Saga 1.0 Could Kill Soundcloud

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Embeddable platforms are crucial for the viral spread of media online. They also wrench control away from artists. In many cases, aggregators are poised to profit more immediately and directly than content creators. And most often, artists concede to the fundamentally uneven arrangement.

Not Mat Dryhurst. A frequent Holly Herndon collaborator with releases on PAN, Dryhurst launched the first version of Saga—a platform for self-hosting and managing media online—with an announcement earlier this week in the Bard College journal aCCeSsions. In it, Dryhurst articulates artists’ frustration with fickle hosts like Soundcloud, streaming services’ general financial opacity, and websites that place music and videos next to objectionable advertisements.

“The Saga framework allows you to make a distinction between the different meanings a piece of work assumes depending upon whether it’s shared on a personal blog, on a company blog, or as part of an ad-revenue supported magazine,” Dryhurst writes. “You may now assert the right to alter the work in the time and context in which it lives. Work is no longer petrified, but live.”

Practically, Saga enables artists to host their work and track where it’s embedded via a backend interface. For each individual aggregator, users can alter the appearance of their work, block it outright, or charge them for continuing to show it. There’s great prank potential, Dryhurst suggests. “For Tumblr teens in the UK only,” he offers, “make the first 500 plays free, and then have it dramatically self-destruct, or have it replaced with a video of cattle grazing.” Further, users could alter select embeds to reflect their approval of its newfound context.

Dryhurst notes that there are bugs. Saga’s present functionality, however, already challenges many entrenched assumptions about the digital age, where musicians often feel obligated to accommodate grim and inflexible terms of commerce if they wish to be heard. “We hold the power and create the value,” Dryhurst writes, “so perhaps we ought to start dictating the terms.”

Saga is available for free via Github.