February 28, 2004

A History Palette for Music

Scot Hacker has some thoughts on the Grey Album on his Birdhouse Blog (Thoughts on The Grey Album). Scot doesn't think my idea of distributing remix "recipes" to avoid copyright problems is viable:

At Corante, Ernie Miller wonders whether some kind of remix formula or recipe could be created to allow consumers to recreate the Dangermouse mix from the two original sources, thus sidestepping copyright issues. I respond that the suggestion is similar to the technique used to distribute the lame MP3 encoder, thus bypassing Fraunhofer's patent. But music is not a computer program, and I am highly doubtful that sufficient notation could be devised, or that anyone could enter in the data in sufficient detail to recreate the artwork.

I disagree. If one is using a computer to mix music (and most people are nowadays), then it wouldn't be too difficult for the editing program being used to save how the particular mix was made. This capability would be very similar to the "undo" function most editing programs come up with. Photoshop, for example, saves every move you make with program so you can "undo" any change made since your initial edits, they call it the "history palette." Now, I see no reason why it wouldn't be possible for photoshop to save this history palette as a separate file. Imagine if someone edits a photo and sends me the history palette but not the original photo (for copyright reasons). If I already have the original photo the editor worked with, I could recreate the new version from the history palette.

I don't know why the same can't be done for music, all of it performed automatically and transparently as far as the mix artist is concerned.

Of course, to be effective, you would have to have the exact same versions of the originals that the mix artist used. Hmmmm ... seems like a way that recording companies can encourage people to get legitimate copies ...

Posted by Ernest at 9:15 PM
  Comments and Trackbacks (

(ouch, no preview... I hope this looks good using <li> (list) elements!)

I am somewhat between you two... I know it can be done... however, it would be very hard (after writing the rest of this comment, I realized it's not really that hard!). You'd effectively have to have a recipe like this:

  1. Open a capella Jay-Z track.
  2. Open the Beatles track from which you'd like to stitch together the background.
  3. For each sound in the resultant Grey Album track, you have to know:
    1. the start and end time of that sound from the Beatles track;
    2. where said sound should go in the resultant grey track;
    3. exactly what affects, processing, etc. was done to the sounds (if any) and the settings used.
    4. if the sound was looped (this could save processing).
  4. Then you just need an executible program (that is, not a human!) that could take the data from the recipe above and the two tracks and synthesize a grey track out of them.

now that I've stepped through it, I realize this could be done relatively easy using XML. The hard part would be designing a program that could interpret the XML and do the actual processing and synthesis. Although, this would be, in essence, just a program that copied parts of an audio file and then processed them accordingly.

This could be very easily done if no processing needed to be done to the individual background sounds; if the executible just needed to copy parts of a sound and merge them with another static audio clip (the a capella track), this could be done by any competent C coder with the right mp3/wav library. And we could put the GPL on the program and CC licenses on the XML files. Then, users would just need the two tracks for the recipe, the XML file describing how to cook grey and then the executible that did the actual synthesis.

Posted by joe on February 29, 2004 01:18 AM | Permalink to Comment

For a realization of a similar idea in another genre, see These are audio commentaries designed to be listened to while you are watching a movie on DVD. Some are sarcastic, others informative. The synchronization requirements are not so sensitive so this is a relatively easy way to create end-user modifications to existing creative works.

Posted by Cypherpunk on February 29, 2004 01:33 AM | Permalink to Comment

It doesn't have to be XML, though that might be useful. The recipe file can be in whatever format works with the sound editor used by the mix artist. If the editing program can create the original, it can save the settings used every step of the way.

Posted by Ernest Miller on February 29, 2004 01:33 AM | Permalink to Comment

Mark me in the "I-don't-think-this-works" category. The principal counter example would be "sychronization rights" in films where a particular copyright holder owns the rights to the synchronization of soundtrack and audio to the visual film (there have been some incredible fights over these rights).

If the rights to synchronize two works (the audio and the video) are protected by copyright law, chances are a list of instructions on how to merge two audio works are protected.

Are they a work of authorship? Yes -- someone creates a hybrid song, its a derivative work.

The person then creates a list of instructions on how to recreate the work, highly compressed (say into a list of time marks or midi signals even). We'll call this the "EAR" format ("Earnest's Audio Ripin'" Format.

How is this different from JPEG compression? Just because a copyrighted picture is in JPEG format, doesn't mean that the copyright is lost. Simiarly, a hybrid audio work in EAR format is still a representation of the work

Admittedly, you cannot create the actual hybrid audio work from the EAR work without a copy of the two base audio works. But does that remove the modicam of creativity necessary for copyright protection in your EAR work? It seems certainly more than your average software program, which gets copyright protection every day.

The right to make derivative works is a right of the copyright holder. Even if you have works A and B and make a new work C=EAR(A,B), that new work C (might) require permission to make a derivative work. If you give C to a third person, and that third person has A and B, they can then make music from C, but just like you they might need permission.


Posted by doogie h on February 29, 2004 03:00 AM | Permalink to Comment

Ernie -- The "history palette" idea assumes that the *entire* mix is done inside the computer, and inside a single application that has kept track fo the entire history of the track. In reality, I'm sure a great deal of it was done outside the computer, with turntables and tape decks. And within the computer, several applications were likely involved.

Posted by Scot Hacker on March 1, 2004 07:25 AM | Permalink to Comment


I wasn't saying that the particular version of the Grey Album was made by techniques that could saved. However, it is certainly theoretically possible. With a set of standards for this sort of thing, any standard following software could be used. I think that is the important point.

Posted by Ernest Miller on March 7, 2004 03:21 PM | Permalink to Comment


Synchronization rights are necessary because the person with the film wants to do two things:

1) distribute the music with the film

2) conduct a public performance of the combined work

I don't see how this leads to a remixing recipe being a violation of copyright.

Posted by Ernest Miller on March 7, 2004 03:24 PM | Permalink to Comment

  Post a Comment
  Remember personal info?
  Email this entry to a friend
Email this entry to:   
Your email address:   
Message (optional):   

  Related Entries