Monthly Archives: August 2008

All of a sudden: Attribution

Tracking an attribution tree, including across sites, has been something we’ve been playing around with for a few years now on ccMixter.

The biggest problem with attribution is that it takes work, even when you want to “do the right thing,” knowing what to say and where crosses a line that most people don’t want to: it involves thought.

Molly Kleinman is now becoming famous for spelling out in human terms what this means to bloggers and other content consumers. No doubt she is providing an invaluable service (seriously). Just this morning the PlayTheWeb group is hashing out the implications of nested attribution with Lucas chiming in explaining how the XSPF playlist format handles derivation.

Maybe because my background in software is in development tools and call me Abraham Maslow but this problems looks very much like a nail to me.

Attribution, on both ends, has to be brain dead simple. We’ve simplified it as much as we could at ccM (given my limited imagination for such things) with a search function during the content submission process. (In fact, the ‘Submit’ button is inactive until the artist posting the remix has attributed somebody ;))

We’ve been using a simple api called the Sample Pool to communicate with other sites (freesound, magnatune, etc.) so that when a remixer is using a sample from one of those sites they select that name from known Pools that are searchable instead of ccMixter. The search results are offered as checkboxes. Again, that’s as simple as I could think of. When I say the api is “simple” I mean we invented no markup. We have a URL calling convention and all return values are RSS 2 feeds.

In order to be a Sample Pool, you need the following:

1. an RSS feed with a *.license element per entry
2. a way to search the feeds

It turns out that WordPress can be tweaked to do (1) with a few lines of code and already does (2). Just this morning I’ve confirmed we’ve successfully managed to convert a WordPress music blog called Audio Cookbook into a Sample Pool with 3 lines of mod_rewrite. (I’ll be publishing exactly how we did it on the CC Wiki in the next few days.)

To be a Sample Pool “client” you need to be able:

1. Construct an url
2. Ping a website
3. Parse an RSS feed

There is an implementation buried in the ccHost code but I’ll be the first to admit, I’m probably the only (non-masochistic) human who could easily extract it. Now that the WP-Sample Pool bridge has been crossed outbound, I’m definitely inspired to do this and then wrap it as an WP plugin so that when you are doing a post of content, you can search for the content you derived from and the proper attribution will be automatically embedded into your post.

My overall walkaway point is that attribution, in the real world, won’t happen until it is at least this easy for content creators and consumers alike.

BTW, the api does not track attribution further than one generation. We handle this on ccMixter by having users follow links. I have found, after nearly four years at ccMixter that there are only two classes of people that care about attribution further than one generation: commercial entities looking to clear samples and geeks. The second category includes the people I work for and other curious types. The artists don’t care about the larger attribution tree and the amount of UI flooding a typical song page is already crowded enough, thank you very much.

The first class, people who make a living clearing samples or looking to distribute royalties should have an easy way to expand the attribution tree and that might be necessary on my next job, but for this one, a non-profit remix hosting site, it just wasn’t called for. To accomplish this I would claim that no more spec’ing need to be done, just use the Dublin Core “source” element and follow each of those down.

I’ll be pontificating more about remix attribution tracking across the WWW at CC Nordic and FCONS, both in Sweden in late October.

Indie Band Survival Guide

A few years ago I downloaded the original “The Indie Band Survival Guide” out of curiosity and because the PDF was under a CC license. That version is still available for download. (A recent CC write up here. )

The book has been greatly expanded and updated and is now been officially published (Amazon link). I got a free copy because they mention ccMixter (thanks!) and because they wanted me to plug the book (I am such the influential big wig!!).

Fact is, this book is cool. Chapter 7 on music licensing is perhaps the best resource on selling music I’ve ever seen. A lot of the book is devoted to the ‘band’ angle (as pointed out in the book, yes, there is more than one meaning to “joint ownership”) but a producer or DJ could learn a lot from reading this thing. I sure did.

On the way to having an Open Music musician quit their day job I would think the things in this book are a given and having them all compiled in one place is definitely useful to say the least. Readers of this blog know a lot of the web stuff already. For example, Brad Sucks is featured predominantly throughout and can you blame them? (There are few things Brad gets wrong.) But a lot of the old school music biz stuff that still linger on is really important to know and these guys do a great job at explaining all of it.

It is a very timely book, that is, some percentage of the material will be stale in 6 months so it’s a little strange to have an actual bound book because the peak value of it is right now and can only diminish over time. Of course there’s a web site but I’m not sure it does the book justice.

Bottom line: these guys have done their homework, actually know what their talking about and know how to write so mere mortals can understand it.

ztutz is Blogging (!)

My buddy and hyper-talented musician ztutz (aka David Stutz) has joined the current millennium and started blogging. David was (is?) with the Seattle Opera but you’ve heard his voice on everything from the “Titanic” soundtrack to the game “Myst” to open music remixes everywhere. His current bent is toward music based on mathematics and while in most hands that would be a frighteningly stale proposal I’ve heard a preview of his upcoming album and it’s one of the most soulful, original expressions I’ve heard in a long time. In fact, while in Seattle last week I got to sit in on a mastering session for one of the tracks and it was nothing short of mesmerizing; challenging both heart and mind at once. The music for this upcoming album was done for the audio book of Neil Stephenson‘s latest book — yes the “Cryptonomicon” guy who is known for merging writing with (surprise!) higher math.

While I was in Seattle, David also happened to be participating as principle vocalist along with “water percussionist” James Whetzel in a project called “Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas” which is a cycle of 64 (!) pieces of music by Byron Au Yong. The day I tagged along David, James, Byron and crew were racing around the larger Seattle area to 8 different locations to have David and James stand in various bodies of water, including Puget Sound, performing some of the pieces while video rolled. The results will be part of an installation at Jack Straw at UW. (Of all the projects I’ve known David to have participated in, including mammoth puppet opera, I have to say this standing in the water thing was one of the more bat-shit crazier things he’s done.)

As if being a monster of an opera singer, cutting edge avant garde performer and composer of breathtaking music isn’t enough, David partners with artist Perri Lynch to perform as a laptop duo RADIUS (guess which one named the band). Their rig is really fun with Perri mounting gobs of iPods filled with ambient field recordings and selecting snippets to throw out into the ether via her laptop. David then “captures” the samples in real time in Ableton, loops them, mangles them and together they make beautiful (really beautiful) 40-60 minutes sets of cool, evocative head space. Look for them at a gallery opening or ancient church near you.

I was really psyched when David fell for my passive aggressive attempts to needle my way into their world and let me jam with them for an afternoon. We did 2 sets. One worked (!). The other didn’t.

This is my mashup of ztutz and Magnatune’s Paul Avgerinos from the ever unpopular Chronic Dreams 2:

New c. layne Album “VI”

Coming just three weeks after the release of “Shark Week” comes what I would call an essential Open Music album that demonstrates why I think c. is one the most important songwriters I have encountered. My opinions are, of course, just those and they are 100% tainted by the fact that he consistently puts melody, poetry and voice to the thoughts that are already rattling around in my head.

VI” lays bare, without any musical adornment save acoustic guitar and the occasional shaker and mono synth line, his extremely personal approach to songwriting and performance. First, I’ll let the music speak for itself:

VI by C. Layne

…then , I ask you, show some love.

Boomer Icon #9,439

Isaac Hayes is the perfect example of how our celebrity reductionist society does grave injustice to a long, multi-faceted career. Despite having impact on generation after generation that runs deep and wide there’s no doubt that most of us will remember for whatever that impact looked like at the time we came of age. It doesn’t help that the inter-generational impression ranges from the sublime (“Soul Man”, “Shaft”) to the ridiculous (voice of “South Park”‘s Chef), from the earnest troubled narrator of “If Something is Wrong With My Baby” to the flamboyant high-pimpin Playboy magazine spread showing him eating Hors d’Oeuvres off the stretched naked bodies of the girls next door.

Hayes’ music career (and talent, it seems) was over long before he was found next to his still-running treadmill in his home gym the other day. His feeble attempts at reviving it after his split with “South Park” was heart-breaking to those of us who recognized him for a musical genius as well as master showman. His singular ability to turn sex into rhythmic, harmonic sound is what I have missed the most.

Wring in the New Era

True story:

When my son told me he wants to attend a college of digital arts so he could study to become an audio engineer I was uncharacteristically daddy-freaked. My instincts have been to trust my kids to figure what they want on their own time table and see my job as facilitator (you know, check writer) and otherwise stay out of their way. But audio engineer? Why not blacksmith? or watch-maker? or any other dead career choice? Well, turns out my default was right again and, of course, my son knew better than me what was right for him.

You see, during a tour of the school I cornered several instructors and staff and gently but firmly expressed my concerns about this career choice and it took no time at all for these folks to slap my Jurassic ready-for-the-Shalom-Retirement-Home-for-the-Aged-Hippie butt all over the map. The answer, in a word, for all the old farts that haven’t figured it out, duh: games.

It seems the vast majority of grads end up in the gaming industry, which by almost every measure does better business than TV, movies and music combined. It seems one game, “Guitar Hero” has sold more units than all CDs last year, combined. (I don’t have the time to confirm these numbers but they follow the “fourstones’ Law of Half” which states “Even if that’s wrong by +-50% it still blows my mind.”) So sure, that makes sense. I don’t know diddley about gaming but I’m pretty sure they don’t ship too many silent ones.

And all of a sudden every issue regarding the musician’s relationship to the music industry seems like nothing but a bunch of old maids wringing their hands so hard they could start a bonfire. You want distribution? Exposure? My god, how long before the gaming companies sign bands directly without any “label” at all lol? Even old bands like the Cars and Arrowsmith are debuting new material on games. I saw Slash a few months ago on Letterman and he was promoting a video game. Slash. Talk show. Video game. Does anybody over 35 reading this post ever in your wildest dream think these concepts would go together into a sentence?

So shall we wring our hands over the CD vs. download thing a little more? What the role of the “label” is? What about “discovery”? Sony BMG is worth what? 1.2 billion? chicken-fucking-feed lol.

Even on puny little ccMixter, check out the top referrers for the last 12 months:

Check out #4, wtf is “kloonigames”? Yea, that’s right, above YouTube and flickr is this silly Crayon Physics game that features “Lullaby” by _ghost.

Now check out all the Magnatune music on “Braid” [via Buckman].