Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Open-Source Music?

You'll recall that Radiohead broke with the music industry a few months ago by offering its latest album for free (or for whatever visitors want to pay) online, directly from its website. Then, today I read in in The Register that the Nine Inch Nails are taking an alternate model: offering physical albums at prices that range from free to $300 depending on the package. They are giving away the first nine cuts, as 320 kbps MP3 files, along with a 40-page PDF book that covers the entire album. For $5, fans can get the remaining 27 songs and have the option of getting the files in lossless formats. More money will get you things like albums signed by the band.

Clearly the music industry is experimenting with alternate business models.

So here's the musing I've had for some time -- what about "open sourcing" music? Here's the concept: The artist records the content and distributes it however they want. But then they also issue the raw, unmixed tracks. (fee? free?) They allow anyone else to take the raw "code" and re-mix it however they like. Maybe they'll even be improvements (!) on the original.

There are some interesting semi-precedents to this idea. Back in 2003 the Rolling Stones issued a record of 7 remixes of Sympathy for the Devil (granted it was sold as a pre-remixed, pre-recorded album, with remixes done by a number of well-known DJ's). Then there are those numerous mashups - usually unofficial, un-endorsed re-combinations of two (usually very different) songs... and sometimes the mashup is better than either of the two originals. (My favorite is Nirvana vs. Michael Jackson, called "Smells like Billy Jean")

Anyway, think about this model: artists could complement their original work, and maybe even build an increased following, by "opening-up" their original recording to allow other creative individuals to modify or enhance the original music.

Let's see who the first group to do this will be.

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