In today’s economy it's tough for musicians to make a living on album sales and streaming revenues alone. Most artists make the bulk of their earnings off things like touring and merchandise. But Moby, who has been making electronic music since the '80s, has a slightly different approach. He’s been giving his tracks away to fans on BitTorrent, a service well-known for piracy, and distributing the raw song files to other musicians to remix using a new service called Blend.io. "The digital present we live in, you can’t control things, can’t lock them down," Moby told The Verge. "The best way to make a living as musician, I find, is to set this stuff free and let the love come back to you."
"As for the music, I think of it like a hive mind."Moby put a package of four songs, three videos, and the chunks of instrumentation to be remixed (called stems) from his new album Innocents into what’s known as a BitTorrent bundle. The bundle was free but it required an email address, linking out to iTunes where fans could buy the rest of the album. It’s a spin on the freemium model that has become so popular among apps: give something away in order to collect customer data and up-sell the rest.
His bundle has been downloaded 8.9 million times, making Moby the most downloaded artist on BitTorrent in 2013. That includes bundles from other artists and also puts him ahead of some of the biggest musicians in the world today, names like Rhianna, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West, who topped out at 5.7 million downloads according to BitTorrent. "The predictable trajectories of putting out a record and going on tour are gone," says Moby. "It drives record label executives crazy, but personally, I find the chaos kind of exciting."
"It drives record label executives crazy, but personally I find the chaos kind of exciting." Today Moby is releasing his newest single "Almost Home" on Blend.io, a startup backed by Betaworks, the same New York incubator behind Digg’s relaunch. Anyone can download the song — not just as a music file to listen to, but as raw source code in formats that work with professional music software programs like Ableton Live, ProTools and GarageBand. This makes it far easier for anyone to remix or reuse the song, since they can change the music at its most molecular level.
Blend.io has been compared to Github, the wildly popular service for computer programmers that allows anyone to share their code so that others can make changes to it without disrupting the original. Often in open source software projects, if someone suggests an improvement that works, the creator can use Github to easily push those changes to the source code. "As for the music, I think of it like a hive mind," says Moby. "We’re moving to an age that is less proprietary, more collective and communal. I like some of the ideas I come up, but my feeling is the next track or next album will always be better with more people and more ideas in the mix."
Because he’s independent, Moby can set his own rules for how his music is used. Artists who use tracks from Blend.io aren’t require to pay any fees and can even sell their reworked versions as their own. It’s a brave new world that likely won’t work for everyone, but it gives Moby a powerful platform for spreading his art — something he believes leads to long-term commercial success. "If someone took my files and made a version of the song that was more popular than mine, that would be awesome."