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.

4 thoughts on “portable song IDs and music influencer networks

  1. The music stores I’ve dealt with accept ISRCs as unique IDs. Unfortunately, ISRC is a centrally regulated system that is geared towards the existing music industry (the US ISRC contact appears to be an RIAA employee). I don’t know how hard it would be to set up a free ISRC assignment service for independent artists (dyndns for music) but that seems like a more commercially adopted solution than MusicBrainz IDs.

  2. There is vastly more music released, that could be part of an online music marketplace, than any central system can track.

    I think a robust system would combine multiple central registries with overlapping data, and some very Internet-like distributed identifier mechanism, e.g., DNS-based URIs (aka web URLs) that individuals can create themselves to identify their works.

    For example, a central service could create a digital works registry that takes URLs as input. Those URLs could then be used as IDs embedded in media files, etc. And, the central service could be queried with other identifying info, e.g., a sound fingerprint, to retrieve the URLs when they get misplaced.

  3. To some extent you can consider a decentralized registry as a search problem. Normally the question that search engines try to answer is about finding web pages, but I think it could just as well be about finding song files associated with a query string.

    …and that’s why XSPF has this concept of content resolution as a query operation.

  4. “To some extent you can consider a decentralized registry as a search problem.”

    Right. And, that’s true with identity as well: to some extent, uniquely identifying something is a search problem.

    This is a somehwat spacial way of looking at it, e.g., there’s potentially a big space of information, and there’s a question of how one locates information in that space.

    There’s also a temporal way of looking at it, which is: how can people get the information they need just in time. (Or, what are the implications / consequences of the time it takes to get needed information.)

    There might be a cart before the horse issue with this topic in that it may make more sense to address the temporal aspect before the spacial.

    For example, when are the right times for someone to have the opportunity to “pay” for a work of music; or when are the right times for a creator to ask for “payment”? (I put “pay” in quotes, because we might be talking about cash, or we might be talking about some form of trade, reputation, or other non-cash exchange.)

    The non-free-market for music online has resulted in a situation where it’s mostly faster to get music files than to get and process information on how to “pay” for the music. iTunes success is partially the result of reversing this situation within it’s own centralized / contained information space.

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