Awsm.fm is a digital multimedia scrapbooking app that regards copyright issues with a gleeful abandon, allowing users to pick images and group them with text, tags and uploaded songs. But, licensing aside, the app does allow users to display their lovely and deeply sensitive tastes in pop music and evocative photography.
The Awsm.fm user interface borrows liberally and haphazardly from a few sites we know and love, notably Vimeo. It's a very new product and is still buggy with a UX that's less than intuitive and occasionally frustrating.
Although there is an attempt to attribute the uploaded songs by incorporating existing track information and letting users edit the artist and track title, there is no standardized way to link back to the music creator or ensure any work on the site is licensed for this kind of sharing. Images do link back to their original source, which may but will not always satisfy the copyright holder.
Here's an example of an Awsm.fm post, featuring an image, some text, a few tags, a comment box and a song I uploaded:
You can check out this profile page to see more Awsm.fm posts we created.
As I've written in the past, users have been given more and more tools for grabbing, spreading and remixing content over the past 10 years since Napster's birth. Most of those tools have been free or nearly so, and many of them border on piracy or explicitly enable it.
The founder of Awsm.fm, who introduced himself to us as "Wan," wrote that he is "sad by the lost of imeem, muxtape" and "frustrated at not being able to listen to lala.com." A self-proclaimed indie music fan and programmer, Wan has created a tool that does something to help distribute independent music to listeners but nothing to help independent musicians track and profit from their music.
However, as legendary rock music producer Steve Albini wrote in a comment on the above-linked post, "Internet file sharing is profoundly beneficial to bands in that it serves to promote them to a worldwide audience at no cost... I saw it in action myself last year when my band conducted hugely profitable tours of both South America and Eastern Europe, including places like Croatia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Turkey, where our music has virtually no formal distribution. People came to our shows, knew our music and bought anything we had to sell them. They were familiar with us because the Internet allowed them to hear our music for free, and they developed a taste for it."
While independent musicians may receive some ancillary benefit from users' getting to hear and distribute their music free of charge, other copyright-holding songwriters hold opinions very different from Albini's. We read about lawsuits over this kind of issue every year, and as a musician myself, I certainly wouldn't want a stranger scattering my songs to the four winds without my being able to track and monetize those listens, likes, shares and web traffic. There is, after all, something to be said for putting Ramen on the table of every starving artist.
Note: For demo purposes, I've uploaded images that belong to me and close friends and music from bands I support and/or went to college with. Because I'm using their content and they deserve the plug, check out Chris Merritt if you're into indie-type pop rock and Year Long Disaster if you're of a more head-banging persuasion.
For revenue, the site seems to plan on sponsored posts and advertising. If Wan has any idea about the cost of hosting and playing copyrighted music, he might consult imeem (sold at a huge loss because licensing fees were overwhelming the company) or Pandora (just now beginning to see profitability as a possibility), he must have some radically profitable alternatives up his sleeve.
What do our musician/music startup friends have to say about Awsm.fm? Is it, as the name would imply, simply and clearly awesome - both for users and for the musicians they want to promote or share? Or is it just more 2.0 content theft? Let us know what you think in the comments.