Streaming Service for Rare, Hard-to-Find, and Out of Print Music

I’ve already posted most of this on Facebook, so it will be familiar to some or all of y’all. But here I’m gonna expand a tad…

First, like I said on Facebook… I’ve been going over the take-down of What.CD, a private torrent site that, yes, shared official material (music, audiobooks, e-books, etc… no video, though).

Now, before I continue, I’m going to quote what I said on Facebook:

No, I don’t want to talk about how or why I know as much as I do about it, and yes, I agree that piracy is wrong, it’s right that piracy is illegal, people should support artists they love with money, and blah blah blah… we’re not having that conversation here.

And I’m gonna stress that here. We’re not here to discuss the relative morality of torrenting sites, question why I know as much as I do about the site, etc. So that’s the commenting policy. And that includes you, too, NSA, CIA, and FBI.

So anyways… I called What.CD the Library of Alexandria of music, and one of the reasons for that is because What.CD amassed an amazing collection of out of print, rare, hard to find, and/or prohibitively expensive music you basically couldn’t find anywhere else. It was incredible what could be found on What.CD, what new music you could find that you never heard before, and so on. And now that’s gone. Sure, torrent sites are like a massively exagerrated Hydra (shut down one site, a thousand more will pop up in its place), but it’s going to take a seriously long time to rebuild the What.CD Library.

But there could be another way, too… a… perhaps… more legal way… to rebuild a part of that library and make it accessible to everyone…

I know that, despite what many may think, there’s a genuine demand for harder to find music… if there wasn’t, places like What.CD wouldn’t exist. It may not be a huge, world-wide demand, but I have a feeling that it’s a big enough demand to sustain a legal business model.

So the idea is this…

It’d be a streaming/download service like Spotify or Bandcamp, but for out of print, rare, and/or hard to find music and artists. You can download music in MP3 to FLAC or even WAV quality, or simply stream it from the app or site. You get it all either by a subscription fee or by paying for each purchase separately (you have the option to choose between the two, and if you go for the subscription option, you can do monthly, quarterly, yearly, or even one large fee for a lifetime membership). There would be a free option, as well, but it would be very limited (streaming only a certain number of albums per month, no downloads or saving of pictures, etc).

The money made through these revenue streams, and hopefully also from investors, would help to pay for the liberating of this rare music.

Both the app and site would also have a request feature…

So… let’s say you have a favorite band or artist that has an out-of-print album that is just impossible to find nowadays… let’s use Tim Minchin’s only album from his pre-comedy days, Sit, with his band Timmy the Dog, as an example… and you find the app doesn’t have it. You can submit a request form, and your request will go into a que. You would get a response from an actual person within 24 hours letting you know where in the que your request is and how long before anyone is able to go on the hunt for your request, and when you can expect the request to either be fulfilled or closed. You’ll be periodically kept up to date on where your request is in the que, and if the schedule is thrown off, you’ll be notified immediately. There will also be a public page for the album request with this same information for anybody else who’s interested, so they can follow along. Once your request is up at the top of the que, both volunteers and employees would then go on the hunt for the album, even contacting Tim Minchin himself. During the hunt, updates would be emailed to you and put up on the page.

Now, of course, I would expect the company to respect the artist.

If Tim Minchin agrees to release the album through the app, the album would be taken, ripped to a computer, and uploaded to the app with all of the following information:

-Artist Name (if it’s a band or group/collective, then all individual artist names would be included underneath the band/collective name)
-Album Name
-Track Listing
-Full original release date (when it can be found), as well as release date on the app
-Record label and catalog number (when available)
-Matrix number
-Complete artwork (all pages of the booklet, back insert, vinyl case, cassette insert, etc) in the highest quality possible
-Images of the original format (so you’ll see both sides of the vinyl, CD, cassette, or 8-track, or an image of the reel-to-reel)
-Original barcode if available
-Lineage (what format it was ripped from, how it was ripped and with what program and settings, the format it’s in for your download and for streaming)
-100% verified ripping log if available
-Full personnel credits outside the band itself (any extra musicians, including what instruments they play and what tracks they appear on, the musical engineers, etc)
-Any other information that can be put on the page about the album (the story behind the album, the story told if it’s a concept album, some info about how it was recorded, and so on)

If Tim Minchin simply decides he doesn’t want the album out there anymore, then you would receive an email apologizing, and a special page would be made for the album letting people know that, out of respect for the artist, the album will not be released through the app. It would still provide some information about the album (everything I list above that can be obtained without access to the album), but not the music itself. It would probably also include a plea for people not to be angry with an artist for choosing not to release an out of print title of theirs through the app, because the artist might have very good reasons for it.

Of course, we’ll have to go through record labels quite often, but the company would go out of its way to ensure that the artist and/or their estate gets paid what they’re owed for recording and releasing this music.

There would also be no specified genre: so you could find anything from Classical to World Music to Folk to Blues to Big Band to Jazz to Rock to Country to Punk to Grunge to Metal to Funk to Hip Hop to R&B to Rap to EDM to Dubstep and so on. If we banned anything, it would be stuff like Nazi music (I don’t mean anything like old performances of Wagner’s music, BTW… I mean… like… Nazi Punk) and such.

Obviously we would also have artists pages, which would include links to their Facebooks, Myspaces, Twitters, Discogs, Bandcamps, Spotify pages, SoundClouds, websites, and/or any other online pages they may have. If there is none of that for an artist (because they are no longer active as an artist for whatever reason, for example), then the page itself would serve as the main page for that artist.

The information for each individual artist would include links to the app/site pages for any bands and/or collectives they’re in, the labels they’ve released under, any alternative/stage names (exceptions here would be dead names… those would never be included), a list of their complete discography (though the app/site would not include any part of their discography that is easily accessible elsewhere because it’s not out-of-print and/or rare; so the discography would be split between what’s available on the site/app, and for anything more easily available, links to where else you can purchase it, like Amazon or Bandcamp or Spotify or iTunes or Google Music or the band’s/artist’s official site or such), some official images of the artist, a basic biography, and so on.

As for whether or not this has already been done… I realize that Discogs comes pretty close, and yeah, this idea takes inspiration from Discogs (hell… it could very well be a Discogs product if they wanted to do it), but it goes a heck of a lot further than Discogs does, as it’s also a streaming/download service, while also being smaller since it would be dedicated to rare, out of print, and hard to find music.

As for how to handle the downloads… I’m personally a believer in the idea that once you purchase something, it’s yours to do with as you see fit… so no restrictions there. However, legal hoops would make that hard, so the question would be how to find a balance/compromise… it would be nice if there was some way to keep the releases from ending up on torrent sites, but I certainly can’t think of any way to avoid that without needlessly restricting what a consumer can do with the download once they have it to a point of making the whole enterprise pointless…

Oh… and then there would also be the question of how to define “rare” and “out of print” and such. Like… would Jake Holmes’ discography count? His albums are technically out of print, yet you can actually find both of them streaming on Amazon, and you can purchase CD and vinyl copies from third party sellers for both reasonable and unreasonable prices… so would his stuff fit on the app/site, or not?

What about the Nymphs, a short-lived 90s Grunge band, known mainly for their song “Imitating Angels“? I own their EP and their album, and got both for very cheap prices, but through third-party sellers. Their stuff isn’t legally available otherwise from what I can tell (though I could be wrong). Would they count?

What about music that’s available only in specific countries, but not others?

And should we also be a platform for new, small-time, independent artists to release their first album or two? That is… does it count as “rare” if it’s an artist who’s new/relatively unknown releasing their first album and looking for an audience?

What if it’s an out of print original release edition of an otherwise widely available album, like an official digital rip of the very first vinyl pressing of Led Zeppelin I?

Then, of course, how far should we go in excluding certain out of print/hard to find/rare music? Nazi music, sure… that’s easy to not allow. Charles Manson’s music is probably easy to not allow, as well (besides… it’s not very good; yes, I’ve heard some of his music for free… I can’t recommend it; it’s surprisingly boring, banal, cliche Hippy folk). But… I mean… well… at the moment, I can’t think of any other controversial out of print music, but I imagine there’s stuff out there where there would be a legitimate debate over whether or not to include it…

Anyways… that’s my idea. I wonder if it’s possible to implement?


  1. says

    There are old folk dance tunes I would pay money for. Plus it would be nice to replace worn out vinyl from the 1970s without paying full price for a new recording.

  2. says

    I have an old album of napoleonic battle music, recorded at Les Invalides on period instruments. It’s utterly glorious, and has been totally unavailable since 1965 or so. Years ago I found a copy of the vinyl on ebay and snapped it up, then had it digitized by a professional studio, so it won’t get lost. If anyone wants it, I should just upload it to my google drive and let people have it. It’s something that should not be lost. There should be an archive of this sort of stuff.

  3. says

    Every study on “piracy” has reached the same conclusion, whether movies, video games, music or books: people are honest, not thieves. They WILL pay -- and often buy more -- than those who don’t pirate. Abandonware users welcomed sites like Good Old Games because they could get old programs legitimately, with full instruction books, etc.

    There are many groups whose music fell out of print because it was less popular. But in an age where the cost and logistics of physical distribution is no longer an issue, there’s no reason not to make obscure works available. People want to hear it, and they _will_ pay. likely only exists, like abandonware sites, because people can’t get legal copies.

  4. consciousness razor says

    Of course, we’ll have to go through record labels quite often, but the company would go out of its way to ensure that the artist and/or their estate gets paid what they’re owed for recording and releasing this music.

    Well, that sounds rather optimistic, if I’m interpreting it correctly. If history is any guide, a label/publisher doesn’t typically “go out of its way” to treat artists fairly. People certainly didn’t have provisions in their contracts for streaming content many decades ago when much of this was produced, so you can’t simply trust the label’s evaluation of “what the artist is owed” if you’re going to take your responsibility to the artist seriously.

    So, if the mindset is “there’s demand for this music, and this is our easiest/cheapest way to get it,” then all the nice-sounding stuff is just a bunch of noise and you’ve accepted whatever exploitation the label can get away with. You just have a hankering for obscure music, and whatever satisfies that demand is satisfactory. But if you really commit to only doing business on decent terms for the artists (not barely within the laws that labels get to write for themselves) and rejecting offers that don’t live up to a reasonable standard, then you’d be doing alright.

    Of course, that’s much easier said than done. It means more work for your service as well as less output, because many requests would not be fulfilled (even when that would be more profitable for you, increase your catalogue, etc.). But it’s an extremely ambitious goal to begin with (tons and tons of old music out there), so maybe you’re okay with limitations like that, which help you keep it slightly more manageable and less of an absolutely huge project.

    His albums are technically out of print, yet you can actually find both of them streaming on Amazon, and you can purchase CD and vinyl copies from third party sellers for both reasonable and unreasonable prices… so would his stuff fit on the app/site, or not?

    I’m not sure what “unreasonable” prices have to do with it, but whatever…. Are you just trying to increase the scope of this service, to make it a major competitor in the entire market (including music that’s not so obscure)? Is that why you would do this?

    Or is the task (as you seemed to suggest at times) primarily about preservation of work (and historical information) that isn’t otherwise available? If it’s the former, then I doubt many people will be volunteering for it, for the same reasons they don’t volunteer for iTunes and such.

    I’d raise the same questions about “third-party sellers,” as if that was an obstacle. Wouldn’t you be a third party? I’m not sure who you’re referring to, but sometimes it sounds like you just want a big commercial thing to compete with other big commercial things. If that’s your thing, okay, I guess; but in that case, it’s more than a little confusing to hear all of the talk that makes it sound like some kind of public service which is about protecting endangered art or some such thing.

  5. says

    Intransitive @ #4:
    Yeah, I know about those studies. I added the commenting clause to avoid the moralizers who haven’t actually done their research on it.

    consciousness razor @ #5:

    Well, that sounds rather optimistic, if I’m interpreting it correctly. If history is any guide, a label/publisher doesn’t typically “go out of its way” to treat artists fairly.

    By “the company”, I meant my idea, not the record labels. I would want my idea, which would be a company (specifically, a tech company that deals in music collection, archiving, and distribution), to treat artists fairly.

    I don’t know where the rest of your objections come from, though. That’s why I asked those questions in the first place. What actually counts as “rare”, “hard to find”, and “out of print”? Because there would need to be a working definition with parameters.

    On Facebook, I gave a hypothetical scenario: let’s say Beyonce randomly has a demo of recordings she made from before Destiny’s Child became a thing, that she basically gave out on the rare occasions she did live gigs before Destiny’s Child. She suddenly decides she wants to re-release it, and chooses to release it through the company (that is… my idea). Would that count as rare? It would certainly be out of print and otherwise hard to find.

    But that’s why I’m asking those questions.

    It would be a business, and as such, would need to be capable of making money, so that I could afford to both pay employees (like lawyers to navigate the legalities, musicologists, “hunters”, etc) and pay for the music. So what’s a good balance for a scope of “rare, hard to find, and/or out of print” that’s both wide enough to appeal to the largest consumer base but constricted enough to not be meaningless? That’s what I’m trying to tease out, here. Extremely famous artists can also have stuff that out of print, rare, and/or hard to find. Is there a place for them in this idea or no?

    As for “unreasonable prices”… you’ve never been looking for a copy of an album only to find one on e-bay… with an asking price of over $100… I take it? That’s what I mean by third party sellers, as well, BTW. You aren’t getting it from Amazon, but from some person who purchased it themselves back when it was available, and decided to resell it. Maybe “resellers” would have been more accurate than “third party sellers”?

    You seem to be taking my questions as statements. They are questions because I genuinely don’t know how to answer them right now. As I said above… I’m trying to figure out what the balance would be. This would fail miserably if there isn’t some kind of broad appeal, but also would just be yet another Spotify if we don’t have definitive definitions of “rare”, “out of print”, and “hard to find”. So where’s that balance?

  6. consciousness razor says

    As for “unreasonable prices”… you’ve never been looking for a copy of an album only to find one on e-bay… with an asking price of over $100… I take it?

    Well, I’ve also seen paintings sell for millions of dollars, but I wasn’t questioning whether any price could ever be unreasonable, only what specifically you thought that had to do with it.

    If you’re talking about something like an old vinyl record that won’t be made anymore, I understand that you could release new copies in the form of digital files or even CDs for much less. It’s reasonable partly because one type of process is simply much less costly (in terms of time/resources) than the other. And I wouldn’t say a $100 price tag is unreasonable for some old vinyl albums (certainly not all), although I personally don’t collect such things and would have no use for them. Of course, it’s fairly clear that one thing you’re not doing is distributing collectors’ items, so I wouldn’t say you can make a good comparison with an easily-copied/low-quality mp3 ($100 would certainly be off the charts for that).

    But what doesn’t sit well with me is the more general implication that “it’s too expensive” is sufficient motivation (which may only be $10 for some, never mind $100). Artists have to charge whatever they’re charging, in order to make a living. If there’s certain stuff that you can’t afford (or some other person doesn’t want to pay), that’s unfortunate. One nice thing is that copyrights (are supposed to) expire eventually, so older stuff isn’t permanently out of reach.

    You seem to be taking my questions as statements. They are questions because I genuinely don’t know how to answer them right now.

    Okay. My questions/statements were an attempt to address some of the issues you seemed to be dealing with. I knew I was getting mixed signals, so I wanted to make some fairly sharp distinctions to clarify what the primary goals of this proposed service would be. There seem to be good reasons to think you can’t have it both ways (or several different ways), so it may help to look more closely at things which seem to involve the most tension and/or ambiguity.

    Extremely famous artists can also have stuff that out of print, rare, and/or hard to find. Is there a place for them in this idea or no?

    I’m sure Beyonce is more than capable of releasing her own music without your help, if that’s actually what she wants to do. That’s already what big artists and companies do, whenever they think it’s worth it to them, and it doesn’t sound like you would have any way of getting around that. It wouldn’t be any cheaper, more legal, better for artists, etc., than what they’re doing now. It sounds like you’d be another a middleman, who’s also adding more services/features than usual … which makes it sound harder rather than making any of this easier or more likely to happen.

    If it were up to me, I’d prioritize artists who aren’t capable of that on their own, because they’re not so famous, influential, filthy rich, mainstream, etc. No offense to Beyonce or her work, but she could release an old studio cut of her farting for 45 minutes if she wanted to — and for all I know, there might already be some niche audience just aching for it. But the question is what value is this service really adding to the music world, if you play that game? There are millions of great recordings that are genuinely hard to buy; and to me, that sounds very different from vanity projects by Beyonce or Kanye or whoever. The latter will find their way out into the market, whether you want them to or not. So, I mean, it’s just up to them if they want to spend their time on it. But what would your motivation be, and why would they want/need your involvement?

  7. sonofrojblake says

    Re: “rare” -- as far as I can see, recorded music in 2017 is obtainable in exchange for currency in three basic ways:
    (1) buy a piece of physical media (i.e. a CD or, bafflingly, a vinyl record which now seem to be making a comeback) from somewhere like Amazon, or if you want to be especially perversely retro, actually leave your house and spend money on transport to get to something I believe my parents used to call a “shop”. You’ll then need to have that physical copy with you whenever you want to play it, like some sort of caveman, or more likely rip it to your hard drive immediately you get it home.
    (2) download a digital copy that you’ll have to store somewhere and backup somewhere else, from an online store like iTunes. You’ll then need to make sure you’ve got that digital copy on whatever device you use for playing music.
    (3) stream a track from Spotify or whatever other me-too service is trying to be Spotify. All you need for that is a working internet connection and a device that’ll run the app.

    If a track is not obtainable from ANY of those three sources, then as far as I’m concerned it’s “rare”, “hard to find” or whatever you want to call it, and frankly I’d have no problem with anyone who wants to pirate it. It’s 2017 -- there’s not really any reason other than recalcitrance on the part of the artist or greed on the part of whoever why every sound (and video) ever recorded isn’t immediately available at the end of a search query. I assume there are audio equivalents of the Star Wars Holiday Special, things so egregiously shite their creators want them memory-holed but which fans find perversely fascinating. What to do in such cases? Personally I think if an artist ever publicly released a piece of work it’s out there -- George Lucas got paid for that Holiday Special, probably quite handsomely. Just ‘cos he’s (rightly) ashamed of it doesn’t mean it should languish in the archives. But that’s easy for me to say, I’ve never produced a work of art I’m thoroughly ashamed of. But there’s the definition of “rare” for me -- if I can’t get access, legitimately, to a “new” copy, then it’s by definition “hard to find”, even if eBay is awash with second-hand CDs.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    I had another thought about this: today, any scarcity of recorded music is entirely artificial. Today, once you’ve produced one copy of a piece, you can for literally zero cost produce any arbitrary number of perfect copies. On that basis, the fact that ANY piece of recorded music could command a significant price is a scam worthy of De Beers.

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