Why I'm Doing This

This is a personal note from Steve Savitzky, the perpetrator -- maybe instigator would be better -- of this mad little project. I'm a middle-aged hacker/songwriter, from the days when it was still respectable to call yourself a hacker, and it got you more respect than calling yourself a folksinger. Hmm, maybe it still does.

I love both music and computers, and I've written fifty-odd songs, (some of them very odd), including a few about computers. I've been programming computers and playing guitar since I was in high school in the early 1960's. I've never been a pop star or a dot-com millionaire, and never expect to be.

I'm not in this for the money.

But recently I've become a big fan of Free Software and Open Source, and especially the Linux operating system. Now, mind you, we're not talking free as in ``free beer'' here, but free as in ``free speech'' -- ensuring that everyone who wants to is able to contribute on an equal basis to a vast, collaborative project. Sounds a lot like a jam session, doesn't it?

Now, totally free -- spread it around, tinker with the source, give it to your friends, sell copies if you like, just don't interfere with anyone else's ability to do the same -- is perfect for software but it's no good for creative works like novels and songs and computer games. For that you want a system that lets the writer stay in control, and get paid a little for every copy.

You see, the reason free software works so well is that people can keep contributing to it, and it keeps getting bigger and better and more useful for everyone. Try that with a song and you have Real Old-Time Religion -- it's amazing, impressive, 873 verses and still growing, but one can't imagine anyone actually singing it. Somewhere in between totally free and blatent rip-off is the idea of a cooperative.

I don't think this is going to make anyone a whole lot of money. I expect that the average amateur songwriter with handful of good songs and a middling-to-marginal voice might make enough for a free membership and the occasional case of beer. Every once in a while some really good, or really lucky, person or group is going to get a big recording contract, leave the coop, and go on to get either filthy rich or royally screwed. Maybe both. Me, I'm keeping my day job.

So what do I expect to get out of this? Not much. A whole lot of work, especially in the early stages. Eventually, maybe a few bucks in consulting fees for keeping the site running. Lots more album sales than I could make just hawking my CD's at science fiction conventions. A bit of incentive to get off my tail and actually make the two or three CD's my family and friends have been pestering me for.

The big catch in all of this is that, in order to work, the coop has to be completely egalitarian. No special treatment for anyone, no profits going off to shareholders. It has to be a community, where everyone with a voice and a song can be heard. There's a lot of potential: it could become a big community. There's just the barest chance that it could bring the entire music industry crashing down. The one thing it can't possibly do is make the founders filthy rich. Oh, well...

But for all that, I think it's a good idea. Maybe even a great idea. In any case, it's something that damned well ought to be tried, and that nobody seems to be doing right now.

So here's the bottom line: here's what I expect to get out of this little project in the end: the thrills. I'm in it for the same thrill I feel when the last line clicks into place, when that odd little riff finally comes together, when I get up in front of an audience and suddenly everything flows just right and I finally nail that song I've been screwing up in practice all week. Or when I go to a song circle a thousand miles from home and hear someone else -- a singer-songwriter I respect -- singing one of my own songs three times better than I ever sang it.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll have the ultimate pleasure of some having some kid tell me ``well, of course it's a coop -- how else would anyone distribute music on the Web? You mean it used to be different?''