Since late last week, we've been getting lots of inbound requests and submissions to write about The Fine Brothers, and the claims that they're somehow trying to "control" or "claim ownership" on the concept of "react videos." Almost all of the inbound requests are expecting us to trash the Fine Brothers for this apparent attempt to "own" something that can't be owned, and we're going to disappoint them. Having gone through all of the details, it actually looks like the Fine Brothers were legitimately trying to do something that's actually... kind of cool. Now, before you rip off my head as well, please wait and hear me out. I will say that they could have been a bit more tactful about it, but I don't think they deserve the intense hatred they're getting.
There are lots of details here, but it starts with the Fine Brothers, Benny and Rafi, who have built up a rather impressive empire in creating amusing internet videos. They have a bunch of shows, many of which are crazy popular. Among the most well-known is probably the "Kids React" series, in which they film kids reacting to things (often "old" things that the kids may not be familiar with, frequently pop culture related). Personally, I like the one where kids react to seeing the very first iPod. Warning, if you're older than, like, 10, this video may make you feel really old.
Anyway... this latest mess kicked off with a YouTube video where Benny and Rafi Fine act as if they've just cured cancer or something, they're so excited for what they're putting out into the world -- a way for anyone to "license" their various show "formats," like Kids React:
And, right off the bat, I can totally understand why people were at least a little concerned about this. We've all spent enough time dealing with big successful entities using "licensing" to mean "we're going to stop you from doing stuff unless you pay us." And, honestly, the video above does feel a little weird with the two of them acting as if they've just done the most amazing thing in the world for their fans. I think the other problem with the way they announced this is that they've probably been so deep in the Southern California/entertainment world where questions about "licensing formats" for TV shows is something that's understood by everyone, that they just used the same terminology, without realizing how that would play with basically everyone else in the world, especially among their fan base. Again, to most people "licensing" means taking someone else's money and "formats" sounds like they're claiming ownership of any kind of reaction videos.
Here's what they probably should have said they were trying to do: "Hey, everyone, we know we've got lots of enthusiastic fans who love our react videos and want to make their own. And now we're going to help you make those videos, help promote them and even help you make some money off of them! Yay! Isn't that exciting?"
Here's what they said instead: "Hey, everyone, we're going to let you license our "React" intellectual property. Also, people who copy our videos are bad people, but now you can do it if you license from us! Isn't that totally exciting?"
Here's what everyone heard: "Hey, everyone, we own "reaction videos" and now if you want to make your own, you have to give us a cut or we'll shut you down, because you're bad! Isn't that exciting?"
The problem was that they focused on the mechanism ("licensing!") rather than the benefits. They've been pretty clear that they're not looking to shut down anyone. And all the claims from people saying that they're claiming "ownership" of reaction videos is wrong. Yes, they've trademarked some stuff, but trademarks are not copyrights or patents. And, yes, while there is trademark abuse, there's no indication that what they're trying to do here is abusive. Actually, it looks like a pretty good idea.
They know that lots of people make similar reaction videos. And a lot of those people are their fans. But rather than shut them down and rather than demand big licensing fees, they created this (somewhat unique) program, where they're giving a license to anyone who wants it, and with that license, you get a variety of benefits, including graphic elements and (importantly) the ability to have the Fine Brothers help promote and monetize your videos. They take a cut (looks like a pretty small percentage actually), but that should be worth it for many people, who probably wouldn't have many opportunities to monetize the videos by themselves.
So, rather than use intellectual property to limit people (especially fans), this effort looks like it's designed to do the opposite. It's offering ways for fans who make their own videos to be considered "official" videos. Imagine, for example, if LucasFilm did the same thing, giving a sort of stamp of approval for people making fan Star Wars films -- and would even let them release them, just as long as LucasFilm got a small cut? That would be kind of cool.
Now, there is some, potentially valid, concern that the Fine Brothers have attempted to trademark some of the names of their shows, and those trademarks could potentially be abused. Additionally, the whole "people are stealing our formats!" claim in the video above just comes across as silly. Finally, there are at least some examples of absolutely stupid takedowns that may have been made by the Fine Brothers or by people working for them. And those are all certainly issues to be concerned about -- and the Fine Brothers should have perhaps realized that those issues were going to come up, especially the way they presented this.
But, going back to the actual licensing program, it's not that crazy by itself. A trademark is pretty limited in what it can prevent here, and it really doesn't look like they're trying to take down generic reaction videos -- and the fact that they've publicly insisted they're not intending to do so would clearly hurt any actual attempt to do so later. The takedown pointed out above was stupid, and pretty clearly fair use, but was using the Fine Brothers' original work (it was a video of him reacting to one of their Kids React videos). Again, it was a really really dumb takedown that they shouldn't have done, but is a separate issue from this licensing program for people creating something different entirely.
Similarly, a lot of the criticism is that there's nothing special or unique in "reaction videos" and that plenty of others have done them, even predating the Fine Brothers. That's true -- and this is where the misunderstanding of "format" outside of the cozy Southern California entertainment world comes in. What they're talking about is building off of the larger reputation associated with the shows themselves -- something the Fine Brothers actually did build up beyond just generic reaction videos -- including a general setup and script for how each of the videos goes along with the graphical elements that accompany the shows. Most other reaction videos don't follow that same format -- with multiple people looking at a laptop or a piece of technology, with the quick cuts between different folks, and the captions and explanation bubbles and whatnot. I'm not saying any of that is brilliant, but it is the kind of thing that, when packaged together, could certainly be a valid "format" for a show.
Again, if you separate it out, overall, this actually looks like a pretty cool idea for how an entertainment brand could (and probably should!) embrace fan culture and fans trying to build on their work. But, it was presented slightly awkwardly, with a focus on terminology not well understood outside of the entertainment business, and in a world where people are (so rightfully!) concerned about abusing intellectual property. And, the fact that the Fine Brothers have apparently done some stupid takedowns doesn't help at all. Mix in a bit of Reddit mob behavior and you have a recipe for a massive overreaction.
We see abuse in the way some companies and people use the DMCA takedown process all the time. Those stories typically range from anywhere between mildly frustrating to truly infuriating. But to really abuse the DMCA process in the most heartless, idiotic, disingenuous and fan-hating manner, we of course must bow before the masters over at Disney.
All of this started not that long ago, in a Walmart not particularly far away, when someone with a Facebook Star Wars fan group walked into a store and legally purchased a Star Wars figurine and then uploaded a photo of it to the Facebook group. Turns out the figurine contains a sort of spoiler within it or something. As such, plenty of other websites, such as Star Wars Unity, linked to it, embedded the photo of the figure, and discussed its implications. You know, like Star Wars fans do on all kinds of sites all the time. Well, that's when the DMCA notices began rolling in and the images started coming down.
This morning I woke up to numerous DMCA takedown notices on the @starwarsunity Twitter account, the Facebook account, the Google+ Page, and my personal Twitter for posting the image of an action figure that was legally purchased at Walmart. My webhost also received a takedown email from them with a threat of a lawsuit of the image wasn’t removed. I of course removed the image because I can’t afford to be sued by a toy company who likes to bully Star Wars fans.
The exact wording of the “infringement” is:
“Description of infringement: A screen shot of an unreleased figurine for Star Wars: Force Awakens”
Except, of course, the figurine wasn't "unreleased," it was very much released at a Walmart where it was legally purchased. If the Walmart made a mistake in putting it out on the shelves too early, that doesn't suddenly make it copyright infringement for someone who bought it in good faith to take a picture of it. And, taking a step back, even if the figurine had not been released by the Walmart, how is taking a picture of it copyright infringement? It isn't, by any sane reading of copyright law. Because it was a picture of a Star Wars toy made by Hasbro, most people logically assumed the takedowns were coming from the toy company.
This wasn’t a figure that was stolen off the back of a truck or stolen out from behind closed doors at Hasbro. It was legally purchased in a store by a fan and they posted a picture of their purchase on the internet. But because Hasbro is terrified of pissing off Disney and losing the Star Wars license early, they’re threatening and bullying fans online with legal action for sharing pictures of their purchases. Due to this I urge all Star Wars fans to avoid Hasbro product and not purchase any of their Star Wars releases. Until Hasbro grows a brain and stops bullying fans online, they do not deserve any of our money.
Except it doesn't appear that this was Hasbro at all. Turns out the DMCA notices are coming from Irdeto, an anti-piracy outfit we've discussed before, and are being sent on behalf of Lucasfilm, which is, of course, Disney. And those DMCA notices are going out not only to the original uploader of the picture, but even to those using the picture in a discussion or news capacity, and even those retweeting the picture.
So, let's recap. Hasbro made a toy that was released by a Walmart and bought legally by a fan, who uploaded a photo of the toy. Disney/Lucasfilm, which does not have a copyright on that photo, is having a third party, Irdeto, send out DMCA notices for the uploading of a picture, or a retweeting/reposting of the picture, which is not copyright infringement. And this gross abuse of the DMCA process is being done simply to stifle the speech of Star Wars fans and save them from a spoiler that apparently is coming from the depiction of this toy.
If that isn't the kind of DMCA abuse that results in some kind of punishment, nothing is.
Deus Ex is a video game series built around the theme of human-augmentation and its effects on people's underlying humanity. It is published by Square Enix, a company built around the theme of trying to piss off fans at every possible turn. Whether it was the nuking of a fan-translation that had already been three years in the works, the company's loving embrace of stupid DRM, or cease-and-desist-ing an entirely harmless Final Fantasy fan-film out of existence, it's always appeared that Square Enix might just be some kind of corporate monster that can only sustain itself on the tears of its biggest fans.
But maybe they had their heart augmented or something? I don't know, but this story about Square Enix not only allowing a major fan-made total conversion to the original Deus Ex game to exist, but actually going out of its way to endorse it, is a rather profound about-face for the company. The conversion is entitled Revision, and it's pretty damned impressive.
Revision, which went live on Steam a few hours ago, is more than just a set of new textures, but holy cow, it has that. It’s not only a visual upgrade, either. Revision has a bunch of different mods, such as Human Renovation, which fixed glitches, re-balanced augmentations, modified the AI of various NPCs, and a whole bunch more. Fans have been slowly improving and tweaking Deus Ex for a number of years, but if you’ve been afraid to download a bunch of random mods, Revision is your catch all solution.
I haven't played it yet, but I sure as hell will. Having said that, the visual and gameplay updates are of a quality that you'd expect from a group of fans with a great deal of love for the game. This is normally when Square would step in and dash the sandcastle just for fun, but it's gone a different route, going so far as to issue a press release at the time that Revision went live on Steam.
Today Square Enix and Eidos-Montréal continue to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the release of the original Deus Ex® by authorizing a fan-created mod for the first Deus Ex game originally released in 2000. Called ‘Revision’, the mod by Caustic Creative overhauls the environments and soundtrack of the original Deus Ex and is available to download for free today on Steam®.
Huh. Deus Ex is all about conspiracy theories at its heart, so maybe there is some nefarious purpose behind Square doing this? All kidding aside, it's nice to see once-controlling companies embrace their fans and those fans' labors of love this way. After all, what's the harm? At worst, this will drive players of the new games to go buy the old ones and give them a spin. Everyone wins.
Back at the end of August, we wrote about a ridiculous situation in which the Pokemon Company decided to sue two fans in Seattle who had set up a Pokemon-themed party leading into the big PAX conference. As soon as the threats came down, these guys shut down the party entirely, but the Pokemon Company would not be stopped in its determination to totally bankrupt and destroy such a big fan who was out there promoting Pokemon and Pokemon culture. The company, represented by big copyright maximalist law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, went forward with the ridiculous lawsuit anyway. While they dismissed one guy from the lawsuit, the other, Ramar Larking Jones, didn't hire a lawyer, saying he had no money for it.
End result is that the Pokemon Company is demanding $4,000 from Jones by November or they say they'll make things even worse. Some of the reporting on this suggests that Jones has lost the case already, but that's not true. Basically, a lawyer from Davis Wright Tremaine (who should question how he sleeps at night), Stuart Dunwoody, is bullying Jones, who says he's just a broke fan of Pokemon. Dunwoody told Jones that Pokemon is willing to "settle" the case for $5,400 and sent him a "final judgment and permanent injunction" for Jones to review. This is not from the judge. This is from Dunwoody, who will submit it to the judge and hope the judge just signs off on it. And, of course, if he gets Jones to agree to this "settlement", that's what the judge will do. Apparently Dunwoody has agreed to accept a $4,000 settlement, but only if the amount is paid by mid-November. Jones has been asking if he can spread it out over a year, noting that he's basically broke and works in a cafe.
Jones, for his part, still doesn't appear to have a lawyer (note: this is a mistake), and has set up a GoFundMe page, trying to raise the $4,000 to pay off Davis Wright Tremaine and Dunwoody (who probably bills more than $4,000 per day for doing this kind of shakedown).
Yes, you can argue that perhaps Jones should not have thrown a "Pokemon-themed" party or used Pokemon characters on the poster, but, really? Does anyone honestly think there is any legitimate harm done here to the Pokemon Company? Especially compared to the reputation it will get for bankrupting someone who appears to be one of its biggest fans (or was). This whole thing is shameful, and the Pokemon Company, Davis Wright Tremaine and Stuart Dunwoody should feel bad about this. They're bankrupting one of Pokemon's biggest fans who was trying to share his love for Pokemon. How does that help anyone, other than Dunwoody's billing hours?
As Jones writes on his GoFundMe: "Trust me I will never throw another fandom party again." Congrats, Stuart Dunwoody. Another fan disillusioned. You must be so proud.
Last year, we discussed the silly defamation case brought by Andrew Rector, baseball fan(?), that ESPN's cameras showed to be sleeping(!) at a Red Sox v. Yankees game. The commentators on ESPN had some fun at Andrew's expense. Quite mild and tame fun, it should be noted. But several websites picked up where they left off, and some comments left on those websites were less than friendly to Rector. For this, Rector filed a $10 million defamation suit against ESPN and the commentators, John Kruk and Dan Shulman. It looked bad on the basis of both the law, as well as the ability of whoever filed the suit to use a spellchecker and basic logic.
While Rector’s lawsuit alleged that he was subjected to an “unending verbal crusade” by the ESPN duo, the assorted putdowns referred to in the complaint actually appeared in the comment sections of online articles about Rector nodding off during the game. Two comments cited in the lawsuit referred to Rector as a “fatty cow that needs two seats” and a “confused disgusted and socially bankrupt individual.”
In a decision issued last month, Judge Julia Rodriguez ruled that Shulman and Kruk made none of the nasty comments attributed to them in Rector’s complaint, adding that “none of the comments actually made by the announcers” was defamatory or false. Rodriguez added that, “At worst, the announcers’ comments might be considered to be loose, figurative or hyperbolic statements which are not actionable.”
Which, you know, duh. The idea that a person might snooze in a public venue where a telecast is occurring and then get upset because third parties saw footage of him sleeping is a logical bungle to begin with, but adding the money-grab feel of a multi-million dollar defamation suit against people who never said the things the suer is upset about represents such twisted brain-pretzels that it's actually hard for me to think about. Not every offense is actionable, after all, and the civil courts are not the place to rectify embarrassment in this way. The nature of the claim in Rector's original filing probably didn't help his cause, either.
Rector, a used car salesman, claimed in a court affidavit filed earlier this year that the ESPN broadcast--which he termed “bullying”--caused “enormous grief and embarrassment and affected my ability to work and go about my daily activity.” He added that, “people have avoided dealing with me. Insurance companies now consider me a high risk.”
And he thought the best way to move past all of this supposed damage was to ensure his name remained in the spotlight with a lawsuit? C'mon, son.
As of late, Nintendo's relationship with YouTube and the YouTube community has been, shall we say, tumultuous. After rolling out a bad policy to share revenue with YouTubers on the basis that those personalities torpedo their reputations by promising only positive Nintendo coverage, claiming the monetization for a large number of "let's play" videos uploaded by independent YouTubers, and even going so far as to lay claim to the review of a Nintendo game created by well-known YouTuber "Angry Joe", Nintendo clearly seems to believe that YouTube is not so much an independent community as it is some kind of official public relations wing for the company. This is really dumb on many different levels, but chiefly it's dumb because it breeds ill-will amongst fans, of which Nintendo used to have many.
And the war drum beats on, apparently, as Nintendo has seen fit to issue massive takedowns of videos of fan-created Mario Bros. levels as the company releases its own Mario-level-builder, Super Mario Maker. What appears to be catching these YouTubers in Nintendo's crosshairs is if they used any emulators or hacks in order to make these levels.
Nintendo is targeting speedrunners and modders in a new round of YouTube copyright claims, issuing takedown requests to users who post footage from modified Super Mario World levels. The mass deletion coincides with the upcoming launch of Super Mario Maker, a Nintendo-licensed level creation toolkit for the Wii U console. Removed videos feature unauthorized Super Mario World levels created using freeware tools, rather than Nintendo’s official level design software.
Nintendo’s recent copyright claims impact speedrunners who have spent years crafting and documenting unsanctioned Super Mario World mods. According to a Kotaku report, YouTube user “PangaeaPanga” states that their channel was “wrecked” by copyright claims, resulting in the permanent removal of many popular videos.
In other words, modders had long beat Nintendo to the punch in creating software that allowed fans of Mario Bros. to create their own levels, upload them, and have folks like PangaeaPanga play them out and eventually master them. This was allowed to go on exactly up until Nintendo decided to jump into this arena, at which time the takedowns ensued. What you may not know is that there has been an active Mario Bros. modding community for these past few years, dedicated to building the most challenging levels for others to play and then post their runs on YouTube. In other words, these are huge Nintendo fans.
Super Mario World enthusiasts frequently create custom levels designed to challenge veteran players. Many of these levels require the use of little-known glitches and quirks within Super Mario World‘s engine, adding a degree of difficulty not present in the original game. Creative application of Super Mario World‘s hacking utilities has also produced unique autoplaying levels, including tributes that link in-game sound effects to backing music tracks.
Under the terms of YouTube’s copyright structure, users who have their videos claimed by copyright owners lose the ability to earn advertising revenue from their creations. Copyright holders have the option of claiming ad revenue from content-matched videos. As part of its most recent round of copyright claims, Nintendo instead opted to delete targeted videos entirely.
So we have Nintendo staring lovingly into the eyes of its biggest fans while pissing on their legs. And for what? Part of the reason Nintendo will likely make a killing with Super Mario Maker is that these dedicated fans had built up an interest in these modded levels and speedruns in the first place. Now, Nintendo intends on swooping in, killing off the videos of these fans, and yet cashing in on the market that the fans essentially created? How charming.
It's not that Nintendo can't do this, it's that it shouldn't. The company gains nothing except another round of fan discontent. Real smart, guys.
Bungie, creators of the hit game Destiny, is going through a bit of a rough stretch. Whereas Witcher 3 creators CD Projekt Red have been showing the gaming industry how to do everything right in regards to DRM, DLC and consumer interaction, Bungie apparently decided to give a master class over the last few weeks on how to do everything very, very wrong.
Bungie's first misstep came when it unveiled the latest Destiny expansion pack, The Taken King. To access all of the content in this new expansion, gamers need to buy the new $80 Collector's Editon, forcing fans to shell out some notable cash to buy a slew of content they already owned (the base game and previous DLC), just to nab some new DLC doo dads. Destiny's creative director, Luke Smith, then did an epically shitty job of not-really-trying to quell fan outrage over at Eurogamer, where he repeatedly dodged the question of why consumers should pay for content they already own:
"Eurogamer: Can you see that some fans are confused that you're asking them to buy stuff they already own?
Luke Smith: Yeah, I can totally empathise with those people. But the Collector's Edition is a pretty cool package for people who want to pursue that stuff. Otherwise, surely what you're saying is that you would want to buy them separately, right?
Eurogamer: Well, yeah. I would rather do that - pay a few pounds or dollars or whatever - than spend money on things I already own.
Luke Smith: [Laughs] Well, we have nothing more to talk about regarding your opportunity to spend extra money in Destiny, other than The Taken King and the three versions we've announced"
Talk about non-answers. Smith essentially laughs off concerns about Bungie double dipping, arguing that users just haven't seen the full awesome scope of what Bungie has planned. When pressed by Eurogamer, Smith would only elaborate that the company is "really comfortable with the value" they're offering consumers. That of course completely ignored the fact that most Destiny fans were making it very clear they were not seeing said value whatsoever. Not too surprisingly, based on Smith's seemingly-flippant tone in the article, many Destiny fans felt they were at best being ignored, and at worst being laughed at.
The Eurogamer interview was published Monday, and by yesterday Bungie had been forced to do a complete 180, not only announcing they'd let fans buy the new DLC piecemeal, but also having Smith apologize for being an "asshat":
"Reading my interview with Eurogamer and imagining it came from some random developer of a game I love - that random developer looks like an Asshat. But that Asshat was me - and those words rightfully anger you. I'm sorry.
My words made it sound as if Bungie doesn't care about their most loyal fans. We do care. We are listening. And we will make it right."
Of course, Bungie wouldn't have to "make it right" if it hadn't tried to aggressively nickel-and-dime its loyal fans in the first place. And Bungie, like many companies, wouldn't be trying to aggressively nickel-and-dime loyal fans if gamers didn't perpetually reward this kind of behavior by lapping up garbage pricing and content whenever it's shoveled in their general direction. At the end of the day, the way to stop this kind of pricing isn't to raise hell after the fact (though obviously that helps), it's to avoid paying companies that exhibit this kind of behavior in the first place.
The recording is old news. Last century. Dead. The Access versus Ownership debate should have finished 10 years ago, but we're still bickering. Access models (eg. streaming) are not supposed to replace Ownership models. They're supposed to power a new reality, a new age for the Music business, in which the record industry possibly has no place.
"The Music industry" has become synonymous for the recording industry, just as it was synonymous for sheet music publishers prior to the rise of the recording companies. With new technology, come new companies, and the old companies move into the background. The new Music industry will likely not consist of those that depend on the recording (eg. major labels, or even Spotify), but those that apply technology to change what it means to listen to or interact with Music, just as the recording did in the 20th century.
Even the creative process will have to change.
Prior to the invention of the record, Music was far more participative than it has become throughout the age of mass media and mass consumption. Back then, if you wanted to hear your favourite song, you better know how to play an instrument, or have a member of the household who sings well, or you're simply not going to hear it. That sounds extremely restrictive given our current reality, but it also gave Music certain characteristics that made it richer:
Music was participative
Music was mostly a social experience
Music was more intimate
Music sounded a little bit different every time
Music belonged to everyone
I believe these are natural characteristics of Music, that got temporarily pushed into the background in the age of Mass Media and Western individualism. Entertainment and Culture became passive, and the ownership of Culture became less ambiguous, economically. A Creating Class arose, and a Consuming Class. The companies selling the output of the Creating Class benefited from the passiveness of the Consuming Class, because you couldn't consume high margin products while you create.
The KLF's Bill Drummond about Recorded Music
The KLF's Bill Drummond about what the recording took away from Music. From 1:23. Quote below.
"As the technology to record music evolved through the twentieth century, it sucked in and seduced every form of music around the world. They all wanted to become recorded music. They all wanted to become this thing that could be bought and sold. And that narrowed the parameters of what music could do and be. And it took away from music a big part of what can make music powerful, which is about music being about time, place, and occasion."
"Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again. […] I think it's possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: "You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?""
The recording is not the end of the line for Music. Every medium is a transition to the next medium.
Most people call performed music "live music" —
some people call recorded music "dead music"
The Media evolved and spawned Computers, the Internet, Video Games. The latter a highly Interactive example of Culture that went on to give birth to MMORPGs, where large Communities of players Interact and define their own Meaning, participatively. A particularly good example of the aforementioned elements coming together is Minecraft, a world-creating game where players work together to build whatever they can dream of. Deadmau5 uses this to enter a digital world of fan art and interact with his fanbase. Imagine what that's going to look like with the unstoppable momentum Virtual Reality currently seems to have. The Consuming Class has become the Creating Class: Consumption and Creation are becoming, in part, synonymous.
Why is Music still static by default?
Why am I not being offered more ways to interact with Music?
Look at the gaming industry. It's a 1,000 times easier to get someone to pay to unlock a 'special ability' than it is to sell them a piece of content.
Intimacy and Immediacy
The old Music industry is not interested in creating Intimacy. It's hard to scale. The dominance of the recording industry's model depends on hundreds of thousands of well-timed sales, and a long-tail that provides income until 70 years after the death of the Creator.
Yet the fact that we carry computers in our pockets that are more powerful than the PCs on our desks a few years ago, and always connected to the Internet, offers amazing opportunities for Intimacy and Immediacy, ones that fans are happy to pay for. It means that Kevin Kelly's theory of a 1,000 True Fans will become increasingly easy to apply for a growing number of Creators.
The rise of Intimacy and Immediacy will benefit those Creators who work with small teams, who are open about their creative process, and involve their fanbase early on in this process. This enables them to secure funds through crowdfunding, as opposed to trying to secure investment from large corporations, whether recording companies or brands.
One can create dynamics of social competition within a fanbase. Who can recruit the most new fans, or active members? Who are the most valuable contributors to the Creator's wiki? Who spend the most money on merch and who have the most complete collection? The ones that rank highest, get access to perks. A weekly 1 hour video chat with the top 10, weekly 10 minute preview of what you're working on for the top 50, 20% discount on merchandise for the top 200, etc.
An app that has a great idea for how to get people to actively discover new Music, engage with it, and feel part of the artist's success is Tradiio. It gamifies Music discovery and lets users invest virtual coins in songs they believe in. This helps artists rise to prominence on the platform and earn rewards. If this platform evolves from a reward-based game, to a real economy where users can purchase coins and artists can cash out, it would be a good example of the type of company the new Music industry will be made up of. Just to mention some other exemplary companies for music's future: look at Smule and Sonic Emotion.
More on Games
The Gaming industry got into the same mess, at the same time, that the Music industry got into, brought about by the fact that what they thought was their product could suddenly be communicated through networks at zero cost. A whole new Gaming industry emerged with the arrival of connected devices: smartphones. Instead of charging money for the game, they made the game free to play and highly social, and instead charged for a limited set of actions.
Treat money-poor, time-rich fans as well as the money-rich, time-poor, because it's the former that provide value for the latter.
Music needs a new format that's feature-oriented, rather than content-focused. The content remains central to the experience, but the interaction around the content is what brings in the money. Likewise, playback of recorded music will remain important in the future, but perhaps not as the part of the industry that rakes in the most important part of Creators' incomes.
There are countless examples of companies pioneering the future of Music. From aforementioned Tradiio, to ones started by game developers, Music business serial entrepreneurs, and artists themselves. First let's start with an example from another part of the entertainment industry.
"The software will read your emotional reactions to the show in real time. Should your mouth turn down a second too long or your eyes squeeze shut in fright, the plot will speed along. But if they grow large and hold your interest, the program will draw out the suspense."
Imagine applying that to music… Some companies are already closing in on that.
Example: Inception, by Hans Zimmer and RjDj
Music producer and film composer Hans Zimmer collaborated on an app for the Inception movie, with RjDj, a company that specializes in Context Aware Music and Augmented music, founded by one of the co-founders of last.fm, Michael Breidenbruecker. Hans Zimmer on the project:
"There's a thing I've been searching for and I've been working on forever now, is a way to get beyond recorded music. To get beyond 'you just download a piece of music and it's just always the same'."
The application they made draws information from the world around the user, and transforms it into fantastic music. It seems as if you're being immersed in dreamlike worlds, as happens in the movie.
They continued their collaboration and made another app for The Dark Knight Rises. RjDj also created a Reactive Music game called Dimensions, which owes its name to the trippy effects of the Augmented Music that make it feel like you've just crossed into another dimension. The game is free-to-play, and offers in-app purchases to unlock new experiences or further augment existing ones.
I asked two of the people behind RjDj whether people are ready for adaptive music. This is what they had to say.
"I think many of them are ready. Apps like Inception or Dark Night Rises show that people are really into this sonic experience. The problem is how this is presented packaged. I can tell you from experience that not many people hear the difference between 5 hours of generative music and 5 hours recorded music. So really... no one cares if your music changes all the time through an algorithm and never sounds the same or if [it] is a preproduced track. Music has to have a reason why it is dynamic and not linear... that's why we sync it to real life."
"I think Inception especially proved that if the experience is delivered in a way that makes sense, perhaps within a bigger conceptual framework, then millions of people can understand it and really like it.
As for people understanding the depths and details of how reactive music changes. It is very very easy to lose a huge part of the audience here. I think its fair to say that only musicologists and very serious music listeners could pick out the ways in which detailed generative music is changing for instance. Making a reactive music experience meaningful requires that the listener can tangibly feel that the change in the music is linked to his / her activity or life in some direct and hopefully emotionally powerful way.
Often making linear music is about manipulating the emotional state of the listener into particular states of mind over time for dramatic effect. Reactive music poses a different set of possibilities - what if the music is manipulated by them / their emotional state? As a composer this is totally different - its like using a sniper rifle instead of a shotgun - you can make your music hit exactly the right spot for the moment."
Adaptive soundtracks are actually quite common in games, where the Music transforms depending on the player's absolute and relative position (it's called Dynamic Music). Some developers are chucking all the other game elements aside to focus fully on that.
Proteus has been described as a non-game. The game (or 'game') was developed by one developer and one sound designer, and places you on a mystical island. There's nothing there to kill, no need to score points, and you can't die. All you have to do is to wander around the island to discover new areas and to enjoy the way objects around you influence the soundtrack. This is the literal embodiment of the phrase 'soundscape'. The changing seasons, different weather conditions, time of day, and varying ecosystems all have an impact on the Music.
I asked David Kanaga, the game's sound designer, whether this is something anyone could do, in order to understand whether this could become a more mainstream medium for Music:
"Yes, anyone could do it. It's maybe even more natural than writing static music in a way. That said, very few people are doing it, and maybe it takes years of UNLEARNING, which maybe means everything needs to be played again, to stop fixating on what's successful and beautiful in recorded music, in Sgt. Peppers and Pet Sounds, to find the play aspect of those and to move on, to stop admiring recordings.. improvise only, this is the tactic that i've been practicing myself to try this unlearning.. no serious learning is needed, really, but the UNLEARNING is totally necessary."
Example: Biophilia, by Björk
In recent years many artists have taken to releasing albums as apps. Björk had a particularly interesting take on it, releasing her album as a 3 dimensional galaxy that can be navigated and interacted with. The app even became part of MoMa’s collection.
Through the use of in-app purchases, the user can unlock new parts of the galaxy, which provide new Music to Interact with.
Example: Don't Be Scared LP, by DJ Vadim
Ninja Tune veteran DJ Vadim released an 'immersive album', which allows users to interact with different elements of the song, recomposing it according to their own wishes. What better way to create a sense of Intimacy between your fans and your Music.
Example: Central Park (Listen to the Light), by BLUEBRAIN
Then there's Bluebrain, a musical duo that produced their own apps, location-aware albums, one of which can only be used in New York's Central Park. In a way it's similar to Proteus, except in this case, the soundscape is mapped to physical locations rather than virtual.
Recently a new music startup by one of the creators of Google Maps started making waves: Weav. Weav's aim is to simply make music elastic. Unlike Spotify's new feature which picks songs that match your tempo while running, songs on Weav's platform will actually adjust to your pace. The team created tools for musicians to create dynamic music: you don't just write the song, you also program rules for it to recompose itself and adjust to different tempos. Co-founder Lars Rasmussen:
"We believe that as our lives become increasingly digital, and as our increasingly powerful mobile devices play greater and greater roles in our lives, having a song that can change and adapt -- in real time -- to what you are doing will become increasingly important. And delightful. This is why we built Weav."
If you're waiting for disruption in the music industry, don't look at the big platforms like iTunes or Spotify. They belong in the Age of the Recording.
Look at platforms that offer actual Interactivity, Immediacy, Intimacy, and Involvement. Now more than ever can Creators help give shape to future formats of Music, and to new ways to connect the listener to the Music.
Imagine Music in the Age of the Internet of Things.
Music may be static, but it doesn't have to be. And the relation between Creator and Fan certainly shouldn't be.
Peruse the history of fan-film posts we've done in the past and you'll be met with depressing results. Too often the makers of movies and video games prefer a restrictive approach to fans using any form of their content. The approach tends to be of the blanket variety, where a default to protectionism often ties up fan-work that is either usefully creative in and of itself, or else beneficial to the original content producers if only it would be allowed to breathe. Nintendo has become famous for this kind of restrictive practice in YouTube recently, but it is hardly alone.
Rockstar, as it has so often before, breaks the mold on this kind of thing. Back when Grand Theft Auto 4 was the latest iteration in the GTA series, some enterprising fans had used video editing equipment, along with the game itself, to create their own brand of fan-film, using game footage as the vehicle for an admittedly simple but impressive story line. The whole thing was 2 hours long and has been viewed on YouTube over half a million times. Rockstar, for its part, not only didn't take the video down, but it went so far as to provide its own video editing software for fans in the latest PC version of the series, Grand Theft Auto 5.
When Grand Theft Auto V launches tomorrow, it will come complete with a video editing suite that will allow you to make movies from Story Mode and GTA Online footage you capture. The software, the Rockstar Editor, lets you do a number of things [like] record and edit footage and share them with the community. The editor features special camera modes, filters, depth of field and audio customization options, and a Director Mode feature that allows you to create movie-making sequences from a cast of characters from Story Mode.
This, quite simply, is how it's done. Rockstar/GTA fans expressed an interest organically in something they wanted to do with Rockstar's product, an emergent use that Rockstar may never have even considered, and, rather than getting butthurt over the use of the content and sending out the threat-letters, the company enabled its fans' behavior instead.
And why wouldn't they? After all, far from harm, it would be an absolute boon to Rockstar to see YouTube pages filled with fan-creations in the form of short or monstrously-long creative works, all done within GTA itself. It's just one more way to have fun within the game, one more way to be expressive with fellow fans of the game, and one more way for the GTA name to be etched into gaming history. This is pure CwF+RtB calculus at its finest.
In the world of pop starlets, apparently Taylor Swift and Katie Perry hate each other. And, now, it appears that both of them are trying to one-up each other in having their lawyers issue legal threats to fans for no good reason. We've already written about Katy Perry's lawyers' threatening letter over a 3D-printable plan for "the left shark" from her Super Bowl routine (an argument that is legally dubious).
We originally made the item for fun, we love Taylor and we had friends that love Taylor. We never intended for it to be a profit making item. The cost of the item covered shipping costs, and production costs with very little left over.
When we got the e-mail that the trademark infringement occurred, we were pretty shocked because while our item was popular we didn’t feel as if it had become popular enough to cause harm to Taylor Swift’s empire. We were shocked. And we were scared. We didn’t even make enough money for a lawyer and this had seemed like such a harmless and fun idea.
The Buzzfeed article also notes that it appears that Swift has hired MarkMonitor, the big player in sending takedown threat letters over copyright and trademark issues, to send such takedown letters.
Depending on the specific products, there may be some legitimate trademark or copyright claims here, but it's hard to see how any of these actually create any real benefit for Swift, other than pissing off her fans, and angering people who actually wanted to celebrate their fandom of Swift and her music. Yes, these days popstars like Swift are "big businesses" who want to capture every possible penny that they can get from fans, but these kinds of products aren't doing any real damage to Swift or her brand. The takedowns, however, might be the opposite -- creating a real distaste among some fans for daring to try to display their fandom in a unique and creative way.