Archive for January, 2008

Making Music. With…Bubblegum?

Why not? Making music is a unique experience. Whether you are an accomplished composer, dj, or songwriter OR you simply like to sing in the shower (watch the whole thing, it’s worth it) or showcase your desk drumming skills, hearing and experiencing something you have created is profoundly personal. Even just remixing other people’s music or – one of my favorites – singing karaoke…it forces you to listen to music in a new way: not passively. It forces your brain to process music in a different way. In a more stimulating way.

Although primarily an auditory experience, adding other sensory elements to the equation can complement or completely change how you experience music. Adding a visual element certainly enhances your perception of a song compared to the song by itself – Disney’s Fantasia comes to mind as an early (1940) example of the power of the audio-visual experience. Think of the pulsing lights at a rave or concert and how they can entirely change how a song affects you (unless of course you are already in an altered state of mind for other reasons).

Similarly, music can affect the visual experience significantly. Imagine if you remove the soundtrack for a battle scene in Gladiator, for example, and replace it with, say, a John Mayer song? Suddenly it’ll seem like a farce. The auditory element accompanying the visual can completely invalidate the intended mood of the scene. Conversely, sometimes the juxtaposition of two unlikely things makes for an even more unique experience. And therein lies the beauty of experimentation.

Here at MixMatchMusic, we want people to explore and push the boundaries of how music is created and experienced. We want people to not only watch as the music evolves, but to be a part of the (r)evolution. The following is a great example of some smart people thinking outside the box and tapping into the multi-facetedness of a musical experience. And this is just something that a couple of kids at Berkeley put together for a class project. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you…

The Bubblegum Sequencer:

For a full explanation of how this works, click here. Amazingly, because “the output is generated in the form of MIDI events, the Bubblegum Sequencer can be used to control any kind of audio hardware or software”. And it’s in real time.

DRM War Update: QTrax

It should come as no surprise that people are still trying to get free music on the internet. Piracy and file swapping happens daily on massive levels that would probably turn a record executive green if they were fully aware of at least 50% of the volume. Luckily for the rest of the new and frontiersman-like recording industry, record executives are like mushrooms…they eat shit and grow in the dark, and in the end, you’re never sure which one is going to poison you or take you on a funky and psychedelic expedition. Similarly of good fortune for all of us…eating mushrooms isn’t mandatory or necessary anymore.

While the ultimate fate of DRM in general and player/company identified DRM specifically is still up in the air, there are a number of companies out there attempting to torpedo the industry by offering free mp3 downloads. Through deals with the major labels that tie-in to ad revenue generated by the site, these sites are offering songs, sometimes DRM protected, sometimes not. One of the big players that was geared to take the internet music download scene by storm this week was QTrax, a French based company that held a gala event this past weekend as a launch party. Apparently, they didn’t get the memo that the Warner group has not authorized the site to provide music from its label. Universal and EMI have also announced that they had no licensing deal ready yet and were still working on it. Not sure how a “free” music download site got to the point of throwing a launch party before it had wrapped up licensing and distribution sales with the major labels, but somehow they did. Guess it speaks to the necessity of having a solid business plan in place.

What I find more interesting is that not only is this site trying to provide music for free with the labels’ consent, but they’re allegedly trying to take a bite out of Apple, claiming that their music files will play on iPods. This would indeed be a big step as the only current music files that can play on the pod is either DRM-free or Apple FairPlay DRM tracks. How QTrax figures their DRM songs will make it onto the iPod is beyond me, but it will certainly be worth watching if and when the company starts allowing downloads.

The Psycho-Acoustic Cinematic Sensory Ambush Effect

Have you ever watched David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” in a darkened theater late at night, with the sound pumped way, way up? The incredible melding of image and sound results in something more than either of the two could ever be alone. Sound designer Alan Splet‘s careful use of deep rumbles, distant industrial sounds, hisses, and early 20th century electric create a sonic landscape which ambushes the senses, colonizes the deep unconscious with its disturbing sonic accompaniment to Lynch’s stark black and white visual cinematic dystopia. Eraserhead’s post-nuclear industrial wasteland of factories, 1930s depression era housing and nightmarish visions which the main character Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) inhabits is all the more ‘there’ by virtue of exquisitely considered, measured and subtle sound mixing which does more than simply than bring the on-screen visual world to life.

Melbourne-based critic film maker and scholar Philip Brophy has written about the psycho-acoustic effect of film soundtracks in his essay The Architecsonic Object. The essay focuses on a case study around Dennis Hopper’s 1988 film “Colors“. His observation is that the film’s carefully organized surround sound actually directly affects the audience by immersing them in a kind of total sonic environment. And that the many overlapping individually spatialized sound track elements work together on a kind of subconscious level. He talks about sound in “Colors” helping to create a sense of the film ‘space’ by in part framing notions of environment as they are ritualized and experienced by the warring factions in the film, the LAPD on the one hand and the LA gangs on the other.

I had the great privilege to work with Philip on my 1998 35mm short film ‘Otherzone‘ for which he oversaw the sound design. We used six-channel Dolby surround sound for the final mix. Most of the sound elements had been assembled using Logic Audio software, in synchronization with a videotape of the 35mm edit which acted as the MIDI trigger for the many layered sounds. The slow and steady process of building sound track elements took time, and we were both conscious about how the music (by Ollie Olsen) and the sound in such a dense cyberpunk film would and should overlap and blur. The full effect of digital surround is truly awesome in a large theater with all the surround speakers doing their thing to fully ‘spatialize’ the six-channel sound track.

It was important to Philip that he originate most of the sounds himself. None of the FX came from sound effects CDs, rather being recorded from real life or from synthesizers and then processed on a PC. Phil’s sound effects database was based on a comprehensive list that I provided him. This was in turn based on the visual content of each scene. Every thing that could make a sound in our futuristic world did, and had a sound effect recorded for it.

Click here to read on his website about Philip Brophy’s rationale and working methodology for “Otherzone’s” soundtrack.

Just as good movie soundtracks marinate you in real-time in a sumptuous stir fry of sonic and psychological effects, massaging you with bass, treble and everything in-between, certain music genres also seek to place the audience in a certain psychological condition.

Here in San Francisco’s Mission District, deep subsonic bass speakers literally rattle the block at 3a.m. as cars slowly cruise by playing hip-hop. It’s a place where decades- old rituals of turf, music and dress sense play themselves out every day and every night. It’s a theater of street corners and shop-fronts, back alleys, thrift-stores and taquerias. The Mission is where immigrants, artists, activists, gang members, yuppies and a whole lot more besides congregate, rub shoulders, pass each other in a steady dance of the street. The place is alive with sound. Every person and most groups have a unique sound track – from car stereos, boom boxes and from shops, amplified playstation portables, ipods, and live street performance. The sounds all meld together like the opening scene of “Blade Runner“.

On street corners here Gospel music sung live by Baptists surge forth choruses; wave-after-wave of slow blues which profoundly move all but the coldest of hearts to tears. Reggaeton is ubiquitous – since the early 1990s, it has been a form which has hybridized hip-hop with Latin beats and in doing so has forged a uniquely global urban sonic texture which could arguably, like hip-hop itself only have emerged at the time it did. A time of personal computers, of global networks, McWorld, of a Latin set of identities framed by ever accelerating forms of international image and sound circulation. Reggaeton so totally about the street. It’s everywhere. Cars, trucks, stores, ice-cream vendors. It infuses the Mission with its intense staccato punctuated syncopated rhythms, defining the lived experience of urban Latin culture for most who live here. It’s a part of life, and it fully aims to be. As Obi Wan Kenobi says of the Force in “Star Wars” – “it surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together”. When urban music works, it is so much more than just music. It’s a cultural adhesive.

Five blocks from where I write, sometime in the early to mid 1960s, Carlos Santana once played live informal casual concerts outside his house on Shotwell street to passers by. When the Bay Area is most itself, the boundaries of the “public” and the “private” melt altogether. It’s the kind of thing that just cannot ever really happen in say Silicon Valley forty miles south. Mountain View, San Jose and Sunnyvale are definitely suburbanized, privatized cultural spaces by comparison. But Reggaeton is there too, just not in as obviously public a way.

Psychedelic music went out of its way to immerse the audience in a sea of sound effects and music ‘effects’ in order to invoke transcendental epiphany in its listeners. One could even argue it was the psychedelic impulse which was behind the amazing soundtrack by Ben Burtt when he went to such lengths to locate, record then manipulate the organic sounds for the Star Wars films. So dense, so layered and so profoundly otherworldly were the sounds in the original Star Wars film in 1977 that it was clear to see how the Northern Californian ethic of trial-and-error, experimentation, and a concern with how sound directly affect the senses (in other words, how much of a trip they were!) was behind them. Being a trained movie editor (the person whose job it is to layer a film’s soundtracks as well as to cut the vision) it is not by accident that George Lucas would in the 1980s and 1990s go to such lengths to seek to standardize high-quality audio playback for film viewing with his THX digital sound system, a competitor to Dolby.

Lucas is from the tradition of American experimental and underground film makers who recorded and processed sound in offbeat and totally incredible ways with their layer-upon-layering of images, like Bruce Conner and Arthur Lipsett (who like Lucas, named his films with almost random number/letter combinations) whose lineage reaches back to the Beat generation, and before them the Dadaists, and Surrealists.

John Cage staged musical compositions that were made up entirely of sounds made by ordinary objects, or no sounds at all. View a performance of “Water Walk” by Cage here for a 1950s TV show called “I’ve Got a Secret”. Ordinary kitchen appliances and household objects are performed like musical instruments. This is sampling done live on TV over half a century ago. See how baffled and taken aback TV host is, and how outraged and amused the audience is at what they assume is a big joke. But it is no joke. Thought out sounds, composed, layered and organized in meaningful ways can open up whole new dimensions, other zones.

Studio Death and the Distributed DIY Media Explosion.

Hello. My name is David Cox.

This is my first blog entry for MixMatchMusic so I’m starting it with a longer-than-usual general think piece about music, sharing, and the impact of the internet on the global economy of media production and distribution.

I’m a musician, writer and filmmaker and you can view my work at my blog:


User-generated, socially based distributed databases of writing, music and video content proliferate and multiply exponentially. “Audience” and “musician” as discrete categories are blending into a new entity – the maker-user. The prosumer. The digital share economy participant. Whatever you call it, the old boundaries are falling.

The wounded record industry is looking around at its own smoldering ruins pathetically trying to put the free flowing wine into cracked obsolete bottles. Bands now freely give away music, knowing full well that it’s the brand of the band – the very idea of say, ‘Radiohead’ that is really important now, not simply the music itself on its own.

PR and advertising – database-driven commercial propaganda systems – have subsumed what was once a solid manufacturing model for music, its production and distribution. The Hollywood writers strike demonstrates how the internet is eating away at the movie & TV production process in a similar way. Those writers want a slice of the youTube/MySpace/Google/Facebook/iTunes pie too, and those that won’t get paid by the old-school production dinosaurs that have paid them up until now will probably start their own prosumer media entities.

Studio death is everywhere. The population is making its own media, and sharing it over commercial and non commercial channels hitherto unthinkable in scale and sweep. Broadband, wireless systems and a plethora of ways to connect to them have pulled the rug from under the old system. Legal frameworks like Creative Commons, and well-funded private archival systems like make the process of making and sharing music easy, and in a growing number of cases even profitable.

The “medium is the message” as Marshall McLuhan once said, by which he meant, the medium you use is inseparable from the message sent using it. Emulators and plug-ins exist to digitally reproduce sounds once popular at other times. Those sounds evoke both those times and the cultural values which went with them.

Drum and Bass music could only have emerged in the mid 1990s when the PC hardware and the sequencing software to make it first became widespread. It gave rise to and was shaped by a cultural phenomenon. Electronica then was not just about music, but about the semi-anonymous circulation of music-as-evidence of a new distributed and global cultural underground movement based on drugs, computers, libertarianism and anti-authoritarianism.

1970s progressive rock is inseparable from the elitist idea of the musician as educated classical specialist. It was music for hippies and university educated baby boomers, who listened to it with the same reverence churchgoers have for hymns and prayers. ‘70s UK punk rock was a direct reaction to the ever-increasing decadence of prog-rock and the music industry in general and in particular the very idea that music was something which only certain special people could be allowed or skilled enough to actually do.

The early ‘90s US incarnation of punk rock (‘grunge’ as it was called by the mainstream) reflected a similar frustration with the limits of life and of the commercial nature of society in general. Punk’s fuck-you vocals and loud distortion guitar was all about absolute simplicity and the idea of DIY low-tech self-reliance as a complete philosophy of life. It was a revivalist movement about getting back to basics and casting aside all the frills and the bullshit. And it felt good to be a part of it.

Bay Area cafés at that time had sit-down terminals which for 25¢ per ten minutes allowed access to a text-only bulletin board system called SFNET. Instead of a videogame joystick on these terminals was a translucent rubber-covered QWERTY keyboard. The screen was a simple orange text-on-black type deal. Cafés united the creative population back then and computers were seen as ways to further that informal network.


an SF NET Terminal at Muddy Waters Cafe, Valencia Street, Mission District, SF, 1994

In this pre-web period, just being able to real-time chat, email and connect with café users across the Bay Area on SFNET as an idea in and of itself was incredible, and later when a telnet service to the internet was added to let you check your internet email it was even better. SFNET actually began as a way of allowing musicians in the Bay Area to connect and share information about gigs, recordings, and other info.

The web made SFNET with its 2400 baud phone modem connections a quaint anachronism by 1996 when it was quickly discontinued, but that initial impetus which prompted its emergence – the need of musicians to exchange information and music – simply moved elsewhere.

From the early days of the Edison wax cylinder recording systems through to the hyper expensive tape and wire recorders of the 1930s, recording music up until the late 1970s for most people was a costly and cumbersome process, and distribution systems were hardly ever widespread or equitable. In Russia in the 1950s, music lovers made copies of their favorite cuts of super-rare US jazz and rock music by recycling x-rays from hospitals to make flexi-disk copies. In the USA, a budding artist could go into a booth, pay 25¢ and record a one-off 45 vinyl record. These booths were called the Mutoscope Voice-O-Graph and were for many people their first experience of recording sound of any kind.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the cassette culture underground offered an alternative to the dominance of the music giants, and an aesthetic of Xeroxed art and liner notes accompanied these cassette ‘zines and music compilations.

In the 80s any kind of multi-track recording system was extremely desirable but also prohibitively expensive. And studio time, even for demos on 8-tracks, was priced at hundreds of dollars per hour. Today the same results can be achieved on any PC made in the last ten years with a sound card. I’ve found some such PCs on street corners with ‘for free’ labels on them!

Mail art, popularized in the 60s and 70s by art groups like Fluxus (which had among its members performance artist Yoko Ono) offered another use for the postal service, turning into an extension of the gallery system. Music and writings circulated in boxes and envelopes, and no matter how unpretentious and simple the packaging, every Fluxus item now fetches fortunes in the art collecting circuit. Value adding you see, special markets for those in the know, and all that.

So those of gen-Xers now look back fondly on obsolete tech for making music as reminders of a time when the same machines and instruments were well outside the realm of access and all the more desirable for it. We are hacker hobbyist collectors, I suppose, but we are also media archeologists, sifting through another kind of ruined landscape, the one where youth and energy fused with machines to make music which we thought, as all young people do would change the world. Every thrift store and pawn shop is a museum of the present and of the last thirty years, and every pawned effects pedal, hocked synth or guitar and every $15 recording deck evidence of a time when the struggle was as much to obtain the gear as make the music.

I have thus bought four cassette four-track decks in the last two years, from thift stores and flea markets and yard sales. One tascam unit which would have cost a week’s pay in 1995 was sold to me for the price of a burrito and a coke. But I like to fire up the old cassette 4-track to record a song every now again. Because, you know, the medium is the message…



I bought one of these decks for $15 at a yard sale last year. It works fine.

Thoughts From a Music Lover at 3 AM

I was congested recently, thinking about my next post. Often, they’re lined up in a nice little row of topics I’d like to attack. Then sometimes, the row goes empty leaving nothing but empty spaces like fragments of a song cut off when a car window rolls up. I was going crazy last night bouncing around on a series of ideas surrounding my recent watching of Great Balls of Fire with Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder. The movie, while a heavily dramatized and condensed stab at a true story (even though co-written by Myra), had me in knots thinking about Billboard Top 100s (which by the way is topped by Flo-Rida (give him creative credit here people, he’s a rapper from Florida) featuring T-Pain right now) and charts. The whole movie makes this rockstar life look so simple in terms of printing the record, getting some money, heading out on the road, climbing the charts and then getting some more money. But the simplicity of the era, the build of distribution and the uproar over lyrics as lewdly suggestive as “there’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on,” is a far cry from today where songs are available before the album comes out and radio airplay is far more often than not sexually suggestive if not down right graphic. I invite the non-timid reader to take a look and see what it really means to “superman dat ho.”  And for someone looking for intelligent rap, I challenge them to find a radio station willing to play an Immortal Technique cut.

In an attempt at some research for a post about historical Billboard Charts, I came across some very interesting data, but nothing that really felt substantially tied to something I actually wanted to write about. For instance, the number one song for 1997 was Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind“, which was a remake of his own original to Marilyn Monroe, re-released for Princess Di‘s death. So the sympathy, worldwide, sold the record in bunches. At number 3 on the chart to end that year? For coincidence or eerie destiny you have Puff Daddy’s/P-Diddy’s/Sean Combs/Whatever he wants to call himself next‘s tribute to Biggie, “I’ll Be Missing You.” Not only are they both posthumous tribute songs, but they’re both remakes. At least in Elton’s case, he used his own material…Puffy had to borrow Sting’s. Either the prevailing thought was that we were quite mournful and gobbling up tribute songs like they were lunch meat, or we just liked songs that reminded us of our past. Or neither. The charts are kinda fickle like that.

In stark contrast, the 1957 year end chart, right around the time ole Jerry Lee was getting ready to run in my ’80s nostalgia movie of the day, is filled with love and romance songs, often by the boy flavor du jour. Elvis‘ “All Shook Up,” two songs with “love” in their title, rounded out with a “Little Darlin” and Jimmy Dorsey‘s big band throw back, “So Rare.” So were the folks then more in love and romantic than we are now? Or are they less obsessed with death and tribute songs? Or are these all fictional connections of a paranoid sociological mind at work? Maybe a combination of the ten?

Of course, I couldn’t stop there. I had to compare the top album sales from those years…1997: Spice Girls, No Doubt (Tragic Kingdom), Celine Dion (Falling Into You), the Space Jam Soundtrack and Jewel (Pieces of You). In 1957, you have 4 of the top 5 as Soundtracks…musicals in three of those cases no less! Oklahoma, My Fair Lady and The King and I. What a bunch of soundtrack and musical obsessed bunch of folks those were! Or maybe the folks of ’97 were just obsessed with female singers, or melancholy material (after all, the Jewel cd is pretty sparse and sad and Tragic Kingdom is pretty much all about breaking up.) But while these are all interesting observations, again, they’re not substantive in any way other than some mild curiosity about trends or trivial data collection about Billboard.

And so the debate over what’s to come next (not to mention a pack of oreos and Mission Impossible 3) leaves me tossing and turning and bolting out of bed at 3 am to realize that in all this worry about posts and targets and complaints and opinions and mixing and matching and topics topics topics, there’s no way I’m ever going to write another post! What am I gonna do, spend the next 6 months pouring through all the historical trends Billboard allows me, Excel spreadsheeting it and trying to draw conclusions for the perfect blog post? I’m gonna say no to that right now.

And that’s when it hit me…remember the music, and the music lovers? So now, at around 4 am having written feverishly for an hour on a mixture of action movie adrenaline, the unclotting of a writer’s block, and the type of free-wheeling, free-association game that this type of post allows my mind, I get to the point I started out to arrive at in the first place…I love music! Forget writing about it. I heard once from someone, somewhere, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” Not to say that I don’t love writing about it too, but I LOVE listening to it, and maybe in all this writing and hypothesizing on methods of distribution and the state of the industry, we might sometimes forget the commodity that we’re actually talking about. So let’s not forget the music, shall we? I invite all of you who who have made it this far through my late night ramblings to comment or email me with their five answers to the following questions (and don’t be surprised if we have the start of the new topic germinating right here before our very eyes):

1) Think about one song that you tend to listen to when you’re happy. What is it, when was the first time you remember hearing it, and what about it makes you smile?

2) Think about one song that stands out in your mind from a movie or tv soundtrack. What movie/show is it, did you know the song before or only after you heard it on that source, and what song is it?

3) When it’s storming, like it is now over here in CA, what song suits your mood?

4) What was the last song that you reached the ending of and restarted immediately so you could hear it all over again?

5) With summer and BBQs still a few months away, what song can’t you wait to hear once the boat’s on the water, so to speak?

That’s better. I think I can sleep now.

Cloudspeakers: The Google Reader of Music Reviews

Yesterday, the Listening Post blogged about a “music-oriented news reader on steroids, backed by a social network” called Cloudspeakers. This site is a music aggregator of sorts with links to music reviews, audio, and video. For the fans out there who obsessively read/write artist and album reviews (i.e. not me), I imagine this could be a very useful resource.

If I spent as much time on Cloudspeakers reading music reviews as I spend on my Google Reader reading music/technology blogs, I might get close to knowing as much about specific musicians and their albums as my co-blogger, Actual. But, I’ll stick to what I know and leave that to him.

Via your profile, email, or RSS, you can stay on top of what’s up with your favorite musicians. OR you can browse labels, artists, or users or search for a specific artist. Whether you want to read bloggers’ reviews, watch youtube videos, or listen to audio, they got ya covered. Check it out!

(CloudSpeakers is powered by MusicBrainz, which is a “user-maintained community music meta-database”. Kind of like the wikipedia of artist/album info.)

Ringtones: When DRM Goes Too Far

Digital Rights Management and the relating issues have been big topics recently in both music news and the world of MixMatchers. As a large portion of our group is involved with creating music, the questions as to who owns it and how it can be controlled are always at the top of the conversational trash heap. It’s a sticky situation which I touched on a bit in my previous post “Record Execs: Stupid or Just Plain Greedy?“, and constantly up for debate. It’s also the subject of quite a bit of mud throwing in the higher levels of the music industry as executives try to pass the buck as to who wants DRM, how they want it and where it came from. Furthermore, some of the bigger companies are starting to roll back their DRM in an effort to make more content cross-compatible with multiple hardware solutions (Apple DRM will only play on iTunes and iPod). Steve Jobs has expressed his opinion, and despite having helped create one of the most profitable and highly controlled DRM markets with iTunes and FairPlay, he advocates an end to DRM for music. I find the amusing point here that Jobs probably said one thing about DRM when he was trying to get label executives to let him sell music on iTunes, but has a much more pro-consumer point of view in his open letter.

Unlike a large majority of my peers, I don’t have a problem paying for my music. In my mind, the .99 cents we pay per track now is a much better deal than the 16-18 we used to pay for CDs. Think about it…on an 18 dollar CD, there might be 12 tracks. Of those, you might only like two. But you don’t know that until you buy the entire thing. Now, you just buy those two tracks, $1.98, and you’re on your way. Furthermore, when you really think about it…if you pay 1 dollar for a song and listen to it 4 times (which you know you’ll do if you’re buying it), that’s .25 cents per listen, right around juke box prices (for those that remember those). Keep listening and the math’ll eventually drop you to fractions of a penny per listen. Not a bad deal in my mind. I’ve noticed that the price and ability to preview tracks before buying them has made me a much more intelligent buyer, and I almost never look through my library and think, “I shouldn’t have bought that.” I can’t say the same for some of the CDs in my collection.

Still, so many of this Generation Y grew up with the full force of Napster, LimeWire and others running the show, and still can’t get used to the idea that maybe musicians deserve to have their music bought. While I won’t name any names here, one of the worst culprits of this idea of stolen music is not only a great friend of mine, but also a musician and aspiring attorney. You would think that if ever there was to be someone who would respect the legal rights and compensation of musicians it would be a fellow musician with a legal background, but not the case. Regardless of how much I pay for my music, he has no problem taking it from me for free, and in the end, I believe he feels an inward sense of smug satisfaction that he’s getting away with something, all the while failing to see where that would leave him if his musical career ever got off the ground.

Where the DRM conversation get really interesting is when you match it with the topic of ringtones. Now that phones are mp3 players too, and Apple’s iPhone is running the game in terms of what a hybrid hardware solution has the potential to be, the ringtones of beeps and blips from our Nokia phones has been replaced with full 2-30 second clips of songs. Just when everyone thought the copyrights were locked up for music, you have to now examine them in the context of clips for ringers. According to Gavroche, the reason for this is that the end user agreements for a song and for a ringtone are different. Then the question becomes why. In my mind, once you’ve paid for something, you should be able to use that personally however you see fit. I’m not advocating the free sharing and swapping of music and ringtones among friends, but if I want to burn the song I bought to a CD, listen to it on an mp3 player or program it as a ringtone, I should be able to without additional cost. iTunes, however, requires you to pay an additional .99 cents to turn one of your songs into a ringtone, and they don’t offer a simple solution, within the application, for turning a non-iTunes store purchase into a ringtone.

Now without getting into specifics that could be at odds with the legal standpoints of the companies I’m talking about, I will tell you that there are solutions to this problem out there. GarageBand offers one of them, and a bit of simple maneuvering of songs within iTunes will help you create a free, custom ringtone from any song in your library. It’s really quite easy once you’ve learned the process and done it a few times, but it still requires multiple steps in order to “trick” iTunes into thinking the clip you’ve made is a ringtone. The problem here is that having already established one payment and method for protecting music, the industry wants to change what and how much you pay to use music you already own in a different way from what they intended when you purchased it. It smacks of revisionism…already late to the party in terms of recognizing the moving trends towards digital music, the industry again finds itself behind the game. “What? You mean people might want to use the .99 cent track as a ringtone and not just a song to listen to? Better find a way to make some money off that.”

As someone who supports the idea of paying artists for their work in a way that is fair and equitable both to them as the producer and me as the consumer, I don’t have a problem with DRM. I don’t think it really solves anything (there’s always multiple ways to “unlock” a track), but if it helps the industry feel better about digitally distributing their product, in the end it benefits me as a listener. But rights are rights, and once a song is purchased, be it an mp3 or a hard copy CD, the purchaser needs to be able to take that song to any device or medium they want, even if that requires copying it for multiple locations. It’s one thing to limit the ease with which people illegally share music with one another. It’s another thing to try to step in and dictate how and when the consumer enjoys their purchase. That’s why my ringer is The Fall by Blake Leyh. So stick it to those DRM people, People, and make your whole library into unpaid for ringtones! Go crazy! That is, of course, if you already own it.

Copyright © 2007-2009 MixMatchMusic, Ltd. All Rights Reserved