Mefi Musicians... up for a challenge? November 11, 2007 7:50 AM   Subscribe

This is too weak for the blue (and many will say for the grey as well), and I'm too close to him for it not to be a "self-link," but I thought that some MeMu users may be interested in Sufjan Stevens' Xmas Song Swap.

For those too lazy or uninterested in clicking and reading, Sufjan is proposing that people write an original Christmas song, submit it to the contest, and then the winner's song will become "Sufjan's song" and Sufjan's song will become "the winner's song"--at least as far as rights go.

Surely there are MeFites up to the challenge! (Is it too late for Bell Rock Jingle?)
posted by dobbs to MetaFilter Music at 7:50 AM (46 comments total)

What a spit-take of a contest premise. If Sufjan really wants to show off someone else's work, why doesn't he just, you know, have a contest to showcase someone's work? The rights-swap thing seems completely asymmetrical; it's not like the average musician, should they be the one winner, will be in a position to capitalize on it nearly as much as Sufjan'd be in a position to capitalize on sorting through the entries and claiming ownership of the best of the best of the entries he'd receive.

Very strange. I love the guy's music to death, and I've got no reason to think he's got ill intent here, but it's just got a really damned strange feeling to it. Put together an indie xmas comp album or something, man.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:07 AM on November 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

1) Get people to send you good songs
2) Write really crappy song on purpose
3) Profit

Wait, wasn't there supposed to be a ? step in there somewhere?
posted by Plutor at 9:03 AM on November 11, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'm a little surprised at your dismissal, cortex. I can kind of see where you're coming from, but I think it's really novel and a great idea.

And what are you, dobbs, his brother or something? :)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:35 AM on November 11, 2007

By which I meant to say, of course it's assymetrical - Sufjan is famous, and Pippi Songstockings is not. Sufjan gets to pick a song, and Pippi gets promo out of being mentioned in connection with Sufjan. I see no harm there.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:40 AM on November 11, 2007

It's a novel and neat idea. I don't mean to dismiss it outright, or claim harm; I just find myself really turned off by the specific situation. Something about slapping a one-way contest, a licensing agreement, and unconditional rights transfer onto a neat idea takes a lot of the neat out for me.

I am aware I may be being a complete grumpus about this. It just seems like a really strange path to take to get to the idea of song sharing. It feels like half sweepstakes, half hostage-negotiation.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:01 AM on November 11, 2007

You're writing your entry now aint'cha cortex.
posted by brautigan at 10:20 AM on November 11, 2007

Well I don't really care about the contest, not being a musician and everything. But I would like to know how dobbs knows Sufjan Stevens.
posted by puke & cry at 10:41 AM on November 11, 2007

I agree with cortex. Cool to have a song swap, nice idea in spirit but "as a prize, give up your rights" seems very weird. Plus it says "we're giving you the song to use however you like", but then it says if you win you can't "transfer, ...or redeem for cash" the song rights, which means you can't for example sell it to someone who could make money with their existing promo apparatus.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:44 AM on November 11, 2007

It feels like half sweepstakes, half hostage-negotiation.

Well now you're just talking about the music business in general.

But seriously, fair enough then.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:45 AM on November 11, 2007

LobsterMitten, I think (though I could be wrong) that you're misreading that. I think that once you have the rights to the song, they're your rights, and you can sell them if you wish. However, that line means that you cannot have cash or something else of comparable value to the rights as your prize instead of the song.
posted by dobbs at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2007

The front page of the contest states: "You can hoard it for yourself, sell it to a major soft drink corporation, use it in your daughter's first Christmas video, or share it for free on your website."

So that non-transference/redemption clause is a little strange in this context. I think what they are trying to say is that the winner can't ask for cash instead of the "rights" prize. (Nor could the winner ask for rights to a different song, or for the prize to be transferred to someone else.)

It makes sense in my head; trying to explain it in writing on a Sunday morning is something else entirely. And on preview, yeah, what dobbs said.
posted by malocchio at 11:05 AM on November 11, 2007

I liked this better when Van Dyke Parks did it.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:14 AM on November 11, 2007

I would suspect there's a difference between "selling the rights" and "transferring the prize." I assume they mean you can't enter a song, win, and then name your son as the prize-winner; but you could sell (or give) the rights of the song to your son. But you would still be the prize-winner.

(But I'm coming at that from a Marketing background, not a legal one, so I may very well be wrong.)
posted by occhiblu at 11:51 AM on November 11, 2007

Hipster Erotica
posted by felix betachat at 11:54 AM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hipster Erotica

AAARRGHH *scrubs brain*
posted by loquacious at 12:04 PM on November 11, 2007

The contest submission rules are actually quite a bit more friendly than the norm; note that (so far as I can tell from a quick perusal, IANAL, IANYL) all submitted songs do not become the property of this Stevens fellow, and he only asks for rights to stream submissions that don't win. (Generally, submissions to contests either become the sole property of the contest-holder, or at least the submitter must give a transferable license to the submission, over all forms of media, to the contest-holder.)

Is this guy a famous pop artist or just another blogger?
posted by orthogonality at 12:06 PM on November 11, 2007

He's pretty dang famous.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:30 PM on November 11, 2007

so is this post a bug or a feature request?

and dobbs, are you sufjan's butler, you little name-dropper, you?
posted by Hat Maui at 1:14 PM on November 11, 2007

dobbs et al: I defer to y'all on this point.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:20 PM on November 11, 2007

Got some lyrics for him:

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky....

He should be able to do the rest himself.
posted by breezeway at 2:33 PM on November 11, 2007

Random you-didn't-ask-for-it tidbit: it's a running joke among my friends that whenever Chicago is on, during the breakdown last verse:

If I was crying
In the van
With my friend
It was for freedom

I always do this faux-valiant fist pump on "freedom", last-rebel style. It's all quite emo.

Carry on.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:02 PM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

What's funny is that I actually heard of Sufjan Stevens for the first time while listening to Snow Patrol the other day, and now the guy's everywhere!
posted by jacalata at 6:02 PM on November 11, 2007

Sorry. I never do this, but I had to.

Metafilter: This faux-valiant fist pump.

*adopts power stance, does the fist pump*
posted by Sk4n at 6:04 PM on November 11, 2007

The winner of this Contest will receive all rights in an original Sufjan Stevens’ recording and musical composition.

If I knew exactly which Sufjan Stevens song that was, I might consider entering this contest.

By clicking here, you agree to these rules and stipulations, and give us permission to stream your song . . .

No, no, man, don't do it, good god, don't d--


posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:32 PM on November 11, 2007

I'll tell you what, though, this is probably a very good idea on the part of Sufjan Stevens (or his lawyer or whoever). A nationwide call for submissions of a Christmas song. Now, if he does get a really good song, the kind of song that actually becomes a Christmas standard (like Frosty the Snowman or that Lennon Christmas song or suchlike), and owns the rights to it, he stands to make lots and lots of money for years to come.

With this in mind, to anyone out there actually considering submitting a song to this, I'd say: if you think you've got a really good Christmas song that could actually become a standard, by all means don't give it away. Not to Stevens and his label or anyone else. Put your own kids through college, not Sufjan Stevens'.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:54 PM on November 11, 2007

You guys had better get to work because I plan on winning.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:09 PM on November 11, 2007

And seriously dobbs, are you Sufjan's banjo tech or what?
posted by ludwig_van at 7:10 PM on November 11, 2007

Ugh. I only added that to avoid people telling me I should have ''put together" a bunch of links and made a blue FPP. I don't know Stevens; I do, however, know his manager and that's too close for comfort for me to make an FPP to the blue about him. I met her thru Victory Shag when she managed Constantines and ran Three Gut Records.
posted by dobbs at 7:17 PM on November 11, 2007

Come on and let it snow.

posted by flabdablet at 7:19 PM on November 11, 2007

If I knew exactly which Sufjan Stevens song that was, I might consider entering this contest.

Seriously. If it's just the guy farting into a tape recorder, I'm probably gonna have to pass.
posted by Reggie Digest at 9:22 PM on November 11, 2007

What's a tape recorder?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:05 PM on November 11, 2007

What's a tape recorder?

It's like a descant recorder, only stickier.
posted by Reggie Digest at 3:36 AM on November 12, 2007

I liked him better when he was with the Sunsets. His solo career, not so much.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:01 AM on November 12, 2007

Because I am not Sufjan Stevens.
posted by dobbs at 6:28 AM on November 12, 2007

I am Spartacus Stevens!
posted by breezeway at 8:09 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

All else aside, the title for this thread is way too short and straightforward. I would have hoped for something like this:

On the Invitation to Exchange Songs at Yuletime (the Understandable Reticence of Certain Internet Users Notwithstanding)

Also, the thread should have had an ethereal ninety-second intro.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:20 AM on November 12, 2007

If it's Ethereal, it'll take longer than ninety seconds.
posted by breezeway at 8:37 AM on November 12, 2007

To the Disgruntled Users of a Community Weblog, I Have An Idea Concerning Your Predicament, or Get Your Own Blog (Fuckwit), or The Predatory Admins of the Internet Are Out to Ban Us! Aaaah!
posted by ludwig_van at 11:09 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know Stevens; I do, however, know his manager and that's too close for comfort for me to make an FPP to the blue about him.

uh, i think the kevin bacon laws would apply here such that "knowing dude's manager" != "post about something he's doing would be self-link." but then i'm one of those "legislate from the bench" -type liberals.
posted by Hat Maui at 12:22 AM on November 13, 2007

Hi. I work at Asthmatic Kitty. These are some interesting comments, and it's nice to hear that so many people like Sufjan's music. Thank you.

To quell Cortex's damned strange feeling, the idea that making money off of a submitted song was actually the furthest thing from our minds. Really, we have been thinking the whole time that the inverse would be true.

The basic motivation here was - you got us - to re-promote a year old Christmas album in a unique way. Frankly, you wouldn't be talking about an indie xmas compilation, but you are about this. Ta da. Mission accomplished.

But another side of this contest is to play with the idea of intellectual copyright. That we are having this conversation shows how far the idea of intellectual copyright has come in the last 5 or 10 years. I don't think anyone would have "got" this idea 10 years ago. They would have thought that Sufjan was just mailing the song to them. Whoopie. But now, it seems that everyone knows the difference between owning a song, and owning a song.

The right to stream all songs is just because we can only pick one, but we know there will be lots of favorites. We'd like to give those musicians and songs some exposure.

In all honesty, the idea that we could make money off of this - with the exception of more sales for Sufjan's Christmas album - is kind of funny. It's much more likely, it seems to us, that the winner could stand to make some money by selling it to Coke for their next Christmas commercial, or pawning it off on ebay.

But, really, I would be much happier if the winner took Sufjan's song, invited some friends over, mulled some wine and warmed some hot chocolate, and sat down and listened to it, and then put it away until next Christmas. Then when they do it for the 25th time and the grandkids are pissed because they have to listen to the stupid song again, the winner will sit down and tell their kids how they won a Christmas song. That's what I'd do anyway, if I won.
posted by beelerspace at 8:57 AM on November 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

Thanks for jumping in, beelerspace.

For all my grousing, I pretty much dig what you're saying, and that's about what I presumed about actual motivation and thought process behind the whole thing. Marketing is marketing and a contest is a great way to get people involved with something; the streaming of entries makes good sense (and is, itself, actually the thing I'm most interested in about the contest; I'd love to hear that you guys are just going to make everything—or, barring that, everything that isn't insufferably shitty—available for listening); and I'm not really imaging Sufjan or AK tenting their fingers and chortling evilly over the spoils of the whole thing.

So it's the cynical eye on the necessaries of the execution that kind of makes me twinge, more so than what I reasonably expect to happen. Which is maybe unusually worst-case-scenario of me. I very much like the ideas behind it, though, and I figure I'll be happy to see what ends up coming of it.

(It probably also didn't help to be introduced to the whole thing by the legalese; that might have colored my initial reaction an awful lot. Heh. I blame dobbs.)
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:27 AM on November 14, 2007

We're not much on legalese either, but that this was a contest that is fundamentally legal by nature - that is to say the transfer of intellectual property, so it was necessary to be very specific and transparent in the fine print about what is happening (winner get use rights to Sufjan's song, we get use rights to winner's).

On our end we're really happy with the way the legal bit turned out, and it's a bit gratifying to hear orthogonality mention as much. Our lawyer, believe it or not, is actually a really great guy, and he did a superb job on keeping this document to one printed page but maintaining the spirit of what we wanted to accomplish.

Dobb's also doing everyone an injustice by not linking to the main page which features a free stream of Sufjan's entire Christmas album until December 25th. Enjoy, and again thanks for the discussion!
posted by beelerspace at 10:25 AM on November 14, 2007

Thanks for joining the conversation, beelerspace.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:50 AM on November 14, 2007

These are some interesting comments, and it's nice to hear that so many people like Sufjan's music. Thank you.

You know who else likes Sufjan's music?*

You can tell Surfjam that my song is going to have a choir of British children, three flugelhorns, two banjos, a string quartet, and a harp, and it will concern the Christmas truce of 1914 and that he'd better be nervous.

*That's right, college kids. And Hitler.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:38 AM on November 15, 2007

And of course a trio of glockenspiels.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:39 AM on November 15, 2007

I finished writing my song. It's good. Now to record it. Anyone else?
posted by ludwig_van at 7:33 PM on November 18, 2007

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