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inspired_Dev

Elephant in the room: 99.5% of all tracks on Smule are illegal!

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Crazyjster
13 hours ago, inspired_Dev said:

It is a social platform. Heard of network effect?

LOL yes but several months ago changes were made requiring new accounts to have a 3-day trial and then to purchase membership.  My guess is people pay for a week and then stay non-vip.  The difference between Smule and FB is that FB pulls restricted content they don't have a licence for. If you want premium service on Youtube or Spotify or just to access Netflix for example, you have to pay, because it covers the royalties etc. You don't pay, you loose access. Those services also have content removed and added because contracts change over time and rights to music/movies change. The network effect has seem to be successful for many paid apps that don't offer free services. 

@MissMalice89 as for attitudes of Non-VIP lol you again make great points but I am trying to stay focused on the topic at hand. PLEASE post your thoughts though because I think they would make a great separate discussions! You have brought up a few that would make about 3 different posts  (i.e. non VIP joins, android issues)!

 

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inspired_Dev

PART I: Summarizing the discussions so far with my thoughts on them...


@opentype @Crazyjster @The Minty Clinch and @MissMalice89 have shared their valuable thoughts on this topic so far! No one has objected to the "claim" I've made in the title regarding the legality of user-uploads.

[In hindsight, it would be more accurate (technically) and right (ethically) to re-word the title as: "User-uploads constitute most of the tracks (estimated to be around 99%), but there is NO WAY they can be copyright-compliant under the current laws (unless the users also happen to be the original composers/writers/owners/permission-holders)".]

We've all known something about copyrights to some extent, and have some idea about the "advise" given in general about how to handle copyrighted material.

Still, no discussion about this have happened before here. Only @misterspeakeasy had touched upon this aspect w.r.t. addition of licensed tracks to the official songbook (here). 

WHY???

Firstly, this has to do with the situation that:
Copyrights are already a complex landscape for the real world scenarios for which they were originally designed. And with Internet and the Web and the new use-cases of how original works can be easily copied/modified/shared by millions or billions of people, they become at least a thousand-fold more complex.

Secondly, it's because we are millions of users - we automatically get a safety in numbers. And we can see that we are in fact being encouraged to upload tracks.

Thus,
1) we don't seem to have any incentive to follow the laws, and
2) are only being encouraged to do actions which "technically" amount to breaking the law.

Well, we just want to fulfill our selfish, harmless interests of singing to our favorite songs, and there are no obstacles being put. In fact this process is quite streamlined. So let's enjoy! My appeal to ethics seems amusing and unnecessary to most, while the scope of discussion is limited to individual users. However, this is not about a handful of users. There are millions of us. When we scale something, trivial matters become serious. Plus, this is not limited to copyrights, licenses and royalties. Being hooked to our phones all the time isn't harmless. And there's a reason why we are hooked...

The situation of "let's fulfill our selfish interests" is not limited to individuals: Large organisations like corporations and governments also operate on this mentality (or rather instinct, built into us by the natural evolution). Corporations say one thing in their mission statements (and in their terms), but behave quite differently in the real world. They may not be deliberately wanting to be evil or hypocrites here. They are also just succumbing to their selfish interests like we individuals do.

But this is problematic, since greater the power, greater the responsibility (and also greater the scope for corruptibility). Thus, greater the power, greater the scope for damage possible due to this "succumbing" to the instinct of selfishness in those who possess this power. Does my appeal to ethics still feel trivial, amusing and unnecessary??

Which brings me back here to things directly relevant to us, the users - like our health and safety - which is why I had asked these questions earlier:

On 2/17/2020 at 9:45 PM, inspired_Dev said:

The following questions might throw the reader off, but are quite relevant:

Would anyone report their supplier of pirated movie CDs to the local police, if they were getting their favorite movies at a very cheap rate?

And what if this supplier was also providing them drugs along with the movie CDs & now they were addicted? What would be the chances now?

 

This expands the scope of the discussion, while being relevant to everyone here, and also being relevant to copyrights, so that it can be continued here at least for a bit. It can be made into a separate topic after everyone (or most) in this discussion get acquainted with the existence and importance of the expanded scope.
 

PART 2 will also reference an earlier comment I've made, containing terms like network effect, attention economy.

Another sneak-peek into Part 2: intent informs the design. And design guides the behavior. And behavior shapes the culture. And culture affects the experiences, and experiences comprise our lives.

But, what defines the intent currently?? And, what should define the intent?


Do You Love MUSIC? Most likely it's a 'Yes'! But do you RESPECT & VALUE it fairly?

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The Minty Clinch

By the way, the acts whose uploads disappeared last week all seemed to be signed to Universal Publishing. And Columbia label seemed fairly constant too

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inspired_Dev
8 hours ago, The Minty Clinch said:

By the way, the acts whose uploads disappeared last week all seemed to be signed to Universal Publishing. And Columbia label seemed fairly constant too

Oh, interesting. Does it look like it could've been RIAA then? https://www.riaa.com/about-riaa/riaa-members/


Do You Love MUSIC? Most likely it's a 'Yes'! But do you RESPECT & VALUE it fairly?

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inspired_Dev

 PART II: I tried writing this part several times, but every time it got too lengthy. I wanted to keep it crisp and true. But it's also about the big picture. So please bear with it. It is both important and urgent.

This earlier comment was actually kind of a "scratch recording" for Part 2. Please give it a glimpse. It'll help.

Smule is a for-profit company, competing with around 10 other similar or copycat products in the market, like StarMaker, WeSing, SingSnap, Yokee etc. All of them have similar user-upload system and similar terms of service. Smule was the pioneering one as far as I'm aware. Along time, these products copy each other's features to "stay ahead". Gifts were present on StarMaker before Smule. It is so unnecessary to the whole singing thing - we already have likes and comments. But Smule added it anyways. Because with it they get to sell their virtual coins to users for real money for buying virtual gifts to give to other users. Anyone outside the ecosystem will laugh at this proposition. But users spend real money and buy virtual gifts for each other, because they've already been sold the "value" of this ecosystem. And it provides an additional revenue stream along with ads and subscriptions.

Let's look at their mission statement:

Quote

Mission Statement (source)

  1. Realize the immense potential of audio.
  2. Inspire people to reach new levels of self-expression.
  3. Create an interactive social medium to connect the world.
  1. "Audio"? But recordings are in "video" mode by default, since these tend to become viral easily. Great audio recordings will often stay quite small in comparison to mediocre video recordings.
     
  2. "new levels of Self-expression"? By aren't we mostly just copying by singing on the same music tracks and trying to sound like the original singers, rather than creating our own creative cover versions, mashups or songs? How about just singing unplugged, freestyle for the sake of "self-expression" - how many do it? How about using this freestyle along with the group join feature, giving you the freedom to make a large number of creative choices, enabling you to reach "new levels of self-expression"? It's been possible for a long time, you can record upto 100 joins on the same track using the group join, and there are no restrictions whatsoever if you sang on the freestyle track! But how many have even thought about it?
     
  3. "to connect the world"? (this became a bit long, sorry)

    By inundating us with notifications about likes, views, followers, joins  (and in the beginning, when the user is new and there are 0 notifications, they write: "psst? wanna get noticed?") which happen to be both: 

    a) dopamine-inducing reward signals - in short, stuff that makes you keep using the product, develop new habits and even get addicted, (refer to the book "Hooked" by Nir Eyal)

    b) status symbols that sell you the "Superstar Dream" and make you feel like are "becoming a star" (reinforced by "sing with stars" mass invites from official Partner Artists, invites from "sing with renowned smule users" invites made by different regional community handles, "verified" badges, plus the "viral" videos of users singing with "stars" or other users, featured on the home page)

    Thus, we can see that rather than "connecting", they are making us "compete" with one another for more views, likes and followers. How many of the 50 million users do you see becoming the next big star? And how fair would it be anyways? It's more like a lottery rather than rewarding talent. I've easily come across 100s of good singers in my 1.5 years here.

 

You can now see why you and others might have complained about bad/unfair/irritating-behaving users or the lack of improvements in essential features, but with no effect. You might also have felt elated (extreme case: became an egomaniac) or discouraged (extreme case: became depressed), based on how much views, likes, followers etc. were happening to you. (also you might've compared yourself with other users). You may have also tried to "game" the system to get these status numbers by doing things other than singing, like the follow-unfollow tactic, upload tracks to get more followers, spam message your invites and recordings to get more joins and likes etc. But that's just fooling yourself and wasting your time.

By competing with similar and other social media apps, for more users who are regular and using the app more, the incentives for Smule have been about staying ahead, rather than fulfilling their mission statement and caring about users. They can always say, "if we don't stay ahead, we will perish in this race, and thus not be able to fulfill the mission anyway". But in practice, even while staying ahead, have they been able to stay true to their words showcasing their vision, values and ideals? (including their hypocrisy about copyrights, which I know isn't so relevant or important to us users, compared to all these other things). You can see that a lot of compromises have been made along the way. Calls for a reality-check, no? I asked them to do this. They denied it was necessary and that I was mistaken in my beliefs and "theories", formed by making "wrong" assumptions or "incomplete" data.

Since we are connected through this app and the common love for music and singing, and are affected by all this together, it make sense for us to talk about the things specific to it here.

But also remember, that this is happening everywhere. It is called the "extractive attention economy". And it is tearing apart our social fabric, increasing digital addiction, constant social comparison, bullying, race for 'likes', increasing vanity & superficiality and even leading to polarization of ideologies and political manipulation: https://humanetech.com/problem/

Hence, not just as users of the same app, but also as citizens and consumers, we need to wake up, start creating bottom-up solutions wherever we can change things, and collectively demanding top-down solutions wherever centers of power can change things.

Empathy and Ethics can guide everyone in this solution-search.


Do You Love MUSIC? Most likely it's a 'Yes'! But do you RESPECT & VALUE it fairly?

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inspired_Dev

 ADDENDUM TO PART 2: Glassdoor Reviews for Smule 
see more: https://www.glassdoor.co.in/Reviews/Smule-Reviews-E361201.htm

Here are some excerpts:

Quote

"People who were pillars of company culture were fired overnight and "disappeared" without a word ever being said about what happened" (in 4 reviews)

"It is disappointing that upper management has chosen blindness and has chosen to protect one of their own so that the cycle of privilege may continue" (in 4 reviews)

limited vision

One bad people manager can ruin several lives and morale.

Practice transparency... for real.

KPI rules everything here. Can be frustrating when you want to fix something but doesn't happen because it will hurt KPI.  

 

Two reviews are especially descriptive, heart-felt and eye-opening:
 

REVIEW A

Quote

16 October 2019

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"

Former Employee - Artist Production Team (the Music Team) in San Francisco, CA

  • Doesn't Recommend
  • Negative Outlook
  • Disapproves of CEO

I worked at Smule full-time for more than 3 years

Pros

- Made tons of friends and have remained friends post-Smule. We continue to have our own community long after our tenure at Smule. - The people who I worked with day in and day out: smart, hardworking, fun, weird amazing people. They taught me a lot and I enjoyed their company. - Great potential!...though people have been saying that for a decade. - A genuinely enjoyable set of products - It was really fun once upon a time. I had an amazing team, we were extremely prolific and productive, had a lot of fun, and I loved working there. I think the memory of those times is what keeps a lot of the old-timers around. - I learned, first hand, about the glass ceiling and about white male privilege; it really opened my eyes and set me down the path to being a stronger advocate, ally, and representative. While this can be seen as a con, I want to focus on the positive things that came out of it. :)

Cons

AS A COMPANY - The most brutally toxic environment I've ever been in (particularly as a woman) - The needless lying from management was very disheartening. - They do not value people and almost go out of their way to send that message when highly valuable people suddenly "disappear" - Everyone is replaceable and expendable. - EDIT: Half the SF office was suddenly laid off so those above points are rather ominously demonstrated - It is led by someone who IS in fact very smart but needs to learn emotional intelligence and appropriate and healthy communication tactics. Instead of listening and learning from knowledgeable people, he has been emotional, defensive, and has kept his yes men close by for reassurance. You can't grow or improve if you refuse to acknowledge what needs improvement. People genuinely wanted to help you and the company but you only wanted to hear the echo of your own voice. It is the diversity of voices that makes a choir robust and powerful. MUSIC TEAM I want to be very clear. I left Smule due to the discrimination I experienced from management. And I am writing this review only because it's a cycle that is continuing rather than an isolated incident, apparently. - When looking to hire a new music producer, we were told to look for someone ‚Äúbeaten down‚ÄĚ who had been "dragged through the mud". Those are direct quotes. - For a music company, they sure don‚Äôt value their music team. A c-level executive said, "musicians are a dime a dozen" as an explanation for why we were expendable. - The wage gap is real. - When this was brought up, the reaction from management was contentious. Threats were made, and there were attempts to gaslight the women, and we were individually told not to discuss our salaries with the rest of the team. That's illegal. - When making workflow suggestions on how we could ease the team's stress levels and optimize productivity, I was reprimanded and told to keep my head down. I was told not to initiate any meetings with people outside of the team from then on and that nobody had asked me to help. - "I can't tell you not to go to HR, but realize that if you do...there are consequences." - After this, when another team wanted me to move to their team, I was blocked by management. It is unfortunate that management has aggressively and obstinately chosen ignorance. When you are a hodgepodge of laziness, ignorance, incompetence, and dishonesty and use those qualities to try to exploit people, you are in no position to tell others how lucky they are to have jobs. It is disappointing that upper management has chosen blindness and has chosen to protect one of their own so that the cycle of privilege may continue. Allowing a bad person to continuously fail up is not a win for you, for him, or for the company, ultimately. Oh, and telling a female subordinate, "You're beautiful" in any context is inappropriate. Don't do that again. It was uncomfortable for the whole team.

Advice to Management

You won't listen to it, you won't try to learn from it, you'll only get defensive and emotional about it and lash out. :sadpanda:

 

REVIEW B

Quote

8 November 2019

"Came for the karaoke, stayed for the people, left because of everything else"

Former Employee - Senior Software Developer in San Francisco, CA

  • Doesn't Recommend
  • Negative Outlook
  • Disapproves of CEO

I worked at Smule full-time for more than 3 years

Pros

- People: Smule has a knack of finding some of the most talented, passionate, hard-working people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I've formed relationships, both professional and personal, will continue for years to come. - Products: Karaoke is a passion of mine, and being able to work on the Smule app (called Sing! when I started in 2015) was incredibly fun. I found myself using the app in my spare time, not just when testing code I was working on. - Culture (pre-2017): The first couple of years of my tenure at Smule, I would almost describe it as my dream job. Smule's culture was that of passion and innovation, and the products we were building were exciting and fun. We had monthly happy hours and karaoke parties, and lots of people would organize activities for coworkers outside of work (mid-day coffee trains, board game nights, movie nights, bar crawls, Tahoe trips, etc.) - Work environment (pre-2017): I felt like managers cared personally about their direct reports, at least in the teams I regularly interacted with. There were late nights and fire-drills, sure, but people cared more about how to resolve the issues than who was to blame for them. I had lots of support from more senior engineers when I first started, and they were very patient when I asked them for assistance, always giving me the benefit of the doubt when I made mistakes. -Personal career growth (pre-2018): I started at Smule as a relatively junior mobile developer and was given great mentorship by my peers and plenty of opportunities to advance my development skills. When I expressed interest in pursuing a leadership track, I was put into roles with responsibilities that would develop my leadership skills. Even when put into situations where I'm the least experienced in the room, I felt heard and respected.

Cons

- Culture (post-2017): I understand that company culture naturally changes as the company gets bigger, but the last couple of years have been very different. A lot of the people who organized get-togethers outside of work were either actively discouraged from doing so (coffee trains went from a near-daily announced activity to a much more casual and almost discrete slinking to a nearby coffee shop) or ended up leaving the company. The frequency of happy hours and karaoke nights drastically decreased. - Work environment (post-2017): Blame culture became more prevalent, with post-mortems being less about how to prevent issues from coming up in the future and more about which parties were in the wrong. Features became more about moving certain product metrics and less about functionality and user experience. At some point, Engineering dept was moved to be under Product, and there was more pressure to aggressively release features, cutting functionality to hit arbitrary deadlines that sometimes are moved up with little transparency. And when features don't meet the targeted metrics, Engineering is usually blamed for it. - Management: After a change in management, I felt like the managers that did a good job of managing down were not valued and the managers that ended up being "successful" only do so because they are very good at managing up while not supporting their direct reports. My peers and I felt the need to escalate our concerns to parties outside our org to be heard, and even then they weren't always resolved with satisfactory expediency, if it was ever resolved at all. I've seen cases of managers gaslighting or yelling at their direct reports. Some managers have the mindset that the people who express concerns are being "difficult" and it's easier to encourage those people to leave instead of trying to address those concerns or firing them outright. I'm sure those sentiments were taken into consideration when deciding which people to lay off. - Personal career growth (post-2018): During my last year at Smule, despite asking for more responsibilities and growth opportunities, I saw more and more of my responsibilities being transferred to teams in the Sofia, Bulgaria office, with very little transparency about the rationale behind those decisions. Luckily I left before Smule laid-off approximately half of the SF office, including most of the mobile engineering team.

 


Do You Love MUSIC? Most likely it's a 'Yes'! But do you RESPECT & VALUE it fairly?

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