There are a few striking similarities between the rise of open source computing and the disruptive changes we’ve seen in the music industry. The nineties brought a new and novel concept in computing – Linux. A free and community driven operating system, Linux began its ascent from academia-centric and hobbyist-fodder into a platinum standard that powers the vast majority of the world online. The world’s embrace of Linux forced stalwart technology incumbents like IBM to reevaluate their core offerings in order to stay relevant during the rise of open source communities. Since then those technology companies have adapted. They’ve taken the change Linux brought in stride while also moving rapidly to embrace the opportunities in their new reality. Napster (and subsequent explosion of digital music platforms) have had a similar effect on the music industry – unseating established norms through distributed communities centred around sharing.
Interactive infographic: http://go.lgb.io/openmusictools
Perhaps that is part of the reason it’s so challenging to find quality, innovative open source music projects. It could be that the music industry still hasn’t come to terms with the core concepts behind the root of its own disruption. That’s in contrast to the technology sector who have embraced their disruption and created new opportunities. The music industry seems instead to have battened down the hatches with significant financial requirements, obtuse territory and rights complexity, and a heavy hand of litigation. Let’s change that. Embracing open source gives us an opportunity to not repeat same mistakes or missing out on another historical digital movement.
Open source isn’t just Linux or a clunky programme downloaded from Sourceforge. Open Source is collaborative co-development around pure ideas, innovation, and proven processes. This true definition of open source counteracts a rampant misunderstanding that open source equates to an insecure, unstable, or resource-heavy experience. Most critically, however, is the patent rejection that tech processes are most valuable developed in a vacuum as secrets. Opening up music industry technology and adopting an open source mindset has the potential to yield significantly more value, speed up agility around new technology quickly, and allows leveraging of the ever expanding pool of exceptional global talent. In those things open source principles make industries more defensible, and ultimately more valuable.
Open Source Music Technology
Democratises a globally accessible talent pool for development, testing, and ideas
Facilitates innovation at scale and breakneckneck speed
Principles foster indie community and collaboration
Encourages industry wide process transparency
Enables tomorrow’s creatives with robust tools and process
Over a decade ago, a US company began to rent out movies direct to customers. They would mail the films through the post, packaged in neatly-designed, little red envelopes. Just as production was booming, they saw their entire business model disrupted. Home highspeed broadband penetration spiked and immediacy of streaming became expected. Netflix understood this, pivoting their model to capitalise on new opportunities in streaming studio films and now, most strikingly, original content. Actor Kevin Spacey was quoted in Verge three years ago on the subject of Netflix, saying, “We have learned the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn. Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price — and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it.”
Brilliant tech story. What’s usually missing from that narrative, however, is any mention of the swath of tools and technology Netflix developed in house to support their growth. Those tools – the same tools that currently power the core Netflix stack – are not guarded away from the public or hidden from the competition as trade secrets. Instead Netflix open sourced, and continue to build on, over 30 of the exact projects that created the massive company it is today. Through that also came the added benefit of tapping into the newly formed thriving open source communities of development, creating part time Netflix developers and testers out of the best around the world. Netflix is so committed to the value of open source they’ve made it a foundational operating strategy position. This strategy positioned also positioned them in a spot where they create and lead the technology standards inside and outside their industry. The Netflix open source strategy continues to build valuable brand awareness while also spawning rich full stack platforms and entire ecosystems around their technology, at the same time they are multiplying the scale, speed, and quality of their own product development.
Even Spotify, with their tech hat firmly on, work with an open source mantra and release their technology opensource. One Spotify project, ‘Luigi’ was originally developed internally to manage their own massive data workflows. Once Spotify released Luigi to the community their internal tool grew to become critical several other companies – who then in turn contributed to the development using their own resources. The power of open technology is so great that even though the Luigi project is no longer in production at Spotify it continues to thrive in the community it catalysed.
While the music industry bickered in the media over fractions of cents per stream, there were innumerous development projects shipped and celebrated by corporate and independent coders. Historic rivals formed enviable collaborations. Petabytes of content alongside billions of lines of code were released. At the center of it all – open source and free sharing of digital resources. Amazingly, companies and people have been able to do this while still profitably protecting the value of intellectual property.
The global open source renaissance is here. There is as an opportunity to leverage the same resources and adopt the same guiding principles that have seen success everywhere else. Most, if not all of the core tools have already been developed; let’s work together to bring them to the music world. The wider music industry now has an opportunity to build on our existing collaborative spirit. Instead of hiding behind opaque processes masquerading as ’trade secrets’, let’s remember and re-engage our own rich history of artistic collaboration.
Top image: Shutterstock/watchara