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Muxtape founder 'walked away from licensing deals'

Justin Ouelette, former Vimeo employee who created popular playlist-sharing site and then pulled it after an RIAA complaint, says he will relaunch the site to give indie bands exposure.

The Muxtape logo.

Muxtape founder Justin Ouelette says the bureaucracy of the music industry was just too much for him to deal with. That's why he took down the playlist creation Web site, which became a hipster craze earlier this year, after spreading largely via word of mouth. It'll be relaunching soon, he says, but strictly as a service for independent bands to share their own music.

"I walked away from the licensing deals," Ouelette wrote in a transparent, albeit navel-gazing letter on Muxtape's home page. He'd hired a lawyer and tried negotiating, with varied reactions from the major labels.

In August, the Recording Industry Association of America finally complained to Ouelette's host, Amazon Web Services, and Muxtape was shut down. Frustrated with negotiations that were going to take months, he decided to give up.

"They had become too complex for a site founded on simplicity, too restrictive and hostile to continue to innovate the way I wanted to. They'd already taken so much attention away from development that I started to question my own motivations. I didn't get into this to build a big company as fast as I could, no matter what the cost; I got into this to make something simple and beautiful for people who love music."

Ouelette, a former employee of InterActiveCorp's Vimeo, created Muxtape this spring. Legal questions were instantly raised--though downloads were not permitted, Muxtape had not negotiated with record labels. A minor riff of scandal also came into view when gossip blog Valleywag deduced that Vimeo founder Jakob Lodwick, who had departed the company months ago, had funded Muxtape, creating a potential conflict of interest because Ouelette had quit his job at IAC to run the start-up.

The site was also allegedly burning through cash because of server demands, and it needed a revenue stream--but that would've put it on even shakier legal ground.

Soon, Ouelette said, Muxtape will return as "an extremely powerful platform with unheard-of simplicity for artists to thrive on the Internet."

He spelled out his vision: "The new Muxtape will allow bands to upload their own music and offer an embeddable player that works anywhere on the web, in addition to the original Muxtape format. Bands will be able to assemble an attractive profile with simple modules that enable optional functionality such as a calendar, photos, comments, downloads and sales, or anything else they need."

The Muxtape format has gained serious hipster cred from the site's initial burst of popularity, but there's a problem: bands already have MySpace profiles, as well as iLike concert listings, and they can upload their music to Imeem.

The idea of a cleaner, more unified site for bands is attractive; the idea of competing with News Corp., which just launched the MySpace Music service for its social site, is less so. It echoes of what happened with Napster founder Shawn Fanning when he tried to legitimize the service--it lost steam as a subscription music service and was finally sold to Best Buy earlier this month for $121 million.

Ouelette's indie spirit is admirable, but the fate of his restructured venture doesn't look good.