Music is the Virus

Airborne, a potentially disruptive start-up in the music sector, hopes to “cure the music industry of its sickness” with their upcoming launch.

Their cloud-based music sharing platform places fans and artists in direct symbiosis. It’s an interesting model, so take a look:

Beyond all the virus metaphors (they even go so far as to call songs ‘strains’)  the core idea is quite simple:

  1. Cut out traditional distributors
  2. Enable artists to monetise via a system of micropayments
  3. Give fans distribution rights instead, and empower them to share as much as possible, thus helping to secure further micropayments

It’s a model that I think could work particularly well for electronic music, whose artists tend to release one track or remix at a time, as opposed to a band who might release one album a year. Airborne will work best when artists can trickle content to their audience to keep them subscribed.

Looking on SoundCloud, my current favourite producer/DJ has 3,934 followers, which would net $3,934 per month on Airborne. Give those early adopting, high-class listeners some viral functionality and the impetus to share with friends and that figure could easily grow to $10,000/month – a healthy supplement to any unsigned musician, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Airborne have an interesting blog, The Music Industry is Sick, which looks at the challenges faced by listeners, musicians and labels today. In an ecology where artists need their stuff streamed four million times just to reach minimum wage, it’s platforms like Airborne that’ll help the system fix itself.

Crowd Financing: The Saviour Of Short Film?

Here’s an exploration of how young filmmakers are turning to the web to translate their concepts into capital, by means of a case study.

Lucy Tcherniak, a very talented friend of mine, has spent the last 18 months working on ‘Dominic’, her Psycho-Noir short film set in an English gentlemen’s club in the 1950s. How cool does that sound?!

The project is nearing completion, and word on the street is it’s going to be a corker. Judging by early imagery, I’m sure it’ll be a cult hit on the online video and awards scene.

A still from the short film 'Dominic' - release date TBC
A still from the short film 'Dominic' - release date TBC

However, the film hit a snag that prevents it reaching completion, thanks to a cock-up pertaining to securing music rights. Here’s a note from the film’s director on the piece of music in question:

The film has an entirely original score apart from a vital track which is played on the radio in the very first scene – Vera Lynn’s ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’. This was in the script from the beginning and sets the tone for the film. The £600 fee for the publishing rights for the track were originally in Partizan’s budget. Though unfortunately, because Partizan had to go way over budget during the shoot they can’t stump up any more cash for it now.

So, how does this director plan to solve the issue, release the movie, and see her name in lights? She’s turned the funding issue over to us: the crowd. Lucy has created a profile and project page on IndieGoGo, one of several very cool new crowd funding services that makes it easy to get support and feel good about giving it, this one seemingly focused on media production.

Alternative services include:

  • KickStarter –  currently the largest crowd funding service in the world, with renown from projects like Diaspora, voyURL and Eyewriter.
  • RocketHub – which crazily splits it’s site into ‘creatives’ and ‘fuelers’, which in my view makes it feel like less of a collaborative effort.
  • CatWalkGenius – invites visitors to “make history by investing in the first ever public-funded fashion collection” in return for profit and perks.
  • Profounder – which is the more overtly business-focused site, where entrepreneurship and managing your investors takes precedence.
  • Fans Next Door – a new site focused on the creative arts, with a wide mix of typically very small art and music projects.

So how do you make your project stand out? In Lucy’s case, she’s bundled her plea for funding along with her film’s plot and pre-release stills, followed by details of her problem:

Dominic is a man who lost everything the day the love of his life killed himself. Years on, he is so consumed with grief that he has become victim to his own dangerous imagination.

The track is Vera Lynn’s ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’, which plays on the radio during the suicide scene. The melancholy but hopeful lyrics of ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’ bring a wonderful dark irony to start of the film, as Will attempts to write his suicide note, then picks up the radio and climbs into the bath; Vera Lynn’s cheery tone fizzling into silence.

This high profile short film starring Daniel Caltagirone (The Pianist, The Beach) and produced by Partizan Films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) is in its final stages. The only thing left is to pay for publishing rights for the vital piece of music used in the first scene of the film.

Pretty compelling, no? But this alone isn’t going to open too many wallets (sorry Lucy!). What investors are really after is a return on investment: a share, a slice of the action, a reward, notoriety or plain old ego-massage.

The various perks for investing in the short film 'Dominic'

So IndieGoGo allows it’s hopefuls to offer sweeteners to the deal (image right). It was the promise of premiere tickets and a Limited Edition DVD that nudged me towards a $100 donation (that and the need for some fresh blog content 😉 ).

With all this give and take however, it does beg the question: what is IndieGoGo’s business model? Where is their slice of action?

I suspect services like these skim a percentage of total funding, so really what they’re after are for investees to use their services to attract big bids, meaning a greater profit for the facilitator. The other route to profit is to take on more small projects. The clever bit is that growth seems entirely driven by the entrepreneurship of it’s users: their traffic driving is done for them through friend-to-friend referrals and through the PR-ability of the projects they host.

These sites seem a perfect storm, where the investee, the investor, and the platform owner have their needs met. With such potential for mutual reward, I’d be interested to see whether these sites take on an eBay-like ecology, where mutual gain through the system becomes so commonplace that near-all smalltime entrepreneurship starts out as a project page online.

It’s certainly a trend in the film industry, where right now there are 5,319 listed film projects on IndieGoGo alone. I’ve seen some projects where for funding of, say, $10,000 you’ll be credited as an Executive Producer! This is a major shift in film production, reducing barriers to entry all the way down to the level of one’s own ability to self-promote.

For anyone interested in donating to this cause, here’s the link.
Maybe I’ll see you at the premiere.

Kopimi

An admission to you all – I’ve used Pirate Bay to download stuff for free.
A statement of facts – I also believe in protecting the rights of content creators.

How do I reconcile my piracy usage of great content with my belief in copyright? The jury is still out on that one, but with the Pirate Bay being forced into a subscription model, the decision to go straight is made slightly easier for me.

On the subject of licensing, I’ve registered Digital Cortex under one of these:

Creative Commons License It’s an ‘Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike’ license, issued to me by the Creative Commons for the content here on this site.

It grants users of Digital Cortex the rights to:

  • Copy, distribute, display, and perform the work
  • Make derivative works

But only under the following conditions:

  • Attribution. You must give the original author credit.
  • Non-Commercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
  • Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a licence identical to this one.

All of which sounds really boring, I’m sure. But Creative Commons licencing is on the up, because more of us are turning to our keyboards and becoming content creators. The CC give out little blog badges and buttons for your site, the iconography of which we are now beginning to accustom to. The CC logo is most prevalent on Flickr, where choosing a license type is part of the sign-up process.

Kopimi, the opposite of copyright
Kopimi, the opposite of copyright
For those more liberal in their stance on free content sharing, there is one license I’d like to tell you about. It’s called Kopimi, and it is the exact opposite of copyright.

 

Using a Kopimi badge on your site means you specifically request that people copy and use your work for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, with or without attribution, to be hacked to pieces and repackaged however they damn-well please.

It was created by Piratbyrån, the team behind Pirate Bay as a way to challenge attitudes to intellectual property rights, whilst in the face of all those hundreds of class-action lawsuits that ended up forcing them into submission.

From my research I appear to have found an originator of the design, whose post over at LogoBlink gives a nice side-by-side of the look and feel of each opposing license:

A side-by-side comparison. Which do you prefer?
A side-by-side comparison. Which do you prefer?

I hope that once Pirate Bay is all over with, Kopimi manages to live on.
I identify with the general concept of free (or cheap!) content for all, but without a licensing approach that allows for the free distribution of content, piracy will remain an issue, and copyright will be broken time and time again.

Thank god for Spotify is all I can say.

Gameware: A Case-Study in AR Development

I have been aided in this series by a connection with Gameware Development Limited, a Cambridge-based commercial enterprise working in the entertainment industry. Gameware was formed in May 2003 from Creature Labs Ltd, developing for the PC games market which produced the market leading game in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Creatures. When Gameware was formed, a strategic decision was made to move away from retail products and into the provision of technical services. They now work within the Broadcasting and Mobile Telephony space in addition to the traditional PC market. I use this business as a platform to launch into a discussion of the developments current and past that could see AR become a part of contemporary life, and just why AR is such a promising technology.

Gameware’s first explorations into AR came when they were commissioned by the BBC to develop an AR engine and software toolkit for a television show to be aired on the CBBC channel. The toolkit lets children build virtual creatures or zooks at home on their PCs which are uploaded back to the BBC and assessed:

 

A typical Zook, screenshot taken from Gameware's Zook Kit which lets children build virtual creatures
A typical Zook, screenshot taken from Gameware's Zook Kit which lets children build virtual creatures

 

The children with the best designs are then invited to the BAMZOOKi studio to have their virtual creatures compete against each other in a purpose-built arena comprised of real and digital elements. The zooks themselves are not real, of course, but the children can see silhouettes of digital action projected onto the arena in front of them. Each camera has an auxiliary camera pointed at AR markers on the studio ceiling, meaning each camera’s exact location in relation to the simulated events can be processed in real time. The digital creatures are stitched into the footage, and are then navigable and zoomable as if they were real studio elements. No post-production is necessary. BAMZOOKi is currently in its fourth series, with repeats aired daily:

 

BAMZOOKi, BBC's AR game show where children’s zooks compete in a studio environment
BAMZOOKi, BBC's AR game show where children’s zooks compete in a studio environment

 

BAMZOOKi has earned Childrens BBC some of its highest viewing figures (up to 1.2 million for the Monday shows on BBC1 and around 100,000 for each of the 20 episodes shown on digital Children’s BBC), which represents a massive milestone for AR and its emergence as a mainstream media technology. The evidence shows that there is a willing audience already receptive to contemporary AR applications. Further to the viewing figures the commercial arm of the BBC, BBC Worldwide, is in talks to distribute the BAMZOOKi format across the world, with its AR engine as its biggest USP. Gameware hold the rights required to further develop their BAMZOOKi intellectual property (IP), and are currently working on a stripped down version of their complex AR engine for the mobile telephony market.

I argue, however, that Broadcast AR is not the central application of AR technologies, merely an enabler for its wider applicability in other, more potent forms of media. Mobile AR offers a new channel of distribution for a variety of media forms, and it is its flexibility as a platform that could see it become a mainstream medium. Its successful deployment and reception is reliant on a number of cooperating factors; the innovation of its developers and the quality of the actual product being just part of the overall success the imminent release.

As well as their AR research, Gameware creates innovative digital games based on their Creatures AI engine. They recently produced Creebies; a digital game for Nokia Corp. Creebies is one of the first 3D games which incorporates AI for mobile phones. Gameware’s relationship with Nokia was strengthened when Nokia named them Pro-Developers. This is a title that grants Gameware a certain advantage: access to prototype mobile devices, hardware specifications, programming tools and their own Symbian operating system (Symbian OS) for mobile platforms. It was this development in combination with their experiences with BAMZOOKi and a long-standing collaboration with Cambridge University which has led to the idea for their HARVEE project. HARVEE stands for Handheld Augmented Reality Virtual Entertainment Engine.

Their product allows full 3D virtual objects to co-exist with real objects in physical space, viewed through the AR Device, which are animated, interactive and navigable, meaning the software can make changes to the objects as required, providing much space for interesting digital content. The applications of such a tool range from simple toy products; advertising outlets; tourist information or multiplayer game applications; to complex visualisations of weather movements; collaborating on engineering or architectural problems; or even implementing massive city-wide databases of knowledge where users might ‘tag’ buildings with their own graphical labels that might be useful to other AR users. There is rich potential here.

In HARVEE, Gameware attempt to surmount the limitations of current AR hardware in order to deliver the latest in interactive reality imaging to a new and potentially huge user base. Indeed, Nokia’s own market research suggests that AR-capable Smartphones will be owned by 25% of all consumers by 2009 (Nokia Research Centre Cambridge, non-public document). Mobile AR of the type HARVEE hopes to achieve represents not only a significant technical challenge, but also a potentially revolutionary step in mobile telephony technologies and the entertainment industry.

Gameware’s HARVEE project is essentially the creation of an SDK (Software Development Kit) which will allow developers to create content deliverable via their own Mobile AR applications. The SDK is written with the developer in mind, and does the difficult work of augmenting images and information related to the content. This simple yet flexible approach opens up a space for various types of AR content created at low cost for developers and end-users. I see Mobile AR’s visibility on the open market the only impediment to its success, and I believe that its simplicity of concept could see it become a participatory mass-medium of user-generated and mainstream commercial content.