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Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

In re: yesterday’s post about saving Australian music from obscurity, I have now set up the saveaussiemusic mailing list so we can start discussing the project.

I posted the following in my welcome message, laying out the shape and scope of the project as I see it, and I’m including them here for easy reference (and so this post is more than a paragraph long).

1. The scope of this project is “independent and hard-to-find Australian music”. (My current personal interests are in the indie/alternative/punk/post-punk/etc sort of genres, but I see no reason to limit it to that.)

2. The goal is to make information about this music, and (eventually/hopefully/ideally) the music itself available as freely and openly as possible, to maximise the possibility of people being able to spread the love. To this end we will release everything we can under open source and open content licenses — ideally CC-0 for content and a permissive open source license for any code we create.

3. I want us to use existing infrastructure where possible, rather than creating our own. To that end, I think we should be putting structured data into repositories like MusicBrainz, encyclopedic content into Wikipedia, digital archive material into the Internet Archive, etc. We should give strong preference to data/content repositories that are run by long-term stable non-profits, whose data/content is accessible via open APIs, and whose data/content is widely used by third parties. This will make our material more accessible to the world at large, and won’t wear out our volunteers on maintaining our own servers and databases.

4. This project needs to work within the bounds of copyright law as it currently exists. I personally think said copyright law is deeply deeply flawed, but I also don’t want to be sued into oblivion. So when it comes to media archives, we need to think innovatively and come up with legal ways to do it.

5. We should partner, where possible, with other projects and organisations with similar goals. This can range from public libraries and archives, to groups like Creative Commons, to (just a blue-sky example) crowdfunding organisations like pozible.com.au. Partnering will get us more exposure and awareness of our project, and also save us from reinventing the wheel.

6. We need to involve people from a range of backgrounds: musicians, fans, librarians and archivists, coders, journalists and zinesters, everyone. I want us to share knowledge/skills and make this something that all sorts of people can take part in, regardless of technical background, profession, or degree of indie cred.

Another thing I would say, as a sort of high-level description of the project, is this: librarians talk a lot about preservation and access. This project needs to consider both of those, plus awareness. We should be making people aware of Australian music, and of the set of issues that prompted this project in the first place.

Anyway, if that sounds interesting to you, please join the saveaussiemusic mailing list.

ObRandomPhoto: stencil art on the sidewalk near my house in the Mission District, San Francisco. I was wearing exactly the right sneakers that day.

skud: (Default)

Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

EDITED TO ADD: Please see this followup post, and subscribe to the saveaussiemusic mailing list if you’re interested in this project.

So I’ve been thinking about this project for a while, and it doesn’t have a name, but I wanted to tell you about it anyway. At least I have my startup-style it’s X for Y pitch: it’s like textfiles.com for Australian indie music.

Tweet by mendel: @Skud "Like what for Australian indie music?" "Like the Web Archive of BBS era text files, for Australian indie music." "The web what?" :D

Yeah, well, let me explain.

For background, I’d better start by saying I was pretty terminally uncool, music-wise, in the 80s and early 90s. My family weren’t big on following popular music, I lived somewhere with no decent record stores, records were priced out of my range, and even at school the kids I hung with weren’t hip enough to make mix tapes of anything much but Top 40 stuff. Despite this, I somehow got exposed to a certain amount of Australian indie and alternative music. I say “somehow” because I honestly don’t know where I heard most of this stuff. I guess 3XY and EON-FM, early on. Later, I listened to a lot of Triple J, and watched Rage.

These days, of course, I get most of my musical knowledge and exposure from the Interwebs, and the availability of digital downloads and information about musicians is really helping me backfill a lot of the older Australian music I wish I’d known better at the time.

Like, for example, The Go-Betweens, a Brisbane indie band that I was only faintly aware of until a few years ago, when Grant McLennan died and many of my friends online were expressing sadness at his passing. Of course I quickly figured out that they were part of the soundtrack of my childhood and teens, I just didn’t know them.

The Go-Betweens were pretty well known, and it’s not hard to find their albums, but a lot of equally important Australian music from the 70s to 90s is no longer readily obtainable. Much of it’s not available for (legal) digital download. In many cases CDs are out of print, or there may never have been a CD release, and the only version is vinyl mouldering in someone’s garage. Even information about older Australian music is hard to find: now-defunct labels and publications don’t have websites, and bands that would otherwise pass Wikipedia’s notability guidelines often don’t have articles because it’s so hard to find sources/citations. Only a handful of hobbyist websites and generous-hearted bloggers are keeping vast swathes of our musical heritage alive.

So why did this happen? Well, obscure music is always hard to find. That’s what makes it obscure. But in Australia even a bunch of pretty well known stuff, stuff I grew up on in my no-hipster-cred-whatsoever suburban youth, is rare as hen’s teeth now. For some reason, music that was released on the Mushroom and Festival labels was particularly likely to have this problem. So I asked around, and learnt that those labels, which had released some of the best music of my adolescence, had been consumed first by News Corp and then by Warner, who didn’t care enough to keep the back-catalogs available. I don’t even know how many smaller labels were caught up in this, but I’m guessing plenty.

(The good news is that this seems to be clearing up a little now. More stuff seems to be available in iTunes since last time I checked, and I hear that Warner recently sold back Flying Nun Records (NZ) to the original owners. So there is hope.)

So here’s what I want to do. I’d like to start a project for people — techies, music nerds, archivists, whoever — to come together and work on projects to preserve and disseminate (information about) Australian music, in as free and open a manner as possible: open source code, creative commons licenses, non-commercial and optimised for maximum sharing and reuse.

First project (something I’ve been meaning to do anyway) is to extract pertinent facts about artists, albums, and labels from a variety of online sources (such as, for example, the archived website of The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop) and use it to update MusicBrainz (and from there, hundreds of sites and apps that use MusicBrainz’s data).

Then I’d like to make sure that any Australian musical acts that are sufficiently notable have Wikipedia entries. In many cases this will mean grovelling through pre-Internet dead trees publications, but I’m going to be in Australia and probably unemployed through the summer and I hear that libraries have air conditioning and Internet access these days, so that actually sounds quite pleasant. Along the way, I hope to make a resource list for other Australians who’d like to do the same thing: which libraries have useful collections of music periodicals? Who’s got zines or clippings they’ll scan if you contact them? What online archives already exist for you to trawl through? That sort of thing.

Those two projects are pretty simple, but they’re important because free, open-licensed online resources will be the foundation for later projects. I don’t even know what these later projects are, yet; I just know that having the information out there will make them easier.

So, I’ll take a shot at MusicBrainz and Wikipedia regardless of whether anyone else is interested. I suspect that lots of people are interested, though, and that with a sufficient number and variety of participants there are a lot of other, more ambitious things we could try.

So I’m looking for coders, open data nerds, Wikimedians, librarians and archivists, scholars, music journalists, zinesters, fans, broadcasters, copyright law experts, free culture advocates, and past and present musicians, producers, promoters, and label folks who might be interested in this project. I’m planning to set up a mailing list and/or website for it, so leave a comment below with your email address (which will be hidden, not shown to the public) and I’ll let you know when there’s something to join.

Also, still looking for a name. Ideas welcome.

EDITED TO ADD: Please see this followup post, and subscribe to the saveaussiemusic mailing list if you’re interested in this project.


Image credit: the image used on the front page of infotrope.net to link to this post is a collage of clips from Party Fears, a Perth music zine from the 80s-90s now archived online by its creator, David Gerard.

July 2014

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