A little jealous that the developer of Bespoke gets to work on this open source side project AND get paid as a software engineer at Harmonix (recently acquired by Epic), getting paid as a software engineer in the music tech space. In my experience, that sort of arrangement with an employer is really tough to pull off.


I hate to be a downer, and this definitely a jealous take, but like, how can that last? I've seen this story play out before.

Harmonix may or may not have been a chill company in Cambridge MA, but Epic is certainly not. Bespoke is a decade old passion project with a recent boost in popularity and a community growing around. Tech companies simply don't let their software engineers do things like this without some sort of quid pro quo.

There are a few outcomes I see:

1a. I am wrong. Epic will continue to let Bespoke thrive naturally and do whatever it wants because "it's no big deal bro, chill out. Bespoke is awesome!". In this timeline, Firefly has 4 seasons will a satisfying story arc.

1b. Bespoke continues doing it's thing somehow, but community moderation becomes difficult as it grows and it leads to burnout. See: Non DAW, LMMS.

2. Epic will try to buy or sponsor Bespoke. This is a double edged sword. Short term, you see a lot of progress and changes. Long term, usually these projects stop being themselves. The original creator will stay on for a while, but they will not own it or have full control. This will cause them to eventually lose interest, burn out, and work on new projects. When this happens, Bespoke is dead. It will either get cannibalized by Epic, or sold to some other company. See: JUCE.

3. Bespoke dev will quit Epic and work on Bespoke full time. Trying to make a living developing indie FLOSS music software isn't impossible, but it's very close. Usually some kind of honest compromises are made to make ends meet. Sometimes they are well received, sometimes they are not. See: VCV Rack, Ardour.

4. Epic squeezes Bespoke from the original owner. They say fine you can have it, I'll just do it again. Owner builds a smaller more humble version, but with an enthusiastic and thriving community, and maybe gets more involved in academic circles. See: PureData.

5. Bespoke dev gets swallowed up by Epic or some other big corp, and maintenance is taken over by community. They are both there and not there. See: SuperCollider

@paul from my limited experience I think it most likely depends on what he is working on at his job vs what he is building in bespoke. As long as he is not using any of the tools provided by his employer to do his open source project and he is careful to not use any of his employer IP + his OSS does not compete commercially with his employer products or directly promotes/endorses competitors he should be fine. It's a very fine line to walk on though

@paul dang, you really parsed this situation well (this was also a sort of weird stroll down memory lane)

@paul surprised to not see the Audacity debacle as one of the options in the list!

@martyn that's another case study for sure. However, in that case, Audacity was approached by a company well after it had been established as an independent project. I don't think the model fits as well for Bespoke because the dev has been working on it while simultaneously being employed by Harmonix.

@martyn Audacity is also less of a so-called "passion project" compared to Bespoke. Not to say the developers aren't passionate, it's just more utility, less creative expression and experimentation.

However, if you look into the guts of Audacity, you will see bundled with it something I'd consider a passion project: Nyquist. It's a LISP-y language the author for making computer music, and it drives many of the built in effects. Always came across as something like CLM, except not. It's got loving documentation, but I've never met anyone who *actually* uses it by choice (and if you're out there, hi I'd to meet you)

I'd be really interested to know what the state of Nyquist is amongst all this. Does anyone use it still? Care for it? What is the future of it in Audacity, now that the original owner no longer is a part of the project?

@paul #2 seems like the most plausible outcome to me, especially considering how close bespoke is to some other tech Epic has been working on


FWIW, I’ve never had a problem doing that. My personal stuff is always separate from company resources (done off premises on my own equipment and out of work hours) and unrelated to my day job work. So far, I’ve managed to come to an agreement with every employer but I’ve (usually) been prepared to decline the job if I can’t.

(IMO, that degree of possessiveness is a huge red flag.)


(TBF, nothing I’ve done has gotten any degree of notice.)

@suetanvil I hope you're right and it's able to work out. It would be a nice precedent to set for others, and maybe we'd get more meaningful art and music in the world.


A thing a lot of people don't realize is that employment agreements are negotiable. I've had jobs where the agreement had a "we own everything" clause that has struck it when I asked them to. Most of the time, they don't actually care; it's just boilerplate.

I delineate what I consider a fair agreement (not competing with the work product, not using company resources, not affiliated with the company) and they've always gone with it so far.



The trick is to be up front about this as early as possible. If they have some kind of restriction, ask if you can get an exemption. Sometimes they will.

You could probably do this retroactively with your current job, actually. You'd have more leverage since they know what you'd lose if you left.

You'd have to pitch it as a hobby that a) doesn't take time from your work with them and b) makes you better at your current job.



(Actually, I'd probably start with something like, "Of COURSE you'd have no problem if I did this, right?" Because they have no right to labour of yours that they don't pay you for.)


One other bit of advice: keep a projects list. This includes stuff that you've written, stuff you have in progress and stuff that you thought would be cool to do someday and have a few notes for. Some employers will require you to submit a list of existing IP which they will exempt from their "we own it" clause; submit this list; this is stuff you can work on that they can't claim.

(It's also really helpful to do this as a way to stay organized.)

@suetanvil @paul Yeh I've had some stuff as well like that; it's quite tricky though, some employers want you to list what you work on, or get sign off on anything new; it can make the '2am fly back open source bug fix' quite hard.

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