Muxtape shows the major labels still don’t get it

Sasha Frere-Jones at The New Yorker has an interview with Muxtape founder Justin Ouellette about his website. For those who don’t know what Muxtape is, Frere-Jones explains:

My favorite development on the Web in 2008 was Muxtape. The idea was useful and its execution was satisfyingly simple. Users could upload MP3s to the Muxtape server and make mixtapes of up to twelve songs each. Muxtape then rendered the mixtape visually as a vertical list in 36-point Helvetica on a single Web page. Click on a title, and the sequence would play in order. Editing and managing tapes was easy and all you needed to create a mix was an e-mail address. Each muxtape had its own URL, like sfj.muxtape.com.

Predictably and depressingly, the RIAA and major labels threatened to sue and Ouellette had to take Muxtape down. As he explains:

Major labels know that charging for streaming will be big business as they move forward, especially as traditional sales decline. The promotional value of streaming, however real it may be right now, isn’t big enough to keep labels from charging for it. The problem is that the price they demand is only realistic for an operation the size of MySpace. The labels would rather shut a site like Muxtape down than make a deal proportional to its size. I agree that it doesn’t make much sense.

And there you have it: the tale of the economic decline of music publishing in one esay anecdote. Muxtape has the potential to be the next Napster. It’s hard to believe labels would be this stupid …  oh hang on.

Happily, Muxtape is back with a limited set of artists who have negotiated directly with Oullette, including some pretty well-known acts such Of Montreal and Girl Talk. It will be interesting to see how the site develops, but I’m tipping it as one to watch in 2009.

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