Gis’ a chiptune!

One of my favourite communities to lurk in is the 8-bit Collective (http://8bc.org).  Users share songs that they have made through creative engagement with old technologies, and they are given helpful, mostly positive feedback for their efforts.  The comments are clear indicators of a supportive community and I just love reading the occasional, “Hey, I love this song!  Also, I just wanted to let you know I’ve been regularly listening to [x] that you posted last year and it’s one of my favourites of all time!  It makes me smile whenever it comes on =)”

People are quick to offer suggestions (“I can’t hear the bass so much.  I had a similar issue and I find that [complex process to change program settings] works for me.”), they remix each other’s tracks, and they simply offer an inclusive environment for creativity.

And, on top of that, the music is awesome!

The idea

Listening to chiptunes one day, I had the great idea that I should compile a mixed CD for my brothers and give it to them as a present.  I wanted to share some of the amazing songs I’ve been hearing and, growing up with similar media and technologies reminiscent of these sounds, I thought they may be able to appreciate it.  And if not, well, I’ve spent more time listening to chiptunes than I would have otherwise.  Win!

I soon decided I wanted to do more.  To further embrace new technology, I would share the playlist on my blog so my friends could download the tracks and follow links to past conversations about the songs within the community.  The experience of hearing great songs for the first time is, I feel, often more exciting when you’re doing it in the company of others – even if there exists a temporal distance that must be bridged by archival technology.  I quite enjoy reading the initial reactions from listeners, both in the form of ‘traditional’ comment systems (as used in 8bc) or using ‘timed comments’ like they do in soundcloud.

I also decided that it was nigh time to teach myself how to write m3u playlists.  One excellent way of sharing music is to simply provide others with a small text file of information that enables their music player to stream the files directly from various locations on the Internet.  This was going to be fun!

Problems!

I began planning things.  I spent hours upon hours compiling a playlist that would fit on an 80 minute CD and all was going fine, until . . . I noticed some of the tracks had been removed from 8bc.org by the artists.

This doesn’t present a problem for the mix CD I was compiling but a major part of my plan involved linking to the song pages and providing a direct download link for each track.  If some of the songs (and pages) were removed – and there was no reason to expect the remaining songs and pages would stay up forever – my playlist would include broken links, making it incomplete.

I was trying to do everything right by the artists.  I was trying to embrace the interconnected and decentralised nature of data.  What I didn’t prepare for is the likelihood of information removal or the changing of links – also known as ‘breaking the Internet’.

My own artistic remix is at the mercy of its sources.

A possible solution

On each song page on 8bc, it is stated, “Any reproductions of this work must be accompanied by a link to the artist’s page.”  This is a very simple license which I equate to, at least, a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.  So, in effect, because these tracks were posted on 8bc.org at some stage, I can host them on my server and link to any missing files from there, as I will be linking to the artists pages already.

But this makes me a little uncomfortable.  I have read a few conversations about removed files where the artists have said, “I took them down because I just didn’t like the direction I was taking last year,” or I have found other instances of the songs available elsewhere online for a small fee.  While, technically, I would be doing the correct thing legally by hosting these files, it’s taking advantage of the artists who agreed to something in the past, perhaps not through informed consent.  It’s one thing to share these files with my friends; it’s another to make them searchable and available to everyone and potentially removing a small but important income source for the artists.

For now, I’m going to simply share the m3u files and compilation playlist on my blog without fixing the holes.  But I’ll still share all of the files with my friends.

The future of sharing?

I had a lot of fun with this project.  Apart from the actual content (which, by the way, I haven’t mentioned is ‘awesome’ for a few paragraphs now – look at the restraint I am demonstrating!), I enjoyed exploring a variation on the established practice of making a ‘mixed tape’.  Technology is allowing us to include more information within the music (metadata) but it is also allowing us to share the connections and experiences of the wider audience – as well as enable direct communication with the artists, themselves.

I’d love to see more of this kind of sharing happen.

Stay tuned!  Coming up in my next post: the actual playlist with download links!

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