Band Tries To Take 'Open Source' Lessons To The Music World

from the it's-a-step dept

A bunch of folks have been sending in the recent post by Jono Bacon over at O'Reilly Radar about how his band, Severed Fifth, is trying to "reinvent the music business" by taking lessons from the open source world. It's an interesting article, but I was a bit disappointed in it, frankly. The plan he describes has been done already by a bunch of musicians, and yet Bacon presents it as if it's brand new and only they've thought of it. There's nothing wrong with the strategy the band has set out. It's pretty straightforward: give away music for free, treat fans right and empower them to do more to the band, and then set up a "pay what you want" solution. That's all good -- and it's especially important that they recognize the connecting with fans part (we keep hearing people complain that their similar offerings don't work that well, but they almost always seem to ignore the actual connecting with fans bit). However, it seems like a lot of other musicians have come up with much more creative business models, by going beyond the basic "give it away and pray" model, to find real scarcities that their music makes more valuable. This isn't to say this is not an interesting experiment, and one worth following -- it just seems odd to present it as if this is something new.


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  1.  
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    Karl (profile), Jan 20th, 2011 @ 7:27pm

    Open source?

    It's pretty straightforward: give away music for free, treat fans right and empower them to do more to the band, and then set up a "pay what you want" solution.

    Most importantly of all, the music is released under a CC-BY-SA license, which means that other people can sell their own copies of the band's CD if they want to.

    Granted, it's not revolutionary. But it is good that more people are trying these things.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2011 @ 8:35pm

    Nothing revolutionary here.

    Funny part is the article you link on on TD is amusing, mostly because a very short time later, you can go back and see that many of the artists you list are inactive, or no longer actually working "music for fans". Reznor is off doing movie music, Jill Sobule is nowhere to be found, and of course, Amanda Palmer is knocking them dead with ukulele covers of someone else's music.

    If this all is the new music industry, the fun is already over.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2011 @ 8:48pm

    Re:

    Well, sucks to be you then, right? Old models are collapsing, new models are "already over". Might as well pull out he white flag here and now, because apparently music will vanish in the next decade.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2011 @ 8:50pm

    Why they don't use opensource resources too?

    Like including their songs on games like Performous or Stepmania and distribute that to their fans with their sales. Those games are free and can be sold since the GPL only requires that you distribute the source code, you can enhance the experience of your fans doing that, there are thousands of open source projects for musicians that could add value to their offerings and since they are so many you have little risk of doing exactly the same thing others are doing.

    Also they could use Youtube or another video platform to create communities that would compete to create new songs based on their work where everyone would be allowed to use that for their own purposes.

     

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  5.  
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    Nick Coghlan (profile), Jan 20th, 2011 @ 9:40pm

    Yeah, I think that article could have been much stronger if it acknowledged that were plenty of other people experimenting in this space.

    Jono is an interesting specific case, given his open source community management experience, but the article definitely comes across as being more than a little ignorant of the space he is moving into.

     

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  6.  
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    Karl (profile), Jan 20th, 2011 @ 9:56pm

    Re:

    Reznor is off doing movie music, Jill Sobule is nowhere to be found, and of course, Amanda Palmer is knocking them dead with ukulele covers of someone else's music.

    Amanda recently reunited with Brian and went on tour as the Dresden Dolls. As to what she's doing now, I'll let her latest blog post speak for itself:
    i got myself married, flew to australia, released an amazing music video for “map of tasmania” that michael pope directed, launched a remix contest for the track on indaba, reunited with my moxy, kicked off the tour, saw philip glass (and delivered tristan’s CD to him), played with some adorable wildlife, and met nick cave…and now? NOW i’m proud to announce that my new record IS OUT.


    Reznor also remastered Pretty Hate Machine, and recently made 20 years of live shows available for free download - even after winning a Golden Globe for his "Social Network" score. Sobule is touring in March, and is in the process of releasing another EP.

    If this all is the new music industry, the fun is already continuing.

     

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  7.  
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    Allen (profile), Jan 20th, 2011 @ 10:12pm

    It seems to me that a group of people independently attempting to save the same problem came up with similar solutions. This could be taken as something more positive than: it's already been done.

    Sure they could have done some more research, but since they didn't and got similar answers anyway... isnt this a good thing?

     

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  8.  
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    Atkray (profile), Jan 20th, 2011 @ 10:36pm

    I don't know all the in's and outs of Open Source

    I think you raise good points but isn't part of Open source that anyone can do what you suggest, perhaps even you if you are a fan?

    Just asking, if I'm wrong my apologies.

     

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  9.  
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    Josef Anvil (profile), Jan 20th, 2011 @ 11:40pm

    The Real Story here

    I'm sorry, but after reading that article, I think the REAL story is the accurate description of the "traditional" business model for music. It's rare that its spelled out and juxtaposed with alternatives.

    "Under the traditional music model, bands create an album, sign their distribution rights to a record label, and the label distributes the music and benefits from the majority of sales."

    Soooo, the music industry is largely based on a group of non-musicians getting the majority profit off the musicians they claim to protect. In return they offer marketing and tour support IF they make enough off the musician's music. Effectively they will support the musician's tour with the money the made from the musician.

    It almost seemed in that article that they were trying to make a sympathy plea for the record labels by giving us the story of how a weak label starves the musician.

    "With the labels not providing adequate marketing and distribution, bands are not sent on tour, so they don't make much money."

    While I agree with Mike about CwF + RtB as a viable business model, it seems there is another option and one that the record labels are taking seriously. Since they are losing control of the distribution, they can focus almost entirely on marketing, for which they want a heavy percentage of whatever revenue the musician makes. If bands thought they had it bad when they only made a small percent of their records sales, they are going to love giving up a percentage of their touring and merchandise.

     

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  10.  
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    Jose_X, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 12:14am

    Re: Open source?

    Really, "open source" in the software world distinguishes itself by implying access to blueprints. CC-by-sa is traditionally used on the "binary" product and not usually on the "how-to blueprints". CC-by-sa (or GPL for that matter) on a binary product does not "mandate" that the underlying blueprints be revealed. Open source (copyleft in particular) refers to opening up the blueprints. [Sita Sings the Blues opens up the blueprints, but unfortunately I think these blueprints are in a still fairly proprietary Adobe format.]

    Music cannot practically be obfuscated in a successful manner in the same way software can be because the primary interpreter of music is a human (and their aesthetics) and not a super efficient and limited language computer.

    However, I am one that is interested in revealing the source code at least to digital content of any form and as well to business practices. A society with this openness busts monopolies of all sorts and gives greater motivation to the typical worker who now has a greater shot at freedom and achieving the American Dream even when starting from a humble base. Otherwise, profits and wealth promotes more profit and wealth, reducing the haves in number and growing the have nots. Openness promotes competition in a big way because trade secrets can be deal-breakers. Also trade secret is an important reason why many would ever fear businesses picking up their toys and going to another nation.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 1:24am

    Re: Re: Open source?

    The whole point of the GPL is to share the blue-prints, that is why you are obliged to supply the source code.

     

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  12.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 21st, 2011 @ 2:14am

    Re: Re:

    Also, Jill is still making music and playing gigs, despite the "nowhere to be found" claim.

    Our resident opposition commenter is amazingly incorrect in almost everything he types. Always funny, though. Sometimes I wonder if he's simply trying to make those who disagree with me look like clueless idiots.

     

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  13.  
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    J.J. (profile), Jan 21st, 2011 @ 2:48am

    Re: Re: Re:

    We should all be grateful Mike, this is a user who has taken it upon himself to provide us with cheap laughs.
    Granted the humor might be unintentional, but a laugh is a laugh.

     

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  14.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jan 21st, 2011 @ 3:23am

    Re:

    Ah, how much you post and yet so little you understand. It's nice of you to keep putting your stupidity out in front like this, though.

    "Reznor is off doing movie music"

    ...which was released through his own independent label (The Null Corporation), with 5 tracks being given away for free on the label's website. In working on the soundtrack, he's given up neither artistic nor commercial control. How exactly does this invalidate him?

    Oh, and if you think Reznor fans aren't included in his decision to work on soundtracks or collaborate with artists like David Fincher, you're sorely mistaken.

    "Jill Sobule is nowhere to be found"

    ...unless you look at her website, which has dates of her upcoming tour, which follows off touring as "Jill and Julia" with Julia Sweeney in 2009 and 2010. That's "nowhere"? Besides, did someone say that alternative models had to include working 365 days per year? If she was in a position to take some time off, and she decided to do just that, it doesn't make alternative models somehow invalid.

    "Amanda Palmer is knocking them dead with ukulele covers of someone else's music"

    Yeah, if you ignore the new album she has released TODAY that features nothing of the sort... try to stay current, at least.

    Besides, even if that was all she was doing, so what? Just because *you* don't like something does not invalidate it commercially or artistically. If she had been happy just doing that, who are you to criticise?

     

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  15.  
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    Jose_X, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 3:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Open source?

    Yes, the part where I said:
    >> CC-by-sa (or GPL for that matter) on a binary product does not "mandate" that the underlying blueprints be revealed.

    ..is incorrect with regards to the GPL side comment. I had to run and realized the mistake right after I left. I was wondering how quickly someone would have spotted that.

    So, to contrast more clearly:

    CC-by-sa applied to source material usable to build an artistic digital creation means that copyright law forces "derivative works" (such as an artistic resultant product) to be CC-by-sa;

    however,

    CC-by-sa applied to a finalized piece of work X would not require that the source material of that finalized work X be shown, much less licensed CC-by-sa as well. This contrast with the effect of GPL on a software binary.

     

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  16.  
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    Jose_X, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 3:58am

    Fair Use additions

    >> recently made 20 years of live shows available for free download

    Even if the original comment above yours had been correct, we see something very important, an artist relinquishing at least some rights over older material that is still hardly 2 decades old.

    This action does likely promote the progress, showing that undoing at least some of the effects of copyright leads to promoting the progress. Put differently, continuing to enforce strict copyright for these older works would not be promoting the progress... assuming even that it did promote the progress at some point.

    More generally, when artists and authors have already made a fortune of sorts (and many might come to mind), and more so when their works have reached widespread popularity and so entered popular culture, even if their works happen to be only a few years old, continuing to enforce copyright (at least to limit "derivative works" with significant original content) would be stifling indeed. ..ie, would not be promoting the progress.. ie, would not be Constitutional.

    This suggests two additions to copyright "fair use" law:
    -- stipulate that proportionately to the artist making money, the work loses it's copyright restrictions.
    -- stipulate that proportionately to the work being embraced by society, the work loses it's copyright restrictions.

    I'm not sure why else (besides for monetary incentives) should a person be given a monopoly on something they decided to make public.

    Also, the Internet makes it easier than ever to turn a profit on a published work and to become a part of culture.

    [I'm aware that I am ignoring formal and case studies that deal with motivations for creating as well as show that opening up promotes financial gains. I've limiting this brief discussion to promoting two ways that fair use likely should be enhanced.]

     

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  17.  
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    Jose_X, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 4:08am

    Re: I don't know all the in's and outs of Open Source

    Yes, if the licenses are compatible enough then anyone can do that.

    The suggestion I think was intended as a possible business model, and you are correct that this also presents opportunities for others.

    In fact, I would concur that fans could benefit by taking open content material and adding it to open source software where appropriate. They can then accept donations for their very modest value-add or sell some product, service, etc.

    They can even seek endorsement from the primary artists to help collect greater revenues (some of which likely would be sent to the artist as a condition for the endorsement).

     

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  18.  
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    Jose_X, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 4:09am

    Re:

    It would not be a good thing if anyone tried to stick a patent in there somewhere.

     

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  19.  
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    Jose_X, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 4:28am

    Four improved sources of gain for primary creators

    Internet and computation gains have enabled very sizable competition to publishers and to those other groups that ordinarily were among the few with funds to afford maintaining vast channels of communication and distribution, sophisticated know-how, and costly advanced technology.

    Competition doesn't imply that you can't make money, just that the amount you make will be more limited, as the audiences get better deals.

    1 -- In this case, better deals come, not only to the end consumer, but to the artists that were buying marketing services from a more competitive market.

    2 -- A fair amount of this new competition to traditional marketing and distribution firms now comes from the artists themselves as well, and that is another reason the artists can now get a larger percentage. [In other words, artists don't just have claims to a greater percentage of the overall required assets, but they participate in a larger portion of the total business processes.

    3 -- And a fair share of overall ideas and some free ground work also come from fans/third parties.. especially if these are given access to the works via a scaling back of copyright restrictions.

    4 -- Artists also have cheaper and quicker access to great works from other artists.

    Of course, this all points to another source of competition, this one to artists: there can now be many more artists that can profit from artistic endeavors whose bar to participation has gone down significantly.

    Any way you look at this, we have less friction in the economic system and a real gain to consumers and society.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 4:40am

    Re: Re:

    Paul, let's see:

    Reznor releasing sound track music isn't exactly earth shattering. Most movie soundtrack music isn't all the exciting away from the movie. There are exceptions, but for the most part, well... Trent got married, Trent got soft. :)

    Jill Sobule? The Jill and Julia show plays to small rooms (their last show, a year ender, was 250 seats), and it is something they have done mostly in obscurity since late 2007. For someone with a past of big hits and so on, it's like being back on the bar circuit, albeit nice bars. Nowhere to be found (and next show is, I think, end of march).

    Amanda Palmer? I didn't look at her site TODAY. I can't stand to read her blog long enough to find out. I trust this album will have the same wonderful result as the last one, sinking into obscurity within hours.

    If she had been happy just doing that, who are you to criticise?

    The comments have to do with the "new music marketing" universe. What most people don't get is at this point, most of the "new" methods for marketing are out there being used in full force, and the world hasn't stopped spinning or anything like that. The tools are all there, people are using them, and it isn't making a huge difference. In the end, that is what the discussion is about, not my own opinion of the music (the new Amanda Palmer song is horrid... and the video is just an attempt to get attention by using sexuality. Not exactly ground breaking stuff)

     

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  21.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jan 21st, 2011 @ 5:02am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Ah, of course, the usual response from you: "you're wrong" while offering nothing but biased personal opinion and ignoring the facts in front of you...

    "Reznor releasing sound track music isn't exactly earth shattering. Most movie soundtrack music isn't all the exciting away from the movie. There are exceptions, but for the most part, well... Trent got married, Trent got soft. :)"

    I have no idea what that last comment's meant to mean, but the rest really has nothing to do with what either of us were saying. You implied that making music for movies wasn't making music "for fans" and that this somehow indicates a failure in the alternative business models.

    I simply pointed out that it's nothing of the sort, and that he's still maintaining total control. You might have had some kind of a point if he'd had to "sell out" to a major label to make the music, but he didn't. Your personal opinion on movie soundtracks as a whole is irrelevant.

    "The Jill and Julia show plays to small rooms (their last show, a year ender, was 250 seats), and it is something they have done mostly in obscurity since late 2007."

    Again, so what? She was doing something she enjoyed doing, and making a living while doing so. Big hits and big dollars don't mean anything to actual artists, and again your personal opinions are irrelevant if Sobule herself is happy with her career. "Success" does not mean playing arena every night, it means making a decent living from your art. Corporate whores like yourself fail to understand this, but that doesn't make it a reasonable aim for most people. Perhaps she's playing the smaller shows because she prefers it, not because she's slumming it?

    "The tools are all there, people are using them, and it isn't making a huge difference."

    Did anybody say the changes would happen instantly? I don't recall that. What I do recall is a lot of people pointing out examples of artists who are making their careers work without bowing down to major labels, nor having screaming fits about "piracy". What's stopping these things becoming mainstream is the level of control that the majors have over most traditional outlets, but this is changing. Slowly, but it's changing.

    "(the new Amanda Palmer song is horrid... and the video is just an attempt to get attention by using sexuality. Not exactly ground breaking stuff)"

    Again, your personal opinions are irrelevant. The fact is, she's bringing out new material (which you falsely claimed she wasn't) and she still successful in her independent career. That's all that matters, unless you have evidence that this is somehow not working financially, or that Palmer herself feels she had to compromise.

    Besides, how exactly does your comment differ from, say, Lady Gaga? Are you going to claim that she and her corporate structure aren't successful because it depends on the same things you criticise Palmer for doing?

     

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  22.  
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    Jason, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 6:29am

    Re: Re: Re:

    So, let's see if I can nail down your argument: "This business model will never work because I don't like any of the music of the people who've tried it."

    Is that about right? Sheesh, you're just a grumpy-ass aren'tcha?

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 7:21am

    Good to hear. I find the Open Source method to be refreshing. Linux companies have been successful using the following method of marketing.
    1. Give away the software (they will steal it anyway!)
    2. Sell support at a reasonable rate
    3. Sell extra products, t-shirts etc.
    4. Publish and sell hard copy books
    This approach seems to work and bands have even more opportunities to add value for their fans.

     

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  24.  
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    Karl (profile), Jan 21st, 2011 @ 9:58am

    Re: The Real Story here

    If bands thought they had it bad when they only made a small percent of their records sales, they are going to love giving up a percentage of their touring and merchandise.

    It's called a "360 deal," and it's rapidly becoming SOP in the recording industry.

     

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  25.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 21st, 2011 @ 10:09am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Amanda Palmer? I didn't look at her site TODAY. I can't stand to read her blog long enough to find out. I trust this album will have the same wonderful result as the last one, sinking into obscurity within hours.

    Either that or it will immediately become the top seller on Bandcamp -- which is not easy to do, unseating the album that had been at the top for a while.

    Oh yeah. The 4th one on the list? Yeah, it's her last album.

    Sinking into obscurity?

    Nope, you're just displaying your incredible ignorance.

    I will imagine your retort will be that being at the top of Bandcamp means nothing, but I'll prewarn you that saying that will only confirm your ignorance. You should explore how well Bandcamp is doing, and what it takes to become a top seller on the site.

    For someone who regularly attacks me for (as you claim) pretending my opinion is fact, it's pretty amusing to see you doing exactly that -- especially when the facts are on display to prove you wrong.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Been there, done that. The results speak for themselves, 1 artist with two "albums" in the top 5 isn't exactly wide and deep, is it? ;)

    Amanda Palmer has her fans. So does German Death Metal. It doesn't make either very important or relevant outside of their very narrow markets. Yes, many of them "make a living", but that wasn't the definition that the industry people were using in their discussion, were they?

    Bandcamp is a nice idea, but if it is the future of music, music is pretty much doomed.

    Seriously, I have to ask the question: Why in this modern age do these artists still make "albums" anyway? Isn't that an only tradition from the shiny disk people? Shouldn't they just be releasing a song every couple of weeks to keep their fans happy?

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 12:32pm

    This website's idea of a creative business is to turn your band into an escort service.

    How classy.

    "We can't sell our album since Mike Masnick says copyright is evil, so how about you pay us $50 and we'll go on a lunch date? That's an improvement, right? Wow this new business model is awesome!"

     

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  28.  
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    E U C A R Y O T E, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 1:33pm

    We can go much further than this: open-label, or band of bands

    I've already posted my message to another article about this band... I'll re-iterate, because we would really appreciate your help!

    We are E U C A R Y O T E, and are starting what we call a "band of bands", which is the closest we could get to the idea of an open-source band. Contrarily to most approaches, we are aiming at a paradigm shift in the practice of music.

    In brief: bands are too many to share the big pie of today's music industry and still manage to make a buck. In answer to this, and the other reasons that make us despise this industry, we would like to operate more like an open label: several bands sharing one name, and all music co-owned by all members.

    At the core of the concept, is the possibility of creating original songs, but also giving room to the covering, re-writing and evolution of such songs. This would give the listener the opportunity of acquiring "updatable songs" - every time a new version is available, the song grows.

    Please visit our test-page, read our stuff, listen to our first band's music, let us know your thoughts about the concept, and please pretty please with a cherry on top, spread the word to any musicians you think would be interested. We would also love to reach out to developers who would like to help out on the project. There is a serious challenge in creating such new formats for new ways of producing music.
    We welcome all, and are way past style considerations - all music is great when pulled from the bottom of one's self!

    www.eucaryote.org

    Loves
    E U C A R Y O T E

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 3:29pm

    Re:

    For FOSS:

    Besides support, you can offer to integrate, customize, extend for a peculiar feature, etc.

    You could do free tutorial videos and many other things which can lead to donations, tutoring/teaching or speaking engagements, advice/consultations, etc.

    You could enhance, enable many types of businesses or endeavors you could run yourself (or as partner) for profit. Being the expert could give you certain advantages and efficiencies.

    A version of all of these also works for artists.

     

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  30.  
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    Jose_X, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 3:40pm

    Re: We can go much further than this: open-label, or band of bands

    I like writing in open source fashion so anyone can perform, modify, etc.

    I went to the website but it didn't work on my browser (firefox).

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    E U C A R Y O T E, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 4:56pm

    Re: Re: We can go much further than this: open-label, or band of bands

    ... And that's why we need help (among other thing) :) - Any chance flash is responsible of this? The site was tested successfully in the whimsical firefox though.

    Could I get your quick feedback on what doesn't work? http://eucaryote.org/

     

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  32.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 21st, 2011 @ 5:25pm

    Re:

    This website's idea of a creative business is to turn your band into an escort service.


    If that's what you think I've suggested, you need to learn to read.

     

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  33.  
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    teka (profile), Jan 21st, 2011 @ 6:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Wait, so now its "if one person can be that popular, it obviously does not count"? and "You silly kids and your silly tiny ideas cannot compete with the grace and power of The Top 10 Chart"

    Lovely.

    And then you go on to attack "modern" artists by pretending they are all against the idea of the structure of albums.

    Thanks for making your silly idea clear.
    Some would accuse you of being a paid shill, but i would hope that a corporate paymaster is getting better shilling for their money.

     

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  34.  
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    Karl (profile), Jan 22nd, 2011 @ 12:42am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Also, Jill is still making music and playing gigs, despite the "nowhere to be found" claim.

    Yep. Thus the "touring in March, releasing an EP" statement.

     

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  35.  
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    Shon Gale (profile), Jan 23rd, 2011 @ 6:54am

    I read the article also. It sounded like a passion of the moment statement. You know how you exclaim things when the muse hits you. Or maybe you have never had that creative experience. Of course the press, no matter who they are, have to sensationalize it.

     

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