song pages at bandcamp

The song pages at Bandcamp are very good. For an example, see the page for the song “Mercury Vapor.”

They give the song a full page worth of real estate, which lets them elevate the song title to the page title and give the album art enough emphasis; that’s a great use of plain old semantic HTML for media metadata. The song title is also in the URL, which is good for search engine rankings; the pages have excellent search engine optimization overall, which allows musicians to capture search results for their own works. There are lyrics and a commentary by the musicians. You can download or stream the song. There is a link to the album containing the song and links to other songs on the same album.

And notice that the page isn’t empty. Giving the track a page of its own doesn’t waste space. The opposite — it lets the track have enough space for once.

Magnetic Fields guitar tablature

Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields publishes guitar tablature with lyrics and chords for his songs.

This kind of thing was almost non-existent in the days when CDs and vinyl records were synonymous with the music business. Back in the old days helping people to play the compositions for themselves was limited to helping aspiring guitar heroes to learn the guitar solos, or aspiring stars to emulate current stars. The stuff you learned was by a larger-than-life player, and you learned in order to become larger than life yourself. It was about career in the sense that a successful learner was one who established a musical career.

For performers to encourage avocational musicians to learn to play the music for themselves is a sea change in publishing. It reflects the move to a participatory and inclusive concept where it’s expected and even intended that covers will show up on YouTube.

Exploring this space is the reason why I created sheet music, guitar tablature, and MIDI for Kristen Hirsh’s song “Elizabeth June.”

song page manifesto

The place for a dedicated song page is in the media player. Media players need to be extended to have the ability to show a web page associated with a song; they should always show the web page, and shouldn’t require the user to take action. Listening to media in a media player should come with a series of auto-loaded web pages, one per song.


Bare audio files are pretty crappy. All they have room for is bytes describing waveforms. Waveforms are part of music, but not all of it by any means. To come alive a piece of music needs a lot more.

Of course, a song needs a title, and the name of the musical act, and some more facts like the name of album and the length of the song. But even though these facts are part of music, they also aren’t enough to bring it alive.

What every song needs is a web page.

The web page might be anything. It might be a single graphic, similar to how album art is currently used. It might be a series of images, like a slideshow. It might be song lyrics. It might be guitar tab. It might be a list of Myspace friends. It might be Creative Commons licensing information. It might be a pledge drive for future releases or a tip jar for this release. Who the hell knows that the web page is; what’s important is that a web page is powerful and flexible enough for the demands of the music.

Application flow

So what does the software look like?

There would be a chunk of HTML associated with an audio file. It could be saved for offline usage or — easier to implement in the first generation — it could just be a link that was loaded when the user was online.

The HTML would be used everywhere album art is used. In offline media players like the iTunes client-side software, here would be a pane in the media player which displayed it while the song was on. iTunes cover flow would display a screenshot of the page while you’re flipping through your collection and switch to a live grab while the song is playing.

Non-graphical offline media players like VLC would have a button to open the web page in a browser window. They might also be able to enslave a browser window which would be constantly updated during the course of a playlist. Console mode players would display the link for easy copy and paste.

Online media players (in the browser) would give a section of screen real estate to the page. A player like FoxyTunes would give the entire document window over, while a player like XSPF Musicplayer would only give a badge-sized portion of the window. The JW FLV player, for example, would put an HTML window where the video is.

How would the HTML be associated with the audio file? The easiest way to start is with an ID3 tag in MP3 files. (Leaving the issue of how to do it in other media formats aside). There already exists a standard tag designed for this purpose — the WOAF field, which is defined as The ‘Official audio file webpage’ frame is a URL pointing at a file specific webpage. This is very easy to implement, adoption is the only hard part.

What would be in the page

Romancing the music. Providing esthetic context with imagery and text, poems, animations.

Factual information. Song title, copyright data, album name, a list of performers.

Social features. A friend list, a signup for the mailing list, fan chat.

Advertising. Musicians could release a free download and earn ad revenues on a page view per play.

Performance resources. To play along, sheet music and tablature. To sing along, lyrics. To remix, source files. These would encourage listeners to pull the music into their life.

Upsells. Concert listings, merchandise like t-shirts and hoodies, ability to purchase a high-res version of the audio file, ability to purchase the entire album. (Imagine how the ability to purchase the whole album would work: you grab a single song from a filesharing network or pay per download site; you’re listening and digging it; there before your eyes is a big link to get more music from the same artist — go!)

It matters

There is a lot to gain.

Listeners would enjoy the music more because the musical experience would be better. They would have better metadata; for example, context-specific data like the featured soloist in a concerto could be given. They would have a ton of artwork, rather than a little postage stamp. They would have interactive and social features. They would be able to see concert listings auto-generated by geolocation. Rather than a media player that is a spreadsheet for metadata, the media player would an explosion of web experiences.

Commercial musicians could turn free downloads into money much more easily. Right now they rely on a user noticing a song, taking action to do a search, and following links in search results until they came to one that could convert the listener into a customer. With the new way, the user would just have to notice the song and glance over at the web page being displayed. The old way is ten clicks, the new way is zero clicks.

Record companies could develop branding for baby bands, and they could own the URL for their artists rather than letting Myspace have it. They could turn casual listeners into customers by making sticky services like a mailing list one click away from the listening experience.

Avocational musicians could get connected to lead sheets and remix sources more easily.

Developers could extend the musical experience much more easily and to much better ends. It is nearly impossible to extend MP3. It is easy to build on web pages, and the frontiers are being extended every day.

What next?

In the comments on the post that started this, Ian asked: where does this go next? And how do I package/distribute the end result? The answer is to start working on broad adoption of the WOAF ID3 element in MP3.

  1. You could sketch out wireframes of application flow. Help to visualize the user interface. Help create the conventions of this new functionality.
  2. You could do a Songbird plugin which loaded the contents of the WOAF field into the document window. Songbird was frakkin born to do this job and would excel at it.
  3. You could do a VLC extension which opened a browser window to the URL in the WOAF field.
  4. You could document how to do this functionality in the Ogg container format.
  5. You could figure out how to get the contents of the WOAF field in an AJAX app without needing standard media plugins to be changed.
  6. You could evangelize this method to the developers of standard media plugins like Flash, Quicktime and Windows Media Player, and convince them to expose the WOAF field to AJAX developers.
  7. You could evangelize this method to leaders in the recording industry, and get them to help apply pressure to vendors of leading media players.
  8. If you’re on the artist development side, you could make sure that the WOAF field is set in your free downloads.
  9. If you’re a client-side software developer, you could make an easy tool to set the WOAF field.
  10. If you’re a blogger who knows why this is retarded, you could spell it out and help to fix the problem.

To summarize: a web page for every song, a page view for every play.

Background conversation

Here is relevant conversation from the comments on my post about a dedicated page for a song.

Jay Fienberg:

Someday, I’d like to be able to just put in my “music player” and have it all in my library–which needn’t be just a collection of music files on one computer, but could be a very multi-medium, multi-source, multi-network, multi-device interlinked library of and about music.


For Err or Man, besides album covers and the lyrics for each song, each song itself also has 2+ pieces of visual art. And, more a/v may come in the future. So, for each of these songs, I need to create not only a song “page,” but a song “(mini) site.”

But, this is the web, so it’s straightforward to create these kinds of multifaceted / relational collections of the mixed-medium info that make up what we call a “song.” What’s missing is the music player / web browser hybrid that understands the song as existing in this kind of interconnected context.

Crosbie Fitch said:

Let the page be the AUTHORITATIVE source for that work. Ensure the URL has the ISBN, or if that isn’t relevant, the MD5 digest of the FLAC (for integrity checking). Would be good to have a standard for indicating authoritative URIs for digital works.

Make the page the PermaLink for the work.

That page (with the artist’s domain in the URL) is gospel for the work. Encode the page’s URL in all metadata for all files.

Bung metadata in the page’s HTML.

As for a tip jar “I would have gladly paid $n.nn for this, let me rectify that now”, yes, you could put that on this page.

Pledging is a matter of chipping in a small amount contingent upon the production and release of future work, either any work or a specific work. So you could have a pledge button on the artist’s page “I’d like to pledge a quid to you for your next work, hopefully to be released soon” (qv You could also accept requests, and create pages for frequently requested works not yet embarked upon “I think you could do a great rendition of song X, there’s $N from me upon that fine day”, or for your suggestions of things you could do “Yup, I think your ideas of doing work along those lines would be worth exploring, I’ll chip in 50 cents for that”.

NB Pledges are not tips or charitable donations, but commissions/bargains/purchases/patronage, the new deal: art for money, money for art.

Your audience wants to pay you – you do not need to charge them for ‘possession with intent to supply’ on penalty of copyright infringement with 5 year jail terms and million dollar fines.

how did fans discover “Brad Sucks”?

This forum thread on bradsucks.comnet about where community members first heard his music is a great source of data on how internet musicians should prioritize distribution outlets.

A quick undisciplined survey of the results:

  • 14 soundtrack (Brad Sucks’ music was used as a soundtrack to a video, and the forum poster followed a link in the video back to the source of the music. The video was usually but not always on YouTube).
  • 10 recommendation (boingboing, webjay, william gibson blog, friend to friend, press)
  • 6 reaper (catalog licensed by Magnatune for inclusion with remixing software)
  • 4 remix (A remixer used Brad Sucks’ music and the forum poster followed a link in the remix back to the original).
  • 4 Magnatune site
  • 3 podcast (Brad Sucks’ music was used in a podcast).
  • 3 music recommendation social networks (This category is not exclusive)
  • 2 webcast
  • 1 search (accidental discovery)

Almost of these have to do with the free culture subculture associated with things like Creative Commons and Ogg Vorbis. Having a social niche has been a good thing for Brad Sucks.

Given that Brad Sucks is on the Magnatune netlabel, the company was effective at creating attention. Discovery via soundtrack, Reaper, a remix, the Magnatune site, and podcasts are all more or less from Magnatune’s distribution, licensing and promotion. Magnatune had economies of scale that an individual band wouldn’t have, since its investment in a single distribution outlet applies to all of its acts at the same time. This suggests that netlabels do have a role to play in the long term.

Recommendations in various outlets added up, but no one outlet had a big payoff.

Having the music bundled with Reaper was a beautiful move. It created exposure to remixers who got it with the software, and when they published their remixes they created a secondary wave of exposure to their listeners.

Even though the free culture subculture was a big factor, hardly anyone bought Ogg Vorbis or FLAC and Brad has dropped it.

Having music hitch a ride with other distributable projects is an incredible magnifier of attention. Soundtracks, reaper, remix, podcasts, and webcasts all bundle Brad Sucks, and when a third party includes your work their own distribution projects contribute to your distribution. Bundling creates network effects.

stigma of unoriginality

Crosbie Fitch’s comment on my post about interlinking between musician blogs:

I suspect that a lot of the non-linking behaviour on musicians’ websites comes from the subtle cultural indoctrination we’ve been living with for a few centuries now (since the advent of copyright) that a musician who is influenced by others is a lesser musician (by exposing themselves to considerable risk of being less original).

Copyright effectively says that the only works worthy of the public’s attention and so deserving of their reward are works that are wholly original – any derivative work is a trespass upon the work of the ‘original’ creator and warrants their consent or veto, and first claim to any reward.

There is a big economic incentive to be a singer/songwriter rather than just a singer, even if the original songs you write don’t contain original ideas. Publishing rights are far and away the best way to make money as a musician. Jimi Hendrix earned many times more than Noel Redding not because he was the bandleader but because he was the songwriter. Classical stars earn less than pop stars partly because there are no songwriting royalties for them.

Copyright has created another incentive to write new songs rather than cover existing ones — most musicians can’t get a license to cover a song on the internet. Writing is a way to keep from getting sued.

musician blogs are mules

What’s missing from these three excellent musician sites, all of them full-fledged blogs, as well as from my own musician blog?

  1. Brad Sucks
  2. Jonathan Coulton‘s blog
  3. TweedBlog

All of them take advantage of internet standards. All of them have a strong centralized hub for their own presence, which they use to point outwards to any presence they maintain on distribution points like Myspace. All of them publish their own music on their sites in MP3 format with full songs rather than 30 second samples; none of them limit their music to pointers into sale outlets like the iTunes store. All of them develop momentum by publishing regularly.

But none of them link to other musician blogs.

And why should they? Playing is essentially selfish, and player’s blogs are naturally inward looking rather than outward. A player blog which pointed outward would be just another music blog, except that it would corrupt the flow of recommendations with bias for the player’s own creations.

The problem is that successful blogging is recursive. Blogs blog about blogs. It’s not an accident that there’s an echo chamber. Blogs which attract links are those which generate links to blogs that may link back to them. It’s a Darwinian fitness test. Does your blogging get other people to blog about your blogging? If so, you’ll get links. If not, your blog probably won’t generate enough attention to sustain itself.

Musician blogs are like mules. They’re a final generation that can’t breed more generations.

Obviously I wouldn’t be doing it myself if I didn’t believe in it. I just don’t know how to tackle this issue. MP3 bloggers post what they have gotten from CDs, filesharing networks, or other MP3 blogs. I have never seen a blog post music from a musician blog or a social site like remixfight unless the blogger was directly affiliated with the source. Why would anybody link to a musician blog?

looking at Ingrid Michaelson site

Here are observations on the site for Ingrid Michaelson’s music.

I like:

  1. Music autoplays on the home page. That’s what the site is about, let’s not waste time and clicks getting to it.
  2. Navigation within the site never interrupts playback. As I write this I’m been having a continuous enjoyable experience with the music for about fifteen minutes because nothing has yet happened to break the flow.
  3. Front page goes straight to news. There’s a sense of freshness. This approach is in contrast to a Flash splash page or a static explanation of who she is.
  4. Main menu uses standard language for features rather than making up cute words for the same things.
  5. Intimate blog-scale presence rather than larger-than-life arena-scale presence.

I don’t like:

  1. Nothing viral anywhere. This should be front and center. For example, the XSPF player widget in the header should have an “embed this” box next to it.
  2. Framed design prevents linking to sub-pages, including bookmarking. They should have used an AJAX bookmarking library.
  3. No free MP3 download. Huh? C’mon. I mean…
  4. There should be direct links to songs in the news section, so that you have a sense of chronology and freshness in relation to the music.

no singles, please #2

Good bloggers have a warmer and more intimate voice than writers in publications like the New York Times. This applies to musicians as well.

So let’s say that, per yesterday’s post here, we’re moving from a world of albums containing singles to a world where musicians release a series of songs that accumulate like posts in a blog.

You’d expect successful musicians in the new context to have a warmer and more intimate voice. They would let flaws show. They would be avoid grandiose sounds like kettle drums. They would be less physically attractive. They would dress down. They would be quirky.

Old style: Janet Jackson on janetjackson.comJanet Jackson 'Discipline' photo

New style: Port O’brien on Aquarium DrunkardPort O'brien

musicians’ presence on the net

Over on the blog for my own music I have posted about an article on my music over on the guitar section of a general reference site called

The story happened because the author, Kevin Casper, saw me play at a small bar. He had no reason to know about all the online work related to the music.

But once we got rolling on the interview, all the online work became useful source materials for the story. Kevin browsed my longstanding Flickr stream and found two pictures which he ended up using. He listened to David Battino’s podcast. He linked back to the blog on my music ( that I set up as an alternative to doing a CD. And the stream of recordings made over time became the viral payoff (from my perspective) of the story: please visit Lucas Gonze’s blog. There you can hear samples of Gonze playing.

It’s not just that this stuff was online. It’s that it was the byproduct of an ongoing existence which you could consider an active resume: Any professional whose work is visible on the Net will become part of the conversation that establishes reputation and creates opportunity. The blog is an active résumé that enables you to participate — by proxy — in that conversation..

A musician isn’t a professional in the same sense, and doesn’t need a resume. But what carries over from the concept of an active resume is the idea that musicians also benefit by leaving a trail of engagement. David Byrne’s blog brings him alive to me and make him matter. He blogs about a smallish local gig (for him): This Wednesday, I’m participating in a benefit concert for St. Ann’s Warehouse, a performance center in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The blog entry draws you into his musical life: I eventually joined the ranks of millions of others who found many of these [20th century pop song] standards moving and beautiful. I often dislike the way they were performed, all schmaltzy and with swing in inappropriate places. I don’t care for Sinatra, for example.

The net is a warmer and more intimate medium than the old album/radio/television axis. Musicians can’t approach the net with the same reserve and distance. Byrne makes himself a part of the new medium by engaging in a direct personal way in each blog post, and by doing it in a ongoing series.

I’m maintaining a separation between my writing about making stuff, which goes here on, and my writing about the stuff I made, which goes there on I assume that most people interested in the music don’t want inside baseball about working on music, and that most people who want inside baseball about working on music don’t want the music. There’s crossover, but it’s limited.

There are hosting problems at the Soup Greens blog and it’s taking up to 30 seconds to get a page. I use a hosting service called midPhase which has good customer support and administration tools, but which is turning to be not so reliable.

gurdonark manifesto

In a comment on the cut/copy post, gurdonark posted a mini-manifesto on musician’s web presence.

If I were expressing a similar idea, I might try it this way:

  1. music should be hosted and managed on sites controlled by the musicians
  2. sites controlled by musicians need not follow the rigid label/release dynamics of the past
  3. sites controlled by musicians need not be elaborate, but can work like weblogs
  4. in this vision of creative self-expression, the blend of words, images, and music is not a self-conscious form of multi-media, but a natural expression of creativity
  5. the weblogs thus created can be used to market or license music
  6. the weblogs thus created may alternatively succeed if there are listeners/readers, regardless of commercial motive
  7. the ideal net effect is to “get it” about sharing music in ways that traditional media has not “gotten”.

Some of these are already blooming, some are barely germinated. You wouldn’t have a tough time finding music hosted and managed on sites controlled by the musicians, but you’d have a very tough time finding distribution points for those songs, because all the major distribution points require musicians to upload to their servers and won’t distribute music on an external URL.