Ever since Napster got into legal hot water in 2000 there’s been this never ending rant online that music “should be free.” That the big bad record labels got what they deserved and that using so called “music sharing” services – like Napster – is somehow helping the poor artists who are enslaved by the big labels and their overlords.
I’m not denying that many artists have been screwed by bad deals within the industry, but the argument that music should be free is so simple minded and just plain wrong.
I have a degree in music and I’ve worked in some form of media and music creation ever since. I work “both sides of the glass” meaning as a performer and audio professional.
In 2012 I started a record label in much the same fashion as many who’ve come before me… someone I know gave me $5,000 and asked if I could record a project for them since I was also an audio engineer and knew about that stuff.
I’m not complaining about the amount of work involved. I’m a big boy, I knew what I was getting into. But the work I put in is not the issue here. You think music should be free. So. Go do it. Go make a bunch of music and give it away.
But do it justice.
1) You don’t have to go to a conservatory or music school, but you do have to put in the time, the years of mastering what ever instrument you choose - whether that be a guitar, an oboe, or a nose flute. Just make sure you can play, sing, whistle well enough for people to actually want to hear you do it.
2) Next would be all the years of playing dive bars and street fairs. Where you get to “pass the hat” to make money. But my post is mainly about recorded music, so for now we’ll just assume that you’ve built a big enough YouTube audience that you’re known and followed by people who aren’t your family and friends. (As an aside, you must have spent some cash on your iPhone or other video camera. Oh, and spent the time necessary to learn how to use all that stuff?)
3) So. It’s time to record? Not so fast. You have written a bunch of songs, right? Oh yea. You should also be competent enough to compose (just a few more years?). But hey, you can just do covers. Sure. Have you paid for all the rights to record someone else’s music? Yep, you have to pay for rights to record and sell covers. What? You’re giving your music away? (You’re so cool.) But you still have to get permission from the rights holders before you ‘fix’ that version in a form that can be distributed. (Oh, and I hope your keeping track of the hours you’ve put into this endeavor so far.)
4) OK. You have some of your own, and some covers. Now, How are you going to record this great desirable music? You’re a DIY’er so you’re just going to do it all yourself in your bedroom. OK. It is possible. Well, you still need to buy some recording gear, even if you’re just going to use free computer programs to produce your hits. Uhm you have bought a computer, right? A microphone? An analog to digital interface? (You might want to start keeping track of your expenses.) But remember, in order to act as an engineer and musician you have to be really good at both of those activities. Maybe some more hours/years learning recording and mixing techniques? I mean, even though you’re giving your music away, people still have to desire it, yes? OK, so maybe you hire someone to help you with the tech side so you can just express yourself. (Keep track of what you’re going to have to pay that producer.)
5) Cool! You’ve got, I don’t know, 8 songs. You upload them to your website with the word “free” on the purchase button (you are so cool). A website, by the way, that you’re paying for and will now have to pay more for the added traffic. (Still keeping track of expenses?)
6) Now do that over and over and over. Your fans want content! You have to stay relevant and keep carrying the torch of free music for all! (Of course you can, you're independently wealthy aren't you?)
Have you figured out yet how many hours you’ve put in, and how much money, and how you’re not getting any of it back? You must be independently wealthy.
I’m hoping that by now you get my point? Oh but making music is fun and if I’m having fun I shouldn’t care if I get paid. Right? I also know people who are lawyers, software programmers, or radio producers and they enjoy what they do too. But they won’t do it for free.
And if you don’t like the music I’m creating, fine. But don’t steal it if it’s not worth anything to you.
So yes, you should pay for music. You should pay more, but Apple has already fixed everyone's expectations. So is $1.99 per track too much? No. Because I'm small I have to distribute through services like CD Baby, which means both they and Apple get a cut before me. Here's what I get per track download $0.63. What about a stream, like Spotify? $0.001183. Imagine splitting that with a big band!
I remember reading Jack Conte’s article on Medium about the 2014 Pomplamoose tour. I truly respect him for so openly sharing the actual budget numbers with the world. I thought it was going to be very helpful in spelling out to everyone why they should pay for music. Read it here, it’s a truly enlightening read for those who haven’t had to do what we do as musicians.