Business Matters: If Big Radio Had Pandora's Royalty Rate, It Would Owe Billions
Business Matters: If Big Radio Had Pandora's Royalty Rate, It Would Owe Billions

Topspin Media has launched a product called ArtistLink that allows developers to tap into the metadata of Topspin GoDirect artists. GoDirect is TopSpin's direct-to-fan platform that's free for users of Artist.MTV or $9.99 for artists who subscribe directly through Topspin.

ArtistLink is an API (application-programming interface), a term you've probably read a lot lately. Last week NARM's Digitalmusic.org launched an API directory to help developers, for example. You're going to see a lot more about music-related APIs in the coming weeks and months.

APIs allow businesses to show their locations inside Google Maps and people to register for websites using only their Facebook accounts. The big hoo-ha over Facebook's Open Graph launch last year involved developers from Spotify, Ticketfly, iHeartRadio and other services tapping into Facebook's social connections through Facebook's API.

Inside Blue Note Records' Dazzling Spotify App

Blue Note's new Spotify app was enabled because Spotify opened up its API to developers last year, a move that has made the service more valuable. The app was developed by Manchester, England-based RetroFuzz. Spotify offers dozens of apps from a variety of third parties, and you'll hear more from Blue Note soon. A yet-to-be-launched Blue Note app will be the result of EMI's OpenEMI initiative, a partnership with the Echo Nest that allows developers to work with licensed EMI content.

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Whether it's Spotify or Topspin or SoundCloud or OpenEMI, the ideas behind an open API is the same: division of labor, specialization and free trade. Developers are really good at creating applications that turn ideas into consumer-driven products, but they're not good at the little things that go along with working with licensed digital content; lawyers and record executives are generally bad at creating applications but really good at the legal stuff. Spotify could probably do a pretty good job at building apps, but it's better off focusing on its platform and mobile products.

The ArtistLink API allows for a division of labor in another way. You may have heard Topspin CEO Ian Rogers talk about how artists should focus on regularly reaching out to their fans ("do one small thing weekly, one big thing each month") and fostering a direct relationship. Metadata should be one less thing for an artist to worry about, Rogers says. "It's actually not even possible to update the pages that are places for you."

But Topspin has more than metadata. It has the engines of free trade in the digital music era: free MP3s. Biographies and photographs are "low-hanging-fruit pain points," Rogers says. "We arguably have one of the largest repositories of freely available digital music in the form of free downloads in exchange for email addresses and streams for streaming players. Giving folks access to that means expanding access to the places can build their fan connections, but also just making those outlets better. When I was at Yahoo! Music, if I would have wired free downloads into all my artists pages, that would have been good for everybody."

There are some limitations on what a developer can do with the content. Rogers explains that developers must respect whatever restrictions artists have placed on their content. So if an artist has required that an email must be acquired in exchange for a free MP3 download, the MP3 cannot be given away for free. And Topspin wants a link back to Topspin to artists know where to edit the data.

"My goal is to have every artist on the planet using Topspin's platform, and they can all do that for free," Rogers said. "Hopefully they're going to find the other things Topspin does useful and they'll use us for commerce, they'll use us for ticket sales, they'll use us for big giveaway campaigns where they upgrade. But to do the basics, to just get your metadata to all these services, is part of the free program."

One company that didn't open an API to developers was Apple. It created a social network, Ping, which was closed off from the world. Perhaps not surprisingly, it will be shut down after September 30.

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