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Free music?

June 22, 2012

21st century modelGiven the glut of information bombarding our senses on a daily basis, we choose our blog topics very carefully.  Regular readers know that our overarching theme is how musical aesthetics permeated the lives of individuals throughout history, and how old music is relevant today.  We generally stick with that theme with historical examples but the occasional current issue will crop up now and then.  We don’t mind folding such topics into our discussions, particularly when the topic has to do with how we reach listeners with our music, and how artists are meant to create and survive.

Stop for a moment and consider the way you experience music.  While many who seek out and appreciate Early Music are mature enough to remember the pleasures of browsing at the record shop, nearly everyone shops for their music online today.  It’s relatively easy to search for, find, and listen to samples of music by artists of every type and, as recording artists, market experts are telling us we need to give our music away in order to attract new listeners.

But anyone who understands the fundamental principles of classical physics understands action and reaction; that nothing is really free, and in the isolated system of the production, distribution and purchase of recorded music, the equation is no longer balanced when it comes to compensating the creators of music.

When the digital form of music, its online distribution, and the hardware to store and play it all take precedence over the music itself, we are missing the point.  Two articles have been making the rounds this week among recording artists and file sharers and we urge you to take the time to read them in full.

The problem, as advanced by Emily White, a young NPR intern who aspires to a career in the music business:

“I am an avid music listener, concertgoer, and college radio DJ. My world is music-centric. I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs.

“…As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. I can’t support them with concert tickets and t-shirts alone. But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.”

– Emily White, “I never owned any music to begin with”

A few excerpts from the impassioned response written by David Lowery, a very articulate music professional and specialist in ethical distribution of music:

“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.

“…Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done.

“…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.”

– David Lowery, “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered”

We’ve discussed this topic before in an earlier blog post and, like most recording artists, we continue to struggle with the issues arising from what David Lowery calls the Free Culture Movement.  Please take the time to consider the facets of this issue and, please, please buy music directly from artists whenever you can.  Want to know how? Just ask them.

One Comment
  1. Donna’s comment to the lutelist on this subject:

    We also find that CDs sell well at concerts, but we’ve begun to offer download cards for souvenir-seeking audience members who are digital-only. We’ve had some amusing exchanges with fellow luddites who can’t for the life of them figure out what the download cards are good for.

    However, although the inexpensive-to-produce download cards can make decent business cards, CDs certainly do not, since they are so much more expensive to produce. Those of us relying on music for gas, food, and all other living expenses simply can’t afford to lose money on CD sales, and it’s frustrating to be continually advised by the expert marketers that we must give them away. This is the equivalent of being asked to pay for the privilege of working a ‘real’ job – who would do that?

    We do make more from digital sales than from CDs, alas. Unfortunately for those of us who value thoughtfully-designed programs, beautiful artwork, and liner notes, this probably means we need to be prepared to make the jump to digital-only. The only question is one of timing.

    Donna

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