I’ve been reading ping pong arguments over the last couple of weeks on the ongoing debate of the value of music. To share or not to share? To illegally grab from the cloud or to toe the line with dollars and cents? My sympathies lie with Henry Cow founder Chris Cutler in this month’s Wire magazine who rightly notes that without adequate remuneration, artists will simply cease to either make music, or at the very least, will be unable to spend a sufficient amount of time on their craft in order to make amazing music.
“Making a recording is not cost-free or work-free; it’s expensive. And those costs can only be recovered through sales. No sales, or sales so low that costs are not recouped, mean artists are forced to cut the costs next time (with inevitable negative consequences for quality) or not to record so much – or not at all. Along with a lot of dross, good music is lost this way, especially at the margins, where the most innovative work is already nearly paying its way”
This is a watertight argument, and I concur entirely. I for would one would be heartbroken if my favourite artists stop making music simply because they can’t afford to. Hence, my main credo in this debate is simple: to buy music from those that you love. It sounds simple, but it should be the rock-bottom position for any one interested in music – whether that’s at the scale of Lady Gaga or at the scale of Catcall, it’s all the same. If you want that artist to continue, to thrive and to grow, you must fund their work. And you do that by buying their records.
However, beyond that, the boundaries start to get a little less tangible, particularly with new, independent and eclectic music. How do we know we’re going to love a band on their first release? How do we know whether we should invest in their future if we haven’t heard their present? And that’s what often leads to illegal downloads – a desire to discover.
However, illegal downloading is actually just a symptom of laziness on the part of the fan. Chances are most artists, at least those who might consider themselves independent or otherwise at the fringe, have made some (but not all) of their music available for free – either through their own site or through blogs (the classic ‘loss leader’ position). It doesn’t take more than a quick Google search to find one or two tracks from artists that are actually legally free. Unfortunately, that same search will often bring up more music that is illegally free.
So it’s a two-handed solution: (1) we as listeners need not to be fooled by the glittering prize of illegal freebies, and instead seek out the free music that artists have legally made available; and (2) artists must make those tunes available.
Sadly, many artists still feel overly precious about their entire catalogue, and – as a result – are most likely doing themselves a disservice. I don’t advocate free music from everyone, for everyone, for ever, but I advocate the need to get inside people’s minds, incite and inspire them, and become part of the soundtrack of their lives. Making a certain amount of your music freely available for a certain amount of time is the most obvious way to achieve this.
And I should note, that streaming music on MySpace, Bandcamp or Soundcloud is not a realistic way to discover new music – the experience is so banal, so transient, and often (in the case of MurdochSpace) so unusable, that this momentary lo-fi blerg of a stream is unlikely to lead to a lifetime of fan loyalty. I need to have it in my iTunes, on my iPod, burned onto a CD, played in my car, on the stereo at work – I need it in my life, wherever and whenever I am, if I am at all likely to turn that discovery into a true conversion.
That’s the trick I’ve been trying to pull off through the New Weird Australia project- to distribute music in such a way as to introduce people to their new favourite artists. Some 150 or so artists have been featured on New Weird Australia’s free download releases over the last two years, and each one of them has understood the value of giving away a sample of their music for free. I hope that everyone that has downloaded those free releases has found a new favourite in there, has subsequently bought a release, been to a gig, or at the very least, shared their affection and encouraged others to do the same.
If you haven’t, you can start now:
- Live set (three mp3s) from Sun Araw on the Free Music Archive
- Prefuse 73 + Zola Jesus get together for a 40-minute mix, The Misanthrope Meditation (a promo for the new album ‘The Only She Chapters’)
- debut official release from Sydney’s Guerre ’Darker My Love: Remixes‘ with reversions of the upcoming debut from Collarbones, Townhouses, Namine and more
- ‘Oh Why‘ – a track from forthcoming debut from Balam Acab
- and, of course, the latest 13-track compilation ‘Bleak Metal‘ and an exclusive live set from Severed Heads - added this week to the archive at newweirdaustralia.com