Opening a Can of Disruption on the Music Industry

Free and Open Source software has been disrupting various markets for almost 40 years, sometimes in a small way, other times with a big splash. Most of these events have been in extremely technical niches, such as operating systems, compilers, text editors, version control systems and the like. All of these technologies are “close to the metal” of hardcore geekery. Average users rarely interact with them or even know what they are, even though they have a huge impact on how software is made, delivered and run.

Each year we see our “hacker spirit” travel farther into mainstream culture. We are seeing our ideals starting to transform industries that were once just a glimmer in an idealistic hackers eye, such as electronic medical records or disaster relief management software.

But so many industries still await transformation. One is the music industry, and in particular, music distribution, sales and promotion. This industry is currently dominated by proprietary software, usually sold as a hosted service. These services cost between 15% to 40% of artist sales, usually on top of any payment processing fees, for very little return. This cost is in addition to exorbitant fees, such as charging 50 cents for a “download code”. This means it costs an artist (or their label) potentially hundreds of dollars just to send out a digital demo to a select group of people in hopes of getting a few reviews.

This outrageous behavior of exploiting artists will soon come to an end, thanks to CASH Music. CASH Music is a non-profit that puts artists first, and has high hopes to change the tech landscape available to all artists, from the local garage band to international chart-toppers and everyone in between. There is code being hacked on currently called CASH Music DIY, originally started by the infamous Jesse Von Doom, and increasingly by yours truly. It aims to greatly change the power differential between artists and the industry that thrives on their existence.

Through freely available code, that anybody is free to modify, tinker with, and learn from, artists will be able to manage and interact with their fans, sell and distribute digital and physical representations of their music and have full control about how to promote their creations.

This code has the moniker DIY (Do It Yourself) because we are first building a version that runs on your own server, as opposed to being a hosted service. It is still in the “developer alpha stage”, which means we are actively seeking out developers to take it out for a spin, give us feedback, and hopefully contribute back new and exciting features. Our aim is to make it run on just about any web hosting service with a recent-ish version of PHP, with no external dependencies, other than some kind of database access. Once we get stuff nailed down and provide a baseline of functionality, we will look into hosted solutions. Our other major goal is to make it easy to integrate CASH Music into an already existing website infrastructure, like Wordpress or other blogging systems. To add CASH Music to any of these systems, all you need to do is add this single line of PHP:

    <?php require_once("$CASHMUSIC/framework/php/cashmusic.php"); ?>

where $CASHMUSIC is the directory where the CASH Music DIY software lives on your server.

All that is necessary is to get a single PHP file onto your server, Everything else is controlled via a pretty web interface that downloads, installs and configures everything you need and even includes custom art by Audrey Nieh of Squid You Not! Jesse has a sweet tooth for eye candy, and it shows.

We are working, slowly but surely, to make this software a game-changer. And slowly but surely is on purpose, because we are in it for the long haul, and the organization and code is evolving together. CASH Music is a non-profit, so we don’t have millions of VC dollars to throw at this, but what we do have is the knowledge that this is important and it contains the seed of greatly improving the lives of many people, by allowing them more control over their own creations and allowing them to make a reasonable living by selling their art without all the middlemen.

If this sounds fun to you, then we would love your help. Check out our code on https://github.com/cashmusic/DIY, take a look at our pretty developer docs, let us know what you would like to see it do, and definitely tell us if you find a bug or something wonky. Join our IRC channel at #cashmusic on irc.freenode.net, follow CASH Music on the service of your choice. If you are feeling really generous, a donation will go a long way. And, of course, we aren’t just looking for developers! If you have an eye for design or the knack for documentation, we could greatly use your help as well.

The current plan is have a developer release every Thursday. You can see a recent one here. We are all about small, iterative improvements. If each dev release has one more feature, or better docs, or one less bug than the previous, then it is a success.

We cordially invite you to join us in refactoring the music industry, because it surely has needed it for a long time and it sure is going to be a metric shit ton of fun.