Posts tagged ‘politics’

Caching Music, Cashing in for Music

June 30th, 2003

This essay was published in the Aula Exposure Book. I’m proud to be in such good company!

It was long since I bought my last record. Actually, as far as I can recall, buying music over the last years was driven by my social rather than musical interests — either I bought the record of some artist who’s gig I just attended, or I might have bought a CD or an LP for somebody’s birthday just for the sake of being able to hand over something tangible.
Buying music for me, as the poor student I am, has become something special — something I do to gain social credibility in some context.

Caching music

In the meantime I’ve accumulated a rather large library of music files on my hard drive. But to call it a library actually gives the wrong impression — it works much more like a sort of cache. Since my Powerbook doesn’t have enough space on its hard drive, I am forced to constantly overlook this music “cache” so that it stays within its limits. As the cache is fed with new material, I have to consider what to delete in order to make space. This is a sort of evolutionary process where I review one track after another, trying to estimate a “track value”. I might think not only “Do I like this track?”, but also “Do I know anybody else who has it?” or “is it rare or not?” or “Did I make a considerable effort in acquiring it?” before “trimming the cache”. I also look at play counts — a low play count means “dead bytes”, but conversely a high play count might tell me I ought to delete the track to make way for some variation.

I’ve established a sort of client-server way of thinking about music consumption. All in all, it’s about accessibility; a track on the local drive is instantly available, while a track on my friend’s server takes a few minutes to download. If a track is not available there, file sharing networks will do the trick. Buying music seldom comes into question.

It happens that I backup music, but I never actually use those backups — mainly because it would probably take longer to find something there than to find it on Direct Connect. Actually, if I lost my machine today, I’d probably just start rebuilding the musical cache from scratch.

The death of the record collectors

Sadly, the powerful combination of love, nostalgia and hunter-gatherer instinct that drives many traditional record collectors, does not apply for digital. The love definitely gets a different, weaker character when there is no tangible object to love. Nostalgia suffers because digital is essentially timeless, anti-nostalgic. The hunter-gatherer instinct gradually evaporates as search engines evolve — it becomes clear that there is nothing left to hunt for. Hunting, which used to be exciting, is replaced by a not very dramatic “getting”.

The romantic era of the record collectors is over. Records stores are going. Instead most of us are transforming into overloaded, sloppy and half-enthusiastic musical consumers. We’ve forgotten about the bliss of ownership — at best we maintain well-sorted local nodes of the Great P2P Net, which is basically self-organizing anyway. On-demandness, always-onness and intangibleness naturally annihilates exclusiveness, intenseness and hapticness; but the latter are all highly valued properties of musical experience.

In short, the era of physically packaged music is over — and this affects our relationship to music in general. As a counter reaction, the packaging — the framing which is a presupposition for the emergence of value — desperately tries to find new forms. It is being artificially reconstructed; over empathized and broadened. A wall of hype and merchandise is built around a musical core that, at least in its digital form of today, looses market value the more you copy it.

Then why pay for music?

Now, I am not saying this development is unhealthy and ought to be stopped. I think most of the possibilities new technology bring for music are good. I think it’s the paradigm shift — the critical time when new values replace old ones — that hurts our feelings.

Still it’s a fact: neither me, nor my friends, have the money to pay the artists. It’s quite clear why; we already spent our cash on technology and communication. Computer manufacturers, telcos and ISP:s are getting the money we once gave to the music industry. But this might also be a subject to change. As infrastructure matures and storage resources saturates our needs, then the market will stagnate and we’ll again have cash for music.

But to get me to pay, there has to be something even better than the iTunes Music Store.
It’s hard to compete with file sharing apps today because of their simplicity — most searches are sub second and download times are short. It took me longer to find and download an Eminem album on the iTunes Store than it took me to get it off Direct Connect. And yes, there was cover art to go with it on DC too, plus I got some inspiration from browsing around the guy’s song library.

Now, if file sharing apps would implement the cache model and rareness indexing I’m currently emulating manually, so that songs I never play are purged automatically from my local node and downloaded again at will or automatically when their rareness indexes drops below critical, and if they could implement a way of auto-discovering other people with similar tastes by comparing my collection with theirs, it would make it even harder for commercial alternatives. Not to say if they’d come up with a cross-P2P search engine working on Google principles — “Yoodle”!

Cashing in

But, there are things you can only do with legal, DRM-enabled systems, and those things are definitely the ones that should be played upon by the providers.
For me, there are four key reasons for buying music instead of copying it. In short, it’s about karma, credibility, quality and community.

Karma is about feeling good by doing the right thing; to help poor artists and struggling labels by giving them my money. But before giving, I tend to estimate: how established/commercial is the artist/label? On the web, where I have the option of not paying, this estimation is crucial — and this means small artists/labels are more likely to get cash.

Credibility is the darker side of Karma — it’s my payoff for supporting the artist. It would be great if there was a way of leaving a note with my transaction saying “Hey guys, you rock!” followed by a link to my site. This would work especially well with smaller bands, where the number of buyers can be counted in hundreds. Reading these “oneliners” can be amusing and helpful, both for artists and fans.

Quality is something I would pay money for. If I could get a 96KHz/24Bit/512Kbs version of a track I would pay more. I’d also pay more for an album if there were additional value adds such as exclusive interviews, videos, interactive content, liner notes, PDF covers and so on. Being able to get multiple formats of a track on demand would be useful, especially when network infrastructure matures (listen.com are currently working on an audio streaming service for 3G).

Community — If there was a way of establishing a more intimate relation between me, the artist and other fans, I’d be interested. What if I got access to a special community site when I bought an album? I’d be able to ask questions, get access to musical raw material so that I could experiment with remixes, get exclusive previews and offers. In general, the intangibleness, anonymousness and isolatedness of digital has to be tackled.

What the future holds

There are numerous proposed ways of dealing with the dilemma the music industry is now facing, ranging from ultra strict DRM to ISPs-as-distributors to pay-by-default to tax-driven models. There is not one solution in sight, and I hope it stays that way. It would be wonderful if all these systems could coexist. After all, each of these models have their own problems, and they’ll probably all get hacked and tweaked as we go.

In the meantime, I’ll keep on caching music,
cashing in
from record sales and hopefully I’ll be able to spend some cash on good music as soon as there is a decent way of doing so…

Interview for Berliner Gazette

March 16th, 2003

This an english translation of an interview I did for Berlin based e-zine Berliner Gazette (only available through e-mail).

How did you end up in Berlin and what are you doing here?

The main reason why I decided to go to Berlin was because I was promised a record deal at Sonar Kollektiv when I was here in summer 2000. Since then, I knew I would move here as soon as I had finished my studies in Stockholm.

After I came here in the beginning of 2001, I worked at gate5 as an interaction designer for a year.
I soon realized that it wasn’t realistic to produce an album while working full time, so I decided to save up and go for the on-the-road option instead. During 2002 I travelled around in Europe for 9 months and when I came back (in November last year) I had about 90% of the album done. I’m really happy now that I took my time and did something different. In our society it’s easy to get absorbed by comfort — and that leads boredom and lack of inspiration. Basically I tried to artificially break out of that (if only for a year), by putting myself in strange — sometimes awkward — places and situations. I still remember sleeping on the street in Milan, Powerbook close to my chest…

Aside from making music I’ve been promoting the Indyfund, our “project funding community”. Basically we are a bunch of people (about 170 now) supporting each others projects.

As I write this, the album (entitled “Soulhack”) will be mastered in a week. When it’s done, I will go back to Stockholm and write a paper in the philosophy/computer science field.
I will return to Berlin this summer when the album is released, and then I will probably go on tour over summer.

On the Forssfolio you mention that you are interested in philosophy — how does it come into play in your projects?

Studying philosophy is a luxury. It makes you to think hard about interesting questions/problems which are avoided or forgotten in everyday life.

The idea of Indyfund formed during discussions we had when I was studying. I do not think the idea would have come to life otherwise, because we wouldn’t have had a possibility to think so deeply about organizational forms/social problems as we had then.

Philosophy definitely plays a part — but In the end I think realizing projects is about 10% inspiration/philosophy and 90% down-to-earth work.
I’m looking forward to do research on more computer science oriented philosophy. I really hope to be able to create an interesting overlap.
Probably that means my future work will be more influenced/tied to philosophy.

How/when/why did you start Indyfund?

As I mentioned above, there was an interesting situation back in 2000 with many creative, young and idealistic people in one place. I merely collected good ideas and arranged them/us.
The reason we started thinking about organizing ourselves in the first place, was because we were annoyed by the difficulties involved in running independent projects. We quickly identified that the most important external factors in succeeding with such a project was good context/community and adequate funding/resources.

It’s a sign of our time that people avoid becoming part of organizations. This applied to us as well — so we found it very important to not create yet another “underground” organization with vague goals, regular meetings, traditional board etc. Instead we wanted:

  • An organization as non-obtrusive and discreet as possible — Indyfund doesn’t have a logo, and we avoid talking excessively in public about it.
  • A platform that would augment people’s social networks
  • To fund projects in a non-beurocratically way. Today we fund projects in real time using direct democratic methods (more on this here).
  • To enable people to work with projects more efficiently
  • The framework/organisational form to be clearly set and formulated from the start (so that we wouldn’t have to deal with endless discussions on “how to develop/organize ourselves” etc.)
  • An international network with “sub-communities” forming sporadically.
  • Minimal administration. Indyfund is entirely web based and is administered by a handful of people (and they spend only a few hours time a month).

Luckily enough we were a couple of people who were already developing web applications, so we decided to get together and create the web platform. In early 2001 we got funding from Future Culture Foundation in Sweden and then work started for real. We put together a project group, including two skilled programmers. I did the site concept/design.
Indyfund V1 was launched 31st of March 2001.
The 2nd generation of the site was launched here in Berlin the 2nd of February 2002.

Where is Indyfund drifting to nowadays?

There are many possible ways for Indyfund to go from now.
First and foremost, I’m happy that the project is still up and running and that it looks like it can continue running without major efforts. We have funded about a dozen projects in 2002, and there are more being funded right now.

It’s really important to emphasize that Indyfund is really about people and projects — not the fund or the organization itself. I’m happy for each project we can finance in “our way”, and I know the members are too.

There are of course some inherit problems in the organization today – e.g. due to the fact that you have to be “invited” in order to become a member, our member base have grew slower than we have expected (we will try to address this issue by simplifying invitation procedures…). There are also issues connected with paying the membership fee (EUR4/month, 95% of which are used for projects), because currently it can only be done over subscription based credit card payment internationally (other options involves much administration, but we can take cash if there are no other possibilities).

There are also other, more radical, plans:

  • A small group of members might be trying to pitch for EUR100000 from Future Culture Foundation in 2003. If we get the money it would definitely mean a big boost for the whole project. Basically we would split the money so that as much as possible would be used directly for projects and the rest for development/administration.
  • There are organizations/people who are interested in buying the platform as-is, to be able to run their own Indyfunds. Due to the circumstances, I can’t give more details on this at the moment.
  • We have been thinking ourselves about creating different instances for different needs/purposes/subgroups. It’s definitely an interesting possibility, and it’s quite doable. There could also be a possibility for the different instances to communicate with each other in a peer-to-peer fashion…
  • We also have plans for a major site update, with the addition of more advanced communication features.