Funding Approved! - CARAS Project: Virtual Platform for Experimentation with New Avenues of Electronic Music Distribution
Published Tuesday March 10th, 2009 from Ontakesan Dorm, Oota-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Listening to Deadmou5, feeling good.

A little while ago I mentioned that I had submitted a CARAS grant proposal titled, "Virtual Platform for Experimentation with New Avenues of Electronic Music Distribution" with the help of Dr. Jean-Julien Aucouturier, the instructor for my Intro to Cybermedia course at TUJ. Today I was notified that my submission had been approved for funding! The proposal, a collaboration between Dr. Aucouturier and myself, is reproduced below.


Project Proposal

The wide-spread use of computer networks and mp3 compression jeopardizes the century-long standards of the music industry - in ways that are still poorly understood. Academic research so far has failed to establish a clear link between Napster-like music file-sharing and the decreasing album sales reported by the industry [1]. Conversely, the much-vaunted new business models of Internet distribution struggle to deliver their promises [2]. These are the times that try men's souls - as well as their projections of what will be the future of music in the next 10 years. Especially difficult is the extraordinary cost to experiment with new ways to distribute music. Typical album launch budgets are in the millions of dollars; advertisement channels are increasingly consolidated and hard to access; wide-spread Internet exposure requires the industrial horse-power of Apple and Facebook, or the mass appeal of Radiohead.

Introduced in 2003, the virtual world of Second-Life (managed by the Linden Labs company) is a computer-based recreation of the real-world, entirely built by its users - now a thriving community of over 1,400,000 active people of all ages and cultures. Besides entertainment, Second-Life (hereafter SL) is increasingly used for academic research, education, corporate training and collaboration. Companies do business in SL, some of them only in SL. As in every human society, music plays an important role in SL: users are routinely found dancing in virtual clubs, attending virtual concerts streamed live from the real-world by real musicians, playing virtual instruments they cannot play in the real-world, buying1 virtual albums and donning virtual tee-shirts of bands that only exist in virtual reality.

Due its technological nature, the virtual world of SL provides opportunities unheard of in the real-world. In one hour's work, one can create objects or buildings for free (nearly), program them to have any wished behavior and let other users - real people - use, share or trade them. Scientists and economists alike increasingly recognize the potential of this formidable playground in which to experiment and conduct academic research [3].

The present CARAS project proposes to use the virtual world of Second-Life to experiment with new ways to promote and distribute music. Specifically, we propose to create a virtual music label, complete with recording artists, broadcasting technology and means to promote and trade. While such a task would be daunting in the real-world, our analysis shows that this is a realistic endeavor even in the limited scope of a summer CARAS project.

Naturally, this project does come with a few limitations and facilitating factors:

  • First, the label's artists will be amateur college musicians of the local musical scene found on the TU Japan campus.
  • Second, the label will base its operation on land currently behind purchased in SL for academic use by the School of Communication and Theater, TU Japan campus.
  • Third, because of its academic grounding, the label will be relaxed from the constraint of being financially viable. While one goal of the label is to investigate new business models, the label will operate as a virtual equivalent of a non-for-profit organization.
  • Finally, while the cost in time and money to establish such a music label is surprisingly low, its operation and development will be as engaging as any real-world business activity. This clearly extends beyond the scope of the CARAS scholarship project. For this reason, we envision the project, if granted, as a foundation act, on which further activity will build up.

The grant will enable us to create a physical presence for the music label in SL, to recruit artists, to integrate broadcasting technology (i.e. how to play sound in SL ) and to support a proof-of-concept of its operation (e.g. a concert). While this will be an achievement in itself, very relevantly contributing to my curriculum as a Communications Major, our goal is for the label to live on to become an academic tool. During my enrollment in the Intro to Cybermedia course at TU Japan Campus, I was tasked with finding out what role music plays in Second Life, and, as findings were discussed in class, it became apparent that there was merit in experimenting with new models of music distribution. What is lacking as of today is a platform on which to do such experimentations, while being able to attract meaningful audiences and conclude on economical repercussions. How many schools in the world today can boast to have their own private music label - with real artists and real audiences - available as a tool to try out ideas? With the support of the CARAS scholarship, our claim is that we can build such a tool, making it usable for future Intro to Cybermedia, or similar courses in Temple University (not restricted to its Japan campus).

I come to this project well-prepared thanks both to my academic curriculum and my professional activities. Being a Communications Major at Temple's Japan Campus, I have been trained to reason and experiment with the production of new media and the creation of new services and applications that can be effectively disseminated to audiences. As part of the Introduction to Cybermedia course (taught by Dr. Aucouturier, my faculty mentor for this project), I have gained a deeper understanding of the challenges facing the music industry since the introduction of internet, as well as hands-on experience dealing with digital music technology.

Besides my coursework at TU Japan, and like most from my generation, I have a strong grasp on the rapidly evolving technologies which surround us. From content creation like video production and blogging, to programming web-based applications utilizing SaaS (Software as a Service) business models, I have been involved with Web technologies both privately and professionally for copious, diverse years. In the recent past, while working as a Web Applications Developer for OmniUpdate, Inc., I have collaborated with several Higher Education institutions to help them effectively manage their web content and strategy, often fixing or retooling broken websites. During my three and a half years with the company, I developed a number of pioneering web applications, such as a video transcoding system, which were incorporated in OmniUpdate's flagship CMS (Content Management System) product. Additionally, I developed ways for college admissions staff to integrate their recruiting strategies with social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.

In my free time, one may often find me doing something relating to music. If I'm not DJing for some friends, producing music in Reason or Pro Tools (both audio tracking and sequencing software), or sitting on a piano bench practicing, I'm probably just streaming music from an Internet radio station, enjoying music on my local hard disk, or listening to my iPod while getting from point A to B. Music and media in general have held a profound grasp in my life. I was considering majoring in Music and have taken a number of music Theory courses at the college level before deciding to transfer to Temple in pursuit of a bachelors in Communications.

Doing research into new ways to effectively distribute (match, market, recommend to an audience) music, especially music with a niche audience, not only has the possibility of furthering the evolution of the existing music industry for the better, but will also be a great contribution to my education on my way towards a bachelors in Communication. This CARAS project will provide me with unique practical insights into the music industry, and beyond music, will teach me how to effectively communicate products or ideas to the masses. With its original scope and "high-tech" appeal, the project may grant some public visibility to my portfolio; it will also find an ideal academic publication venue in such international symposiums as the Music Information Retrieval conference series (hosted in Japan this year [4]). Finally, I feel proud and excited at the idea of contributing to the establishment of a platform tool for further teaching and research at Temple University - adding a new dimension to my integration as a member of the Temple's academic community.


  1. F. Oberholzer and K. Strumpf, The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis. Journal of Political Economy. 2007. 115(1):1-42
  2. Elberse, Anita. "Should You Invest in the Long Tail?" HBS Centennial Issue. Harvard Business Review 86, nos. 7/8 (July - August 2008): 88-96.
  3. Boellstorff, Tom (2008) Coming of Age in Second Life, New Jersey: Princeton University Press
  4. 10th International Conference on Music Information Retrieval,


  1. Quite literally so, using the virtual currency of L$ (Linden dollars) with the Feb. 2009 exchange rate of 260L$ = 1 US$
Posted by Wes @ 09:47, March 12, 2009
Congratulations! Does the funding come in USD or L$?

Posted by Marco @ 03:12, March 13, 2009