Category Archives: ccMixter

The Collective is the “Label”

But seriously and on a more positive note…

Lucas’ conversation brings up the idea of the collective (A. K. A. musicians’ community sites, net labels, etc.) acting as the new version of a recording label. Not a full replacement in terms of what a label does today, like Amazon replacing brick and mortar book stores, but more like blogging, which has parallels in the pre-Web world but is a service industry born of the Web itself.

The musicians’ collective and it’s implications, commercially and otherwise, are not new ideas to me. After all, I run one for Creative Commons called ccMixter. Unfortunately with the confidential nature of the way the ccMixter RFP was held under wraps for 18 months I chose the better part of valor (for once) and did not discuss these things in public because I was scared out of my mind that CC’s tax exempt status could be hurt if the ccM hand-over was screwed up. This, of course, turned out to be one lawyer’s opinion but it was the only information I had at the time.

The business opportunity implications lurking around ccM would take more than a blog post to relay but here’s one highlight that makes the ccM collective even more interesting than other sites that pool album shopping carts and other resources.

Lucas and Neeru’s original vision for the site was a re-use model obvious to them, new to musicians. They saw the site laid out as:

a) source material
b) remixes
c) recursion

From day one of my involvement I felt that with a few additions (e.g. giving a cappellas a top-tier status, creating a Sample Pool larger than just the one site, focusing on quality via the Editors’ Picks) that we could help propel the concepts into a model musicians could wrap their heads around. This combined vision has given ccM a unique process for creating really good music that, like blogging, has parallels in the pre-Web days but has grown into something different.

Somehow, unlike hiring a producer (A.K.A. your boyfriend) to create an album based on a singer/songwriter’s material and unlike collaborating with other band members to jam together until a vocal and instrumental work as a unit, the act of tossing things into a sample pool with no fixed objective or assignments has yielded some fantastic music. When I say “no fixed objective” I mean we even stopped having remix contests over a year ago and the music only got better. It got better because the thing drawing in better singers was better producers. And the thing drawing in better producers was better singers. There’s the recursion thing writ large in real terms.

fwiw I walk around these days thinking “I can’t believe it fucking worked!” because maybe Lucas and Neeru and folks at CC are used to having their visions pan out in the real world but this is new to me. I tried for years to convince singers and musicians that open music was good for their careers and the world and exposure through sharing was the sane route, not the inverted distortion field of handing over 100% of your rights to a huge corporation in return for financial debt you can never repay. Of course, all of those are still true and certainly part of the attraction, but it wasn’t until this recursion-in-the-pool thing starting taking off that all of a sudden the best musicians I know are forking over stems and pells without blinking. I look up now and I realize in two years I’ve gone from nearly full-time evangelism to nearly none.

Now, maybe the CD is dead. Maybe a ccM model isn’t amenable to selling songs at $0.99 a pop.

But how could this thing not be marketable? Especially if we’re talking about, like blogging, a new type of service, born of the Web. Assuming all the other fundamentals of business skills are in place (clever marketing, good people connections, profit oriented bookkeeping, etc.) I would say it’s worth a shot to go after the huge B2B music consuming marketplace.

EMI Make a Bid for ccMixter??

In “mo better label“, Lucas has a very nice conversation going (I’ll be using that as a spring board for other posts in a bit) but he goes off the rails suggesting that EMI grabs ccMixter. ;)

Actually that would be a brilliant move for EMI, pretty terrible for ccMixter and inconceivable for me to trust an organization like that to be my employer or guardian of the site. That suggestion reminds me of calls for Microsoft to fully embrace the open/free source world. As far as I know they still don’t believe in the Internet over there. They sure didn’t when I left seven years ago and several key executives expressed hopes that it literally go away, like floppy drives or dialup modems. I suspect, like many major media companies, they are basically hanging out waiting for next best thing — the end of net neutrality. At that point they can choke down the pipeline and use http for what God intended: paid everything. And by “hanging out” I mean buying politicians, spreading cash around to mega-sites and other lower hanging fruit.

eMXR Interview

Niels (aka spinmeister) at eMXR is a real sweet guy who has turned out to be a great resource at ccMixter bringing hoards of great musicians to the site, doing great interviews with Trifonicand Calendar Girl and posting some superb mixes. Probably the most important thing he brings to the site is his inviting charm and grace. This is good for any community site, but especially ccM because for whatever else I do for the site, this is one area where I need others to pick up my slack.

This feature of his is in full view in a longish conversation we had in which we covered everything fourstones and ccMixter. I managed to keep it together and got ranty (moi??) only at the very end.

The full transcript is here:

eMXR: Fourstones of Magnatune and ccMixter fame gives rare interview

(Old) Interview with Newsday Critic

Justin Davidson is writer with Newsday and as of late New York Magazine. He interviewed me in a phoner a year ago and I wasn’t sure what, if anything he had done with it. While searching for Magnatune stuff today I tripped over it on his blog that he shares with Alex Ross, author of the very cool The Rest is Noise.

Of couse the interview was done long before I knew about “Noise” and the connection between the two (“omg, he’s that guy”) was a real treat ;) The next time our paths cross I’ll be sure to suggest one of them writes his next book about the open music movement. If he puts me at the center of it, he can call it “The Rest is Nose.”

You vs. The (Elite) Sharing Ecomony

I don’t claim the right to pontificate but if you indulge me I will. It’s in that spirit that I share my evolving thoughts on the open music scene because I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. I’ve been led to notice a potentially large shift in open music. This shift seems to be inspired by the You-ification of the Web (see Time Person of the Year for the mainstream media’s interpretation).

Professor Lessig’s talk in Germany last week discusses the dearth (if not death) of the participatory aspect of music forecast by J. P. Sousa (the guy who wrote the theme to Monty Python’s Flying Circus) at the turn of the 20th century and facilitated by the industrialization and commidization of music. The introduction of technology such as the phonograph and radio was a fundamental shift in way humans thought about music — the idea of music had suddenly shifted after tens of thousands of years from participation to mass consumption. Note that we are talking about very recent events. I doubt either the term ‘music business’ or ‘music industry’ were in wide use when my father was born in 1916.

While Professor Lessig is careful not to predict or even express a desire to return to a participatory era I can’t help thinking that sites like Splice Music and Jam Glue, by capitalizing on Flash ™ plus broadband ubiquity, reverberate with echoes of the pre-phonograph era. Instead of sitting around the parlor piano or on the porch with a banjo, jug and washboard, the modern day “musician” is parked in the campus cafeteria with a wireless laptop and headphones using audio samples (made by folks they’ve never met and know nothing about) into their own creative works and by default posting the results back into the community. Of course the result is, in turn, available for reuse both others.

I put the word musician in quotes above because the people participating at these sites do not meet our definition of the term in the post industrial sense. We’ve come to think of musicians as people who take lessons, own an instrument, spent money on (or stole) music software or a DJ mixer and turntable. But I suspect that a lot of the people congregating at Jam Glue and Splice Music do not have any those materials or have invested any money or time in activity we used to call ‘playing music.’ At the very least these sites make this scenario possible and I guarantee these sites pitched their investors on the hopes of attracting people exactly in that category.

At this point it is worth mentioning (and to slide in a plug of my benefactors) Flash and broadband are not the only tools that make these community online remix sites possible. They both heavily rely on Creative Commons licenses to free everybody involved from the nightmare that is ‘fair use’ and other irrelevant legal instruments. (To be honest I just take that for granted at this point because I don’t know of a music site that has started up in the last year or two that doesn’t employ CC. So we are all benefactors from a really wonderful idea.)

On the other side of the open music world, we have Magnatune. The key to their success has been the discretion involved in hand picking a tiny fraction of the the submissions. The result is a far cry from Splice Music and Jam Glue where the emphasis is on the righteous goals of spreading community and commodization of the tools, not necessarily a source of reliably world-class quality music.

Having laid out this landscape I’ll say loudly it is very important that commodity remix sites exists and I’m grateful for CC making them possible. I would love to see a world where everybody tries their hand at music and remixing samples in a Flash web page is a glorious way to get that to happen. But that alone is not what gets me up in the morning and it’s not why I wanted to get involved with CC and the open music movement.

My focus has been and will continue to be to enable folks who have the right combination of talent, passion and discipline to make a living making music, because for some reason we’ve all accepted it is impossible to do so without selling your soul for the chance.

I take it for granted that anybody who wants to make and share music for fun and community (you know, cultcha stuff) will find ways in the next 100 years to readily do so. What I’m waiting for is a community of CC musicians to quit their day jobs because they are each making $40,000 a year in online sales and licensing. (Group health insurance to come in phase two.)

I believe there is a viable argument to make that the participatory You-culture and Magnatune style sharing ecomony are not mutually exclusive. And perhaps ccMixter is the start of the thing that sits in the middle. A hybrid, or more precisely a bridge: A community site where quality is emphasized. Two shining examples of the results are the Lisa remix album and Colin’s PreMixed. Both of these represent what can happen when a community of quality musicians hang out and trade talents.

I could easily imagine the site following the Motown model. In the early 1960’s Barry Gordy conceived of a music label that worked like a movie studio in which a pool of songwriters, producers, studio musicians and performers all used each other’s services producing only winning combinations. In an even more organic way, the ccM community has proven, without a doubt, that by emphasizing a cappellas by talented singers and songwriters, we have attracted some of the best producer talents on the Web, which, in turn, attract great singers, on and on. producing some great, some would say winning combinations. All of which feeds the reputation of the site as being a reliable source of good music.

At ccM we have always emphasized quality over quantity and that, like Magnatune, combined with the openness of a community oriented site will be the key to the success moving forward.

Board Shuffles at Creative Commons

Professor Lawrence (Larry) Lessig a good friend of ccMixter (maybe the best friend we’ve ever had ;)) has announced that he is handing over the reigns of CEO of CC.

The cool side of this is that the new CEO is Joi Ito a very good friend indeed ;)

Having Joi at the helm, along with new board member John Buckman on the board makes it feel like mixter is surrounded by good friends.

I’m told the change will have little to zero affect on mixter and for some unexplained reason I actually kind of buy it.

Got Samples? Want to be Remixed?

For singer/songwriters who host their own music and read this site (I know that you know that I know who you are) think about this: over 80% of all a cappellas are remixed on ccMixter. That means your music will instantly go out to thousands of musicians and flung, through the miracle of the Internet to podcasters who regularly mine ccMixter. The only reason that number isn’t 100% is because we just haven’t gotten to all them yet. But we will.

Now, here’s a questionaire:

  1. Do you host a cappellas and samples good for remixing?
  2. Are they under CC license?
  3. Would you like to be remixed at ccMixter but don’t want to upload all your material there?
  4. Do you (or could you easily) emit a podcast/RSS feed?
  5. Do you have (or could you easily hook up) a search of your sample-able material to your feed?

If the last one trips you up don’t worry, I’ll be happy to help make that happen because
ccMixter is looking a few good beta testers of a new cross-domain service that we’re implementing and evangelizing called “Sample Pools.” If you impelement the brain dead simple API then remixers that use your vocals and samples will be linking back to your site with full attribution from ccMixter.

If you are interested please contact me and we’ll get you going.

I can’t promise everybody that applies will be accepted for this, we have to keep the site usable for the mainstream cases, but here are some test shots of what remixers and visitors will see if everything works out: