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Monday, January 11, 2010

The Future You Were Waiting For (part 2)

"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.


Lamneth said...

I particularly liked Borislav Mitic's comment on that Lion Music article "Would you like musicians to visit your home and take some of your property for free? Why not? They can use it... the same way you can use illegally downloaded music without paying for it." I'm all for buying albums using the proper channels to support the artists, but I also admit that I buy the CDs used whenever I can even though this probably means no money has gome to the artist's pockets? Why? Because I have a radio station to run and I'm trying to bring as much new music as I can to the listeners. It's also hard to even know what the right channels are... I recently read about a CD reviewer who buys his CDs from Russia because they are cheaper but then he found out most of the CDs that they sell are unlicensed counterfeits. BTW I think it's cool that you're giving away your solo material.

MAVIII said...

Lamneth (and thank you for the Station)...

Its funny you say that about the Russian Copies.
I recetly learned why its soo prevelent in Russia to make "Bootlegs"... the Beatles!

Watch this Documentary I just saw on PBS, not only were they a main source for the Downfall the "Soviet" Russia, but it may answer why their is so much bootlegging of Movies and Music (and over the Internet):

If you get to see the Doc on PBS, its really amazing, I never knew they were such an impact back then.
And they used to "Cut" Records on "X-Ray Photographs(The Plastc sheets)" then trade them by rolling them up in their sleeves!

I remember another Doc from ABC News I believe (an Expose'), back in the (Soviet)80's, a Interviewer asked a kid-What music do you like? and the Kid answered, "Rush, Kiss, Bands like dat" :)

guitarsean said...

I understand the stance of the Lion Music folks. But I also read that and kinda hear "ahhhh, scary!" The world has already changed. You can't put this genie back in the bottle. It's almost irrelevant that downloading is illegal. Unless we pass some really draconian laws we won't stop it.

So the question is, will you adapt and evolve? I kinda see a future where the labels like Lion Music are gone, which is too bad. Obviously prog had survived partly thanks to labels like these. But, the artists who might be on a label like that who can adapt will thrive. People like me who don't make a living at it but still play and record on a pro level will find a way to get our music out there.

guitarsean said...

And here is another label with a different approach to the download world. has priced all their downloads at $5.25

stringray said...

I don't think we can undo illegal downloading here and now. Th wheel of time is turning and that chance has gone. The industry never thought of a business model for the internet, they simply never thought it would affect them anyway. Remeber Procter & Gamble, a company that produces goods for self care, cleaning, etc. When they've been confronted with tv and the possibility to do commercials for it, they invented the soap box opera. None of the tv editorials have had even the idea. And what would tv be with out the sbo today?
When you hang around and don't care for a new media, you've lost and that's what's happened.

Before the downloading became an issue, they were complaining endlessly about cd roms. They tried to tell us that a cd rom is a medium to store music only and compared the number of lost sales to the ## of sold cd roms 1:1 back then. As if nothing else could ever be written to a cd rom. The decline was already there, then came the bit torrents.

Music simply has no significance to the common people anymore, it is nice having it playing in a game or as soundtrack, or whatever else. But why would they pay for it? I mean, equal if an album costs 16 § or 5, crap, why spend the money anyway as music is out there for free? I f**ing have to spend my money for the cheat of that new game there.

Music industry squeezed out every single penny of musicians just for sleeping and letting clever marketing in the drawer.
The ideas were there. Napster,, pandorra, youtube, etc, etc (even internet radio!!!) Industry was always agitating against them and will ever do. Collaborating and focusing on new marketing fields, that is nothing a good conservative manager would ever risk shareholder's dividend for!