28 June 2007

The Record Industry's Decline

Rolling Stone as an interesting article about The Record Industry's Decline.

I think the article is a bit simplistic, since it only addresses one dimension of several issues, which are coming together for a "perfect storm" in the recording industry. Unauthorized file-sharing is only one of the problems, and the recording industry likes to point at that as being the overwhelmingly predominant issue.

However I would like to offer additional reasons for the decline:

More and more, better and better music is becoming available legitimately for free
For very little money artists can create music on their own computers or standalone recording studio machines. The large capital expenditure of a studio - or the rental thereof - isn't a prerequisite for making good recordings anymore. If you have skill and imagination, you can make a great recording at home.

This free music can be distributed over the Internet, for very little or no money
The recording industry does not own the distribution channel anymore. Music makers and consumers can find each other without the help of a traditional supply chain. Anyone with a little marketing skill and imagination can.

I don't even want to get into some of the misbehavior by the traditional recording industry. Let me just put it generically: Being abusive to your customers bites you when you loose your monopoly on the supply channel. And being abusive to your suppliers bites you just the same, when you loose your monopoly on the distribution channel. Those principles hold true for any business.

And there's one more thing: There is so much opportunity to make music. Instruments are inexpensive, recording gear is inexpensive. I don't know if there is any good data on this anywhere, but many people are becoming busy making music rather than listen to it, never mind buying it. With the advent of inexpensive and user friendly recording technology, you don't even have to be in a band or ensemble to feed your music hobby. You can socialize on-line with fellow music makers, maybe even collaborate over the Internet. You have a band without having met. Actually you are likely in more than one band. You don't really make albums - just songs or pieces. You share them freely with others just for the joy of making music, comparing experiences, learning from each other. You still buy the odd piece of music - but you spend more time, energy and money being a music maker than a music consumer.

I used to be a purchaser of music. A lot of it. But I never switched to Napster or other P2P technologies. Yet still I slowed down my music buying dramatically. As a consumer, I was turned off by the recording industry artistically and commercially. And coincidentally, but simultaneously all of the new wonderful technology and the Internet turned me into a music maker again, rather than just a consumer. My music money has gone to Roland, Korg, Yamaha, etc. rather than to Warner, EMI, Sony/BMG, etc.

So yes, I agree, the business of making a living from recorded music is pretty much a dying proposition for most of the established participants, and a non-starter for most beginning music makers. Niche businesses for recorded music (especially as an adjunct to movies, TV, video, advertising, etc.) will probably exist for quite a while yet, but there is generally an oversupply of competent to even outstanding recording talent compared to the needs of the market place.

It's kind of ironic: Bands used to go on tour to promote their albums. Now it seems bands make albums to promote their tours.

UPDATE 2007-06-30: Thanks to audiotechnica for alerting me to this breaking story about Prince giving away his latest CD with a newspaper.

And the arguably most iconic record store in Canada Sam The Record Man on Yonge Street in Toronto is closing.

25 June 2007

a minor theory remix contest at MI7.com

MI7.com is holding a remix contest featuring the song "Dream In Blue" by "a minor theory: "We know there is a wealth of talent here at mi7.com, so we thought it was time to bring some of it together. So today we proudly announce what we hope will become a regular feature: our first User Remix contest! MI7 members A Minor Theory have be kind enough to allow the use of the original files from their song Dream of Blue."

Disclosure: spinmeister is half of "a minor theory". :-)

licensing your work to upload sites

When uploading your work to sites, you may want to have a good look at what you are agreeing to. Different websites have very different licensing agreements. Some websites only ask you to agree to a license to host and display you material while you are keeping it in your user controlled area. They will stop hosting and displaying your material when you decide to delete it from your user area. That seems sensible and fair.

However, there are other sites, where you have to give them a much broader license. One that may give them the right to re-distribute your songs forever, maybe even charge for it, or to create derivative works, even long after you deleted your song from their site. This may be ok for you, but I would not be happy if someone created a ringtone from one of my songs, and started to make lots of money from it without giving me anything.

One such example of a very broad license is at mp3.com, which used to be a very cool site for musicians to host their songs, but has changed ownership and now is something very different. The site now belongs to a publisher of many paper based and web based publications, called CNET.

From the terms and conditions at mp3.com: CNET Networks - Editorial - Site Terms of Use: "You hereby grant us, our affiliates, and our partners a worldwide, irrevocable, royalty-free, nonexclusive, sublicensable license to use, reproduce, create derivative works of, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, transfer, transmit, distribute, and publish Your Content and subsequent versions of Your Content for the purposes of (i) displaying Your Content on our sites, (ii) distributing Your Content, either electronically or via other media, to users seeking to download or otherwise acquire it, and/or (iii) storing Your Content in a remote database accessible by end users, for a charge. This license shall apply to the distribution and the storage of Your Content in any form, medium, or technology now known or later developed."

I generally do not like to upload any of my original work to sites like that. In any case, as original artist, always try to make sure to read and understand not only how the site licenses materials to you, but also how you license your material to them.

19 June 2007

Indaba Music Remix contest

Indiba Music is a potentially interesting site for musical collaboration. In addition, they have just launched three remix contests with several interesting source songs by "Some Velvet Morning", "Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers" and "Mason Proper".

From Indaba Music's Blog: "Today Indaba Music launches the first in a series of Studio Access Collaboration Contests. The debut contests will feature the audio tracks of three rising young bands, all members of the Indaba community. Indaba Music members will be able to add to and remix tracks from recording artists Some Velvet Morning, Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers and Mason Proper.

Contest submissions - original songs created from tracks comprising the bands' current singles - will be featured on contest pages and voted on by the community."

18 June 2007

Salman Ahmad "Natchoongi" Remix Contest

This contest may be interesting for remixers, who enjoy world music - from ccMixter.org: Salman Ahmad "Natchoongi" Remix Contest: "Creative Commons and Magnatune are extremely proud to be working with international multi-platinum recording artist Salman Ahmad and are pleased to offer the audio source files from Salman's Natchoongi online under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, so that producers worldwide can use the sounds in remixes and new compositions. As a way to celebrate we are sponsoring a remix contest using those sources."

I like the licensing terms much better than those at sites like realworldremixed.com, since remixers are allowed to publish their remixes non-commercially in other places than the sponsoring site.

14 June 2007

broadjam - independent music promotion

Broadjam is another interesting take on independent music promotion. From their about page: "Broadjam helps its tens of thousands of musicians and bands promote their music online. Musicians use Broadjam to:
* Sell music downloads (Sell for $.99, Keep $.80!)
* Deliver music to film & TV supervisors, radio stations, and pro reviewers
* Build a fan base of Broadjam listeners
* Enter contests to win prizes and exposure
* Get a musician's website"

Some services are free to music makers. some of the more interesting one's cost a fee.

12 June 2007

Rumblefish Song Licensing

Rumblefish is a one-stop (song writing and mechanical) music licensing agency alternative to some of the traditional country specific agencies. To get signed up as an artist is free, however they do select whom they want to represent. From their artist membership page: "Consider licensing your music through Rumblefish. We offer a non-exclusive agreement that you can opt-out of if necessary. We will not be your promoter, manager, agent or publisher, but we will license your music into projects like TV and film, videogames, commercials, and an incredible variety of creative marketing and branding campaigns. And we will share the license fees equally with you."

Does the word "equally" imply a 50/50 split of revenues?

To apply for inclusion, one needs to send a physical CD of one's materials to them.

The Music Licensing Store is their online licensing outlet.

09 June 2007

YouLicense - Online Music Licensing Marketplace

The creative commons licensing mechanism is a very efficient, and thus our favorite way of dealing with giving away selected rights for music. However, music creators, remixers, aggregators, distributors and institutional consumers everywhere still need much more efficient licensing and payment mechanisms to create modern business models for recorded music. The old models with their country specific legislation, regulations and payment mechanisms are failing the technical and commercial realities of today's global music economy.

While a number of evolving sites and services are targeting the retail consumer market place, it is much harder to license materials for remixing, distribution, soundtracks, and institutional use.

This is where YouLicense may be able to fill a much needed role. From their "about" page: "YouLicense is an online music licensing marketplace. We have developed a platform which enables artists and those seeking musical content to conduct business directly with one another in a safe and secure environment. Our unique search engine and standardized contracts allow for a quick and easy process."

It's clearly still early days - as of this writing the site is still by invitation only. And to do this well is not trivial by any means. But if this effort even gets a few things right, it could become a much more efficient wholesale / institutional market place for recorded music than we have now.

08 June 2007

mix2r.fm - online music collaboration

Here's another interesting concept in online collaboration. From mix2r.fm: "We set out last year to build a community site around musical collaboration. The vision that we, the founders, or mix2r.fm have is that artists (that's you) will upload their music, often in an unfinished state...and other members will come along and give you critique, or *gasp*, actually add elements to or remix your tracks (we call that 'collaboration')."

07 June 2007

The Old Time Radio Network

A pretty amazing collection of old radio programs - I think pretty much from the US only: OTR.Network Library (The Old Time Radio Network): "The OTR.Network Library is a free resource for Old Time Radio (OTR) fans. We have over 12,000 OTR shows available for instant listening, with 100 more added each week." An excerpt from their Legal Notices page: "... We believe that the copyrights of the Old Time Radio shows we host on this site have expired. ..."

One of my favorites has to be this great American comedy classic from Abbot and Costello recorded in 1947. Note, that the link leads to a realmedia audio file, so you'll need a thus capable player or conversion utility. Start playback at around 22:22 for the sketch in question. Just before that a lengthy advertisement for a certain well known brand of cigarettes. How times have changed!

Disclaimer: Copyright law varies between jurisdictions, and I'm not a lawyer, so mentioning this or other sources of audio materials here is not intended to be legal advice.

06 June 2007

Magnatune - label of the future?

This is a really interesting label - for remixers in more than one way: As a potential source of remixing materials as well as a destination for distributing one's music. In their own words: "Magnatune is a music/business experiment that has never yet been tried. We're doing our best to make it succeed, but it may not. If we don't make you any money, we think we can get you some exposure, it won't cost you anything, and we won't limit your future options."

And explaining the concept of Open Music: "Open Music is music that is shareable, available in "source code" form, allows derivative works and is free of cost for non-commercial use. It is the concept of "open source" computer software applied to music."

I have no idea if this model can generate meaningful revenue, but it most certainly looks like it can facilitate the creation of great music. But there's a lot that seems right about this. Definitely worth checking out: Magnatune

04 June 2007

Remixing each other

The musical talent pool now has technology in their own little studios, which only a few years ago were only accessible to artists who had good financing (by record companies or other sources).

That means many more people are learning how to record, produce, remix, etc. with rather little money spent. This in turn spawned the evolution of a high end amateur producer scene, blurring the boundary between amateur and professional. Similar events have disrupted and shaped other areas including computer software, photography, astronomy to just name a few.

And it means the arrival of large numbers of producers on the music scene. Once you have a moderately decent home studio you can become a producer. Producers who aren't always performers. Or great performers who love producing. These producers can make remarkable music. Some are arriving from a DJ angle, some more from a performer angle.

Remixing is essentially a form of producing. Originally remixing was an afterthought - a second production, a remake with at least some of the tracks of the original production.

But I think remixing can be more than just an afterthought - it can be a refreshingly different model of creating recorded music.

Remixing is a form of sequential collaboration, allowing more people to make something into a better overall product, without having to be at the same place simultaneously and without having to agree all the time. Remixing avoids band internal fights. Remixing allows simultaneous parallel versions. Remixing makes the whole participating community better.

Some of the big acts these days are produced technically in a remixing way. But it's still very much a controlled process with a lot of licensing control and issues. But what if we would give up control and make remixing much more open? What if we didn't predetermine, who was going to produce what and when? What if we started recording song sketches and then let the remixers at it? Songs could become many different things simultaneously. Some of them will suck - just like much of the stuff we get fed by former MMC members, TV contest winners and corporate rock bands. And some of the remixes will be amazing, something we would have never thought of, special pieces of music. Maybe we could call that "extreme mixing". The opening up of the production process to wide participation.

What's wrong with remixing? Only one thing: It's not easy to craft a somewhat fair, yet efficient economic model around it.

So remixing has tremendous artistic value potential, but we don't know (yet) how to handle the economics of it.

I submit: Let's NOT have the economics stop us from pursuing a good thing.

So I encourage everyone: write and record songs, make remix packs for others, and remix others. Writing songs and making remix packs is hard, but it puts you into the most valuable part of value chain! So there's an upside for the extra work.

If you want to reserve the right to make money later, you can protect potential future economic interests by licensing under creative commons non-commercial, attribution, share-alike type of licenses. Or even allow commercial exploitation -- if your work gets a great reputation, money has a chance of following in a variety of ways.

In the software business this has become quite common with open source licenses. And many people and companies who are opening their stuff up have still found ways of generating revenue. Not everyone, but many. There will always be people who do stuff for a living and others who do it without making money at it. So that doesn't change. But whether you want to make money with it, or not, at least try something new! In software, one of the key successes was that open source licensing allowed people to build upon each other's work or to take a piece of work into a new direction. That created a body of excellence previously unknown. The Internet became what it is, in large part, because of open source software. Will remixing do the same thing for music? I think it can!

Of course, if you are already have a major label deal, abandoning your currently successful business models is a scary thing to do. And maybe it's not the right thing for your individual situation. However for most of us, what do we have to loose?

Therefore I say, let's remix each other and see what we can do. Build on each other's work and make something brilliant!

03 June 2007

DJ Rkod - "Pulse" Remix packs now available

One of the excellent remixers from over at realworldremixed.com, DJ Rkod has just made one of his original tracks available as a remix pack. Here is his announcement from MI7.com:

DJ Rkod - "Pulse" Multitrack Files Now Available!: "For the remixers out there (and I'm sure there are many) I've just released the source files for the first track off my debut album, Pulse! I'm looking for a couple of remixes to use as B-Sides to the upcoming single. Since I don't release any of my material at any cost, I can't offer any prize beyond my gratitude. As with all my original stuff, the source files have been released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, which means that you can remix and even sample this song with only one restriction: you must credit me as the original author."

I hope he'll get many takers!

p.s. If you are or know of anyone else, who is publishing remix packs, feel free to let me know, so I can post it here, too!

Internet Archive: Audio Archive

I should mention one of the significant audio resources on the web, the Internet Archive: Audio Archive: "This collection ranges from alternative news programming, to Grateful Dead concerts, to Old Time Radio shows, to book and poetry recordings, to original music contributed by users."

This site is significant as source for some very interesting audio material as well as a place to host musical works. Much material there is under a variety of creative commons style licenses, which make it easy to understand, which material can be used for remixing, and under what conditions. Advantage of having one's audio materials hosted there include the fact, that the free hosting includes well more then the common 4 or 5 song limits of many other sites. However, one needs to be a bit more technically comfortable, including the use of FTP to upload ones' materials. The site isn't as much a social networking site, but more like a library. And some of us may find that a welcome relief. :-)

01 June 2007

Curve music Remix Contest

A new excellent source of high quality audio materials from two different acts for remixing over at ccMixter:

Curve music Remix Contest: "... the audio source files from several tracks from Zone's 'MADRUGADA' and Tamy's 'Sou Mais Bossa' albums online under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, so that producers worldwide can use the sounds in remixes and new compositions. As a way to celebrate we are sponsoring a remix contest using those sources."

The material is from: Enzo Torregrossa AKA ZONE (featuring Manola Micalizzi) and Tamy.

The contest runs from June 6 to 28, 2007.