The Record Industry’s TotalMusic Experiment Is Sinking Fast: "TotalMusic, the digital music distribution initiative created by Sony BMG and Universal Music Group, appears to be on life support - or worse."
And so it goes. And, so do I. I know what you are thinking... "Hey Herskowitz, you were only there 3 months, how did you manage to screw it up so quickly?!". Heh... all I can say is that in that short time I had the privilege of working with some great people on something that I *know* was going to be extremely compelling. I regret that we didn't get to show you guys more about what we built - but in these extremely hard economic times (particularly for those in the music industry) it's hard to blame them from pulling the plug on a still-highly-speculative offering .
I only hope that someone else figures out how to crack this music-on-the-web nut in a way that is a win for everyone in the value chain. The problem is that to make a music service a win for everyone, then they all of the famished participants have to sit at the table - and be content to let all the others have a little bit to eat, even though they are still hungry themselves.
I, first and foremost, am a music consumer - so I'm always compelled by the innovation happening down at the consumer-level and then try to follow it back up the chain to the content creators. This gives me a decidedly different perspective than the artists and labels that are trying to solve this from the other direction. But, from where I sit at least, I see all of the innovation in digital music services coming out of bootstrapped companies and passionate tinkerers. Hell, there are very few private investors or venture capitalists that want to get anywhere near this space right now... and rightfully so considering no one has really figured out how to make any money out of this industry (and its products) that so many people love.
It should therefore come as no surprise that these small sites and services don't have the resources, or desire, to deal with licensing content directly. And for that matter, nor do the content owners - imagine the legal and contractual management overhead. So, where is the middleman? The platform? The catalog? The APIs? The no/low-involvement licenses? These are all required to not only stoke innovation, but to ensure people get paid. Without this we find ourselves in the same place repeatedly. Virtually all of the small "music 2.0" services go one of 4 routes for their content. 1) MP3 search engines like Seeqpod and Skreemr, 2) YouTube music videos (either with or without actually rendering the video frames), 3) Remote access offerings like Simplify and Orb, 4) User-generated uploads.
What I truly believe is that the market needs an alternative to #1/#2 that lets innovation be built quickly and painlessly upon open APIs - where people are paid, costs are covered, streaming is free and drm-free commerce is to be had. Simple, right? Well, maybe not so much...
In the meantime, yesterday I started to experiment with a couple of things that simply leverage what is available to me... MP3 search APIs, playlists, community charts and play data. I was able to quickly mash together some of this freely available and flowing data and stood up "friendP3" . It's simple really, it aggregates your (and your friends' if you desire) play data/favorites from the APIs and feeds of Last.fm, iLike, Pandora, Rhapsody, Hype Machine and others. For every track/artist name it sees, it hits some search APIs to see if it can find a MP3 version of the track out in the wild. If it finds one, it then automatically embeds a flash player with the track loaded (along with the link to the MP3). This is all done from afar... the mashup was all done in Yahoo Pipes, the MP3s sit on other sites from around the web, the front end is just a hosted microblogging platform, and the recirculation and sharing back across multiple social networks and services is a simple "AddThis" implementation.
Currently, what is on www.friendmp3.com is stuff that is being automatically generated from *my* friends on Last.fm. But when one of them listen to a song in iTunes, or on Last.fm radio, or bookmark a song they hear on Pandora (web or iPhone version) and the MP3 just shows up the front door of friendP3 for others to enjoy. Conversley, I've also generated a feed that is made up of solely my history across these services and dumped that into my lifestream at www.ambientsignal.com (as well as my FriendFeed and Strands streams). For that matter, you could just take the "podcast" feed and to subscribe to it in iTunes or Winamp. I listen to stuff, and your local library would just get filled up in the background. Now mind you, I'm not endorsing that people use this in lieu of buying music. But, I do think that all of the above are fabulous discovery tools - and I know that I have already bought a couple of albums that I have a heard a track from friendP3 since yesterday.
The first question my friends ask me when they see it is... "is it legal?". The answer I give... "no one really knows", because there is no blanket statement that can be applied. Some of the content was made freely available by their rights holders, all reside on other people's servers, search and "content discovery tools" are generally deemed to be protected under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (although the Seeqpod/Warner Music case will test that), downloading (I've been told by some lawyers) is not a crime (it's the "making available" to others that is gray), and the endless number of other nuanced legal questions open to interpretation. The answers to all of which are/will have massive implications to the future of the web.
But wouldn't it be cool if there was a way to do this on a platform that plays nice with everyone? And compensates those that deserve compensation? And somehow can magically cover the costs associated with all of the above (hint: this is the kicker)? I sure think it would be. If anyone wants to build/fund that, drop me a line (jherskowitz at globallistic dot com)... I'm currently looking for something to do.