DJ Dangermouse's release of the controversial Grey Album has brought the question of reusing and remixing content to the forefront. Now, another group has taken the next logical step and released the Jay-Z Construction Set:
The Jay-Z Construction Set is a toolkit with all of the necessary software and raw material to create a new remix of Jay-Z's Black Album. It includes nine different variations on the Black Album, over 1200 clip art images, and a couple hundred meg of classic samples and breaks. The Jay-Z Construction Set is available on-line through filesharing networks and protocols such as BitTorrent.
This collection of material is certainly a violation of copyright, yet it points the way to a much richer vision for culture. I would hope that, in the near future, artists and publishers will see the value of releasing not only polished works, but the bits and parts used to create a work, including those parts that were rejected.
This is good not only for fanboy obsessives, but could serve to train people's musical ears, helping them hear the difference between different mixes of music. It would obviously be a boon to unexperienced musicians who could learn much from the choices other musicians and producers make. DJs would certainly have more opportunity to creatively add to the originals with this sort of access. And, likely, such efforts would help identify new talent.
Combine this with a system that permits "recipe" mixes as I've written about before (A History Palette for Music and The Grey Album - No Copying Necessary) and there is no danger of the artists and producers losing money. Indeed, such a model has already been quite successful in another media - videogames.
Many videogames permit players to create new content for the game engine, such as levels, maps and mods. This new content is freely distributable (at least for noncommercial purposes) and frequently incorporates content created by the original game designer along with new user-created content. This has been incredibly successful for videogame companies. The more content there is, the more popular the game becomes. The ability to create and add content creates feverish and committed communities of fans for a game. Imagine if musicians had such communities working for them.
The videogame model works for the game companies for a couple of reasons, but could also work for music companies:
1) You need to purchase the game engine for the content to be useful. In my recipe model, the mixing software that recreates the mix from the recipe would serve this role. However, it wouldn't be a significant revenue stream for the artist.
2) Often, the levels, maps and mods created by fans include content originally created by the game creator and shipped as part of the game engine. The shared levels and maps generally don't include copies of this content, since it is assumed that the downloaders already have the content and it saves on file size. In essence, many of these shared levels are what I would call "recipes" that remix the existing content in the game. Of course, there are full mods with entirely new content, but those are relatively rare (though they can be extremely popular and creative). Here is where the music recipe model can compensate the artist. In order to create the remixed version of the music, a downloader of the recipe file is going to have to have access to the original works, which, presumably, would be paid for in some manner through a legal download system.
Of course, the Jay-Z Construction Set points to an advantage for musicians that game companies don't share. Generally, game companies don't really have the luxury of shipping alternate takes on a level or unfinalized content for the game. However, when a musician releases a wide variety of takes and alternates, which were created organically, they create a much richer ore that remixers can mine. The more material you release, the more things people can do with it, which means the more people will want it. Heck, musicians might eventually ship only the construction set along with their favored recipes.