"open source music"

Various OSS people get the idea now and again of creating "open source" music distribution channels with the aim of disintermediating the big four. This is commendable, but the strategic aim is more likely to be accomplished by other channels such as CDBaby and iTunes. For history's sake, I should note that the idea was mooted much more heavily in the post-Napster era, before Apple did their thing.

What makes these new channels so dangerous to the entrenched model is ironically the very feature that model has evolved to perpetuate itself: the artificial hit mentality. There only needs to be one artist that achieves the success of Coldplay or Jack Johnson while remaining totally outside the system, and the perceived monopoly power of the big four disappears.

But this is not the aim of my post. People often characterise the "open source music" model as one that exhibits the same features as the open source world:
  • no dollar-cost barrier to entry/use
  • gift culture among producers
  • community among consumers
  • Freedom, if you're an FSF guy.
This ignores what open source is actually about, which is pooling skill and time to create software. The above attributes are the output of the system, not the input.

It should also be noted that the above attributes are not even the most important outputs of the OSS process, nor are they uniformly present among OSS projects. The most important output is the source: the preferred form for working on the project. The source is the most important output of an OSS project and can also be the input for it's own project and others.

Taking this into account, what is open source music? A piece of open source music comes with:
  • the finished product
  • the sheet music if necessary, in a notation such as LilyPond
  • all the samples used, if any
  • all the tracks (vocal, beat, etc.) as separate files
  • details of configurations used to produce any effects
  • etc.
To make this plain, open source music gives away the source, and the score, just as open source software does.

Now, I've spoken to artists about this, and the two things they all came back with are (a) it'd be great to have, (b) nobody will ever do it because of the loss of control over their creative output. And sadly, they're probably right on both points. I think there's a bit that needs flipping in the collective unconscious for this to ever happen on an appreciable scale.

The point: open source music is not the same as free music. A whole bunch of stuff goes into creating music that we as 'consumers' never see, and this has to hit the 'net along with the finished /.mp3/.flac for any piece of music to qualify as being open source.

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