Free music

Why give music away free?

Why give music away free?

Great music is priceless, bad music is worthless – Steve Lawson

Emily White caused something of a furore when she admitted she rarely paid for music, she had 11,000 tracks and 15 CDS (the CDs she had paid for).

Let’s pause for a moment and put this in context. If I have one hundred CDs (I actually have far more) each with ten tracks, that is 1,000 tracks. To have 11,000 tracks, I am going to have over 1,000 CDs, that is a lot of CDs.

Paulo Coelho caused a furore when he made available his back catalogue for download at 99 cents per e-book. Not free, but almost.

Both were attacked (though in the case of Paulo Coelho not by his readers who thought it an excellent idea).

What seems to have got everyone’s back up is the notion of someone getting something for free, although with Paulo Coelho it was that he had the gall to give something away free (well almost).

One of the most viscous attacks was by David Lowery in an open letter to Emily White. He had previously written on the subject and this was a rehash. If you really have nothing better to do, read what he has to say, but it can be summed up in two word, patronising garbage.

Emily: My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you.

David Lowery then goes on to do exactly that!

But before exploring further let us look at sales. A music industry in dire crisis we are often told. True, the major record labels are in crisis, but they are an aberration and they are not the music industry.

The sales of shiny pieces of plastic, on which are encoded zeros and ones which can be interpreted as music are falling. But if we aggregate sales of all pieces of shiny plastic, ie CDs, DVDs, computer games, we find sales are not falling. What is happening is that people who bought moronic pop are now buying moronic boxed TV series, moronic computer games.

To quote Steve Lawson:

The biggest shake-up is the stat about sales of ‘physical entertainment media’, including CDs, DVDs and video games. They were still rising when the last study I saw was done, but music’s chunk of it was reducing rapidly. $10-15 for a CD just doesn’t look like a good deal alongside 50 episodes of House in a pretty boxed set for about twice that. Ditto a computer game that will take over your life for the next three weeks…

The early sales in CDs was novelty value, they were also bought to replace existing record collections. They were also highly priced, a price the market tried to maintain.

There is a minimum price to be put on a CD. The cost of production. Go below that and you are operating at a loss.

A useful analogy is spare seats on a flight. These can be sold at a very low price to fill the plane in last minute sales, but not below the price where bums on seats the cost of fuel exceeds the ticket price.

The Crypt Cover Project once a month invites musicians down into the crypt and within a day they record a song and get it on-line the next day. 

 Hope & Social  who run The Crypt Cover Project sell their CDs at this minimum price, digital download is free, you can of course offer to pay more. And guess what? They are making more money, and having more fun, than when they followed the conventional model of being on a corporate record label.

And what is wrong with free? Free, price, value, are too often confused.

Lowery puts forward some very perverse arguments in support of his diatribe.

He argues that if we are willing to spend a b c on cars, phones, internet, computers, then we should be willing to spend x on music.


It is not an inalienable human right that musicians should earn a living from making music. And that should not be twisted into they should not be paid for their music or ripped off.

Taking this perverse argument from Lowery then should we not be spending y on artists, z on writers? And what about restaurateurs, should we not be spending more on eating out?

I have never bought a work of art in my life, though I do possess works of art. These were given to me by the artists. Do I put zero value on them? No, the value is in the friendship that led to the gift.

Creative artists do not die of poverty, they die in obscurity.

At times Lowery is patronising towards Emily White and her generation:

But then you must live with the moral and ethical choice that you are making to not pay artists. And artists won’t be paid. And it won’t be the fault of some far away evil corporation. You “and your peers” ultimately bear this responsibility.

You may also find that this ultimately hinders your hopes of finding a job in the music industry.  Unless you’re planning on working for free.  Or unless you think Google is in the music industry–which it is not.

I also find this all this sort of sad.  Many in your generation are willing to pay a little extra to buy “fair trade” coffee that insures the workers that harvested the coffee were paid fairly.  Many in your generation will pay a little more to buy clothing and shoes from manufacturers that  certify they don’t use  sweatshops.  Many in your generation pressured Apple to examine working conditions at Foxconn in China.

Your generation is largely responsible for the recent cultural changes that has given more equality to same sex couples.  On nearly every count your generation is much more ethical and fair than my generation.   Except for one thing.  Artist rights.

And notice the veiled threat

You may also find that this ultimately hinders your hopes of finding a job in the music industry.  Unless you’re planning on working for free.  Or unless you think Google is in the music industry–which it is not.

Artists do not have rights, any more than bankers or car workers have rights.

If we are talking about workers right, an entirely different issue, then illegal immigrants doing our dirty jobs, unemployed who are being forced to work as unpaid slaves, are far worse off. As are those working in sweatshops to produce our consumer goods.

His opening paragraph is patronising and sets the tone for what is to come:


My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you. I believe you are already on the side of musicians and artists and you are just grappling with how to do the right thing. I applaud your courage in admitting you do not pay for music, and that you do not want to but you are grappling with the moral implications. I just think that you have been presented with some false choices by what sounds a lot like what we hear from the “Free Culture” adherents.

What an arrogant patronising prick!

Lowery wants Emily White to act ethically, yet another example of his patronising tone.

What is ethical? Copy nine CDs, but only buy one?

Sign up to a major record label. The split is 90/10, you get to keep 10%, they keep 90%, but out of that 10% you pay the promotion, the record producer and more. Fair, ethical?

Lowery peddles the same old garbage, stealing from a local store is the same as copying music.

It is not!

Internet is seen as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.

Internet is the best thing that has happened for creative artists. It gets them known, it makes it easier to listen to and share their music, to download and to buy.

An excellent example is bandcamp. Fans can listen to an album, they can share at a click of a button, they can download, they can buy. As I write I expect bandcamp within the next few days, certainly by the end of the month, to have put $20 million into the pockets of musicians on bandcamp. And for doing so bandcamp takes a cut of 15%.

Steve Lawson again:

So, while half the internet is freaking out over the idea that no-one ever pays for music anymore, Bandcamp are about to go past $20,000,000 – proper Dr-Evil-Pinky-In-The-Corner-Of-The-Mouth stuff. Why? because that’s 20 Million that doesn’t include anyone on a major label, and pretty much no-one who’s on a big indie. No one artist has made a million bucks on there yet (as far as I know!) and for a lot of the artists there, it’ll be the first time they’ve made *anything*. That’s a pretty hefty cash injection into the grassroots music economy. From a service that only makes *its* money when we do – no ad funding, no selling all-you-can-eat download accounts to fans. Just a seriously great platform for distributing, selling, discovering and sharing music. It is, in short, the absolute bollocks.

Bandcamp makes it easy to share. Try it with Live So Far by Steve Lawson.

There are occasionally those who abuse bandcamp, such as Andy Hull. The Church Of The Good Thief has only one track to listen to. But he is the exception, not the norm.

I make it easy to share. Go to the end of this article and before the comments (assuming there are any) and move your pointer over share. With a single click you can post on twitter or facebook.

What the internet is doing is providing a levelling out, an equalisation, more people are getting a fair share of the cake.

Mike Dawes is a guitarist. On Tuesday he released a single, Somebody That I Used To Know, an improvisation of the same song by Gotye, but far far better than the original. An intelligent decision was made to make an excellent film and release on youtube.

When I wrote about this in the early early hours of Wednesday morning 301 hits, by early afternoon 5,615 hits. 24 hours on in the early hours of this morning 22,596 hits! When I checked early this afternoon I expected the hits to have levelled off. It was now an amazing 114,579 hits. I do not need to plot these figures to see that we have is exponential growth.

The one unintelligent decision made by the record company was not to put the single, and his previous album Reflections, on bandcamp as he would have been able to ride the momentum of the hits on youtube, and not only seen a similar rise in hits, but seen a percentage of those hits turned into downloads and sales of Reflections.

The one area we can all agree is that spotify is a disaster. Not only because it pays musicians a pittance, puts money into the coffers of the major labels (even if the artist is not on those labels), but more importantly because it operates the facebook model, it exists to steal your personal data. Do you really want broadcast across facebook what you are listening to?

Internet is a disruptive technology, it is forcing a paradigm shift. Equally disruptive was sheet music and the emergence of a recording industry and radio. If people could listen to music in their own homes what would happen to music halls? The death of the music industry.

Music does not die. Music would only die if people failed to respond the basic rhythms of life.

The one thing David Lowery has conveniently overlooked is that Emily White works for a radio station, and could that maybe explain why she gets so much free music?

Alex W. Rodriguez suggests one simple idea, write about what you like.

Steve Lawson does not have a problem if you share his music.

For those of us who would NEVER have fitted in the old system, the internet is a lifeline. I’d never have had a career as a solo bassist without it, would never have played in Europe or the US, would never have sold thousands of CDs and downloads, and never met so many incredible musicians and music lovers from all over the world, connected by the shared wonder at what’s now possible.

Add to that the cost of making records being approx one order of magnitude cheaper than it was 20 years ago for equivalent quality, and you’ve got yourself an INCREDIBLE opportunity for art, innovation and community to form. Make friends with your listeners and all the supposed ‘problems’ of file sharing will answer themselves.

It’s also not an either/or kind of self-interest. demanding anything for free is bullshit. I don’t have a ‘right‘ to get paid, but no-one else has a ‘right‘ to hear my music either. It’s all negotiated. I’m lucky to get to make music, even luckier to be able to make it available for people to hear without having to go cap in hand to some marketing dickhead at a label who’d tell me to be more ambient so they can sell it to new age radio. And I’m beyond blessed to have an audience of friends and soon-to-be friends who see fit to express their gratitude to me for making music that means something to them by paying for it. If I tried to force them to do that before they got to hear it, or put a time limit on their discovery process, it’d lose all it’s transactional power. Their freewill is what makes the exchange so meaningful for both of us. And no-one who’s downloaded my music for free has ever cost me a cent. That’s amazing – free listeners! wow.

My own take on what Emily White wrote is that she is naïve and simplistic.

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8 Responses to “Free music”

  1. keithpp Says:

    Somebody That I Used To Know – Mike Dawes

    released Tuesday

    early hours Wednesday morning 301 hits

    early afternoon Wednesday 5,615 hits

    early hours Thursday morning 22,596 hits

    early afternoon Thursday 114,579 hits

    early hours Friday morning 164,174 hits

    I had expected Thursday afternoon to see a levelling off, instead seeing exponential growth.

    What a shame not on bandcamp as would have ridden on the momentum. Would have seen same exponential growth, some of which would have translated into downloads and sales.

    If nothing else this exposes the nonsense peddled by David Lowery that internet is bad for creative artists.

  2. Dickes B Says:

    I had many similar thoughts reading David Lowery’s “Letter” but mine were interspersed with many four letter, and due to my first language being German eight to eighteen letter, words.

    I am 27 now, no idea what generation I am shoved into.

    My first exposure to music and music piracy was my Mother’s extensive vinyl and mix-tape collection, both of which i inherited after her death 14 years ago. I vividly remember being taken along as she would seek out record stores all over Berlin and trawl countless bins for used records to add to her collection.

    But that was her and not me. I first started really listening to music after her death when I couldn’t sleep I’d listen to the radio at night.

    And I would tape the tracks that made me feel better. Fair use, no piracy here.

    Eventually I got lucky, my Father found me and took me out of the Orphanage system. Even better he let me have his cast off stereo and computer parts! I soon found a way to jack my new stereo components into my first PC. Didn’t take me long to figure out how to dupe the windows 95 sound recorder’s 30sec limit. I happily converted tons of my Mother’s vinyls into .wav and then .mp3 files.

    Fair use in my mind, but ofcourse the labels would have preferred for me to re-buy everything in the new format (cd). I guess my start in piracy was here.

    I now found myself in possession of some excellent classic mp3s, stuff that wasn’t on napster.. stuff that turned out to be in demand!

    So I traded with classmates. My Classic Rock, Alt Rock, Punk etc. for their Hip-Hop, Metal, Rap and god knows what else struck my fancy. At first at LAN parties, then we started getting ahold of cd burners and stocks of raws. Now trading took off! We’d share entire collections, in fact i still have my original dump discs. Did we consider the ethics of what we were doing? Heck no!

    Did we consider the economics of what we were doing? better believe it!

    A CD Album costing atleast 16.99$ (Dmarks then but the currency doesn’t matter) couldn’t compete with about a buck to a buck fifty for a raw. Especially since we were quite astute at making value judgements. What I mean is, that 16.99$ album had 1 to 3 tracks worth listening to, the rest being filler. Albums with a higher bang for buck usually ended up getting bought and passed around. Why pay the high price for bloat when we could source the 1 to 3 tracks for free and slap them on a cd that could hold a ton more 1 to 3’s from other albums at a fraction of the cost?

    Just the tip of the iceberg. This was before we used Napster, then Kazaa then Limewire, Bittorrent, Usenet (again really, it’s been around forever).

    What it boils down to is pure capitalism.

    How do I get the most bang for my buck?

    My generation is exceptionally well stocked with the tools to provide ourselves with free music, free books, free art, free movies.

    Thanks to easily available capturing hardware and international, virtual swap meets (Pirate Bay for instance) labels, publishers and movie studios can no longer control the distribution and availability of their IP. They can no longer demand that we pay X for Y. God knows they still think they can.

    For us the question is not “do I pony up the demanded price” but rather “am I willing to take a hit in quality to have it now and free”.

    Previous generations never had this much freedom to chose the ethical way of paying the asking price or of choosing cutthroat capitalism and going the 0 overhead route of piracy.

    You wouldn’t download a Car!

    Well if I could download a working car and print it off for say 2k $ or pay upwards of 24k$ you better believe I’d be burning my bandwidth.

    I might be persuaded to buy songs at 99cents but if the choice is buy the Album for 1 to 3 songs at 16.99+$ I know which choice I’d make… again.

    If your work can be digitized and still be useful, you had better get one thing through your skull: IF you try to charge more than the market will pay you will see alot of people paying nothing at all for your product. They will enjoy it, you will make nothing off it. When you decide to stop doing what You do some will be upset and sad, then will move on to the next thing.

    “So long and thanks for all the fish” ~ some Dolphins.

    case in point: I was handed an e-book collection with over 56k titles. FIFTY SIX THOUSAND books. Let’s let that sink in for a minute. I own roughly 800 books, my wife another 400. I don’t even read e-books… someone handed me 56.000 books because i like to read and they had access to that collection and thought of me. e-books are frequently sold at paperback+ prices.

    that is the reason someone amassed a collection of 56 thousand e-books. something that ought to cost 99cents or less being sold for 7.99$ (which is nuts for mass market paperbacks too by the way) caused someone, somewhere to cut their overheads to near zero. Scanners and Adobe Acrobat or some other pdf maker, a public library card and copious free time later a group of individuals (no one person scanned that many books) created a monster of a collection available to the public at zero cost to the end user.

    Compete or die. Someone will take your place if you can’t compete.

  3. keithpp Says:

    My original summary of his work was Bollocks!

    As an academic, David Lowery has some very woolly thinking.

    Question to ask is where does his funding come from?

    As children, we used to tape music from the radio, first with a microphone, then with crocodile clips on the terminals of the loud speaker. We used to play my grandfather’s old 78’s on an old wind-up gramophone.

    People have always shared music, be it a piano and old music hall numbers or kids in a slum banging out something on the rubbish they find.

    The only thing that changes is the technology.

    That you and your mates were passing around and sharing is not piracy. Would you have gone out and bought it? The answers is no, thus no sales have been lost.

    Steve Lawson has no problem with you downloading his music for free. It has not cost him a bean. You may decide you like, you may buy, you may share with your friends, you may book him for a gig.

    That is the difference with digital music. It costs nothing to ship. No matter how many you sell, there is still more to sell.

    The normal rules of supply and demand, scarcity, that applies to the manufacture of widgets does not apply to the distribution of digital formats.

    Neil Young refers to piracy as the new radio. It is simply a different way of sharing and listening to music.

    As I have shown with the statistics for Mike Dawes, internet contrary to the nonsense peddled by David Lowery is good for creative artists.

    Early this afternoon the number of hits for Somebody That I Used To Know had exceeded a quarter of a million!

    Radio stations used to be paid to play music. It was an illegal system called payola. A fancy name for a bribe.

    Musicians who love music will play whether we pay them or not. That is not an argument for non-payment. What we have to do is devise fair payment methods.

    One is bandcamp. It makes it very easy to listen, share, download, pay.

    Bandcamp is about to exceed $20 million straight into the pockets of musicians.

    Another is community supported music. Interaction between creative artists and those who wish to support their work.

  4. Dickes B Says:

    Absolutely agree with your comment on digital copies not playing by the usual supply and demand rules. And while I doubt I’ll download Steve Lawson song legally or otherwise, purely due to my musical tastes, I have dealt with a similar Artist.

    Let me introduce you to someone I consider a genius on the Electric Guitar.. Mr. Eric Calderone.

    find him here or on YouTube as 331Erock.

    Guess what? This guy rocks my socks on a number of levels.

    He visibly enjoys what he does, watch his youtube videos…!

    He doesn’t do it for me or for the money I’m going to end up tossing his way when i can afford to do so.

    He not only offers full length videos of his performances on youtube for free but also offers me mp3 free of charge for download from his site! guess how many I have? at least a dozen probably closer to a dozen and a half. I have not to date done more to repay him than to pimp him on Facebook and turn a bunch of my friends into followers. But you know what… with every mp3 I download from the guy I feel more like taking him out for a bender and slipping him some green. Because I don’t have to, because he doesn’t demand that I do. I’m sure he’d be thrilled if I bought his stuff… but in the meantime he is happy to give me his stuff to enjoy the shit out of for free.

    I tell you honestly… this man will make more than 99cents a song out of me before all is said and done. More than can be said for a lot of artists whose work populates my hard drives.

    semi PS: I think I may have discarded Steve Lawson without giving him a fair shot. Consider it on my to-rectify list of things to do.

  5. keithpp Says:

    Give Steve Lawson a try. I do not know how I came across him. At first I was not sure, but he certainly grows on you.

    Bass playing made easy

    Hello – Lionel Richie – Steve Lawson

    Improv #1

    Happy – Steve Lawson and Lobelia

  6. keithpp Says:

    Tried Erock. Bloody awful noise.

    Much prefer the Scorpions.

    Scorpions Wind Of Change at Royal Albert Hall

    I was at a party at a Venetian Medieval Castle where Rudolf Schenker founder and lead guitarist of the Scorpions played Rock Like Hurricane with Paulo Coelho on guitar and vocals. And earlier in the evening Christina Oiticica painted his guitar.

    A Japanese girl’s dream come true

    Paulo Coelho’s St Joseph’s Day Party at Castello Superiore di Marostica

  7. Dickes B Says:

    Well my man that’s individual taste for you. I absolutely love 80’s Metal, you obviously don’t. No worries we can still be friends.

  8. keithpp Says:

    I have no problem with heavy metal. They just have to be good.

    I saw Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s. They played Stairway to Heaven, probably before it was released. And got their autographs.

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