Monthly Archives: April 2013

DJing and CC-licensed music

So some offline friends have gotten me thinking about getting into DJing.

First a little backstory: last fall I joined WJHU, the student radio station at Johns Hopkins, as a sysadmin. A few weeks later I decided I really ought to actually use some of the equipment I was administering and started doing a show (Fridays from 23:00-01:00 US Eastern, for you curious folk). It was originally a mixed-genre whatever-I-feel-like-fest, but over time I settled into heavy usage of electronic dance music, to the point that my most recent few shows have been either all EDM or have had only one or two non-EDM songs. On a whim, I decided to try stringing together (using Audacity) some of last show’s songs with beatmatched transitions and played the result for a DJ friend from the station, who liked it. (And I’d share it, but some of the tracks in it have incompatible licenses, and I was just playing around with beatmatching and wasn’t thinking “Hey, I might want to share this later!” at that time.)

Anyway, being the free culture type of person that I am, and being a person who loves all kinds of EDM, the choice of what to aim for is clear: Creative Commons-licensed EDM mixes. For my last show (my current DJing is in the just-playing-songs-on-a-stream sense of the term), I used only CC-licensed EDM (and there’s quite a bit of really good CC EDM out there!), and a fun time was had by all.

Using CC-licensed songs, of course, brings up the question of which license I should use for any mixes I wish to publicly archive and share.

(Disclaimer since we’re about to go down a legal rabbit hole: I’m not a lawyer, and no part of this post is to be treated as legal advice. There are almost certainly flaws in my understanding of the licenses and of the laws relevant to them.)

I believe in free culture and in copyleft as a mechanism to promote it. For as long as I’ve had this particular incarnation of web presence, everything of mine on it except software source code has been BY-SA. I’d like to be able to release mixes under that or a similar license too, and I also want to ensure I fully comply with the licenses of the underlying songs. It’s all CC, so this shouldn’t be too hard, right?

But thinking about how the different CC licenses would interact with this, given the trends I noticed in how CC EDM tends to be licensed, made my brain start to melt and then made me really sad. I’ll go through condition by condition:

First we have BY (Attribution), which is a condition all of the CC licenses have. This one is not a problem at all. It’s customary to release a cuesheet (list of songs and the time each one starts and ends) alongside a DJ mix, and the attribution can be there. It’s the other three where issues arise.

It’s depressing how often ND (NoDerivs) showed up. This is not a problem for a just-playing-songs show, as the songs are used in their entirety, without any effects or other modification, distinctly separated from other songs. But these aren’t true of DJ mixes. So ND songs are right out. And I’ll bet that many of those artists didn’t completely think through the fact that ND would foreclose this kind of use.

I will consider NC (NonCommercial) and SA (ShareAlike) together, as their effects on what options I have and what decisions I have to make go hand-in-hand. NC, as you might expect for music, shows up far more often than not. And as I have said, I generally like copyleft, and many other people do too. But both BY-SA and BY-NC-SA exist, which are not compatible. As mixes are derivative enough that I don’t feel that I can use ND material, I’m inclined to believe that the SA condition would extend to the whole mix, which means I get the choice of including BY-SA material and excluding anything NC, or including BY-NC-SA material and excluding anything BY-SA. With the strong prevalence of NC over non-NC in music I want to be able to use, and the frequency with which SA shows up (usually in the form of BY-NC-SA), I feel like I have no choice but to adopt NC (which I’d rather not do, as it’s not truly free culture) in order to be able to use BY-NC and BY-NC-SA material. This means that BY-SA material, where the artist is really trying to do the right thing and has merely decided to be a little more forceful about it, gets the shaft. And that makes me really unhappy, as BY-SA is my favored CC license.

But BY-NC-SA it will (with great reluctance) have to be, then. There’s simply too much NC material out there not to. (Of course, separate BY-SA mixes are still a possibility, but I’d have a lot less to work with there.)

If I end up making and releasing any original EDM tracks, I think I might go with a BY-SA/BY-NC-SA dual license. Odd as that may sound, I want to do the right thing as much as possible but not cause problems for other DJs who feel that the NC condition has similarly been forced upon them.

On a non-license-related note, I’ve started playing around with Mixxx, a free software DJ console (you didn’t really think I was going to try to do this with anything other than an entirely free software setup, right?), but as I currently lack a secondary audio device on my laptop (a cheap USB audio device is currently on its way, hopefully to arrive by the end of the week so I can use it during my next show), I haven’t been able to meaningfully try real-time beatmatching yet, and how I do with that will probably determine whether I pursue this further. I’m really looking forward to it!

(Also, it’s totally been far too long since I wrote anything here. Hopefully I’ll remember to write stuff here more often in the future.)