Curating a CC Music Library

Introduction

@tracyseop asked how people find music on Ello recently.  Several people, including @lowentropy, @cjosephinez,  myself and several others responded.  My response took a different direction (what’s new) from most the discussion because of my focus on Creative Commons music.  I decided it is time to revisit the topic of curating a CC music library again, with a few changes since last year..

Music discovery and music curation is a topical discussion now with the fragmenting of the music industry across many platforms (iTunes, BandCamp, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, etc.).  It seems that each platform is trying to find some way of automating the discovery process to make it easier for listeners to find new music.  For example, YouTube is launching Music Key (rebranded as YouTube Red) to grab some of the audience from other services, and YouTube itself already has a recommendation system.  Pandora, for a long time, has put a lot of manual effort into curating their library and offering a service that allows the listener to start with a couple of songs, and then let the system automatically chose songs based on common attributes.

And then there’s the topic of playlists: people sharing lists of songs they like with their friends and others.  Of course, his is just the high-tech version of the Mix Tape concept that has been around for decades.

But given all the interest in this topic, I thought I would share my response to Tracy’s question with readers of the CerebralRift, and try to expand on it with some more details that I know I overlooked when answering the question.  So, here goes…

Curating A CC Music Library

First, unlike the common trend of streaming music I still like to have a copy of the files on my local computer.  Why?  Streaming technology is somewhat limited still.  I have only seen a couple of services that offer true CD sound quality, and they were expensive services with limited catalogs.  That does not mean I don’t stream music.  In fact a fair portion of my listening is done while I am either driving or at work, so during those times I do stream music.

I won’t get bogged down in the technical details on how I handle streaming music, there are a lot of different tools and options in this area, some are better than others, but the point is to just be able to hear the music.

I will talk a little bit about how I handle downloading music and storing it on my local system as that has some relevance to maintaining a curated Creative Commons specific library.  the big detail here is that I modify the metadata (also know as tags) on the music files (mp3’s, ogg’s flacs, etc.) that I download.  These modifications affect the following parts of the information:

  • Track Title / Artist / Album Titles: some of the files I download will have no tags at all, or have information that is badly formatted (like putting the artist and track title in the Track Title field).  That is cleaned up.
  • Track numbers: I make certain the track numbers are in the files. Also “disc” numbers, if the artist indicated that the original was to be viewed as more than one disc.
  • Release year: this field is frequently left blank, so I fill it in with the release year from the release page. (If I can determine it.)
  • Copyright: I fill in the copyright field.  Even a Creative Commons release is still copyrighted.  The Creative Commons license modifies the terms of copyright, so the two are not mutually exclusive.
  • License: one of the lesser known fields available in music file metada.  This field I think is typically used for indicating when a track has been licensed to a third party. In this case, the Creative Commons license is just as applicable as a third party license, so I put the short form of the license in this field (ie, CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC-ND, etc.)
  • URL: Another field that isn’t as well known.  I use this to hold a permalink to the release page for the music.  This makes it easy for me to look up the release when I go to write a review, or if I use a track on CerebralMix.
  • Genre: this field frequently is left blank.  I try to fill it in with something reasonable based on the release page for the work.
  • Comment field: if there was any information in one of the other fields that I don’t want to lose, I copy it into the comment field.  Most frequent use is for a catalog number.  Although sometimes labels will put links to the full CC license, or their website in this field.  I keep that information, and just the additional information.

That may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn’t all that bad.  With a good metadata editor I can typically fix up the information on 20-30 releases in an hour or two.  With a library of over 10,000 tracks, it’s certainly well worth the effort up front. Getting into the habit of doing this before I add my downloads to my library or review queue has saved me countless hours looking up tracks later.

Personally, I think I need to find a way to expand the information I am storing to include contact information for artists and labels to assist with notifications when a review is being released, or a track is being played on CerebralMix.  But that is a project for next year. 😉

That was an aside about the curating aspect of building a library.  Now let’s get to the meat of this conversation: finding / discovering music.

Aggregation Sites

I’ve written about aggregation /  portal sites before. (See: Searching For Netlabels and Creative Commons Music)  That’s a good place to start, but there have been a few more sites that I’ve started using since then:

  • CC MusicCamp: The cool thing about this site is it searches BandCamp for Creative Commons licensed music.
  • The Easy Pace: This is a heavily curated collection of recent netlabel and Creative Commons release.  Tends more towards ambient and noise music, but is not exclusive to them.
  • SoundShiva: a combination aggregator / new release site, with reviews.

I’ve mentioned these before, but they are still major sources for me:

  • CCTrax:Another hand-curated collection of releases.  Does a fantastic job with house, techno, trip-hop, and hip-hop.
  • SonicSquirrel: The grand-daddy of the netlabel aggregators.  Lots of labels and music that won’t show up anywhere else.
  • Fwonk: This is the odd mix: netlabel, aggregator, podcast site.  They specialize in offbeat and interesting music. [Ed. Note: Fwonk* has re-focused on it’s netlabel and community side.]

I’d bet there are others I’ve forgotten about.  That’s why I seem to come back to this topic from time to time. 🙂

Reviews and News

As a music reviewer myself, I feel it’s important for me to keep up with the opinions of others when it comes to music.  It’s not always easy to find Creative Commons specific music reviews, but there are some magazines / websites that focus on netlabels or free music.  The Last time I wrote about this, most of the sites I referenced were aggretors of articles / stories from other sites (ie, paper.li sites that scanned Twitter).  However, I’ve been building up a good line up sites that I routinely check:

  • A Closer Listen: pretty infrequent on Creative Commons releases, but the writing is good and the occasional CC release keeps me coming back.
  • Acts of Silence: The parent site to The Easy Pace.  David Nemeth writes some excellent articles well worth reading on a regular basis.  Focused on CC and Netlabels. [Ed. Note: Site appears to be down.]
  • Elektrobong: This is a new site to me.  It isn’t specific to CC or Netlabels, however they do break out their Netaudio Releases into a specific category (linked).
  • Hypnagogue: focused on ambient and electronic music. They sometimes feature CC and netlabel releases. [Ed. Note: In July of 2016 the site was closed. However it remains online to read.]
  • Make Your Own Taste: Not focused on netlabels or CC music at all.  However, a number of contributors are CC / Netlabel artists, or label operators.  And, this is some of the finest reading I’ve found.[Ed. Note: This site is on a semi-hiatus, with only occasional updates.]
  • Netlabels & News: The name says it all.
  • Netlabelism: focused on netlabels, includes CC releases.  Also does features / interviews with artists.
  • Netmusic Life: Drizzi’s long running blog about netaudio.
  • Real Sounds OK: tons of Q&A’s with independent artists.
  • Recent Music Heroes: Borealiscape’s long running blog about free music.
  • Yeah I Know It Sucks: Irreverent reviews with an attitude.  It’s a lot of fun (or torture, I haven’t decided which yet) reading.

There are many more publications that I scan frequently. They don’t really relate to curating a CC music library.  Why do I scan them?  There are other topics in the music industry that are worth keeping in focus, so I try to have an idea what is going on. And occasionally those topics will be of interest to those who follow Creative Commons, netlabels and net audio.   But I will explain a little more about that below.

Primary Sources

Originally I called this “The Big Sites” but I think primary sources is a more descriptive term.  These are the sites that you tend to actually download music from, however in some cases they may not be the site that is originating the content.

  • Internet Archive Netlabels: this is probably the single largest collection of netlabel release anywhere.  They typically aren’t the originating site for most of these release, however they act as a library and storage facility for over 1,700 netlabels.  It can be a bit of a trick finding things on this site.
  • CCMixter is a community of artists, producers and others that create and release a ton of music.  Quality varies from track to track, as do style and genre.  However, everything that is released on this site is explicitly CC licensed.
  • Jamendo is possibly the best known distribution site in Creative Commons circles.  Probably only second in size to Internet Archive. Any artist can create an account and start uploading their releases (assuming they don’t violate copyright laws).
  • Free Music Archive is a heavily curated site that features lots of Creative Commons music.  Most of the releases originate on other netlabels, or venues.  They pride themselves on curating a large and diverse collection of music.  Not all of the music is CC licensed.
  • BandCamp: is a great resource for finding new music, that hasn’t changed.  Nor has the fact that there is a lot of non-CC music on the site, even the free downloads aren’t often CC licensed.  However, using CC MusicCamp (mentioned above) you can find a very good selection of CC music on BandCamp.
  • SoundCloud:  This has become the most frustrating site to work with for those of us looking specifically for CC music.  They have implemented music ID, and made it difficult for artists (wrongful claims about copyright, etc.)  And then they changed the layout of their system and hid the copyright and Creative Commons notations.  It’s honestly difficult to find anything that is worth downloading for a Creative Commons listener.  However, there are some groups like CC Breaks and Creative Commons that specialize in CC music. [Ed. Note: SoundCloud removed the groups feature, so that portion is no longer relevant, however you can still find plenty of CC licensed music on SoundCloud.]
  • YouTube: if SoundCloud was already pretty bad, YouTube is worse.  Far worse.  There are people posting music that claim it  is creative commons when it is not.  The license marking system is broken (you can’t indicate what type of license you want on your work).  Honestly, I don’t even try here.

Other Sources

I mentioned in my previous article that I use other sources: radio / streaming sites like CCHits and FreeMusi.cc.  I also mentioned podcasts that I listen to.  And, of course, there are tons sources available through social networks.  I’m not going to go into all of those items this time.  See Searching For Netlabels and Creative Commons Music for more information on those as sources.

I will probably write another article just about these sources as there is a lot of ground to cover on them.  I could easily make this article twice as long just talking about them.

Oh, there is another source that I get music from: my submissions page.  Believe it or not, I’ve gotten some of my best leads for music from people submitting works for review.  So much so that I will often go back and grab two or three releases from a label or an artist and put them all in my review queue.

How I Track It All

So, how do I track this apparent mess of information?  It does take a bit of work, but I have found that using an RSS feed reader is the best approach. [Ed. Note: The following articles were getting long-in-the-tooth, and didn’t fit the focus of the website, so they have been removed.If you don’t know what an RSS feed reader is, check out a couple of articles on them:

  • Why RSS Readers and the Choice of a Fee Reader Matters
  • Eight Definite Open Source RSS Feed Readers
  • Switching To TT-RSS

What is great about this approach is that I add feeds for all of the blogs, magazines, netlabels, etc. to my feed reader and I can scan through it and pick out things that are interesting quickly.

With some of the feeds (like netlabels on Internet Archive) there will even be an enclosure that adds one or more tracks to the article.  It’s a great way to sample a track or two quickly to find out if I am interested in.

But, some sites are a bit annoying.  Like BandCamp.  The feeds for BandCamp sites will create an entry for each track in a release with a picture of the cover, and nothing else.  You have to open the site to actually see the release, read the note, etc.  However, at least I know when there is a new release to check out.

More annoying are sites like SoundCloud that only turn on RSS feeds if the artist explicitly enables them, and that seems to only be available to podcasters (see: SoundCloud For Podcasters [Ed. Note: another article that is no longer available.]).

Oh, and an RSS feed reader is great for scanning podcasts: the shows are generally enclosures that will show up in the reader.  So you can listen to them right in the reader, and you can open the attachment in another window if you want to keep reading.

But still, overall an RSS Feed Reader is the way to go.  It might take a bit to get it set up, but using a good one like TT-RSS makes it easy to add feeds as you browse around the web.  Since I started working with my reader I’ve amassed over 250 feeds, and I know that I will be adding dozens more in the coming weeks.

And, it also helps with being able to scan news on sites that aren’t specifically CC or netlabel related.  I mentioned that I try to keep track of other stories for those things that might be of interest to CC music fans: well a feed reader lets me scan titles and article excepts rapidly so I don’t dwell on unnecessary stuff, but I can find interesting things quickly.

Conclusion

So now you have some insight into my process for curating a CC music library.  I watch lots of labels, read lot so of reviews, listen to podcasts, work on social media sites, etc.  A lot of my work I do through an RSS feed reader to allow me to skim things quickly.

Sites like YouTube and SoundCloud are downright frustrating.  They assume that you don’t want to use something like a feed reader, and they make it difficult to clearly identify the music that might be interesting from a Creative Commons perspective.

But those exceptions don’t really matter all that much, IMO.  There is such a large world of music out there, a few small sources that are aligned with keeping the older music industry status quo going are not moving in the direction that we are.  So we can move on and use tools that are flexible enough to meet our needs.

 

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Posted by George De Bruin

6 Comments

  1. Great article as always George. The Easy Pace was a new one for me, thanks. I will have to seek you out on ello 🙂 I need to try to start using it more.

    Regards

    1. Hey Sean,

      Thanks for the feedback. yes, it’s an article that is an attempt to bring in a different audience from the folks who are already aware of Creative commons and all the music that is out. But, I am glad that you found the Easy Pace, it’s a pretty cool place to check for music from time to time.

      And yes, do search me out on Ello. I’m @sndchaser there so you should be able to find me pretty easily. 🙂

      George

  2. you aren’t using iTunes. What mp3 manager are you using?

    1. So, I am completely linux based and use several tools. For tag editing I use PuddleTag, the main music player is GmusicBrowser. For streaming I’ve mostly been using GooglePlay…little known fact: they allow you to upload 20,000 tracks into your own library. Unfortunately, I’ve been having some problems with uploading lately (long story), and am looking for other options. The current one I am considering is setting up ownCloud.

      There are some other tools that I use from time to time, like mplayer and moc (music on console) for different tasks…but the ones in the first paragraph are the main tools.

  3. Good article, George. Here’s how I search for CC music on Bandcamp. This is pretty accurate and due to google’s date filter, I can see what’s been released over any time span I want:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=site:bandcamp.com+“some+rights+reserved”

    1. Hi Michael,

      Yeah, I thought about mentioning that trick. I’m pretty certain that’s how CC MusicCamp is scanning and building their list of CC releases. I should try to ask @diffuser how he’s doing it.

      Now you have me thinking: how I can I turn these search results into an RSS feed. 🙂

      George

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