6-7 mar

On videos being removed due to copyright claims, site management, proposed split of the Songbook project into two sites

Thanks to all of my visitors for your support. Without knowing that folks are enjoying their visits here it would be difficult to keep forging ahead with construction of the basic framework of the site, and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

This message aims to inform you of some thoughts I’ve had recently as to directions I might steer the site in the near future. The project (Songbook) was begun by me about a year ago because I wasn’t able to find a site which did what this one intends to. Certain sites will list the standards and hit songs by year, or by artist. Video and audio libraries have recordings. Some may give song history and a biographical information on the songwriters and the artists who perform the songs. Images associated with the song or a particular recording: photos or the artists at the time of the recording, sheet music covers and other related images are available but may not be found with the videos or biographies. I wasn’t able to find any site which combined all of these features in one site.

Songbook, thus far, only partially succeeds in achieving the forementioned aims. Particularly lacking are biographies, and feature pages, for some of the major composers, lyricists, and recording artists, though I have external links for a number of the major songwriters associated with the Great American Songbook and for some artists not yet featured extensively.

The site has required many hundreds of hours of work, at least 1200, spent in planning feature pages, searching for the materials, and assembling them in an attractive way. But these features all share an intrinsic instability which makes management of the site an increasingly difficult task. That weakness is the fact that the videos used in them are not owned by me. I’ve borrowed them from libraries, usually youtube, but several others are also used. They can be, and frequently are disabled, without notice, by youtube in deference to a copyright claim on the song, or the recording. There is evidence that some of these claims might be frivolous. Yet that does not stop them from being removed with alarming regularity.

In most cases I can save and download a video, thereby protecting them from unexpected disabling. But I’ve only done this with a few videos, and it took a long time for each one. It’s been nearly a year since I even thought about this; I no longer have the software needed. There were at least two tools necessary as I recall (possibly three) one to grab the video and another to convert it into a format compatible with Windows XP. The large number of videos embedded on the site, several hundred as of today, and the lack of a rapid process for saving them, in part explain my neglecting this option for a year. I believe I also had trouble downloading into a format that was compatible with WordPress (my blog server). They couldn’t be embedded at all in the format in which they were saved.

Strangely, in most cases when a video is disabled another copy of the same video can be quickly found and used to replace the disabled one. But on this site I have hundreds, perhaps as many as 600 embedded videos (I haven’t counted them in several months). Just to check all of the videos daily or even weekly would be quite a job. I do not check them on a regular schedule. Rather I tend to examine those which appear in the most popular pages first, followed by the others in an almost random manner. I think a maintenance schedule might be a good idea.

Even with a schedule, however, the maintenance of the site will continue to be a large, not terribly difficult, but time-consuming task. Typically when I go through a feature looking for videos which need replacement I will also find other faults or areas which would benefit from some amendment; more images perhaps, revised images now that I have better photo-editing skills, rewritten text, etc. This often extends the time spent in revision by hours by the time I’m satisfied.

In brief, I guess what I’m trying to say is that at this point maintenance of the site alone has become, and is becoming more so as the site inevitably grows, such a large and lengthy procedure that there is less and less time available to create the new features, features which the site demands to fill the gaping holes left in the construction.

For this reason, and others I will mention briefly, I am presently considering breaking the period covered by Songbook into two periods. Chronologically, at this time the site projects to cover 60 to 65 years: 1890 to 1950 or 1955. But the amount of space given to a year has increased with each decade from 1910s on, so that the span of years cannot be divided into equal portions.

I think that the features on the site covering the first three decades (1890 -1919) might include approximately the same amount of material as the annual features on 1920s. And feature year pages, as well as those on songwriters, and recording artists prominent in the thirties and forties will each probably be somewhat larger, when combined, than the combined features of the 1920s. Therefore the middle point, if I take 1890-1950 as the range, will not be 1920 or even 1930. I believe it would fall somewhere in the mid-30s. 1935 is approximately the mid-point of the brief, intense period when most of the highest-ranked jazz standards were created, 1924 to 1946. During this 22 year stretch 84 of the top 100 standards (as ranked by jazzstandards.com) were introduced. 1935 as the mid-point of the site’s primary focus is convenient both in that it neatly halves the decade, but also because of the fact that the Swing Era is conventionally dated from that year.

Proposed Songbook 2: 1935…

I’m still considering options, and may come up with an alternative plan; but if I choose to split the site into two sections of roughly equivalent volume and weight (ie. percent of high-ranking standards), then I may open a new site for the years beginning in 1935. The two sites would be linked of course; but they will also share links, features on artists whose work extends beyond one of the periods into the other, and perhaps other material.

A couple of other issues:

1. I was reminded today about the weakness of the search tool. It gives only three pages of results at a time, requiring you to select “Previous Entries” repeatedly in many cases, to unearth the archives. I will try to find out about better options.

2. If I do discover a rapid process for downloading videos then my maintenance chores will be greatly reduced and I may be able to go on without a split. I will look for some good software.

The proposed split will not take place immediately if I choose to go that route. Currently I am proceeding at a pace of one to two years per month. At this rate it will be at least mid-May by the time I get to the end of 1934.

Cheers, Jim

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