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Music Open Source

Can There Be Open Source Music? 183

Posted by timothy
from the send-me-a-note dept.
Lemeowski writes "Cygnus Solutions co-founder Michael Tiemann takes an in-depth look at whether music can truly ever be open source. Leaning on his personal experiences of trying to convince the market that a company that provided commercial support for free software could be successful, Tiemann argues that similar to how 'the future of software was actually waiting for the fuller participation of users ... so, too, is the future of the art of music.' In his essay, Tiemann makes a case for open source music, from licensing for quality recordings to sheet music with notes from the original composer in an easy-to-reuse format, and he offers ways to get involved in making music open source." Apropos open source music, reader rDouglass adds a link to the Open Goldberg Variations project, last mentioned on Slashdot in 2012.
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Can There Be Open Source Music?

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  • by Sique (173459) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:07PM (#44619587) Homepage
    It's called "Traditional" or "folk music".
    • by intermodal (534361) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:14PM (#44619693) Homepage Journal

      It's also called "the public domain". There's a reason we end up with so many forks of different traditional songs, and it's because people weren't subject to repercussions for simply playing music.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        It doesn't have to be. You can as easily license a song under GPL as a computer program or a book (Doctorow releases his books with a creative commons license, and he's been on the NYT best seller list).

        • Public domain is not open source, that's not what this article is talking about. And GPL as it is makes no sense to apply to music, because then you have to re-define words like "binary" and "source" for it to even be applicable. In a legal document, which the GPL is, you just don't do that kind of shit. You have to say what you mean, or it's unenforceable. And by the time you re-defined everything, you have re-created Creative Commons in a much more verbose way and deserve to be cock-punched (or kicked

    • by rubycodez (864176) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:14PM (#44619695)

      but the media cartel has extended copyright to ridiculous lengths of time to prevent music from becoming part of tradition or belonging to the people. the original reasonable limits had exactly that in mind.

      • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:50PM (#44620159) Journal

        Anything that slows the distribution of Sonny Bono's music can't be all bad...

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        but the media cartel has extended copyright to ridiculous lengths of time to prevent music from becoming part of tradition or belonging to the people. the original reasonable limits had exactly that in mind.

        Like with absolute power corrupting absolutely, the RIAA and MPAA have assumed their ability to sucker and/or buy the US Congress into extending copyrights to extreme lengths, has encouraged the to behave in an absolutely corrupt manner.

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        It's a bit more complicated than that.

        Before the Berne Convention, many folk musicians (e.g. Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie) intentionally did not copyright their music. Nowadays, many folkies are either just totally ignoring copyright or using Creative Commons to give it away more effectively. And they're definitely more lax about enforcement than the RIAA ever was.

        Also pretty common is to make the song itself public domain while copyrighting particular performances, arrangements, editions, etc. For exampl

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Indeed, hasn't music *always* been open source? Listen to any great composer and you will see plenty of earlier work being reused, reinterpreted, and expanded on, many times with explicit credit to their sources. How many great pieces of classical music were inspired by regional folk music while on vacation?

      It's only in the last few centuries that people have even conceived of "owning" music in any real sense. If you had fame and influence perhaps you could get the local guild-hall to not let anyone else

      • Open Source = having the documents needed to reproduce the music.
        Composers have not been publishing their sheet music for everyone to see. Instead people reverse engineer the sheet music by listening to recordings.
        • by Immerman (2627577)

          Actually historically many (most) composers did publish sheet music - it was one of the few ways they could make money from their art, conducting and taking commissions being the others.

          And anyway why would they need to publish their sheet music for others to build upon their work? Sheet music is not the source code, it's the note-cards you take to the podium. A rough map to the final product used to keep track of your position and make sure you don't forget the big things and are ready for the surprise tw

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      It's called "Traditional" or "folk music".

      Yep and anything which has fallen into the public domain due to the death of the one or all composing parties. Anyone in the present day who releases their work to the public domain is a saint. Alas, we keep listening to the sinners. Amazing what a load of obnoxious and lawyer summoning lot they can be, too.

      Look up what transpired over only a fragment of Kookaburra in the song A Land Down Under [wikipedia.org]. 60%?!? For a flute riff?

      • by niado (1650369)

        It's called "Traditional" or "folk music".

        Yep and anything which has fallen into the public domain due to the death of the one or all composing parties. Anyone in the present day who releases their work to the public domain is a saint. Alas, we keep listening to the sinners. Amazing what a load of obnoxious and lawyer summoning lot they can be, too.

        Look up what transpired over only a fragment of Kookaburra in the song A Land Down Under [wikipedia.org]. 60%?!? For a flute riff?

        They were asking for 60%. The judge ruled that the band had to pay 5% of royalties, only going back to 2002 and going forward. Still silly (as Kookaburra was written in 1932) but not really that egregious.

    • It didn't work to well for the "Happy Birthday" song (which is listed as a Folk Song on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/nyregion/lawsuit-aims-to-strip-happy-birthday-to-you-of-its-copyright.html?_r=0 [nytimes.com]
      • Happy Birthday is the poster child for why copyright is broken. Cultural ubiquity is so high, it should be considered to have lost all copyright.
        • Cultural ubiquity is so high, it should be considered to have lost all copyright.

          That argument could be used to deny protection to any performance or work of art that has met with broad popular acceptance in less than one week.

        • by niado (1650369)

          Happy Birthday is the poster child for why copyright is broken. Cultural ubiquity is so high, it should be considered to have lost all copyright.

          Well it's probably [ssrn.com] not under valid copyright anyway, for a number of reasons. A company asserts that it owns a valid copyright to the song, and collects royalties. The royalty amount is probably not high enough to be worth fighting in court, since the situation is pretty complicated, so someone would have to do it on principle. There was a lawsuit along these lines filed earlier this year, but it was dropped in July by the plaintiff for unknown reasons.

    • by westlake (615356)

      It's called "Traditional" or "folk music".

      What the geek "knows" as folk music usually turns out to be "modern" and commercial.

      "Happy Birthday To You" isn't the exception, it's the norm.

      If the words or music are old, unfathomably old, perhaps, the arrangement and performance will be new and vital. Morning Has Broken [youtube.com] This is much, mich, harder to pull off than you think.

      The performer, booking agent, or broadcaster learns very quickly that he will burn through everything available --- everything authentic --- in folk music in no time flat.

      You see

  • by Rod Beauvex (832040) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:09PM (#44619615)
    Make your own. :D
  • by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:10PM (#44619625) Journal

    It seems to me that music for which a written score exists is open source by definition, the score being the "source code" for the music. I'm not sure what notes from the original composer is supposed to entail these days. Back in the old days composers would include notes on how the music is to be played, but we have audio recordings for that now.

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      if you play that music you might get sued for unlawful performance. if you copy that music on a Xerox machine, or put on a web server, or transmit it by email you might get sued for copyright infringement. no it is not open source

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Just because it's not Free Open Source Music doesn't mean it's not Open Source.

        • by roc97007 (608802)

          Just because it's not Free Open Source Music doesn't mean it's not Open Source.

          Exactly. The source is freely available, and the cost (my mother is a music teacher and I help with her finances) often borders on trivial. Almost a media cost.

          • by dgatwood (11270)

            Unless someone who receives the source is allowed to redistribute that source, it does not qualify as an Open Source license. Open Source requires that the redistribution rights flow downstream.

            Copyrighted music, unless explicitly licensed in such a way to allow further redistribution by anyone who receives a copy, is more of a "shared source" or "licensed source access" model, in which certain distributors are explicitly authorized by the copyright holder to redistribute it under certain terms, but in whi

    • by Solandri (704621)

      It seems to me that music for which a written score exists is open source by definition, the score being the "source code" for the music.

      That's what you'd think, but it's not. If you go look at the composer's original manuscript [wikimedia.org], it's a bit of a mess. Courts have decided that the process of interpreting it and cleaning it up for typesetting and publication is creative enough to warrant its own copyright. As a result, pretty much any printed music since the early 1900s on is still under copyright. Music

    • Even without the source (e.g. sheet music) someone with an experienced ear can transcribe it from a recording. So it is more like JavaScript or HTML on web pages -- everyone can read it and copy it but it still may be under some copyright or whatever -- but if you make it slightly different you're probably okay.

    • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

      No more than windows source code existing makes Windows open source.

      The score would have to be permissively licensed.

      Open source music doesn't have much need, as the essence can be taken without the score. CC is more relevant, allowing sampling and remixing. I can't see any point for calling that open source music.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        > No more than windows source code existing makes Windows open source.

        I'm really not trying to be nit picky, but are you saying that Windows source code is available? That I could buy a DVD with the source for Windows 7? (If so, cool -- I could fix a couple of stupid bugs.) If you're saying merely that the code exists, full stop, then we're not talking about the same thing. You can buy, for a trivial cost, sheet music which is (if you will) a mathematical representation of the music in question, allo

        • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

          It seems to me that music for which a written score exists is open source by definition, the score being the "source code" for the music.

          By what definition? The source code exists in the form of a score. That doesn't make it open source. The code for Windows is available to researchers and governments. That doesn't make it open source.

          If you're saying merely that the code exists, full stop, then we're not talking about the same thing.

          Read what you wrote again. You are not talking about the same thing

    • No, music is not already "open source". It has to have a copyright grant from the original composer that permits the music to be modified.

      I have been writing "open source" music for decades ( http://www.newhymns.org/ [newhymns.org] .) I have always included a grant to modify, and about 8 years ago adopted the least restrictive Creative Commons license (Attribution only), specifically to encourage fellow musicians to carry the compositions further, even if they do it for commercial projects. I release the music in MusicXM

  • Of course there can be open source music. The proper question is, of course, can there be good open source music?
    • by Nyder (754090)

      Of course there can be open source music. The proper question is, of course, can there be good open source music?

      what is considered "good" in music is usually subjective.

    • It isn't as much good, but popular.

      Popular Music is about being played at a good enough level, so it will not offend the ears of average Joe. And sell as many copies as it can. While some Popular Music can be actually really good, it doesn't cover all the good music out there. There is plenty of good music that isn't popular, but is either considered to dull, or too extreme for average 5 minute attention span Joe.

      Also there is a lot of Bad Music that isn't popular either just because it was bad. But if y

  • Yes, but (Score:5, Funny)

    by Russ1642 (1087959) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:15PM (#44619703)

    You'll only hear the cool intro, without the bass line because that's still in development, and only the first two verses are written. There should be some updates by the end of the year but we're not promising anything. The drum track is done with crappy open-source drum software but we're totally gonna get someone to record it for real as soon as we scrape together $50 to pay a drooler, I mean drummer. If you complain about the missing parts you'll just get yelled at for not making it yourself by teaching yourself to play the guitar.

  • by caffiend666 (598633) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:22PM (#44619783) Homepage
    The Lilypond application has easy notation (at basic level), a good open source community, and can output both to nice printed sheetsheet music/pdfs and playable midi files. Lilypond is a great start in composing for people at least vaguely familiar with music notation and open source software.Â
    • by Russ1642 (1087959)

      Lilypond is useless for composing. Use anything but Lilypond while you compose. If you want top quality published music then it's by far the best choice out there.

      • http://musescore.org/ [musescore.org]

        I use the portable version rather extensively, myself.

      • I have to disagree. I'm able to put together musical ideas very quickly using LilyPond and a text editor. It's way faster for me to use the text editor than it is to use a GUI-based entry system.

        As for publishing, I agree; LilyPond is excellent. However, I think most publishers use SCORE for publishing.

      • Lilypond is next to useless for techno, and drum machines, but for traditional performance music, composition, and experimentation iilypond is great. The program is backwards for art, in that music is dedcribed mathematically first then performed, rather than performed then described. But, lilypond can drive real performances, both as midi output and real sheet music, from child to orchestra level.
      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        Then you use GNU Denemo [denemo.org] to sketch out your line. That and a little manual LilyPond work is fine for what I typically write (traditional-style pieces and folk songs).

  • People in fine arts on average earn far less than the average techie, so you know what? Stop trying to foist your "free" philosophy on everyone. It's disingenuous to suggest that art should be free (or even cheap) when you're pulling in $100k securing networks against people who would use them for free.

    • People in fine arts on average earn far less than the average techie, so you know what? Stop trying to foist your "free" philosophy on everyone.

      They knew (or should have known) that when then they took up fine arts as a profession. Nobody is entitled to make a living from art just because they think they should. They have to earn it the same as anyone else.

      It's disingenuous to suggest that art should be free (or even cheap) when you're pulling in $100k securing networks against people who would use them for free.

      Who said it had to be free as in beer? What is being discussed here is whether it should be free as in speech. I have no problem at all with someone making lots of money from their art. What I DO have a problem with is the artist and their descendants have a perpetual income from those works

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Then stop complaining that your jobs are going overseas or to H1B visas because "[n]obody is entitled to make a living from" IT "just because they think they should".

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Copyright is supposed to be for a LIMITED time and there certainly is no justifiable reason why the copyright should extend beyond the time required to settle the estate of the artist.

        I hold a lot of copyrights, three of them registered (I just registered my book Nobots last week), and I not only agree but think 30 years is a damned long time for a copyright to be valid. There's no reason for those two programs I wrote in 1983 to still be covered; hell, the computers they were written for were obsolete dec

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        They knew (or should have known) that when then they took up fine arts as a profession. Nobody is entitled to make a living from art just because they think they should. They have to earn it the same as anyone else.

        Yes, I agree. But why is it that OS supporters, who are invariably geeks and other variety of sysadmin, feel they need to constantly opine on arts-related copyright issues? Just because you listen to music and store it digitally does not make you an expert in the industry. Listening to geeks yammer on about alternate copyright for music is like listening to Lady Gaga talk about coding.

        What I DO have a problem with is the artist and their descendants have a perpetual income from those works. Copyright is supposed to be for a LIMITED time and there certainly is no justifiable reason why the copyright should extend beyond the time required to settle the estate of the artist.

        Yes, that's nice. Pro-tip: It is limited and is not perpetual.

        Now I'm going to listen to Bob Dylan mumble on about how devel

        • Pro-tip: It is limited and is not perpetual.

          How is a limited copyright term that is legislatively extended by about 20 years every 20 years (cf. Copyright Act of 1976 and Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998) any different from a perpetual copyright in practice? If no further extension is enacted before 2025, I'll agree with you, but until then, it smells to me like the Congress is pulling an end-run around constitutionally "limited Times" by enacting perpetual copyright on the installment plan.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Nobody's trying to foist anything on anybody, unless your definition of "foist" is "suggest".

      Cory Doctorow credits his use of making his books GPL and giving them away for free at boingboing for his status as a New York Times best seller.

      As he says, nobody ever lost money from piracy but many have starved from obscurity. Did you know that Van Gogh sold only one painting in his life, for a pittance, to his brother, to pay off a loan? And nobody can argue that his stuff's no good, people pay millions for it t

      • Right. So the only people who would make money in art would be whoever can manufacture the cheapest container.

  • My take (Score:5, Informative)

    by matthewtift (3025395) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:31PM (#44619887)
    I led the effort within Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) to make radio history in 2012 when WPR broadcast the entire Open Goldberg Variations recording on air while simultaneously broadcasting the score on the Web. I think public media would provide a particularly good "home" for this kind of music. I'm fascinated by the idea of "open source music" and I've shared my thoughts about it on my blog, in various posts, such as: Public Music for Public Media: An Introduction [matthewtift.com], Open-Source Music: 10 More Reasons Why It Fits [matthewtift.com], and On the Role of Open-Source Music Scores [matthewtift.com].
  • Just ask Vanilla Ice.
  • by coaxial (28297) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:34PM (#44619931) Homepage

    Open source isn't just free copying. That's just permissive licensing. The real power of open source is the ability to modify and share those modifications. That's always been the case in music.

    See jazz.
    See folk.
    See hip-hop.
    See country.
    See blues.
    See...

  • The Creative Commons license is perfect for this.

    http://creativecommons.org/ [creativecommons.org]

    BTW, I think Pearl Jam released one of their videos under a Creative Commons license, allowing fans to alter, re-cut, modify it to their hearts' content.

  • by Rizimar (1986164) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:36PM (#44619963) Homepage

    If I am in a small crowd that is listening to a musical performance and I let out a cough that the other audience members can hear, could I consider myself a closed-source music hacker?

  • Music is composed of notes that anyone is already free to assemble as they please.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Obviously you're not serious (obvious because I don't think you're stupid). Books are also composed of words that anyone is already free to assemble as they please. Software is also composed of commands that anyone is already free to assemble as they please.

      So what's your point?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Creative Commons is functionally similar to Open Source in every respect.

    My own music, poor and sickly as it is, is available for anyone to use, perform, re-arrange, or modify. I require no payment and grant blanket permission IF you give attribution, are using it non-commercially, and license derivative works in like manner. If you want to use it commercially or change the license terms, etc, then I do require you to ask permission. That's reasonable... I think if you want to treat your contribution in a t

  • by asylumx (881307) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:45PM (#44620087)
    Could we submit a patch for Avenged Sevenfold's new album? They got confused and think they are Metallica. What's the equivalent of "FTFY" in music?
    • Could we submit a patch for Avenged Sevenfold's new album? They got confused and think they are Metallica. What's the equivalent of "FTFY" in music?

      A remix.

  • by poity (465672) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @12:55PM (#44620249)

    or just endless forks of each other, never truly heartfelt, never truly satisfying?

  • Let us know how it goes.

  • What's the difference between Open Source music and music that's in the public domain?

    Do you really need to create a licensing scheme for some piece of music that you just give away an audio recording with the accompanying sheet music?

    What's next Open Source recipes?

  • by Lendrick (314723) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @01:30PM (#44620855) Homepage Journal

    I run OpenGameArt.org, and we host a lot of creative commons licensed music. This is a topic that comes up fairly frequently, and the answer short answer is that, yes, music can be open source. The long answer is of course a bit more complicated than that.

    For something to be "open source", this means that you need some sort of preferred source format that's easy to modify. In the case of people composing sheet music, that answer is easy. You provide the sheet music, or some open file type that saves note information (generally a midi file). There are a couple of cases where it's a lot more complicated.

    Improvised music

    What is the preferred, easy to modify source format for improvisation? The only possible answer is a recording, but recordings are *not* easy to modify in ways that are musically meaningful and still maintain the integrity of the original recording. Of course, this is Slashdot, so some pedant will of course point out that you can get a wav editor and lengthen and change the pitch of notes yourself, but this requires a lot of effort to make it sound good, and if the recording is of multiple notes being played at once, you're essentially out of luck unless you happen to have access to some very expensive, closed-source software, and even then, the results aren't going to be perfect. We could simply stop accepting recordings and start insisting on sheet music, but the only thing that really does is close out submissions of improvised music -- it doesn't increase the amount of "source" available. (Whereas, if you write a program, there's a very good chance that you have access to your source code.)

    Musical Instruments

    The other problem with a Midi file (and regular sheet music) is that, while it provides instructions for playing a piece of music, it doesn't give you a means of duplicating a performance exactly. For instance, if someone with thousands of dollars worth of proprietary audio software, sound samples, and production equipment produces a midi file of an orchestra, it's going to sounds pretty damn good. Give the sheet music to a conductor of an orchestra, and it's gong to sound amazing. Give the midi file to a random person with a computer and it's going to sound like it's being played on a gameboy. Point is, sheet music and midi files are not complete means of reproducing a performance exactly, whereas computer code is a complete way of reproducing a binary.

    So yeah, shoehorning music into the "open source" mold isn't completely trivial, because music isn't completely analogous to software. On the other hand, the problems aren't so insurmountable that it would be impossible to consider certain music to be "open source", particularly if you loosen the definition a bit with respect to music and musical performances.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Give the sheet music to a conductor of an orchestra, and it's gong to sound amazing.

      I agree, nothing livens up a performance like a good gong hit. For example, a friend of mine who's a Catholic organist was in the Vatican attending the Papal Mass, and was sitting near the front. The priests come over and smack the gong really loudly, so startling my buddy that he exclaimed "Holy shit!"

    • by dkf (304284)

      The other problem with a Midi file (and regular sheet music) is that, while it provides instructions for playing a piece of music, it doesn't give you a means of duplicating a performance exactly.

      That's a different problem. Sheet music (or MIDI) is like source code, whereas a performance is like a compiled executable. There are many tools that work well for source but which don't for executables (e.g., version control systems like git or svn) so we should not be surprised when not all concepts work perfectly for music either. Indeed, the purpose of open source music has got to first be to allow others to create their own performances from the "source", and secondly to allow others to create their ow

      • by Lendrick (314723)

        That is roughly what I said, except perhaps for what you said about compilers, which, while technically true, doesn't really detract much from my point. If you compile the same code with the same version of GCC running on the same operating system and the same architecture, you will get the same result, every time. This is doable for a normal person. Playing a song on the exact same set of instruments as the original recording is *not* doable for a normal person, if you even have the resources to get acc

  • by coldsalmon (946941) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @02:33PM (#44621791)

    A better question would be, "Can there be closed source music?" I can't imagine how there could be. If you want sheet music for a particular recording, you can just transcribe it. imslp.org has copious amounts of public domain sheetmusic available for download, so access isn't even a problem for the classical tradition that TFA is discussing. TFA is a slashvertisement for a recording by Kimiko Ishizaka, and is using open source as an advertising buzzword. Nobody is "liberating" Bach's "source code." Bach's sheetmusic is in the public domain; you can download a whole bunch of different versions of it from all kinds of places. Anyone who knows how to play the piano can make a recording of it; this has been true since recordings existed. There are a lot of websites that host recordings of public domain classical music, such as pianosociety.com. Nothing new is happening here, and it does not have anything to do with "open source." Someone is making another recording of the Goldberg Variations, and is also releasing another public domain version of the sheet music. You can hear my "open source" recording of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations here: http://recitals.pianoworld.com/wiki/index.php/Category:Coldsalmon [pianoworld.com] along with a whole bunch of other "open source" recordings.

  • ...at least, algorithmic composition: SuperCollider [sourceforge.net]
  • by Admiral Burrito (11807) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @04:58PM (#44623551)

    Considering copyright has been around for less than one percent of the time that music has, I think it's safe to say:

    WTF is wrong with people that this is even a question to be taken seriously?!?

    There's something dystopian about the current state of discourse. It's like the bar scene in Cherry 2000 where men and women all have lawyers present to negotiate a one-night stand. They would probably ask: "Is open-source sex possible?"

    And that's where we're at with music.

    :(

    • Considering copyright has been around for less than one percent of the time that music has

      The world population in the era of copyright happens to be far greater than the world population prior to the enactment of the Statute of Anne in the early 1700s. How many people's lives has copyright been around for?

      It's like the bar scene in Cherry 2000 where men and women all have lawyers present to negotiate a one-night stand.

      That would likely be the consequence if rape law was made tougher.

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