You’re Not Rowing Fast Enough!

Is there a lesson for the music community to be learned from the release of the official One-Point-Oh of Firefox and Thunderbird and its stunning success story — nearly 10% browser market share overnight.

Sure. The first of which was that it wasn’t overnight. The Mozilla guys have been at it since debris from a series of explosions at the top of Highway 17 landed at Netscape in 1994. Look it up, that was 10 years ago. For 10 years a community of developers believed that people would prefer a software product that was stable and focused primarily on people that use it, treating them like humans and not consumers, customers, marketing data, etc.

In a past life I’ve written extensively about the Open Source movement and was (and still am) very wary of them cozying up to hardware companies that are exactly as evil as the software companies they serve to undermine. But you have to give them this: persistence. Ten years of keeping at it is, to say the least, impressive and something the open music community could use as a model for inspiration.

At the very real danger of sounding like even more of a dick than I usually do, there is something inescapable in this formula: we are right, they are wrong.

It’s going to be up to us, the musicians, to continue to create an alternative universe, based on trust of fellow artists and fans that eventually eats away at the record industry’s grip on the music and musicians. Take a moment to look around:

  • Internet Archive is a public library of music freely available for listening (some of it actually worth your time).
  • Staccato Radio is a weekly-ish Internet radio show featuring music available for download started by a guy who just wanted to share music he likes.
  • CC Mixter is a community of musicians where they can pick up and contribute royalty free samples.
  • Magnatune is a for-profit non-evil record company that treats it’s customers and artists with respect and trust.
  • CC Tools are set of developer oriented productivity tools to facilitate publishing works into the commons a streamlined fashion.

I would call this “0.5” of the music commons. Maybe not ready for full-fledged prime-time like Firefox/Thunderbird today but definitely on the road there.

Maybe it’s easy to get discouraged and maybe you can’t devote a lot of energy to this, but consider this part of the ongoing appeal to musicians to rethink your little corner of the world. Here’s a case in point:

I recently participated in a friendly little remix contest amongst Internet buddies and embedded in the samples and a capellas was this not-so-friendly little reminder:

Loops derived from this song are copyright protected and provided for the sole purpose of creating a remix
for the specified [contestname] contest. Any other use is in violation of copyright law.

This is one Roman galley slave yelling at the Roman galley slave next to him: “You’re not rowing fast enough!”

So unless I engage in a wanton act of civil disobedience against them (and no one else mind you) then when I post my remix to my personal site, or a community site like CC Mixter or a public library like the Internet Archive then I am engaging in a federal crime. We have been so whipped down into feeble submission that against the non-existent chance this band will be ripped off for millions of dollars, they limit the number of people who hear their music. I have to admit, it still sounds weird to my ears to hear me say: Giving your music away is good for your career. And yet it has never been more true than right now.

And add to that: Allowing sampling of your music is good for humanity. Slightly pedantic, highly pretentious but true because it acknowledges what is universal — that nothing comes from nothing. You built on somebody’s music, let others build on yours.

I’m doing a little hand-feeding nibbling here because these are good guys just doing what they’ve been told to do since childbirth. I hope this isn’t taken as something the musicians are doing wrong: that would be me yelling back “What are you? The Harvard Crew team? Bite my ore!!”

Facing a similar set of kinks, roadblocks, doubters, pimps, junkies, sharks and yes, preachers that the Open Source development community faced, we have to just keep plowing ahead until we reach Fuck the Romans version 1.0 — until then, try and get out of the hull occasionally and take a walk around in the sunshine on the upper deck.