9 October 2007  •  Filed under

I hope this doesn’t come off as overly schmaltzy, but I was reading Ian Roger’s excellent article about the state of music on the web and ran across this comment by a fellow named Glen:

[…] Music was not made to make money, real music was and is made to help people express themselves, in a context that others can relate to.

[…] they [record labels] need to rememer how to make good recordings and package them in a way that makes them interesting, fun, informative and make the listener feel like they’re a part of something special and not just being taken advantage of by the corporation or a greedy “artist” who only wants to get rich and famous or die trying.

A rebuttal was left by, of all people, Jeanene Van Zandt, widow of Townes Van Zandt:

That was a painful statement to read. I know a lot of artists and not one of them is “greedy”. In fact I was married to one for 15 years. He gave his life to his music. He trudged around this earth for 30 years sharing his music with the world, but it was “his” music. From him and him alone. And when he laid down and died, his music became our music. It was his life’s work. It was owned by him and now us. Any man has the right and obligation to leave his family something, and a songwriter is no different.

When my husband, the singer/songwriter died our children were 4 & 13. My husband wasn’t “greedy”. My children are not “greedy”. We are just a family trying to make ends meet while our income has been slashed in half by people stealing my husband’s music.

Music is not FREE, I’ve watch someone die for it.

That someone was Townes Van Zandt.

Now I don’t know the first thing about Townes Van Zandt, except his name and a vague awareness of his place in music history. Maybe his heirs are filthy rich. Maybe not. Regardless, Jeanene’s comment struck a chord with me in light of Michael Arrington’s bleak prediction that music recordings will/should be free.

As the son-in-law of a musician, and the husband of an aspiring musician, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that a future in which we do not pay for music will be a future full of mediocrity and disappointment. I can also tell you that not paying for music really does hurt real people.

So whatever the future brings, I hope music will never stoop to being free. It deserves so much more than that.


Daniel Miller » 9 October 2007 #

I was a bit confused at first because Ian’s post IS so good but clearly on the side of we-need-to-rethink-this-revenue-model. (Commenter Glen, for his part, later clarified that he was not calling all artists greedy…something I wish did not have to be clarified. I don’t know Jeanene’s situation either but dang she was defensive.) But then I read (most of) Arrington’s post and my blood maybe didn’t get to boiling but it got pretty hot.

The problem is his “zero marginal production cost” is in reference to how much it costs me to download or rip music. The problem is the original production cost for music is far from zero. Maybe marketing costs for music can go down significantly with the web, but even so, the capital (in money and time, which, as the saying goes, are really the same thing) required to produce and then market a musical “project” enough to get out of the red is significant. I’m able to release about one project every 5 years, again that’s based on the money and time my “regular” career allows me. I’m on the third and it is the first project I feel can stand up next to what is coming out of the “industry”. Are these luxury problems? I DO still get to record music; I would do it even if I never released it to the public (it’s cheaper than therapy); but part of being a creator is the drive to communicate the art with some number of people. The web gives people like me some agency to do that, but…

I feel like Ian going, “We were talking about this 10 years ago” or whatever. I formed Integration Research in 2003 after talking about it since 2001 (or earlier) to figure out new models of distribution, dissemination and (maybe) monetization in the face of all this technological change. We folded in 2006 when all the board members and employees had to get paying day jobs.

All that said, it’s complicated, and blanket statements like “music should be free” are unhelpful. Music is free in the sense that it is vibrations on my eardrum that can be created just by someone choosing to sing in my presence. Music is free in the sense that I wanted to hear Oh Sherry and so I just downloaded it off some site because I could and because I figure, you know, managed well, Steve Perry should have made plenty of money 25 years ago to retire nicely.

Another blanket statement that grates on my nerves, as a defense of the above, “Musicians make their money touring.” NOT TRUE. The Rolling Stones make their money touring. MOST acts do not, and in fact touring, at some point in the prior century, became yet another loss leader in the game to sell physical copies of the music.

...meh…the business is changing…we’ve got to figure it out… /rant

Jared Christensen » 9 October 2007 #

I agree, there seem to be some horrible misconceptions about the business of music. And yes, it is a business. It should always be a business. Imagine if web designers had to do their design work for free and then take to writing books or speaking at conferences to make a living. It’s absurd, and yet this is essentially what people like Arrington think is the inevitable future. Sounds pretty awful to me.

But ,more alarmingly: you downloaded a Steve Perry song??? I keed, I keed.

Daniel Miller » 9 October 2007 #

Oh Sherry is now an ongoing joke around the office. I’ve got most of the moves from the video down.

I like your analogy with our industry. I had more rant after I posted this but it’s gone now, all may breathe easy…Will have to read this later but the podcast linked in the sidebar is quite good

Jared Christensen » 10 October 2007 #

Ugh, that article is full of more bad ideas and sweeping generalizations:

Records, CDs or downloads now have all become downgraded to the status of promotional tools – useful to sell concert tickets and fan paraphernalia.

Really? Is that so? Funny, I hadn’t noticed. :/

Brendan Cullen » 10 October 2007 #

If the answer was “Music should be free” then iTunes would be just another flop in the long line of failed online music stores.

Now iTunes and Amazon are finally breaking the DRM shackles, and lo! A viable business model for selling music is taking shape.

That’s bad news for the recording industry, not musicians. They bet against technology instead of embracing it and when has that ever worked out?

Alex » 6 November 2007 #

Actually I’ve been thinking on your comparison with webdesign and i don’t really agree with it. Most see music as entertainment and their thoughts is more that entertainment should be free.

Webdesigner will still be a profession still keep making webpages. However musicians is still a profession and should also be paid due to they need an income to. But While companies pay webdesigners to create experiences on the net, they are actually buying knowledge of how to give the entertainment to users – for “free” since they want to expand their brand to sell more material products or services – music is in the same position almost; problem is that the recording companies make money of the music – which is the “equivalent” product which is unfortunately isn’t “streamable” from anywhere if you are on your mp3 player (Unless radio or podcasts and the same but you can still do the same with webpages, make images of them and put them there.

So, music should be substituted by the government and free for the people. Now we are however coming on to idealogical questions so.. I think I end my answer here ;-)

© Jared Christensen

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