A blorg about brewing beer and writing songs

19 Oct. 2009

Giving it away

I was trying to decide where to start today. I currently have a chocolate stout brewing, and a new Meat Pig track that needs some vocals and some production attention. Neither of which I'm completely ready to talk about. So instead I wanted to get stuck into an issue that I hope will define the spirit of this blog: freedom of information.

As far as I am concerned, anything I put on the Internet is information. This includes the digital audio files that have encoded the music I've made. That information, once it is residing on a global computer network is fair game. You can try as hard as you like to protect it, but the reality of the situation is that someone either knows or can know how to get at anything that's out there. This also means that anything you send out into the world which can potentially be converted into digital format and made available on the Internet most likely will be. In any case you should assume that it is or will be available.

I think that fighting a futile battle against copyright infringement is akin to eating your own organs. They may seem like a delicious idea when explained to you by an order of cannibal elders, but then you realise that you can't metabolise food any more and you are haemorrhaging blood out of the wounds in your torso. That's as far as I'm going to go into the politics because there are so many better spoken people who have put it so well that I hardly need to.

I'm in an enviable position (depending on your point of view) because I'm not trying to make a living off my music. So all this politics and money talk doesn't effect me. I make music in my brother's lounge room. We have about $3000 worth of equipment between us, purchased over years. And we have a network of friends who can loan us things when we need them. We haven't produced any physical media and we use free software and free online services in all of our production work. We aim to get the most output from the least input in our music, so there's no feeling of loss when we don't get paid for it. Certainly there are ways we could try to make money from our music if we were dedicated, but we aren't. So for us, a creative commons license is the perfect system. Our music is free. Free to download, free to share, free to modify and use in your own works. And I believe that this approach is particularly suited to music which, at it's very core, is derivative. When you write a song today, you are drawing (even if you don't realise it) from a source of historical knowledge that can hardly be comprehended. If copyright had no time limit then every new recording artist would have a case on their hands.

So it seems to me that rather than crying about it, like the Lily Allens of the world, a better approach is to embrace freedom from first principals. Have no intention of control. Give and receive freely. So instead of looking at the accumulation of money as success, look for the accumulation of fans, collaborators and remixers. With this in mind then every file sharing transaction is a net gain, a new set of ears to hear your voice and another shot at influencing the collective consciousness with your vision.

This topic is particularly hot right now in the UK where Alice Taylor, commissioning editor for education at Channel 4, is all set to publish an essay proclaiming sharing as the new way in a world where people no longer want to pay for music. I'd like to hear someone in authority go straight to the crux of the issue and stop deferring to the music industry with talk of legal paid downloads and other pretty ideas. The cold truth is that 99% of your fans don't want to pay for your music. If you accept that, even embrace it, then you are less prone to hissy fits like Ms. Allen's, proclaiming your career over because people don't want to give you as much money as you think they should.

Sit back and think about it for a while, do musicians really deserve to be rich? Does anyone? Maybe you work hard for the money, but so do a lot of cleaners, receptionists and help-desk workers who have and will never appear on a music video show, or be ushered into the VIP section of their favourite nightclub. So stop crying and think about what really matters: the music.


  1. i mostly agree, but cleaners do make money for cleaning all day. if you make music as a career that requires you to spend most of your time working at it, you need to at least live off it somehow or it isn't feasible.

  2. I'm not against people making money from music. There are honest ways you can make money by composing or performing music. There just aren't many ways to get rich off music without a broken legal framework propping you up.

  3. I might add that professional musicians get plenty of lifestyle perks that cleaners don't get.

  4. i don't know, cleaners get all those free cleaning products.

  5. not saying the lifestyle is better, just different