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August 1st Summit


We are delighted to say the first CASH Music Summit day on August 1st was a success! We are writing up our report right now and will be posting it later this week.

As we mentioned before, the format of these events is a total experiment and we knew it would only be as good as the folks who showed up to take part. We were floored by the amazing people that came and all of the general positivity in the room. Much is made about the frustration surrounding the intersection of music and tech so it was inspiring to be reminded of the excitement and possibility around it too.

Thank you to our amazing speakers: Jean Cook, Rebecca Gates, Maura Johnston, and Selena Deckelmann.

Thank you to the sponsors that made it all possible: Mozilla, MailChimp, Google, Car2Go, Marmoset Music, Wemo Lab, Deschutes Beer, Sizzle Pie, and Pickathon.

Stay tuned for more online.

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Healthier streams: Nigel Godrich, Thom Yorke, and Spotify

Over the weekend Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich (of Atoms For Peace) each wrote a series of tweets about pulling their music from Spotify. You should read them all. Their main reason wasn’t their own financial well-being, but that of younger artists trying to find a place as working musicians. They argue that the current system rewards larger acts and corporate shareholders, but doesn’t pay emerging acts.

They’re not wrong.

Slings and arrows came out on both sides of what is becoming a pretty tired argument. There are absolutists on each side. Streaming is terrible or streaming is the future. It’s time we start looking for the path forward that works for all of us, and stop arguing from standpoints that leave no room for movement.

Godrich and Yorke not only have the right to pull out from these services, they’re also right that streaming hurts emerging musicians. That argument is weakly countered with arguments about exposure, total pay-outs by streaming companies, or the idea that there’s no better rate to be found, so fuck it, we’re tossing our hands up and giving up.

There’s the good argument that musicians’ income doesn’t hinge on sales anymore. And that’s true, except when it’s not. For many musicians outside the mainstream or in the earlier stages of their careers, selling matters. Music and merch sales mean everything when your life is lived in a cramped van or when you’re trying to convince someone your work is worthy of their time. The bottom line is that sales matter, and in a stream-only world there’s nothing to help get new artists off the ground.

I’d argue that exposure and discovery aren’t worth a thing if you’re not driving the attention back to a place where the artist can take advantage of it. My hope is that services like Spotify begin to look at artists as partners, realizing the long-term health of each is now tied together. With no new music, Spotify dies. With no mass audience, we set an all-too-low ceiling for working musicians.

People like to say the rate is as good as it’s going to get. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean we should stop looking for other ideas. In an ideal scenario, Spotify et al would give artists the ability to add and control buy buttons, letting them sell records and merch directly from within the system. Control is an important part. The artist needs to be able to control where those buttons lead, driving traffic to the thing that saves their lives — be it vinyl, shirts, tickets, or even just simple email signups.

This should be controlled at the service level, not through a central clearinghouse. Introducing another gate at which 15-20% can be levied against the artist in transaction isn’t the answer. Limiting access to customers of one direct sales or ticketing platform isn’t the answer. Working with musicians to create a controlled environment where the most dedicated fans can directly support them — in the way the artist sees fit — is the most healthy thing that can be done. Suddenly all the arguments about discovery and exposure carry weight, and you’ve created an ecosystem where real growth can happen.

And if you think Godrich and Yorke pulling their music was a statement, imagine how much more impact it would have if they were returning to Spotify because their issues were addressed.

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New admin interface

This weekend we pushed a pretty major update to the hosted beta. We’ve been listening to feedback and with that in mind reworked the user interface from the ground up.

In addition to the new look and feel (more dogs!) you’ll find a reorganized workflow with your elements front and center on the main page. It’s a work in progress, but we’re making the main page the center of the experience, with elements, publishing, embeds, and an activity feed right there.

The main navigation is now anchored to the top of the page, and you’ll find icons throughout the interface as visual clues. Confirmation and error messages more obvious, and there are other small tweaks.

This is just the start. We’ve set the foundation for a bunch of enhancements that we’ll be rolling out alongside new features. More soon!

Log in or sign up now to check it out.

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The problem with the IRS and open source: logic, not discrimination


The New York Times just ran a piece on the BOLO (be on the lookout) practices of the IRS. They’re at the heart of a story where some groups are saying they were unfairly targeted by the IRS. CASH Music and the role of open source software were both mentioned in the NYT piece, and as we’ve long suspected (known) the IRS has indeed been flagging all tax exempt applications from groups mentioning open source software.

That the IRS is placing close scrutiny on certain applications makes perfect sense. In the case of open source nonprofits they argue that many applications are actually attempts by for-profit entities to gain tax advantages by creating token open source software to lower their tax burden. If that were actually the criteria by which they were judging applications the story would end there and we’d all be better for it. Unfortunately it appears that there is an argument inside the IRS that all open source software grants competitive advantage to for-profit businesses and that argument is being used to deny applications across the board.

This is unfortunate, and we cannot stand for it — open source in the nonprofit space is a vital piece of a healthy open web. If the IRS wholesale blocks that piece of the open web we will face new challenges that CASH Music has been quietly dealing with head-on for some time.

We applied for nonprofit status in February of 2009. We were formally rejected in June of 2012. I handled the initial application myself, which as anyone will tell you, is dumb. But we had no money for help, so it was the only option. (I made mistakes in the application, which were pointed out in the process, but they did not lead directly to our rejection.) Our review was handled by a very nice agent named Peter. It involved several amicable back-and-forth phone calls clarifying what we’re trying to do, followed by a five page questionnaire in January of 2010.

The questions asked us to project three years of revenue, what activities are underway, what sort of educational goals we have, what data we could contribute to the public benefit, and specifics about the licenses of the software we had built and are building. A lot of work, but reasonable enough.

After our answers were submitted I’d call and ask how things were going. The answer was always “we’re busy, but I’m sure it’ll be soon.” Then almost a full two and a half years later we got a 14 page rejection letter signed by Lois Lerner, not the agent I had spoken to so many times.

There were things in the rejection we could have argued, but the heart of their argument was simply that open source creates competitive advantage for individual companies by allowing them to not pay for software where others may have chosen a commercial option. So free software, available to all, creates competitive advantage and therefore creating with and distributing it for free for the benefit of all is not an exempt activity in the eyes of the IRS.

In their words:

"[Your] audience derives a commercial advantage from your open source programs because, in its absence, the musician or company would either need to develop their own software or would have to purchase commercial software. Thus, by providing open source software, you reduce or eliminate production costs and provide musicians and music companies with a distinct commercial advantage."

This is a scary and dangerous argument that all open-source advocates should fear.

After all the scrutiny the IRS clearly determined that we were not affiliated with any for-profit entities or efforts. With revenue projections and detailed questions they determined that we were not trying to directly benefit from the work on an individual financial basis. They rejected our application because we want to build free software to help musicians and that would take advantage away from commercial options.

We continue on today as a nonprofit organization in the state of Oregon but without federal tax exempt status. This means we’re barred from raising money via traditional investment, but we are also unable to offer tax refunds and unable to apply for many sources of traditional nonprofit funding.

I’m raising this issue not for us, but for other groups in similar situations.

We will continue to offer free software for musicians. It will always be free. We will always be a nonprofit organization. We are building up and rolling out our educational efforts. They will always be free. By denying our application for federal 501(c)(3) status the IRS has significantly slowed us down but it will not stop us from our mission of artist sustainability. We are finding other ways forward and have had help from our lawyers figuring out the best avenue to federal status — we do plan on reapplying because we believe that building free software to allow direct participation by all in the open web is a vital role for nonprofits to play.

In the meantime fundraising is a constant and time consuming challenge.

If you believe in what we’re doing and want to help you can donate to CASH Music or help contribute to the software.

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CASH Music Summit


We’ve been hard at work over here planning our first ever CASH Music Summit. Our focus is on bringing musicians and technologists together to discuss current issues, find common ground, and find new ways forward. If you’ve followed us at all you know we don’t often do things the usual way. So, not surprisingly, we are sort of inventing a new format for our summit. It will actually be two separate days here in Portland - August 1st and September 5th - anchored around Pickathon and MFNW, bridged together by open online discussion in between.

Jesse and I have attended conferences, hack days, and meetings and have always been acutely aware of how few musicians were actually in attendance for those discussions about their livelihoods and futures. We thought long and hard about how we could include as many artists as possible within our limited budget. We knew we wouldn’t be able to fly people in so we built the dates into existing festivals to ensure musicians would be in town. We strongly believe it’s vital that artists with varied experiences, knowledge and even different expectations are brought into the conversation about the future of the music industry.

We have long envisioned our role at CASH to include facilitating a more open dialogue between musicians and technologists. This summit is a first step towards that goal. CASH’s mission is to help musicians find sustainability. The Internet is clearly a really important tool for artists but also a really disruptive one. It is time we find a way forward that is informed by the realities that artists face on a daily basis. We believe that by starting this conversation and listening to one another’s challenges, hopes, and dreams, we’ll learn to build a better future for all.

This is a total experiment but if it works we’ll continue them in cities around the world. Stay tuned for more info: http://cashmusic.org/summit

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Introducing cashmusic.js

screenshot

A few years ago we built a front-end library to handle audio players, video lightboxes, and a few other things. It was very useful, but had pretty heavy external requirements, didn’t always play nice with mobile, and forced weird conventions on markup.

In come Throwing Muses. Kristin and company are starting to roll out new music in advance of their latest record. It deserves real attention, and I wanted to give it proper attention in promo as well, so we used the first song debut to rework our front-end library from the ground up.

The result is cashmusic.js, a simple, lightweight, easy-to-use library aimed at providing basic tools for musicians and not-so-basic tools for anyone wanting to create unique listening experiences. With no external dependencies other than the excellent SoundManager 2 for audio playback, the main cashmusic.js file weighs in at just 7.2kb of bandwidth while providing rich functionality out of the box like video lightboxes, our own CASH Music embeds, and easily-styled audio players.

Aside from CASH Music embeds, this library is completely independent of the CASH Music platform, so it can be used with any site. It plays nice with jQuery or any other external library and uses standard HTML/CSS for all templating so customization is a snap.

For those looking to build really unique audio player experiences, we built in the ability for any DOM element to tween styles and animate based on audio load/play progress. And you can also set styles based on six different audio events triggered in every sound played. All of this comes with no JavaScript needed, so the barrier to get started is pretty low.

So get started. Go build rad stuff.

A deeper look at cashmusic.js (with demos)

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Our Mission.

CASH Music is a nonprofit organization focused on educating and empowering artists and their fans to foster a viable and sustainable future for music. We believe the best way to ensure a sustainable future for music is to invest in its creators. Learn more.

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