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:
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.