Axe to Grind

FOB-Axe to Grind-MXTabsdotnetNot all of tomorrow's guitar heroes are jamming on the Wii or showing off their picking chops on YouTube. The real players still spend long, lonely hours creating "tabs" - short for tablatures, or guitar notations - and sharing them with like-minded friends.

The Internet age has made the "sharing" part a lot less lonely, but just as Napster et al threatened the record business, shared tabs have threatened music publishers. Unsurprisingly, such sites have faced legal battles, but now one of the Web's most popular tab-sharing communities,, will re-emerge in July as a legal, ad-supported tab-sharing site under the aegis of Musicnotes, a digital sheet-music retail site.

MXTabs will not be reconfigured with a "top-down approach as to what content is available," says Bill Aicher, director of marketing for Musicnotes. "We are not forcing 'official' versions of tabs on users. Instead, they continue to create the content that goes up on the site, and there is no limit as to who can sign on."

The difference now is that submitted tabs must go through a licensing approval process. Through an agreement with Harry Fox Agency Inc., which handles licensing for more than 31,000 music publishers, Musicnotes determines whether a song's publisher has opted to license it; if not, the tab won't be posted. This legal nicety, Aicher admits, will mean that MXTabs is likely to have a smaller selection of song tabs than some other unlicensed tab-sharing sites. But publishers have a new incentive to work with the MXTabs community: a share of ad revenues. The new business model may also be a game-changer for self-publishing songwriters. "If you write a song yourself and you want it on MXTabs," Aicher points out, "you can submit it and license [it] and you'll be able to take part in the advertising revenue share." Sounds finger-picking good.
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