Chapter 3: The Importance of Musical Granularity

Megan Griffith
Jul 11, 2017 · 6 min read

The Open Music Initiative is a non-profit initiative creating an open-source protocol for the uniform identification of music rights holders and creators. On June 5th, 2017 the Open Music Initiative Summer Lab kicked off it’s second ever summer lab. Led by Eric Chan, four teams consisting of 19 members with various skillsets were assigned different tasks to identify and solve problems within the music industry. Our team consisted of five students: Luís Claudio Arcos, Soma Suuki, myself, Yi Pan, and Xueqi Zhang. The problem that we were given was How do we commercialize mix-tapes built from original material and back catalogs?

Tracy Thomas | Unsplash

The Hard Hitting Insights

In order to build a music licensing system that will work and be fair to the artist, the makers need to incorporate musical granularity. Incorporating musical granularity can give the option for samples and songs, that are being licensed, to be fully understood, thus giving the option to give intent to a song. The samples and songs would also receive the intended value and credit through those that choose to license them.

Acknowledging musical granularity gives the artists the ability to express the truths within their work.


Over the past month, we have conducted research through interviews, surveys, and the internet on the current music licensing process for samples and original works to design a venture concept on our given problem listed above. Through this research, we are discovering the values of an artist. In order to delve further into our venture, we decided to focus on two important questions:

  • How can we give a song intent?
  • What determines the value of a sample?

The Intent

The intent is a crucial part of musical granularity. It helps us understand the purpose of a song. In the world of sampling songs, there are two stakeholders: the copyright holder to a sample and the licensee trying to create a derivative work using the sample. Before figuring out how to give a sample intent, we put together a Venn Diagram to show to show what the copyright holder and licensee value in the creation of their music.

Chris Lawton | Unsplash
  • The copyright holder cares about receiving credit from the licensee: This could be verbally or monetarily through fees or a cut from how much the licensee has made off of his or her derivative work.
  • The copyright holder values the truth in their music. In writing their song, the artist sets some sort of truth and relatability to a song, whether that be a truth about relationships. That truth is how their perceive reality, and is often the bridge between the artist and the listener. This is often called intent. The intent can create an impact on the listener. This intent is what makes fans, and generates popularity to a song.
  • When the licensee wants to sample the copyright holder’s original work, the licensee often sets new intent to their creation. Sometimes this can be the opposite what the original copyright holder intended.

What if the copyright holder wants to control what intent is set when using their sample? How would this happen?

An important aspect to this concept is that stakeholders blend together. After a creation of a derivative work, the licensee becomes the copyright holder. So they become both stakeholders. The values of the copyright holder eventually becomes the values of the licensee. Next, we decided to take a look at what gives value to a sample of a song.

The Value

What is the value to a sample? In exploring the musical granularity of a musical composition, it helps us determine the value in a more accurate way. At first, our team thought of a system where samples can easily be licensed to create derivative works, and the derivative would be assigned a percentage based on the duration of the sample used. We thought that the duration of a sample could determine it’s value. Through our interviews with copyright experts and real artists and DJs, we discovered that this is not the case.

For example in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Bum bum bum BUMMMMM, is one of the most recognized music samples across history, yet it is only four notes. Surely a sample this valuable cannot be determined by the short duration that it was used.

After speaking with copyright experts we discovered, that in the deals made on the back end to receive a license for sample are usually more expensive when the sample is from a popular song. Popularity is a double sided coin. On one side, you have all of the songs from the current top 50. On the other end, you have all of the songs that have been well known throughout history such as the Beatles, Madonna, ect. The copyright experts think that popularity determines the value of a song.

Next we spoke with some musicians. The theme of a song, or the most memorable part of it is usually the chorus. Within the chorus, there is some sort of melody that is usually repeated over and over again. They considered this to be the most valuable part to a song. If it were sampled, it would be more valuable than any other part to a song. So in other words, repetition = value.

We are still looking further into the value of a song, but we believe that these two things need to be factored together to determine how a song or a particular sample is valued. How do we value

Looking To The Future

For the future, we have to determine how to control the intent of a song. We thought about using presets to a song which the copyright holder sets, so they can determine where their song gets used, and how it gets used. The presets would include

  • location used: inside vs. outside U.S.
  • Curse words or no curse words allowed
  • What it will be used for: documentary, movie, education, video, live shows, for streaming, digital download

I am also open to other ideas on how to determine intent, so please feel free to comment below.

Another factor is determining a system of value for a sample using popularity and repetition. This could be done with acoustic fingerprinting software, and also an analytics software that would track how the song is doing across different platforms.

The bottom line is, in order to build something like this, you have to talk to as many people as you can. It is okay to be wrong about something, but in order to be wrong, you would have to test your theories and talk to people. This is precisely what we are in the process of. We are excited to see where this venture leads us. Thank you to all interviewees thus far. We so appreciate your input. Let’s create hope for licensing music and inspire derivative works for the future.

Chris Lawton | Unsplash

The Open Music Initiative

Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship co-founded the Open Music Initiative to promote open source standards and innovation for music, and to assure compensation for all music creators, performers and rights holders. We share our stories here.

Thanks to Eric Chan

Megan Griffith

Written by

Bettering the world through music, writing, and entrepreneurship

The Open Music Initiative

Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship co-founded the Open Music Initiative to promote open source standards and innovation for music, and to assure compensation for all music creators, performers and rights holders. We share our stories here.

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