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).

Radiohead’s grand experiment

Usually I don’t post about stuff that has plenty of coverage all over the media or in plenty of blogs already. But this one is just to interesting to not mention: Radiohead will be distributing their upcoming album online and are allowing their fans/customers to set the price for the download of the album. And they sell two versions: downloadable music only (with variable pricing) and a fixed price box set including a variety of Radiohead swag.

This is remarkable, not because it’s totally unique (it is not), but because Radiohead is a band arguably still in it’s commercial and artistic prime (although the forthcoming album may prove or disprove that).

If this grand experiment proves to be successful (however they define that), it could have a dramatic ripple effect in the recording industry. It will be very interesting to observe and hopefully they will share their experiences.

The 20 things you MUST know about music online

Andrew Dubber’s New Music Strategies is an interesting blog for people interested in new business models for music. The article The 20 things you MUST know about music online is a pretty good read.

I very much like his first point: “Don’t believe the hype: Sandi Thom, the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen are not super famous, rich and successful because of MySpace, and nor because they miraculously drew a crowd of thousands to their homegrown webcast. PR, traditional media, record labels and money were all involved.”

Music licensing made easier – Pump Audio

Pump Audio provides online music licensing. They’ve just been acquired by Getty Images, a big player in the digital stock photography licensing business. From their about page: “Founded in 2001, Pump Audio is a new kind of agent for independent musicians, digitally connecting them with buyers in the mainstream media. With Pump Audio, artists can license their music into productions without giving up any ownership, while TV and advertising producers can discover new music ready for use.”

While the ability to make money with music sales to the listening public may very well be shrinking rapidly, the possibility to make money through music licensing for television advertising may continue to exist for a while longer. However, it will be interesting to observe, if good music will soon be licensed even for such purposes for free. Will music makers in the ever increasing competition for exposure start giving away their work for free even for commercial purposes? If most of the money is being made through live performances, then arguably everything else becomes valuable advertising for one’s live performance.

The Record Industry’s Decline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

broadjam – independent music promotion

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

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

Rumblefish Song Licensing

UPDATE 2018-05-22: Looks like they changed business model, so the info below is no longer accurate.

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

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

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

YouLicense – Online Music Licensing Marketplace

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

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

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

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

Magnatune – label of the future?

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

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

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

Remixing each other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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