Muxtape Forced To Realign

Muxtape Forced To Realign
Matthias Weber
  • 29 september 2008

During the end of this Summer Muxtape, one of the nicest music applications on the internet, had to shut down its service. Muxtape allowed anyone to create a virtual mixtape along with its own unique URL (with the limit of 12 tracks per tape). One of the neatest things about it was the the care with which you had to curate your list of songs – bringing back the fun and challenge of creating real mixtapes, figuring out the best way to squeeze your favorite songs onto a 60-minute cassette tape.

Of course, from the beginning, Muxtape’s future was uncertain, as users were allowed to upload any track no matter if it was bought, purchased, bootlegged or an original creation. Naturally, the obvious difficulty was figuring out how artists and labels would be compensated.

Just today, we checked back on Muxtape to see if there had been any new developments (the most recent status we had seen was “Muxtape will be unavailable for a brief period while we sort out a problem with the RIAA.”). Apparently the issues with the RIAA where too big to resolve. Muxtape’s Founder Justin Oulette has put down the events that took place in the last weeks from his perspective. Justin has been through intimidating calls, negotiations with the RIAA and actual licensing negotiations with major labels as well as Amazon who were hosting the servers of Muxtape. Just a couple of outtakes from his experiences paint a pretty depressing picture of the state of the music industry and its innovation-suppressing tactics:

An RIAA notice arrived in triplicate, via email, registered mail, and FedEx overnight (with print and CD versions). They demanded that I take down six specific muxtapes they felt were infringing, so I did. Around the same time I got a call from the VP of anti-piracy at one of the majors. After I picked up the phone his first words were, “Justin, I just have one question for you: where do I send the summons and complaint?” The conversation picked up from there. There was no summons, it was an intimidation tactic setting the tone for the business development meeting he was proposing, the true reason for the call. Around the same time another one of the big four’s business developers reached out to me, too.

I spent the next month listening. I talked to a lot of very smart lawyers and other people whose opinions on the matter I respected, trying to gain a consensus for Muxtape’s legality. (…) In the end, Muxtape’s legality was moot. I didn’t have any money to defend against a lawsuit, just or not, so the major labels had an ax over my head either way. I always told myself I’d remove any artist or label that contacted me and objected, no questions asked. Not a single one ever did. On the contrary, every artist I heard from was a fan of the site and excited about its possibilities. I got calls from the marketing departments of big labels whose corporate parents were supposed to be outraged, wanting to know how they get could their latest acts on the home page. Smaller labels wanted to feature their content in other creative ways. It seemed obvious Muxtape had value for listeners and artists alike.

The first red flag came in August. Up until then all the discussion had been about numbers, but as we closed in on an agreement the talk shifted to things like guaranteed placement and “marketing opportunities.” I was denied the possibility of releasing a mobile version of Muxtape. My flexibility was being constricted. I had been worried about Muxtape getting a fair deal, but my biggest concern all along was maintaing the integrity and experience of the site (one of the reasons I wanted to license in the first place). Now it wasn’t so simple; I had agreed to a variety of encroachments into Muxtape’s financials because I wanted to play ball, but giving up any kind of editorial or creative control was something I had a much harder time swallowing.

Justin’s whole report is worth reading. Be warned: it might leave you with some uneasy feelings towards the whole system behind the music industry. We would love to finally see cases where the guys up top are actually working to enable the creation of new music, promoting innovation instead of killing it, while still making sure that musicians and their reps are adequately compensated.

As a consequence of the ongoing and seemingly futile struggle, Muxtape will now turn into a service for bands so they can assemble an online profile with simple modules such as calendar, comments and sales.

The whole report can be read at Muxtape.

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