I touched upon this idea briefly in my earlier note about Musicmatch’s new download service, but I’d like to go into more detail about what I see as the solution towards universal Music Happiness.
Without further ado, here is Adam’s (hypothetical) Online Music Service, or “AOMS” for short.
There are three critical aspects of AOMS… Flexible Fidelity and DRM combinations, Open Architecture, and Incented Sharing.
Flexible Fidelity and DRM combinations
First of all, while AOMS would be available in a more fancy client (special software) version for Mac, PC, and Unix systems, it’d also work more simply but just as well via standards-compliant Web browsers.
Every music clip within AOMS would be available as both a stream AND a download in three formats:
1) LOW FIDELITY: Available in their entirety for everyone, with no restrictions.
2) HIGH FIDELITY – 30 second preview: No restrictions.
3) HIGH FIDELITY – full:
3a) Available free with Loose DRM (iTunes-style) on an unlimited basis for AOMS Premium Subscribers (who pay $20-$25 per month, or are part of a Premium Affinity Group, such as a university or ISP that’s paying a block fee to AOMS).
3b) Available with Loose DRM for 75 cents per download to non-subscribers.
3c) Available free in Shared (stricter) DRM format. This DRM implementation would limit song files with expiration dates and/or maximum play times (e.g., 15 days or 10 plays)
These different fidelity and DRM levels are key to the viral success of AOMS. Now-industry-standard 30-second song samples are often insufficient foundations for purchasing decisions, whereas full-length low fidelity clips are likely to both increase awareness of and interest in new music (expanding music demand) and increase the frequency of purchases. Shared (stricter) DRM files would be the foundation of successful Incented Sharing (discussed later)
Just as Amazon.com makes its entire catalog available for free via XML feeds today, AOMS would make information on every clip available to Webmasters as well. Via automated feeds, gospel aficianados could highlight a list of tunes for their gospel Web sites, enabling their visitors to stream or download clips according to the visitors’ AOMS membership status. That is, AOMS Premium members, once authenticated, would be able to download or stream a hi-fi copy of any listed and linked gospel tune on the site straight from their browser. In contrast, those without Premium memberships would be able to either stream or download a lo-fi clip or 30-second hi-fi clip, or download a Shared DRM full-length clip.
The beauty of the open architecture of this system is that it would empower Webmasters to extend the reach, scope, and sophistication of the AOMS catalog via creative categorizing and selection. For instance, AOMS may not have a separate specified category for female collegiate a cappella music, but an ardent fan of this sub-genre could create his or her own AOMS-based list, catering to a narrow but still-valuable demographic. Similarly, AOMS may not have detailed info on every artist, album, or track, but enthusiastic fans could and undoubtedly would author this, using the freely available AOMS clips as a springboard and reference.
As suggested above, everyone would not only have the opportunity to be a critic and a DJ of sorts, but indeed, also a salesperson, and a profitable one at that. With 5 cents of every 75 cent sale going to the referrer of the sale, Webmasters — in a fashion similar to the Amazon.com model — would be encouraged to share and recommend music via both artistic and economic incentives.
Of perhaps even greater interest to the Recording Industry, droves of music lovers and mercenaries alike would certainly flood the peer-to-peer services with Shared DRM tracks, knowing that they’d reap 5 cents for every time someone downloaded their copy and purchased a Loose DRM version for 75 cents. Not only would Premium subscribers be eligible to unlimitedly share their copies (which would become Shared DRM files outside the subscribers’ network of three included computers), but so, too, would those who paid 75 cents for each of their tunes.
Not only would gobs of folks be interested in uploading full-length protected songs to Web sites and P2P services, but many Web surfers and P2P users would be equally interested in downloading them. They’d know that they’d be getting files of very high sound quality and accurate tagging, in contrast with the oft-sloppily-recorded, mislabeled, and 128-or-lower bit rate files typically available online.
For most of this article, I’ve highlighted how AOMS would serve the purposes of both the Recording Industry and general consumers. However, the value of AOMS goes far beyond that…
A boon to lesser-known bands and musicians in general
With free lo-fi clips and Shared DRM clips freely available to all users on all platforms, artists of all means would be able to easily facilitate and encourage the sharing of their music. With the increasing levels of broadband penetration, artists could even e-mail Shared DRM clips to opt-in subscribers or friends.
A boon to music culture in general
How often have enthusiasts of more ecclectic music wanted to easily share their awesome finds with others, sadly finding that the only way of doing so was to run afoul of the law? Quite often, I’d say! For instance, I paid for and downloaded the Overture from an wonderful musical, and I wanted to share it with a friend in Germany who hadn’t even heard of the musical before. Thinking that I would have the technical, if not strictly-legal authority to do so by purchasing the track with PressPlay, I was shocked and angry when my friend was unable to listen to the track. Bullied and beaten after trying to do the right thing, I simply went on KaZaA, downloaded the (unfettered) equivalent track and forwarded her this file.
In our society… when we have a wonderful poem we want to share with a friend, we can easily scan or type it in or even read it to them. When there’s a funny or poignant picture we find, we can mail a pointer to it or even the file itself. But when we want to share the love of music — even when this passion is quite likely to lead to additional sales — we are currently unable to easily and legally do so, because we are all treated as thieves.
This is horribly wrong. It’s wrong for musicians, it’s wrong for consumers, and it’s wrong for society. Music deserves to be Free… not as in wholly free of charge, but rather, unfettered from its existing onerous boundaries and restrictions. With greater fluidity and access, everyone will benefit.
I greatly welcome your feedback on my hypothetical service, both with regards to envisioned specifics and broader goals.
Please take a moment to contribute to the discussion here (registration recommended but definitely not required!)