What Microsoft can learn from Linkin Park & Jay-Z

At the end of every blog entry, I always mention the album that is playing on my Dell DJ when I sign off. This time, the album is also the subject of the blog. Last week, I picked up “Collision Course”, a compilation of songs that were “mashed” between Linkin Park and Jay-Z. Mashing involves two separate songs are laid on top of one another with a new song as a result. This has been going on for years in dance clubs, but the combination of Linkin Park and Jay-Z was newsworthy given both acts are at the top of their respective genres and this was an authorized recording. I am a huge Linkin Park fan, but I don’t really listen to Jaz-Z, so I was curious to see what resulted from the mash-up.

The initial review: I really like it. I’ve given it a few plays and it grows on me a little more each time I listen to it. It’s given me a better appreciation of some of Jay-Z’s songs, which exposes me to a genre of music that I otherwise wouldn’t have given the time of day. It also let’s me hear Linkin Park’s music in a whole new way as different parts of the music comes into focus. While I don’t think mashups are appropriate for every situation, it works here and shows that it is a viable approach for musicians looking to be creative with their music in a derivative manner that is far more productive than the standard “Dance Remix”. The important thing is to realize that this isn't in an effort to replace the original songs as much as to see how you can build on top of them and experiment. Jay-Z and Linkin Park will continue to build music on their own in their own genres. This was an opportunity to step out and take a gamble that fans can take or leave.

Of course, opinions on the album are mixed. While album sales are brisk (as should be expected given the two big names), there are skeptics and critics abound, as if the revolutionary spirit of mashups are more important than the actual product of the collaboration and any authorization or commercialization would kill it. Therefore, when the unauthorized “Gray Album” comes out, which combines Jay-Z’s “Black Album” with the Beatles “White Album”, that result is to be honored—regardless of whether Jay-Z or any of the Beatles were consulted. But when the original authors of the music get together to see what is created out of collaboration (as it was with “Collision Course”), suddenly it loses its flavor, is defined as “pedestrian”, and signals the end of the genre. It’s as if once a trend is no longer raging against the machine and is, instead, part of the machine, it loses steam.

I fear that any attempt from Microsoft to build collaborative development efforts will receive the same knee-jerk scrutiny. As I’ve mentioned before, I would love to see Microsoft engage in some level of collaborative development and I’d love to see p&p be part of that (I can see it now: “Pimp My Application Blocks”). While the decision isn’t mine to make, I am certainly doing my part to lobby for it. Again, this isn't about any core components like Windows as much as experimenting with pieces on top of it that fans (customers) can take or leave, just like the mashes. And hey, where better to mash risk-free than patterns & practices stuff (for those of you at the last patterns & practices Summit, I hinted about this at the keynote)?


But would the community embrace anything that Microsoft tried to do collaboratively? I found the reaction to the Jay-Z/Linkin Park collaboration fascinating as a "litmus test". Much like “Collision Course”, I think there will be a constituency that is excited by the possibilities and joins the parade. In fact, check out Josh Legard’s blog about how people came out of the woodwork with ideas on what to “open source”. But, also like “Collision Course”, I think there will be a host of critics who believe that commercialism has won out and they will react defensively. In fact, apparently Slashdot had a field day with Josh’s original post and still look at WiX and WTL with disdain (two projects that were merely learning exercises for Microsoft). Now, before any Slashdot fans quickly remind me that those are the opinions of the loud minority, I agree with you completely. That’s why I hope Microsoft ignores the critics and goes forward. There’s too much to be gained to worry about the complaints.

So, to both music acts as well as Microsoft, I implore you to focus more on the end result of what can come from collaborative development rather than whether it maintains some level of renegade spirit you’ll never attain. Let the purists have their vitriol, but know that there’s a larger audience that will appreciate what you are trying to do. So go forward and be sure to “brush your shoulders off”…

{Linkin Park & Jay-Z – Collision Course}