September 28, 2006

Jamendo: Music the way it was meant to be

by Greg DeKoenigsberg


Pioneering musicians have been releasing music into the Creative Commons since the first versions of these licenses were first developed almost four years ago. In the early days, it wasn't easy to find this new "open source music"; persistent Google searches would turn up pockets of music here and there, but it took real dedication to find music under a Creative Commons license. And when you did, honestly, a lot of it wasn't very good.

But now some leaders are emerging in the open music world. There's ccMixter, a site that provides tools that allow musicians to remix free music. There's freesound, which provides raw materials for the creation of open music. And there's Magnatune, which applies Creative Commons licensing to the traditional record label model.

The growing star in this space, though, is Jamendo. The folks behind Jamendo have put together a lot of the key pieces: Creative Commons licensing, no Digital Rights Management (DRM), MP3 and Ogg Vorbis formats, an easy way for new musicians to upload their work, streaming audio for low-fi and peer-to-peer delivery for hi-fi, a web site in multiple languages, and a strong global community of listeners who can easily express their opinions. It's the ideal "long tail" for free music. The result: explosive growth.

We recently spoke with Laurent Kratz, the CEO and co-founder of Jamendo, to learn more about their vision.

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RHM: What led you to start Jamendo?

Laurent: During summer 2004, Sylvain (Zimmer, CTO and co-founder) came up with the initial idea: Basically, to build a professional service that would help amateur and unsigned bands push themselves "voluntarily" into the most popular peer-to-peer networks, which are by far the biggest music platforms in the world.

We use BitTorrent and eMule (ed2k and Kadmelia) networks as the core technology to distribute more than 1,600 complete albums, at very low cost. We've delivered at least 1 million copies this year to date. Artists upload 5 to 10 new albums per day.

We knew we wanted the music to be discovered, copied, and shared without controls, which is why the music is released in both Ogg and MP3 formats, without any DRM. In order to do it legally, we had to use a suitable legal framework; therefore, when artists join Jamendo, they must choose one of the six main Creative Commons licenses.

RHM: One of the biggest questions around both free software and free content is money. How does Jamendo make money? How does Jamendo help artists make money?

Laurent: Jamendo sells advertising space on the web site and in the low-fi streamed music. We guarantee the hi-fi "peer-to-peer" music to be ad-free. This revenue helps us covering the bandwidth cost.

Jamendo also handles PayPal® accounts for the artists. Listeners, if they want to support the artists, pay a minimum amount of five euros. Jamendo only keeps 50 cents, whatever the amount paid by the donor. The money is transferred to the artist once 100 euros are reached. Today we have 5 to 10 payments per day, and every month we pay some artists.

Jamendo drives lots of traffic to the artist's official web site as well, which helps to sell more physical CDs (if the artist sells CDs from their web site). Also, Jamendo's blogging capabilities help artists to spread in the blogosphere.

Finally, we are developing more tools to distribute Creative Commons music commercially. The revenue split will be somewhere around 80/20, with 80 for the artist.

RHM: Your growth rates are impressive, but it appears as though your strongest community is still the French-language community. How do you plan to expand your presence globally?

Laurent: Even if we are based in Luxembourg, the founders are French. In 2005, the French parliament had to apply the EU Copyright Directive to French law. Jamendo is free, unlimited, legal, without DRM, and based on the most popular peer-to-peer tools. That was interesting enough for big media in France, and we received a lot of coverage.

Jamendo now receives albums from most of the European countries. Our site is translated into English, Spanish, German and French, and community translation efforts are ongoing in Czech, Polish, Italian, and Portuguese.

To expand our presence we have to do more press releases in more countries. We recently had an article published in Spiegel Online in Germany. We hope that being covered in Red Hat Magazine will help, too. ;)

RHM: What can people do to help spread free music?

Laurent: First of all, listen and share! The music on Jamendo is surprisingly good; you'll find good albums in almost all genres. Spread the music you discover on blogs and forums. Encourage friends and colleagues to listen to free music.

For developers, we have documented a web services API, which helps to "mash up" the content from Jamendo. Parts of Jamendo's software are published on sourceforge, and they are licensed under the GPL.

Contributors have already developed some features like a Firefox search extension. We hope that our API will enable developers to spread Jamendo's music, particularly for media players that use the Ogg Vorbis format. Some good candidates would be plug-ins for amarok, xmms, rythmbox, etc.

Want to hear what the Red Hat Magazine staff is listening to? Check out the music we've tagged.