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

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?

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!

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).

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?

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.

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.

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.