Category Archives: Magnatune

ccMixter: A Memoir

I wish I was better writer because the story of ccMixter is very cool. If you can overlook the atomic level hair-splitting, churlish, defensive, chatty exaltations then I hope you’ll enjoy a document that tries to capture the history and lessons from the first four years of ccMixter. I’m releasing 33 pages in a PDF document called: “ccMixter: A Memoir OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying about the RIAA and Love the Unexpected Collaborations of Distributed Creativity During the First Four Years of Running ccMixter”

DOWNLOAD PAGE for “ccMixter: A Memoir”

I don’t have a research assistant or literary editor and it shows. Still I had several volunteer reviewers and I can’t thank them enough because this document was a real mess before they helped clean it up.

Leave your comments and typo finds on this thread.

Thanks everyone for a killer four years. What happens next is what happens next….


fourstones in the Black!

Talk all I want about the sharing economy (which in wikipedia oddly redirects to remix culture – try gift economy) and the 100s of MP3s I’ve uploaded to here and ccMixter, most people wait patiently for me to stop babbling about philosophy and want to know “Yea, but how do you make money at this thing?”

That’s what my five albums on Magnatune are supposed to be for. Now, as a remixer, I sample musicians and I expect them to get paid with a cut of the profits and everything was hunky dory at first. Then they changed their royalty policy and I was left in debt, perhaps the only open music artist that owed their label money – just like the real world. I felt like I had arrived. Combine that with flat sales of my last two releases and things were grim in the summer, looking like my account would stay in the negative. (Just to be clear: The only reason this happened was because three years ago John and I felt the sampled artists were underpaid and he retro-actively paid them at the time. That money had to come from somewhere, so it was my account that stayed in the red. For, you know, three years.)

Meanwhile, you could count me as one of the skeptical when John told me about the whole streaming subscription thing. This is where people stop buying albums and pay a subscription to Magnatune for an all-access all-you-can-eat pass.

Well, color me wrong (again) because now that the tally is in for the first full six months of subscriptions turned on, it turns out to be a big fourstones windfall and lo, and behold – my outgoing royalties got paid off. This same time was really slow on licenses (not sure what that means) but the streaming thing kicked ass. An excited email from John (“Dude, you’re paid up on the vig” – I’m paraphrasing) and my account balance shows I’ve crept over that red line into profit.

I’m mainly happy for the artists I sampled because they’re getting more when there’s more money coming to Magnatune.

But I have to say, no matter what happens, I’m still most proud of the fact that there’s 14,000 hours of 100% new music on ccMixter and in the Commons that didn’t exist in the world when we started the site. I’ve used them extensively in my last few projects and I’m just that lucky because I get to sample them, collaborate with them and (hopefully) support them just a little.

Digital Tipping Point: The Raw Footage

Over four years ago now I got a call, out of the blue, from a guy called Christian Einfeldt. He says he’s making a documentary called Digital Tipping Point about free culture and thought I may be a good interview. He was most intrigued because I recently crossed the line from corporate culture (Microsoft, et. al.) into free cluture (Creative Commons) – really I think he was looking for dirt on Bill Gates lol.

The interesting thing to me was the way he was making the movie: completely open. He said he was shooting billions of tapes and was going to post them all online at and create this vast pool of footage and have the community pick up the work pieces and put it all together communally.

That’s cool (and pretty unheard of four years ago).

I hadn’t been in Berkeley for very long at that point so I was especially open to meeting new folks to see where things would lead. We had a few long and fun phone conversations, we met a few times, had a great meal or two and then got down to taping. I met him downtown San Francisco in an office building where his production partner setup a camera opposite me and Christian started firing questions. He kept asking questions (especially about Microsoft) and I kept telling my stories and tried to be amusing. Sure enough we burned through every tape they had on them, in the building, in the truck, probably in the city.

Fast forward four years and all of a sudden last week I get email from Christian saying he’s about to post the raw footage of my interview and to check out DTP’s page on the archive. They have about 80 hours of footage up there (out of 350 shot) and still it’s rolling in. He said “Watching our film will be like reading a Wikipedia page. Our video will be taggable and searchable. The library you see there will provide some of the links for expanded viewing of our documentary. ” Pretty wild. Just the fact that this guy is still at it (at such a furious pace) five years into it – I think this guy may be the most tenacious guy I’ve ever met.

For my part: there are 29 segments, about 4 minutes each up on the archive now. They are a pain the ass to watch at the archive so I embedded them in one page:

See my raw interview footage here

Again, this is raw, basically un-edited stuff. The segments are rendered from the tapes and often stop abruptly mid-sentence so that’s ok, just click the ‘next’ button to load the next segment.

I will say this: this is the least embarrassing public recording of me yet. I think it gives people a fairly good idea of what happens when you let me pontificate (it doesn’t take much) for a few hours. I had fun doing and it shows.

Because it was four years ago a few things worth noting has changed:

– I can no longer go a minute without glasses. I am blind without them.
– This was done before the emergence of WikiPedia, Ubuntu and Firefox all of which proved my point (I am a visionary) about the need for “grandma” apps in the open source world.
– I ramble on and on about the best way to sell an “album” (I am idiot)
– I have, ironically, become more “theological” about the abstract issues involved in free culture.
– This interview takes place about a minute and a half (relatively speaking) before I was introduced to the “mixlog” prototype at the CC offices (‘mixlog’ was the working title of what was to become ccMixter). For the people that care, this was exactly the head of philosophical steam I had going in to the project. I don’t know, I think it’s kind of neat seeing that moment captured.

Anyway, like I said, I had fun and I’m really, really grateful to Christian for convincing me this would be a good idea but more important: I’m awestruck by how important and cool a project this is and honored to be a part of it.

[update: corrected figures per Christian]

[update 2: Pieces of the my interview are starting to show up captioned in English and Romanian ;) thanks to Andrei Baciu]

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.

Magnatune Adds Playlists

Magnatune turned on playlists (A.K.A. “favorites”) today. Long on my wishlist. It’s at the album level (not per song) but this a big step toward the ‘music anywhere’ features that modern labels should all have as part of their services.

fourstones: 2 Bombs in a Row

I’m not sure why (and I’m hard pressed to think about it too much) but my last two Magnatune project, “Riding the Faders 2” and “Chronic Dreams 2” have flatlined in sales – and at a very low place at that. Chronic 1 and La Vie Chill still pop a sale occasionally and along with RTF 1 I can’t complain, which is to say I’m really grateful that plenty of people think they are worth paying for.

I seriously doubt this is a reflection on Magnatune or even tip-jar-fatigue because the music on the follow-ups is different than the first editions and it might just be that the newer ones don’t connect with people like the first ones did. There is the possibility that Magnatune’s new subscription mode which debuted a week after CD 2 went on sale has absorbed my album sales. (Album sales are posted nightly to Magnatune artists, but the accumulation of royalties from subscription streaming is only calculated a few times a year so it’s possible I’ll see big numbers for my music then – but I’m assuming not.)

Whatever the reason, I’m using the dead sales figures as a rationale for seriously focusing my music on a relatively narrow target. I recently compiled a playlist on ccMixter of the “Undiscovered fourstones” and especially when held up against artists who have actually mastered many genres (I’m thinking now of Loveshadow) I couldn’t help noticing that my attempts at the various styles seem less convincing than ever, even to me. I can only imagine what potential customers might be hearing. I’m definitely over that.

So while it may all sound very contrived from an artistic perspective, the fact is I’ve been leaning toward this kind of thing anyway (note the drastic and consistent increase in ccMixter uploads using my Cry Baby wha-wha pedal).

For better or worse, this is all you’re going to get out of me a while. Maybe, you know, forever.

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

Chronic Dreams 2 Wahoo

Here are two probable truths:

1. If I am honest about it I think it’s groovy that Chronic Dreams 2 is in the Magnatune Top 10 two days after it was released.

2. If I am really honest I have to admit that this is at least partially due to the fact that overall albums sales are down at Magnatune – but that’s a good thing as John explains the Magnatune business shifted almost exactly the day CD2 was released.

Unlike album sales, the tracking system for subscription based royalties are not calculated daily so I won’t know for a while exactly how well the album is actually doing but I’m stoked by it all.

Make RTF2 Top 10 (!)

First off, special thanks to narva9 for this very furry and cool alternative cover to Ridin the Faders 2.

Speaking of which: The album is doing well at #16 on the Magnatune charts (not that I notice, er more often than every 8 minutes anyway) — c’mon buds! It’s GOT to crack the Top 10 and make the front page. Won’t you help a few dozen starving musicians get their 15 seconds of faux glory??

[UPDATE 1/18] OH MAN, we’re at #11 — just a couple more sales will do it… do it… lol

[UPDATE (2) 1/19] Bingo — outrageous, thanks everyone… now, we start the climb to #1 ;)

Magnatune Remixed – Ridin the Faders 2

I’m not a particularly energetic digger. I’ve been playing acoustic instruments and analog electric instruments from when the instruments were bigger than I was (parents: don’t let your 2nd grader talk you into dragging a cello around school) and at a certain point I stop scraping my sampling resources and pick up the bass or guitar and just play the damn part as I hear it in my head. Such was the process three years ago when I put together Magnatune Remixed: Riding the Faders (1) mainly because, while deep, the Magnatune catalog was a fraction of what it is today.

Flash forward to last summer: while starting to work on RTF 2 I got so overwhelmed with digging and cutting samples and a cappellas I had to accept that I wasn’t going to get to the whole catalog. It was hard. The samples were so cool I just knew an even better one was sitting around the corner… a few clicks away… but I finally jumped in and started mixing, and the first cut I made was a statement about one the self-imposed imperatives of the album called “There is No Brad Sucks.”

The other embarrassment of riches were the list of potential collaborators. I don’t want to over hype this, let me just say it was exactly as cool as you can imagine to work with Pat Chilla, lo tag blanco and Clarance Boddyker. We had a couple of logistical bumps (NEVER about the music) but I want to publicly thank these guys for hanging in there with me while I go through my various flip outs.

So under the cover of darkness, late last night Magnatune Remixed: Ridin the Faders 2 went online for download, streaming, purchase or license. About %5 of the proceeds for RTF2 album will go to me, the rest goes to Magnatune, the artists I sampled and my collaborators. This is how I want it and why I’m involved in the Magnatune Remixed project: to help support the business folks and artists who have acknowledged the new fundamental truth of the music industry that “giving away your music is good for your career.” That’s my agenda and I’m sticking to it.