Musician Wonders What It Would Take To Become An Open Source Musician

from the going-beyond-creative-commons dept

Kevin H alerts us to the news that electronic music/DJ artist The Polish Ambassador recently began musing on Facebook about what it would mean to be an “open source” musician:

According to Wikipedia, “Open Source” is a philosophy that promotes free redistribution and access to a project’s design and implementation details. The end user who edits the program is then allowed to send his/her input to the author for possible inclusion in the project.

If an artist like The Polish Ambassador were to become an open sourced project what might that look like? Is there room/possibility for art/music/brands to become open source? Is it already happening? Could this ideology serve some purpose? Maybe a way to get other people’s ideas out there? A way to collaborate? A way to merge efforts of like minded folks? A way to create art from art? A way to generate $ for end users/charities? It seems to me the possibilities are endless. We all use open sourced software every day. Linux, Firefox, etc, but I haven’t heard of many artists that when I think of their name, I also think, “O yea, she/he’s that open source artist.” Maybe there’s a reason for this, maybe not. With Twitter/Facebook and the web in general, technologically speaking, we have never been more connected. Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Could “open source artists” be an evolutionary step for art?

Of course, many folks in the “free culture” world would point to Creative Commons as the artistic equivalent of an open source offering. However, two interesting things strike me. First, as of the time I’m writing this post, no one in the dozens of comments posted to that story mentions CC at all. Second, the request actually goes a bit further than CC. It’s not just about making the works free to distribute or use… but the second part: sending it back to the original creator for possible inclusion in the project. Now, again, we have seen some examples of this with various remix projects. In particular, I’m reminded of the experiment by K-OS, where rather than having fans remix an album, he pre-released all the stems, and let fans create their own original mixes, and then took the best for each song and released a combo album: one of his own mixes, and a second of the best fan mixes. In the hip-hop world, releasing instrumentals or acapellas for fans and other artists to remix (and building contests or other promotions around that) is fairly common—but only a few artists have gone further and offered up the individual bits and pieces. Perhaps that’s along the lines of what The Polish Ambassador is looking for.

Either way, this has me wondering if there isn’t something Creative Commons could include in their offerings, or if if this goes beyond that. It is an interesting point however. One of the thrills people get in working on open source software isn’t the fact that they can do what they want with it, but that they can collaborate to make the project better. Open source developers feel well-earned pride when a contribution gets included in a larger project. Imagine the same situation with musicians. What if your favorite band released your remix of their song? That is, what if they effectively worked with you and said your version was one they really liked — such that you got the official stamp of approval that had the work more widely distributed? Again, it appears that some artists are doing this on the margins, but it seems like the kind of thing that could be more clearly formalized and promoted as a cool way for artists to connect with fans and for fans to gain some form of validation for their own help with certain projects.

Oh, and in the meantime, it appears that The Polish Ambassador is currently offering up its entire discography for free — 7 hours worth of music, all in FLAC format.

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Comments on “Musician Wonders What It Would Take To Become An Open Source Musician”

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Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

It's about the music, not the rock star

What will be interesting is if people embrace the idea of encouraging the musical process, without anyone hoping to use the final product to promote an individual career. What if individuals no longer gain fame from music; instead more people get involved with music, though with less visibility? That could discourage all the people who think of musical careers primarily as a route to fame. We’d have the collective musical community, without the stars.

Robert (profile) says:

Not all will embrace it

Some points on this:
1) Matthew Good replied to a post (some time back) from myself regarding jamming with fans – he does not do that, music is too personal. I suspect other musicians might feel this way, even for non-personal things like just jamming to the blues. Some are just so deep in their music they can’t just jam without that connection.

2) Roger O’Donnel of The Cure tried a different approach through MySpace fans back in the day, he offered to remix their work, combine it into an album, release it on iTunes and give the fans a cut in the revenue. That sounded like a cool idea, though I didn’t follow up to see how it went. So it doesn’t have to always be fans remixing the artist’s work, could go the other way too.

3)Back with was in a different form, that is it had a paying members section (only $25 but some shared the content and others bitched about the paywall so it was scrapped) a group of us “M+” members collaborated using Google Wave. We covered songs, the first being Apparitions. That was a true collaborative effort and we had like 8 or 12 people contributing in various ways. Some sang, some added percussion treatments, others (me) played guitar, others added strings, and some just gave creative input like add thunder. It was really awesome to be a part of, despite not including the artist himself. There were other songs going on in parallel, but eventually it died down when the main website became less interactive. We didn’t include the artist or take it far enough, but there was a lot of potential and you really felt like you were contributing to the artist even if all you were doing was covering the material. It made you feel more connected. More inspired to buy.

Point being, we have to remind anyone asking “will this work for me” that maybe not, but you need to try different things. There is no magic bullet (ie: fans remix your work) that will work. The key is to be flexible and not get your shorts in a knot if what you tried didn’t work for you.

haik' (profile) says:

Release Raw Material

As a (amateurish) musician, that’s a question i’ve actually ask myself.
Where Creative Commons fall short is that, contrary to the Open Source/ Free Software movement, as far as music goes, you only release the “binary file” of the music, ie the mp3 / final mix.
Sure, you can “remix” it, but it’s hard, and you don’t have much room in it.
If I ever release an album, I think I’d like to make all the raw material available too (ie, “the source code”). That is, every instrumental tracks.
The main problem with it is cost. For one song, we’re talking between 3 and 15, say 3 or 4 minutes,stereo uncompressed raw .wav file. That is, a ballpark figure of 1 Gb of raw data per song. So, you got to host them, and make them available…

Anonymous Coward says:

It reminds me of what NIN did a few years back where Trent Reznor released the multitracks to the with teeth album. He then had an entire site created just for fan remixes. It was open source in that he created something, then gave the files away for free and offered a platform to send it back to the original creator. While NIN, and thus Trent Reznor, hasn’t always been an open source musician I can see where the attempt has been made.

TaCktiX (profile) says:

I’ve listened to a band named Celldweller since 2007. The man behind it, Klayton, ended up getting with a friend to create Fixt Online (, which regularly holds remix competitions on some of the higher-profile tracks, then releasing compilations of the best. In most cases the remixes are so good that they compete with the original song for my preferences. As far as I’m aware, more than just the final MP3 is distributed for use by any would-be remixers.

artp (profile) says:

Doesn't sound like evolution...

Doesn’t sound like evolution, it sounds like going back to the roots.

Music is a celebration of community when it is done well. It fits in with the group of people who are making it.

Despite your comments about Lawrence Welk recently, the fact is that there was a huge community of polka fans across the country. Polka bands toured all over, in small towns and large, delivering the music that people wanted to hear.

I hate to think what would happen to ethnic music if somebody decided to start enforcing copyright on it. Tradition plays a huge part in ethnic music of all kinds. There are traditional songs, harmonies, riffs, stories, all of which are traded around and enlarged upon. If copyright broke this chain, then the music would die.

So keep on dissing Welk. I’ d like to keep my cultural heritage free of entanglement with the **AAs. And here is some food for thought: Why isn’t there more of a problem with copyright in ethnic music than there is?

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

There's a web site for that

One thing that frustrates me about SoundCloud is the fact that there aren’t more license options (actually, this frustrates me about /most/ user content sites, YouTube being another big culprit). It’s great that I can choose CC-AT, and I usually do since it’s the most liberal, but why can’t I choose CC-0 if I want to? It seems dumb to give people open licenses, but then pick and choose which ones they get as options.

But the collaborative nature of the site is, indeed, awesome. Of course, it has also bred that play-baiting culture of one-word comments like “nice” and “sick” dropped 2 seconds into a song in the hopes of garnering connections – and idiots who keep unfollowing and refollowing you in the hopes you’ll see the notifications and follow back. But I guess stuff like that will always happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

When people talk about open source music one thing I never see is the sources, it can’t be open source if you don’t release the sources damn it.

Music sheet, samples, original sounds and so forth.

On an maybe unrelated note, audio editing is about to become like Photoshop with the advance in spectral editing capabilities. To see it in action go look for Spectral Layers or something like that and see the demos.

ps: Only 3 CC licenses are considered “open source” CC-by-Attribution, CC-by-SA and CC0 the rest is not.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Release Raw Material

>If I ever release an album, I think I’d like to make all
>the raw material available too (ie, “the source code”).
>That is, every instrumental tracks.

Interesting question of what exactly ?source code? means in relation to artistic works that cannot exactly be described as ?computer programs?. None of the CC licences mention anything about ?source code?, they only apply to licensing of the final work itself. The GPL does, of course spend much of its time considering ?source code?, which it defines as the ?preferred form of the work for making modifications to it?. That seems to me sufficiently generic that it could be applied verbatim to artworks as well.

How well do you think that would work for what you are trying to do?

artp (profile) says:

Doesn't sound like evolution...

Are you sure? Men at Work aren’t ethnic, nor is the composer of the music that was allegedly plagiarized.

Wikipedia says: “The flute part of the recording of the song is allegedly based on the children’s rhyme “Kookaburra”, written by Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guides competition in 1935.”

I’ve heard that it is based on aboriginal music, but you see that the lawsuit wasn’t from aborigines. This is the kind of abuse that I was referring to. Once the music gets outside of the group that wrote it, it becomes just another financial asset.

Ninja (profile) says:

This could be really nice indeed. The bright part when compared to software is that you don’t have to worry with fragmentation (something that plagues the Android ecosystem for instance and maybe Linux in a lower degree). We already have this running if you think about it except that the child creations don’t get incorporated in their respective parent in anyway. Let’s see if this idea takes off. Meanwhile the MAFIAA will keep moaning “But, but… Piracy!” and will probably lose the timing in this case too 😉

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:


Meanwhile the MAFIAA will keep moaning “But, but… Piracy!” and will probably lose the timing in this case too 😉

If Anonymous posts the first version and if each contributor who modifies the song also does it as Anonymous, then technically, the original song and the evolving modifications would be covered by copyright, but the copyright couldn’t be attributed to a specific person or company. Seems like that would deter any piracy claims.

Michael says:

Re: Re:

“As I said at the beginning of the comments, I’d like to see more egoless music creation. Let’s have projects where no one gets to claim authorship.”

Now I may be against the copyright maximalists and all but this is the most ludicrous comment I’ve read in this thread. “Egoless,” you say? So anyone who creates something and is credited as the author is egotistical?

I want to know who composed the songs I like. I can identify the creator and find more of his/her works. I can hear certain traits and tendencies unique to specific artists. Collaborations and other such joint-venture projects have been around for centuries, sometimes done to great effect, but individual artists/groups will always be the focal emphasis and for good reason.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Now I may be against the copyright maximalists and all but this is the most ludicrous comment I’ve read in this thread.

Not if we are contemplating open source music. Writing a song and then having your fans tweak it for you doesn’t strike me as all that open source. Collectively creating a song that no single person can claim seems more open source to me.

I’d like to see an open source music project where the goal is to collectively create music rather than just as a way to involve fans so that they rally around a musician, which strikes me as an extension of a star system. Let’s take this open source concept out as far as we can go with it. Make the music the star rather than individual musicians.

Anonymous Coward says:

CC would work, also this idea rocks

(late to the party, as always)

i don’t understand what the issue with CC is.

i’d think both CC-BY or CC-BY-SA would work great for this, depending on what the final result would be.

the question is harder with music in what are you sharing? I’d like to think everything: the sheet music, the words, the individul recordings and the whole recording.

which takes your opensource idea to its fullest.

so say i am song writer, but i don’t have the ability to record. i can post my sheet music as a new project. musicians come to play their parts, a producer comes in an finalizes the piece. if that is all CC-BY, anyone along that path (hell, anyone at all) could use the music.

you could have covers of the songs posted, remixes, re-writes, samples, all within the rules. all that could be sold, shared and reused, legally.

i suspect for the GPL comparison you would need to use CC-BY-SA, but i think that CC-BY is better. modifications not following the license, won’t be picked up by the rest of the group for use.

but again, i don’t see this as ‘outside’ of CC. it is about what is CCed, and for the music to be truly opensource, then ALL of it has to be under a CC license.

it is a facinating idea, that i suspect just needs a good starting place. a sourceforge, if you will, as well as a headliner, some sort of band/album that could be shown as an example.

(I saw the links to sites in the comments but haven’t checked them out yet…)

so i guess my only question is: when do we start?

Anonymous Coward says:

There's a web site for that

i don’t understand your concern…
soundcloud cannot dictate your license. yes, i have soundcloud and yes i understand what you are talking about, but that is a button on the page. your work is yours.

want it to be CC-0? then state so in the comments.
“despite the listing above, this piece is licensed under CC-0, do with it as you wish”

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: There's a web site for that

yes, i have soundcloud and yes i understand what you are talking about, but that is a button on the page. your work is yours.

want it to be CC-0? then state so in the comments.
“despite the listing above, this piece is licensed under CC-0, do with it as you wish”

That’s fine. But I still don’t see why it doesn’t give you the option. Most users won’t go out of their way to choose a different license – they will pick one from the list. And the fact that soundcloud allows you to toggle BY, SA and NC – but not to toggle them all off – seems like an implicit endorsement of certain licenses, and an implicit condemnation of public domain dedications. Why?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: There's a web site for that

my honest suspicion is legal concerns of some sort. CC as a license has paperwork, it means something. while the same could be said about CC-0 or just Public Domain, my suspiction is that the lawyers are afraid of what equates to “no license needed”

or worse, someone clicking it by accident and getting irate at Soundcloud (or flickr or whomever)

but that is just a guess.

Anonymous Coward says:


CC0 is not a license, it’s a copyright waver.

From ;

The person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.

You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. See Other Information below.

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