There was quite a response to my last article, Why We Need an Open Source Music Industry. Thank you all for the feedback and the rousing discussion. I was thrilled with the conversation and the positive energies toward the concept. In fact, I was so taken back by the response that I did a bit of research and, unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first talk of open source in the music industry. Just a few results deep, way way back in 2013, Stuart Dredge for Music Ally acknowledged the subject in response to musician Damon Krukowski’s piece on the matter in Pitchfork.
More digging and up jumps CASH Music. Putting their highly developed image aside, CASH offers their flavour of open source through tools for the artist-fan relationship. Their open source offering is a very considered rebrand and bundling of a few consumer-facing digital marketing tools, all wrapped in a what seems to be a wholly integrated platform. Those projects are an encouraging sign that interest in open source has a growing base across the industry.
Finding product-market fit is another matter.
In the comments and email from my last article a few of the more venture minded asked, “What are those opportunities?” or “What kind of business models?”
Open source initiatives are usually and should always be considered on the same merits as commercial ventures – not on their altruism or even (sadly) their level of innovation. Most of the time open source music industry projects should be able to show immediate value to decision makers – both when integrating existing and developing new open source projects. Like it or not, our industry levers are still decided by the few left who cut their teeth through the conspicuous music profiteering 00’s era. Now they’re the decision-makers across the digital services and labels – both major or indie.
They’ll allow the creation of ‘direct to fan’ platforms until that time it possibly becomes a threat to their digital or physical distribution channels. Or when their userbase looks too tasty to resist buying (ahem, Topspin). When these sites get traction they are swiftly overtaken, absorbed or have to pivot to a more commercial model. Music Ally’s list of hopeful open source models companies now scans as an ominous foreshadow of an M&A ticker tape. Proving to the industry a net positive for todays bottom line while also not competing with existing capabilities is a hard ask of anything truly transformative.
But there are still opportunities to embrace open source today – only they’re just far more atomic and way less sexy than a social currency email for download app. Let’s look at a few (which we could call Music and Media Disruptors for Open Source)…
1. Master Metadata Management – Several single versions of truth for all mankind.
Everyone seems to agree that the existingmusic enterprise resource planning and master data management systems are a nightmare. There is a huge opportunity for the development of open source programmes, systems using transparent processes, likely derived from DDEX, that establish the industry standard for file storage, transport, tagging, logging, version control, distribution, conflict resolution, sync information, enrichment data, publishing information.
2. Data Flow Systems – We’re going to need bigger pipes.
Imagine a single API, community-maintained, and the services contributed to, that mapped the services data into a single API endpoint. It would handle all of the communication, authorisation, and transport of services data consumption (i.e. streams), and context (i.e. demographics) data between our services, our systems, and our artists and clients. This project should specifically be open source to alleviate any concern over favouritism through open and transparent development. Its open source status would allow 3rd party innovators to build the applications without the burden of data integration. The Apache MetaModel looks promising here.
3. Cloud Orchestration – Everybody gets a cloud!
The cloud wars are not over, and if your 21st century media enterprise is not at least hybrid at this point, there is a lot of work still to be done. Legacy systems purchased with legacy policies have now hit the point where they are liabilities and no longer assets. An open source music technology cloud platform – for media enterprise – would bounce the stress of develops back onto who it belongs: the machines.
4. Data and Infrastructure Security – Protect your bits.
The contents on your server may not have value to a lone hacker, sure. The bots don’t care about value and just take everything. Simple mistakes and oversights can cause massive damage without the correct infrastructure to handle it. Let’s face it, though, we’re not much of a security-focused industry, but we owe it to our artists, clients, and employees. There’s opportunities in creating a standard for encryption, programmes to securely transfer digital content, and royalties flow protections. With standards it makes it far easier for innovators to frame their projects.
5. Artist-Led-Format-Agnostic Releases – It’s a post-album, post-single, post-playlist world. Meta.
The idea of a format has changed dramatically, with it the idea of an album has changed, and also the concept of a collection of works. There’s an opportunity to build open source platforms to facilitate those artists who chose an alternative release concept, whether that means dropping tracks one at a time or entire their entire discography at once. A standout open source platform parts the water for an infinite integrations market.
Open source isn’t going to be easy, it’s going to be very hard. It’s going to bruise egos and break up monopolies. But through it there’ll be a better and more expanded industry for tomorrow’s artists.
Grant Bussinger speaks on Midem’s final Wrap session (June 6, 14.30) with fellow Midem Label Ambassadors from Communion Music, Absolute Label Services, The Orchard and Kobalt/AWAL. Check out all of our Label Ambassadors’ posts to date here!