The party is over

After 7 years, 113 releases and a couple of hundred thousand downloads I’ve decided to stop with Sonic Walker. It is a difficult decision as I love music, enjoy mixing and met some great people along the way.

Lack of audience and feedback

In spite of thousands of downloads, community feedback has always been low and when large netaudio portals like the Netaudio Catalogue and Starfrosch closed years ago, download numbers collapsed and never recovered. It seems that with the rise of commercial digital audio platforms there is less interest for free and legal to download alternatives. Months ago the netaudio online radio Subflow also stopped. Subflow had been playing Sonic Walker mixes regularly and had hundreds of listeners. Without an audience the main motivation for doing this is gone.

Copyright law and Creative Commons licenses

While I believe that the current copyright laws are flawed and need to be changed, the solution that I saw in Creative Commons for DJing and DJ mixes wasn’t what I had hoped for. While Creative Commons theoretically offers an interesting alternative licensing model, the reality is complex and just as flawed, especially since most netaudio artists and labels choose the more restrictive and limiting NonCommercial (NC), ShareAlike (SA) and NonDerivatives (ND) licenses.

While many netlabels are also commercially active, because of the NonCommercial (NC) licenses they often use, Sonic Walker was never able to generate any sort of income through donations, ads or products like t-shirts to cover the costs or invest in marketing activities, yet we’ve been promoting hundreds of artists and labels for years. NC also means that playing the music at parties is practically impossible as every official party is at some point commercial. Personally I don’t think that this is what the artists who certainly want to be heard intended.

ShareAlike (SA) sounds good and I’ve been happy to share under the same license, but SA is very incompatible with other licenses, making it difficult to use in derivative works like mixes and films.

NonDerivatives (ND) licenses are basically preventing any sort of re-use or remix, which to me was the most attractive idea behind Creative Commons in the first place and a main reason to start a DJ-mix netlabel. A DJ mix is considered a derivative work and therefore I’ve tried to get permission from labels to use their work in our mixes (19 labels responded positively). When creating mixes this has been a very limiting and frustrating factor as some of the best releases use a ND license, usually in combination with NonCommercial (NC).

Last but not least Creative Commons licenses don’t give any legal warranties. Just because a work is licensed under Creative Commons it does not mean that it is save and legal to use. Often enough I’ve found netaudio releases with a Creative Commons license that clearly violate copyright laws. This has been a reason why we didn’t feature certain music styles in the past as often as we would have liked. As a publisher who doesn’t have legally binding contracts with the labels or artists (who are often anonymous) of the tracks in the mix, there is a certain legal risk I am not willing to take any longer.

Lack of contributors

When I tightened the submission rules to reflect the issues regarding the Creative Commons licenses mentioned above, most contributing Sonic Walker DJs dropped off. Other DJs moved on in life and are not involved with netaudio any longer. I always wanted Sonic Walker to be more than just the outlet of my own mixes but have failed to create a vivid community of netaudio DJs.

The future

Sonic Walker might come back after a break in a different form. For a while I have to focus on other things in life, recharge the batteries and I want to see where the netaudio scene and Creative Commons is going.