Musician: Sell Physically Attractive Objects Worthy Of Purchase; Let Free Music Drive Success

from the someone-gets-it dept

Hypebot points us to a great post on the new blog Pirate Verbatim, which posts quotes from various musicians about their thoughts on “piracy.” One recent post is from musician Phil Elverum, of the bands Mount Erie and also The Microphones. His response touches on a lot of the themes we cover around here, including how giving away infinite goods for free can help you out by making scarce goods more valuable and desirable. The key part:

It seems pointless to try to stop the practice because it’s a reality of the world we live in. People will find a way. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, I probably owe like 80% of my success to the fact that people can hear my music for free to see if they like it. My approach to the question of making a living off this “work” has been to make physically attractive objects that seem worthy of purchase.

He also points out that this doesn’t mean that everyone who downloads needs to buy something, but that it’s their choice:

Of course there will be people who don’t care about owning an object, or maybe don?t have any money, or maybe who live in Siberia, and so they can just find a way to hear it for free if they want to. I don’t think there’s an inherent moral duty for the listener to support the singer. In the broad historical perspective music is frivolous non-work and we are lucky to have time to make it at all. Those of us who are temporarily feeding ourselves by this activity are even luckier. The internet changed the world. Old ways need to adapt. There is a new way taking shape that no one knows yet. Trying to impose the old model of lucrative systems of parasitic labels, managers, agents, distributors, etc., on the new reality is a little blind.

It’s always nice to see more musicians who seem to understand the key issues, and how to take advantage of them, rather than complain about them.

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Comments on “Musician: Sell Physically Attractive Objects Worthy Of Purchase; Let Free Music Drive Success”

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Masha says:

” In the broad historical perspective music is frivolous non-work and we are lucky to have time to make it at all. Those of us who are temporarily feeding ourselves by this activity are even luckier.”

This hardly seems like a positive vision for how we can survive as musicians in this new world. Quite defeatist, if you ask me.

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. As Timothy Noah of Slate noted in an excellent series on inequality, the United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana.

C.E.O.?s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.”

What percent of 99% do musicians make up for?

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, they (specifically the ones who can only make a living via monopolies) are outside the 99, outside the 100. They represent unrealized economic growth due to extremely inefficient, i.e. wasted, resources.

Do not reply to this as though I said that music and art are a waste. Music and art richly express the most significant aspects of our lives. However, the monopolistic structure of our market has made for huge waste in production and has thrust far less significant music to the forefront leaving us with a very thin silhouette of culture.

Greg G says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And I beleive *everything* the NYT prints/posts….

And, let’s see, if I were one of those CEO’s, I probably busted my ass in school and/or worked my way up the ladder to be in that position.

and BTW, wtf does this CEO vs the average worker have to do with this post, anyway? It’s even a bad response to the comment made above.

Big Al says:

Re: @Masha

“how we can survive as musicians in this new world”

Probably in the same way that musicians survived prior to the last century or so – by performing live or getting a patron.

It always seems somewhat ludicrous to me when I see musicians complaining of ‘how difficult it is to make a living’ when viewed in the context of hundreds of years of troubadours and travelling musicians / performers in general.

BTW, I have often (in the past) topped up my income by performing in clubs, bars and even the street, so I do know what I am talking about..

Karl (profile) says:

Nice site

I hadn’t seen Pirate Verbatim before. It’s a really good site; you hear about artists’ opinions on “piracy” straight from the horse’s mouth, and not through people who claim to speak for them.

There’s a wide variety of opinions, but most have mixed feelings at worst. About as many wholeheartedly approve of it as are against it. Even those that are against it recognize that the labels are equally to blame for the state of the industry.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Nice site

Karl did you read this from Pirate Verbatim ….

“Mick Jagger:

It’s all changed in the last couple of years. . . I am quite relaxed about it. But, you know, it is a massive change and it does alter the fact that people don’t make as much money out of records. But I have a take on that – people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn’t make any money out of records because record companies wouldn’t pay you! They didn’t pay anyone! Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone. So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.”

Funny how things always go back to how they were before …

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Nice site

Mick Jagger

I think this one by Joe Perry hits the nail right on the head:

The record companies have eaten themselves, basically dissolved and are trying really hard to figure out how to resurrect a dying paradigm. And it?s right in front of them. This is one of the ways. Everything from car commercials to YouTube and an aborted Napster that should have been snapped up by the record companies a long time ago. It was obvious that the fans wanted it and they didn?t mind paying for it but the record companies just turned a blind eye to it and basically destroyed an industry…

Mikkel Paulson (profile) says:

@Anonymous Coward

I think the lesson in all of this is that labels are no longer required, CC or no. Labels exist to sell a scarce product that no longer exists. The entire industry paradigm has changed, not just the outlet and source of profit. Music can now be written, performed, recorded, shared, promoted, and sold for next to no overhead cost. A label is no longer needed to grease the wheels or foot the bill. This is nothing less than the democratization of music.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: @Anonymous Coward

I think the lesson in all of this is that labels are no longer required, CC or no.

Labels still have a place. Running a business is still very different than making music, and if you’re like most musicians, you’re not very good at business.

Now, the label’s role will be very different in the future – it’ll be mostly management and promotion, with “niche” labels also acting as filters for consumers. The production of physical goods will be secondary. And future labels will almost certainly not be the labels we have now. But there will always be a place for them.

out_of_the_blue says:

Right attitude on music: "frivolous non-work".

Not defeatist, but realistic. Those who regard “the arts” as the crowning achievement, vital to civilization are simply trying to make for themselves a privileged place. Artists would starve within a week except for those with strong backs.

However, at: “Trying to impose the old model of lucrative systems of parasitic labels, managers, agents, distributors, etc., on the new reality is a little blind.” Elverum goes blind himself. That existing structure is *not* going to crash or fade away. Those parasites *are* changing their “model” by reaching into politics (other parasites), for new “laws”. They’re *slightly* hampered by desire to maintain high profits especially on old works, but they’re not at all “blind” to the new situation. And as I’ve said before, I expect them to *keep* most of what they have — because as is popular to point out here — and as even the Elverum comments confirm — copying doesn’t even “cost” them a lost sale, are still others who *do* buy (something: Elverum thinks he’ll sell T-shirts instead of music is the only difference on that point).

Giving away music for free just isn’t going to run the industry, though. Since the industry is so entrenched and rich enough to have “laws” written on demand, it’s here to stay. Adjust to the new model, same as the old model.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Right attitude on music: "frivolous non-work".

There is another possibility here, though, and that is that when entrenched, deep-pocketed interests are able to get laws-on-demand–even (or especially) when those laws run counter to facts, reason, citizens’ desires, and what they are able to obtain with the tools to hand with no *real* cost to society that could be honestly spoken of–well, then what’s actually going to happen is that the law itself and those institutions that make and enforce it are just going to lose relevance along with the entrenched interests they serve.

No So Sure says:

How valuable is music

How much does it cost to produce a music video?
How much does it cost to get a tour started?
How much does it cost to promote musical works?

Answer: It costs a sh@t load of cash, and to do it well requires a vast investment.

Next time you see a cool video or buy a ticket to see an artist live, would you care if it cost money to get that artist noticed, would you care if it cost money to get a tour started & promoted?.

Even free music costs money… so who should be paying?

The artist, The Label or the consumer?.

Free music has a place, but if the money’s there it can be done better.

Then ask yourself can good music videos & spectacular tours exist in the free model.

Its not that simple I fear!!!!!.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: How valuable is music

Q. How much does it cost to produce a music video?
A. Far less today than it did 2 decades ago and many people have found ways to produce great high-quality videos for very little money.

So – Question: Why isn’t the cost to consumers DECREASING as the costs to produce decrease?

Q. How much does it cost to get a tour started?
A. I do not know, but touring involves scarce goods and is making artists a lot of money these days.

Q. How much does it cost to promote musical works?
A. These days? Umm $0. In many cases, we have seen artists promote their own works using services like YouTube that cost them nothing. Luckily, technology has really made this easier and cheaper for an artist.

“Free music has a place, but if the money’s there it can be done better.”
I’m not sure reality supports this position. Clearly, we are finding that many people are enjoying a lot of content that is produced for (nearly) free. Record labels make fun of the videos of cats falling of a log on YouTube, but if lots of people enjoy it, is it not great content?

“who should be paying?”
Consumers should pay for things they want. Markets should set the price. And, ideally, the ARTIST should make money. Markets set the prices based on supply and demand (and infinite supply drives price to zero). Smart business models that use the new technology take away the old gatekeepers, puts the money directly into the hands of the artists, and gets consumers what they want. Wait…who is unhappy?

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Who???

Where do you find these reject bands?

Do me a favor. Go to the artist list at Pirate Verbatim. Read quotes from Top 40 artists like 50 Cent, Andrew WK, Blink 182, Blur, Def Leppard, Green Day, Iggy Pop, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, the Rolling Stones, and Sonic Youth. (That’s just the links I clicked on, there are more.)

None of whom have a problem with piracy, some of which actively endorse it.

Yeah, where do we find these reject bands?

Margaret Diehl (user link) says:

Music as frivolous pursuit

I have no idea how to deal with the problem of piracy, but I take strong objection to the idea that making music, or any kind of art, is frivolous. To think so is to misunderstand human history. We would not have all these material goods were it not for the culture-making power of music, poetry, art, etc, just as we would not have a society at all were it not for the bonds of love and friendship.

Jason says:

Re: Music as frivolous pursuit

I believe the point was that in economic terms the pursuit is frivolous. It’s something you do when the bills are already paid, as a passtime. Your done planting and harvesting the corn, sit and play a tune. Your sitting out on the range overlooking cattle, yodel it up.

Now, should you somehow be able to make a business out of it after that, well great for you. But should we really supress the free exchange of ideas to help you pay your rent because we wouldn’t have any culture without you? Gimme a freakin’ break!

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Music as frivolous pursuit

I take strong objection to the idea that making music, or any kind of art, is frivolous.

As do I. In addition to the cultural benefits that you mentioned, there have also been studies of the brain that show learning music helps with other problem-solving skills, e.g. math. (Oliver Sacks writes about this quite a lot.)

And if art and music are so valuable, why lock it up with copyright, which is by definition a monopoly on music? Why limit its public practice to a small minority funded by multinational corporations?

Techdirt has often pointed out that “piracy” is simply what happens when fans want to share music. By creating and sustaining interest in music, it grows the market for musicians to exploit economically. But it also serves a secondary purpose: By creating and sustaining a love of music, it benefits society as a whole.

It’s why libraries stock CD’s. Why shouldn’t it apply to file sharing as well?

Anonymous Coward says:

Very smart person. Actually it is quite logical. It worked for Red Hat and other Open Source Software Developers. Give away the main product (Linux) and then sell Support and Education. Download the software, then buy the book telling you how to use it. Win Win. Because the company treated me fairly and without greed I eventually bought the book and I’m glad I did.
Same with music and video. Give away the product and then sell the T-Shirt, Poster, entire CD collection, etc.

Jeremy7600 (profile) says:

Music as frivolous pursuit

Sorry but the fact that you take objection is your own personal problem.

Look, we would have material goods without music. We would still have cars, buildings, computers, sports drinks, cell phones, etc.

There is a societal/cultural contribution from music and art, but don’t be confused about everything else in the world.

Art IS frivolous. I happily go days without listening to music. I can live without it. Other things in my life? Not so much. Without art and music, it is not as fulfilling or enjoyable, but it is not a threat to my wellbeing. Quality of life is improved by art, it is not non-existent without art.

And we probably wouldn’t have music in the first place if weren’t for the love of it. (First by the people that make it, or we wouldn’t be able to appreciate it and second by the people that appreciate it or the artist wouldn’t continue to share)

DH's Love Child (profile) says:

Re: Music as frivolous pursuit

Wait, so you’re saying that other than aesthetics, art in all of its forms is useless?

Perhaps you learned the alphabet without the help of that useless “Twinkle, Twinkle” tune then, right?

Or did you know, that the earliest forms of music were hunting calls played on hollowed out animal horns and were used to help organize hunts?

I would suggest that you seriously bone up on your humanities before making such a broad and uninformed statement.

Jeremy7600 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Music as frivolous pursuit

As you suggest, the “Twinkle Twinkle” was an aid, not the very thing that allowed me to learn it. So are you saying no one can learn the alphabet without it? That I doubt very much.

So the horns “helped organize the hunts?” Were they not able to hunt before this?

I said I could do without, as in, its not life threatening to go without.

I also said the quality of life would be less. I never said useless. That word came from you.

DH's Love Child (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Music as frivolous pursuit

Your assertion was that ALL art was frivolous. I was pointing out that throughout history, art has served utile functions.

Yes, Twinkle Twinkle AIDED your learning of the alphabet. Made it easier. that’s not frivolous. I didn’t say it was the ONLY reason you learned you f***ing ABC’s, I just said it made it EASIER.

Hunting calls helped the hunt, yes the hunt went on without it too.

you realize that a lot of history was preserved through ART right?

It’s also VERY condescending to presume that art is only there for yours or my enjoyment. Again, you apparently need to take a humanities course to even remotely understand what I’m saying.

SLK8ne says:

Music/art is frivilous.

I’ll start out by saying that I am an artist (not quite starving…yet) And I have to agree that from the point of view of both history and economics it is frivolous, in the sense that it’s not required for survival.

Music/art may enrich our lives, but, we don’t absolutely HAVE to have them to survive or be happy. They represent a non essential service. Nice to have, but, the world won’t stop revolving if we didn’t have them for a while.

And Mick Jagger is more right than he knows. If you go bacd to ancient times (Homer, and/or the time of absolute kings)if you didn’t make the audience happy, you lost your head…literally.

So, musicians and artists have it easy today. (for which I’m glad)

DH's Love Child (profile) says:

Re: Music/art is frivilous.

And I’m not arguing that Music/art is necessary for survival. Most of the things we have and do are not strictly necessary for survival.

I will concede from a purely economical standpoint it is frivolous. But I hold my position that it has been historically important and not just frivolous.

full disclosure is probably in order: I have been a classical musician for 30 years, though it is not my profession.

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