making a case for portable identifiers

One followup to my post on portable identifiers for songs using XSPF’s content resolution abilities happened on J. Herskowitz’ blog. I asked whether the problem in developing interoperability between music services is technical or economic. J’s answer was:

I think it is both. Since there appears to be a need for ongoing resolver work to map to lots of catalogs, the opportunity cost of one company to do so becomes too high. Just look at Paul Lamere’s work on Spiffy ( it was a great start, but he couldn’t rationalize the opportunity costs to keep it going.

As a consumer, I want it though…. I want to be able to find a playlist somewhere and then click “play” – by which enables me to determine what vendor fulfills it. Napster, Rhapsody, Yahoo, YouTube, free-range MP3s, etc.

Paraphrasing him, the value to users seems clear enough, but the work to enable it need to be shared across vendors, since no one vendor benefits more than the others. It’s social value which has to be funded by everybody and nobody.

Back here at home I asked the question slightly differently: does this technology provide enough business benefit to be worth implementing? If not, what would have to be different?

Jay Fienberg came back with an answer a lot like J’s:

I think there’s a bit of a mismatch here: catalog resolution of the type described is especially beneficial and necessary in “open” multiple-catalog systems–where the goal is linking / sharing info between as many systems as possible. And, the question is being asked of people involved in furthering the goals of “closed,” single-catalog systems.

These single-catalog systems have the goal of, more or less, focusing only on incoming links, e.g., focusing on making their single catalog a more unique authority.

I think another way to look at this would be: how hard would it be for these services expose to their own unique, permanent, identifiers to the public? (Not very, one would imagine.) Then, rather than these services building their own catalog resolution systems, they could make it possible for others to do so.

Similarly, Scott Kveton of MyStrands said: From the MyStrands perspective we’re simply not in the catalog resolution business. I would wager that Pandora isn’t either.

Jay’s trick of flipping the question around is insightful. Almost all online music businesses right now are in the distribution business, even if they see other functions like discovery or social connection as their main value, because they have no way to connect their discovery or social connection features with a reliable provisioning service from a third party. But provisioning is a commodity service which doesn’t give anybody an edge. They don’t want to import playlists from third parties because *that’s* where they are adding value.

Exporting playlists for others to provision, though, is a different story, and it makes much more sense from a business perspective. Let somebody else deal with provisioning. This is what it would mean for somebody like Launchcast or Pandora to publish XSPF with portable song identifiers that could be resolved by companies that specialize in provisioning.

Chris Anderson said:

The portability problem is a bit of a prisoner’s dilemma for music providers. If everyone addresses it, the benefit is great, but if only a few do, and in different ways, then the costs can outweigh the gains.

In the absence of a bottom-up revolution resulting in audio resources that can be resolved to, there has to be cooperation among audio brokers. Perhaps Imeem et. al. could provide an API that takes XSPF <track/> fragments and provides a flash widget with the appropriate content.

And Scott Kveton again:

What I would love to talk about is using something akin to Musicbrainz to be the public commons that companies like MyStrands,, Pandora and others can use as a basis for playlist portability.

And that’s where internet music vendors are right now: stuck waiting for ways to cooperate without disarming unilaterally. The closest thing to cooperation is that companies are willing to export Flash widgets that can be embedded in any third party site, and the reason we’re using Flash is that it allows us to define and limit points of interoperability.

Ok, so let’s just say that the business and technical problems can be factored into separate projects. Yves has been working on the technical problem of mapping identifiers from different vendors into a unified framework:

I played a bit with such lookup algorithms (using metadata+acoustic fingerprints) when I experimented linking a Creative Commons label collection (Jamendo) and Musicbrainz – this is described here, and uses a technique close to the “similarity flooding” one in the record linkage community:

Yves’ work deals with interlinking experiences based on the Jamendo dataset, in particular equivalence mining – that is, stating that a resource in the Jamendo dataset is the same as a resource in the Musicbrainz dataset.

For example, we want to derive automatically that is the same as….

It’s a fascinating and productive investigation. I am aware of at least one private proprietary effort to do this kind of thing, but no open project, and this is exactly where work has to be (as Scott says above) for multiple vendors to become interoperable without unilateral disarmament. One immediately useful result of this work is to make a direct connection between the XSPF concept of content resolution and the semantic web concept of Equivalence Mining and Matching Frameworks. This allows music developers familiar with the application domain of catalog management to benefit from high-academia research into techniques that can be used to auto-generate links between data items within different datasources.

Phew. I’m done. This was a hard post to write because I had to digest all the different strands in this conversation. It took a long time to figure out what people were talking about. Still, now that I’ve done the legwork I feel like I understand the problem better than before, even if parts are still a complete mystery.

new forms of live shows

Conversation on the kid gig 12/8 post developed around the interaction between changing music and existing forms of performance. The internet is changing recorded music. How can those changes be reflected in live shows?

Live music for most musicians is either in a bar or in a stadium. These contexts are in a continuum where one leads to the other. But stadium shows are an artifact of the economics of the 20th century recording industry.

Said Pribek:

I play too much in bars. It’s like going to a football game and already knowing the outcome.

The times that I have had an opportunity to play for kids, have all been a blast. Kids give honest reaction with no preconceived notions.

Playing in bars is all about reducing the musical experience to the lowest common denominator. I’m not complaining. I’m glad to have a chance to fire up the Tele tonight regardless.

T-Bone Burnett once said something like; “The music industry is based on the principal of selling music to people who don’t like music”.

Who knows how the selling of music shakes out in this “brave new world”? Personally, I don’t care.

I have a hunch that when the dust settles, there will be more opportunity to find a venue to play live for people who do like music.

(As always, I have made lots of edits to comments while converting them to full-fledged posts).

gurdonark replied:

Lately, I want all music to be in matinee’ form.
The “nightlife prison” for music does conjure up some rich, almost cinematic associations. Yet live music becomes so limited when its trapped in that dates-and-drinks-and-diversion mesh, and perhaps limited in a different way in the “concert as religious experience” groove.

I don’t play live, but if I did, I’d always play starting no later than 2 p.m.

Also, I’d rather have my music accompany a planetarium show or a multi-media presentation than be a performer. I am all for concerts and performances, but I like the idea that one can be one component of a fun in which music is incorporated into a multi-media activity.

Most of my things appear at netlabels like NSI.
I am not opposed to CDs, but they’re almost irrelevant to me, as you suggest. I made and even sold some a few years ago, but now they’d be more a curious gift for friends than anything like “music distribution”.

I love meatspace performances. But I think the consructs for them are all rooted in performer/audience assumptions that are no longer the right assumptions. By this, I mean that
I have no desire to hold a candle up for a superstar anymore, but instead want to be drenched in an interactive medium. I love what Kristin Hersh and radiohead and Issa (nee’ Jane Siberry) are doing with self-directed payments, and what numerous people are doing with netlabel creative commons. I recently was on’s “collusion” dark ambient piece–12 artists contributing to create one whole–not for the glory of anyone, but for the sheer participation of the thing. That’s the present, and the future.

And Jay Fienberg said:

The last live show I did was a band reunion where most of the audience was made up of band members’ kids, nieces and nephews. Playing for kids is really great–in many ways better then when I was a kid and most of the audience would be our parents, aunts and uncles.

btw, Seattle has lots of live music in bars, pubs, coffee houses, laundromats, etc., and it’s really a great thing to be a music fan and be out at night and be around live music. It looks like it’s a lot more fun to play here than the places where I used to play (in LA, SF). Bar gigs are not glorious for a musician, but they’re often a big break from spending one’s whole life in a cubicle, etc. And, if there’s a crowd of real music fans in the mix, it can approach some real glory, IMHO.

So here’s the question: the recording industry is changing dramatically. What aspects of live music rely on aspects of the recording industry that are going away? What new kinds of live music does the internet enable?

kid gig 12/8

I’m playing at the Ocean Charter School Winter Faire tomorrow afternoon. The one time before that I played for kids was great at its best. The teens were too uptight and not a lot of fun, but the younger kids got up and moshed and were generally a stellar audience.

Location: 12606 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90066. The nearest major cross street is Centinela. Time: 1-1:30.

It’s good to play outside of bars. My music developed in the context of my blog, and the vibe of my blog matches up better with galleries and schools than bars and parties.

Kristin Hersh

From the “Downloads” section of Kristen Hersh’s web site:

Every month, CASH Music brings you Kristin’s newest recordings in several formats including lossless audio. For each song, Kristin also provides lyric sheets and a “Works in Progress” demo version of each song. Kristin also offers her songs to the CASH community in “Read-Write” format — by making available her Pro Tools mix stems!

Very clued in: periodical small releases of one song in an interactive format rather than irregular large releases of many songs on a static CD.

I can’t do a remix because I don’t have Pro Tools but I did play guitar along with the MP3 and it was fun. And I found that by engaging directly with the music I actively enjoyed Kristen Hersh’s work for the first time, so there was clearly a promotional effect.