Share What You Got (Keep What You Need)

Share What You Got (Keep What You Need)
Anyone who has even a slight interest in digital music making has a cheap, new option to investigate. MH20.com is a new web site offering a range of music-enabling services, from software, to theory lessons, to industry contacts. Like a good deal of high concept web sites, MH20's genesis came from a particularly geeky moment: two dudes jamming over a speaker phone. When his buddy asked him if there was some way to collaborate in higher fidelity, a light bulb went off over David Danon's head. He founded and developed MH20.com two years ago, and the site officially launched in July. It is an intriguing concept which, while not foolproof in its function, begs to be messed around with by musicians of all capabilities.

Community based organisations are among the most successful business models for the net. They identify a potential common interest, then try to construct an easily navigable and customisable site with ever-changing content. They make money by selling products, charging for memberships, and advertising. Members download software and samples, write something at home, then post and circulate it on the site and beyond.

MH20's philosophy is an "open source music." Like open source programming, those who use it are encouraged to share their ideas and knowledge. Danon says, "When people become members, they agree that if they upload their music onto our site, they are agreeing to permit others to have access to their musical creations. In fact, we encourage it. That is how music collaboration will proliferate and enrich the mH2o music making experience."

The sequencing software is the ever-popular ACID, one of the original and best designed loop-based sequencers. Its sample editor is the versatile, easy to use SoundForge. The choice of sequencer is a natural one given the site's large selection of quickly-downloaded samples. The virtual studio interface, recognisable to anyone who plays mp3's, interfaces with the web site to download the samples into Sound Forge and ACID. A major plus of the mH20 concept is that the software used to compose music isn't run from a remote computer, it's on your desktop. The application is immune to internet traffic and security issues. Your time spent online is downloading samples (a very quick process), and uploading works in progress or final products.

MH20's most interesting implications are the possibilities for sharing. To those who zealously produce and market their own discs with 100% control, sharing one's music may not be the most appealing idea. It's one thing to put a couple of tunes on MP3.com for others to download, but on mh20, collaboration is encouraged, albeit for personal, non-commercial use only. Also, according to its privacy policy, MH20 can use the music for itself and its affiliates as well. This is always a caveat when embarking on any online interactivity. However, the possibilities created by random, global musical collaboration have got to strike a chord with many musicians. You simply post what you want, and keep what you don't wish to share. You are free to use your music created from the licensed software and samples. Says Danon "Members are allowed to release their work commercially because all of our samples are royalty-free. Currently, MH2O does not retain any license to the music composition created. Down the road, we plan to establish a record label and publishing company and we anticipate helping our newly discovered artists commercialise their music compositions."

Just as MH20 derives income from sample administration, it also creates opportunities for artists to benefit from writing interesting loops as a means to make money. This is how stock music companies conduct their business, but it has never been a widespread practice elsewhere. People may write tunes of a certain length for a 12-inch mix, or for a radio edit, but why not think about something in the 4 second range to really get your point across?

The biggest drawback to this system, by its nature, is that the kind of music you make will be of the looped sample variety — it will be a challenge to execute loop-unfriendly music such as folk and classical styles. However, Danon foresees great possibilities for hybrids of loops: "Our sample library has music from around the globe and as these different music styles and genres get mixed together, new genres of music are being created." One amusing aspect to the classical section is commentary on how useful these samples would be for RZA-styled productions.

There are other glitches with the site that ought to be repaired soon. Some aspects of the site haven't been fully developed yet, such as searching for samples by a world map. Another aggravation is the long download/upload time for finished products; without a cable modem you're really in it for the long haul.

MH20 makes it easy for the non-musician to educate themselves to the process of making music without being constantly frustrated by an unstable platform. There is a good deal of intelligently written analysis of how different genres of music achieve their sounds. Their choice of software is easy enough to use so that the moderately curious participant will stay interested. According to Danon, "the long term plan for us to have the MH2O music creation experience in every wired school on earth." For those musicians who enjoy working as "independents," the idea of making one's music available for unsolicited collaboration may be seen either as an opportunity or a threat. Everyone has to decide what degree of control over their music suits them. Mh20 simply broadens the possibilities.