Information wants to be free – so we’ve set it free

Photo by Chris Metcalfe

It must have seemed quiet here at New Music Strategies for quite a while. We haven’t been blogging, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy. In fact – kind of the opposite.

We’ve got some big news coming up, and some really exciting projects that we’d like to get you involved in… and we’re going to tell you about all that stuff really soon – but first there’s something we’d like to do.

We want to start the NEW New Music Strategies with a bit of a clean slate. This website already has a lot of stuff on it. There’s a free e-book, and about four years worth of advice for independent musicians, observations about the digital environment and general discussion about all sorts of related topics. But that’s all from the OLD New Music Strategies.

New Music Strategies is now no longer one man’s website where he writes what he thinks about music online. It’s a home for the activities of a team of five people who do interesting stuff with music in the digital age. And we wanted to make that a significant change – so we’re going to do something that might appear a bit radical (it’s actually not – but some people seem to think it is).

We’re releasing OLD New Music Strategies into the wild. It’s public domain. Free culture. No rights reserved.



I have a new page here on New Music Strategies, which outlines some of the ways I can help musicians, and independent music businesses. Naturally, I’ve called it my Help page.

I was trying to think of a suitable picture to put at the top of that page, and I had a song stuck in my head. So I went to YouTube, found the video clip and embedded that straight in there.

But then I started to worry. Here I was using a song that was still under copyright on a page that is, for all intents and purposes, entirely commercial. In a way, I’m using the song a bit like a jingle. That can’t be right, can it?


Like DRM, only sinister-er?


I’ve been having conversations today about a ‘non-DRM solution’ to filesharing. This conversation comes up pretty regularly, actually. I’ve now been approached by no less than three companies that would like me to examine, and perhaps endorse their own system.

Each time, it involves watermarking files. The idea is that it is completely invisible (and inaudible) to the listener, but tracks where the mp3 (or some new proprietary audio file) comes from, and in most cases, information about the person who originally bought it.

I’m sorry, but no. That’s not a DRM-free system of anything. That’s Digital Rights Management by definition – only this time it uses surveillance, rather than the more clumsy and obvious ‘reach in and break your computer’ tactic of older TPM (technical protection measure) systems.

It’s just as bad. Probably much worse.


Coalition for Culture


I love the music business. I think musicians are great. I believe they do amazing things that are richly deserving of great rewards, the lot of them. I think it’s appropriate that everyone gets whatever they deserve. It’s a hard world, a hard way to make a living and times are tricky.

As I’ve often said, most musicians spend more time training for their career than most brain surgeons – and most of them end up earning less than most supermarket checkout operators. And that’s both significant and important.

But the establishment and announcement of the Featured Artists Coalition over this past week or so has made me a bit cross.


When everything becomes available

You’ve probably already seen this video. It’s doing the rounds. I just wanted to underline the key message it has to offer us. A media artefact has a cultural and creative potential that exceeds its own boundaries. That is to say – when media is open and not locked away, culture benefits.

Some of the source material for this clip (indeed, this whole album of material) is probably pretty mediocre by itself. But as has been pointed out so often, creativity builds upon the past – and sometimes you can make very interesting things out of found or discarded objects.

This video could probably be the poster child for a more open and enlightened approach to a media commons. I’m going to be on a panel about sound archives at Unlocking Audio at the British Library next week. This will no doubt come up.

PS: There's a bit more to this

A campaign lobbying for blanket extension of copyright for performers produced this very effective video, which is an open letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Filmed at Abbey Road Studios in London, it features professional session musicians who put their case.

I happen to disagree with it – but not because I don’t want those people to earn money. I disagree with it because simply making the laws we have apply for a longer period of time overlooks one very important fact: the laws we have do not do the job they are supposed to do, and in large part the reason for that is that the technological environment has changed.

Copyright law needs to be completely re-written.
There’s no use extending laws in blanket fashion when those laws are completely faulty in the first place. Extending copyright indefinitely (which is what they’re essentially asking for) might be financially good for them (though actually it’s not as simple as that) and may satisfy their sense of entitlement for the time being, but it’s not good for culture at large.