Music Sharing

by Dean Mattson

In many ways, popular music is the most powerful mode of communication there is. Because it can capture thoughts (with the lyrics) and moods (with melody and the arrangement) and because it is so tied to a particular time, we have songs that instantly remind us of particular people or particular experiences in our lives. Quite often, we have a song that is important to us in the present moment, because it so perfectly conveys a dilemma we’re facing or it expresses the love we feel towards someone.

For that reason, the last thing we want to do is keep it to ourselves. We want to share it, in hopes that somebody else will hear in it the same thing we do. Music then is both powerfully personal and universal. It communicates what we’re feeling in a way that thousands, maybe even millions, of other people also experience.

One of the unfortunate results of the music industry’s fight against piracy is it declared that the easiest ways for consumers to share music was illegal. Even worse, although it was rightly concerned about people putting up music files on websites free for the taking, it made it seem that even private exchanges were just as bad and just as illegal. For a long time, there was no sanctioned means for people to share the music they loved. In fact, when I wrote my recent post about my favorite song of the summer, I assumed there was no legal way for me to play that song in that post.

It turns out there was. There’s a website called imeem which allows you to put playlists of songs on blogs and social networking sites. Although they were in legal limbo at the outset, they have since signed agreements with the four major music labels. I was very happy to discover they had the Panic at the Disco song I wrote about and embedded it at the end of my post.

imeen's search box

imeen's search box

That turned out great, but it isn’t always so easy. Buoyed by my first success, I began making another playlist of some of my favorite songs of 2008. The way you do this is you enter in the title of the song or artist in a search box and, if it’s available, you can drag it into a playlist. If it’s not – and here’s the weird thing – you can upload an mp3 of it to their website and then transfer it to a playlist. When you’re logged in, you get to hear the song in its entirety. Otherwise, you and everyone else will only hear a 30 second preview until they figure out if they have permission to play the whole song. But there’s no list or guidelines for you to go by, and there’s no place to see the status of this decision.

For my results, I had a list of 6 songs and imeem had 3 of them that I could drag over to my playlist. Not great, not terrible. I uploaded two mp3 I purchased from Amazon, but as of a week later, they’re still only playing 30 seconds.

Mixwit's Cool Player

Mixwit's Cool Player

There’s also a couple of “mix tapes” websites that have sprung up that do much the same thing. The one I tested was Mixwit, and I was very happy with the results. This time when I searched for my list of 6 songs, I found all of them. Plus they use a very clever Flash player that looks like an old cassette tape.

But I wonder how legitimate they are. Have they reached a deal with the labels too? There’s no word of one on their website. Also, one of their sources (Seeqpod) is being sued by Warners Music.

This does have an educational component as well. I’d love to see our students do a similar assignment to the one that Konrad Glogowski came up with: His class was reading Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and after they were done, he had them come up with a soundtrack for the book, and then they had to justify their choices. I think that’s a brillaint assignment because rather than try to match a song to the literal events of the story (which I think would be near impossible), they would be forced to find a song that matches the mood of a particular part of the book or one of the big themes or messages of the book. (In his blog post about the project, Mr. Glogowski included a couple of the mixtapes. Unfortunately he didn’t include any of the students’ justifications. It would have been interesting to see those because the songs by themselves are pretty generic and don’t reveal anything.)

That would be a much more powerful assignment if the students could share their songs and their connections to the book publicly. But in order for that to happen, the music labels come out with a legal and reliable way for people to post their favorite songs on their websites. It would be a win-win for everyone. People could share the music that means the most to them and music labels would get a lot of free publicity for their artists. Who could argue with that?