Creating an open protocol for identification of music rights owners that enables interoperability and fosters innovation

The OMI Summer Lab began with two days of panels and presentations at the MIT Media Lab. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

The OMI Summer Lab began with two days of panels and presentations at the MIT Media Lab. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

Following the initial Open Music Initiative launch event that was held in NYC on June 22, we recently kicked off our first Lab.

The OMI Summer Lab is an outgrowth and byproduct of the OMI. In short, it takes the thoughts and ideas generated by the OMI members and makes them manifest via agile design thinking and prototype development.

A group of eighteen OMI fellows were selected from fifty participants in our June 3rd Makeathon, and, after a two-day kickoff event (more on that below), were tasked with articulating and developing ideas to address some of the dominant themes of the OMI. (First time readers can come up to speed with respect to OMI’s mission and purpose here.)

This approach — artfully guided by the IDEO team — has provided us with tremendous insights and perspective around the issues we are addressing at OMI; specifically: Creating an open protocol for identification of music rights owners that enables interoperability and fosters innovation.

Before we get to these insights, some takeaways from the opening event are in order. Consistent with our goals of examining the music business through a prism rather than a lens, the sessions were broad (but with some through-lines) and included: Meet the New Fan, Authentication and Identity, The Artist Experience, Origin Tracking, New Platforms for Transactions, and Exploring New Ways of Monetization.

Panos Panay, Founding Managing Director of Berklee’s Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

Panos Panay, Founding Managing Director of Berklee’s Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

What has been pervasive not only through this Lab, but is embedded within the very fiber of the OMI, is the spirit with which the array of participants — from the major labels, to only orthogonally-correlated firms like Netflix or Sonos, to the individual artists — are embracing and advancing a spirit of questing and investigation, which manifests in a cogitation/iteration balance that propels the dialog forward.

Specifically, the topics listed above were buttressed by analogs from industries outside the typical realm of the music business. Presentations around food, banking, and responsive environments vaulted the conversation out of the too-frequent “echo chamber” type discourse. One of the most interesting outcomes of this analog exercise, for example, came out of the Food + Future CoLab presentation on tracking origin, as it led to chatter of the “if-we-can-do-that-why-not-this?” type that is so exciting from a potential heuristic breakthrough sense.

César A. Hidalgo, Assistant Professor at the MIT Media Lab presents an analog. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

César A. Hidalgo, Assistant Professor at the MIT Media Lab presents an analog. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

Equally importantly, the entrepreneur presentations from those rolling up their sleeves and actually iterating — Ujo Music, Jammber, Stem, Exploration, WBUR’s Biz Lab, Doppler Labs — demonstrated that we’re finally moving from the talking to the doing stage.

At our core, of course, artists drive and guide us; everything else, frankly, is a byproduct. It was motivating to watch Melissa Ferrick, Alex Ebert, Kyle Thornton, and Marie Lang from Berklee band mar|co — place us in the firmament of reality, while inspiring us forward.

The Artist Panel included Alex Ebert (Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros), Ami Spishock (Fort William Management), Marie Lang (mar|co), Melissa Ferrick, and Kyle Thornton (Kyle Thornton & The Company) Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

The Artist Panel included Alex Ebert (Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros), Ami Spishock (Fort William Management), Marie Lang (mar|co), Melissa Ferrick, and Kyle Thornton (Kyle Thornton & The Company) Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

The fellows have been tasked with something like creating a miracle: designing, iterating upon, and presenting a prototype of a product that addresses the needs of creators, the market, and the institutions.

IDEO presents a Design Thinking primer to the Fellows and assembled guests. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

IDEO presents a Design Thinking primer to the Fellows and assembled guests. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

I look on in with a sense of wonder and urgency—not wanting to waste a second of time — before assisting these fellows, who are unencumbered by institutional knowledge, towards breakthrough. I’m more convinced than ever — having not only done what I do in terms of “coaching” them (overheard from IDEO after I [ahem] raised my voice a bit to one of the groups: “It’s better that George, who is on your side, keeps it real than those who you’ll be presenting to later do.”), but having now watched the first round of their pitches — that we’re on the verge of a breakthrough.

Fortunately, in addition to IDEO’s guidance, OMI members — from artists like Amanda Palmer and Arabian Prince, to representatives from companies like Dubset, YouTube, Spotify, Avid, DDEX, Skype and others — have been checking in and offering guidance as needed, via “Bat Calls.”

Fellows present at MIT’s Media Lab. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

Fellows present at MIT’s Media Lab. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

From my vantage point, I’ve noted several themes evolving. For one, a phrase I’ve been bandying about for some time — “garbage in/garbage out” — appears to be reflexively bouncing from one premise to another. This is good, of course, as it represents one of the big bugaboos of the industry: data. Interestingly, the very definition of “data” is being questioned in order to confer a true sense of usefulness on the word, rather than it being a term full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

For instance, we’re seeing that “data” needs a broader interpretation than we originally anticipated: composition and performance metadata, but also creative and origin stories and potentially sound signatures. Or, as Kelly Olson from Intel put it during the opening discussions, “A move from modeling to measuring.”

Fellows present at MIT’s Media Lab. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

Fellows present at MIT’s Media Lab. Photo Credit: Tiffany Knight / IDEO

Importantly, another theme of the OMI — inter-operability (the ways — via API or otherwise that databases talk to each other) — is at the core of many of the fellows’ initiatives. More on these soon as they emerge, but, again, these fellows’ work-product on this theme too is a metaphor for the very spirit of the OMI: openness, inquisitiveness, and a bias towards action.