Jam Supercut from Matthew Ogle on Vimeo.

Call it a jam session that has completely fallen apart.

Having Web services go dark is certainly not news in this day and age. We’ve come to expect that Internet services won’t be there forever. (Google Reader, anyone?)

But if you pull apart some of the backstory behind the end of a service called “This Is My Jam,” you’ll come across an unnerving reality of the way music on the Web is evolving (or devolving).

This Is My Jam began life as a kind of hack – pick your one and only favorite song of the moment, then embed it as a streamable player. Now, to be honest, I was a little surprised the service lasted as long as it did. What’s happening now is, the site is turning into a read-only “time capsule.” Spotify integration will mean playlists of favorite songs will live on there, as well. It’s a shame, as I found the site a really lovely way of finding music that really mattered to people.

But the reasons it’s now untenable bear as much attention as the end of the site itself, because I’ve been noticing these trends, and they reach far beyond just one clever “favorite jam” site.

Music APIs are breaking or going away. Remember the hype around “remixing” the musical Web with open APIs? The reality is this: APIs are mostly dying, at least when it comes to music services. As the developers behind This Is My Jam put it, ominously, “The trend is accelerating with more breaking/shutting off each month, soon exceeding our capacity to fix it.”

The idea of opening up services to interoperability seems to just be going away. And it wasn’t all rosy while many of these APIs were still running, because of frequent changes and deprecations. I don’t necessarily believe this means that having open APIs is a bad idea so much as it illustrates that you need to create consistent, stable APIs for the concept to work. And now, services are running away from the idea of these kinds of sharing entirely.

Edit: I originally simply referred to “Web” APIs, but this is a commentary specific to music applications – and the discussions around events like Music Hack Day. I don’t intend to comment on the health of APIs on the Web, generally; the music sphere clearly has some of its own problems, related to licensing, business models, and the general maintenance of the APIs and developer relationships.

Music is increasingly shut off from Web sharing. Embeddable players are often limited by licensing, and many services (hello, Apple Music) move the content into the apps. Now, this is important to music producers, who are likely to favor flexibility over, say, obscure licensing requirements that perhaps don’t make them any money anyway. And that leads to another problem:

Regional licensing is incompatible with the way people use the Web. The Web is everywhere. But antiquated licensing by country means that rules restrict your ability to put your music where you want.

The mobile Web is still the Web, but it requires a separate development effort. This is another problem: build something well for mobile, and it doesn’t work so well on desktop. Build it for the desktop browser, and it’s not going to feel native on mobile. We currently take this problem for granted in that we’re so used to it, but it’s hard not to hope for a future where this separation is mostly forgotten and tools blend seamlessly from one to the other.

Streaming deals are making things worse, not better. Is anyone else getting a sinking suspicion here? The push to streams is killing download sales, which were a semi-reliable source of revenue for a lot of producers. But the plans to monetize streams are so fragmented and incomplete that the net effect has largely been to restrict where and how music is played more than to increase revenue received by actual producers. I’m also not clear on how independent labels and artists can possibly get the same deal with, say, Apple, as majors, as negotiations swirl around exclusives and the like.

That’s my somewhat bleak case. If it were just this one app, that’d be one thing – but reading through the reasons they credit for the shutdown, too much is already too familiar.

Read their full explanation:
Jam Preserves

And apart from This Is My Jam, I still have to think that independent producers and labels ultimately benefit from a more open Web. Embedding players means more data about would-be fans and listens, data that’s hugely valuable to musicians. It means the flexibility to easily get your music where you want it. And ultimately, it means easily facilitated sharing, which is vitally important in an age of abundant music from around the world.

I don’t mean to suggest that we should go back to the tools we had. But simply giving up the possibilities of sharing is a retreat, not an advancement. We ought to be able to do more with the Internet.

So, This Is My Jam, R.I.P.

But let’s hope the notion of sharing music through open interchange of data isn’t dead.

  • Iain B

    Do you think the big media companies have finally solved their file sharing issues? With streaming services becoming more and more convenient for the casual consumer and subscription prices pretty low, it seems like they have the control they always wanted and a product that could dissuade many from going to the extra effort of torrenting.

    • Kinetic Monkey

      This is exactly what I was thinking. Shareholder value protection over musician’s income/convenience. So long as it’s minimally convenient for the listener…

      • Andy P.

        A sadly concise way of putting it…

    • Will

      That’s a pretty optimistic take on it. Yes, streaming will likely curtail “pirating” but it’s not like streaming is making anyone any money at this point. It’s like finally fixing a leaky faucet by burning your house down.

      • Ha! Well, yes – it shifts the focus. Whereas the worry before for musicians was piracy, it’s definitely now streams.

        However, I think it’s not at all fair to assume that no one is making money, or to put a finer point on it, that there’s no money to be made – that’s not a given. Not yet, anyway. Hence all the passionate interest.

        • ElectroB

          Will is absolutely correct.

          Sure, *some* people are making money from streaming services. Just whether that money is being fairly distributed is an entirely different question.

          http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6531918/portisheads-geoff-barrow-says-he-earned-just-2500-from-34-million-streams

          I’ve been following the development of streaming over the past couple of years, and at this point I think we can safely say that Spotify, Apple Music et al. are better than piracy only because a few cents is better than zero cents.

          The average professional musician gets no revenue from piracy, while streaming services allow one to buy him/herself lunch once a month.

          The problem is, the “it’s better than nothing” logic does not make for a sustainable model for arts and culture.

          As for me (and many others, I believe), I’ll probably be settling down on Bandcamp for the time being.

    • Popo Bawa

      Honeycomb is big.
      Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.
      It’s not small.
      No no no no no.

  • Iain B

    Do you think the big media companies have finally solved their file sharing issues? With streaming services becoming more and more convenient for the casual consumer and subscription prices pretty low, it seems like they have the control they always wanted and a product that could dissuade many from going to the extra effort of torrenting.

    • Kinetic Monkey

      This is exactly what I was thinking. Shareholder value protection over musician’s income/convenience. So long as it’s minimally convenient for the listener…

      • Andy P.

        A sadly concise way of putting it…

    • Will

      That’s a pretty optimistic take on it. Yes, streaming will likely curtail “pirating” but it’s not like streaming is making anyone any money at this point. It’s like finally fixing a leaky faucet by burning your house down.

      • Ha! Well, yes – it shifts the focus. Whereas the worry before for musicians was piracy, it’s definitely now streams.

        However, I think it’s not at all fair to assume that no one is making money, or to put a finer point on it, that there’s no money to be made – that’s not a given. Not yet, anyway. Hence all the passionate interest.

        • ElectroB

          Will is absolutely correct.

          Sure, *some* people are making money from streaming services. Just whether that money is being fairly distributed is an entirely different question.

          http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6531918/portisheads-geoff-barrow-says-he-earned-just-2500-from-34-million-streams

          I’ve been following the development of streaming over the past couple of years, and at this point I think we can safely say that Spotify, Apple Music et al. are better than piracy only because a few cents is better than zero cents.

          The average professional musician gets no revenue from piracy, while streaming services allow one to buy him/herself lunch once a month.

          The problem is, the “it’s better than nothing” logic does not make for a sustainable model for arts and culture.

          As for me (and many others, I believe), I’ll probably be settling down on Bandcamp for the time being.

    • Popo Bawa

      Honeycomb is big.
      Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.
      It’s not small.
      No no no no no.

  • Rom

    about google reader that doesn’t exist anymore, there’s a free solution called Feedly which is pretty nice to use

    • Polite Society

      It’s no google reader though.

      • Yes, things that are never coming back – Google Reader. Studio Vision Pro. 😉

  • Rom

    about google reader that doesn’t exist anymore, there’s a free solution called Feedly which is pretty nice to use

    • Polite Society

      It’s no google reader though.

      • Yes, things that are never coming back – Google Reader. Studio Vision Pro. 😉

  • Will

    Not to take a sidebar out of the article but Web APIs, generally, are just fine. Healthy even! People have learned a lot and they’re way more stable these days. They’re still growing too: Programmable Web hit 5,000 listed APIs in 2012. They have almost 14,000 now.

    Music APIs though… that’s a different problem but it doesn’t have to do with Web APIs or their general health; it has to do with the content itself and all of the related licensing nonsense you covered in the post.

    • aaron

      this.

    • Yes, absolutely – that’s fair.

      But even looking at music APIs, I don’t think all the blame can be placed on licensing. That doesn’t explain why unrelated calls were changing or broke. I think there’s also a general sense of confusion around how interoperability and extensibility would work in general – like Spotify backpedaling on apps, for instance.

      Some of this is related to business strategy, also not exclusively around licensing questions.

      Anyway, yes, I meant specifically music, not really the Web generally. So I’ll update that.

    • I can list three music-specific problems:

      1. Licensing issues are restricting where music can be embedded and what can be accessible to music APIs.

      2. Shifting business models (also partly motivated by the licensing pressure) have caused music APIs to change, break, get deprecated, get killed.

      3. Music APIs, even apart from the first two issues, haven’t always been well maintained.

      This isn’t to generalize about *all* music APIs, some of which are quite useful and quite well used – but the sum total of what you might support with something like This Is My Jam mean that it still adds up to a problem.

  • Will

    Not to take a sidebar out of the article but Web APIs, generally, are just fine. Healthy even! People have learned a lot and they’re way more stable these days. They’re still growing too: Programmable Web hit 5,000 listed APIs in 2012. They have almost 14,000 now.

    Music APIs though… that’s a different problem but it doesn’t have to do with Web APIs or their general health; it has to do with the content itself and all of the related licensing nonsense you covered in the post.

    • aaron

      this.

    • Yes, absolutely – that’s fair.

      But even looking at music APIs, I don’t think all the blame can be placed on licensing. That doesn’t explain why unrelated calls were changing or broke. I think there’s also a general sense of confusion around how interoperability and extensibility would work in general – like Spotify backpedaling on apps, for instance.

      Some of this is related to business strategy, also not exclusively around licensing questions.

      Anyway, yes, I meant specifically music, not really the Web generally. So I’ll update that.

    • I can list three music-specific problems:

      1. Licensing issues are restricting where music can be embedded and what can be accessible to music APIs.

      2. Shifting business models (also partly motivated by the licensing pressure) have caused music APIs to change, break, get deprecated, get killed.

      3. Music APIs, even apart from the first two issues, haven’t always been well maintained.

      This isn’t to generalize about *all* music APIs, some of which are quite useful and quite well used – but the sum total of what you might support with something like This Is My Jam mean that it still adds up to a problem.

  • I never understood This Is My Jam

    • Really? Pretty simple. You have a feed of everyone’s absolutely favorite songs of the moment.

      • yes thanks. I never understood the fun of going something like that. but I guess a lot of people did.

        • Let’s put it this way — for all the emphasis on social, Apple Music does almost nothing and ignores the Web. Spotify gives you a sort of confusing feed and playlist sharing is absolutely huge in terms of what it means for plays — but then those tools are poorly organized. This is a big question, and expect lots more tools (and expect that not all of them will make sense to everyone).

  • I never understood This Is My Jam

    • Really? Pretty simple. You have a feed of everyone’s absolutely favorite songs of the moment.

      • yes thanks. I never understood the fun of going something like that. but I guess a lot of people did.

        • Let’s put it this way — for all the emphasis on social, Apple Music does almost nothing and ignores the Web. Spotify gives you a sort of confusing feed and playlist sharing is absolutely huge in terms of what it means for plays — but then those tools are poorly organized. This is a big question, and expect lots more tools (and expect that not all of them will make sense to everyone).

  • Elo D. Esbe

    I guess, it is time to admit that to a large degree it is also the musicians and consumers fault for jumping on every bandwagon platform that came around in the last decade. The whole idea of the democratization of distribution is in hindsight quite some BS given that the detested middlemen of the 80s/90s have been replaced by a few platforms or conglomerates thereof. There are quite some interesting reads about this subject linked at culturalcomputing.org. Anyway… customer convenience will always trump ethics/socioX/*. Another point imho is also the developer community that have been constantly failing to come up with alternatives to a monolithic platform architecture AND understanding the socio-cultural aspects of technologies in this sector. Instead, there are technological “solutions” for socio-cultural problems or derivatives of status-quo systems. I am saying this as a developer and musician… and I know the whole subject is at the intersection of many different topics with no holistic solution… but another js/node/browser/* environment/toolkit won’t cut off any of hydra’s heads…

  • Elo D. Esbe

    I guess, it is time to admit that to a large degree it is also the musicians and consumers fault for jumping on every bandwagon platform that came around in the last decade. The whole idea of the democratization of distribution is in hindsight quite some BS given that the detested middlemen of the 80s/90s have been replaced by a few platforms or conglomerates thereof. There are quite some interesting reads about this subject linked at culturalcomputing.org. Anyway… customer convenience will always trump ethics/socioX/*. Another point imho is also the developer community that have been constantly failing to come up with alternatives to a monolithic platform architecture AND understanding the socio-cultural aspects of technologies in this sector. Instead, there are technological “solutions” for socio-cultural problems or derivatives of status-quo systems. I am saying this as a developer and musician… and I know the whole subject is at the intersection of many different topics with no holistic solution… but another js/node/browser/* environment/toolkit won’t cut off any of hydra’s heads…

  • tchap

    http://tuneefy.com is definitely trying to help as for the “sharing” part

  • tchap

    http://tuneefy.com is definitely trying to help as for the “sharing” part

  • Popo Bawa

    APIs which are broken haven’t “gone away”. I hate it when people say that! They don’t go anywhere, they have simply ceased to exist.

  • Popo Bawa

    APIs which are broken haven’t “gone away”. I hate it when people say that! They don’t go anywhere, they have simply ceased to exist.