cheyenne_h on 11/04/2018 at 10:00PM
When I joined this project more than four years ago, I knew I was taking the reins of a project that was truly unique. I would have endless opportunities to sharpen my audio skills, interview great minds and passionate artists, engage with a vibrant and global music community, be an advocate for Creative Commons, and educate the public about copyright and its alternatives. I was right about all of this, but there was so much more to the job. The site, though clearly ‘vintage’ and in need of repair, still functioned well enough for everyone to have their basic needs met.
What I did not realize when I began this journey was that I was being given a rare and precious gift. The Free Music Archive wasn’t just a giant digital repository for shareable audio; it was a complex and constantly changing project with a broad mission and monthly traffic in the millions. When I would tell people what I did for a living, I was shocked at how many of them already knew about FMA.
The original infrastructure degraded and caused ongoing technical issues that we simply lacked the resources to address. It was a challenge that we never quite figured out a working solution to. I am extremely grateful to everyone who offered suggestions, alerts, troubleshooting, reporting, and creative solutions -- and to those who offered their understanding when I revealed that there were only two staffers running the entire FMA and our resources were already overstretched. Our To-Do list was always long and our Wish List even longer.
All of these factors contributed to the situation that we face today: the imminent closure of the Free Music Archive. Its audio collection is being added to the Internet Archive as I write this, and I am pleased to announce that the site will be preserved to the best of our ability in the Wayback Machine. As with our entire operation, nothing has been perfect, but the imperfections were evidence of the ongoing nature of our work and how uncharted these waters are. If anything, the shortcomings of the FMA were a fundamental part of what made it real - if a little annoying at times.
When I announced to artists and curators that the site was going to be suspending operations in late October, I was inundated with replies ranging from grief, to anger, to deep gratitude and well-wishes. This project has changed lives for the better; it has forged entire music careers from simple online posts; it has helped facilitate a new way of approaching music licensing and audio sharing in the digital age. A few short years after our legendary Birthday Song contest, the classic Happy Birthday anthem was rightfully released to the public domain. We cannot take full credit, naturally, but we were part of the creative activism and consciousness-raising around copyright issues that the web has made possible. We are proud to make noise and be joyfully disruptive.
Having been the captain of this rickety ship for years, I share some grief and anger about the huge loss this shuttering represents to musicians, filmmakers, educators, podcasters, radio DJs, video game designers, the Commons, and to the online community at large. But I also have a persistent sense of wonder at the amazing things that this site has made possible: connections spanning continents, age groups, genre affiliations. Real people who made music, being able to share it directly with the public (and sometimes being commissioned to make more, or having work used in media projects and being paid for their art). Netlabels being taken more seriously as legitimate tastemakers and artist collectives. Putting names and faces to songs and, by sharing freely, underscoring the complexity and vibrance of human expression. Demonstrating that you can, indeed, distribute music online for free, legally, with permission from artists. Proving that sharing can actually be a way to make a living.
It wasn’t all silver linings and happy fun times, though. Losing people in the community during my tenure was rough. Seeing the tenderness and care that was offered to friends, family, and colleagues of those who had passed away was humbling, and gave me pause. This site has preserved many artistic legacies, that they may live on and continue to enrich the world. We did our best to shine a light on the recordings left behind by the people who not only made wonderful music, but also gifted it to the Commons.
The unlikely collaborations and artistic freedom that the Free Music Archive has fostered and facilitated will always be a point of pride for me as director of this project. I have made lifelong friends because of the Free Music Archive, and expanded my musical knowledge beyond my wildest imagination.
So this is goodbye, for now, and all I have to say is thank you so very much for being part of this moment, with these people, on this rock in space. The humanity of the archive was its strength, its weakness, and what made it truly special. It had heart in an often heartless world. This project gave me faith in people and the power of their creativity to connect with one another. In the end, I wasn’t just a librarian, I was a tour guide, switchboard operator and emissary for a vital artistic community, and for that I will always be grateful.
May the music play on forever.