Gary Robinson's Rants
Rants on spam, business, digital music, patents, and other assorted random stuff.


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Request for Your Input Regarding Three Steps To Freedom

I want to bounce some thoughts off you. I want to know if other people think they make sense or not.

They depend on several assumptions:

1) People would pay a reasonable subscription fee for the convenience of a reliable, easy to use download site for high-quality, legal unDRM'd music. P2P solutions just aren't very reliable compared to a well-supported central server; they only reason they exist is as a means to make copyrighted material freely available.

2) People would like it if a substantial percentage of the subscription fee went right to the artists. Most people want to pay the artists, but they also want convenient access to music. The rise of P2P "pirate" solutions isn't primarily due to people not wanting to pay; it's due to people wanting convenient access to just the songs they want.

3) While there has been no dearth of unDRM'd music (particularly mp3's) that could be made available by such a service, there is a problem in that there hasn't been an efficient mechanism for enabling the best of that material rise to the top so that people could know about it and enjoy it. There's just too much material out there for it all to get filtered. The result is that the pool of legal mp3 recordings has had a much lower average quality than the pool of illegal recordings ripped from the major labels. So such a service has not actually been practical.

4) If the average quality level of a large pool of legal mp3 recordings started to approach that of the ripped recordings from the major labels, a viable subscription service could come into existence based on those recordings.

As some of you know, my company has created the Emergent Music web site ( Membership and the pool of quality music are growing based mostly on attention from weblogs and discussion sites like kuro5hin. The pool of music consists mostly of recordings from artists who are not signed to the majors and so the files are freely copyable.

So, I believe that EM has the possibility of resolving the problem stated in (3) above, with the result stated in (4): a subscription service for unDRM'd music could come into being.

So, as a "thought experiment," I have imagined the following path to creating an alternative music industry. One that would work better for artists and for music lovers than the current one. I would be very interested in hearing what people think of the viability of this idea, and also whether people would be interested in supporting it in some way to make it more viable (mainly by helping to publicize it).


1) Build a substantial pool of filtered, high-quality music that is legal and unDRM'd. EM can make that happen if it can get enough attention. Preliminary evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that it works, and users have told us they love it. I won't discuss EM more here, let's just ASSUME that it works for the sake of discussion.

2) Create a very convenient downloading interface based on a central server. One that has all the convenience features that are built into other existing music download software. Enable free downloads of unDRM's software.

3) Set up a subscription service using the same interface at the same URL. Musicians can use either the free service or the subscription service for their work. If they use the subscription service for a particular track, they get paid proportionate to the number of downloads (and/or the number of times it is played by associated mp3 jukebox software). But they will probably use the free service for some tracks in order to build public awareness.

As the service builds in popularity, there will be more people adding music to the legal music pool and more people doing the filtering. The pool will grow larger and larger until over a matter of years it surpasses the DRM'd pool from the majors not only in quality, but in size, and depth (because it isn't exclusively focused on mass-market music as the majors are).

Now, it seems to me that if a) most people really do want artists to be paid, and b) people really are willing to pay for the convenience of a central server, then the above should work.

1) Whether, you, Dear Reader, agree that the above strategy could lead to an alternative music industry;

2) Whether you feel that the idea of actually doing this is exciting enough that it has a realistic shot at getting a lot of attention and momentum in the community of musicians and the community of music lovers;

3) Would/could YOU individually support it in some way? For instance, by placing a gif that links to the project on your personal Web page?

I have presented a very concrete plan. My company is already executing on the part of it, namely the filtering to create a pool of high-quality unDRM'd music; the other part, providing a convenient server-based downloading interface, uses technology that is very well-understood.

But, if the average pho or weblog reader doesn't think it could succeed and/or has no interest in it, our company probably couldn't make much headway with it. We don't have the means to pay $20 per head to get new users through mass marketing. We need to do it in a grassroots way by virtue of being able to help solve a problem that many people want solved and who feel that the solution we're presenting is both workable and exciting.

I look forward to your thoughts.

The best place to post them would probably be EM's discussion area.

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Last update: 1/30/06; 2:48:03 PM.
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