No, Saying Musicians Must 'Add Value' Does Not Mean Music Has No Value

from the fundamental-misunderstandings dept

Music lawyer Chris Castle has a talent for totally missing the point and then failing to make one of his own. In a recent blog post, he launches an attack on Michael Geist based on a completely incorrect interpretation of a statement he made to a parliamentary committee in 2010. Geist’s position will be familiar to regular Techdirt readers:

The truth is that you can compete with free content if you provide value. One of the really exciting things about the Internet is that we’re seeing innovators coming up with all kinds of different ways where they can add value and entice the customer too.

Castle proceeds to tear Geist’s statements apart based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of value:

We have heard this trope before. If only the artist provided something of value—besides the music. Because the music is of no value because it is “free”—that is, it has no value because it is widely stolen and has become devalued, so the artist now has to “add value” to the music.

If Castle has heard this before, then he should know that there is a bit more nuance to what free-culture proponents mean when we talk about adding value. Perhaps this is our fault for failing to handhold him through all the basic economic concepts that lead up to this position, and for using “added value” as a convenient shorthand for “additional scarce value”. But really, if Castle wasn’t so bent on condemning Geist, he could have figured it out for himself: nobody is saying music has no value. That would be a ludicrous claim: people love music, and it has exceptional value, but it is also non-scarce and non-rivalrous, meaning its price inevitably falls to zero. But smart artists can use music to build a brand, and an audience who will pay for other, scarce things—and that doesn’t just mean t-shirts. It doesn’t even have to mean something tangible and concrete: access, convenience and authenticity are all abstract scarcities that people value a great deal, and all can serve as excellent reasons to buy.

Castle also decries the fact that, supposedly, nobody cares about songwriters when discussing new models for artists. Of course, songwriters have an extremely valuable scarcity at their disposal: their ability to write new songs. That ability has plenty of value to musicians, producers and labels, which is why songwriters can pull impressive rates up-front. Why do they and their children deserve to receive ongoing payments for work that is 20, 50 or even 100 years old? Good songwriters are in high-demand, and they can parlay the success of their last song to get bigger, better commissions and charge higher rates. You don’t see architects asking for royalties every time someone walks through the doors of a building they designed—they, like professionals in virtually every other field, know they have to keep working if they want to keep making money.

Next, Castle brings it all back to the supposed “tech oligarchy” and their “monstrous behavior,” using some blatant weasel-wording and factual inaccuracies:

Make sure you add something of value, because the music and the songs are valueless, so why should Isohunt or Limewire or Megavideo pay the artist for them. All that subscription and advertising revenue that Megavideo and Google made off of piracy? That compensates these innovators for providing the promotional opportunity because obscurity is the artist’s biggest enemy, right?

Wrong.

No, not wrong. Is Castle really denying that obscurity is the first and most important hurdle for an artist to overcome? It wouldn’t matter if people were buying CDs for $100 each—if they haven’t heard of you, you aren’t going to make any money. Of course, he also glosses over the fact that Megaupload did pay artists—the ones who embraced the service as a way to sell directly to their fans. Meanwhile, those who feared it handed a potential revenue stream to the pirates. Even more amusing is his lumping together of Megavideo and Google, as if they were essentially the same thing despite being so different that there’s barely any comparison.

Castle’s post is full of statements like “once again” and “we’ve heard this trope before.” Maybe next time he hears it, he should actually make the effort to understand it, instead of wasting his time railing against ridiculous straw-men.

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Comments on “No, Saying Musicians Must 'Add Value' Does Not Mean Music Has No Value”

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80 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Marcus, it really hurts when someone points out that your “music” has no value.

You certainly are learning to be a Mike-a-like, because you are busy playing word games. For most people, “value” is a short term for “economic value”, or it’s price at retail. What has happened with piracy is that music no longer has much retail value for consumers, and whatever value exists is now in the ethereal “I love it” sort of value as compared to anything that can actually be sold.

The only way economic value (aka, making money) appears to occur isn’t by recording great music that everyone wants, but rather in whoring out your time and your image. It’s disappointing to see a few people paying big money for stuff few people want, while everyone is enjoying for free what they really wanted, the music.

Your entire post is a nice and generous word game, a repeat of the claptrap Mike has cycled out many times over. How truly boring. Is this part of your initiation into being as big a prick as Mike is on these sorts of word game issues?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Marcus, it really hurts when someone points out that your “music” has no value.”

If it’s as of high a quality as your logic and posts here, I’m sure it does, and you get told that one a regular basis. Sorry, dude, no matter how much time, effort and love you put into a song, that still doesn’t make it any good if you lack the ability and talent. It must hurt to be reminded of that when other, more talented people are making money.

“For most people, “value” is a short term for “economic value”

For people like *you*, yes. For people like me who pay for music, no, there are other measures. To not know this is to not know how people consume music, and also means you don’t understand *why* some forms of consuming music are simply more valuable than others. You’re a poor businessman, because you refuse to understand your market.

“The only way economic value (aka, making money) appears to occur isn’t by recording great music that everyone wants, but rather in whoring out your time and your image. “

But, enough about the major labels trying to push “stars”, promoting models and karaoke contests instead of relying on actual talented musicians. If only they pushed “great music” to begin with instead of fame whores…

“It’s disappointing to see a few people paying big money for stuff few people want, while everyone is enjoying for free what they really wanted, the music.”

Yes, damn those radio stations! Everybody should be paying the same as the people who buy CDs or gig tickets every time they listen. Wow, right now, a co-worker behind me is playing music and I haven’t paid a penny! I didn’t pay for the songs I heard when I was shopping earlier! My god, I didn’t even pay for the music playing at my girlfriend’s house last night! Sue me please!!!

You really don’t get the basic points, after all this time. I don’t get it, really. You spend so long writing comment after comment, yet you never understand a single word of what you’re responding to, even though it’s constantly explained, in length.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The only way economic value (aka, making money) appears to occur isn’t by recording great music that everyone wants, but rather in whoring out your time and your image.

In other words, “How can I still be a pretentious artist who pretends to not care about material things and still make shit-tons of cash?”

If you don’t belief in selling yourself and your music for cash, then don’t, but don’t cry when you’re broke. That’s just obnoxious.

Anonymous Poster says:

Re: Re:

>The only way economic value (aka, making money) appears to occur isn’t by recording great music that everyone wants, but rather in whoring out your time and your image.

Yes, this is true. Artists have to spend their time creating new music and crafting an image to draw in new fans.

Guess what? Everyone has to work to make money, including artists. Get over it.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What you need to (try) and understand is that we, the consumer, have never really paid for music. We have paid for the service of getting it to us. 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs; they were all mediums to get the music to us- If we were buying the music, we wouldn’t have bothered to go re-buy music once it came out on a new medium. We were (mostly) okay with paying a high price because we understood basic economics: it cost you money to make all those tapes/cds, and money on top of that to ship them all over the country, and you had our good will (past tense) and we knew that if you didn’t turn a profit, you would stop pressing so many cds, and we would have a harder time finding music.

Fast forward to today (the last two decades, really): we *still* aren’t paying for music, but we also don’t need to pay you to get it to us. We don’t need you to find music for us, we can do that ourselves. We refuse to pay for digital, non-scarce goods because we *still* have an understanding of basic economics; since you don’t need to press thousands of cds, and you don’t have to ship it to us, we know that you aren’t charging us a fair price. It’s so cheap to get music to us that people are willing to do it for you, at no cost to you. Then, in an epic temper tantrum, you started calling us thieves; you started fucking with our freedoms; you tried to destroy the Internet. The only commodity you had left, our goodwill, you pissed away suing a single mother, a college student, and a printer.

We aren’t your enemy; basic economics is your enemy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Economics is too advanced of a concept for them. A fundamental understanding of simple logic, cause and effect relationships, and basic mathematics are prerequisites before they can even be introduced to the concept. They fail miserably at all of these. How can someone expect them to grasp economics?

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Making music still has plenty of value, just look at the live music industry.

You need to ‘add value’ because piracy already gives you the value of the music. You need to…wait for it…give people ‘Reason To Buy’.

Selling infinitely copyable groups of digital bits is like trying to sell air to a scuba diver. He’ll pay for how the air is packaged and delivered, but not for the air itself.

fairusefriendly (profile) says:

Re: Re:

most interesting part is that you just said this drivel to a person who just 2 days ago paid 100 bucks for an adventure game.

A game which has not been release yet, which i probably won’t like (because i hate point and click adventure games) because i the “i love them” mentality your poo pooing.

Maybe you should ask yourself why you can’t see the ways that good will turns into cash.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

because you are busy playing word games. For most people, “value” is a short term for “economic value”, or it’s price at retail.

and “most people”don’t make a lot of money.

If you want to succeed then you need to be precise about your terms. This precision is what separates, intelligent, successful people from the crowd. By calling it “word games” you are just consigning yourself to failure.

JMT says:

Re: Re:

Wow, Leigh says…

“…nobody is saying music has no value. That would be a ludicrous claim: people love music, and it has exceptional value…”

And you respond with…

“Marcus, it really hurts when someone points out that your “music” has no value.”

No wonder you’re so bitter. Lacking basic reading comprehension would make me grumpy too.

Anonymous Bastard says:

Re: Re:

It’s not word games; I would suggest you brush up on economic theory especially when you drop terminology like “economic value” in an attempt to make a point. Value is a broader category than what can be monetized and considered having “economic value”; thus everything that has value doesn’t have “economic value”, but everything that has “economic value” contains this broader value and so can be monetized for it. Though that in itself is not enough for sustained monetization, as pointed out in the article above, for the world is dynamic and so things enter and exit “economic value” all the time. An example would be a joke: jokes have broad value to people, since people like to be humored, but the actual joke itself can’t be monetized very well. This is because a joke isn’t scare after it is thought up. Therefor it benefits the originator to provide value to the joke like putting it on a greeting card, and/or a t-shirt, and/or working it into a stand-up act, etc. In the end people spread the jokes of comedians and others, which is their IP, all the time. We could have a possible theoretical discussion on is this right or wrong, but it is ludicrous to think that this practice of telling other people’s jokes, sharing other’s IP, should be stopped or somehow taxed by an authority. Also, I should point out, as easy as it is to spread other’s jokes amazingly enough this has neither killed off comedians or humor in general.

Anonymous Coward says:

Make sure you add something of value, because the music and the songs are valueless, so why should Isohunt or Limewire or Megavideo pay the artist for them.

This is very revealing. Think about what he’s saying here – if it’s easy to get, it has no value.

Now think about this in the light of the recent Fox idiocy, where they envisioned people driving to a mall to make an online DVD order.

It all makes sense! All of the hurdles the media companies are placing – the reasons that piracy exists – is because they want to make it difficult to get, because if it’s difficult to get, it must have value, right?

I feel so enlightened now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’m not sure they even qualify as arguments. Mostly they are just the barely coherent rants spoiled bullies that are afraid that someone is going to take away the “binky” they stole from the smarter but kid. They have to be fundamentally based in some sense of logic (and “because I said so” doesn’t count) to qualify as an argument.

bob (profile) says:

I'm on Castle's side. 100%

Geist is a fool who’s grown fat overbilling the students like law professors everywhere. I wonder if the law schools in Canada are having the same scandals as the ones in the US.

I’ve read your argument and I’ve heard it before. You say that obscurity is such a horrible thing that people should be glad to give away their work just for the chance to be heard. That only works if you’ve got another way to pay the rent.

A person or a business can not give away everything with a low marginal cost of reproduction. They have to pay the development costs one way or another. A hotel can’t give away the hotel rooms each night if there are no reservations. An airplane can’t have a standby line where every unsold seat is given away for free. It’s just not fair to the people who are paying the freight.

You continue to use the phrase “artificial scarcity” for the process of spreading around the development costs fairly.

If I could pull off your tip-jar schemes, I would. If I could give away all of my art and sell t-shirts, I would. But they don’t work and that’s one reason you don’t sell t-shirts any more. They’re also wasteful and anti-green.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I'm on Castle's side. 100%

If I could pull off your tip-jar schemes, I would. If I could give away all of my art and sell t-shirts, I would. But they don’t work and that’s one reason you don’t sell t-shirts any more. They’re also wasteful and anti-green.

Be honest, you weren’t selling any of your t-shirts.

Lowestofthekeys (profile) says:

Re: I'm on Castle's side. 100%

“A person or a business can not give away everything with a low marginal cost of reproduction. They have to pay the development costs one way or another. A hotel can’t give away the hotel rooms each night if there are no reservations. An airplane can’t have a standby line where every unsold seat is given away for free. It’s just not fair to the people who are paying the freight.”

No one’s asking musicians to give away everything, but in a market which is bloated with hundreds of emo and electronic pop bands (which are pushed out the door every year with cookie cutter production by the RIAA), you’d better be doing something different to stand out.

Innovation incorporated into a hotel room in the form of say a whirlpool tub is more likely to garner a sale than offering amenities every other hotel has.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm on Castle's side. 100%

“A person or a business can not give away everything with a low marginal cost of reproduction. They have to pay the development costs one way or another. A hotel can’t give away the hotel rooms each night if there are no reservations. An airplane can’t have a standby line where every unsold seat is given away for free. It’s just not fair to the people who are paying the freight.”

Actually even on those points he is wrong – there are hotels in Las Vegas that virtually give away their rooms – on the basis that they will probably make a return on the gambling – and Ryanair sells some seats for (almost) nothing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I'm on Castle's side. 100%

Since when has business ever been “Fair”?

Business is cut-throat, and only the agile that know how to evolve survive.

Let’s take the example of Girl Scout Cookies. Every single Girl Scout has the same ability to go out and sell cookies.

However, only a few will come back selling hundreds of boxes. Some of those are lucky to sell just 10 (which were probably purchased by family).

Why do you think that the music business is any different?

If you haven’t made money doing it, then you just haven’t figured how to.

(I’m not comparing songs to cookies, but I am comparing the ability to sell your wares, be it music, cookies, cleaning services, boat rides…..It all boils down to ‘how good of a salesman are YOU (or your crew)….)

The Logician says:

Re: Re: Re: I'm on Castle's side. 100%

You fail to understand the difference between cookies, which are physical and tangible and thus, can be diminished, with digital files, which are effectively infinite and thus cannot be diminished. Basic economics clearly dictates that when supply is infinite, price naturally and inevitably gravitates to zero. It is unavoidable. The only thing you can control is how you react to it, which will determine the continued existence of your business.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: I'm on Castle's side. 100%

Cool, we can add irrational hatred of Geist to your misunderstanding of what a paywall is and wild Google conspiracy theories. You’re as much of an idiot as all the trolls round here, but at least you work to keep things original. If only you could apply that energy to something constructive, or at least intelligent debate…

“A hotel can’t give away the hotel rooms each night if there are no reservations. An airplane can’t have a standby line where every unsold seat is given away for free. It’s just not fair to the people who are paying the freight”

So, not only do you still not understand the difference between digital and physical goods, you seem to think that holding a file on a server requires the same overheads as an entire hotel, or that keeping seats empty don’t actually reduce costs for a flight. No wonder your ideas are so ill informed.

“If I could give away all of my art”

I’ve seen a few of you idiots claim to be artists or other creative types, but I’ve never seen a single example of work offered so that people would even have an opportunity to offer you money. I wonder why.

tracker1 (profile) says:

Re: Creating more space for nearly nothing.

On the same note, the hotel doesn’t get to quadruple capacity for near zero cost, and an airline does not either… if either of these were the case, and a hotel chain could simply TARDIS up some extra rooms for almost nothing, you bet people would probably expect nearly free rooms.

There is nothing artificially scarce about the number of rooms in a hotel, or seats on a plane… If a flight is nearly empty, airlines will often consolidate flights to save expenses, and hotels will very often drop their rates during off seasons, or ofter more exceptional breaks when they have shortages for the current night.

It costs a few cents (literally less than 10) to distribute a song on iTunes. But they complain that the cost is too low, and their cut isn’t high enough. Apple earns $0.30 using their dime’s worth of infrastructure… The studios get $0.70 (minus about $0.12 if they pay the royalties as a sale like they’re supposed to), for no extra work. But they still complain.

iTunes absolutely shows you can compete with free. Music piracy has dropped through the floor, and made Apple one of the largest companies on the planet all from offering a product at reasonable rates (to most). You will never eliminate piracy, and you will never satisfy everyone. They key is allowing for a market balance with the lowest possible total expense, and the highest possible total profit. iTunes does that.. suing MegaUpload, and other sites does not. SOPA/PIPA/PPA/etc do nothing towards competing or making money… all they will do is raise the burden on the public as a whole (government regulation, enforcement, etc cost money). I think that studios/corporations should have to pay “property taxes” for intellectual property.

Anonymous Bastard says:

Re: I'm on Castle's side. 100%

bob, you and Castle are both on the wrong side of technological advancement and social evolution regardless of the so-called right or wrong of it. Debating the ethics is futile for the future is coming and these schemes won’t halt it. Media piracy is only the beginning for soon enough with the aid of 3-d printers we’ll be arguing over the product piracy of people printing up items, like Barbies or Dyson parts, in their own home. This too will advance when molecular printers become cheap and precise with people making their own Viagra, and/or MDMA, or both. What then bob? Should we cry for Big Pharma and Monsanto when they suffer the same as the movie and music industries? Should we allow our government to halt such ground breaking tech from being used by the broader society because it stands to upend our civilization as we know it? Meh, good luck with standing in the path of a moving train hoping to slow its momentum…

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m a musician (though I’d never consider myself professional) and I’d love to go to court on infringing charges. Then I’d go in front of a judge, hold up my unreleased, unheard of by anyone other then I and ask “how much is this worth?” Then wait for an answer that would never come.

It’s simple really, music – audience = no value, monetary or otherwise. The worlds best written song would be utterly useless if no one ever heard it. It’s impossible to judge music unheard. Music has no value, never had. An audience’s reaction to it has value, to that audience, but remove either one from the equation and it’s useless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well yes, the same value I get out of drawing, or designing another ship with my Lego. That’s just the good feeling of knowing you built something from nothing, got something out of your head and into the world.

That is a value, true, but not in any context that applies to what I said. Art with no audience isn’t art. Anything you make on your own, and no one ever laid eyes/ears on, couldn’t be art.

As a personal endeavor, it has value. Without anyone other than me hearing it, it has no value in any way. Heh, I guess you could say music is quantum. You don’t know which way a song is heading or how quickly it’s getting there until you actually get off your butt and hear it, then you lock it into place (in your own mind) and it is what it is. Until it’s observed, it’s everything and nothing, which is mighty useless in this application.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

with my Lego. That’s just the good feeling of knowing you built something from nothing,

to build ‘something from nothing’ would mean you managed to build your ship from totally empty space, no.. you did not build ‘something from nothing’. You built a ship from LEGO..

were you educated in America as well ? that would explain much.

Anonymous Coward says:

OK, I'll say it

Music has no value. Neither do Books or Paintings or Video Games.

The only thing in this world that has value is something that we can eat, drink, or hold over our head to keep the rain off.

Everything else in this world is either entertainment or a means to get entertainment. And I can watch my cat play with a tree branch for free, so you better have some pretty damn good stuff for me to part with the rocks I normally use to pay for mammoth steaks, water, and big-umbrella-leaves.

If musicians aren’t making any money these days, maybe it’s because they’re worth the same as a cat playing with a tree branch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OK, I'll say it

you can hold music, books, paintings and video games over your head to keep the rain off.. (sheet music).. can you eat, drink, or hold over your head a motor car ?

can you eat, drink or hold over your head the sum total of your knowledge ? your ability to talk, to read, to write,, ot your education ?????

You consider your thoughts to be valueless ? you must be quite cold with no clothes, and your arms must be getting really tired, holding up your ‘value’ over your head to keep the rain off..

so you mom and dad, your brothers or sisters, your children have NO VALUE ?

at the end of the week, after a full week of work, when you are being given your pay cheque, do you say “NO, thanks I do not consider that money to have any value, and I also do not consider that I have provided any value to your company” ??

Anonymous Coward says:

AC/troll at #1 said:

“it really hurts when someone points out that your “music” has no value.”

Oh, dear, it hurts. You had better run home and get your mommy to kiss it better!

In the grown-up world, the purpose of hurt is to effect positive change (e.g. “Ow!, my hand is burning and that hurts, so I’ll take it put of the fire! What a dumb fuck I am.”).

So, if it hurts, make a positive change and get a job or drop dead,, you whiny troll a–hole!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Enemy

“Obscurity is a bigger threat than piracy” is just one more meaningless soundbite used by simple people so they can shut their minds to any further thinking about an issue. When I hear people speak in soundbites, the only thing I can make out is “WAH!!! I don’t want to think anymore!”

Lack of talent, lack of ambition, lack of resources, etc… *These* are the earliest, biggest hurdles an artist must overcome. Anyone who mentions otherwise is probably trying to get you to hand over distribution rights to some vague internet aggregator.

Kevin (profile) says:

Added Value

Well for load of music the no value may be true.
Having said that real added value would be having the music on some form of media, a case, printed cover and a booklet.
Imagine if the record companies sold a downloadable CD for $5-8 then charge extra to download covers and booklets. After all the main costs for production is printing and distribution.
There is no reason why record stores can’t do similar

Anonymous Coward says:

That would be a ludicrous claim: people love music, and it has exceptional value, but it is also non-scarce and non-rivalrous, meaning its price inevitably falls to zero.

Utter bullshit !!!!.. you sound just like masnick.

how can you say music is non-scarce, ? to start with, a particular song by a certain artist, performed at a specific time, with a specific mix IS UNIQUE!!! you can make as many copies of it as you like, but it is still unique, there is ONLY FREAKING ONE OF THEM !!!

Non-Rivalrous ???? so there is ONLY ONE SONG in ALL OF EXISTANCE, therefore that song has not other song to compete with ?

What people cannot use their money to buy a hamburger instead of a CD ?

music (specific songs) compete with other specific songs, and also competes with everything else in existance that people want to own and buy.

you dont really understand much do you ‘whoever’ you are Mr Masnick sockpuppet..

Breathtaking ignorance, as usual displayed here on Techdirt, we’ll done, SNAFU..

if someone gave you a brain cell it would die of loneleness.

Did anyone of you guys ever go to school ?

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