The State of the Commons, Part Two

In the last column to occupy this sub-sector of the void, I wrote about the repositories of permissively licensed content that I frequent most. Those repos I wrote about last time are primarily hosts of completed works; they’re built to be perused in a fashion similar to the way we amble (or, used to) aimlessly up and down record store aisles. Alternatively, there’s a lot of other audio floating around the Internet that doesn’t exactly fit the bill as songs or albums. The niche I’m currently at work clumsily describing to you is the collaborative. Allow me to entrance you in a vision of the web as a workshop (as opposed to a retail floor).

Net audio is stunningly diverse. One must travel beyond Facebook and Netflix to be reminded, but the web is an extremely deep and broad body of data created by innumerable individuals. Since 2010, the number of pieces of Free Cultural Work that can be found on the web and are CC-licensed (or released under CC0) has grown from approximately 160 million to nearly 500 million. If we count all the varieties of CC licenses, including CC0 (most permissive) and those that contain No Derivatives and/or Non-Commercial clauses (most restrictive), that number of pieces grows to 882 million.

The collaborative scene and its participation rate is not as easy to quantify, but one widely known gathering place, CCMixter, constitutes an encouraging proof-of-concept as a microcosmic sharing economy. CCMixter was founded as a project of non-profit Creative Commons and has grown into an “international community of 40,000 musicians, [creating] all original pells and samples and then [co-creating] completed tracks collaboratively.”

When recording music, different sound-sources are usually recorded on separate tracks (also known as stems). The synthesis of these individual tracks into one finalized piece is known as mixing; the results of this final mixing (and mastering) stage is what listeners are usually shopping for. On the other hand, producers looking to whip up an original mix of liberally licensed samples from all over the globe or solo performers in need of some funky drum loops can browse a plethora of exciting pliable material at CCMixter. Anyone can upload samples and stems. If using material found at their site to construct something, one can upload the new collaborative work back up to their servers.

CCMixter is certainly the most central, visible, and vocal community of CC-license-loving collaborative sound providers, but innumerable smaller communities and artists release stems and samples. Artists such as Brad Sucks, Space Weirdo, and Weldroid release these fragments on their own sites. The Cypherfunks are building a “currency & band [which] are completely decentralized,” and are soliciting complete works and samples towards that end. Freesound, The Internet Archive, and Unsplash also come to mind as locations to visit where licenses are explicit and free content is bountiful. Unsplash is an outstanding source of CC0 (effectively Public Domain) photography. Freesound is great for finding sounds from mechanical oddities to radio bumpers and stingers. The Internet Archive is THE library of the internet. Audio, video, photography, and text are waiting there to be propagated further in the honorable human tradition of consumption, comprehension, adaptation, derivation, creation.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit