Saturday, December 25, 2010

walling off another garden: is Soundcloud turning on its supporters?

Looks like the walls are going up again...

You may remember the thing memorialized on Twitter and beyond as #musicblogocide which was actually the second wave (and there may be a third?) of what is basically an inevitable clash between the practices and desires of local music scenes, especially dance music scenes, and the way music-making is structured under law and capitalism.  I wrote about an earlier wave in 2008 and then this February it started up again, with many folk starting to get into the deeper issues, including this magisterial take by Wayne.

Anyway it looks like it's about to start again with Soundcloud, one of my favorite sites of the past year.  Starting a couple days ago, I'm starting to hear from producers that some of their remixes are being taken down from copyright complaints, and from djs that their mixes (or so-called mixtapes) are being pulled as well.

This is a real shame. Every aspect of music that I care about and that I participate in, for the past 15 years Djing across 19 countries on 3 continents, has been based in practices and traditions in which remixing and mixtapes are a fundamental element. In fact, similar practices are fundamental to every living musical tradition (from hiphop & reggae to jazz improvisation to tecnobrega and beyond (and are vital to nonmusical creative traditions too). Whether they involve re-using copied digital recordings or live re-performances or re-incorporating riffs, quotations, basslines, and beats... those specifics are different in different times and places, but their legality is not relevant to the creative practice. Recycling/repetition/reference is a basic element of creativity. Creativity is a living, social practice that arises from  people (and peoples) interacting and communicating.

So I am sorry to hear of Soundcloud cracking down on this practice and making it harder. I don't really care what they say their official policy was (it's there if you look), in practice they knew what was happening because they benefited from it. And the law on this is hazy, there's fair use arguments to be made even within the law as it stands, but nobody can afford the lawyers to make it.
Especially not most of us early adopters from dj culture: I heard about Soundcloud through DJs and dance music producers who rely on djs, and I told lots of dj and producer friends about soundcloud and recommended it to them. So many djs, producers, and fans signed up (100,000 in 2009), and many, like me, gave them our money for further functionality, because of its fantastic services for people involved in dj and dance music culture.  But it may stop being worth it very soon. I don't think you can kill the music, but I wonder if you can kill the site's usefulness to a lot of the music scenes that gave it its start.

Those of you who care about borders, walls, fences should recognize how this is going to sort out, unless someone wakes up. The propertizers of culture have arrived again, and are drawing lines and raising fences.

If they have their way, the site wouldn't necessarily go away, it would just become the playground of commercialized music vetted and approved by the more powerful players (look like Universal might be the big guns right now). Which would be a shame.

But the greater shame is the way that development hits the early adopters who have contributed so much so far. Soundcloud more obviously than any other platform, came to its strength through the participation and funding by dj culture, and specifically serves and focuses on djs and producers' music, not only the text around music (as in music blogs).

It may be a victim of its own success: so many people are participating now that corporate owners --i.e. copyright protectionists and maximalists-- are starting to notice what's happening. But just caving to their claims on a case-by-case basis is not a good beginning, especially as it's only going to get worse. And it rankles because their success is based on exactly the practices and people it now is shutting down. Although they said their target market is "creators,"  in dance music that includes djs, producers, remixers and mashers, all of whom flocked to the site, and helped test its functionality, added in their data and metadata and made it a desirable site through providing fascinating content (likely all targetable by the RIAA). Which of us will get locked out?

Rather than sending out letters and taking down tracks one by one,  I wish Soundcloud would go public about the pressure they are under. If they are not comfortable doing that, then it's even worse, because they KNOW how much it's a spit in the face of the people who put so much time, energy and money into the site.

 So will it be time for us to leave, taking our creative seeds and sparks and connections with us?

It looks like Soundcloud has been more sympathetic to these practices than many: sponsoring CC licensing on the site, which mildly broadens copyright's flexibility through a voluntary choice to  recognize participatory cultural practices, and even doing some educational work through featured artists who use CC-licenses on its blog.

Unfortunately such incrementalism will never be enough for the corporations. I'm pretty doubtful that  big corporate entities will ever wake up and recognize the prevalence and desirability of self-defined  interactive musical culture. I would like to see one of these new, small, supposedly different-from-the-big-bad-guys companies put up a fight along the lines some group like the EFF might lay out, and make an affirmative argument for creative culture that includes remixing.  But to do that requires that they be upfront about their allegiances and recognize that you can't please everyone. Sooner or later you will have to decide whether you are going to please the rich & powerful or stand with people on the other side.

 Will any company stake its claim on the same side as these scenes and subcultures who provide so much of the basis for their success? Or perhaps we need to find a platform that is not privately funded, because at base a corporation will always put profit before community? Perhaps private institutions simply fail at stewarding popular culture

Regardless we need ISPs and the server hosts to have a politics - as I said on Jace's show, questions of intellectual property and power still come down to the material control of resources, and any law-based control is at the mercy of the people who have in-house lawyers. Physical control of land and material (including servers and satellites) may be our best option. To start with we have to recognize that this is a question of politics, and not just tweaking the rules. We need to organize ourselves to be in control of our own digital resources (resources for the social aspect of production: distribution, sharing, and interacting), and  find allies who believe in our vision of cultural practices and recognize how it directly challenges the copyright extremists.

At the very least, liberal allies like the EFF might be able to shape a more expansive vision of our rights in a creative community. And indeed some people have made arguments for commercial music industries not dependent on current definitions of copyright. But at this point, I'm thinking if the Pirate Parties (Sweden, but Canada offered too, the more the jollier right?) can host Wikileaks, why can't they host dj culture as well?  Or how about renting the the basement of a casino? Or is there a tech-savvy crew off the coast of Somalia we can link up with?

further reports coming in here ...


  1. there we go..

    I don´t think is a good idea to be hosted by political parties as in a way you are at the mercy of other types of interests in the long run. But def like minded political groups and mostly..ethical isps should provide support to host cultural practices and help them build their own infrastructure.

    It´s clear that is needed to have our own platforms and our own TOS. (not surrender buttons as Jace say) and distribute distribute distribute ..

    organized crime is well... organized. the RIAA is.. why we are not. I think is time for all to push harder and stop taking chances.

    We need independent infrastructure able to host and protect cultural production and community, not only ´content´.

    and yes we need servers and bandwith. but i rather give my money for djculture to descentralize than to services that please cultural terrorism instead of creativity.

    the ©loud sucks.

  2. Have you ever had a conversation with an artist that doesn't want their music remixed or at least wants compensation if you want to use their performances for your remix? I don't work for the "big corporations" but I've met a few of the guys that played on the most heavily remixed samples of all times (The J.B. Horns and The Meters). Those guys want to get paid if someone is going to sample their music.

    It doesn't matter if you aren't getting paid as a DJ creating a mixtape or remix. The fact is you are using their performance at no cost at some value whether it's for great recognition or promoting the next appearance.

    Don't get me wrong I lover remixes and mixtapes but I think this argument is very one side when in fact it's a huge grey area that doesn't just include the DJ's vs. Big Corporations.

  3. thanks for the excellent post Ripley! so many walled gardens, so few decentralized Somali servers... this is particularly galling b/c of their early support/embrace/pursuit of DJ culture, as you mention.

    When I first got my account, early on, I had a few back+forth emails w/ Soundcloud staff, and I remember seeing on their blog something to the effect of 'we're psyched that a DJ we really like is now on-board.' Ugh.

    the commenting-on-tracks was the most interesting aspect of Soundcloud (note past tense) to me, and the soft layers of tagged/group sociality it was embedded in. streaming+DL is easy.

    I'm wondering what it would require, technically, to start building decentralized control of our resources/platforms/online communities. What was the best, more successful aspects of an Imeem or Soundcloud + how can we start assembling + using alternatives? He asked on the blogspot blog. :) Private corps are good at centralizing discussion (even if it feels rhizomatic); what about other options? it is a matter of making new stuff or making currently existing tools more user friendly?

    dessert: direct link to yr fantastic radio appearance:


  4. A remix is not your song by definition. So don't get pissed when the original owner pulls it. Yeah it sucks that there are some great songs out there that are owned by the faceless, heartless, corporate money machine from hell booo hissss, but that's the way it is. You can't blame soundcloud. The owners of these copywrites are not coming after YOU as a DJ. They are coming after soundclound, and if soundcloud wants to sustain the wonderful website and community that they worked so hard to make successful, they'll have to play the game. We all will. Keep your remixes to yourself. Share the shit out of your originals, and if a big label comes knocking looking to give you a bunch of money for an EP of your music, turn them all down and don't forget about this article you wrote.

  5. have you all chosen and publicly displayed a CC license ?

    I need to do that too.

    blog post ovah heah: wherein I mouth off to my friends, suggest technical solutions and await the next flush of russian comment spam.

  6. "I'm wondering what it would require, technically, to start building decentralized control of our resources/platforms/online communities."

    That's it, exactly, Jace. It's time to be proactive on this front. I honestly don't think it's that hard, just takes some solid thinking up front and consideration of the real issues.

  7. Anonymous 1: i dont know anyone that wouldn´t like to have their song remixed. You know.. remixing is a recognition, not a bug a feature. But thet might just be because i only know very talented djs and musicians. Lucky me.

    Anonymous 2: Platforms like Soundcloud need to recognize their role as activators of social spaces, with people, flesh and blood that create communities, interact and hand out actual money in live performances that they experience, not download.

    This is not about a bunch of money for an EP. On the other hand, for those companies to hand a bunch of money for an EP to someone, they need this communities that copyright destroy.

  8. Decentralized hosting is one way of making this resilient; one that is entirely doable, but takes some effort. Another is just to make sure everything is in open and reproducable format so things that get taken down can emerge in another (or preferbly several other) places. As mentioned here: the soundcloud flashplayer is apparently open-souce software (the comment-thingy as well?).

    What could be done is separate the community sites from the hosting of the content. That way the content can move while the community remains (not that the bastards won't try to attack the community anyway...)

    Anyway, resilience is about an entity being able to change states and yet remain the same entity, not one state being able to withstand any kind of force.

  9. A few tech projects that might move things in the right direction:

  10. Just use and abuse in equal measure - I've not paid for soundcloud - just opened another free one as soon as I fill one up - if soundcloud stops functioning - use the next copycat product - they need you not the other way around, as you've quite rightly pointed out!

    The same market principles apply now as in previous centuries - take your business elsewhere - don't put all your eggs in one basket! SIMPLE

  11. what does soundcloud care, they have already made they're money, they have become one of THEM.

    go on take the money and run

    tis the way of capitalism

    why do think we arnt driviing around in alternitive fuel vehicles yet?

    the money has always been more importent then values or morals, you might think you would be difrent and you cant be bought but honestly, if you deveooped a car that threatens the livelyhood of the oil companies, and someone from say OPEC offered you 2 billion dollars to scrap the project that you wouldnt do it??

    same goes, its not about art, creativity, etc etc, and any producer that wants to be paid for having a remix done, was in it for the money in the first place. but the EDM scene will never die, because there are more of us that are not in it for the money.

    let these greedy bbastards have they're money, and we will keep our souls

  12. I don't see soundcloud as being greedy bastards in this, they're bowing to larger pressure to keep their business model viable, maybe if they're hoping for a buyout offer from a larger media corporation by playing by the rules, not going public with details of why and who. not unforseen, not surprising just a little disappointing.

    I'm not buying into the originality/ownership/cultural pratice argument, but I got a takedown notice for an original composition, made of my own sounds and an original vocal, I can fill in the form saying its mine and all that, but I figure they'll take a look and pull down half of my other tracks that are full of uncleared material.

  13. but then maybe i should do that to see what happens...

  14. Just found out today that a mix of mine, I did as a promotion for a Belgian label, got taken down because it started with a track made by Harmonia & Eno in '76. Ridiculous! We'll definitely complain about this and try to get this back online.

  15. just dropping in a link to wayneandwax's related post, where i just linked over to yours...

  16. great article!

    in the next few days I'll make a reference to this post on about Lowdjo's mix and initial rejection based on copyright infringement.

    It's also time to let people know about these limiting changes in soundcloud. spreading the word is already a good begin I guess...


  18. DO you remember when Soundcloud was underground and you needed a map point to find it? LMAO

    recepient of 36 soundcloud copyright notices in 2010 (majority from Universal Music) and having my entire Moombahton collection of personal refixes removed by Soundcloud.

  19. yep, we had a mix taken down for using the Breakbot song Baby, I'm Yours. E-mailed and have yet to get a response. Eventually the hero always becomes the villian