Saturday, November 12, 2005


Thoughts on "Open Music"...

I've always enjoyed Open Source for software. The net is a great place, and cool "products" such as Wings3D, KnotPlot, OpenOffice, etc. work quite great...

Now I believe it is time that this type of movement is applied to content and not just applications...

So what content should be made "Open"?

Music of course!

The trick is getting the movement started. Upstart artists are probably the most willing to go with this as they have the most to gain. Publishers and established artists will not be too happy, since they are the most likely to lose.

How Open Music would apply to artists:
Artists would retain all rights to their creations as far as lyrics, notes, etc. goes. But it is released into public domain. So what this means is that nobody other than the original artist could claim the song as their own. This also means that unless they have the artist's permission, they can't publish it at a profit. But since the music is released to the public, the public are free to copy and redistribute as they please as long as they don't make any proceeds in the process.
So, how exactly are artists expected to profit from such a scheme? It's rather easy:
  1. No overhead costs. The artist doesn't have to deal with producers, marketing, burning CDs, trade associations, and all that other B.S. that inflates the cost of music production. The music is recorded and published by the artists themselves. This could be done as inexpensively as a P.C. with audio recording software and a broadband internet connection.

  2. No digging through the system in order to publish the music. Simply put, the music performer doesn't have to dick around hoping to find some exec or producer likes their style. Nor do they have to change according to some music industry person's whims. Music is directly put online. Making good use of whatever limited audience there is and using word of mouth is how the audience is expanded.

  3. Donations by fans. Like other Open projects, music will be funded by appreciative fans who make contributions. If the music by an artist is deemed worthwhile enough, odds are the fans will want new songs. Contributions are the way to keep it going. In a way, this is like the online equivalent of street performers. The performance is up front and the audience decides whether or not to pay. If the music isn't good enough for contributions, then the artist will usually move on. This also eliminates image based performers who are funded by producers, but lack any true musical talent.

  4. Live performances. You hear about a band, get the music free online, listen to and enjoy it. Now wouldn't you like to see a show? If the band is willing to tour, live performances in addition to contributions should help make ends meet.

  5. Supplemental merchandise. Band logo items, concert t-shirts. Nothing new here, it's just that the music that fans in to begin with is free.
Now the tricky part is to get radio and other venues to support artists who start out using the Open Music model of content distribution. Sure it's not a cash cow to start out with, but if an artist does strike it big while making use of the Open Music model - radio and TV will look pretty stupid if they don't ever play them. Radio/TV use might require a modification of the public licence which Open Music would use under limited terms. Afterall, it's quite difficult to get airtime if radio stations can't make money off of it. (They don't get paid to play releases, but rather profit from advertising to the audience which an Open Music artist attracts.)

The other tricky part is to capture the audience in the first place. Bands who get involved in Open Music should make it obvious in some way. This could be done via an announcement at live performances as to where or how songs can be obtained online, and that they can be copied and redistributed under certain conditions. Using this music model, artists should understand that it never hurts to ask for contributions while between sets in a recorded performance. Open music directories should also be put to use listing artists that freely provide music. These places should also list the venues where any live performances occur, so fans can willing to pay for a show can go.

Hmmm... I wonder if anyone out there is listening. Do you think it'll catch on?

Edit... I did some googlin' and found this place which has a model which is almost Open Music in nature... Not quite (still some profit and production costs involved), but close (artists see a much bigger piece of the pie than they would from big labels.)... They do provide music under Creative Commons license (personal non-profit use), and you can listen to it for free. Check it out!

Their playlist is still tight, but perhaps they'll get bigger as word gets out.

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