About Granular Objects

October 25, 2013

If you landed here via Twitter you may wonder what the “Founder at Granular Objects” bit is about. We build a developer API which lets companies easily integrate digital object and copyright monetization and licensing tools into their applications. Our aim is “Profitable Creativity, Granular Monetization”.

My interest is the monetization of contextual granular data. Which is complex, so more on that another time.

IMHO the greatest Australian album of all time. And you’ve gotta listen to the entire recording — no cherry-pickin’ songs. DJ Dexter is pure genius.

Entirely suitable for coding, writing patents and business development alike ;-)

Turntable.fm recently “pivoted” from online DJ booths to some sort of live event platform for musicians, which sounds more like an entirely new business (and one I don’t understand since if I want to see an artist live I’ll go to a gig, or watch one of the numerous existing live music channels).

Sadly, it’s over for the DJ biz as licensing costs and a difficult to monetize product collided:

As much as we all love turntable.fm, we have decided to shut it down to fully concentrate on the Live experience. It was a tough decision to make because we love this community so much, but the cost of running a music service has been too expensive and we can’t outpace it with our efforts to monetize it and cut costs. If we also want to give Turntable Live a real shot, we need to fully focus on it.

turntable blog

Turntable.fm (here’s the pivot to Turntable Live) isn’t alone in hitting the wall and joins a long list of music focused tech startups that have done the same. With that in mind I hope Spotify can put it’s new $250mm war chest to good use improving subscriber numbers to the point where they have a viable business too.

Anyhow, this is what to expect when engaging with the music business: they’ll stab you in the front and if you don’t bleed to death then you’re alright, at which point it’ll be hugs all round.

Doesn’t matter whether it’s recorded music, publishing, live/touring, etc, it’s an in-your-face, no holds barred business “where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs” (to misquote Hunter S. Thompson). For every music biz type offended by this characterization there’s another high fiving a buddy in agreement.

So if the wasteland of failed music tech startups doesn’t make it clear enough and if you’re crazy enough to pursue that dream: you probably need licenses cleared, you should have the discussion up front, it’ll cost a lot of coin, and expect to lose a serious chunk of equity.*

* There are always outliers such as YouTube, but the game has changed significantly in the last few years and the industry has gotten a lot better at defeating “fair use” claims. // Negotiations aren’t necessarily as binary as I suggest. // If you have a great music tech startup, the first person I’d contact is Ted Cohen at TAG Strategic.

I have a liking for slow, contemplative movies (Moon, Monsters, etc) and really enjoyed Gravity. Here’s the other side of Dr Ryan Stone’s conversation near Gravity’s conclusion.

A little perspective via Messier 15 courtesy ESA:

This multi-coloured firework display is a cluster of stars known as Messier 15, located some 35000 light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus (The Winged Horse). It is one of the oldest globular clusters known, with an age of around 12 billion years … contains over 100000 stars, and could also hide a rare type of black hole at its centre.

Messier 15

Digital Music News ran a story this week suggesting that because “file-sharing now accounts for less than 10% of US internet traffic … file-sharing volumes are also plunging”.

Unfortunately it doesn’t mean anything of the sort. First, the “file-sharing” referred to is BitTorrent traffic and there are plenty of other ways of (illegally) sharing content outside BT. Second, the DMN guys are looking at the wrong column (see source). BT still accounts for 36.5% of upstream traffic and there’s gotta be a client on the other end requesting the data.

So, what the data shows, if anything at all, is that assuming BT users download small files (music) or less frequently download large files (HD movies), then of course the traffic down will be crushed by Netflix and YouTube.

This is one case where percentages are completely meaningless and looking at the right data counts.

The US-based National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) has reportedly sent take-down notices to 50 lyric sites identified in David Lowery’s “Undesirable Lyric Website List” (PDF) as likely not having licenses to publish lyrics. (source: Billboard)

Co-founder of prominent lyric site Rap Genius Ilan Zechory told Billboard that they hadn’t received a NMPA notice, adding:

Rap Genius is so much more than a lyrics site! The lyrics sites the NMPA refers to simply display song lyrics, while Rap Genius has crowdsourced annotations that give context to all the lyrics line by line, and tens of thousands of verified annotations directly from writers and performers. These layers of context and meaning transform a static, flat lyric page into an interactive, vibrant art experience created by a community of volunteer scholars. Furthermore, music is only a small part of what we do. Rap Genius is an interactive encyclopedia for annotation of all texts – anyone can upload and annotate texts relating to music, news, literature, religion, science, their personal lives, or anything else they want.

Key here is “art experience”, “volunteer scholars”, “encyclopedia” and to paraphrase “we do more than just lyrics”.

In other words, Rap Genius’ basis for business is “fair use”. The rights industries are now well versed in dealing with that argument and I expect retroactive license agreements will be entered into.

If it’s not clear why lyrics are eligible to be licensed when written, or if you think you’re “in no way are you ripping off an artist by writing down the lyrics”, then ask yourself whether you’re okay with me copying your website and server code but using different JS “to provide different context”.

Like it or not, lyrics are literary works protected by copyright. Just like a dev’s code.

(It’s worth noting the NMPA also sued BMG after the latter invested ~$58+ million in Napster, so they’ve got form in stifling innovation.)

I had the great fortune to find an awesome Python guru who’s now working on server side protoytpe development. I’m now looking for mobile app devs (iOS, Android native or HTML5) to build a prototype use case app (per below, paid gig).

I have a paid, (very) part-time gig for an experienced Python developer with systems architecture, data modeling, dbase design experience and involves doing some really cool things around granular digital object data and bringing the 21st Century to the rights industries.

Early stage start-up, involves alpha build. Silicon Valley, Bay Area.

If you’re interested ping me @robertcollings or via the contact form.

As someone who’s made a living in the copyright industries for a cumulative 20+ years, I’ve always been frustrated by those who complain that a $10 ebook costs too much, or that at 99 cents a song is too expensive, yet these same people will happily blow $100 on a boozy night out.

And I’ve marveled at many in tech who say that a musician should comp their recordings for the exposure and make up the difference/loss in other ways, such as selling t-shirts and touring.

It was inevitable that sectors of the tech biz would one day face a similar cultural force and according to techradar it’s come in the form of users venting when having to pay $2 to upgrade an app.

Of course, the iTunes App Store is littered with comments along the lines of “it’s a great app but $2 is way too expensive”.

So I look forward to seeing my favorite app devs on the road, selling t-shirts ;-) Actually, I’d probably go to that show …