It would be great if everything could be free but this just isn’t reality.

I recently read this article on Tune Core about a blog post called “Filesharing Will Go Down in History As the Greatest Thing Ever to Happen to Music” and watched a video rebuttal to that post created by Mike Lombardo.

After reading and watching these I got to thinking about how the latest trends and technologies are affecting the music industry. Most of the advances in technology that have altered the music industry are to an artist’s advantage but some are controversial. I do not want to go through all of the ridiculous and offensive beliefs in the post about file sharing so I am grateful that Mike Lombardo has already done it. This video is very entertaining and definitely rings true. Mike has done a great job explaining things from the musicians side that can not be refuted.

If you just watched the video above (which I hope you did) much of this might seem redundant or repetitive but I am writing it anyways as to further demonstrate the arguments. I would like to start by sharing with you some of my experiences.

  1. Over the years I have had people come up to me and say something like “I love your work. My friend Jane burned me a copy of your CD”. The first time I heard something like this I was offended by what was meant to be a compliment. As I thought it over I realized that, while yes it was “piracy”, Jane was doing me a favor by not only telling a friend but also by sharing the disk and as a result this person supported my music by attending a show.
  2. I have also found my music on popular file sharing websites where anyone can download my tunes for free. At first I was offended, but again I tried to think positive; maybe whoever posted my music was doing me a favor. Well for most artists this definitely would cost them some money. But for me, the unknown guitar player from Detroit, the chances that my songs would even get downloaded on these sites are slim but in the event that they do it is most likely by someone who has stumbled across me by accident or by someone who would have never purchased a CD to begin with. Maybe it is going too far to call it a “favor” but I try to stay optimistic and hope that some day this person will attend a show, purchase the next disk and/or will tell a friend about my music.
  3. I myself have been guilty of swapping CD’s with friends and students, illegally downloading music or back in the day dubbing a cassette tape. Am I proud of this? Absolutely not. However I can say that I have discovered a great many of artist this way that I have then in turn spent thousands of dollars attending concerts and purchasing merchandise including additional recordings. Does this make it right? Of course not but in the end most of the artists made money they would not have if these technologies had not existed.

The above are all examples of copyright violations, however, in these situations the artist is eventually compensated for their work. Yes, I think that sharing music is good! It is a great compliment to the artist when a person is so excited about a song, CD, artist, etc., they cannot wait to share it with FRIENDS (not for free with the whole world). Am I telling you all to go make copies of my CDs and hand it out to five friends…sure if you think they will like it and it is the only way you can get them to give it a listen. I want to share my music. However, I am also asking that you tell them the next time I have a show and ask them to attend – or tell them when my next CD is coming out and where they can purchase it. Without fan support I will not be able to continue to share my music.

Today there are so many great devices and applications that allow you to stream music via satellite radio, internet radio, podcasts, YouTube, etc. There are plenty of ways to find and listen to new music, many of them free and on demand, without violating an artists copyrights or ability to profit from their work. Almost all of these ways allow the user to share this experience with their friends with the click of a “like” button, tweet, email link, etc. Also many artists and creators in many fields choose to give away a good portion and sometimes all of their work for free. This is the artists/creators choice, often based on ability, and that choice should be protected.

There have also been great technological advances that have made it not only possible but also easier and less expensive for a musician to create and share their music. I currently have a small recording studio in my basement that would have been unattainable for someone in my situation 10-20 years ago. The internet allows me to distribute and advertise in ways that are affordable to independent artists like me. It has given the independent artists a louder voice and a more level playing field – a better shot at getting heard – and maybe even famous. It has also in some ways saturated the world with mediocre products.

Music is my life, I could never quit playing guitar, it is who I am. But the bottom line is that creating music is not free. Just because an electronic form of it can be duplicated with little cost (still requires the right equipment, software, internet, etc.) does not mean that the original was free to create.

Most musicians start out small, with a “Real Job” (or parent) that funds their love for playing and creating music that often grows into the desire to share it with others. After a while if they work really hard hopefully they will start to make money from sharing their art with others that they will likely reinvest into improving their music/recordings/performances. As time goes on this processes if repeated and hopefully a musician is making enough consistent money and can quit his/her day job enabling them to focus just on the music which will also improve the music/recordings/performances. Maybe someday they will even get one of those elusive label contracts that will handle most of the business side of music, further cultivating the creative process.

And to those that rant about the overpaid “rockstar” I ask: Why would anyone strive to be better at their job or skill if there were no reward (this includes doctors, scientists, engineers, etc.). This is not just about monetary compensation, I am talking about the reward of having more people enjoy or benefit from your work (which, in a fair world, usually leads to increased monetary compensation). Further more, the “rockstar” did not become a “rockstar” on his/her own and the “rockstar” does not get paid just because he/she exists, they get paid for providing a service or product. Like every other product on the market, there is a long list of people who made it possible and deserve to be compensated. And like every other product on the market, the price a consumer pays for the end product is determined by demand and is divided among all those that made it possible.

While money is, was and never will be my goal I hope to someday be able to focus all of my time and energy into creating great music that will bring joy to many. Unfortunately for that to happen I need to make money to pay for the tools to create it and the general cost of living.

So I guess the point of this post is to ask that if you like an artist’s work – please be respectful of the cost of creating it. It would be great if everything could be free but this just isn’t reality.