Posts Tagged ‘free music’

Free music

June 21, 2012
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.

Why give music away free?

May 3, 2012
Why give music away free?

Why give music away free?

Paulo Coelho has rocked the publishing world by making his back catalogue available for download at 99 cents a book.

This was a deal negotiated at the London Book Fair by his agent Monica Antunes with HarperCollins in the USA. Currently it only applies to the US but pressure is being applied by his readers worldwide.

What Paulo Coelho is forcing is a paradigm shift.

The comments in Publishers Weekly give an idea of how controversial. His readers are all in favour. They think it a great idea, they can see that more people will read his books.

Those dependent on the old discredit model just do not get it, as can be seen by comments from a man who admits he is an agent for authors, though he refuses to say who his clients are.

He just does not get it that the old discredited model is finished. A business model that criminalizes those who may wish to buy, not exactly the way to win friends and influence (though lobbyists who whore for them can always buy a few corrupt politicians).

Musicians too have woken up to this new world. They put their music on bandcamp, where it can be listened to for free (the entire album not a few second lofi sample), easily shared and often downloaded for free or pay-what-you-think-it-is-worth or a minimum price. And guess what, people are willing to pay more. People are willing to pay more because they know the money is going to the creative artists who make the music they love, not to a greedy, faceless, global corporation, which at best treats music as a commodity.

One such group is Hope and Social. 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.

Hope and Social explain why their music is free in a post Why ‘Pay What You Can’? which I reproduce in its entirety below.


We release just about everything we do as Pay What You Can. We make music, you pay us whatever you think it’s worth. The minimum price for downloads is a big fat zero. The minimum price for physical (CD’s etc) is cost of manufacture + post and packing. If you come to see us at a gig we’ll sell you a CD for whatever you want to pay.

Why do we do this?

We believe that the old fashioned record industry model is on it’s last legs. We believe that it’s better to sell direct to fans than via shops. We believe that we now exist in an environment where recorded music is essentially available for free and that environment is totally created by the laziness of the record industry and why fight that? If you want our music you are more than welcome to it. Please… take it, play it, give it to your friends. If you feel that the music we make has value to you then feel free to give us some money. If you do give us some money then you can do so safe in the knowledge that all that money goes to us. It does not go to Apple ot HMV or Sony or some other massive corporation to whom your pounds are such a tiny fraction of their turnover but it all goes to us where it directly allows us to buy the petrol for the next gig or get the next cd pressed or even buy some food or something!

Believe us, we appreciate whatever people give us greatly and we are constantly amazed at how generous people are. In 2009 we made more money giving music away in a year than we have ever made in any of the 10 years previous of selling recorded music for fixed prices in shops, paying for PR and advertising etc… While we are still a league away from making a living wage from this we do believe that is the future for us and for many other bands.

If there’s one thing we would say it’s this. If you love a band find a way to give them money or help or just applause. They will need it and they will appreciate it.

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