Category Archives: Magnatune

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.

myspace kills me but I can rationalize finally setting up a real page there because of what I said about the page and it’s relation to “Ridin the Faders 2”, the soon to be released Magnatune Remixed project:

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 reward 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.” I’m hoping that by setting up this myspace account I can help promote the project, sell lots more albums and support open musicians and businesses. That’s my agenda and I’m sticking to it.

Of all the screwed up things about the site (and here’s a groovy ASP.NET error I got today) it is ubiquitous and I’ve tried to make to best of it by requesting adds to some far flung personalities. Most folks associated with CC, Magnatune and ccMixter have been quick to acknowledge me as a ‘friend’ and I’m starting to realize the proper space-iquette is to ack-back with a “thank you” message. Sorry didn’t mean to be rude about it, I’ll be getting to that soon enough.

Meanwhile, here’s a short list of some of that folks that have not replied to my requests:

Mick Jagger
Richard Dawkins [UPDATE: It’s an add! ;)]
Paul (he’s dead to me now)
Food (Kev)

here’s me:

I Hearlt Renault

Sweet. I just sold a mega license to the French Renault web site (no link yet) for using fourstones’ instrumental “Not Even Alone” (stream here) from “Chronic Dreams“. That cut used samples supplied to me directly from Drop Trio‘s Big Dipper recording session from “Lefty’s Alone” (stream here).

This is more than enough to pay off my debt to my so-called-non-evil label.

Who knows, maybe this open music thing will work out.

What Does Magnatune Do Anyway?

John from Magnatune recently reworked sampling royalties. A few days before this was announced John bounced the idea off me in roughly this way in a set of two emails:

JB: I’ve been thinking about redoing the way we do sampling royalties. The new way would give more to the artist being sampled.

VS: I think that’s absolutely the right thing, I always thought it was too heavily weighed toward the sampler and not the samplee.

JB: Glad to hear you say that. I’m making it retro-active.


JB: You owe us $84.

All of sudden I’m in debt to my record company!! Doh! Please won’t you help me pay off my debt. lol.

But if anybody ever wondered what it is that Magnatune does for its artists over and above just hoisting your CDs on a website with a PayPal button, there’s yet another push for the groovy on line licensing that professional music consumers (film makers, etc.) can feel very confident about. I mean it’s all businessy and stuff.

Coming soon: “fill you iPod for $150” which will gives people access to the entire Magnatune catalog in high quality VBR MP3s for that one price ($0.35 per album — if you can handle all 30Gb.)

New Sampling Royalty Structure at Magnatune

Magnatune has re-calibrated its sampling royalties payments which means a lot less money for me (whatever) and whole lot more for those artists I sampled (wahoo). I think there are still some kinks to work out to make sure it’s fair for everybody but it is great to see remixing so deeply embedded into the label’s accounting system. John explains in details here.

Magnatune DRM Follow-up

I’ve noticed through posting on the web that 100% of the time a non-zero amount of people will take what you say and interpret it EXACTLY the opposite, no matter how forcefully you say it. If I write “my dog is black” I will have at least one link back to me saying “Who knew Stone had a white dog?” In general I’d like to think I make my contribution to those statistics, somewhere, somehow.

Although not in the press release, John did say in the blog entry:

Bottom line: this is an alternative way for people to buy Magnatune music, in a scheme where they can themselves make money by sharing their bought files with other people, in what is typically referred to as an “affiliate network.” We absolutely will continue to sell DRM- free music through the magnatune web site, but for those who wish to make money by sharing their files, that option is now there.

In my defense: If you WERE evil, wouldn’t the best possible strategy be to deny up front that you’re evil !?!?!

I Thought it’s Something You Smoke

In a big splashy fashion Weedshare & Magnatune announced a distribution partnership (that link has the press release, John’s explanation and nice ranting thread growing).

It seems Magnatune music will be made available for sale on a song-by-song basis as part of the Weed share network. Weed is trying to be the pyramid scheme of P2P music sharing. You actually get money for sharing music. The Big Stink is that Weed uses a form of DRM to pull this off. After three listens of a song it “shuts off.”

Lest we forget, Magnatune is the label that says “no DRM ever” prominently on the web site.

John says he thought he would “hit the DRM issue head on” in the press release but a quick perusal of the growing thread makes it pretty obvious that the hammer wasn’t big enough. Nowhere in the press release does it state that Magnatune music will always be available on without DRM before of after purchase (forever).

I’m a little concerned about this because Magnatune has pretty much survived on the ‘good will’ factor — or at least to my mind it has. But the percentage of times that I’ve successfully second guessed John is approximately 0%. (This is just the latest episode I got wrong — if you read the last message in that thread you’ll see he comes out smelling like roses.) So I’m going to continue assuming he knows what he’s doing.

You know, most Magnatune records on are iTunes. Aren’t they all DRM’d up the ass?

New fourstones album: “La Vie Chill”

A few months ago John from Magnatune pointed out that half of the label’s income comes from music licensing (e.g. film directors, websites, presentations, etc.) and suggested that I submit an instrumental album to capitalize on that trend. Magnatune’s appeal to film makers is critical for the future health of open music. Until a Sony rootkit virus infects his PC, the average music consumer will miss the intricate, arcane, integral corruption a film producer experiences trying to secure eight seconds of music rights for her film. Even enlightened music consumers (i.e. people who have bought my albums) might not realize that for every innovation Magnatune has made in the way it serves its customers and treats its artists, there is an even bigger breakthrough in the way it licenses music — from the on line licensing form to a fair pricing scheme that is based on the film’s budget, not a fanciful exorbitant flat price. I’ve heard John often say “Why would you out price any film project?” I’m not an economist so I don’t know. I’m just a musician who wants the entire world to hear my music and I’m for whatever makes that happen. The magnificent part of the Magnatune solution is that if the project does have a decent budget, then the musician is immediately compensated in dollars, not just exposure.

On my way to delivering the afore requested instrumental album I discovered that, in fact, Magnatune has standards. Of course John has talked about their single digit acceptance rates quite publicly but at the end the day he is a music label executive and I am genetically wired to assume the opposite of anything a music label executive says publicly or otherwise.

After a fair amount of churn we came up with 45 minutes of music that he felt comfortable releasing and that I felt makes no artistic sacrifices. This is kind of important for me because, looking the bull in the eye, I’m pretty sure I’m more qualified to work in fields other than making music if ever so slightly, even there. If I’m going to struggle with a music career it has to be 100% on my terms, which of course is the pedantic way of saying I need to rationalize the results 100%. Why? Well, in the spirit of two mangled quotable sayings “Never mistake passion for talent” and “Sometimes it isn’t enough to be Hungarian,” being true to myself (a priori lethal) is just one of the many, many ways I compensate.

The resultant compensatory album is “La Vie Chill” and it’s dedicated to my new favorite place to hang out on the web, where else, ccMixter. One of the emergent stars of the site, Eric teru Ohara (think Nordic Irish Asian Canadian brilliant), gave me a fantastic remix that I used “as is” thank you very much. For the rest of the album I made extensive use of samples from Magnatune (for which I pay royalties per sale) and ccMixter (for which I got permission to pillage), but I really feel as though these are original compositions — by the way: does anybody else recognize the oxymoron in the term “original composition” or is it just me?

This was the first time I actively avoided using vocals. I’ve been told forever that having singers means the music is more “accessible” (which I gather has nothing to do with larger bathroom stalls). But it seems the all-time best selling artist on Magnatune does 100% instrumental music so I’m ready to make some adjustments in my expectations of how this album will do compared to my other efforts.

If you get a chance, listen to the whole album (stream), if you like it then by all means do the right thing, not because you feel guilty for all the free music you’ve listened to from Magnatune, not because you want to screw with Sony’s head and pocketbook, not because you want to support open music, artist rights, birds singing and flowers growing. But because today, Dec. 6th is, donchano, my birthday.