Licensing business update
Below are two charts showing how we're doing with music licensing. We're still the #1 search hit on google for "music licensing", and business is steadily increasing, but it's still in the early days of online music licensing.
The two charts below show our monthly licensing stats, both as number of licenses granted, and as revenue. I've shown the actual numbers for # of licenses (about 25 per month, on average) but left out the dollar amounts on the 2nd chart, but you can get an idea of scale.
Put a moving 6 month average line on both, so you can see the overall trend. We're definitely tending upwards on both metrics.
Why we are not evil, new page at Magnatune
Following up on the feedback a few days ago in the Why do 63% of our visitors leave right away? thread, there were multiple calls for indicating why Magnatune is different/better than other music sites.
At the same time, people wanted album art on the front cover, and top-selling albums, and such, and so the new home page that was rolled out last week had album art on the front cover. The "mission statement" was removed from the home page and moved to a "our mission" link off the home page.
Many people chimed in with why they thought Magnatune was special, so I decided to make a "Why we are not evil" page at Magnatune that lists the reasons.
Below is a list of the reasons I came up with. I loosely sorted them by "most interesting and likely to help a newcomer"
If I missed something you feel is important, please let me know. Likewise, if something below generates a "yawn" reaction, say that too.
Why we are not evil:
- Perfect audio quality: you get CD quality audio WAV files, as well as super-high quality VBR MP3s, AAC, and open source friendly FLAC and OGG formats (sample download page)
- No DRM: No copy protection (DRM), you can do what you like with your music, unlike iTunes and Windows-media based web sites
- Listen to everything: all our albums can be listened to in their entirety before you buy
- Good music: all our music is hand-picked, we accept 3 out of every 100 submissions
- MP3s everywhere: Our MP3s play everywhere: iPods, Creative, SanDisk, iRiver and every portable device that supports MP3s
- Musicians get paid: 50% of your purchase price goes directly to the musician
- Album art: every album includes high quality album art (in both Adobe Acrobat and 300DPI JPG formats)
- Give to your fiends: We encourage you to give 3 copies of any music you buy to your friends
- Name your price: you choose how much you want to pay for the music, and 50% of your choice goes to the artist
- Downloads and CDs: all our music can be bought as a download or a delivere-by-postal-mail CD
- Creative Commons: All our 128k MP3s are some-rights-reserved Creative Commons licensed
- Remix friendly: Tons of our music, acapellas and samples are available for Remixing at CC Mixter
- 100% legal: you're not breaking any laws, Magnatune is completely legal all over the world
- Licensing: all our music can be licensed for commercial use instantly and online. We license more online than anyone else in the world, which is why we're #1 in Google for "music licensing"
- Podcast-legal: podcasters can obtain and use our music for free
- Free review copies: music reviewers (web, print and radio) can get free copies of all our music
- No major labels: we have absolutely nothing to do with major labels or the RIAA
I put a link to it off the home page, right under the "license our music" link, and also in the info section.
Shannon's update to musicians
Shannon just got back from exhibiting us for a week at the SxSW music and film show, and posted her update on things for our musicians. There are a bunch of interesting things in here, so I'm reposting it, with a few confidential things bleeped out:
Hello Magnatune artists!
Ever been totally exhausted and yet completely energized at the same time? I just returned from more than a week at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas where Teresa, Joel, and I promoted the heck out of you, your music, and Magnatune in general. Particularly focused were our efforts among filmmakers, with whom we networked tirelessly to let them know how easily they can license your music for use in their projects.
One particularly instructive experience was a panel session entitled "Choosing Music for Your Film" during which a panel of accomplished directors, producers, and music supervisors told an audience of young filmmakers -- many from University of Texas -- that if music licensing were surgery, "it would be brain surgery" and advised them to "just hire an entertainment lawyer" or "just hire a music supervisor" to oversee music for their films. This was *after* it had been ascertained that most of audience members were working on film budgets of $10,000 or less. During Q&A, I spoke up about Magnatune and got *a lot* of interest from filmmakers after the panel ended.
The panel experience made crystal clear what John has been saying for some time -- that there's a real opportunity here for Magnatune to become *the* licensing resource among creative professionals who want high quality rights-cleared indie music for use in their projects. This is a message we'll be putting out there for some time to come: that on Magnatune, music licensing is an outpatient procedure. ;)
Other SXSW highlights included watching Maganatune artist Tom Lewis of Five Star Fall (formerly Fluid) perform to a full house, and then later in the week the fabulous Drop Trio at the Elephant Room. At that show, we met one of the band's most avid fans: a sound engineer and producer whose personal discography reads like an issue of Billboard. Teresa introduced us to the nice guys at WXPN, the influential Philadelphia radio station home to one of radio's most beloved syndicated programs, World Cafe. Through Joel, we also got to meet Vic ***** of BBC Radio 1, an incredibly likable fellow with a passion for music that he wears on his oh-so-Scottish sleeve. While I was there, I also met with a senior producer at Austin's biggest post production facility -- winner of several Cannes Lions awards and others -- who says he's always on the lookout for good music for their projects and was excited to hear about the automated licensing feature on Magnatune. With these folks and hundreds of others, we talked about you, put your music into their hands, and generally networked on your behalf. We did manage to see some fantastic live shows in between all the networking too, including Charlatans UK, Echo and the Bunnymen, Neko Case, Riverboat Gamblers, and Goldfrapp -- who are *incredible* live.
And speaking of live performance, I bought myself a Sleater Kinney CD online yesterday. So what? Well, consider that I have known and loved Sleater Kinney's music for about a decade and have never once before bought one of their CDs. Not even after I got the movie soundtrack to All Over Me and realized that their track was the best of the lot. I just never got around to buying a Sleater Kinney album. And then the other day, I saw them perform live at South by Southwest, and suddenly they felt much more like "my band." I connected to their music in an entirely new way. For most bands, I'm told, an active performance schedule is key, although I know there are genre-specific variations to consider (electronica is a different ballgame than rock, for instance). But consider that even artists with household names generally need to tour when they release an album.
I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this, and want to mention that I'm now keeping artist-only office hours on weekdays. Although you are always welcome to call me at *any* time, I've decided to keep the hours of 8 to 10am PST on weekdays free for any on-the-fly discussions that Magnatune artists might want to have on an ongoing basis. I've learned a lot about your needs from you over the last few months, and it's really helped to bring certain things into focus -- particularly how we can be supporting you in the process of promoting your work. I want to keep the conversation going so that we can keep good things flowing. My number is ***.***.****.
Next, you may have noticed that since I took over artist relations at Magnatune, John has been forwarding to me many of the questions that he would have previously fielded himself. This is so that he's free to use his time to work on a windfall of new Magnatune features and projects, and here are the blog entries he made both about and between them. If you have any questions at all about this, please drop me a line.
Finally, a big shout out to the new artists on this list: Beight, The Seldon Plan, Marginal Prophets, Psychokinetics (our first two hip hop bands!), Ensemble Vermillian, and Mountain Mirrors. Welcome to Magnatune. We're thrilled to have you.
Next month: some of Magnatune's top selling artists' tips for self-promotion.
Be well and keep in touch!
Full text searching added to Magnatune
Why do 63 percent of our visitors leave right away?
Don't make me think!
Experimenting with featured artist on home page
Location of artists now given at Magnatune
Unreliable audio streaming hopefully fixed
How Magnatune creates its podcasts
I'm working on automatically generating weekly podcasts for Magnatune. I wanted it to be automated, so that I could support a large variety of podcasts without regular labor. However, I'm competing with hand-made podcasts, so the quality of the end product needs to be quite good in order to be competitive.
The first challenge was selecting the songs to include. Most podcasts are either 30 or 60 minutes, so I chose the more-or-less-60-minutes format.
From various articles, it seems many podcasters are taking tips from radio production, so I thought I'd do the same.
Specifically, I'm imitating a "rotation" concept for our podcasts, with four different kinds of rotation lists, each one commanding 25% of the songs selected:
|* Hot rotation (25%): 1st song on most recent 25% of albums in this genre
* High rotation (25%) - 1st song of all albums in this genre
* Medium rotation (25%) - other songs of most recent 25% of albums in this genre
* Low rotation (25%) - all other songs
What I've been told by many people is that they need to hear a song several times before it sinks in and they start to really enjoy it, and that this "hit making" is vital to the selling of an album to them. On the genre-mix playlists, I've been randomly mixing all songs, and this is counter to current radio thinking, and may not be as effective at selling our albums as a "hit songs get played often" strategy.
With this rotation strategy above, the 1st song of an album is presumed to be one of the better ones, the potential "hit" on the album (or at least, one of the better songs), and that's why 50% of the rotation on our podcasts will be the 1st song from our albums. After focussing on the first songs, next comes the other songs from our newest albums, and finally everything else.
When it comes to the podcasts themselves, there seem to be two main styles of product:
|1) mostly-music : a short introductory talking bit at the beginning, followed by 60 minutes of music, and at the end, a spoken list of all the songs that were played
2) mostly-DJ : a short intro at the beginning, and either between every song, or every other song, a spoken description of what was just played
For now, at least, I'm going to go with the "mostly-music" style, as that's what I prefer, and feedback from users seems to strongly weigh toward "less talk."
In terms of production values, a good podcast should:
|1) trim off the silence at the beginning and end of songs
2) normalize the volume of all the included songs so that the perceived volume changes are minimal
3) cross-fade between songs, so that there is a smooth movement between songs
4) If there is any talking, it should be at a volume comfortable compared to the music volume, and not uncomfortably louder
It took a bit of research and twiddling, but I did manage to do all these things in an automated fashion, and am fairly pleased with the result. The hardest part to decide seems to be the cross-fade duration, as if it's too short it feels sudden, but too long and the two songs are playing at the same time, which is bothering. I currently have it set at 5 seconds, which feels good, but I may tinker with this further.
The rest of this message contains technical details on the automation aspect of music production.
The first step (after deciding on the track listing) is extracting the WAV files from the wav.zip file for each album, ie:
unzip -d /tmp -j "/music/MRDC/Plethora/wav.zip" "*/*/01-Plethora-MRDC.wav"
this continues for all the WAV files for the podcast.
Next, I trim the silence off the beginning and end of the WAV file. The all-purpose sox http://sox.sourceforge.net/ program has a function to do this, but there are many complaints that the documentation is obscure, and I agree, I had trouble getting it to work right.
One source of confusion is that it turns out that Sox only will trim from silence the beginning of a WAV file, and not the end. To work around this (documented at http://article.gmane.org/gmane.comp.audio.sox/502/match=silence), you reverse the WAV file into a temporary file after trimming the beginning, so that the "end" is now the reversed beginning, trim the silence again, and reverse once more. Amazingly this works. The command is:
|sox "/tmp/01-Plethora-MRDC.wav" /tmp/tmp.wav silence 1 0:0:0.01 -50d reverse |
sox /tmp/tmp.wav "/tmp/01-Plethora-MRDC.wav" silence 1 0:0:0.01 -50d reverse
You can see the before/after results in these graphics below. The first graphic zooms on the beginning of the WAV file, with the original wav on top, and the trimmed one on the bottom. This is a piece of classical music which both fades out and has a little background hiss as well.
while this graphic shows the trimming that occurred on the end:
Next comes the normalizing process. I use Chris Vaill's excellent normalize program, which is fairly intelligent about how it does things, using a RMS (perceived loudness) rather than real loudness measurement, and takes all the WAV files you're going to play together as a single input so it can draw relative-loudness judgments. It also has a built-in limiter, to avoid creating digital distortion when volume is added.
The defaults for the "normalize" program worked well, so that's what I used, and you can see the volume changes it made to this rock podcast:
|normalize "/tmp/01-Plethora-MRDC.wav" "/tmp/01-Modern Anguish-Norine Braun.wav" "/tmp/11-A whisper for the others-Minstrel Spirit.wav" "/tmp/08-Peel-Jade Leary.wav" "/tmp/01-Fluid - Headphones-Magnatune.wav" "/tmp/01-Fountain Street (instrumental mix)-Mercy Machine.wav" "/tmp/07-Only you-Lizzi.wav" "/tmp/05-Beggar-William Brooks.wav" "/tmp/01-Bad Bad Luck-Burnshee Thornside.wav" "/tmp/01-It's All Moving Faster-Electric Frankenstein.wav" "/tmp/02-Fossildawn-Jade Leary.wav" "/tmp/13-Hanna to Hollywood-Norine Braun.wav" "/tmp/01-Till My Cup Runs Over-Four Stones.wav" "/tmp/01-Mirrored image-Cargo Cult.wav" "/tmp/05-Simply Put - Shane Jackman.wav"
Normalizing all WAVs in podcast
The difference before and after normalizing is very noticeable while listening and shows up clearly in the waveforms.
Here is a graphic of the original (non-normalized) rock podcast:
and here is the normalized version of the same podcast:
You can clearly see songs 13 and 14 being significantly louder and less different in the 2nd version. Looking at the changes normalize made, this is confirmed:
|Applying adjustment of 1.85dB to /tmp/13-Hanna to Hollywood-Norine Braun.wav...|
Applying adjustment of 2.20dB to /tmp/01-Till My Cup Runs Over-Four Stones.wav...
Finally, I need to glue all the songs together, and cross fade the transitions. The "crossfade_cat.sh" script included in the sox source distribution does this. Note that it only works if you compile sox from source code, and only if you run the script while the current directory is the ./sox/scripts directory. I had previously thought the script was broken because it gave strange errors, but it does work, if you build from source and run it inside the source directory.
What I do is start with the first WAV file, copy that to podcast.wav and then cross-fade that with the second song. The crossfade_cat.sh creates a new file named "mix.wav" which has the two WAV files combined with a cross-fade, and I then replace podcast.wav with this mix.wav file, then repeat for every WAV file in the podcast.
Here is the command that runs to cross fade and add one WAV file:
|./crossfade_cat.sh 5 /tmp/podcast.wav "/tmp/01-Modern Anguish-Norine Braun.wav" |
mv -f mix.wav /tmp/podcast.wav
The final step is to use "lame" to convert the WAV file into an mp3.
I also need to keep track of the start-time of each song as I go, subtracting the 5 seconds for the cross-fade, in order to build a human-readable playlist, which shows the order of songs, but more importantly, the start time for each song, so you can easily look up what's "currently playing."
Still for me to do is create the XML for these podcasts, so that people can subscribe and have the mp3 files downloaded automatically. That's work for me still to do, and the subject for another posting.
For those of you who are curious, I've made the script which makes a podcast .wav file available here: http://blogs.magnatune.com/buckman/mkpodcast.sh
How I record musicians
I was asked what equipment I use to record people, as I occasionally do record classical and world music ensembles for Magnatune release (about 6 albums a year).
I use the ADAT HD as my main recorder:
It's a 24 track hard disk recorder.
I love it, *once* I disconnected the fan, which is easy and seems useless as it runs very cool and silent except for the hard disk noise, and you can minimize that by purchasing a "silent" IDE hard drive. To disconnect the fan, just take the top off and pop off the connector. I've never had a failure, and I can feel it running cool by touching the cabinet. The only problem with is that you have to use a very specific version (old) of WS_FTP (windows) or Fetch (mac) because their FTP server hangs with other ftp clients (even command line), though I'm told most people don't use the FTP interface (I fetch the WAV files directly off the ADAT/HD each night) instead doing a digital-to-digital copy through a PC interface, but that's another source of problems, I think.
I'm anti-computer when it comes to recording, as I've found them to not be reliable enough in the field, and problems with recording gear really freak the musicians out. I used to record to computer, and used the ADAT as backup, but now I just use the ADAT. I had one session where my PC interface started to reboot regularly, every 5 to 20 minutes, and another session where I found single-sample drops in the final WAV files that I had to fix by hand, which took 2 days' work.
But, if you want to go computer, I have a Fireface
and everyone raves about its sonic quality (even the hyper-engineers). I haven't yet used mine much, but my recording engineer mentor David Tayler loves his (uhm, the one he's permanently borrowed from me (grin)) and I bought a quiet Toshiba laptop to use it with, so I'll be trying it again in the near future. It's very light, and provides 4 channels of mic pre & phantom power. There is a wiring schematic on the top of the fireface that you need to understand to use it, and a very complicated driver.
I use the Octopre Platinum
which sounds nice, has 8 channels, and works fine with the ADAT HD. One nice thing is its dual outputs, so you can record to a PC and to the ADAT/HD at the same time, which is what I do when it really matters.
The Fireface and the Octopre both have phantom power for mics.
I have messed with a of mics, but these days I just use small diaphragm Studio Projects C4 matched-paid omni microphones
These are made by the Chinese company that makes Neumann microphones for Neumann, and now they make these clones that are quite good. Not as perfect as the Neumanns, but I can't afford a dozen Neumann microphones, at about $1200 each.
I occasionally use some more expensive mics, such as a pair of Sennheiser MKH-20s, that are gorgeous, quiet and suuper-sensitive (sometimes too sensitive) but the Studio Projects are good everyday mics.
One nice thing about using a PC to record (even if just backup) is that you can use it at as a mixer to monitor the sound. And sometimes, you need to add some room ambience (echo) to the mics to monitor them somewhat realistically, which you can't do without a computer (well, not without more gear) I generally use a cheap 12 track small mackie mixer + ADAT/HD + Octopre as my standard rig, and can imagine the room ambience, just focussing on the clean micing.
UNC symposium video
This past fall I participated in a symposium at the University of North Carolina, entitled "UNC Symposium on Intellectual Property, Creativity and the Innovation Process."
The forum I was a panelist on was directed by "Koleman Strumpf, Associate Professor, Department of Economics" and was described as:
|P2P panel chaired by Koleman features John Buckman of Magnatune.com, Gene Hoffman founder of eMusic.com, Ed Klaris of The New Yorker, Adam Toll of BigChampagne.com, Sam Yagan of eDonkey, Tor Hansen of Redeye Distribution and Yep Roc Records, and musician Roger McGuinn|
The videos for the other panels are here: http://www.unctv.org/ipcip/
BMAT : recommendation engine uses Magnatune as a demo
What's particularly interesting about it is how the recommendations cross genres, but remain more-or-less consistent to mood.
lots of nice variety in there, and interesting choices.
This is an outgrowth of SIMAC, a project at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. I first heard from them some time ago, I think it was two years ago, when they asked to use our entire catalog as a seeding engine, and also for demonstration. I then saw a demo back in April that looked promising. Now, they've launched it as a company.
Their current demo points to 30 second versions of our songs as downloads, and quite nicely has a magnatune logo next to each song that goes to the artist page for that song, thus providing a good, strong attribution.
The 2-D map feature is interesting, and shows how similar the genres are when doing a punk similarity search (it shows where a particular set of recommendations lie in a similarity map):
I was thinking about using this technology to generate "similar mood" playlists, and may do that in the future.
Long interview with me at Indieish
There's a long interview with me that came out today, at
I really like the Lisa DB interview he did a few days earlier:
Downloading 7000 files: helpful suggestions needed, because Bittorrent isn't going to work
I've started working on the "Fill your ipod for $150" project, and had planned on using bittorrent and the ibiblio "Osprey" torrent server, which is meant for just this http://osprey.ibiblio.org/
I'm soliciting ideas on ways I can make 30gb of separate MP3s easily downloadable, because it doesn't look like bittorrent will work.
I'm not able to get any of the files from http://torrent.ibiblio.org/ using my bittorrent clients (azareus or bits on wheels) and that makes me nervous. Granted, I'm behind a NATed DSL connection, which I know is not ideal for bittorrent, but I was hoping it would at least work. And, I'm sure many other people will also have internal TCP/IP addresses and DSL or corporate networks, so whatever I use needs to actually work. Also, one of my bittorrent clients (azareus) pops a "Save as" dialog for each filename in a torrent file, which would be awful for 7000 mp3s.
The problem is that I can't give people a 20gb zip file to download. That would
- take 20h to download
- not unzip on many operating systems, due to a 2gb zip file limit that is widely present
- not enable incremental updates
I was hoping that by using bittorrent, I would get:
- each mp3 would be downloaded separately, so you'd get some music very quickly
- incremental updates would be possible, since only the music you didn't have would be downloaded
- no unzipping or multi-gig files
However, I suspect bittorrent is too particular to be used widely as the main way of distributing content, so I'm soliciting other suggestions. Bandwidth really isn't a problem for me, that's not the reason I was looking at bittorrent.
One possibility, which is what microsoft does with many installers (and emusic with its downloader), is to give people a small program which then downloads via HTTP all the files. I'm open to that, if it ran on all platforms, but I don't love it. Better would be a Java app, running in the browser, so it'd work for most people, but saving files locally is, I assume problematic from a a browser-based java app, and more specifically, this sounds like a lot of work.
What http://mp3search.ru does is put all the mp3 links on one page, and asks the user to use a "download helper" application which sucks down all the mp3s on an html page. That's probably not great either, especially with 7000 mp3s.
Another option is for more to provide a batch file, which uses "wget" (or curl) to download all the files. That would be easy to develop, would allow incremental downloads, but would be ugly to look at, and many novice users would be nervous about this.
Yet a third option is a browser plugin, there are several that support p2p, or I could write a simple app using the tcl plugin, but I suspect users wouldn't like to have to permanently install a browser plugin just to download our music.
So... I've not yet found a good solution to this dilemma -- so I'm soliciting ideas on ways I can make 30gb of separate MP3s easily downloadable.
Commercial Podcaster but poor, terms changed
Teresa, who handles all the free-music requests from podcasters, emailed me to explain that she thinks some people are taking advantage of our "commercial but poor" no cost podcast music license:
|I am starting to receive more requests from podcast producers wanting to use the music for commercial purposes. These are creators who are very similar to the wedding video producers. They are putting together podcasts for a client's website (or the clients themselves are advertising a service on the web). Another example is an exercise podcast for a subscription fee.|
The budgets are, of course, under $50,000, but they are ultimately for-profit ventures. If this kind of low-budget use still conforms to the spirit of creative commons non-commercial (I am not so sure) and you want to continue with the under 50K giveaway, no problem. An alternative is to cover these use cases with a new commercial podcasting license category-- set at a low cost to accommodate the producer-on-a-budget, perhaps similar to the video/slideshow rates.
I agree with Teresa, that if an agency is being paid to create a podcast as part of a web site design, this is commercial use, not Creative Commons non-commercial, and stretching our "commercial-but-poor" terms too far.
so, I've changed the commercial-but-poor license to a lower threshold ($1000 per year of profit) and only for advertising, specifically no longer allowing paid-subscription podcasts and I-was-paid-to-make-this-podcast type situation.
The new language is:
|Commercial-but-poor: if your podcast is commercial you can still use our music on your podcast for free, as long as 1) your only commercial activity is limited to selling advertising, and your annual "gross profit" (gross sales minus gross expenses before salaries) is less than $1000 per year, 2) you give attribution on the podcast to the Magnatune songs as defined below, and 3) a short audio advertisement for Magnatune in your own voice shows up in the podcast, saying something similar to "Some of the songs on this program were provided by Magnatune.com, Magnatune is a really interesting music web site that lets you listen for free, name the price you want to pay, and half their revenue goes directly to the artist. Check out www.magnatune.com". Any other commercial activity requires an low-cost "Internet" license (such as if you were paid to create the podcast, or charge a subscription fee).|
I also added a "commercial podcast" choice for the "type of web site" question, with the fees being half as much as the "personal web site" license, which is also very low cost (for example, it's $22 for a 1 year license for music to a no-budget podcast).
This is a difficult line to walk, between allowing fair use from well-meaning people, and being taken advantage of in other situations.
I welcome feedback on this...