"Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society. It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property."
Thomas Jefferson had a lot to say about copyrights and intellectual property. In fact, Jefferson and James Madison laid the groundwork for our copyright laws. There is a good snapshot of what they did and what the result was here. They were clearly concerned that the flow of ideas should always remain free. Even the compromise they agreed on to allow exclusive ownership of an idea or invention clearly states that it has to have a benefit to the society. Otherwise it should not be protected. Should an inventor make money from his invention? Sure. Should a giant company take an invention away from an employee and give that person no credit while they make money and keep innovation away from everyone else? Hell no.
So what does this have to do with music? Music is ideas is the form of audio art. For centuries musicians made a living at it by being orchestra players, teachers, and composers. J.S. Bach, essentially the foundation of western music, would have been unemployed if not for the church and rich patrons. Like today, a lot of performers and composers struggled to make ends meet and had jobs other than music. Technology has changed but it is still a struggle for the people making music. What has changed is technology. With the advent of the piano roll people didn't have to see live music or play it themselves to hear it. And, pretty much from the beginning there were people who took advantage of the artists to make money (not always, some composers like Scott Joplin were very successful). You, the industry, waived just enough money under our noses to make us think we needed you. And not much changed until the internet. The long, tall wall the music industry built had finally been cracked. For real, and they weren't going to be able to hold back the flood this time. We didn't need the gatekeepers anymore. Actually, we never did. We, the musicians, could go right to the fans.
I go back and forth about how I feel about illegal downloads. I hate the industry, but I still feel it's wrong on some level. Superstars are so big they aren't hurt by downloads. Small guys like me benefit greatly from the exposure. As long as no one takes credit for the writing or the recording, fine. I can see the mid-level getting squeezed hard, as seen by Lion Music's recent news post. I can see how someone who just barely made a living at it could be hurt. I've never actually made a living at it. But I'm not opposed to new business models, including free. The business model we have now sure isn't working.
In the argument against illegal downloading the loudest point against it that the industry shouts about is that downloads hurt artists. This may sound bold to some, but I am telling you that is a bald-faced lie. Don Passman wrote a great book on the music industry. His section on a standard deal (with LA recording studio, well known producer, lots of bells and whistles) can be summarized thusly: Band A sells 500,000 cassettes (my copy of the book is from 1997) at 10.98 retail price. Woohoo, lots o' cash... right? Well, after the bands pays for all the bells and whistles the label insisted on, they go home with $58,000 at the end of the year. That's before taxes and before it's split between all the members of the band. The record industry had NEVER been about the artist. So all the labels and men in suits and all the big stars who toe the company line can go the the kitchen, open the fridge, and grab a bottle of STFU. You never spoke for me.
Where does this leave me now? Pretty much where I've always been. Relatively unknown, plowing ahead because writing and recording music is like breathing to me. I can't not do it. All of my solo music going forward will be available for free download. My electric instrumental cd already is. Donate if you feel like it, if not, enjoy the music anyway. I'm working on another acoustic cd. It will be free. If I have a physical product to sell in addition to downloads, I will offer you something way cooler than just a shiny plastic disk. You don't owe me anything. I owe you for being open to listening to me.
I haven't yet spoken to Chad and Brad of Strange Land to see what they think the band's future approach should be, so I can't speak for them. We've always been independent though and will continue to be so. (An important note: distribution is an entirely different animal than a record deal). But for me, sharing my ideas with you is far more important than any monetary gain someone else can make off me. Ars gratia artis.