Open Source Music: Ramblings

The term ‘Open Source Music’ has been used more than once (not many times, admittedly) to describe my project here with  It’s been tempting for me to rush to define what this term exactly means.  I’ve admittedly done little research on the term to see how ubiquitous the term is on the net, but I also feel that the term is not normally used in everyday life.

A google search of the term actually brings up a website with the name:

“Music was the first open source language”

The site describes itself as a source for free music.  It seems to basically be a news feed listing various artists in different categories, including Famous Artists, Unknown But Great, and Public Domain.  It also has a news feed of various articles with interesting tidbits of information about how certain music is composed and whatnot.  I’m not sure, but it seems like the site hasn’t been updated since 2014.

While provides a list of good free artists, I’m not sure this actually qualifies as “open source”.  People familiar with Open Source in the programming world will no doubt bring up Linux as a prime example of what they consider it to be.  Linux is free to the public, but its source code is also available to the public for people to download, modify and improve.  The resulting Linux kernels are not quite as well known as IOS or Android, but they’ve been the backbone of portable device operating systems for at least the last decade.  Hell, even Android was developed from a Linux kernel and it is one of the reasons why there’s such a lax in standards for Android App programming.

So when you try to apply “Open Source” to music, it should imply that any song or musical music produced by an artist should be open to re-interpretation by other artists.  In this way, our culture moves forward by allowing artists to explore different avenues of approach to a familiar platform.

The best example that I can give to this would be the rock standard, “Hey Joe”, its ambiguous beginnings, including the copyright claim by an obscure artist known as Billy Roberts, have allowed numerous artists to revisit this track in the 60s and later.  One of the more famous versions of the track was, of course, done by Jimi Hendrix, but the song has been covered by Time Rose, The Byrds and Cher.

One would note that renditions of “Hey Joe” by these various artists weren’t exactly free to their audiences, as they had to buy the recordings made by Hendrix and others.  But this was one song that artists could seemingly visit and dabble in without worry of legal repercussions from greedy music corporations.  In a similar fashion, the Android Operating system may not be “free”, as anyone who buys an android phone will either have to pay for the hardware running the OS or sign a phone contract, but the building blocks that made that operating system–and even most of the building blocks of the android OS are open for programmers to stitch together new apps for the platform.

So “Open Source” shouldn’t necessarily mean that the final product is free, but that work is left open to reinterpretation by other people without paying huge legal or licensing fees to do so.

Certainly, in this day and age, we do have many artists ‘remixing’ and doing their own covers of popular songs on platforms such as YouTube, but there is always the inherent risk that Content I.D. matching on YouTube will take away your rights to the final product unless you either a) pay the money needed or somehow gain explicit permission from the original artists/distribution companies, or meet some sort of threshold that you are famous enough to get away with it.

(to be continued).



The State of Music: Lessons for Tidal Music…or what JayZ should have learned from Google+

The other day, while looking through Tunecore, I discovered that my music was on the streaming site Tidal.  I have to admit that I didn’t know what this was; I’d heard through the grapevine that Jay-Z had started up his own streaming service and that there was a launch party packed with A-list celebrities to hype up the event.  People like Madonna and Deadmau5 were supposed to convey that Tidal was the hip place to go to, and you should definitely jump from Spotify or your other streaming services and defect to Tidal to be apart of the hip crowd.

In tech terms, this launch smacked of the same kind of arrogance as google has expressed when they tried to force their YouTube users into Google+.  Here were the professionals basically telling you that if you wanted to stream their music, you had to go to this platform to do it.  Oh, but you had to pay them 20 dollars a month to do it.  The rewards for this fee were an advertised better sound quality and the knowledge that your favorite artists were getting paid more per stream than Spotify.

I guess I have great timing, because not long after I established the existence and the purpose of this site in my head, I happened across rumors that Jay-Z was selling the whole thing to Spotify which were posted today..

Really, anyone who’s kept up with the whole Google+ debacle could have seen this one coming a mile away.  Here we have, yet again, a specific service that mirrors the functionality of another, more well established service.  There are tweaks here and there to the formula, but there’s not enough of a difference to be of value to the users.  So the next step is to take away functionality/content from said user in hopes to coax that user onto their service.

With YouTube, Google took the ability for users to comment and have channel presences unless they signed up for a Google+ account (they even forced the switch over for those who refused to do so themselves).  With Tidal, these celebrity ‘artists’ restricted their content to that one platform alone, so that listeners wouldn’t be able to hear it anywhere else.

The backlashes from both user-bases were pretty much the same.  And if it’s true that Jay-Z is looking to sell his music streaming project to Spotify, neither of these projects survived for a long period of time.

So what can we learn here?  I think the internet has time-tested and proved a few things about what you can and can’t pass for muster to your audience.

1)  If you’re mimicking an established service with too little difference in what you do in hope to compete with the big dogs, you’re going to lose.  The most successful business ventures exploit the weaknesses of current business models by filling the needed gaps.  They don’t carbon copy something that’s already worked because you’re not going to convince your audience to switch over to something that’s time-tested.

2) The cult of Celebrity won’t help you succeed if 1) fails.  Google tried to use Celebrity to set its user-base at ease.  It failed the second that celebrity cooking-girl video was posted on the YouTube channel.  It failed so bad that Darth Vader could only use the force to hold his lightsaber (in other words, massive thumbsdown, Rebecca Black style).  And the internet reception for traditional style ‘celebrity’ is still–and probably always be–a lukewarm thing at best.

3) Taking away functionality/content from your audience/user-base will only aggravate and make enemies out of them.  People are smart enough to realize when problems are made for the user to move to the competing product were contrived by same the people who are offering you the solution.  It’s so obvious and condescending that you’re going to loose friends fast.

The End