:

On a music remix site such as ccMixter, the best fully mixed tracks are most enjoyable to listen to, but the best a cappellas and samples are probably the most valuable content in the sense that the former build upon and require the latter.

So the value of a sample in isolation is low, but when it is used in mixes the value grows. Over time the growth compounds as use of the sample gives it more exposure and increases the likelihood of being used in yet more mixes. The most popular sample sources are exponentially more valuable than the least.

When Liszt transcribed Paganini:

remix culture [was vital] was in the era before recording technology. Remixes back then required transcriptions and new performances of the pieces created, to make new pieces. Transcription/remix culture provides a set of parallels that might help us understand that what we are doing is not some odd form of new piracy, but instead a licensed continuation of a tradition that made sense and great music.

Liszt at 20 heard Paganini, then 50, perform. He was so swept away that he began to convert Pagainin’s violin studies into piano pieces. His remix (technically a transcription) of Paganini’s “A minor caprice (Nr. 24)” for piano both caused him controversy in his time and gives us a sense of his piano genius in our time.

Transcribing a violin piece for piano is like translating a poem. There would be some mechanical conversions, but also there would be spots that required the transcriber to get involved with the music at a qualitative level. The transcriber would need to understand the internal lines and structures, and since structures carry meaning they’re subjective enough that the transcriber would have to exercise their own taste and musicality. It would be a lot like orchestrating, arranging, or remixing.

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.


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….

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*.