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cheyenne_h on 07/20/2016 at 12:08PM

"It's all about experimentation:" an Interview with Steve Combs, CC Composer

Part of a collage from Steve Combs. Used with permission.

Sometimes we get curious about our artists. Steve Combs is one of those great artists that came out of nowhere (and started on FMA as a contributor for our microSong and Masters Remastered challenges), and has been contributing tons of CC-BY goodness to FMA for more than a year now. We wanted to know more about Steve and his musical background, so we asked him a few questions. Read on!

FMA: Give us a little background about yourself.
SC: My name is Steve Combs, I’m from New York's scenic Hudson Valley, and I compose the hell out of little electronic jingles. I've been doing this since March of 2014, and in the past two and a half years, I’ve put out somewhere around 300 songs under my own name, as well as another 50 or so through various side projects. Pro-tip: remixing your first eight albums in their entirety is a great way to build up your catalog.

FMA: You're a very prolific composer. What inspires you to write music?
SC: I don’t usually use the word "write," since I never actually write anything down beforehand. I say I make music, because my approach to making music has always revolved around improvisation: I'll sit down at the computer and play around with the keyboard until I happen upon a chord progression or a beat that I like, record 4 or 8 bars of it, and layer complimentary parts on top of it. Once I have all of that A section, I'll spread it out and throw together a B or C section in the same way until I have a full song. So there's really never a moment for me where I feel moved to write a song - they're all just the result of me sitting down and seeing what happens. But on the broad scale, I think I compose music because I'm fundamentally fascinated with musical theory and want to see what I can do with it. Instrumental music seems to me to be the best way to explore that, since I can use whatever scale, time signature, or instrumentation that I want without worrying about it being accessible. I do tend to write hook-based major key songs, but I've also done an electro-orchestral concept album and free jazz interludes and president-sampling EDM, so I think that level of possibility and freedom to create whatever is a big part of why I do this. I think it's all about experimentation, and seeing how I can use music in new and interesting ways.

FMA: Do you enjoy collaboration with other artists/musicians?
SC: This is actually a really serendipitous question, since I just did a split LP with the FMA’s own Simon Mathewson for Netlabel Day. It’s called Notes and boasts 9 new songs - 3 of mine, 2 of his, and 4 that we did together.
(Also, while I’m doing plugs, I have a new album of my own out called To Kill A Messenger, which is 11 songs, most of which were on my Comma and Apostrophe EPs, but also 4 new songs - including a cover of "On The Banks of the Wabash," the state song of Indiana.)
But to actually answer the question, yeah, collaboration is always fun. I haven’t done as much of it as I'd like to, because it's more work than just churning songs out on my own, but I've done a few here and there, and have always enjoyed it. Working with Simon or The Pardos or James Dean Claitor (with whom I wrote "Irascible," which is on my album Anaheim) is always rewarding and always produces something I find worth listening to.

FMA: Why did you choose the Free Music Archive as a music distribution platform?
SC: I honestly think the FMA is the perfect distribution platform for anyone who works in non-jazz instrumental music, because with the exception of Yanni, we don’t really have an avenue to success that doesn't involve being used as background music. People don't really listen to instrumental music the same way they listen to punk rock, pop, or country. I had to make peace with the fact that my albums aren't going to be anyone's favorites. But what surprised me once I started using the FMA, and what seemed kind of paradoxical, was that once people saw my music as a commodity, something to be used, they actually appreciated it way more than they did when I was pushing it like you would push pop music. Once it was of use to them, they actually listened to it. So in the process of discovering this platform, I had to change how I pictured what "success" was for my music - I'm never going to hit the Billboard charts, but there are people that listen to and like my music, not just for what it is on its own, as art, but for what it is to them. I imagine this is what ambient artists felt like when spas and yoga studios started playing their music in the background. Moods of the Rainforest, Volume 4 finally found a home! Someone appreciates it!
So to circle back to the actual question, I chose the FMA because it provided me with a level of appreciation I never would have gotten had I not made those realizations. The most immediate feeling of success that I get from my music is seeing that a song on a new album put out the day before is already in the background of someone's vlog or podcast. That’s pretty much why I use the FMA.

FMA: How did you find out about Creative Commons licenses?
SC: Honestly, when I saw the little tab on Bandcamp that lets you change your licensing when I put out my first song. I had no idea what it was, so I followed a link and learned about this amazingly simple, amazingly ingenious system. It had never occurred to me how needlessly complicated copyright was, and especially as I grew to accept that I was making background music, it seemed like such a great fit. The idea that people can use your songs in their cat videos and you don't have to sue them? It’s revolutionary.


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cheyenne_h on 06/28/2016 at 01:51PM

Not All Music on FMA is Licensed for Video

Some of our music is just for listening. Sorry video-making friends! (image via flickr commons)

Just a friendly reminder.

We know, the FMA is a great resource for all sorts of people - filmmakers, remix artists, people who wanna hear strange new sounds - but we've been getting a LOT of messages lately from confused people about whether or not they can use X song in Y video.

It depends on the license, and how you intend to use the music, my friend! And best of all, you can find out all the information you need on your own. There are tons of resources out there to help.

We have a robust FAQ (complete with webinar!) about which licenses are suitable for video here. But here are some basics:

1. ND or No Derivatives: If you want to use a track from FMA for a video, you are not allowed to use anything with an "ND" or "No Derivatives" clause in the license. You must get further permission from the artist in order to use it for a video.

2. NC or Non Commercial: If you want to use a track for commercial purposes (including a monetized YouTube video, a real estate listing, or a video telling people about a product or service that costs money), anything with a "NC" or "Non Commercial" clause is not pre-cleared for this type of use. If you want to use it for a commercial purpose, you must get further written permission from the artist, and possibly pay for a license to use the song.

3. SA or Share Alike: If you want to use a track that is licensed CC BY-SA "Share Alike" or CC BY-NC-SA, you are required by that license to share your own work under the identical license. If you can't, or don't want to, do this, you must get further written permission from the artist. (Noticing a pattern yet?)

4. BY or Attribution: Anything with a CC license with "BY" or "Attribution" in it means you must give credit to the artist, but that's it. You can use it for whatever you want, even derivative works like videos and remixes. If you don't want to, or can't give attribution in your derivative work (such as a video)... guess what? You have to get further permission from the artist! (Now you're getting it!)

We have pre-screened a lot of stuff and it's tucked neatly in the Music For Video curator page (though this includes NC and SA tracks - so make sure to look for the license you need). You can also use stuff from our Public Domain collection without attributing or getting permission from the artist.

If you need guidance, please consult our FAQs, License Guide or read up on the Creative Commons website before asking - you may find the answer right in front of you!

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cheyenne_h on 04/13/2016 at 10:30AM

"The Daily Dose" Documentary Soundtracked With FMA's Help

A screenshot from the film.

A little while back, we got an email inquiring about using a song from the Free Music Archive for a documentary film. We get requests like this a lot, and sometimes the filmmakers aren't as fluent in CC licenses as we are. Since the song was CC BY-NC-ND, it wasn't licensed for use in film or derivative works. But we put our heads together and tracked down the right people to ask for permission.

Jackie Ruth Murray, the South African filmmaker who contacted us, co-runs a production company called Reel Epics Productions in Cape Town. She found out about the FMA via a web search and was looking for music to score her short documentary film, "The Daily Dose," an autobiographical account of taking antiretroviral medication.

The film has recently been selected to screen at the Encounters International Documentary Festival, a South African documentary film fest that also hosts classes and film industry related events.

CH: How did you search for music, and what did you find?

JRM: I searched for a general genre which i felt was fitting for the narrative of my film. I then narrowed it down to approximately 10 songs which supported the tempo of my film. I found a song titled “Heaven is The Other Way” by Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys. The song is written by the band’s frontman, Robert Williams. The lyrics of the song uncannily match the message of my film.

CH: Do you prefer Creative Commons music to fully copyrighted music?

JRM: I don’t have much experience with fully copyrighted music. However before finding FMA, I did originally attempt to acquire a licence for a song which was fully copyrighted. My search became very laborious as i was directed to a number of different companies. I eventually gave up for lack of clear directive and because of the length of time that it took.

CH: Was the process of contacting the artist/record label intimidating or difficult?

JRM: My experience with FMA was not in the least bit intimidating or difficult.  The director of FMA, Cheyenne Hohman was extremely helpful and timely in her responses to my enquiries. She assisted me in contacting Bill Hunt from Cow Island Music, the band’s record label. Bill put me in touch with Robert Williams from Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys. I sent Robert a link to my film to give him an idea of how i wanted to use his song. Robert was very open and willing for his song to be used and even went so far as contacting the record licence companies, Yep Rock and BMG to give his permission for me to use his song. From there, BMG and Yep Rock speedily organised the licence for me. I then received an email from The David Gresham Music Company here in South Africa, who arranged the music licence for me. They took the fact that i made my documentary on a next-to-nothing budget with no commercial gain purposes into account and gave me a discount which i was very grateful for. To sum up, i was blown away with the support i received from all involved.

CH: Did the FMA help you achieve your goal of using this piece of music?

JRM: Yes, as explained above, absolutely. The FMA also helped me understand the Creative Commons legalities.

CH: How did you ultimately end up using the song?

JRM: I used the song in its entirety and split it into three consecutive parts: for the introduction of the film, as a link between act 1 and three of the film and finally for the end of the film.

CH: Will you use the Free Music Archive for projects in the future?

JRM: I have told my colleagues at Reel Epics Productions about the FMA and we will definitely be using the archive for future projects.

You can find out more about the film at https://www.facebook.com/thedailydosedocumentary/

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cheyenne_h on 07/07/2015 at 02:15PM

Free Music for Video Makers

 

We've been getting a few questions about using music in videos again! We're always happy to field questions, but I'd like to share a video of the webinar that Elliot Harmon of Creative Commons and I hosted earlier this year, which will walk you through the basics of using music from the Free Music Archive in your next video production. For more in-depth Q&A, please visit our Video FAQ. If you're just looking for music to use in a video, cruise over to our "Music For Video" curator portal. 

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cheyenne_h on 01/20/2015 at 09:45AM

Video Makers: Your Webinar Awaits! January 21st at 3PM EST

"The Royal Navy Instructional Film Unit, 19 August 1942. A11506" by Royal Navy official photographer, Ware, C J (Lt) - http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//7/media-7112/large.jpgThis is photograph A 11506 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Hi FMA'ers! 

If you make videos, or you make music for videos, or you just like learning new stuff, tune in tomorrow to our webinar! We'll be allowing a few guests in to our Hangout and then broadcasting for everyone else. 

The webinar is here, on YouTube

Special guest and Creative Commons expert Elliot Harmon will be co-hosting with Cheyenne. We'll show you around the Free Music Archive (including where to find license and contact info for artists), run through the basics of Creative Commons licenses and how to use CC tracks in videos, and show you how you can license your work under Creative Commons (spoiler: it's easy!). 

We're looking forward to seeing you there! If you can't make it, we'll be archiving the webinars so you can watch later. 

Next week, we'll host one for K-12 teachers, and in early February we'll have one for you musical types. 

Hooray! 

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