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RTA student to launch free website to share indie music

by Archives October 21, 2008

A team of Ryerson University students is attempting to change the way music is made available online by creating a program that they hope will rival websites like YouTube and MySpace Music. Their plan has excited panellists who heard the idea just one week ago.
“It’s going to be a revolutionary way to broadcast music,” said John Tanner, a fourth-year radio and television arts (RTA) student and mastermind behind the operation.
“It’s not just going to be for listeners and fans, but for producers who might want to invest money in artists and take them into mainstream media,” Tanner said.
Currently in its early stages, Project TrebleTrail aims to make international, independent music more accessible to users via “peer to peer” (P2P) technology – a form of file sharing that allows large amounts of music to be downloaded and uploaded in a relatively short period of time. The form of P2P technology Tanner and his team plan to use will be similar to that used by other popular file sharing programs like Limewire. For some team members this project will count as part of their practicum – a component of their course that tries to help students make real-world contacts while gaining experience.
According to Tanner, artists will make their own demos, albums and single tracks (either professionally or independently) and then post them on the website. From there, users can freely access the music by searching parts of the world, checking out songs that have been rated by other users, or by perusing the featured category which will highlight the track or album with the largest number of “hits” (downloaded the most times).
“The closest thing to us right now is MySpace Music,” Tanner said.
“What makes us different is that there’s no big executive telling us what to feature or to make available to our users,” Tanner said, adding that the purpose of this project is to provide relatively unknown artists with more exposure.
Henry Warwick, an RTA professor at Ryerson who formerly worked on the once hugely popular Napster, thinks Tanner and his team’s idea has a lot of potential.
“It’s a high-risk project,” said Warwick, who was also on the panel that listened to Tanner’s pitch.
“It’s really up to John and his team. If things go wrong, it can really fan out and burst into flames, but if they succeed, it can be brilliant,” Warwick said, adding that the beauty of the site is that it will allow users to access virtually all of the free music they could want in one place.
“The purpose of the site is to provide free music to people who want to give it away for free,” Warwick said. “If (John) practices due diligence in finding support from independent labels and musicians and finds an attractor to get people onto the site, then it can be wildly successful.
“This can potentially be the iTunes of free music,” said Warwick.
The idea for this project was born overseas. Last summer, Tanner travelled to the Greek island of Crete and was exposed to many genres of music he had never heard before.
“I heard this really good music and thought to myself, ‘How can I get this out there to the rest of the world?'” Tanner said.
He then brought the idea to a musician he met in Crete and found that the idea was accepted with enthusiasm. Tanner then returned to Canada and did research to see how he could turn his idea into a reality. He looked into copyright issues and consulted with Internet company owners to get a better understanding of what he was getting into.
Last week, Tanner presented his idea to about 140 other students in Ryerson’s RTA program and four panellists. He said the feedback he got was extremely positive.
The project also received great praise from Sean Wise, venture capitalist and professor of business management at Ryerson. Wise met privately with Tanner to discuss the project early last week.
But as with any file sharing application, issues of copyright often come to the forefront.
Critics of such applications often point out that mainstream hits are posted (and subsequently downloaded and uploaded) under different names so the user is unaware of what they’re accessing.
Tanner and his team, however, argue they will be insulated from this problem because the authorities usually go after the person who is actually violating copyright law, not the medium that is used to commit the offence.
Matthew Fisher, a fourth-year RTA student and an executive member of Tanner’s team, said the site will be monitored for violations and even if laws are broken, the authorities generally ask that the material be removed before any penalties are enforced.
The website’s first working model is scheduled for completion within the next few weeks. The final version is to be launched in the first quarter of 2009.
Tanner said that while the initial startup cost of the project is relatively small – his server costs have been covered and some of his team is volunteering – he is looking for a financer and will be holding fundraising events on a regular basis.

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