Recurring Heartbeat: Dispatch from the OMI NYC Meeting

OMI co-founder Dan Harple recently described the “recurring heartbeat” that has pulsed since OMI launched one and a half years ago, strengthening as more and more members joined from across the music-tech ecosystem. Harple’s industry-wide heartbeat aptly illustrates Open Music, formed to create an open-source protocol allowing the many appendages of the creative industry to work together. To work.

The heartbeat has strengthened, as participation increased, and as more people believed that industry interoperability could be possible. The heartbeat pulsed louder and louder, though not always to a single rhythm, through member meetings, hackathons, use cases, 2900+ hours of working-group meetings, and dedicated input by OMI leaders to compile req docs and code the actual API. At a member meeting in October, OMI’s API was officially announced, and positioned to be a unifying industry-wide rhythm.

Members convened to put the API through its paces, meeting at The Power Station, the historic recording studio where Berklee will establish its New York campus for future innovation and education in the creative industries. The studio was originally an actual power plant, converted into a studio by Tony Bongiovi, and is the last full-scale recording studio in New York City large enough for an orchestra or Broadway cast album. The building is true to its name; it reportedly has much more electricity flowing to it than the studio will ever need. In the wood-paneled, domed main Studio A that has soaked up the voices of Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Bruno Mars, David Bowie and many more, reps from industry companies and music-tech startups began to chart future possibilities empowered by industry interoperability.

THE SUMMER LAB

OMI co-founder Michael Hendrix said that the power of Open Music is in the implementation, and in connecting young creators and coders with the industry. He shared examples from the Summer Lab of Fellows designing an app that empowers artists to know which DJ’s are playing their songs, when and where, and even charting audience reaction; or of a service where music samples are shared on a digital marketplace, with payments flowing seamlessly back and forth, and value being directly negotiated between the creator and consumer. The Summer Lab also hosted artists from Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago that responded and gave feedback to the Lab ventures. While these hypothetical prototypes depend on major companies coming to play in the digital sandbox, and allowing their data to interact with others’, it was clear from the reactions of the Caribbean artists and producers that these were solutions that would be immediately adopted by those on the ground, if given the chance.

BLOKUR

Blokur then presented their work resolving data discrepancies in partnership with publishers and PRO’s, as a tangible, real-world example of how they have been putting interoperability to the test. Blokur uses machine learning to automate rightsholder data verification and store it on a blockchain for future access. As Andrés Martin-Lopez and Emma McIntyre said, music data, unlike bitcoin, doesn’t originate in a blockchain. So Blokur set out to create a separate layer of creative rights on the blockchain, for a trusted audible record of rights holder information. While it’s easy to bemoan lack of cooperation and transparency, they are documenting success in automatically collecting and reconciling data between publishers and PRO’s, prototyping one connection at at time.

OMI HACKATHONS

George Howard, via skype, and Erik Beignoff described a similar experiment, where five disparate, major industry players had used the brand-new OMI API to hack their data together in ways they never would have imagined.

George and Erik described the geometric expansion that had taken place, where 1+1+1 had equaled far more than 3, and how the API had served as a lingua franca, translating and mediating as orthogonal entities came together and strengthened each other.

This exemplified the federated search functionality that will increasingly become possible, gradually making rightsholder data better, stronger, by “banging stones together & polishing them”, creating a trusted audible record, and sending out “waves of truth”, as Gavin Nichol, of Context Labs, explained. Marcus Cobb, Jammber founder, described this federated ecosystem of data as a “demilitarized zone with no central authority” allowing for attestation, and for users to weigh truth.

FRANKENWRITING

While Dan and others leaned toward comparing OMI structure to a commune, organically self organized, and “the more incestuous the better”, the meeting was not all bread and roses. Not surprisingly, the main debate that consumed the latter half of the meeting focused on bad data/bad users vs bad systems. It’s indisputable that there are systems, and they do work for many that know how to use them, especially artists who create work traditionally — that is, with a few songwriters and composers, and a handful of musicians for the recording. ISRC and ISWC codes do exist, they are successfully used to identify and track rightsholder data, and there are creators and rightsholders getting paid. It was suggested that the API could hydrate the ISRC and ISWC codes.

However, for every voice imploring that if we could just get artists to register the right data at the right time, then this would all be fixed, there were two or more giving examples of “frankenwriting” that is now becoming the standard, and warning of the next Shawn Fanning who will unwittingly disrupt the entire system without ever having heard of an ISRC. One glance across YouTube makes it clear that there’s no longer a single definition of a creator, and it was just this point that co-founder Panos Panay, and many others drove home. As Panos said, VC’s ultimately want to invest in permissionless ecosystems, and the music industry has not been that for some time. However, the next generation of artists are creating in just that way, remixing and sampling, often valuing recognition as highly as compensation, and completely reinventing ways to monetize their works that defy traditional systems. In a room where every single person had seen their beloved industry laid flat by the last wave of disruption, the motivation to be ahead of this future movement was clear on everyone’s faces.

WHAT’S NEXT

Next year the API will be put through its paces. This implementation will reveal the beauty of the OMI model, the simplicity of its architecture, and the genius of the open-source approach. Gavin Nichol commented that “the utility of a simplistic API is that it improves with feedback.” The req docs will shift into Version 2.0, as the software evolves and adapts to its users. Member companies will be invited to list themselves in the a digital Yellow Pages, sharing what data of theirs may be called by others, and listing their API the way one used to list a phone number. OMI will go on the road, convening members to test and play with their data in the digital sandbox, snapping the industry together, and inviting the 1500+ OMI fans to play-along at home, concocting their own unique interconnected systems.

Indeed it may well be these at-home experiments that result in the unexpected possibilities, bringing the next Shawn(a) Fanning into the fold, and allowing her to innovate along with the industry.

Allowing companies to see what 1+1+1 really do equal might result in a new heartbeat. Like the electricity that flows through the Power Station, the industry has had a pulse since it was built, sometimes loud, sometimes faltering. We look forward to what this new heartbeat will bring.