ccMixter Fundraiser

One of the most enduring and endearing music communities on the Internet has to be ccMixter, a site dedicated to musical collaboration between all kinds of music makers: from singer / songwriters to DJs, from blues guitarists to EDM producers, from highly trained classical composers to self taught ukulele players, from poets to beat-makers. The community includes individuals from every conceivable walk of life and age group from around the world, celebrating the ability of music to connect with everyone of their uploads, from individual vocal tracks and instrumental loops to finished remixes.

While there are quite a few websites dedicated to musical collaboration, ccMixter has endured against some pretty well funded “competition” arguably because it’s open source music, using only Creative Commons licensing, allowing people to re-use musical materials for non-commercial purposes (some licenses even allow commercial exploitation), as long as credit to the musical creator(s) is given.

And it’s worth mentioning: At ccMixter participants are very nice to each other. Musical beginners are not only tolerated, but warmly encouraged. Top notch professionals are admired and cheered on.

Music from ccMixter has become very popular to be used in video soundtracks on YouTube and other video sites. 

ccMixter had originally been founded by the Creative Commons non profit organization, who also funded it’s operation for the first 5 years. Since 2009 ccMixter has been held together entirely on a volunteer basis under the leadership of ArtisTech Media, a small privately held company in California.

And now the volunteer site admins have just put together a lovely video in support of a ccMixter fundraising drive to keep the site going:

Tunetrack releases ccMixter Holiday Album

ccMixter: Season of Gratitude

For fans of ccMixter this holiday season brings a unique musical treat with the release of a holiday themed 2 album set “Season of Gratitude” featuring music makers from around the world, who are participating in this venerable creative commons licensed remixing community.

If you’re not familiar with ccMixter, there’s a bit more info about the album here.

It also a represents a chance to deposit a little something into something akin to a virtual tip jar for the community, by purchasing one or both sides of the album via iTunes, the Amazon music store or via the “Green Room” at tunetrack.net.

ccMixter – Season of Gratitude A on iTunes
ccMixter – Season of Gratitude B on iTunes

ccMixter – Season of Gratitude A at Amazon mp3 store

Or for downloading both albums and some additional goodies, you can join the “Green Room” at ArtisTech’s tune track site:

If you prefer your music the old-skool way on physical media, you can get yourself CDs by joining the ccMixter “Blue Room”:

ccMixter “Blue Room” at tunetrack.net

Jay-Z and Alan Lomax

A great illustration of current copyright law shortcomings is explained by Ethan Hein on his excellent blog about music and related topics. It explains how someone who has absolutely zero contribution to a copyrightable work can still have their name on it, not via striking a deal, but by inheritance of copyrights. It’s a great read – including links to relevant youtube clips and a great infograph – just long enough to tell the story without becoming boring!

 Ethan has numerous other blog entires which touch on quite a few topics of interest to music makers in general, and also specifically to remixers. For example his discussion about “samples and community” is a great perspective on what makes remixing such a seductive while simultaneously controversial part of music.

This is one of the very finest music related blogs I’ve bumped into. So it’s now added to the “other blogs i like” section on the right.

ASCAP battling windmills

image by Wild Guru Larry, click for source attributionOPINION: A little while ago, ASCAP, one of the US based performance royalty collecting societies became the latest volunteer in an increasingly amusing battle to turn back time long after others have already moved on. Quite frankly, I see this attack as being more dangerous to windmills than to the creative commons infrastructure and movement. And I feel sorry for the level of intellectual helplessness this attack implies.

Larry Lessig (one of the founders of some of the organizations ASCAP is vilifying) has his own response and challenge showing levels of truth and humor that the ASCAP attack so sadly lacks.

I publish stuff under creative commons licenses. Like this article. Or a little music with friends I’ve made online.

For me creative commons licenses are a gift by a bunch of nice lawyers and the people and organizations helping and donating to their cause, who wrote a number of template contracts (licenses) for free. Cool – I didn’t have to hire a lawyer to write me a custom contract.

And because they have done that, content creators like me have these blanket contracts, which are reasonably well thought out and crafted, allowing us to protect our copyrights by setting conditions of use for our works. Contrary to what ASCAP says, Creative commons licenses are built totally within copyright concepts and law. Without it, they don’t make sense.

Creators generally have a number one priority: get heard, seen and felt. Creative commons licenses quite possibly have stemmed the tide of stuff that might by now implicitly or explicitly go public domain, if that was the only way for an artist to get heard. So maybe ASCAP should be grateful to the Creative Commons and start idea generating dialogs rather than attacks.

However, all that being said, I understand the underlying pain ASCAP is feeling. It’s the pain many an industry has gone through, as the product it produced became inexpensively available in higher quantities than the market needs. It doesn’t take a degree in economics to know that individual revenues tend to go down when supply exceeds demand.

And here is where ASCAP gets it so wrong. ASCAP’s enemy isn’t the people who write a bunch of template licenses. Or at the very least they are not the only (nor even the first) enablers of this oversupply of music. The enablers of the oversupply of music include computer makers, the oh so very bad Internet, the writers of software (many of whom also give away (some) of their work for free!), makers of planes and ships who carry people and goods all over the world exchanging ideas and culture. And maybe above all, the oversupply of music is caused by the fact that so many people have some free time to create music. Some of it is even pretty good. And some of it is incredibly good. So you got more music than the market will bear. That brings down prices.

Of course that’s hard to stomach for the people who got used to certain revenue levels, that are now shrinking. Sorry, but that’s they way things go. And ASCAP isn’t the first to feel that pain. Just a few years ago, software makers have been down that road brought on by pretty much the same technological advances and other societal evolutions. And the good one’s have reinvented the industry. And make oodles of money in good part by writing software. Programming didn’t become an extinct profession. Music composition won’t either.

If ASCAP was smart, it would try to figure out how to align itself with the new reality of musical oversupply and create mechanisms that would make money for composers and publishers in the new reality rather than raising money for battles with falsely perceived enemies.

Why isn’t ASCAP the organization who invents nifty ways of easily licensing music online, self serve and for prices that the market will bear? If a small label like Magnatune can do it, why not ASCAP? Why doesn’t ASCAP offer a huge global online self-serve database service for compositional copyright registration and licensing? Or partner with someone. Or write a specification, so that service providers, labels and others could create something that inter-operates. Something that easily interacts with other royalty streams. There’s a ton of good work waiting to be done by someone with industry insight and a true service commitment to their membership. Automobile Associations (also membership based) have evolved – why not ASCAP?

This is 2010, not 1914. The ASCAP founders did some breakthrough and novel thinking suitable to their times. Music creators could really use some of that forward thinking leadership now. Why wouldn’t ASCAP want to provide that? And raise money for winning ideas embracing the present and the future rather than fighting loosing battles with imaginary enemies?

Good Free Music

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been a participant and even more so an avid fan of ccMixter.org, a community of music makers, who post individual music tracks of their own creation specifically to make them available for other music makers to use in their work, which most of them post to ccMixter.org as “remixes”. These remixes are typically complete songs ranging across a wide variety of genres. All of this made possible by creative commons licensing, and until late last year also sponsored by the Creative Commons organization and since then operated by startup ArtisTech Media.

The website ccMixter.org was mostly created and organized to facilitate this P2P sequential time-shifted collaboration process between music makers more so than catering to music “users”. Still, the music became attractive to podcasters, video makers on YouTube and elsewhere and lovers of independent music everywhere.

Enter the new website dig.ccMixter.org, a new home for friendly creative commons licensed music for DJs, music for podcasts, music for videos (YouTube or otherwise) , and free music for listening. This new website, making it much easier to “dig” into the considerable catalog of ccMixter music makers, is a labor of love created by long time ccMixter community leader and chief software developer fourstones in collaboration with software designer nvzion.

One of the valuable features is the little i button, showing additional information about a particular piece. So one can find for example who was the singer (also often the original song writer) of a particular piece of music, by first clicking on the i button and on the resulting page, clicking on the “Sample History” link, which leads to information about all of the individual snippets of music which were used as sources for the piece in question, including the vocal parts (where applicable). You may want to middle click or otherwise force your browser to open a new tab or window, so the song that’s currently playing doesn’t stop.

One of the interesting aspects of ccMixter music is, that on ccMixter one can “dig” with more accuracy into the artistic composition and history of a piece of music than with many traditional music sources, where the contributions of participating artists are frequently obscured.

Delightful Bach Connections by Freeman-Attwood and Carey

Allow me to confess that I love a wide variety of music. This includes the occasional good dose of classical music. So when my email inbox this morning contained an announcement by John from magnatune.com, with whom I have a subscription, I discovered that one of the albums was a delightful set called “Bach Connections” by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Colm Carey.

I’m not much of a music critic, so my words wouldn’t do the pleasure of this album enough justice.
So courtesy of magnatune’s embedding code, here you can preview this delightful collection of organ and trumpet music from the baroque period.



bachconnections by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Colm Carey

bachconnections by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Colm Carey

White Cube Remix Project at ccMixter

There’s a very intriguing new remix project called The White Cube at ccMixter.org. Please note that remixes have to be licensed with the popular Creative Commons CC-BY license in order to be considered for use during the exhibition. So no remixing Cream or some band from Liverpool’s double album or some song about nights on bed sheets! 🙂

This all is in support of an upcoming exhibition in the RAM Galleri on Oslo which is celebrating it’s 20 year anniversary and wants to explore “How to explode the white Cube”.

Deadline for remix submissions is on the 7th of December 2009, just 3 days before an unrelated small party in that very city of Oslo. Hopefully our friends in the black limousines doubtlessly all over Oslo right around that time will not misunderstand the context and confiscate all the remixes!

The remix project is organized and the two source audio packages are provided by Gurdonark (whom I’ve had the privilege to interview last year and the ever lovely and talented (I always wanted to say that!) SackJo22, whom I’ve had the honor and pleasure to work with on one of her many projects.

Given that the very first LP (yes, it was vinyl!) I ever bought was ELP’s “Pictures of an Exhibition”, this kind of thematic project holds deep intrigue and I may just have to fire up my trusty DAW software and mess around a little. mmmhhh let’s start with a little extra compression here and maybe some reverb there …

ccMixter.org – under new management

Big news from the world of open music: ccMixter.org is has changed hands from the Creative Commons to ArtisTech Media.

Victor Stone, ccMixter’s heart and soul is endorsing this evolution wholeheartedly.

While change is always accompanied by uncertainty, I’m personally quite pumped about this particluar one.

However, let me start out by saying that there aren’t enough words to describe how grateful I feel about the contribution of Victor Stone – one of the understated and under-famed giants of open music. As regular readers of this blog know, ccMixter has been the at the core of my musical life for a bit over 2 years now. This site continues to be one of the most amazing places for music makers to mingle and make noise together. While every member of the community deserves varying amounts of credit for that, there’s one person who deserves a very largely disproportionate share of credit: Victor Stone. He has not only diligently and innovatively continued to work on the technical infrastructure of the site, but above all, he has set and enforced a tone of mutual acceptance, respect and even caring for each other, which reverberates throughout ccMixter and is extremely hard to find in any larger community on today’s web.

So while it remains to be seen how much and which way Victor remains involved (I hope it will be a lot!), this is a good a time as any to say THANK YOU, VICTOR!

Looking forward, I’m am very excited about the new management being led by Emily Richards (at ccMixter she’s known under the handle of Snowflake). She is amongst that very rare of combinations of being a great musician and an accomplished business person. She has shown in words and in deeds her passion for developing radically different business models based less on exclusion and greed and more on openness and sharing. It’s always been really hard for artists to make a living from their art and maybe that’s even more so the case today.

So I wholeheartedly cheer Emily, Alex, Jason, Derek, Kirsten, Dale and the whole current and future team at ArtisTech Media on while they try to figure out artistic and economic models that aren’t evil or stupid. While they figure out how to evolve free and commercial side by side and mutually benefiting from each other. There will be bumps on the road. That’s ok. Good and open minds combined with good and open hearts can overcome a lot of issues and build something special.

May ccMixter’s next 5 years be even greater than the first 5!

Catching The Waves of great free music

The Catching The Waves (or is it “sound the free trumpet”?) blog is an interesting place to go exploring for good free music. As the tagline says “Reviews of (legitimately) free netlabel and/or Creative Commons music. Yes, the music is completely free. Yes, the musicians know. Yes, they welcome donations and purchases. No, you won’t be arrested. Dive in.”

It has some excellent reviews of truly free and independent music and appears to be a genuine labor of love. Well worth a bookmark for friends of new independent music. I love days when I bump into sites like this! And maybe one day it will even feature a section for the creative commons remixing scene. 🙂

DJ Cary’s Chill Podcast Extraordinair

For people who like chill and downtempo music there’s are the most excellent chill/downtempo podcasts of DJ Cary (Cary Norsworthy). She is featuring mostly independent music makers in her podcast treasure trove of sonic goodness assembled from a wide variety of sources. Lovingly assembled in iTunes compatible AAC and generic mp3 formats, she offers a new podcast about once or twice a month.

Also worth bookmarking is Cary’s list of sites for downtempo, chillout, nujazz and trip-hop artists and fans.

Free Music Software and Discounts on Commercial Software

DontCrack.com is another interesting place to look for music making software. It lists quite the collection of free music software along with regular special deals for commercial software.

I’ve also previously mentioned some other good resources for free music making software:

FreeMusicSoftware.org – A blog by Crispin with the tag line: A collection of the best Free Audio and Music floating around in Cyberspace.

GERSIC.COM – the giant free audio plugin database

KVRaudio.com – The premier news site for everything related to audio plugins. Fabulous search engine for plugins and host software, which makes it easy to find only free plugins or also commercial one’s.

RemixComps.com tracks remix contests

I just found out about RemixComps.com, who’s 20 second pitch looks like this: “Are you a musician, DJ, music producer that enjoys taking sound samples and loops of other musician’s pieces of music, loading them into your favorite music production software and remixing them into your own track. Remix Comps lists remix contests found on the internet so that audio DJs and musicians can quickly and easily find a great music track to remix.”

From my brief look at the site, this sure looks like the best effort to track remix competitions I’ve seen. For each contest it lists not only the place to download the stems (parts), but also the prizes, the deadlines, noteworthy rules and notes including IP issues like a contest, where remixes become the property of the contest holder. There’s even a page for listing the winners of the various contests.

If you sign up, you can even rate the contests, and participate in forum discussions. There’s a blog and they’ve just added the capability to run a remix contest through the site.

For the contest junkies in the remixing world, this looks like a great site and I can only congratulate Edward Cufaude, the man behind RemixComps.com and he also releases is own music under a Creative Commons license and finally, he also has an interesting site containing tips for audio production called RhythmCreation.com.

I don’t think, that at this time he has a thriving business model, just a few of the links (not all) appear to maybe get him a little commission. So this looks like a labor of love, and I hope he’ll enjoy doing it for a long time and/or maybe figure out how to make it economically self-sustaining over the longer haul.

The Need for Public Domain

CBC Spark features an excellent episode featuring host Nora Young interviewing James Boyle, law professor at Duke University. As one of the original board members (serving from 2002 to 2009, in the final year as chair), of the Creative Commons he is one of the leading thinkers on copyright reform.

The interview starts around the 7:50 mark right after the excellent winning remix of teru (at about the 6:00 minute mark) of the little contest I mentioned a couple of blog posts ago. Congratulations teru – well deserved recognition for your remixing prowess!

Back to Professor Boyle: His new book “The Public Domain” is not only available commercially, but also for free under a creative commons license. Professor Boyle is not against copyright laws, but is very concerned about the overreach of those laws, and makes an eloquent case, that this is not only robbing society of new art and science, but also a classic case of industries shooting themselves in the foot. With their strategy of locking every intellectual property up for longer and longer time, they are killing their own future revenue potential.

To quote the book’s website: “James Boyle introduces readers to the idea of the public domain and describes how it is being tragically eroded by our current copyright, patent, and trademark laws. In a series of fascinating case studies, Boyle explains why gene sequences, basic business ideas and pairs of musical notes are now owned, why jazz might be illegal if it were invented today, why most of 20th century culture is legally unavailable to us, and why today’s policies would probably have smothered the World Wide Web at its inception. Appropriately given its theme, the book will be sold commercially but also made available online for free under a Creative Commons license.”

Brian Eno and David Byrne collaborate and publish online

It’s good to see, that not all of my musical heroes have turned into grumpy old men since the advent of the Internet. Having listened to The Talking Heads as well as Roxy Music during the final golden days of vinyl, I was delighted to read a recent interview of theirs with the UK’s Guardian headlined ‘The business is an exciting mess‘.

A couple of my favorite quotes: “It was simply made: two men in their home studios, Eno supplying the music and Byrne the lyrics, sending sound files back and forth across the Atlantic by email.” and “When I finish something I want it out that day,” says Eno later, in a phone conversation. “Pop music is like the daily paper. Its got to be there then, not six months later.”

So us online music makers have pretty good company in the way we make music, including this urge to publish quickly after a work is done!

Their Album “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” can be tracked down via David Byrne’s web site. But here’s where it gets really amazing: David Byrne’s website invites the sharing of this album. It is with great pleasure and excitement that I’m taking Mr. Byrne up on that.

And for those who may not know, Mr. Byrne was one of the featured artists on the WIRED CD which led to the birth of ccMixter.org.

MC Jack in the Box features Cool Music from ccMixter

MC Jack in the Box has an excellent blog which he calls CoolMusic – My flavs of the week from ccmixter.org in which he assembles some of his favorite ccMixter remixes on a weekly basis and presents them in the style of a relaxed radio show.

While open music is becoming increasingly plentiful, good curation (weeding out the signal from the noise) is relatively rare, so having MC Jack in the Box (a great remixer in his own right) do this with so much loving care is a real treat.

CBC radio call for remixes of Kutiman interview with Nora Young

Talk about timing. Just a couple of days ago, I wrote about this amazing video remix by Kutiman and now CBC Radio’s Spark is calling for 1 minute long remixes of an Nora Young interviewing Kutiman. The deadline is April 6th, 2009 and the 2 source files can be found here.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your DAWs!

(p.s. there’s supposed to be a little prize for the winning entry)

End The Loudness Wars


Much of popular music these days is overly compressed, by the motto, whoever screams the loudest gets heard. Music isn’t supposed to be a shouting match — maybe it’s time to re-address this issue. I found this at KVRaudio:

“In January 2009, The Pleasurize Music Foundation launched a wide-ranging initiative for ending the “Loudness War” being waged by successive music releases. This initiative aims to introduce a dynamic standard through several phases. The free TT Dynamic Range Meter plug-in (and stand-alone app.) makes it possible to provide releases with a whole-number dynamic value to be printed on the recording medium as a logo, giving consumers an immediate means of knowing the dynamic quality of a recording. It is currently available as a VST effect plug-in for Windows with Mac OS X, RTAS and AU versions expected to be released later this year.”

With the advent of so much amazing DAW software, overcompression is now also in the hands of independent music makers everywhere. So this issue is not only about the big bad record labels anymore, but about many music makers who are using mastering plugins.

I think I’ll try this plugin on a few of my own remixes.

Work hard without being too hard on yourself

Wired Magazine’s blog has an entry about a delightful message, delivered by author Elizabeth Gilbert, famous for her bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. Ms. Gilbert suggested Thursday that we kill geniuses by demanding super-human powers from them. While her speech was centered around artists who have produced extraordinary works of art, I would suggest that maybe everyone who’s work is creative, can take something from the point she is making.

Loosely summarized, Ms. Gilbert suggests that emotionally returning to the ancient concept of “the muse” sometimes visiting and sometimes not, can be a good technique to channel one’s sense of frustration and failure in the creative process.

I imagine that most of us who are trying to do something creative on a reasonably regular basis, whether it be in the arts, in science, or in technology have our own little tool-chest of techniques and tricks to massage our minds and emotions into a state of making creativity easier and to ward off bouts with creativity-killing frustrations. So stop reading this blog entry already, and head over to this short, yet uplifting article! 🙂

RIAA moneygrab helpful for Creative Commons Music ?

According to this interesting article at ars technica, the RIAA seems to be going after what some would consider to be their best marketing arm. From the article:

The “Performance Rights Act” has been introduced in both the House and Senate with the goal of forcing US radio stations to start paying artists whose music is played on the air. Labels are pushing hard for the idea, but radio stations could hardly be more upset.

I sincerely hope that the fee for playing RIAA music will be very high, and the paperwork exceedingly onerous. Because that just might make radio stations take a longer and harder look at alternative suppliers for recorded music. Front and center for non profit radio might very well be Creative Commons (CC) licensed music, even more so than it already is. And for profit radio stations with low profit margins might start taking a hard look at such music next.

If this takes place, low cost and easy to administer music licensing hubs might become even more attractive than they already are for many other commercial users of music. And the CC Attribution license might become more attractive for artists to get their music onto commercial over-the-air radio.

While I have deep admiration for Prof. Lessig and his justified drive for meaningful copyright reform, I also often wonder, what would happen if we all just let the dinosaurs legislate themselves into oblivion.

Maybe a hint of things to come: CBC, the Canadian public broadcaster is frequently (increasingly?) using CC licensed music in their programs (and announce that fact clearly) not only in their web offerings and the progressive CBC 3 channel, but also on their primary CBC 1 radio channel, which has excellent reach across the country (and beyond).

ccMixter : A Memoir

For anyone with an interest in ccMixter, here comes a fascinating look at the first four years as experienced by the person in the middle of it all, Victor Stone a.k.a. fourstones.

A great read “ccMixter: A Memoir” are the reflections of an individual, who’s choice of subtitle “How I Learned to Stop Worrying about the RIAA and Love the Unexpected Collaborations of Distributed Creativity During the First Four Years of Running ccMixter” hints at the sense of humor, passion and intellect that drives the man who drives ccMixter.

To find out a little more about Victor’s story there’s also the interview he graciously granted me last May.

And then there’s a few video’s floating about of an interview with Victor in the context of the Digital Tipping Point project. Here’s the first one:

A Musical Interactive Stageshow

Regular ccMixter participant and remixing surfer from down-under Scomber has taken the idea of a playlist into new heights. He is using the ccMixter playlist feature to essentially create a musical (script). The whole thing is obviously tongue-in-cheek and from what I’ve read so far may eventually only be allowed on cable television or as an adults-only off-Broadway play, but it is a really great idea and he is inviting participation to help create a musical which he terms a Musical Interactive Stageshow. At the point of this writing, the first 5 scenes are done.

Who knows how far this will go – but that’s not even the point. It’s a great concept!

(UPDATED: new links 2009-01-26)

Should Emerging Artists Abandon Non-Commercial in their CC licenses?

Disclaimer: Any business decision is a kind of a gamble taken by the individual or company and can succeed or fail. As such, no-one can and should make the decisions about your future. All I’m trying to do here is to encourage ways of thinking about an issue. In the end, it’s your call … your gamble.

Does it make sense for emerging artists to license their materials via the Creative Commons Attribution License rather than the intuitively more obvious Creative Commons Non-Commercial?

Even people in searches of day jobs are increasingly doing unpaid internships in order to get additional experience and prove what they can do in a realistic environment. It makes it easier for employers to eventually give them a paying job.

Arguably an emerging artist is in a similar position. So by giving away their work with just their name attached to it, they make it more attractive for others to use in their work.

So let’s say someone now uses that work in an advertisement without paying the music maker. There are two ways of looking at this scenario for an emerging artist:

a) I “lost” the revenue I “should” have made, or
b) I have an additional item in my resume, in my quest for eventually getting paid for making music.

But does point a) even really apply, if the song was only used, because it was free?

In a routine scenario, like a theoretically lost couple of hundred dollars, euros, or whatever – this is not a life changing thing you’ll be kicking yourself forever for. But how would you feel, if your free song became an international sensation, maybe performed by an established star, or used in a Coke or McDonalds commercial around the world?

As unlikely as that is, you should think this case through, and consider, if that would be a positive or a negative scenario for you. Would you have ever gotten that gig, if your song wasn’t free? Established artists may very well and very legitimately say “yes” to that answer, but this article isn’t for them 🙂

With a worldwide hit to your credit, do you think you could maybe now get paying gigs to write jingles in your local market, get a gig in a trade-show, or maybe sell some t-shirts or ringtones, or a song for Guitar Hero 17 or The Sims “Retirement Home 2” expansion pack? All this because of your now obvious credibility as a hit maker?

Maybe even that wouldn’t be so terrible after all?

Imagine yourself at 85, in your fusion-powered rocking chair, with your in-ear iMusicTalkNoiseThingy and looking across your video integrated tri-focals showing beach while you’re actually sitting in room 23 of the Shady Pines retirement home in Winnipeg, Canada — in January.

And someone interrupts your daydream about the good old days asking about your life. Would you rather say: “I recorded 5 jingles for a couple of hundred bucks each. And my CD made 500 bucks on amazon.com” Or would you rather say: “In 2010, Coke used my song for their commercial during the Olympics. And then I was on Letterman. Right after the guy with the animals…”.

Again: this may not apply for established artists in a given field of music creation, but it may potentially apply for those wanting to be considered in a new field. And if releasing with an Attribution license, what if they don’t attribute you properly? Would the courts give you damages for that? How much does it matter? Or maybe one needs to think about how to ensure that you can prove that it’s your song. Because whatever happens, you’ll want to be able to take credit for the credit that’s due to you. Quite possibly publishing your work on the Internet where you give yourself proper credit is actually a good mechanism for making your claim.

And to preempt an obvious question: But doesn’t giving things away for free make it harder for those currently making a living in that field? Answer: Yes it does, and so does your very effort to enter that field.

Once you have achieved a certain amount of notoriety and credibility, it might make more sense to switch to non-commercial licensing, just like you might not be interning once you’ve had a paying job or two under your belt.

Feel free to argue for or against in the comments section for this article.

Good News: Youtube Mutes Videos with Unauthorized Copyrighted Music

This might just turn out to be a pretty big turning point: It looks like youtube is starting to mute the audio of video clips with unauthorized copyrighted music. This article discusses some of the obvious implications.

But, much more importantly, if (and only if) this ends up being the case for a majority of the mainstream commercial songs being “featured” in user-generated youtube videos, this could just turn out to trigger the biggest boost to creative commons music adoption in the mainstream we’ve seen yet. Assuming uploaders want music with their videos and that they’ll not want to go through the trouble of licensing it from the likes of companies who sue their customers and/or organizations who once tried to make the girl scouts pay for music by the camp fire.

So for example, what if youtube (Google owns youtube) adds a feature to make it easy to search for and find creative commons music for people looking for an appropriate song or sound track for their user-generated content and better yet: even automatically inserting it? If they don’t, somebody will.

Music making Ladies and Gentlemen: Start your DAWs! And start thinking about the titles and tags for your music to make your music easy to find for the right video context.

And how about writing and recording a catchy creative commons licensed replacement for this Warner-Chappell owned song?

Copyright Refrom

Maybe now is a good time as any to clarify, that I’m not an opponent of copyright in principle. I’m not necessarily an opponent of trademarks and patents either. But in my opinion laws and precedent setting court cases have gone overboard in quite a few cases.

Intellectual property laws – like any other laws – should balance the benefits of society overall with the rights of individuals. When that balance is disturbed too much, bad things are prone to happen in a country.

For example, if intellectual property laws are so tight, that only a few companies can create new products and services, because everyone else gets sued for for building a new idea on a protected old idea, then new products and services will be created less and less, since many really great new ideas come from new companies, not established ones.

Similarly, great art has been built on the shoulders of previous generations of art. For example, how many Disney classics have been built on the shoulders of the Grimm brothers and others?

A second thought, is, that if a good part, or even a majority of a population routinely breaks the law in a significantly punishable way, a society arguably becomes something like a police state. Since obviously not everyone can be thrown in prison, only those people get prosecuted for their law breaking who don’t have enough “friends in high places”. Ask anyone who has actually lived in a seriously oppressed country, how brutal that is. Even if you don’t go to prison, but live in constant fear to have a good chunk of your possessions taken away, because you have to pay large fines, it creates a similar environment.

So the irony is, that the so called democracies seem to be working their way down a rather slippery slope towards something rather backwards and dark. And that concerns me.

While I have never participated in the file sharing world of movies and music (maybe because by the time that started being possible, I could afford to buy the stuff – in my days we taped things off the radio!), I don’t think a situation where a significant majority of a generation is essentially criminal is a good thing for society. And older generations telling younger one’s just to stop doing something doesn’t really seem to work all that well.

My very simple argument is, that since commercial, artistic, technological and knowledge cycles seem to be happening in shorter time frames in our current world, copyrights and patents should probably expire sooner, rather than being lengthened. (Trademarks are a bit of a different thing, and I’ve not observed quite as much across the board nonsense in court cases, although some corporations have tried to trademark letters of the alphabet, numbers, colors and shapes – and occasionally some court has sided with them, only to be overturned later like in the case of guitar maker Gibson going after PRS.)

So rather than shortening the cycles of copyrights, there seems to be a copyright extension law passed in the US, every time Mickey Mouse is just about to become public domain. And then the hoards of industry lobbyists and US ambassadors are let loose on the rest of the world to make the applicable laws in other countries resemble US law, like we experienced in Canada just in 2008. I was depressed that our minister in charge of such issues seemed to favor closed door meetings with such lobbyists over public forums.

So I support a re-thinking of what appropriate intellectual property protection should be in a modern society. What should be “protected” and for how long needs some really good thinking by some really smart and not too selfish people. Whatever the right answer may be, this topic should NOT be discussed in private lunches and closed door meetings, but in public forums.

While maybe not quite up there with drafting a constitution, it is an important enough topic, that lawmakers and ministers and secretaries of whatever should really treat this topic as the foundation for commerce and art in our modern post-industrial societies. And I would argue, that it’s therefore not far behind a constitution in importance.

I’m not an intellectual property specialist, but I’m working and playing in areas deeply affected by such laws, so I do care.

I’ll leave it at that, since there are many more qualified sources on the web for reading up on these issues than my blog. Search terms like “copyright reform” are a good starting point.

In the mean-time many of us have decided to work and play in what we hope is a preview of a more wide-spread environment. We don’t use the stuff that others don’t want us to use, but we’re creating our own pools of music, images, movies, writing, software and more that we share with each other in various ways to varying degrees.

It’s ok, Disney and Sir Paul – keep you mouse and your Let it Be forever. We may just forget them, because you are the only one’s controlling who builds upon them. But we still remember Snowwhite and the Toccata and Fugue in Dm, arguably because others could build upon them. Remixing is okay! 🙂

Copyright Violation by Şanli Collection

A couple of days ago one of my favorite remixers, Loveshadow mentioned, that his remix (jointly copyrighted by him and CalendarGirl), which had been previously properly licensed by fashion house Kalchmann, had been subjected to what appears to me to be a classic cloning rip-off by a company called “Şanli Collection”.

According to Loveshadow, they aren’t answering email inquiries.

I’m not sure what exactly this says about that “Şanli Collection”. Are they evil? Or just stupid? Or incredibly lazy? There’s lots and lots of music available which would be perfectly ok to use in a commercial context for the price of giving credit to the creator(s) of that music.

Do NOT Remix this Interview (wink, wink)

Professor Lawrence Lessig is the founder of the Creative Commons, which has created the possibility of a creative sharing environment amongst music makers and other creators of art, content, or whatever you want to call people who write, paint, draw, play music, sing, compose etc. (note: I publish my writings, music, images under creative commons licenses.)

And since the Creative Commons is the creator and sponsor of my favorite remixing community ccMixter, it was with great excitement, that I watched Prof. Lessig appear on the Colbert Report, one of the popular and valuable voices of reason (all packaged into blazing satire) in an often depressing mainstream media scape.

The segment was about Prof. Lessig’s book called REMIX, a quintessential work in making the case for copyright reform. Actually, the absence of such reforms is one of the great indictments of the current generation of politicians in the western style democracies. It’s downright depressing how special interest group money rules.

While Prof. Lessig has a great sense of humor, he’s not necessarily to be confused with being a professional comedian. (Sorry Professor!) So he plays it rather straight in making the case for Copyright Reform to the fake belligerent Colbert persona, which is a parody of Bill O’Reilly’s tv program:

UPDATE (2009-01-14): As if to make Prof. Lessig’s point for him, Viacom has forced youtube to pull this video off their site from Prof. Lessig’s account. How magically insane! Fortunately I have met some incredibly smart and insightful lawyers, and obviously Prof. Lessig is one. None of them works for Viacom.

UPDATE (2009-01-19): But it’s still there in other youtube acounts. Thanks to MC Jack in the Box for finding it.

The interview closes with an “argument” between Lessig and Colbert. Lessig says “remix this interview” and Colbert says “do NOT remix this interview”.

So the fun has begun. ccMixter features the audio source of the Stephen Colbert interview with Lawrence Lessig. For those more famliar with indiba music, there’s also a session in progress there.

In the past Colbert has featured little snippets of his favorite remixes in a future episode. Assuming that he’ll do that in this case, it will be a nice feather in the cap for a few remixers.

UPDATE: Good eMXR friend essesq, in the comments pointed out a more in-depth interview of Prof. Lessig on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross.

Music is Wallpaper

The always articulate and insightful fourstones has an interesting blog entry to kick off 2009, entitled: Music Doesn’t Matter, where he describes some of the fundamental generational shift from the boomer generation to generation Y in their relationship to music and musicians. It’s a good read and I fundamentally agree with what he’s saying and maybe put my little “spin” on it.

Music is more omnipresent today. Maybe the Walkman, and later the iPod are to blame. Or maybe that the boomers fundamentally got their way and their revolution became the new standard. Maybe it’s that Rock’n Roll died after all. But the “why” probably doesn’t matter that much. What matters is – as fourstones points out – music is something totally different to the post 80s set than it was to the boomers.

Maybe these days music is just wall paper. Sure, you have some interest in whether it’s dark or light – or if it’s floral or striped or plain. But it’s not like a painting or a piece of sculpture. Music has become background which underlines, supports and contrasts other stuff. I find amongst Gen Y even if they are quite avid and excellent music makers themselves, favorite bands are changed much more frequently, while for the boomer generation a favorite musician or band ended up becoming enshrined in sort of a personal “hall of fame” with often a life long emotional attachment.

Also, I don’t find music is really significant as cornerstone of a generational rebellion anymore. It still may provide some sort of a soundtrack (video games, advertising, movies, videos), but it’s not even close to the core. Arguably things like bodily modifications from piercings to tattoo’s represent more of a kind of rebellion. Or the fact that today’s younger set seems to be multi-tasking all the time. Having a conversation while listening to an mp3 player and texting all at the same time. Boomers think they aren’t paying attention, but they are – to several things simultaneously.

If indeed music has become wallpaper, it has significant implications in many dimensions: there are business model implications, but also artistic one’s. It’s different to design a good background compared to designing a good piece of art.

It’s kind of strange coming to this conclusion, because as a music maker myself, I still think of my music as paintings rather than wallpaper. And I think there’s someone that needs chasing off my lawn. Oh – it’s just a Raccoon. I call him “Rocky”…

The piano roll is dead — Long live the piano roll!

The Buffalo News features a story about the end of the piano roll. Before mp3, before CDs, before MIDI, before vinyl records, even before radio. Player pianos and other automated music machines arguably represented the first “recorded music”. While there may still be some manufacturers in other places around the world, it would seem intuitively obvious that the days of the piano roll are numbered.

However, unlike the headline of the article misleads, the music is alive and well. Partly thanks to the International Association of Mechanical Music Preservationists, who are making devices to allow the transfer of piano rolls into more modern technologies like midi files.

And the piano roll metaphor lives on in numerous music software applications as a way of visually representing midi data. Even Apple’s “Garageband” found as an included music production software in Mac computers displays midi data in a piano roll style.

All I can say is, “The piano roll is dead — Long live the piano roll!”

… mmmhhh, I wonder if one could remix one of these

BeatPick.com – music label and licensing hub

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m very fond of Magnatune as a model of a music label, which attempts to treat both artists and music consumers with courtesy and fairness. There’s another label with a similar premise: BeatPick. The “information” section on their site explains what they are trying to achieve.

While there are some similarities including use of Creative Commons licenses, the ability to sell DRM free music to consumers as well as making commercial licensing rather easy, there are also quite a few differences between the two, from their historic origins to how they are marketed.

Suffice to say, that I believe that it’s good for everyone to have a larger ecosystem of companies and consumers who provide positive alternatives to the traditional music industry.

Games and Music

Obviously music intersects with many things including movies and videos. And while some sort of music has been been part of games ever since the little melodies between Pacman levels, music has become an evermore important part of computer and console gaming. Guitar Hero, Rockband and such are games, which are teaching some musical skills, introducing new musical instruments (controllers) and notation methods.

And ever increasingly, original music is becoming an integral part of the sensory immersion provided by the ever more sophisticated crop of games in the market today. The computer and console games industry is becoming a place where music makers can make some money or even a career.

And in an innovative reversal, a band called Nightmares on Wax is promoting their new album with a free online game, which plays some of the songs from their upcoming album while you play the game. (Thanks to teru at ccMixterblog for the find).

CBC Hockey Anthem Contest Disappoints

While this post may be most interesting to fellow Canadians, it contains some of my sentiments about what I find an unattractive contest and/or deal.

I will not be participating in the CBC contest to find the next theme song for it’s hugely popular “Hockey Night In Canada” television program. (In North America we just call it “Hockey”, while in many other countries it’s called “Ice Hockey”.) The CBC is the major publicly funded radio and TV broadcaster in Canada. This program is probably the most venerable and popular program in Canada and the rights to it’s previous theme song were lost to a competitor over the summer. That previous song is so well known in Canada, that one might almost think of it as Canada’s second (unofficial) national anthem.

So CBC is holding a contest to find a new “Hockey Anthem”. This is a great idea in principle and like many Canadian music makers, I was flirting with the idea of participating. But then I read the contest rules as I tend to do before I consider participating in any musical contest.

The deal for the winning entry seems reasonably straightforward: There seems to be 100k Canadian Dollars for the winner plus whatever standard royalties for forthcoming radio and TV play of the song with the important caveat that CBC essentially becomes the publisher who gets ALL rights to the song, although they make a lot of fanfare about giving their “publisher’s” royalties to amateur hockey causes. And the royalty split is 50/50 between CBC (as the publisher) and the writer(s) of the song. So, it gets close to being a “work for hire”, but there’s nothing wrong with that and for spending x hours of creating such a song the economic reward would be arguably worthwhile for many creators.

For professional creators, there’s always a problem for working hard for just a chance to get the gig, but that is the case pretty much for any business. You have to create, advertise and try to sell without any guarantees that your product will be accepted by the market place.

The nasty part is, that the CBC demands a high degree of exclusivity for “semi-finalist” contest entries without any guaranteed compensation. So if you’re a semi-finalist you end up losing considerable rights to your own song for 3 years without any guaranteed compensation. There are some vague references to potential prizes for semi-finalists, but nothing seems very firm. They reserve the right to make commercial CDs and downloads from semi-finalist entries within the first 3 years and reserve the right to determine unilaterally how much to pay the semi-finalists for that. That could end up being close to nothing.

I have no problem with allowing others to use my work, sometimes I give even commercial rights for free. For example, the other day a remixer emailed me and my musical collaborator and I decided to license a small run commercial release for free. But in that deal I don’t lose any of my own rights to the song I co-created.

However the CBC prevents even semi-finalists from publishing their own songs for 3 years. Without any compensation! So while some parts of the CBC are very enlightened, this particular effort of interacting with artists seems rather artist hostile to me.

I’m very curious, if any well known Canadian composers will bother to participate under those terms, or if in the end some of them will get a special, more reasonable deal, which the public never finds out about.

There’s a chance that the contest may end up working out economically or otherwise lucrative, for semi-finalists, if the CBC unilaterally decides to make it so.

But I don’t like entering a deal where I’m hostage to a large corporation being magnanimous. If I write a song, I most certainly don’t want to give away my own rights to that song for free.

And that’s why I won’t be participating in that contest.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and I don’t even play one on TV. So this post is not intended to be legal advice.

Open Music Archive

The UK based Open Music Archive … is a collaborative project, initiated by artists Eileen Simpson & Ben White, to source, digitise and distribute out-of-copyright sound recordings. The archive is open for anyone to use and contribute to.

I’ve long been fascinated by old recordings for a couple of reasons: The pure fascination with history and the fact that old recordings can often be safely used in remixes as the Open Music Archives’s about page describes:

“Under copyright law, a music recording has two automatically assigned property rights: A musical composition has a property right and a recording has a separate and independent property right. These property rights are limited by term. In the UK, the term of copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work is limited to the life of the author plus 70 years, while the term of copyright in a sound recording is limited to 50 years from the date of recording. The archive attempts to gather recordings and information about recordings whose proprietary interests have expired and make them accessible to a wider public.

Artists Ben White & Eileen Simpson have initiated this project following a series of projects which involved researching and gathering music which has fallen out of copyright. Much of this music, although legally in the public domain, is tied to physical media (for example gramophone records) and locked away in archives or private collections which are not widely accessible. The Open Music Archive aims to digitise as much of this music as possible in order to free it from the constraints of a physical collection.”

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.

Choral Public Domain Library

Begun in December 1998, the Choral Public Domain Library is one of the world’s largest free sheet music sites. You can use CPDL to find scores, texts, translations, and information about composers.

While the site concentrates on sheet music, quite a number of works also have corresponding MIDI files on their pages. And that can be a gold mine for remixers with midi capable software. The site contains classics from giants of choral music including Bach, Handel and Mozart, but also works by contemporary composers like Leanne Daharja Veitch, who reminded me of this most excellent musical resource and writes “I’m encouraging all small-time composers (like me) to make our work creative commons, and accessible to all.”

Interview with Gurdonark

image courtesy of M. Nunnally, licensed CC-BY

He has a degree in physics, co-owns a commercial law practice, takes photographs, plays internet chess, writes poetry, publishes a blog, co-owns a net label, records and remixes ambient music. And that’s just a partial list for Robert Nunnally, who hails from just a bit north of Dallas, Texas and is known to the ccMixter community as gurdonark. He recently joined me for a few questions and answers in the context of an artist’s spotlight at ccMixter.

The interview ended up a bit longer than appropriate for ccMixter. However I thought it would be worthwhile to publish the entire interview here. I’ll put a link to jump across the sections covered in the ccMixter interview, so those who have already read the part published there can jump across that section.

So here’s the interview in 3 parts:

part 1: gurdonark about his music
part 2: gurdonark about videos and net labels
(this section also featured at ccMixter)
part 3: gurdonark up close and about open music and sharing

Part1:

spin: Thanks so much for spending some time with us, Bob. On your ccMixter home page, you describe yourself as “non-musician ambient music creator”. Depending on your dictionary of choice, this might seem to be a contradiction in terms?

Robert: The practice, as an ambient artist, of referring to myself as a “non-musician” involves a bit of affectation, as ambient pioneer Brian Eno described himself as a non-musician. Among noise artists, there is also a vein of “this is not music” spirit that people adopt, to allow sonic experimentation not to be restricted to “musical” ideas. I’m aware of those ideas when I use the term “non-musician”. I aim a bit differently with my use of the term.

My use of the term recognizes that I am only somewhat semi-skilled at a few analog instruments. It’s important to me that we develop a culture in which “making music” is no longer something on a “pedestal”, in which only the chosen can participate. I make music. I am a non-musician. You can make music, too.

spin: Thus you’re reminding us, that music at heart is a participation sport, rather than only a spectator sport. — So how did you first get involved in making music?

Robert: I took piano lessons, with very limited success, when I was young. I took up the autoharp in law school, and the mountain dulcimer in recent years. In 2002, a guitarist and ukulele player friend of mine, Scott_M, and I began to discuss my idea of an album based upon one of my favorite child’s toys, the electric football field.

We recorded a quick album of electric football field music on Scott’s little TASCAM 4-track. We found, to our amusement, that the resulting CD, “Vibrating Electric Fields”, could be sold on eBay, where electric football field enthusiasts bid to own it. It was the ideal kind of amusing DIY experience — absurd, self-generated, and a good anecdote. We got airplay on the Odd Music Show, and that sort of amusing thing.

spin: Now that’s pretty far out even for you! — You’ve been a part of the ccMixter community from relatively early days. How did you first bump into the mixter?

Robert: I credit chess, ccMixter and a song called “Girl and Supergirl” for getting me more involved in music. I remain an extremely interested but rather mediocre (in relation to “real players’) “B” chess player. I met my friend Lisa DeBenedictis through my weblog, and soon, we were playing blitz chess at freechess.org. Lisa encouraged me to come to this website called ccMixter.org. I caught onto the idea of collaborative exchange with enthusiasm. I had been into mail art, so I was all about sharing of art already. It was right up my alley.

My friend Lisa was the “star” of a contest sponsored by her record label at ccMixter. She had posted two a cappella tracks of her singing songs for the contest. I wanted to “play” in support of my friend, but I had zero mixing skills and zero software skills at this type of thing. I went on a quest. I wanted to find inexpensive ways to make music and remix. I found a website, www.ixi-software.net, where they invented all these cool freeware devices for making music very non-traditionally. I also picked up a software music studio program from Magix for 5 dollars. I did two remixes for Lisa’s contest (not counting a third one so awful that I pulled it), both of which were very odd and unpolished. One featured Claire Fitch‘s wonderful work at magnatune, though I hardly did her or Lisa credit. I enjoyed doing those mixes, though, and people were kind to me about my style. The bug bit me, and I began to work on making a more digital form of music than my prior analog.

spin: So chess lead to a site starting with cc, which in turn led you to a lady named Claire playing the cello. I think I get it! 🙂 — What did ccMixter mean to you during those early days?

Robert: ccMixter has been a great site for me. It offered me constructive criticism, and great examples from gifted remixers. I’ve never seen myself as a remixer, per se (though I am guilty of a remix or two), so much as a person who uses samples to create new songs. When I began at the mixter, a potent combination of lack of skills and a very experimental turn of mind led to very unorthodox mixes. I was so impressed with how accepting people were — even those who were not into the mixes at all. I had offers of collaboration from early in, and people have always been very kind to remix my music. I made a lot of rookie mistakes — I once took down a lot of mixes when I was embarrassed by a mix I posted where I could not hear how out of whack the sound levels were, and I nearly blasted folks away. Yet over time, I learned, but more importantly I learned how to grow in the directions I wanted to grow, rather than becoming some archetypal traditional remixer.

spin: I think quite a few of us have quietly pulled or re-posted a remix after listing to it a day later! — What does ccMixter mean for you now?

Robert: ccMixter is still of critical importance to me. I am at a place now in which I would be able to get my music “out there” even if there were no Mixter. Yet I love the sense of community I find here. My music has expanded a fair bit over time, although one could roughly divide into one genre of “ambient” and another genre of “tinkertoy fun”, with perhaps a third genre of minimalist techno. I sometimes will do a “traditional mix” of ambient elements by others, which has been the source of my infrequent editors’ picks. Yet I’m normally more interested in sharing ideas in sound than in traditional mixing. I like the extended interchange, as when Zikweb or Hepepe or Anchor Mejans and I get into extensive exchanges. I also love that we have the sample library links. The Freesound Project is a very important resource.

spin: And for those of us, who have joined more recently: From your perspective, how has ccMixter changed from the early days?

Robert: I am very impressed that not only has the ccMixter “game” been elevated, in terms of amazing mixters like Loveshadow, but also that the breadth of styles and the acceptance of the outre’ is much more noticeable on the board. This is healthy, I think — in an earlier time, it was critical that the board “prove” it “got game” with strong traditional mixes. We’re past all that now — we’re seeking out new places and sounds, while still revering the old ones.

spin: You mostly work on a computer with music software. What would you describe as current favorites in your arsenal?

Robert: I prefer to use shareware and freeware. Because I am so fond of the music of Marco Raaphorst, a Reason-master, I did buy Reason 3.0, but a year or two later, I finally gave it, unopened, to a pianist friend to use. My current favorites are Sawcutter 2.0, a simple stand-alone synthesizer and sampler from cuttermusic.com, Slicer 1.0, a sample slicer from www.ixi-software.net with an intuitive “points on a graph” graphic user interface, Anvil Studio, a simple sequencer with VST support, Coagula Light, the “industrial strength color note organ” which makes music from images, and Ian Shatwell’s “Wave Goodbye“. My kind of music involves a lot of morphing sound, so that converters and slicers and things to help me drone work well. I used to use the Musedit music notation program a great deal as well.

Sawcutter is about twenty five dollars, and an upgrade for VST for Anvil is not much more than that, so that the entire listed rig-out is much less than one hundred dollars to own. I am endlessly grateful to the free software creators, who fuel my creativity.

My softstudio is Magix Audio 10. Magix offers a lot of bells and whistles in a “value” studio, although I must admit that I have not learned how to ring every bell or work every whistle. I’ve begun to learn Bram Bos’ Tunafish, a value sequencer, but I am still in the initial stages with that one.

spin: It’s quite amazing how much creatively useful software is published for free or very inexpensively these days. — How would you describe your creative process? When you start working on a new piece, what kind of things provide the initial inspiration?

Robert: I am often inspired by an idea or a mental picture. Frequently, I’ll work up a melody on Sawcutter and suddenly “see” a theme for the whole piece. The melody will “fit with” something I’ve been thinking, and I’m off to the races. People say I am “visual” when I write or make music, and I think the term is apt. I am certainly not “visual” when I draw, so perhaps it’s one of those blessed compensations. My works are not strictly speaking just songs. I see the text and even sometimes a picture as part of the mix.

spin: Your work doesn’t concentrate on some traditional musical cornerstones like, for example, chord progressions. Even melodies seem to play a different role in your work than in more traditional song based structures. What would you describe as the artistic cornerstones of a gurdonark production? How do you decide what fits and what doesn’t?

Robert: I own a lifetime scholarship to the school of thought of experiencing sound “as sound” and sound “as image”. I am rarely interested in evoking the conventional notions in the listener as in the pop music tradition, although I love pop and rock music. I want my work to be evocative — perhaps to create an imagined visual image, perhaps as a foundation for someone else’s visual image, or perhaps as music that tries to fit a different way of seeing and hearing than the somewhat linear narratives of traditional song structure.

Whether I am a creator or a listener, a melody “fits” for me when it conveys a bit of an emotion or an idea — not with a direct “this is this and this is that” of a wonderful Motown song, but with the sense of ambiance or whimsy that fits my notions. I love the way I can listen to Jamendo artist Henri Petterson, for example, and be transported to a downtempo yet cheerful sophisticated Europe of my dreams, or the way that the netlabel artist Cagey House can envelope the listener with a quirky, upbeat bit of instrumental fun — a kind of new Americana world of familiar sounds, all strange and wonderful. I love the way that great jazz bands often come from Scandinavia or Japan, because people take these wonderful ideas and re-interpret them from an outsider place, to the delight of all.

spin: Do you ever record your own sounds?

Robert: I use self-generated samples constantly. Sawcutter 2.0 permits one to sample little 7 second wave files. Many of my ccMixter songs are created by running nose flutes, kazoos, the human voice, and other home-made sounds through the Sawcutter synthesizer. I love to add a child’s water flute or a pennywhistle sound to my collection. I also have an extensive set of odd little percussion instruments, which appear in my work. I am apt to use home-made or odd instruments from time to time.

NOTE: The following part was featured in the Artist’s spotlight at ccMixter. If you have already read that, you can jump directly to part 3
Part2:
spin: Your work lends itself very well to be featured in sound tracks for video or film and this has indeed occurred. Which ones of those are the most memorable for you so far?

Robert: Viral video has been very good for my music. My music is natural background work, and both my mixter and my NSI work frequently is used as soundtracks these days.I am working with a friend on a soundtrack on a traditional “film festival” animated film, which is to be done any day now. I have made many friends through ccMixter, and ccMixter is directly responsible for me becoming a bit of an advocate for CC/open source issues.

Many dozens of fine videos and films have used my material, which makes me very happy. I feel almost disloyal to choose any favorites. I’m very fond of the “voodles” of Copenhagen film-maker Sam Rensiew. His “video doodles” eschew traditional narrative structure and focus the viewer on looking at what is there. My song “Moodle” is a tribute to his work, which has a “pataphysical” absurdist quality. He’s used my work in dozens of his videos, and I’m particularly delighted that he liberally mashes and morphs my songs to fit his needs. This is what sharing culture is all about. Here is a video to “Moodle”, accompanying a video of furniture — truly a furniture music.

Film-maker and professor Jennifer Proctor does wonderful small films and has taken my mixter work for her soundtrack sometimes, which thrills me. Here is her delicate use of perhaps my favorite mixter song, “Longing for Home”, in a film called “Lonely Balloon“.

Norwegian film-makers Lomeg_rom make interesting voodles on the theme of contiguity. Here is a recent use of one of my pieces, “Innocence”.

I love practical uses of my work as well as the more abstract. Here a cat, Patches Jeter, gives a wonderful lesson in how to make flipbook animation.

I love all the uses of my work, though, almost without exception. I also enjoy one-to-one-to-share-with-all collaborations such as writing 30 seconds of music for a video-maker in Spain’s, nutxlago’s, lovely youtube bird videos. This sharing of music can be really fun.

spin: In addition to creating music yourself, you have also co-founded a net-label, the “Negative Sound Institute” (NSI) . Many of our readers may not be aware of the thriving net label scene. A net label is rather dramatically different from a traditional record label isn’t it? NSI and many others aren’t in it to make money, so what’s the purpose of a net label such as NSI?

Robert: Netlabels seek to create a new culture of shared music as a clear alternative to the traditional commercial record labels. Almost all netlabels release under Creative Commons licenses, though a few use variants of the Free Art License or other schemes. Some netlabels have a commercial wing. Many of the early netlabels began life as indie commercial labels, whose owners came to realize the greater impact they could have by releasing for free download.

Netlabels are too varied and numerous for one simple description to encompass them all. Many of them work on principles similar to those adopted by the earlier mail art and tape exchange movements. These earlier movements had the common ground that institutional hegemony (whether by art galleries or record companies) created a culture in which artistic expression was challenged by the understandable desire of capital-providing people to commercially succeed. Netlabel owners came to understand that once the whole “make me a star and make me rich” element is removed from the equation, incredible shared experiences between artists, label and listener can result. Although in netlabel culture, only a few adopt mantras similar to the old “mail art and money don’t mix”, similar ideas apply for some folks.

We’ve seen a number of hybrid models arise which are not themselves netlabels, but which are instructed by the principles of netlabels and Creative Commons. Magnatune.com, a label I admire intensely (and buy from regularly) is a great example of such a hybrid model. It’s literally a dream-label for its artists. It’s not a “netlabel” in the sense I mean, but it’s learned from the shared culture ideas and helped explore how they can make a business model work in a shared-music way. CASH Music is doing some impressive things with Creative Commons releases, such as the great Deerhoof decision to release the sheet music ahead of the album. This created a world of remix chances, and Lucas Gonze even converted it to MIDI for easy CC remixing.

When I speak of “netlabel culture”, though, I speak of labels which limit or eschew commercial releases, and which participate directly in this sharing of music. At any given time, my mp3 player is roughly 85% netlabel music, and 15% commercial music. I think that the wonderful thing is that while a huge niche audience has been created for netlabels, the growth of the audience is continuing and is inevitable.

Netlabel culture is about removing the artificial barriers between artists and audiences. I love the music of the English chill artist Psonikadia. I know that not only can I get his music for free download, but also that I can drop him a line and he’ll write back. When we put Verian Thomas’ wonderful guitar ambiance on NSI, we’re not rushing to the lawyers when someone remixes him and releases an album, as Pocka did. We’re delighted. As my friend Cagey House says, it’s a new culture of parlor music. The time is past for rock stars and Watchmen and faded heroes. The time is here for people who make and share music.

spin: Why do the people creating and maintaining these net label sites do it? What do they get out of it?

Robert: I can speak for myself about NSI. We meet fascinating people, who become our friends from afar. We get sent great music to hear, which we will release on NSI when it fits our “sound”. Even the music we do not release we tend to really enjoy. We would probably release more if not for the call of day jobs. We are part of a dialog about sharing music and sharing culture which we value. For a cost that is remarkably inexpensive (thanks to Verian’s web skills), our music and the music we like gets out into the wide world.

spin: Why would an artist want to be associated with a net label, rather than just having their own web site and/or a myspace page?

Robert: That is a great question, and it goes to the heart of a current discussion. Lucas Gonze suggests that the future is in song pages, an internet address for each song. Another discussion suggests that an artist weblog, rather than an artist website, is the way to go. I see a lot of virtue in each of these suggestions, particularly as I reach the conclusion that the interaction we have with one another with music need not be so stratified as the old “recording-deal” world proved to be.

In the world before weblogs, many people believed that there was a group of intelligent people “out there”, in London or New York or Paris, who were the best arbiters of our taste and reading. The self-published and the DIY were viewed with a bit of disdain. Now we all read authors we love whom we know are just the “same old ordinary people” we are, and yet we share these amazing interconnected literary experiences. We don’t disdain published authors — we love them. But we no longer grant them a monopoly on our thoughts.

Music is no different. We tend to see music as “look at me, look at me”. This is the problem with some of the earliest internet music sites, such as two I like, soundclick.com and garageband.com. Everyone wants to be a super-hero. Everyone wants to be a star.

But imagine if music were a weblog post — a thing one shares like one shares an essay or a poem or a personal note or a flickr image. Marco Raaphorst writes soundimages (klankbeelds) — simple free downloads which soundtrack still images. Vlog artists eschew video-as-movie-madness for video-as-weblog.We as music makers can begin to see our work as ways of achieving inter-connection, rather than as ways to get record deals. I think that this need not be a commerce-free affair. I think that Calendar Girl is on to a very great idea, and I have the fond hope that her work proves not only successful but also remunerative.

I believe that the music world is evolving and I do not have a crystal ball. Yet I believe that netlabels have a place. They work more like collectives than like traditional record companies. When I go to webbedhand.com or Earth Monkey or Dark Winter, I know the range of genres I will find, and I know that the owners have done some curation. At NSI, for example, our artists are usually fellow travelers with ambient music, but not often “traditional” ambient. This sense of shared values and a “home” for the listener is valuable and should endure.

spin: How do the various artists and NSI find each other and decide to create this online togetherness?

Robert: Verian and I formed NSI after being weblog friends. I had begun to get my bearings in making odd music, and I suggested we work together. We were very pleased with our resulting songs as the Thomas Nunnally Ensemble. He and I had both done DIY poetry (Verian’s a very good poet who used to run a fine imprint, while I write just the kind of odd little things that get published in just the kind of odd little ways and places one might, hearing my music, expect). He’s got web skills, which I nearly completely lack. We got our site up, and asked a few people we knew to submit. I handle publicity for us, and soon I helped “get the word out”. Before you know it, we had artists approaching us, and other netlabel owners being very kind. It’s like building something, promoting it a bit, and finding that one has joined this amazing community. Our main limitation is that we do not release as often as we might due to our day jobs, as we get some amazing submissions.

Part3:
spin: To change topics a bit, you’re not only a “non musician”, but also a business lawyer with a thriving practice serving corporations as well as consumer clients. Would it be fair to say, that not only in your art, but also in in your profession have you carved out a bit of a non traditional niche for yourself?

Robert: I know that it is the fashion for people to say they hate their jobs and they cannot stand the engines of commerce. I rather like being a lawyer, though, and I enjoy being a co-owner of a small business. My practice is non-traditional in many ways, in that I work in a small firm in suburban Texas, and yet handle a variety of sophisticated matters. I like to be able to represent both corporate and consumer interests. My practice tends to challenges and problems which provide me with great intellectual issues. A few of my areas of practice are a bit arcane, and somehow that appeals to me.

spin: Now it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination, that someone working in corporate law writes often and well. But you also write creatively, don’t you? And I don’t only mean the legendary comments you leave for many a remix at ccMixter. You also create poetry and maintain a very active and well written blog, not to mention a myspace page and who knows what else. What drives you to be so creatively active? And how do you find or make the time? Do you have a magic formula you can share with those of us who struggle to maintain even a single website or blog?

Robert: From time to time, when I read a weblog comment I made on someone else’s weblog, without adequately proofreading it, I think I should be more creatively active about spelling and punctuation :).

I am all about interconnection. I keep a weblog to connect with others. I make music to connect with others. I post my flickr photos for that sense of sharing. So many of us long to express ourselves — and weblogs and websites and mixter and flickr are places we can go to begin that sharing.

The whole thing is that we’re all “always way too busy”. I just finished my new netlabel release, “Slices of Oz”, a set of child-like melodies which accompany librivox readings from the public domain novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. I had had the songs done for weeks, but somehow I was “too busy” to get them finalized and uploaded for the netlabel to use. Finally, I realized that my “busy-ness” need not keep me from the “business” of getting my creative work “out there”. So often we are “too busy” to do the things we love the best. I am all about seeking to work my time out so that I am able to get things done.

The key, I think, is not to self-hypnotize oneself out of getting creative things done. They’re not “something impossible to find the time to do”; for many of us, they are “things we need to do with our time”.I work hard at my day job, and my family matters a lot to me. But I find time for these creative pursuits — not just because I want to, but also because I know it’s the way to connect with myself and with others.

I also think it’s very important for we who do CC music to realize we are part of an international dialog about changing how music is made and experienced. We can be important parts of that discussion — but we have to write it down, or put it in a song.

spin: As a lawyer you’ve done the big gig in L.A., California thing. What made you return to Texas and start your own practice?

Robert: My senior partner, who, like me, moved to California from Texas, wanted to move to Texas and semi-retire. The time had come for me to start my own firm, with a friend. My wife and I wanted to return to a part of the country nearer our families. I met with a friend and former partner about the idea of starting something in Garland, Texas. We did the proverbial business plan on a napkin, ran spreadsheets in MS Works, of all things, and next thing you know we had our practice. We’ve been here for eight years now. My wife and I loved the Crescenta Valley in California, and we love our life in north Texas.

spin: There are plans by the Creative Commons, who have founded and sponsored ccMixter to send the mixter off to the next stage of it’s evolution, although we don’t know yet quite what that will mean or be. If, as a longstanding ccMixter community member, you were asked to give a brief farewell toast to the Creative Commons, what would it be?

Robert: I raise my glass of diet root beer high, and say with a smile:

“Here’s to Creative Commons, who took an idea and a vision, and turned it into a song.
Here’s to collaborative creation, a world-wide audience, and an unstoppable new music culture.
We know that ccMixter is not a final destination, but an important doorway, and thousands of us, artists and listeners, are grateful that you created this doorway for us to begin to walk through. We will come and visit you, and we will bring tunes”.

spin: We started with an apparent contradiction, so we might as well end with one: You have professional accreditation and experience in patent law and intellectual property issues, yet you are a proponent and participant in open music and open licensing. On the surface that may seem contradictory. Some might even suggest, that open music is a threat to those needing and/or wanting to earn revenues from their art. How did you get to be such a proponent of and participant in open music? In your opinion, is there a contradiction between open art and making a living from art?

Robert: I differ from some in the open source movement. I do not see patents and copyrights per se as an unworkable situation. I do oppose artificial term extensions. Yet I am perfectly comfortable with reasonable protections for artists and innovators.

I favor the “velvet revolution” of voluntary contribution of works into the public domain and the Creative Commons. I believe that the easiest way to create a framework for the collaboration that digital culture will demand is not the eternal fight between silly DRM and needless kids-pirating-Britney. Instead, artists in music, software, literature, photography and science will create for public use a new “sharing culture” of ideas and expressions.

I saw a flickr photo I posted CC BY of a beach I visited in Costa Rica posted on a Costa Rica tour company site, with proper attribution. Did I deprive an artist of a fee? Perhaps. But if my very amateur work satisfied the site’s need, then perhaps the artist is liberated to earn fees from doing more interesting work than mine.

The assumption inherent in the anti-CC forces is that there is some wealth of artist compensation that will be lost if we have liberal use of CC. I find this assumption flawed. I spend as much on music as I did before CC. Now I am apt to buy directly from the artist, or to donate to a netlabel.

Record deals were mostly about corporate control over modes of distribution and really unfavorable financing of recording and tours. The world has changed a lot since record companies first came out. Capital can be raised in other ways. Markets are easy to penetrate. A good myspace site and 100 dollars spent on making downloads available at tunecore or cdbaby may be as effective as a record deal.

I believe that more artists will make a living in the world I envision, although I suspect that fewer artists will be “mega-stars”. Yet in my world, music and the arts will no longer tread this tiring bright line between artistic “haves” who are business “have nots” and business “haves” who are artistic “have nots”. This new world will involve people who work day jobs and play music at night. It will involve people who run their music as a business, and not as a way to get “a big record deal”. A new parlor music is arriving, and we’ll share songs in the way we read one another’s weblog posts.

I get bored with people who illegally download from the majors because it’s so unimaginative. There are worlds of truly creative people out there, on netlabels, on websites, and among us. Why give legitimacy to poorly-chosen music aimed at our lowest common denominator? Before, large corporations could dictate what we discuss at our water coolers. But now we own the coolers, and the softstudios, and the videos.We can create our own heroes, and share with our friends, including unmet friends.

I am all for voluntary open source, but I wish no ill to copyright and patent holders. The systems can easily co-exist. I can make my music, and liberally license it, and the walls of Jericho come down on a certain limited way of seeing music. That’s a trumpet I can believe in sounding. The result will be a culture without certain walls — and a chance for real connection.

spin: And making connections is arguably at the very core of making music. — Thank you so very much, Bob, for this interview! Any final words for our ccMixter readers?

Robert: Thank you for interviewing me!

To any readers, I’d say that ccMixter is not only a site and a form of Creative Commons culture, it’s a communication. The mixters regularly intrigue and impress me. Those who work under Creative Commons attribution licenses often are, like me, completely unconcerned about fame in the traditional senses. We’re part of a dialog about sharing culture and what a change this can be in the way we all experience and make music.

The listener and the reader need not be a passive recipient of the music — you can be a participant. Aside from the obvious path of reviewing or saying a kind word in a weblog, you can step into the action. You can collaborate. You can get soundtracks for your videos. You can podcast. You can have free music for your website. You can even make a musician’s day, with little more than an e-mailed kind word. The words of encouragement I’ve gotten, such as when people drop me a note about using me in their weblog or doing a remix album of my work, or even using me in a school project, make me feel like we’re all getting somewhere. We’re all in this together — and the music and the culture will gain from our efforts. It’s not an “if or maybe” thing. It’s inevitable — and there is still tons of time for early adopters.

Also, thank you to all those wonderful people I have never met who show up here and there listening to my music on the web. Download it, use it, enjoy it. It’s free for you. I have a day job.

Also, if you’ll pardon the stridency, don’t spend your money supporting DRM. You can even buy worthy mixters, like the Calendarsongs Project, Kristin Hersh on CASH, and Fourstones’ amazingly good “La Vie Chill” on Magnatune.

You are part of a dialog about a sharing culture. Sing out!

Black Sweater, White Cat finds cool music

I have to admit, that I’m not entirely immune to flattery. So when a rather tongue-in-cheek remix of mine was featured on a blog external to ccMixter, I just had to find out who was crazy enough to do that. It turns out, that I’m now deeply humbled by what I found:

Black Sweater, White Cat by Biotic is “the home of the One-a-Day Project. BSWC puts a focus on Creative Commons or copyleft music from around the internet and the world. Playlists, podcast feed, links, topical posts, random thoughts.”

There’s a great playlist, which you can also easily incorporate into your own blog and it includes wonderful little blurbs about the various included pieces. While a good portion of the recent music (as of this writing) is from the general electronica neighborhood, it’s by no means the only genre represented in the collection. A great place to go hunting for interesting (and imho very good) contemporary music off the beaten RIAA path.

The blog originally started as a companion to a radio program of the same name, and there are quite a number of archived episodes to give you a flavor of what some lucky listeners in the right areas of Massachusetts and Alaska got to experience on those special Saturdays.

While posting this, I’ve been listening to the program recorded on the 7th of April 2007. If more on air radio was like this, I’d still be listening all the time!

The Perfect Sound

Today I realized, that my blog has not had any entries with a tag of “humor” in over a year of blog entries. Shame on me, and the frighteningly brilliant Randall Munroe, the creator of the amazing and creative commons licensed “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language” xkcd to the rescue:

Oh, what a pity, can't you understand . . .
p.s. For those not entirely familiar with 1982 popular culture, this may help to explain it.
🙂

Creative Commons License Compatibility

I just happened to be exposed to the question of creative commons license compatibility in a couple of different contexts. It isn’t entirely trivial, but anyone who has done meaningful research into licensing will know, that overall copyright law and resulting licensing requirements are complex, tedious and mostly still highly jurisdictional (country by country differences), to say the least.

The Creative Commons licensing approach has been of immeasurable help to give non-lawyers a fighting chance to share and license some of their works without having to give up all ownership control over those works. Another huge benefit of standardizing some licenses, is the possibility to create derivative works, remixes and mashups, which would be otherwise entirely impractical, because every derived work author would have to contact and strike individual deals with every individual owner (or license management organization) of a previous generation work, which has been used to create the new work.

However the Creative Commons licensing approach deals (at least so far) only with non commercial licensing. This is still a very big deal, because it allows sharing, dissemination, remixing in non-commercial contexts.

But still, not all creative commons licenses are compatible – simply speaking that is, because the owners of the works using the licenses have different objectives in mind. Wishing that away is in my opinion a bit naive or a bit too militant, so I’m not one to advocate total uniformity in licensing. That would be as bad as total uniformity in languages, dress, operating systems, search engines or blogs 🙂

So for those who are remixing, deriving and mashing up like I do, generally with creative commons licensed materials, here is a key page you will want to bookmark: A creativecommons.org blog entry pointing to two CC license compatibility charts. One is an interactive tool from the CC in Taiwan, the other is a text link to a chart in the creative commons FAQ.

David Byrne is Playing The Building

David Byrne - Playing the BuildingNew Yorkers have a real treat in their city this summer:

Playing the Building: An Installation by David Byrne

“Playing the building, a sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of the building, is converted into a giant musical instrument. Devices are attached to the building structure — to the metal beams and pillars, the heating pipes, the water pipes — and are used to make these things produce sound. The activations are of three types: wind, vibration, striking. The devices do not produce sound themselves, but they cause the building elements to vibrate, resonate and oscillate so that the building itself becomes a very large musical instrument.”

That sure puts my synthesizers to shame! 🙂 Thanks to essesq for finding this!

Shannon Hurley Interview

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Hurley on behalf of ccMixter. Shannon has been featured on Rolling Stone Magazine’s declaration of who they consider to be the 25 best bands on MySpace. Recently she has called for remixes of several songs from her first full length album “Ready to Wake Up” to be used in an album of remixes of her songs and in that context has uploaded a number of remix packs from her first album to ccMixter under the moniker of shannonsongs.

One of her songs is also featured in a remix contest on ACIDplanet. However, it should be noted that there’s a significantly different set of terms and conditions on ACIDplanet than on ccMixter around ownership of posted and/or winning remixes. While ACIDplanet offers prizes to the winning remix, it also stipulates transfer of ownership of the winning remix, while remixes on ccMixter remain the co-property of the submitting remixer under creative commons licensing. Personally, I’ve never felt much like submitting remixes to sites which make me give up all ownership of my remixes, but other remixers may feel differently, and I wholeheartedly respect their choice, if it is made knowingly.

Bottom line: Shannon is a wonderful songwriter and singer, was smart and funny, yet modest during the interview and I really hope she’ll have success navigating the largely uncharted waters of the music business as it unfolds in front of our eyes and ears.

Fourstones of Magnatune and ccMixter fame gives rare interview

Modern renaissance man Victor Stone, also known as his musical persona “fourstones” has just released the funky, yet warm “Chronic Dreams 2“, his fifth album with independent label Magnatune featuring his remixes of works by artists from Magnatune as well as some exciting new talent.

Victor is also the main driving force behind trend setting web destination ccMixter.org, a Creative Commons sponsored project which has become the premier on-line artist’s village for music makers from around the world, who sample, cut-up, share and remix each other’s music legally, creatively and joyfully.

Recently I’ve had the privilege to conduct a rare question and answer session with this multi-faceted and fascinating individual. His self-deprecating sense of humor, sharp intellect and wit with the occasional shot of sarcasm is a breath of fresh air on and off the web.

The first part of the interview deals mainly with fourstones the artist / musician / remixer, and the second part of the interview touches on his role as main developer and head admin at ccMixter. org. I hope you will be as fascinated and entertained reading this as I was conversing with Victor.

As a special bonus feature graciously provided by Magnatune, you can optionally listen to the new fourstones album while reading the interview by clicking on the little play button of the music player right below this line.

Part1:
spinmeister: Hi Victor! Let me start by saying thanks so much for taking the time for this interview. It’s a real pleasure to talk to you – but it won’t be easy to address all of the topics I’d like to cover with you, since there are so many facets to your music and life story. So we better dive right in and see where this conversation leads us. Victor: Well I’m happy to do it, I’ll try my best not to put your readership to sleep. spin: (laughs) I don’t think that will be a problem! First of all, how did you get into making music in the first place?
Victor: I started playing Offenbach cello duets with my Dad and giving recitals in junior high. One day I was air-guitaring Stephen Stills’ solo in Bufallo Springfield’s “Bluebird” at a friend’s house and he said that it looked fairly accurate and that I should be doing it for real. I’ve always had more passion than talent for music and that dates back to the very beginning. spin: Do you still play the cello once in a while? Victor: My cello is at my Dad’s. He still breaks it out and drives everybody in earshot crazy playing “Sunrise, Sunset.” I don’t think he’s tuned it since I left it with him in the ’80’s. spin: (laughs). Earlier in your life, you’ve had a few stops in the formerly thriving recording industry. What got you into that industry at the time, what kind of things did you get involved with and what ended up making you move on from there? Victor: Well, as a 17 year old drop out my girlfriend got me a house hippie job at ABC Records in Hollywood and while waiting for the big break I stumbled around various publicity and video promotion departments of labels big and small. I left because despite having zero marketable skills I finally couldn’t take the over the top institutionalized misogyny, racism, celebrity worship and backstabbing. There’s no way to say these things without sounding bitter or like I have a grudge or something, I know that, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be said if it’s the truth. spin: (laughs) I don’t think, you’re the only one left with a bad taste from their experience with the traditional recording industry – whether artist, insider or customer. — Ok, so here you were, you’ve seen the “dark side”, decided not to be a part of it, and walked. — But now what? Victor: Yeah, great question (laughs) because after I had quit the music industry and finished music conservatory, the only jobs I could get were delivering sandwiches and cleaning toilets. My fianceé, a writer at the time, brought home one of those early cast iron IBM PCs and I lost my mind. I sat there for 6 months, never stood up, never shaved, never got out of my bathrobe – it’s possible the smell has never been 100% washed out. The wedding was at the end of that and we broke apart the honeymoon so I could go on my first job interview. I went in my wedding suit, the only suit I’ve owned before or since, lied my brains out about my vast non-existent experience, faked up some references and started work as a professional programmer. spin: Quite the turn of events, I’d say. It must have been a rather dramatic shift in environments and daily routine, but it sounds like it was quite a nice step up economically, and thus maybe a nicer ride than you had before, So how did you end up working for a non-profit? Victor: When my wife and I had kids, I did the absolutely chicken-shit safe (A. K. A. responsible) thing and went to work for big companies for the steady paycheck. All of a sudden after 15 years of doing that, I hit the stock-options-lottery really big. It’s kind of a pathetic dumb-luck thing because I had to have the options practically forced on me but again, it’s the truth so there’s little point in hiding from it. I don’t pretend like I deserved it, it was just luck. At that point I was in a position to buy my way off of the corporate plantation and I got involved in the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Creative Commons. spin: Did you make music during your days in the software industry? Victor: I was pretty freaked — ok, maybe a little bitter — and stopped all playing for 10 years. Then as the first DOS MIDI programs came online, I got a synth and slowly started to get back into it. spin: How did you first get into into remixing as your form of musical expression? Victor: It was about 1997 and I was unhappy with synths and MIDI and came across a free pre-release beta of ACID 2.0. Around the same time I was falling deeply in love with Ninjatune artists like DJ Food and DJ Krush and I was completely hooked. By ’99 I was co-founder of a virtual online band called The Blotter Brothers and an offshoot called Dip Blotter’s Remix Factory on ACID Planet. spin: You’re obviously firmly entrenched with the philosophy / concept of “open music”. And this has been for quite a number of years. What events and/or thoughts originally led you there? Victor: My real devotion is to cultivate an alternate universe to the established music industry — fine, bitter, there I said it. A very simplified version goes something like this: the Web serves as a replacement for radio and PR, file sharing replaces distribution channels, and commoditized DAWs replace recording studios. You need some licensing scheme to enable all that and standardized, court tested open licenses covers a huge chunk of the lawyering. At first, open music philosophy was just that, an idea, but now, five years later it turns out the most financially successful independent musicians I know are the ones with the absolute loosest licenses so we’ve moved from the philosophical to the anecdotal which is not a small step. As we speak I’m just getting news that one of the ‘Tears for Fears’ guys is releasing his solo album under a Creative Commons license. The current rate of major and ex-major label artists doing this is about once a month now and the rate is accelerating fast. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if by the end of 2009 it is literally an every day occurrence. spin: How did you end up connecting with Magnatune as your recording label? Victor: I think it was five years ago now, I was searching the Internet for legal music to remix. I hit on Magnatune and realized their entire catalog was online and legal to remix. I put together a 40 minute mega-mix which became Ridin the Faders 1 and I hand delivered it to John Buckman. He pulled out the contracts right away. Truth is there are hundreds of remixers on ccMixter today that could have done a better job so I think this was just a case of being first. spin: Switching the topic a little to your your creative process: How do you go about choosing the raw material for your remix albums? Victor: The first thing is that I have to hear the source material’s potential for being remixed. This is a very intangible phase of the process but basically goes something like “how would this vocal sound if backed by the Ohio Players?” I have several other important criteria that have nothing at all to do with music and everything to with exposing singer songwriters that I believe in and have taken the leap of releasing music under an open license. spin: In your latest Magnatune album “Chronic Dreams 2”, did you typically start with full mixes, or with a cappellas and other separate tracks? Did you work with source materials already available for download, or did you get some tracks “exclusively” from the artists you were remixing? Victor: The process for 2 was quite different from the first Chronic. There I had to scrounge for pells and ended up driving a few hundred miles to record Lisa Debendictis in her living room. This time I got most a cappellas from ccMixter, asked for some others and was off and running. I used several separated tracks from DJ Vadim but otherwise I was just cutting from the Magnatune catalog and recording my own parts. spin: While Magnatune artists as well as ccMixter artists give remixers the rights to work with their materials, (in most cases) that (Creative Commons) license applies to non-commercial derivative works. Since you are publishing your remixes as commercial releases, how do you go about licensing the needed tracks for your work? In the traditional music industry, that can be a dishearteningly complicated process. How does that work in your world? Victor: For Magnatune artists it’s easy, the label takes care of it all for me. The royalties of every sale or license are deducted from my account and funneled into sampled artists’ accounts. For most other cases I’m dealing with individuals so I just pay cash up front, or like with the DJ Vadim tracks make arrangements with the label. If a big license comes through on a track they sang, played on or produced then I manually pay them. But I only work with artists who have put material into the Commons because that, to me, is a green flag that they are willing to be reasonable. spin: OK, now you know what you’re going to use, and the licensing has all been settled. You sit down at your computer, and then what happens? Victor: I get bored pretty easily, maybe a touch of ADD, I don’t know. So I switch up the process almost every song. Some tracks can take up to 6 or 7 weeks, like the “Clever” remix. I’m shaping background parts, harmonization, changing settings on effects and synths, re-re-re-re-re-recording guitar and bass parts. I don’t have a lot of precision to my playing and arranging, heck, some might even call my methods sloppy, and by some I mean me, but “Clever” called for a level of precision above my usual bar so it took me an especially long time. On the other hand some tracks like “15 Minutes” are essentially done in half an hour because it’s the sloppiness that gives it that, er, charm. spin: In addition to computer software, what instruments do you play? Any favorites that you reach for more often than others? Victor: As a gigging musician I made more money as a bass player than anything else and I can stumble why through “‘Round Midnight” on the keyboard but if my hands hadn’t crapped out on me I would probably be a full time be-bop guitar player right now and the whole sampling thing probably wouldn’t have happened at all. (more here) As a result I have to be very careful about my playing time but for me it’s always been about being the next Django Reinhart meets Jeff Beck. spin: Do you do your own mastering? Victor: Let’s put it this way: I run everything through WAVES mastering tools at roughly the default settings. It makes my music sound “better.” My son is working on a degree in sound engineering and I’m really counting on him to actually get what the heck is going on there. spin: After you’re done with an album project, do you suffer from post partem depression or more of a sense of relief of a completed project? Victor: Both. I always have a bipolar period afterward of thinking I’m the hottest thing this side of Mars and a nanosecond later convinced I’m the biggest, undeserving faker ever. My shrink has many happy days sailing around the Bay on a boat paid for by my post-release psychosis. spin: (laughs) Have you ever met any of the artists you have remixed on your albums in person? Victor: Oh yea, several and it’s always a treat for me. Of course I hesitate to mention names because you never know if feelings are mutual. spin: (laughs) If they still talk to you it was probably ok! Victor: (laughs) Come to think of it, not all of them are still talking to me. spin: What’s up next for “Four Stones” in his musical persona? Victor: Nothing specific. When I started focusing on legal sampling I had to scrape and scrounge for every piece of legal source material I could find. Now, there’s a world of CC samples out there and I no longer have to start my next major project by begging singers to give me a cappellas. So recently I bought some hard disks and I’ve been doing a ground up reorganization of my sample library, something I haven’t done in over 10 years and never done with legal samples. I’m not sure where that will lead but I’m assuming at some point I’ll be suicidal over the drudgery of organizing folders and cutting a terabyte of samples and at that point I’ll start remixing.
Part2:
spin: If I may switch topics a bit to your other persona: Just like you ended up returning to music, you ended up returning to software development, too. — How did the idea of ccMixter get born? And how did the connection with the Creative Commons come about? Victor: CC knew me as the Magnatune remixer guy and a winner of one of their mini-remix contests so they brought me in to get my opinions on a prototype they had been working on. It was for a remix site for the WIRED CD that tracked attribution and it was clear how brilliant this concept was. They had no idea that I was a programmer – so after a little awkward begging and resume slinging Neeru Paharia sat me down and standing at a white board drew out the whole site, including database schemas, user interface – the whole thing. She really had the whole vision thing nailed and I was psyched, went off and built the site. spin: When did you put up the first public version of ccMixter for others to join? Victor: The site went live November 2005 in conjunction with the WIRED edition dedicated to Creative Commons music. spin: How did you meet some of the inner circle and now fellow administrators of ccMixter? Victor: Through the site, people just started showing up, some, like yourself decided they wanted to get more involved. Don’t take this the wrong way but it’s hardly an exclusive club (laughs). spin: (laughs) If you’re considering me part of it, it’s definitely NOT exclusive! — You wrote most of the software powering ccMixter, didn’t you? Is it also published under an open license? Victor: Lucas Gonze wrote the first take based on an established content management system and I worked with that for the first public release but then CC let me write it from scratch and that became ccHost. There have been two major upgrades in the last 3 years, all released under GPL. spin: The GPL being an “open” license for software — and arguably the inspiration for the creative commons licenses. — What has the sponsorship of the Creative Commons organization meant to ccMixter, ccHost and yourself? Victor: It’s been everything. Running a music community website is hardly their expertise but despite that, I can’t imagine a more supportive, encouraging organization for this kind of thing. It’s a dream gig. spin: Are any other sites using the ccHost software to power their sites? Victor: There’s been over 1,000 downloads of the software package and I know of several sites but I really suck at keep track of that kind of thing. spin: There are some more commercially motivated remixing sites working with creative commons licensed music. What is your reaction to those? Victor: That was the point. ccMixter was never meant as an end, it was supposed to be an example leading the way to what’s possible. spin: Have you ever been approached by a company who has seen your ccMixter/ccHost software to do some of that funky ajax programming for them? Victor: I don’t see myself as all that hot in programming and I’m constantly seeing things in ccHost that I could have done better. There’s a lot of amazing, slick kids doing this stuff a whole lot better than me – my son is constantly getting work on websites nowadays, he wrote the Flash MP3 player we use on ccMixter. There’s a lot of interesting projects out there and some have been in touch with me, I listen to every pitch but, for now, I always come back to ccMixter. spin: As someone who does both in considerable depth: In which way to you see making music and writing software as similar and in which way do they really differ? Victor: Well, for better or worse, I treat them exactly the same. The same mix of art and science goes into both and there’s the same mix of precision and sloppiness in both, it’s just harder to rationalize the sloppiness in the coding. And music has a more blatant emotional component but then if frustration is an emotion then software is an emotion factory. spin: (laughs) That could be a title for a country song about software! — Most people struggle to do either one well – you do both – is there much time left for a so called “life” outside of software development and making music? Do family and friends ever get to see you? Victor: I do both? Or I do both well? (laughs) OK, well I struggle a lot with both and the jury’s out on how well I do either. I go through dark periods where for months I’m doing one thing primarily, like the website upgrade or an album, very OCD. My cell phone goes off for a week at a time, my inbox fills up. But I’m also extremely good and practiced at doing absolutely nothing. In fact, I love doing nothing, I need nothing apparently more than most folks. I always make time for nothing and value nothing very, very highly. spin: But maybe above all, ccMixter/ccHost is not really just a piece of funky software, but ccMixter is a thriving artistic community. What do you as it’s founder and most influential force like most about that community? Victor: What do I like most? That they tolerate me and put up with my neurosis (evil grin) – (spin laughs). Somehow, in 33 years of being in the workforce, this is the first retail gig I’ve ever had, so dealing with the public is all new to me. I’m used to people around knowing me and getting me which seems to make things go smoother. Nobody told me people had these things called “feelings” that I had to worry about. At the times I see myself as most hilarious is when I get into serious trouble. spin: (laughs) smileys matter! Victor: (laughs) Now they tell me! — For real what blows me away is the quality of the music. This isn’t just a community showing stuff off or a fan community talking about the inner meaning of episode #340 of Star Trek, we’re all fans of each other and together we are making this music conversation happen. Lucas called it mixversation which is very different from collaboration. We take something someone has said before and incorporate it into something new and again, the consistent quality of the result is just amazing to me. spin: Which way would you like to see the ccMixter community evolve next? Victor: Not that I don’t have ambitious fantasies but I’m pretty happy with things right now. We’ve added a lot of features this year geared toward consumers of music, like video makers and podcasters and I plan to make that even more of a priority but overall I think the basic formula of the site is working just fine. spin: Have you noticed any differences in the remixes from the early days of ccMixter compared to now? Victor: Musically there seems to have been a shift this year to more one-man-band produced re-interpretation and less sample-based remixes. The previous remixes seemed edgier, more modern and subjectively speaking, more interesting. Here’s an example: Trifonic puts out an album of the kind of really edgy, cool, modern eclectic pop they became famous for on ccMixter. Last month they posted the studio tracks and a cappellas from their new album “Emergence” back into the Commons but the community remixes that come from their material are straight ahead, mainstream style. This is a weird 180 from how things used to work. until now we would get straight pop, R&B and rap vocals and then take them to this strange remix place, but with Trifonic we have a case where the original samples are coming from this outside, edgy place and the community pulls it back into a more mainstream style. I don’t know what to make of that. spin: Maybe it’s a little like symphony orchestras having “Beatles Night”, or jazz players doing Radiohead? Do you mind that happening? Victor: Er, now you’re describing me (laughs). spin: Maybe this evolution marks that more traditional musicians are discovering the joys of remixing. while it had its origins in the DJ community? So it is a new crowd joining ccMixter and remixing at large? An early stage of a new evolution?Is it just a matter of time? Victor: That’s right, I agree, for old school musicians, pre-DJ era, like myself, weened on The Beatles, Archie Bell and Marvin Gaye that is totally correct, we are, individually in a state of evolution, but I was whining about the site as a whole (laughs). Listen to Trifonic, hisboyelroy, cdk, teru, shaggruge who represent the type of producer that dominated the site’s ratings charts for the first three years – as you imply, these guys are applying a completely different discipline from a different rule book and doing natively what the rest of us have to learn. We are Wendy Carlos, they are Kraftwerk. I’m not saying there’s anything inappropriate going on at the site, far from it. But if musically, the end result of all this new technology turns out to be just a better way to make the same sounds you get by hiring 5 studio cats in an LA recording studio then that’s a personal, artistic disappointment to me. The new stuff is amazing, truly, it’s just a different kind of buzz that I was getting used to. I’ll get over it (laughs). spin: So what does qualify as inappropriate at ccMixter? Victor: The one thing that I will actively push back against is any form of genre or process specific musical snobbery. I started in the classical world and especially in the 60’s and 70’s their noses were in the clouds. Imagine having Harold Budd on your teaching staff and forcing him to teach 17th century harmony which is the class I took with him. I then moved through the rock celebrity world, the hard core jazz world and the LA studio scene. Each had their own brand of we’re playing real music, every one else is beneath us mentality. And sampling and remixing seems to bring this out like I’ve never seen before. I’ve had people show up at the site and say things to the effect of you’re all just copying and reworking other people’s stuff and all of a sudden I get hyper protective and defensive and the site becomes my house that needs protection. Of course most musicians are open minded and are willing to have their attitudes adjusted, I’m just extra sensitive to that special mix of ignorance, arrogance and alcohol where it doesn’t matter if they’ve mastered the art of improvising over variations of the “Sweet Georgia Brown” changes or memorized every Paganini etude, if they don’t recognize that turntablism and sampling is exactly the same level of composing, arranging, performance and artistry as anything that’s ever come before in music then I suggest they move on. spin: (laughs) – Now tell me what you really think? — More seriously, I think your work with and around ccMixter is contributing a lot to changing attitudes on that front. — Can others, who share those goals get involved in a helpful way? Victor: Well, we have specific needs on ccHost, like CSS gurus and skin developers. At the site we are always, always, always looking for singers to put their a cappellas into the Commons. For musicians the most important thing is to care about the quality of their work and be willing and open to share because I’m big believer in a rising tide. There is no evidence that music appreciation, including the commercial kind where people pay for music, is a zero sum game. Your career is helped when those around you are making better music, not worse. You don’t want to be the best track in a podcast if the rest of the music in that podcast sucks. You can afford to be the 3rd best track in a podcast where every track is a home run. And of course, every musician improves by sharing skills and samples with other musicians. spin: Thank you so very much, Victor, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself, your art and your thoughts. It has been a delight to have this conversation! May you have lots of success with your new album and may ccMixter continue to thrive as the trend setting web destination for open music makers.

Calendar Girl Interview

Here’s the link and teaser to another interview I’ve conducted on behalf of ccMixter – this time with the talented, intelligent, gracious and funny Calendar Girl:

“In October 2006, singer song-writer Tamara Barnett-Herrin from London in the UK published a one sentence challenge to herself and to remixers around the World Wide Web: “I write one song a month. You remix and feedback. We make a record.” This experiment in songwriting and remix culture unlike any other yielded over 300 remixes, setting a new record at ccMixter. Twelve of them have been chosen to be published in an album titled Calendar Songs Volume I due out May 26 (check calendarsongs.com). Known to the ccMixter community as Calendar Girl, she has graciously agreed to an interview with ccMixter.”

RealWorldRemixed Servers Stolen


This is one of the stranger things I’ve seen in a while. When going to realworldremixed.com, it displays on the front page this message: “Real World, Peter Gabriel and WOMAD web services are currently off-line. Our servers were stolen from our ISP’s data centre on Sunday night – Monday morning. We are working on restoring normal service as soon as possible. …”.

This points out another flaw in their model. By not allowing remixers to publish their remixes even non-commercially anywhere else than on the realworldremixed.com site, they have just taken a couple thousand remixes off the internet. Those remixers who have published there, find at least some of their artistic catalog suddenly off the air. Websites, which point to the remixes of that site, now have broken links.

While that site has fond memories for me, because it introduced me to remixing (and several of my remixes have now – at least temporarily – become “unpublished” as well), I had moved on from there about a year ago to find a better remixing home at ccMixter.org.

Thanks to fellow remixer “Doghouse Riley” for the tip.

UPDATE 2008-05-06: Looks like the site is back now. Good to see, because it does have some stellar remixes on it. Including around 900 Shock The Monkey’s.

Metropolitan Youth Orchestra Scrollwerks Remix contest

Just got a note from Jeane Goforth from Scrollworks (a non-profit organization aiming to offer quality music education for children in the local community regardless of their ability to pay, with a focus on minorities and the under-served areas of Greater Birmingham, Alabama), They are holding a remix contest featuring a recording of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra in concert performing Paganini’s “Moses Variations”.

“We’ve finally got it up. I know it’s short notice, but, having worked now 17 (or 18) days straight and with a to-do list covering multiple tablets, it’s the best we could do. The growing pains of a new organization! (0 to 135 students in 2 months!!) Info here: http://metroyo.blogspot.com/2008/04/250-prize-for-remix-contest.html
or under ‘What’s New’ at scrollworks.org “

Very cool, Jean – and may the contest be a big success!

Trifonic remix packs, interview at ccMixter

From ccMixter: “Trifonic have just put the solo studio tracks from their debut album Emergence, into the Commons. Including a cappellas by Amelia June, Christina Courtin and David Forest.

Trifonic are brothers Brian and Laurence Trifon. Their music blends manipulated ambient sounds and synths with live guitars, strings and other instruments to create an alternative electronica sound distinctly their own. After working as a guitarist and programmer for electronic artist BT, Brian teamed up with Laurence in 2007 and composed several contest winning, standout remixes for ccMixter and licensed music to TV shows including CSI.”

This one has a bit of a personal connection, since I’ve had the pleasure of doing a bit of a virtual interview with LT and Brian on behalf of ccMixter in connection with this release of their tracks.

Reeemix.com tracks remix contests

Here’s a site specializing in listing remix contests. “Reeemix.com provides you with a continuously updated link list to remix contests worldwide.” Looks like an excellent resource.

Thanks to Laurent for this tip. He also says: “I’m looking for fellow producers to work with.”

If you are looking for other producers, many of whom have been known to collaborate with others, I can highly recommend ccmixter.org. Or if you want to get in touch with Laurent directly, you can do so via his myspace space referenced in the link above.