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.”

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.

Uploading remix packs to ccMixter.org

I’ve gotten this question a few times, so I’ll just post my answer here for reference:

There’s a 10 MB per file limit on uploads at ccMixter. So there is a very good chance, you’ll have to split your sample pack into smaller chunks of less then 10 MB each. In addition, I would recommend using FLAC as a compression tool for the whole bunch before submitting them. Explanation of FLAC here: http://blog.emxr.com/2007/07/flac-file-format-for-audio.html

The exact sequence of steps would be like this:

  1. Use a FLAC compression tool to create .FLAC versions of all your WAV files
  2. Group the FLAC files into groups of less than 10MB each and create a ZIP file for each group
  3. Upload the first ZIP file, creating the ccMixter page with all of the info for the song (name, description, bpm, tags, etc.) in the description also put a link to your original version of the whole song, so people can get an idea what is in your sample pack before downloading the whole thing.
  4. After the first ZIP file is on ccMixter, open the page for that one, and click on the link called “Manage Files” on the right hand side of the page.
  5. On the resulting page start uploading the remaining ZIP files (containing the FLAC files) of your song one by one. Don’t worry about the textual description about the Manage Files being intended for different formats – many people are using the multiple file upload for the purpose of having a complete song sample pack.

If you’re curious what such a page with multiple uploads looks like, have a peek at one of the a minor theory remix packs: Dream In Blue remix pack;

  • on the right hand side of the page, you will notice the multiple files to download
  • at the bottom of the page, you will notice the detailed breakdown of the contents of each ZIP file (ccMixter does that automatically)..

NOTE: You don’t have to do the thing with the FLAC compression – you could really do the same thing with groups of ZIPd WAV files, but FLAC is a lossless (no quality loss) compression. But WAV files themselves can get rather large (over 10MB, sou you would possibly have to split some WAV files at a bar boundary somewhere to make them under 10MB each even when ZIPd.

Alternative: make ZIPd groups groups of a very high quality MP3 (320kbps) format – that one is technically still a lossy compression, but it sounds very good.

CalendarGirl does CalendarSongs

CalendarSongs is a great idea of a talented songwriter and singer from London. Appropriately calling herself CalendarGirl, she wrote and recorded 12 songs, one per month over a year and made the a capella tracks available on her CalendarSongs website as well as at ccMixter.org. The year is now up, but the remixes are still pouring in.

Her invitation is “I write one song a month. You remix and feedback. We make a record.” While I have no idea what making a record really means in this age of iPods and mp3 files, that isn’t the point. Her song writing is great, her voice is really nice to work with and in the end there are only winners: people who love music.

This is a wonderful idea, well executed and drawing remixers like moths to a flame, including this one:

ccMixter quick tips 2

This is part 2. Part 1, which deals with listening to music can be found here.

These few quick tips deal with ccMixter features for remixers as well as for providers of tracks, loops and samples.

  • As a general rule, to upload content (including reviews, playlists forums posts, messages), you will have to register/login at ccMixter – to download stuff you don’t have to.
  • ccMixter is not intended to host your original music like myspace or other “bands and fans” sites. If you have creative commons licensed original music and are looking for a place to host it, you may want to consider uploading it to the archive.org audio section. ccMixter is dedicated to the specific musical form of remixing.
  • ccMixter is remarkably spam free. That’s not an accident, but a result of diligent observation of the uploaded content by the site administrators. Trying to spam the site is not only uncool, but pretty much a waste of time. This includes not so subtle “tricks” like slapping too many or misleading tags on uploads to try to show up in more search lists. That nonsense may work on youtube, but not on ccMixter. Whoever tries to be cute that way will find their upload deleted rather unceremoniously. Which keeps ccMixter more useful and enjoyable than so many other social networks. There’s an acceptable place for on-topic self promotion in the pluggy plugs section in the forums. However, ads for medication, replica watches or too-good-to-be-true software deals don’t stand much of a chance there either. 🙂

Source tracks, samples, loops

Finding

  • Go to the ccMixter home page, and then click on one of the high level tab menu items on the top of the page: Samples or A Cappellas. On those respective pages, explore the sub-menu tabs. Good places to start are the Samples Browse page and the A Cappella Melodies page.

Uploading

  • ccMixter generally makes a high level distinction between vocal tracks (a cappella’s) and any other kind of sample. When uploading, you’ll want to make sure, that you upload to the appropriate area, because currently you can’t change that high level distinction after you have uploaded your file. One nice feature on ccMixter is, that you can re-upload a file in addition to editing the information associated with a file after the original upload. This is great for correcting errors or adding more useful information or tags after the fact.
  • There is a way of putting multiple files into a group, by using the “Manage Files” link on the right hand side of the page for an uploaded file. Although the purpose of that feature is mostly to allow more than one format for a specific file, it can also be used to group multiple files of a remix pack for an entire song together. Doing that creates less clutter in your upload page, however it makes all of the subservient files only accessible via looking for the main one. For example, I uploaded the instrumental loops for a song as additional files under the a cappella vocal tracks. This keeps all of the tracks/loops for an entire song together, but it makes it pretty much impossible to find the instrumental loops by themselves. Decide for yourself, what’s more important to you: to keep the parts for a song together, or to make individual parts easier to find.
  • For uploading high quality audio source files, use the FLAC format. It is the best of both worlds: The quality of an uncompressed WAV file at a significantly smaller file size. If you have several files, which are likely to be downloaded as a group, put them into a ZIP archive before uploading. You can decide to upload your source tracks in FLAC and in mp3.
    very cool: ccMixter will list the contents of your ZIP files on their download page.
  • If you are uploading an a cappella track, consider putting a link to a full mix into the description. Since ccMixter doesn’t like uploads of full mixes, an external link pointing to a full mix is a nice way of giving remixers an easier starting point to work from. Try to make sure, the target location will really hold your full mix for a long time, because somebody may only bump into your song months or years later.
  • Make all of your file names as meaningful as possible. That’s will make them more attractive to others. If it’s a female harmony vocal to verse 1 of your song “I dream of fame”, call it something like “I_dream_of_fame_vox_harmony_female_verse1”. Of course, if the file is part of a ZIP archive containing various parts only for the song “I dream of fame”, the file can be called “vox_harmony_female_verse1” and the ZIP archive can be called “I_dream_of_fame_vocal_parts”.
  • Try to make life easy for remixers by cutting the beginning of tracks and loops at even bar boundaries. It’s generally not very useful to have many bars of empty space at the beginning of a track, and most certainly not at the end.
  • If uploading instrumental tracks or loops, consider uploading a midi file in addition to an audio file. It allows remixers to make use of your playing or midi programming while using sound sources (hardware or software) of their own choice. That opens up an entirely new world of possibilities. For drum parts, it’s the easiest to work with drum parts adhering to the GM midi standard kit note assignment. However if that’s not possible, it may still be valuable to have the midi file of a drum part, if the groove is really cool. Midi files are currently a rare find at ccMixter, so uploading a few great midi loops may make you a ccMixter star in no time 🙂

Remixes

  • The best file format for complete remixes is mp3, because you want to make it very easy for listeners to enjoy your remix without having to do conversions. 192 kbps is a pretty good quality setting for most mp3 music files, sounding close to CD quality to most people. However, a single file upload has to be 10MB or less in size, so if your remix is very long, chose a streaming rate of 160Kbps or 128 Kbps. And use 44.1 KHz sampling rate (NOT 48KHz), because the site resident flash player can’t handle 48KHz.
  • Don’t forget to give credit for original source tracks used in remixes. ccMixter makes that very easy as part of the uploading process for remixes. It also allows you to add additional credits for other people’s samples via the “Manage Remixes” link after you have already uploaded your remix.

All uploaded files

  • ccMixter has a kind of a “draft mode”, which allows you to have files and their data already uploaded to ccMixter, but not yet visible to anyone else but you and the site administrators. In ccMixter terminology that is called “unpublished”. This can be very useful while you are still assembling some of the descriptions for a file, or while you are uploading additional files. You can already see how the page with the file will look, proof-read everything, test all of your links, before making the page with that file and it’s descriptions publicly available.

    You can also un-publish a file after it has been published. But try not to do that too often, because it will confuse the heck out of people, who are following links. But it can be useful, when people have already linked to your file, and you found a major problem with it. In that case, you can un-publish the file, upload a new version of it, and then re-publish it. And all the previous links are still working.

That’s it for now. Happy remixing!

As always, comments and corrections are welcome.

ccMixter quick tips 1

UPDATE: 2018-05-22: ccMixter is still going, but at least some parts of it look quite a bit different now (due to site renovation), so some of the specific observations in this post aren’t applicable anymore.


Original Post:

ccMixter is refreshingly different than – and in my opinion superior to – many of the cookie cutter social networking sites on the web these days. Here are a few quick tips for new ccMixter users (note: some advanced features require registration – it’s free and easy).

Searching and finding stuff (people, songs, samples, keywords)

  • It’s pretty straight forward with one caveat. In the ccMixter databases, in terms containing spaces, these are converted to underscores. For example, the term “a minor theory” becomes “a_minor_theory”.
  • Don’t overlook the small link to an “Advanced search” just above the main search box on the top right hand side of each page.

Listening to music

On pages where you can listen to remixes on ccMixter, you will find one or more buttons:

  • Pressing the little speaker icon next to “Play”, will play a song (or sample) in a little flash player applet inside your browser.
  • Clicking on the “Stream” button will begin playback in the default media player of your computer/browser pretty quickly.
  • Clicking on mp3, WAV or FLAC, will typically download a song before playing it.
  • Very cool: a larger blue button “Stream This Page” will stream all of the items on that page.
  • Ultra cool: To grab a podcast of the collection of songs on a page, open iTunes and then drag from the orange “Podcast” button on the ccMixter page onto the “Podcast” menu item on the left hand pane of your iTunes window. In iTunes, click on the little triangle to the left of the newly listed podcast labelled ccMixter to expand the list of individual songs, and then click on the little GET ALL button – and voilà, you are a a whole bunch of songs richer! You can now copy the songs of your choice into your main iTunes library.

One of the shining aspects of ccMixter is the myriad of ways you can find and organize remixes to listen to. Here are just few to get you going:

Newest Songs can be found under the “Remixes” main tab and then the “Latest Remixes” tab. Try the “PLAY this page” or “STREAM this page” buttons on the left hand side of the page. If you don’t like a song, just use the regular controls to skip to the next one.

Remix Radio is found under the main “Remixes” tab and is a quick way of creating an instant randomized playlist of remixes from selection criteria.

  • Quick tips: Editor’s picks are only very few – they get you to a quick list of songs that are pretty decent, but there are tons of great songs that never make the Editors Picks. Don’t rely on star ratings either, since ratings are a weak indicator of quality at ccMixter (and at every other site I know). There’s no way to program a fair and easy to use rating’s system, because it’s more of a social issue, not a software one. I could rant on about the difficulty to create decent ratings systems – effectively a voting system, which is a better topic for political science scholars – but I’ll spare you the boredom. 🙂

Favorite Songs list keeping is another stellar feature of ccMixter (for registered users) via the concept of “Playlists”. You can make many playlists – and your playlists are visible to others and vice versa. On pages containing remixes or lists of remixes, there is a button “Add to Playlist”, which gives the option of adding a song to an existing playlist or create a new one. After creating a new playlist, you can rename it on the page for that playlist.When playing a playlist, the feature to open it in a separate window will keep the music going while you are browsing to other places.

  • Very cool: Since the playlist feature works for sample files as well, remixers can create playlists of sample files, essentially creating a bookmarking system for files they may want to come back to.
  • Ultra cool: Even if you are not a remixer, you can become a creator and maintainer of great playlists which other people can link to or subscribe to. If lots of people subscribe to your playlist, it will show up under the main “Playlists” tab in the “Hot Playlists” tab. If you’ve always dreamed of being a Radio DJ or station manager, here’s your chance.
  • Fun: Record and upload your own “station identification” as a short sample and put it at the beginning of your playlist, and possibly a couple of other places, but not so often as to be annoying to your listeners. (Listen to ccMixter’s own “Remixer Radio” for examples of that).

Friends type of relationship management is implemented philosophically differently (in my opinion much better) in ccMixter. It’s not reciprocal, but when you are on a person’s profile page (and are logged in as registered user), you can click on the link “Add … to your favorites” at the bottom of the page or a bit higher up is a link next to Notifications “Get Notified About …”, which allows you to get emails when the person has uploaded a new remix and/or has been remixed. So you can keep track of other people remixing the same materials as you as well as keeping track of your remixers. So it’s really easy to keep track of relevant happenings at ccMixter without even having to go there. Since ccMixter doesn’t have an interest to always suck you to their site and click on ads, it is much more gentle with your time than commercially motivated social networking sites. And that’s a good thing!

  • Very Cool: clicking on the Publicize link on a user’s “Profile” page gets you to a page of html code snippets to include in your own website or myspace or similar sites.

Private Messaging is implemented differently as well (philosophically and technically). Again, since ccMixter does not need you to click on advertising, it doesn’t need to suck you to their site for every little thing. Registered users can send an email to a fellow registered user, by going to that member’s profile page and clicking on the [email contact] link next to their name. That will send a message to the email account of that member. Note, that this will reveal the email address you have registered with ccMixter to the other person. So it’s not private messaging like on some other sites, but facilitates making off-line connections.

There’s quite a bit more, but you’ll get the idea. Next time I’ll try to mention a few ccMixter features for sample providers and remixers.

Happy ccMixter listening, and as always, comments and corrections are appreciated!

ccMixter.org – First Impressions

I’ve finally just started to experience both sides of ccMixter.org for the first time – once as content provider and once as as remixer. And the first impressions are very positive. If you want to hop right over and skip reading my notes below, I would recommend starting with the ccMixter about page.

So you are still reading this? Ok here we go:

General Impressions
Being sponsored by the Creative Commons organization, ccMixter is not littered with advertising and assorted visual madness so commonly seen at social networking sites these days. While I consider that as an overwhelmingly good thing, some aspects of the user interface take a bit of getting used to, because it is so refreshingly clean, different and not yet another clone of so many other over-hyped so called web 2.0 sites. It’s a bit like using Google for the first time, after having used Yahoo for a long time. ccMixter packs plenty of web 2.0 punch, many things implemented much cleaner than on other sites. How many sites have we all visited with more than one “play” button for various snippets of music, but when you already have one piece playing, and press on another play button, the first piece continues to play? ccMixter gets this right. A newly pressed play button switches off the previous piece and starts playing your newly selected one. And the site handles changing browser window sizes and/or font sizes about as elegantly as can be done these days. Just those two things – done better than so many high profile sites – are a couple of immediate tip-offs about the thought, craftsmanship and caring that is going into this site. Victor Stone is the gentleman behind most of the programming code and he goes by the handle of “fourstones” on the site. And being a very good music maker and remixer in his own right, he is an active participant in remixing as well as uploading samples in addition to hovering around the forums to answer questions and give guidance. I wonder, if he ever eats or sleeps. 🙂

ccMixter (so far) doesn’t have a “friends” mechanism. I don’t know, if that is a philosophical choice or a question of maybe adding it later. Personally I hate the inflated friends thing (and on many bigger sites it quickly gets to be that way) – it becomes quite useless, once there are too many friends for each person. But on the positive side a friends mechanism is one interesting way to link-hop and can be a fast way to find people one already knows, because a friend may have already marked them as friend. So a friends mechanism has worked for me at times, but only while the numbers of friend linkages is reasonably small – maybe up to 30-50? However ccMixter offers fabulous RSS feeds for following the exploits of the people one wants to stay in touch with. In addition it’s easy to see what comments (called “reviews”) a site participant has made, so that is one way to to link hop, although those lists end up quite lengthy as well. Maybe the system could be programmed to derive a “friends” type of list from multiple comments having been sent back and forth between individuals? In any case, it’s a fascinating problem to solve for social networking sites, regardless of topic.

Generally speaking, ccMixter doesn’t try to re-invent all kinds of wheels or make itself the hub of your entire life on the Internet. So while it clearly is a social networking site around musical collaboration (remixing being “sequential collaboration”), it’s not there to handle your entire online life, promote your band or other stuff so common amongst the social networking clones out there. It’s a place where reasonably serious music makers meet for the purpose of remixing. Overall ccMixter doesn’t try to suck you into visiting the site all the time for ad revenue or to drive the hit counters up for a future takeover by one of the dot com giants. How refreshing!

Licensing
The licensing of source materials is straightforward creative commons based – this means content at ccMixter can be freely remixed, sampled, mashed up and re-published non-commercially (some content even allows commercial re-publishing). This type of licensing allows the music to flourish and is becoming recognized by more and more visionaries in the arts as well as in business.

Maintaining an Identity
Signing up to the site was straightforward and fast. One can create a profile page with a single small image (remember ccMixter doesn’t try to be a promotional site for bands or general hangout for buddies), a link to one’s home page, some “about” text and a couple of other informational items. A great feature is the ability to send emails to other users without knowing each other’s email address. I much prefer that over the PM (private messaging) systems, which force me to log on to the hosting site to see what the message was. The PM madness out there is like a return to the stone age of multiple disconnected email systems. ccMixter scores big points in my book for its approach to messaging. (Even the software we’re currently using for the a minor theory site gets this wrong – Note to self: fix that!)

Uploading content
This worked straightforward as well, but this is where I spent some wasted time and bandwidth, because I didn’t read the upload page properly. While the initial distinction between acapella tracks and other loops is sensible, it would have saved me some time and ccMixter some bandwidth to be able to switch my uploaded files from “sample” to “a capella” after the first erroneous upload. To get the tracks into the right category I ended up deleting them and re-adding them through the right link. Similarly, it might be nice to switch a regular remix upload into a contest entry later on, or vice versa.

A ccMixter limitation, which I have a lot of sympathy for is the 10MB limit on uploads. I have sympathy for it, since in my own experience with our “a minor theory” site, uploads of more than 10MB’s often fail. Combinations of web host limits, slow Internet connections and browser timeouts can make uploading larger files a difficult proposition. However, this limitation makes it quite a bit of extra work to upload entire remix packs. For example the remix packs for our a minor theory songs even in FLAC format are between 36 MB and 64MB. So I ended up just uploading a capella tracks and creating a link to the full remix packs hosted at our own site. Maybe it’s just fine that way, too.

Submitting my remix to the Salman Ahmad remix contest was overall a very straightforward and pleasant process, but it did ask for a bit too much private data for my liking. Why does one have to part with that data just for entering the contest? I understand that some additional data may be needed for the winners of contest, but that would only be a small subset of the contestants and could be collected only from the winners at the time that it becomes necessary. Fortunately that additional private data isn’t shown publicly on the site, but in the age of identity theft, I am a bit hesitant to submit private data to a website, because even the best designed, programmed, managed and well meaning website can suffer from a programming bug or an attack. In ccMixter’s defense, one doesn’t actually have to enter that data at the time of uploading the contest entry, but can fill it in later – could that be after one is notified of being a winner?

Finding things and staying informed
There’s a useful general search function, although one needs to keep in mind that the underscore _ character is used instead of a space in most name and keyword fields. There are lots of links – you are always only one click away from any provider of content. There’s a useful forum for more public group dialog and to get help. All content is tagged with system selected as well as uploader definable tags, so for example, one can quickly find content with tempo 125 to 130 bpm. Or a female melody a capella track. As mentioned before, there are RSS feeds all over the place. Maybe one nice addition might be to be able to get separate feeds for just one forum area rather than only a combined feed for all forum traffic. I find RSS indispensable to keep in touch with a lot of stuff, and can only highly recommend learning how to take advantage of subscribing to such feeds.

Listening (New paragraph added 2007-07-26 GMT)
In addition to having a really nicely implemented ccMixter Radio, editor’s choices, and user ratings, ccMixter’s playlist feature is a great way to remember, organize and track favorite remixes, or the worst of the worst, if you are so inclined!. You can have many playlists and listen to or subscribe to other user’s playlists, including the omnipresent RSS feeds, so you can stay informed of other user’s updates to their playlists.

So even for pure music listeners ccMixter offers a superior experience to most social networking music sites. As the quantity and quality of the content grows, there is little doubt in my mind, that ccMixter will become one of the legendary music destinations on the web. And because of the creative commons licensing, it is immune to a lot of the nonsense affecting internet radio and online music in general. As the corporate players in the traditional music business are becoming ever more aggressive in locking up music, sites like ccMixter will continue to bring music makers and audiences together. There is already quite a bit of quality music there – and even some of the less refined stuff has a raw charm to it, which reminds me of the magic of experiencing music more personally. intimately. The web version of musical performances in a small coffee-shop or club. Instead of leaving a tip, you can leave a review for the online performer. A nice comment makes any performer’s day whether it be after a live or after an online performance. On a site like ccMixter it’s much easier to avoid listening to crap than on most commercial radio stations with it’s corporate rock bands, mickey mouse club alumni and television contest winners. And ccMixter doesn’t have advertising blemishing the music experience.

Bottom Line (for now)
These are just my first impressions, and so far there is a lot to like about ccMixter – and in my opinion it’s the overall best remixing site I’ve found so far. I hope that most of my remixing friends will start joining ccMixter. The site has the potential to become the best remixing treasure on the web – in many technical ways it already is, but a continuing influx of talented music makers will really fulfill it’s potential. I recommend starting with the ccMixter about page

In addition, I’ve seen talk about additional collaboration features being added. That would be a great addition indeed, since remixing and collaboration are highly related and many remixers end up collaborating (heck, that’s how a minor theory started!)

I’ll try to actively participate at ccMixter by providing more samples from a minor theory and some of my own as well as remixing some other content from there outside a contest. It will be interesting to compare the experience of a site without a “friend” mechanism to other sites with friend mechanisms.

After having given ccMixter a first good spin (pardon the pun!) , I have a little bit of the same feeling, when I first bumped into Wikipedia or the Internet Archive. This has the makings of becoming one of the very special destinations on the web.

Any errors, omissions, or other thoughts, please leave a comment. – Thanks!

Salman Ahmad “Natchoongi” Remix Contest

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

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

Curve music Remix Contest

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

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

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

The contest runs from June 6 to 28, 2007.