Living in another world?

Well, at least people seem to be talk-talking… Following on from EMI Vice-Chairman David Munns comments during our debate at the Web 2.0 Summit (in which he suggested that availability of remixable content, alongside a simpler sample-clearence system could be possibilities), now Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr, during an interview within Second Life suggests the same thing:

“It’s our hope we can find a way to generally license much or all of our content for users to adapt in any way they see fit.”

Yet again, the emphasis is, as with David’s comments, always on “hope” – as bootlegger Andy Churchill commented today on the Get Your Bootleg On Forum, “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

This exactly mirrored my thoughts stepping down from the stage following my Web 2.0 Summit debate. The labels, naturally, are always looking for new ways to monetize their content – However, their admittance that this is something they are now investigating (or at least considering investigating) pushes things one step further towards reality. The issue now lies with the next major hurdle, one touched on by David Munns during our discussion, which is the wishes of the rights owners and actual artists.

Okay, sure there are going to be artists that will not allow any manipulation of their work, regardless of the financial benefits, but this is no reason to shoot the idea down in flames – I’m wagering that there are plenty who do, too – particularly ones that are looking to revitalise their (maybe long deleted) catalogue. Recent major-label compilation series, such as Universal’s “The Trip” have shown again that there is considerable interest in unearthing hidden catalogue jewels, so why not develop this further?

Furthermore, many artists (such as Prince) have already made their content available in a similar format; that of Sample CDs – raw limited-license-on-purchase material for studio musicians. Although Sample CD content is expensive, there’s usually a considerable amount of material on each disc, so the cost per sample isn’t that huge. Translate that to a digital distribution medium, and maybe there’s something to start with, no?

Still, if the heads of the majors are realising this, one hopes that there is internal research going on to see how feasible this is, and, I think, for once, rather than allowing a third-party company to take the reigns, I’ll bet that they’ll be wanting to administer this online themselves.

Another rumour posted suggests that Universal Music are doing exactly this at the moment, costing up the internal work involved in making such a service available. What form this will take is unclear at this time, of course, but it’s an interesting rumour.

It’s been a long held opinion of mine that the majors are wasting an opportunity in not developing their content in this way (“no shit, Eric?”). The only time they dip into this area is when looking for ways to promote new artists, usually in the form of remix competitions, and always seemingly very half-heartedly.

EMI’s remix competition for Lily Allen’s “LDN” is a good example of this. The competition stated that mixes would be put on Lily’s website for fans to hear, but so far, over a month after the closing date for the competition, nothing has appeared. Maybe the sole prize incentive of a single pair of Lily-designed Nike sneakers failed to galvanize the remixing public…

…Which is more than half the problem. Seeing the only benefit of making this content available as a lure to get names on a mailing list is not only narrow-minded, but is also interpreted as patronising by the very people who would like to remix the music – the label’s intentions are rather transparent, and the competition results will suffer accordingly. Guys, you’re pitching at the wrong audience!

Allowing song parts to be made available for a limited time, and a community to develop around these mixes has already been successfully achieved by sites such as Acid Planet, which had already been established by Sonic Foundry as a remix community for their “Acid” software prior to the company’s purchase by Sony. Unfortunately, the content is, again, always made available as part of a competition.

However, it could be argued that some Acid Planet content (which has always been DRM free, and always in uncompressed wav format, so as best to utilise the “acidizing” ability of the software) has benefited certain artists greatly once the content has been utilised outside the Acid Planet site.

Remix parts (including acapella vocals) for, amongst others, Madonna’s “Ray Of Light”, New Order’s “Crystal” and The Chemical Brothers’ “Galvanise” all first appeared on the site, and have since gone on to form part of the essential toolkit of any wannabe mash-up artist and thus have been utilised many, many times, resulting in some classic mixes, such as Go Home Production’s “Ray Of Gob”, which was even blessed with a semi-legitimate (i.e. “blind-eye”) vinyl release.

None of this material’s release and subsequent online trading seems to have hurt the artists in question at all. If anything, the range of adaptions of Madonna’s vocals (in a similar way to previous use of Missy Elliott and Eminem) has given her a considerable cache of underground cool that would be impossible to generate in any other way. And it cost virtually nothing.

So the artists (and therefore, labels) are already benefiting from free distribution of their remixable content, even if it isn’t within the intended parameters. Therefore it’s no surprise to the remix community to see that the heads of labels are finally acknowledging that there is a market for such content, even if, again not surprisingly, they’re unsure as yet how it can be best utilised (i.e. monetized). But it will be a very interesting situation to see develop.

Is this the point where Mash-Ups go public? Who knows, but let’s not hold our breaths, eh?


3 Responses to “Living in another world?”

  1. thomasr says:

    Eventually money will work it’s way into this scenario- when record companies realise there is money in mashups.

    Take “American Edit”. This was a perfect chance to make it happen. The band “liked” the remix album, the public clearly liked it- yet no one made a cent thanks to the Cease and Desist.

    If it had been released on itunes- imagine the difference. We’;d have heard “Boulevard of Broken Songs” on radio, a mashup video would have been released, the whole shebang.

    But perhaps we’re better off with the current “subversive” model?


  2. Mic Mell says:

    Considering the global economy music is hundreds of billions of dollars per year, perhaps it’s time to shift the tone of the conversation. There is such a huge push to focus on what the major labels are doing with their content, and the moves they are making.

    I’m all for learning from my competition, but considering the fiascos of DRM, unbundling albums, and just about every other move the majors have made in the last few years, are these really valuable models?

    Now that supply has far outpaced demand in music, the most important move is to give people what they want, not dictate it to them.

    Those of us who actively seek out good music know what we like, just like we know we want to buy music, not plastic.

    I’d love to see some more very open, creative commons remix sites popping up for just this purpose.

    Of course, I’m known to blather, so this is just my opinion.


  3. Vlad says:

    Where can we get the discussion about “Love” with David Munns on line ?

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