All I have to do is…

News comes down the Yahoo wire of the launch of a new website, DreamMusician, which is offering pay-downloads of well-known songs that have been stripped of individual musical parts (say minus the drums, bass, guitar or maybe even vocals), or even to purchase those individual parts in isolation or “packs” containing all the individual parts of a song.

The initial bunch of tracks, seemingly all licenced from Universal, are available for $2 each, and are offered in Windows Media Audio format. (DM claim that Mac compatibility will be addressed in the very near future).

Tracks are also currently only available for residents of Canada, and apparently the US, although no mention of this is made on the DM frontpage. On navigating through, we found that track download sales are managed by another site called Puretracks, but we were unable to get any further than a default message which blocked our progress (assumedly because of our location), so we couldn’t view a list of available tracks and parts. However both the DM site’s FAQ page and Puretracks site state that the tracks would be DRM encoded.

Whilst on the surface this looks like a very interesting idea indeed, the main focus of the site seems to be presenting the tracks as a kind of “Deluxe Karaoke”, allowing musicians to jam or sing along with the real versions of tunes (a ploy which has already been used successfully in the Karaoke world by Singing Machine, who offer a range of karaoke CDs using original backing tracks of classic Motown tunes). We reckon that the novelty of playing along to a piano-less version of “What’s Going On”, or a guitar-less version of “Achy Breaky Heart” (well, whatever floats your boat, y’know) will pale considerably after a few goes, but what do we know? It still might be worth $2 a pop, and the company, naturally, envisions large expansion of their range, and could eventually offer the same service for an enormous range of current and classic tunes.

However, us being us, we think the real long term use of breaking down the tracks and supplying acapellas, solo parts and instrumentals will be for personal remix use (and maybe this could be a long term, as-yet-unspoken goal of the site), but so far, the only direct music copyright comment on the site is a “Message from the Founders” on the site’s homepage, which states that:

“We respectfully ask you to join us in honoring the copyrights and creative works provided to us by our artists and labels. All music is for non-commercial use only.”

There is also a link to a longer copyright text at the base of the homepage. This text mainly concerns itself with the actual content of the DM site and their trademarks, although it does state that the user is unable to, amongst other things, “…adapt, modify, rewrite, create derivative works from, transfer…” anything on the site. (Regardless of that, the actual downloads are held on a separate site, PureTracks, and as we couldn’t get into PureTracks, we don’t know what other terms may be imposed before purchase).

Notwithstanding the site small-print, this “Message” still seems a very vague comment indeed, and could be open to a variety of interpretations – are they really saying that someone could, for example, make a new version of a track or remix using their purchased parts and, say, copy it onto CD for their friends or publish it on their website for free? (“non-commercial”) Surely not. (After all, we’re told we can’t “…adapt, modify, rewrite, create derivative works from, transfer…” etc. anything from the site.)

Well, actually in their FAQ they do helpfully suggest that the Windows Media DRM can be circumnavigated by burning the tracks to CD and then re-importing them into your computer, converting them to MP3 and sticking them on your iPod. Although it kinda defeats the point of having it in the first place, the DRM is most likely a condition placed upon DM by the rights holders to allow them to use the tracks in the first place, so it’s very kind of DM to let customers know that the DRM shouldn’t stand in the way of anyone getting the full use out of their purchased downloads! (regardless of any other stated restrictions stopping customers from attempting to “…adapt, modify, rewrite, create derivative works from, transfer…”, eh?)

Having to copy purchases to CD and back again would particularly come into play when dealing with the “packs of tracks” – I can’t think of many (if any) audio utilities that will allow loading of DRM-ed WMA files into a multitrack setting (Anyone know any better?), and regardless of that, the use of a compressed format would make re-synching the tracks very difficult, as tiny variations in the lengths of silent parts of tracks introduced during the encoding process (particularly at the start and end) tend to easiily render them out of sync (as anyone that’s dealt with the problem of synching up MP3 parts offered in remix competitions will be aware).

Anyway, hey, as the parts aren’t intended for remix in the first place, it’s a minor quibble, and it probably won’t be much of a concern to DM.

Still, it will be interesting to see how the site develops, for sure…

PS Anyone in the US or Canada that fancies trying to (or already has) get into the Puretracks site and reporting back their findings to us would be appreciated; please get in touch if you fancy a dig on our behalf. It’s not that we want to do anything with the contents (with our reputation? hemhem…), we’re just curious about the terms of purchase and the DRM before we dust off our axes, honest!!

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