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).