Behind the Scenes of The Demise of Muxtape

muxtape logoWell, it’s official, Muxtape as you know it is dead. The wildly popular mix tape sharing service has fallen victim to the RIAA/music label’s desire to maintain a stranglehold on music distribution. Although no lawsuit was every formally filed, the threat of one was enough to convince Muxtape’s founder Justin Ouellette to shut the service down.

Muxtape will be reborn as a music sharing site for indie bands — kind of a MySpace music without the MySpace. And of course Favtape recently relaunched as a Muxtape replacement, so if you’re looking for the functionality of Muxtape, we’d suggest giving the new Favtape a try.

But while there may be alternatives to Muxtape, the story of its demise is depressing news for music fans. Contrary to popular opinion, Muxtape did not survive for as long as it did because it flew below the RIAA’s radar, in fact the RIAA and several labels contacted Ouellette within a week of Muxtape’s launch. The story goes downhill from there:

Around the same time I got a call from the VP of anti-piracy at one of the majors. After I picked up the phone his first words were, “Justin, I just have one question for you: where do I send the summons and complaint?”

Despite some shaking beginnings Ouellette managed to keep things going and felt that Muxtape had value (as it obviously did) and even the labels agreed, at least privately.

I always told myself I’d remove any artist or label that contacted me and objected, no questions asked. Not a single one ever did. On the contrary, every artist I heard from was a fan of the site and excited about its possibilities. I got calls from the marketing departments of big labels whose corporate parents were supposed to be outraged, wanting to know how they get could their latest acts on the home page. Smaller labels wanted to feature their content in other creative ways.

But of course bands are not their own masters and market departments don’t run the labels. Eventually the middlemen (henchmen? Record labels? Semantics really) stepped in. Ouellette tentatively agreed to some licensing deals, but the record companies kept coming back with additional requirements and restrictions.

The first red flag came in August. Up until then all the discussion had been about numbers, but as we closed in on an agreement the talk shifted to things like guaranteed placement and “marketing opportunities.” I was denied the possibility of releasing a mobile version of Muxtape. My flexibility was being constricted.

In the end Ouellette shut the service down because the RIAA filed a complaint with Amazon (AWS was hosting the site and its files). “Over the next week I learned a little more, mainly that the RIAA moves quite autonomously from their label parents and that the understanding I had with them didn’t necessarily carry over,” he writes.

Frustrated, Ouellette walked away from the tangled mess of licensing deals and decided to shutdown Muxtape as we knew it.

And so it goes.

Of course we’re hoping that the reborn version of Muxtape catches on with independent musicians and bands, and with Favtape offering features somewhat like Muxtape, maybe users can take their cake back from the RIAA. And eat it too.

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