Greenleaf Music's Jim Tuerk has written a thought-provoking piece discussing the pros and cons of streaming music for free “Why Spotify is the best, and the worst.”
Jim quotes from another interesting piece by guitarist and singer David Lowery who looks at the implications of a small number of big technology conglomerates having become the "new bosses" of the music business. “'The consumer wants music to be free!’ [the Digerati] shout as they pound their tiny fists on their Skovby tables," writes Tuerk."The consumer also wants cars to be free. And beer. Especially beer. But any market involves a buyer and a seller. A consumer and a producer.”
This all seems incredibly relevant in a week where a UK court has demanded that ISPs block the file sharing website Pirate Bay, and speaks to me directly and personally right now, in the week that my own record label V & V Music has gone live.
I use Spotify a lot – it's an incredible resource for learning tunes, as you can quickly access multiple versions in quick succession. For the same reason I also use it for checking out classical pieces I'm not so familiar with – in combination with the free sheet music on IMSLP, it's a powerful learning tool. I used to also use it for checking out bands and music I was interested in, before usually buying the record. However, this is one application I no longer use it for.
Why? Well, track previews on iTunes now give you enough of a sense of “do I want this record?” without giving the whole game away, for free. Moreover, the past year of learning what an incredible amount of investment it takes to make a record – in terms of time, money, all-consuming thought and mind-bending effort means I will never stream or download another piece of music by a living artist without paying for it. The process has been so enlightening I sometimes feel that if everyone on the planet made a record, we would have no problem with piracy or free-streaming.
File-sharing sites mainly harm the bigger labels, but our indie jazz labels do not escape the problem. A search of a file-sharing website brings up 10 Kenny Wheeler albums available to download illegally, as well as offerings from Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, Dave Douglas, Gwilym Simcock, and many others. The sad fact in a community as small as ours, is that these albums are being converted into bittorrents by jazz fans for other jazz fans. Each person that downloads these torrents is a sale lost, and for small scale businesses that depend on sales, that equates to real damage.
At the North London Tavern a few weeks ago, someone stole a copy of Josh Arcoleo's 'Beginnings' album, as well as a copy of Tom Harrison's 'Dagda' record. We were all outraged – shocking that someone could sit there, enjoy the music to the point of wanting the record, and then feeling that it was ok to to steal it. The consequences were clear: Josh and Tom would have to pay their labels for the missing stock, so not only was it revenue lost, but cost was incurred too. However, this is something that happens much more often in a digital format, and often is blankly accepted.
David Lowery goes on to ask the question: “Despite the loss of revenue to file sharing has technology allowed the artists to make up the loss of revenue in other ways?”
Personally speaking, my business model is very dependent on the internet. Twitter provides access to networks which would otherwise be unreachable due to huge marketing costs, and bloggers provide coverage which is much harder to come by in the traditional press. In my example, I'm sure that technology has been much more of a plus than a minus. Sales made through web-based publicity will far outweigh losses from ePiracy. However, for some artists that is clearly not the case, and I also think there is a bigger issue here.
Much is made of the erroneous argument that freedom of knowledge equates to the greater spread of that knowledge worldwide, and the greater potential for future development. One of the many reasons that this logic doesn't stack up is that in the music example these knowledge providers are businesses: you remove the income, and the business will fold. No more future knowledge can therefore be provided.
Anyone presuming that they can just walk into a jazz concert for free, where it is plain that entry has a price tag, would provoke justified disdain of everyone in the room. The same disdain should be levelled at those who think they don't need to pay for the music they download and consume digitally.
What really bugs me is the attitude behind this: the premise that artists have a duty to share their work for free. No, we don't. If you like something, support it - pay for it!
UPDATE: RESPONSE FROM JANEK GWIZDALA
For the most part, being an independent artist and producer of material under my own name, I couldn't disagree more with this post. I think you touched on something very positive when you started to talk about the ways in which the digital idiom has afforded more new artists an opportunity to connect with an audience that would otherwise have traditionally been out of reach 15 years ago, but telling people that they shouldn't give their music away and that everything should be paid for is something I find quite absurd. And I think it's an attitude that is not only out of date, but that will hurt the potential for continuation of art forms like jazz that currently occupy a rather small percentage of the market place.
I get that iTunes previews now give far more of a preview than they used to, and that you can get a pretty good idea about a track and whether or not you want to buy it or not. But what if the feeling for a prospective customer, who might never have heard your particular brand of instrumental ramblings before, that a forthcoming purchase was mandatory in order for them to enjoy the entire product was taken out of the equation?
You immediately give the listener a stress free environment in which to enjoy the music, and you give them an open and honest connection by declaring that you believe the music is worth paying for so much that you're willing to put it out there for free, and let them come to that same conclusion in their own time. Having a product that people connect and identify with is the key here. And where people get the idea that it costs a lot of money to make a record anymore, I have no idea. I just tracked my last album in one of the best studios in NYC with some of the greatest cats available. recorded, mixed, mastered and released the album for around $6,000. when you look at the potential revenue that a recording like that will have just in the first year, never mind over it's lifetime... it brings into perspective that recording is no longer expensive.
And if you're using any of the up to date cutting edge platforms (of which I do not consider iTunes to be one) for digital music or content delivery, you won't be giving your music away for zero return, even if the person who downloads it doesn't end up actually giving you any money. You'll be at very least taking an email address in return for the music they downloaded.
I think the key to the current climate of perceived piracy in online music is not the "illegal" downloading of other peoples music, but actually more on the artists end of creating compelling and engaging digital content. If your product is worth something, and you engage enough of an audience for your brand, then piracy will be the last thing on your mind. You will have so many engaged fans, followers and subscribers, that piracy will be as much of a thing of the past for you as it is for me.
I agree that it's a drag to see your hard work show up almost immediately on a torrent site. But I also think that's hugely motivational in terms of kicking you in the arse and making you more responsible for growing and nurturing a dedicated and engaged fan base who will pay for your products regardless of who else is illegally offering them for free somewhere. And who in their right might in this day and age seriously considers CD or digital sales as a major percentage of their annual income?
I think one of your last comments in the post mentions the medium in which there is incredible and ever growing amounts of potential for revenue far beyond the ability of record sales, and that's live shows. If your product, your music, your brand, and your personality is compelling enough of an event or a lifestyle, then people are going to want to be a part of that. You're going to find yourself with a tribe (big shout out to seth godin for that descriptive word) of followers to communicate with.
As an independent artist in this so called "younger" or "new" generation of digital, social and new music industry era, it really pisses me off when people talk about declining record sales being an issue for artists, and how piracy is to blame.
The only people to blame for their product not doing well, when you have the opportunity to take such immense control of your trajectory these days, is the artists themselves.
For whatever it's worth I commend you highly for taking on the responsibility of launching an indie label, I think that takes balls and a lot of hard work, and I think the world would be a better place if more people did the same thing. But why not use the momentum of the all-too-often neglected positive aspects of what the digital age has to offer? and spearhead a movement of artists and musicians who do make incredible music and give it away for free because they understand the bigger picture, and aren't stuck on a business model that has been out of date for over a decade.
I hope this might open up a discussion on the entire subject, and a sharing of ideas that can help everyone move forward in a positive direction towards communication and a better understanding of the reality of the business climate we live in.