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Whither online music?

By tunesmith in Internet
Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 01:15:50 PM EST
Tags: Music (all tags)

With mp3.com paying huge settlements, Napster on thin (breaking?) ice, and the RIAA suddenly in publicity overdrive with its new online music offerings, MusicNet and Duet, the online music industry is definitely in a time of transition, and momentum seems to be shifting away from the more idealistic "new media" companies back to the old guard. What could breathe new life into the efforts to make quality music easily available to the public, in a consumer-friendly way, while also protecting the songwriters and performers?

First let's go into the bias of this question and accept a few givens for the sake of argument.
  • Most musicians (even well-known ones) aren't compensated adequately for their efforts (Ob-Courtney Love link).
  • Small-time musicians deserve more encouragement, distribution, and support without signing their lives away on a contract.
  • Consumers deserve the chance to find quality music without being robbed.
  • Downloading copyrighted music from napster for free is an economically unsound solution.
My own personal wishlist for an online music site would be something like this:
  1. It would analyze my current music tastes.
  2. It would put them into a collaborative filtering engine and be able to make recommendations.
  3. It would recommend both commercial music and new music available from independent songwriters.
  4. It would allow me to download, stream, or sample the music.
  5. It would allow me to either buy the music commercially, or tip the artist directly, and invite me to do so in a way that is compelling.
  6. It would allow me to rate the music it recommends to me.
I spent some time putting together a brief review of where we are right now. What's frustrating to me is that all of these technologies exist now, most of them even in open-source, and they haven't been bundled together, and they don't really work all that well. Do you want to analyze your mp3 and vorbis files? You can download FreeAmp 2.1RC6, which will generate audio signatures of your digital files using Relatable, and you can look up the recorded meta information over at MusicBrainz, but it appears their records don't have much consistency. After all, won't a 160kpbs mp3 have a different audio signature than a 128kpbs mp3? There's an intriguing company called Media Unbound that does collaborative filtering for music recommendations, but they haven't launched yet and they are proprietary. None of these technologies are yet built into filesharing/trading programs. We've got various remuneration implementations like FairTunes, but the people who make contributions are an embarrasingly small subset of the people who download tracks through Napster. It appears that even with the integration of tipping into popular players like winamp and freeamp, neither have managed to figure out how to motivate people to actually use them as much as is warranted.

What else would make the killer music app? Are there any open-source projects I've missed that are trying to pull this all together? Where's the next big open-source file-trading server that allows artists to opt in, that lets users rate the content, that makes recommendations based off of our ratings? Where's the system that will keep track of dollar contributions to artists and their downloads and report a ratio, so artists can opt to stop offering their music unless it stays above the bench mark, a la Stephen King, which would give users the incentive to contribute? Heck, that's something I'd donate my time to programming.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Downloading copyrighted music from Napster is
o a valid form of moral protest against the RIAA 21%
o a dimwitted form of moral protest against the RIAA 23%
o wrong, but I do it anyway 31%
o fine - musicians should only be paid for performing 6%
o fine - musicians should be paid by commission, not royalty. 7%
o screw you, gimme my eminem 9%

Votes: 76
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o mp3.com
o Napster
o Courtney Love
o review
o FreeAmp 2.1RC6
o Relatable
o MusicBrain z
o Media Unbound
o FairTunes
o Also by tunesmith

Display: Sort:
Whither online music? | 37 comments (37 topical, editorial, 1 hidden)
Since Love's Salon speech is so popular a link (5.00 / 6) (#1)
by elenchos on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 05:48:34 AM EST

Then perhaps her current project to bring recording artists together to exercise the same collective bargaining power that Hollywood actors and pro athletes enjoy would be of interest. In any event, now future obligatory Courtney Love linkers will have a choice of two stories to link to.


Micropayments (4.00 / 1) (#2)
by wiredog on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 08:04:31 AM EST

We need a good micropayments system. Unfortunately every time it's been tried it's gone down in flames. Paypal is still around, but you never hear about it anymore. Until there's a way of paying, say, $1 for mp3 quality and $2 for cd quality audio, without hauling out the old credit card, online distribution of music will have problems. Certainly your comment about the economic infeasability of napster is true, except maybe for napster inc. itself, but without micropayments no other method works either. This is an issue not just for music, but also for newspapers and magazines. As far as I know, only the Wall Street Journal and porn sites are making money selling subscriptions. Most of the other sites, such as the Washington Post and Salon, are losing money. The Post can afford to run its site as a loss leader, but Salon can't.

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.

Subscription models (none / 0) (#6)
by ucblockhead on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:21:54 PM EST

I personally think a subscription model would work better. $25/month for the rights to listen to anything in the catalog.

Now the record companies are massively afraid of this becuase they think that people will subscribe, download, and then cancel the subscription. But this is a stupid fear for a number of reasons. But since I don't have time to go into them, I'll just point out that some of the most profitable websites on the internet work by selling jpgs that could be easily downloaded and saved on a subscription model, generally with no security at all to prevent "pirating".

This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

In a sane world (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by ZanThrax on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:38:48 PM EST

both options would be available from someone, just as they are in the industry of your "most profitable websites on the internet". (Personally, I'd prefer a try it before you buy it type of thing, with a cheap stream that I can tag songs from to save to my own discs.)

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

problem with micropayments (none / 0) (#21)
by tunesmith on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 05:04:26 PM EST

There's been a couple of persistent problems with micropayments. One is, of course, the transaction costs that banks charge for processing charge cards.

It's also hard to get someone to whip out their credit card or debit card and make the transaction. People view their pocket change as a different kind of money than the money in their bank account. It should be as easy.

I think "aggregated" micropayments solve part of the problem. Have people pledge amounts over time, and then charge them a lump some every so often, allowing them to review their pledged tip amounts. Or even make them buy "tokens" up front that they can donate as they see fit - I've heard that the online porn industry does a lot of that and it works pretty well.


Yes, I have a blog.
[ Parent ]

Micro-payments (none / 0) (#28)
by strumco on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 09:24:44 AM EST

There's been a couple of persistent problems with micropayments. One is, of course, the transaction costs that banks charge for processing charge cards.
Most of the problems are soluble. The company I work for has gone quite a long way towards solving them.

Just at the moment, there are 20 or so companies, all trying to provide micro-payments - to a market which doesn't know they exist. The market won't take m/p seriously until there's only one or two big providers offering it - and then you'll all hate them. {|-)

[ Parent ]

What about older recordings? (none / 0) (#3)
by slambo on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:36:07 AM EST

One thing that I have yet to see addressed is the status of recordings where the artists have been dead for 30 or more years. My preferred choice of music is jazz from the 1920s and 1930s (and some into the 1940s).

On recordings these that were made up to 80 years ago, the great majority of artists are dead. Duke Ellington died; Louis Armstrong died; Cab Calloway died; Fats Waller died; Tommy Dorsey died; etc. These people are not getting any money, and I seriously doubt that any money is going to their families from all the reissuings on CD from the big labels.

As an amateur genealogist, I know that US census records are released to the public domain after 72 years (I'm looking forward to getting into the 1930 census records next year). When do music recordings enter the public domain? As a public domain recording, am I entitled to a copy of that recording at no charge or does someone still own it, expecting payment?
Sean Lamb
"A day without laughter is a day wasted." -- Groucho Marx
Public domain (none / 0) (#9)
by TheLaser on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 01:15:22 PM EST

When do music recordings enter the public domain?

Well, currently it is something quite insane. A work loses copyright and enters the public domain 70 years after the death of the author (or 95 years from the creation date, if the "author" is a legal fiction of some sort and cannot die). Now the problem here is that the legislature can and does retroactively bump those numbers up every time they near expiration. So the answer to your question is either "when the copyright owner wants it to", which might as well be "never" in many cases.

As a public domain recording, am I entitled to a copy of that recording at no charge or does someone still own it, expecting payment?

Well, you aren't exactly entitled to a copy, but if you have one you are allowed to make and distribute copies of it for any amount of money you can sell them for. Since the actual cost of producing a copy is next to zero, this shouldn't be too bad, assuming anyone actually cares about music that ever actually manages to expire. The actual physical media on which it is distributed can still be owned, bought and sold. The data on that media are up for grabs however.

[ Parent ]
Which is unfortunately a sham... (none / 0) (#23)
by Woodblock on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 09:41:58 PM EST

Now the problem here is that the legislature can and does retroactively bump those numbers up every time they near expiration.

And the time the American legislature decides to bump those numbers up a bit tends to conincide with the copyright of Mickey Mouse, and is usually spearheaded by politicians in states where Disney is an important industry. I am not so up to international and Canadian copyright laws, but I think the expiry dates can vary a lot among different countries.
-- Real computer scientists don't use computers.
[ Parent ]

Arguably unconstitutional (none / 0) (#31)
by dennis on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 12:10:37 PM EST

The dissenting judge in the Eldred vs. Reno decision argues that this is unconstitutional - that changing the time limit is fine, but applying the new time limit to copyrights already issued is not. If you can do that, the copyright span is effectively unlimited, since you can just keep extending it. The U.S. constitution only provides for copyrights "for a limited time."

[ Parent ]
Fine detail (none / 0) (#35)
by strumco on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 11:41:36 AM EST

A work loses copyright and enters the public domain 70 years after the death of the author (or 95 years from the creation date, if the "author" is a legal fiction of some sort and cannot die).
This is perfectly true - as far as it goes. But there is a little known extra; the recording copyright expires after 35 years (in the US). The record companies have to renegotiate with (what's left of) the artist, if they want to continue to sell their work.

[ Parent ]

Another problem: (none / 0) (#4)
by spacejack on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:58:28 AM EST

Consumer apathy. Or maybe consumer attitude.

One thing I have a hard time believing is that consumers are getting "robbed" (or at least any more than they've ever been). First of all, new CDs here in Canada are ~$15. They can go as high as $20 for rare or hard-to-find stuff, but you can also get relatively new (6 months - 2 years old) releases for around $12-13. This is a lot less money than I paid for CDs when bought my first CD player back in 1986. Back then, new records were around $10-$14 and new CDs were at least $20. And if you take into account inflation, I doubt we're paying any more than we were 15 years ago for records. The only thing we don't have are such an abundance of used record stores where you can get stuff in the $4-$8 range; used CDs seem to be in the $8-$11 range. You still can buy used records for ~$5, but your selection is obviously not as up-to-date as it was, nor do many people have turntables these days (course, you can buy one cheap at a pawn shop).

However, on the up-side, we do have a lot more genres than we did 15 years ago. The quality of the material certainly isn't any worse (if you don't agree, then you probably don't remember the 80's very well). It also seems to be a heck of a lot easier to check out a CD before you buy it. I would have a hard time finding a CD shop around that won't let me listen to it before I buy it (this was not an option with records). In addition, I can use the internet to search for reviews, I can visit the All Music Guide to cross-reference similar material, and I can often download a track or 2 from many new releases in one form or another -- all without Napster.

Furthermore, the more friends you make, the more places you go out to, the more music you discover. It's as simple as that. Most of the best music I discover is by word of mouth.

So as far as I can tell, the thing people seem to be lamenting is a way of buying music instantly as a direct download, without ever leaving the comforting glow of the monitor. Forgive me for saying so, but so what? It's quite easy to not get ripped off without using Napster. We can't expect any kind of system to do all the work for us; we have to think for ourselves. The surest way people could "break" the traditional publishing giants would be to think for themselves. To be quite honest however, I don't think that most people want to.

I disagree with your price average (none / 0) (#15)
by ZanThrax on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:34:40 PM EST

Right now, 80% of new discs at HMV are $18.99, and around 70% or so of the discs at Music World are the same. (The lack of perfect overlap allows me to get a ~$15 price for most things, but that's beside the point) And I'd say that most of the time, the old stuff (as in anything that's only in the racks, not anywhere on the walls) is most likely going to be $22 or more, because "we only get one or two copies at a time" Sometimes, a couple dozen older discs will go on sale (I just picked up Ten for $11.99), but most of the time, older discs are more expensive. Finally, if discs were priced fairly, they'd cost the same, or perhaps even less than cassettes (although I've noticed that stores don't sell them anymore, so its a lot harder to compare now). The only difference in the costs that the companies are recouping from the price of a disc and a tape are production costs and we all know how incredibly cheap cds are to bang out.

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

prices (none / 0) (#19)
by spacejack on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 04:46:47 PM EST

I may be lowballing the average a bit, however:

(The lack of perfect overlap allows me to get a ~$15 price for most things, but that's beside the point)

But that is the point -- if you make the effort to inform yourself, you can make out all right. Sure, if you don't shop around, you'll get ripped off, as with anything. Still, compared to 1980s prices, combined with inflation, we're doing pretty well.

As for "fair price", the cost of the media itself doesn't factor much into it. I'd say cassettes should cost less, because they degrade over time, they're inconvenient, sound worse, etc.; i.e., the CD has more value to me as a consumer, regardless of the reproduction costs.

[ Parent ]
Working on it... (none / 0) (#5)
by ucblockhead on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:17:47 PM EST

There are companies out there working on that sort of stuff, though your number 4 scares the crap out of any startup not directly funded by the record companies. I know that the company I work for, which is directly involved in some of that, won't touch downloading for exactly that reason.

I personally don't think that tip jars are going to work, at least for large-scale artists. (The little guys might be able to survive like that, which is good.) Really, I think the key to breaking the grip of the big record companies is not in payment systems, as everyone seems to think, but in changing the ways that artists are promoted. What I'd personally like to see is a promotional system that would help match the bands out there I haven't heard of, but would like, with me. That's hard to do right now, though many (the company I work for included) are working on it. I think that the biggest effect of the internet will be a levelling of artists, were you don't see the heavily promoted megastars like you do now, but instead see lots of narrowcast niche stars.

That's already happening with television and other media, but those invested in the star system of course don't like it and are fighting it tooth and nail. They will lose, of course. You can't stop history.

As for how it all gets paid for, well, I don't know, but I think that at some point, people will realize that you can earn money and trust people at the same time. You can get a lot of people who wouldn't pay $1 in a tip bar to pay $5 just by putting up a "price $5" sign.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

patronage (none / 0) (#7)
by Arkady on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:46:27 PM EST

My proposal on how to build the future of online music was published in this article here on K5 (from January). Check it out, since it seems to line up with your attitude, and let me know what you think.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Laziness and contradictions (4.00 / 2) (#8)
by Wah on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 01:06:46 PM EST

Let me start by saying that my personal wishlists for online music mostly already exist. Napster (and alternatives) and shoutcast offer up a pretty steady supply. The only thing that is lacking is coherent copyright defintions. More on that is a second. First, I have to question your givens (sake of argument and all that).
  • Consumers deserve the chance to find quality music without being robbed.
  • Downloading copyrighted music from napster for free is an economically unsound solution.

This strikes me as a contradiction. It is my contention that the current availability and price for music online is the correct one. The supply is limitless, the price is bandwidth. To offer an analogy, the price of personal transportation is currently quite high. You have to buy cars, plane/bus/train tickets to really get anywhere. If someone were to invent a simple matter transmission device, the value of these services and physical objects would drop dramatically. A fundamental market change brought about by new technology. I think this has happened not only to the music industry, but is happenening to the entire mass media spectrum. Personally I see this as a good thing.

Now, considering that the price is pretty much set for most digital media, how is one to make money at it? Of course by offering new and innovative services, of which you give a good example set. All of these things are something I could do myself, but they are also something I can pay someone else to do for me. Perhaps to save time. The one I would like to give a bit more attention to is number 5 (It would allow me to either buy the music commercially, or tip the artist directly, and invite me to do so in a way that is compelling. ).

This is the real part of any business model, how to get money into your pocket. What we really need is a better definition of the market, the one we have is being hammered out in courts and most likely soon to be done again in Congress (for the U.S. and thanks to International Treaties and nuclear submarines, it will most likely effect you in your country too.) So until we figure out exactly how some of the licensing and rights should really be applied, any business that relies on them is on very shaky ground.

My idea of the killer media app would be a gnutella variant that is endorsed and used by our Public Library system. It would allow access to all the same media you can get from any public library over the Internet. Servers hosted physically at the public libraries would be the index servers (making it more centralized) and individual citizens could contribute bandwidth and hosting services. There are a number of other advantages to such a system, including federal oversight, and a centralized, trusted(?), tip-jar.
Fail to Obey?

contradictory? (none / 0) (#10)
by tunesmith on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 01:44:47 PM EST

I think the only reason those two points seem contradictory is because my two points are admittedly sort of vague. I'd disagree with you, though, that the cost of distributing copyrighted music online is only the cost of the bandwidth.

It's really lazy to think of that as the only cost of receiving copyrighted music. I think that would only be a valid point if the RIAA were only about distribution, but they aren't. There are also marketing costs and production costs - all the capital that went into the forces that enabled both the existence of the digital media, and the fact that you've heard of it and knew to ask for it. The inequitable RIAA pie slices are beside the point, the point is that the capital was invested somewhere and you can't really pretend it wasn't.

Napster skips all that and forces the folks that invest in those costs to eat them, costs them a chance to recoup. It really shouldn't be free. It should cost less than if you bought it in a record store, but it shouldn't be free.

That's why I see Napster as economically unsound. As for robbing users, I'm mostly referring to most consumers being forced to buy a grab-bag of underwhelming songs just because they like one song on a cd. Music fans tend to love music, it should be more possible to set them up with music that truly touches or "hooks into" them somehow.


Yes, I have a blog.
[ Parent ]

Yes (none / 0) (#24)
by Wah on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 10:10:39 PM EST

I still think it was contradictory, mainly because you have missed out on the robbing thing. You want to keep the definition slim, but it isn't. It happens in lots of places.

It's really lazy to think of that as the only cost of receiving copyrighted music. I think that would only be a valid point if the RIAA were only about distribution, but they aren't.

I'll admit I'm incredibly lazy, so are most Americans. That laziness is the reason you (or someone like you) will be able to make money selling these services, or providing these services, to a large audience. However, I really still want to be able to do them myself. If I have the time, why shouldn't I be able to?

The Bandwidth-Distribution angle. Here we are comparing things like radio and retail stores that move music to my ears. I'm not talking about music production. That is a seperate discussion, and since I have the time, here's my take on it:

Production of music isn't that expensive. I think it follows rather dramatically, the 80-20 rule. With 20% effort, you can get 80% results. The other 20% results, cost 80% effort. And it gets harder from there. It takes a great deal of production value for some bands, becuase, frankly, they suck. Or they don't write their own music, or play thier own stuff. This isn't music recording, it's a production, like a stage play. Or a movie, or a TV show. This type of production is very expensive, but simply recording music is not. Maybe you have better info than I, but how many CD's does your "average" band have to sell to break even on a CD? At $10 a cd, maybe...3000? And that would probably pay for instruments too. It just doesn't cost that much to make a music cd. What costs a frickin' shitload is advertising, "independant" contractors to get radio play, movie deals, etc. Radio play is the biggest factor in selling CD's. But there's a problem here, radio sucks. We need a new way to get music to ears which is the best proven way to sell a piece of plastic for $20. These are the things that are making music expensive, expensive distribution and promotional systems. Production isn't that expensive.

And now consumers can absorb the cost of distribution, too. Promotion is a different story...for later, but if K5 had a "music" section, we'd have something new to talk about and take up our time...that hasn't really caught up yet. But the new method, in a nutshell, takes widespread, paid for, broadband connections. Like mine. This becomes our new distrubution network. Unlike television, radio, and other failed tech, it is "pull" not "push" and people seem to prefer that. All of my normal friends do, and they love Napster. And when you have enough people paying attention to something, there will be enough lazy people around that you can sell services too, and our trend to a fully service oriented economy continues. Thanks to laziness, and really powerful computers.

And now to directly address your statements in light of this opinion.

The inequitable RIAA pie slices are beside the point, the point is that the capital was invested somewhere and you can't really pretend it wasn't.

No reason to pretend it wasn't invested. Let it be a lesson to those who thought the world hadn't moved on. Investment doesn't necessitate return, this was the big lie of the late 90's, call it "Millennium Fever".

Napster skips all that and forces the folks that invest in those costs to eat them, costs them a chance to recoup. It really shouldn't be free. It should cost less than if you bought it in a record store, but it shouldn't be free.

I'll quote a hacker on this one, JWZ was known to have said, "Linux is only free if your time has no value." Napster is much the same way, hence its immediate popularity with college students and corporate clock-watchers. The act of collecting and burning an entire album takes time, finding new and interesting music takes time, these are services that people will pay for. It isn't free, at least in the most basic sense. It is a service I can provide for myself. Just because an industry has grown up around this service, doesn't, in my mind, mean I shouldn't be able to do it for myself.

As for robbing users, I'm mostly referring to most consumers being forced to buy a grab-bag of underwhelming songs just because they like one song on a cd.

This is only the most basic way of "robbery". Here's another one. Then there's the whole modern radio business, with conosolidation and increased commercial units making money directly off of your time and limiting access to music. There are just so many unnecessary layers to the music business as it exists. Simplify it, offer useful services at a decent price, and the music will keep on flowing. Keep it unnecessarily complicated, scarce, and illegal, and you have a perfect recipe for (information super)highway robbery.

Whether or not such a service will be available is a different question, and one that seems to be falling directly under the guidance of law governing the exchange of copyrighted material. That's why I brought up the library thing. It would establish a baseline of access to infrormation and cultural artifacts. For the record, I'm more of a fan of napster (idea) than Napster (the company), although I do think they should be able to profit by offering a useful service. Just who exactly gets that money, however, is a big part of the problem online music companies are facing right now. Until the laws are settled, the whole thing is a wash.
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

The long shadow of obsolescence (none / 0) (#29)
by dennis on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 11:23:28 AM EST

Okay, let's look at what the music cartel does:

1) Distributes music on plastic. Obsolete.

2) Records the music. Used to be very expensive. Now professional-quality digital recording and mixing equipment is in roughly the same price range as professional-quality instruments, and getting cheaper all the time. Still takes skill, but so does playing an instrument.

3) Filtering out poor-quality garage bands, promoting the bands they think we'll like. Still a valuable service, if your taste coincides with theirs. But word of mouth, reviewers, and personalization databases can probably do it as well, if the music is easily accessible.

4) Merchandising. Doesn't take a cartel, the band can contract with anybody.

5) Touring. Probably better handled by someone like Ticketmaster.

6) Pays the band. Does a poor job for all but the most successful. If properly handled, tips or Street Performer can probably get more money to the average band than the music industry does. Lots of people buy CDs to support the band, even after they've downloaded on napster--but of the $15 for the CD, the band maybe gets a quarter. Suppose the band released low-fi versions of songs first, or hi-fi samples, and the whole hi-fi version after getting paid. There's no CD to rip from before then, and they have an established fan base developed by the means in (3). I think it would be easier for them to make money.

What's left?

The RIAA isn't freaking out because they're losing money to piracy--CD sales are up. They're freaking because they see the handwriting on the wall. We had a strange period of history where popular culture was only economical if marketed in volume. Now things are getting back to normal.

[ Parent ]

What's left (none / 0) (#32)
by tunesmith on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 01:34:26 PM EST

The only thing I'd dispute is that the professional experience of professional producers and engineers is worth quite a bit. I've got some pretty good ideas for songs myself, but since I'm by myself, I often run into areas where I'm not really sure what to do next. I can hit the reverb button on my software but it often ends up either sounding muddy or like I'm singing in a tile bathroom. Maybe the storebought recording software will advance to the point where it can analyze my source material and make the most appropriate decisions on what effects would punch it up the best, but we're a long way from that right now - the experience of a gifted engineer or producer is worth quite a lot, and very hard to find.

Also, we could argue that while SPP/tips could improve on RIAA royalty shares, it still might not be enough. But we won't know until we try. :)

I totally agree with the thrust of what you're saying, though. But it gets back to one of the points of my article - the goal of online music companies shouldn't be to do things that risk them being sued by RIAA. It should be to do things to encourage musicians not to even sign up for them, to prove that musicians can operated effectively and profitably without signing up with them. It's a huge market opportunity, and mp3.com is really the only one that has tried so far.


Yes, I have a blog.
[ Parent ]

Artist compensation (none / 0) (#33)
by fluffy grue on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 02:37:16 PM EST

For what it's worth, I've made more on pointed little quill than Shirley Manson has made on Verion 2.0.

I've only made $2 after all of my initial expenses though.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Napster for Freenet - only better (3.50 / 2) (#11)
by Spy Hunter on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 02:28:37 PM EST

Are there any open-source projects I've missed that are trying to pull this all together?

Check out espra. It works over Freenet, so it's unlikely to ever be shut down. I don't know about the filtering and rating, but it's got artist compensation built in. And it hasn't been released yet, so there's still time to add features.

I'm not sure how useful a rating system would be, though. I think varying tastes in music would make any sort of rating system useless at best, and misleading at worst. Tastes in music are not something that can be voted on and combined into a single statistic indicating how "good" a song is. What's a great song to some might be horrible to others. There's no way a rating system could tell, based on the number of "good" or "bad" votes a song has, how you would like the song. Making recommendations based on other songs that you also like is possible, but its not possible to recommend songs that you would like based on other people's ratings of them.

rating systems (none / 0) (#12)
by tunesmith on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 02:58:26 PM EST

Sure it's possible - that's what collaborative filtering is all about. You don't rank them numerically or try to homogenize a perception of a piece of music. Instead you analyze people's patterns of musical taste and compare them with other people of like tastes. That's what Media Unbound is doing. There's a great Salon article that describes this technology. It's just that I don't think there is an open-source equivalent (yet).


Yes, I have a blog.
[ Parent ]

Music taste tetrahedron (none / 0) (#26)
by pin0cchio on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 03:28:46 AM EST

What's a great song to some might be horrible to others. There's no way a rating system could tell

Unless it used a tetrahedron model to compute the listener's tastes and suggesting songs in the vicinity of the listener's "ideal" song. Each listener, song, and artist would have a 3-digit taste vector: 000 is folk and singer/songwriter; 900 is techno; 090 is metal; 009 is rap. Each listener and artist would also have a "radius"; some artists perform, and some listeners like, a broader spectrum of music.

To get a feeling for these TMR codes, here are some numbers: Marilyn Manson: 180; NIN: 450; RATM: 063; James Taylor: 010; mainstream rock: around 050; "pop" acts such as Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears: close to 303; ska acts: about 022.

[ Parent ]
part of the responsibility... (3.50 / 2) (#13)
by gtx on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:02:07 PM EST

...lies with the artists themselves. i mean, if you really want to get your music out, take an example from me, and just give it away. tell people. listeners will come. Do i make money? Not much. But I love every minute of it, and nothing is more rewarding than getting emails from people telling me they like it. I'm neither famous nor financially successful, but there's nothing quite like reading my traffic reports and seening 6/gigs a day in mp3 traffic off my site. If the artists really cared about the artistic side of their art, they'd be finding ways to make sure people heard it.

at least, that's my crazy, whacked out opinion.

i don't have anything clever to write here.
The Poll (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by tunesmith on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:11:00 PM EST

By the way, I just have to comment on the poll results so far. What is up with almost half of us answering "Wrong, but I do it anyway" ?

I just wonder about the psychological part of it. For those that gave that answer, what is it? Is it that we enjoy doing something that we feel is "wrong"? Or is it something else?

The part about it that bugs me is that it shows a real lack of integration between our thoughts and actions. That shouldn't be all that lofty of a goal for people. But that kind of attitude seems more and more common among internet savvy hackers, hacktivists, whatever. All these impassioned and eloquent opinions about what's right and wrong and the direction technology/society is going on... and then the sudden shrug, "but I do it anyway!", the winning smile, and the smirk - or we just throw up our hands at the end of the discussion, having said our peace, and go back to following the same patterns. What the hell is that? Did we learn somewhere that that is supposed to be cool or something?

I think one of the main reasons it's prevalent in online music is because of the insulating effect of the internet. Yeah, it's wrong, but you don't experience or know about the negative effect of downloading the music. It's as if there's no effect at all... so it must be true! Just hit the submit button, right? Easy. Takes a lot more effort to be educated about what happens when you push the button than it does to just push the button in the first place.

Overall I feel pretty cynical about it. But hey, I use Napster anyway. *shrug, grin*


Yes, I have a blog.

The choice I want isn't available (none / 0) (#18)
by MrEfficient on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 04:36:18 PM EST

I feel like downloading music without the permission of the artist is wrong, but as a consumer, I'm not being given good choices to begin with. I don't feel like I get my money's worth from a cd, I pay around $20 usually for two or three songs I really want and get ten more that I've probably never heard and may not even like. What's wrong with selling me just the songs I want at a reasonable price? Also, I want to be able to sample music before I buy it, rather than walking into a store and blindly selecting a cd. (Amazon sort of does this, but they don't let you listen to every song and the quality of the samples is so terrible as to discurage me from buying)

From now on, there will always be people swapping digital music without paying for it. What the industry needs to do is to provide the people who are willing to pay with a resonable method of doing so.

[ Parent ]

Audio fingerprint same for multiple encodings (none / 0) (#22)
by mlinksva on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 06:26:22 PM EST

The article asks "won't a 160kpbs mp3 have a different audio signature than a 128kpbs mp3?"

Audio fingerprinting analyzes acoustic properties of an audio file that humans can discern. Thus a good audio fingerprinting algorithm should generate the same fingerprint for multiple encodings of the same song, even in different formats (e.g., mp3 and ogg).

There are some cases where you *want* a different identifier for every encoding, as you want to identify which is the "best", or which ones are truncated/flawed/contain spam/etc. In these cases a secure hash (e.g., SHA1) will do the job.
imagoodbitizen adobe unisys badcitizens

Note-based audio fingerprinting and cover songs (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by pin0cchio on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 03:10:27 AM EST

Audio fingerprinting analyzes acoustic properties of an audio file that humans can discern. Thus a good audio fingerprinting algorithm should generate the same fingerprint for multiple encodings of the same song, even in different formats (e.g., mp3 and ogg).

If you want to fingerprint music that can be encoded with any algorithm, 32 kbps (common streaming bitrate) on up, you almost have to use note-based fingerprinting, which attempts to convert a waveform into a Fourier spectrum (similar to the first step of MP3 encoding) and then a MIDI-like representation of the notes. Trouble is, it would not distinguish close covers (such as some of Weird Al's better work or half the gangsta rap out there) from the original song by the original artist. This could also be used by ASCAP and BMI songwriters against unauthorized cover artists.

[ Parent ]
Folks, it doesn't work. (4.50 / 4) (#34)
by Kasreyn on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 11:22:43 PM EST

The RIAA is fooling itself if it thinks its online music swapping venture will work. It's very simple: we don't need them anymore. And they know it.

In the old days of physical distribution of records and CD's and movies, we needed the RIAA, and the MPAA. We needed them for the infrastructure of music distribution - they stamped the CD's, got the jewelboxes and labels, loaded them in the trucks, and delivered them to Tower Records in (usually) timely fashion. They printed the film reels and VHS tapes, and distributed them. And they took a cut for themselves, of course. Which was only fair.

Nowadays, the infrastructure they provide is becoming less and less neccessary. On the internet, the CUSTOMERS pay for distribution - their ISP bills cover bandwidth, power, and cable costs. They pay for this distribution willingly; even with an expensive high-bandwidth connection it's a matter of a cent or two per download if you look at it that way. A music fileserver is far less expensive than a fleet of trucks and a CD-pressing factory. With software like mod trackers, everyone can make and distribute music. There is no longer any need for the middlemen.

This is just going to be a mortal battle: Either the RIAA/MPAA middlemen are going to slay free online music distribution, or they will themselves BE slain. There is no way that both will continue to exist in their current configuration. The RIAA/MPAA might warp into a new form, but I find that unlikely, given their existence as megalithic corporate entities.

I fully expect them to crush GNUtella before it's all over, but THAT'S OKAY!! Folks, LET them take out GNUtella, it'll keep their attention occupied while Freenet gets off the ground. Trust me, Freenet CAN be stopped while it's still small. The Bush administration is pro-corporate, anti-individual. Servers can be physically found and physically disabled, and freenet server owners can be physically imprisoned. "Deniability" of server contents only works in a nation where the courts are sane. Freenet's unstoppable network topology can't prevent it being physically crushed by superior resources. Instead, let them have GNUtella.

We don't need the middlemen anymore, and we don't need to be paying $15 for CD's that cost less than a buck to stamp any more. We certainly don't need to be paying $15 to download CD-rips that cost very close to $0 for them to be distributed, since that $15 would mostly be going to - you guessed it - the middlemen. This isn't piracy, this is GOOD for the artists - without the middlemen and without the old infrastructure of music distribution, almost ALL of the gross profits will become NET profits for the musicians. We are hovering on the edge of an age of unbelievable opportunity for musicians AND listeners, and the RIAA is trying hard to keep us in the past. I think it is every American's civic duty to help bring them down.

The MPAA too; they have both declared war on something that can do nothing other than improve our quality of life. As such, they have declared that their profits mean more to them than the happiness of their customers. Whenever a company does that, it's time for it to get smacked down. So let them gobble up GNUtella, and in the meanwhile, keep trading those mp3's - and mail checks directly to the artists' home addresses, if you feel this is piracy. Just don't pay the middlemen anymore.


P.S. Where I say RIAA or MPAA, I mean the individual corporations within them. Almost all of them are behaving identically and presenting a united front, though, so they can be addressed as one large entity with the same goals.
<br>"Intolerant people should be shot." - the best one-sentence troll I have ever seen.<br>

You Cannot Fight the Future (none / 0) (#36)
by jonnyfantastik on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 06:25:18 AM EST

I always laugh a little when I hear people talk about the end of online music (although admittedly this post doesn't concentrate on that). Stop worrying about the record industry killing online music. Everybody, including the record execs, realize all to well that you online music cannot die. Like so many other things, it's simply a fact of life. It's the future and you cannot fight the future .

The odd thing is that very few people realize this. All that's required is a little bit of common sense. Two provide a fileswapping arena you only need to solve two problems.

Resource Location This is the obvious problem which everybody is well aware and trying to solve. But this problem really isn't a problem at all. The first thing you need to do to trade music is get an active IP address. This is so much easier than people realize. You don't need elaborate p2p networks, all you need is exposure. The fact is, anytime people meet on the internet they are exposed on to one another. Whether this meeting happens in real-time, such as IRC and AIM or any other chat facility or Napster, or whether this meeting happens in past-time, such as when I read a post by you on Kuro5hin, I have been exposed to you. Once you have real-time exposure it's trivial to retrieve an IP address from the IRC server or the AIM client. Exposing in past-time is a bit more complex. One way might be for me to send you an email and the next time you log on the internet (or better yet you're a broadbander with a perm IP) you reply with your current IP address. Either way, the only thing blocking the resource location problem is in fact exposure and the exposure problem and if there's one thing the Internet does it's solve the exposure problem. It's extraordinary easy to 'meet' people on the net - just wander around any chat room.

Resource Description Once exposure has been achieved and I have your IP address the rest is easy-peasy. How hard would it be for you to run some sort of client-daemon that when asked exported an XML file which explained all of the resources (be it documents, source code, or mp3s) on your computer and when sent another request, dcc'ed it to my computer and added it to my Resource Database.

Those clever guys behind Aimster realize this. Resource Location and Resource Description are all you need to do file swapping and this is practically built into the Internet and TCP through IP addresses and ports. What we simply need now is for more people to realize. For example, why doesn't somebody sit down and implement Napster over IRC? How hard would it be to have a client that, when you joined a room, retrieved the IP addresses of everybody in the room, queried their computers, and allowed you to search their computers for content? Of course things are not so simple. Users are randomly logging on and off and IP addresses are constantly becoming invalid -- big deal. Ignore them and move to the next. Napster, with a little bit of ingenuity, could even be implemented over a system like kuro5hin. Again, what's stopping the kuro5hin website from giving me some persistent way to contact you (like an email address) such that the next time you log on I could ask you for your IP address. This doesn't even have to be automatic. The system could work like this. Every time you login to kuro5hin a small message is sent to everybody else that you are online and your content is available. The point is once I've been exposed to you - once I have a name like 'tunesmith' - I can do the rest.

All dynamic fileswapping apps really work like this to some extent. Remember those bbses?

The important thing is making sure that actual data remains free. This is why the Ogg Vorbis project and XML are so important. This is why the biggest obstacle in the net is really proprietary formats.

Online music is here to stay. It's easy to solve the problems behind it. It is the future.

wrong question (none / 0) (#37)
by tunesmith on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 06:45:51 PM EST

But the problem is that most people want to ask, "Who has this file?" rather than "What files does this person have?" I could care less what you have if it's not what I'm looking for. And people don't usually just randomly browse unless they are bored.

The whole point is to separate the media from the people hosting them. Otherwise it's a point of failure.


Yes, I have a blog.
[ Parent ]

Whither online music? | 37 comments (37 topical, 0 editorial, 1 hidden)
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