Category Archives: Music

MSU Libraries Emerging Technology Summit 2010

Here are my slides from the Mississippi State University Libraries Emerging Technologies Summit 2010. They very graciously asked me to keynote the Summit, and I’m hoping that the talk was thought provoking and helped kick off what looks to me a really great day of programming.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll make sure to find the answer!


I’m sure this isn’t an original thought (so very, very few are), but it was novel enough to me that I needed to write it down…and that’s pretty much what a blog is designed for.

I’ve written and talked about how libraries need to become comfortable with the containers of our new digital content, as since we move into the future the containers (ereader, ipad, tablet) will be important to users. We already know, more or less, how to deal with content. I’ve also been thinking about the interfaces that we use to access this content, and it just hit me:

Print is the only example of a media where the User Interface, Content, and Container have been, historically, the same thing. With music and video, we are completely used to the container, the content, and the user interface each being distinct: we put a tape into a player, which we control with kn0bs or buttons, and the content itself is ethereal and amorphous. With print, until very recently, the content, container, and interface were all the same thing…a book, a magazine, a broadsheet, a newspaper. All are content, container, and interface wrapped into a single unit. This may point to one of the reasons that people seem to feel a deeper connection to print materials than to the 8mm film, or the cassette tape.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these distinctions between container, content, and interface….I think that these three concepts could inform the way that libraries conceptualize what we do, and maybe find better ways to do it.


Just found an awesome new reference tool…LyricRat is a site that will take a snippet of lyrics that you give it, and then tell you the song, album, artist that the lyrics are from.

My favorite bit? If you tweet a lyric to @lyricrat, they will reply with the song and a link to the lyricrat site!

So very cool, and easy to use. Huge fan of services like this that provide a service in an almost completely transparent way: no sign up, no log in, no barriers.

Wisdom from Reznor

Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, recently said this in a Wired interview:

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think music should be free,” Reznor says. “But the climate is such that it’s impossible for me to change that, because the record labels have established a sense of mistrust. So everything we’ve tried to do has been from the point of view of, ‘What would I want if I were a fan? How would I want to be treated?’ Now let’s work back from that. Let’s find a way for that to make sense and monetize it.”

How’s that for a customer service mantra? Try that for your library: What would you want, if you were a patron? How would you want to be treated? Work back from that, find a way for that to make sense.

How broken is copyright in the US?

copyright symbolHow broken is copyright in the US? So broken that if you look at two different books, both published by the same publisher (Dodd, Mead & Co.), in the same year (1940), both with copyright notices, and neither with a copyright renewal…one is currently protected by copyright, and the other is in the public domain.

An amazing article by Peter B. Hirtle entitled Copyright Renewal, Copyright Restoration, and the Difficulty of Determining Copyright Status outlines this case, and others that are equally frustrating. Fascinating stuff, and shows how truly broken intellectual property laws are in the current market, with the necessity of international reciprocation and ever-increasing ridiculous time limits. Not to mention that the very model is now shattered with the digital revolution…even without the digital, copyright needs an overhaul. With it? It needs cleansed with fire.

Pick a random book in your library that was published between 1923 and 1964, and check this chart, and see if you can tell if it’s still protected. Now multiply that by a few ten million books, and see what kind of crazy legal situation our legislatures have gotten us into.

iTunes and Libraries question

In thinking about Michael Sauers recent brilliant post on cataloging Creative Commons works, I’m considering setting up an iTunes instance on our Student network in MPOW. On that system, we could load…well, that’s the crux of this post. Long time readers of this blog know my stance on copyright, and that I keep up with the latest issues, especially vis a vis digital copyright. I could, at the very least, load CC licensed music on this system. But what else?

So, I ask you, blogosphere: What can I legally load on that iTunes instance? It would be openly shared, streamable to anyone connected to our student network…but, as anyone who has used iTunes knows, not downloadable. Can I load the majority of the library music collection on that machine? Why not? If it is legal for me as a private citizen to rip my purchased music to digital form (yes, I realize that not everyone thinks this is legal, but it is the current position held by most copyright thinkers), then why would it not be legal for “me” as a library? Once ripped, can it possibly be illegal for me to use functionality that iTunes has built into it?

Is anyone out there doing this? It would mean that every student could stream any of our music collection from any computer with iTunes as long as they were connected to our network…which would, of course, be any computer in the library (or their own computer).

Once more, oh blogosphere, I ask you: what’s wrong with this idea?

The new information economy

Over the course of the last 20 years, there has been a radical shift in the economies of information. We’ve moved from a world in which information was plentiful but distributed and difficult to find to a world where information is even more plentiful, but ubiquitous and easy to find. Libraries are suffering now as a result of their inability of unwillingness to change based on the new method of information indexing, exchange, and archival.

Libraries were a central part of the public sphere because of that information imbalance. Most libraries have moved to a new model that emphasizes access and comfort instead of being the storehouse of knowledge they once were. Access is something that libraries have on their side, because information, in defiance of the normal rules of supply and demand, still insists on being expensive.

Prepare for another shift, because the next 5-10 years is going to change the rules again.

Chris Anderson, in the latest Wired magazine, outlines the next information revolution: Free.

The rise of “freeconomics” is being driven by the underlying technologies that power the Web. Just as Moore’s law dictates that a unit of processing power halves in price every 18 months, the price of bandwidth and storage is dropping even faster. Which is to say, the trend lines that determine the cost of doing business online all point the same way: to zero.

Anderson outlines his argument in the context of business, but his points really show us that the nominal cost of information delivery is the core of the revolution. Of course, the fact that the delivery is free does not immediately mean that the information being delivered is free…that change arises from more traditional competitive pressure. What are traditional information services like books, movies, and television competing with these days? They are competing with free, easily available, highly portable, and in nearly every way more useful unauthorized versions of themselves.

When customers look at the following options, what do you think they choose?

Buying TV shows on iTunes, where they can watch them on their authorized computer and iPods, but not on their Zune or PSP or anywhere else they might want OR downloading a .torrent of their favorite TV show that is higher in quality than the iTunes download that they can watch anywhere they want.

Buying an audiobook from Audible, which has limited playability on only approved devices, or grabbing a P2P copy of that audiobook with no limitations (and no price).

Reading a book on Harper-Collins website, embedded in your browser is one option. Another is the Tor model, where once a week they are providing a free book, in multiple formats (pdf, html, mobi) for you to do with as you will. Move it to an ebook reader. Read it on your computer. Put it on your cellphone. Another option is the library.

It’s obvious that things that are free have an immediate advantage, and libraries have been free for a very long time in the US. But even free vs free has its calculus. If we look at the above examples, it’s very important for libraries to realize that they aren’t competing with iTunes and Audible. They are competing with .torrents and other P2P technologies that disintermediate the information distribution process.

But even free has choices: One example is Hulu, the beta site for NBC/Fox/etc. They pulled their shows from YouTube, citing copyright violations, and launched Hulu, where they can control the message and availability. Then there is OpenHulu, a site that scrapes Hulu and provides the ability to watch the same shows with no login or account creation. Yet another choice is the aforementioned Torrent or other P2P distribution, where there are no commercials, no requirement to stream instead of download, and the ability to watch them on the device of your choice. The advantage of Hulu and OpenHulu over torrenting is instant gratification. Which wins?

So when there are two freely available sources for information, what drives choice? Lots of different aspects of the interaction between the patron and the information make the difference. Ease of use. Availability. Speed. Quality. Brand recognition. Marketing.

Anderson points out that free is the future of commerce, and I absolutely see it as the future of media and information generally. How do libraries then compete in a world where their major advantage is completely nullified? What do we bring to the new information economy, because we need to be planning and implementing now to have any hope of competition.

I think I know some of the ways we compete, but that’s another post. What do you think we can do to stay relevant?

In Rainbows is LAME

no really its up to you

Not only is Radiohead releasing their newest album at whatever price their fans are willing to pay, and not only is the digital release completely DRM free and 160kbps MP3, but it looks like it was ripped to MP3 using LAME 3.93. An exploration of the MP3’s in a text editor reveals:

Radiohead uses Lame

They need to upgrade…LAME is up to 3.97 now.

Looking at the header and footer of the files in both a text and hex editor doesn’t show any tracking numbers or codes tying the songs to a particular download. It really does look like these are regular old MP3s.

Thanks, Radiohead, for showing the recording industry how business should be done these days.