The Outlaw Ocean Music Project : The Controversy – Here’s My Opinion

(these are solely my own views and opinions within)

An organisation I wrote some articles about last year has this week found it’s name rattling around the mainstream media. The Outlaw Ocean Music Project and its founder, Ian Urbina, are the cause of widespread conversation right now. Allegations surfaced publicly for the first time against the project within a YouTube video made by Benn Jordan (one of the musicians who collaborated with Urbina). The video painted across views that have been bubbling around the back channels amongst a large and angry sub-set of musicians who had also taken part in the project. As I too was approached by Ian and took part in the project briefly last year, I just want to make a little informal statement about my experiences and views.

  • First off. I’m extremely proud of the coverage I compiled about this project back in 2020 on The Sound Sniffer music blog. I wrote dozens of articles in good faith and in the firm belief that the overall goal of The Outlaw Ocean Music Project (OOMP) was to raise awareness to global issues, gather funds to finance important journalism and in turn create something worthwhile for musicians and journalists alike. I loved the idea set out by Ian and his team and couldn’t resist helping them on their ambitious quest fusing music making with journalism. I’m understandably disappointed about what I’ve heard about the OOMP this week and hope the artists receive their owed royalties if that’s the case.
  • Getting so many artists working together was a mammoth achievement by Urbina. The influence this idea could have generated if run correctly was unprecedented – sadly it seems to have become somewhat farcical in nature. If you are going to make fundamental mistakes in the organisation of a new project, it might be wise to make sure you don’t bring 600+ hard-working contributors along for that ride too.
  • I don’t think Ian and his team intensionally went out of their way to create something that would irk musicians or put them ill-at-ease or out of pocket. Far from it I hope. The project was meticulously presented and all involved in creating it seemed very passionate about it’s aim. I think the downfall was the scale and amount of contributors they felt was necessary to include in the project. Seeing at first hand the workload musicians were taking on in order to make the music, it was bordering on ludicrous for the project to keep expanding at the rate it did. With every new release and artist signed up, a previous contributor would sigh – observing the influence and reach of their own work diminishing that bit more each jam packed batched release date… their music would eventually just get lost in the pile.
  • There are so many damning alleged facts and factors surrounding how this project was set up which have led to it becoming such a large news story. I don’t know the nitty gritty details personally, but Forbes did a substantial feature piece on it a couple of days ago.

With everything alleged in the media right now pushed over to the side – nothing boiled my own blood more regarding this debacle than finding a new email from Ian Urbina in my inbox recently asking if I would promote his brand new project. The email was almost carbon copy to the one I received back in 2020. This time the subject matter was relating to raising the profile of the life-work of Noam Chomsky. Finding this email didn’t come long after me donating copious amounts of good intentioned time on coverage for the former NYT journalist’s evidently ‘half functioning’ OOMP.

  • Just think about this one hypothetically for a second : If something you’ve set up is going wrong and is fraught with errors of judgement, debt and oversight; would you move on and initiate another separate project using the exact same model? So… when Ian reached out asking me to write about his new mirror initiative a couple of months ago, The Noam Chomsky Project, I shook my head and deleted the message. Deep down, it didn’t sit right at all, but I moved on. It was hard to imagine how anyone involved in the OOMP could have had enough time for a second large-scale project given the OOMP was only half built and struggling.

As I have previously stated, I don’t think that the ideology behind OOMP project was created in bad faith or was malicious in its initial inception. In saying this, it could be argued that it was created without the full perspective of its loyal contributors factored in. In my view, in order for a collaborative project to work, it must involve a win for everybody enlisted. This particular project has uniquely managed to become a thing where every single individual involved has subsequently come out at a loss for being involved (myself included). To compound it all and rub salt in the wounds of many contributors, no money at all has been raised to fund important journalism. Factoring in the reality that close to 600 musicians have each spent countless hours contributing music to it, the lack of money raised certainly reads like quite poor management of the project, at best. (source: The Outlaw Ocean Music Project FAQ‘s)

(Ian has since apologised publicly to all involved after pressure was put on him in the mainstream media)

I really enjoyed interviewing musicians and hearing all about the thought processes behind how they assembled their productions for the OOMP. I mean, some of the world’s best music makers were involved and made stunning works. All of them I spoke to told me that they had even purchased and read Ian Urbina’s book (The Outlaw Ocean) in full to seek inspiration before composing. These hard-working and talented individuals put serious time, effort and passion into their music for the OOMP – it took weeks/months for most to create their EP’s or albums. The desire each had for contributing to something that would make a difference was endearing to witness. Monetary reward wasn’t their goal – raising awareness and funds for a seemingly great cause that was painted out to them was the catalyst. Sadly, this never materialised. The music made for this project must not be overlooked nor forgotten.

Christina Higham’s ‘Melting Icebergs’ composition remains one of the highlights of the project musically for me.

In conclusion: I will leave my coverage of this project up in my site’s archive (along with an updated foreword, and this article linked beside it), it would be a travesty to have to delete all my work; the musicians important words, work and perspectives would go to the bin too. The dust will settle on all of this soon and when it does, I hope everyone involved on the artist side can take pride of what they’ve achieved and created here. The founders of the project on the other hand must accept they’ve let a potentially fruitful idea go sour. Also, they must deal with the fact that all they’ve ultimately done is oversee good intentioned musical collaboration, on an unprecedented scale, going to waste.

Thousands of songs created, many of which might now be thrown in the bin.

*** To musicians reading who’ve taken part in this project :: An official apology has been issued to the musicians involved and if you are unhappy about the conditions of your contract with the OOMP – get in touch via their website and you can request full rights back. ***

– About ‘The Sound Sniffer’ –

The Sound Sniffer is a music blog that’s still only a baby – Founded in early 2019 by Kevin Coakley, a music writer and ghostwriter. ‘The Sound Sniffer’ also runs gigs and showcases in London since Oct 2019. The showcases are picked from artists found in the blog’s submission inbox.

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