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Wednesday
Jul282010

The Whinging Musician and Downloading: Part Two

Note: this post follows on from this earlier post. Go there first if you are just coming to this discussion.

Wow! So many great responses from everyone. I am super enlivened and encouraged, not just by the level of the dialogue in general, but in the depth to which everyone is willing to engage with these questions. My responses so far:

    ONE: Stop It or I will Make You

For those who think I am not aware of the cease and desist strategy of getting these sites to take down my files, I am. I have used it several times in the past, and my understanding is that it is an ongoing strategy with DGM (the main structure setup for King Crimson recordings.) The problem, for me, with this strategy is that you have to either hire someone to do this for you – constantly searching the web for illegal downloads and filing the forms to get them to stop – or you have to do it yourself.

Even aside from my twitch about allocating funds for outsourcing this function, I don’t like this strategy. I will resort to it again if I have to. Meaning, I will take it on if it clearly brings me more money and adds to our culture. (For those who think I might fall into the class of GRS – Greedy Rock Stars – notice the ‘and’ in that sentence.) However taking on this strategy puts me into a permanent mode of trying to run a police state. I would need to keep part of myself constantly on guard to look for infringement against my work, not unlike overseeing the frisking of a live concert audience. This is not a place I want to live my life from. Call me naïve, but I’d rather engage an audience with open arms than a place of distrust.

So, I am trying this other strategy: an appeal. It's just an idea I thought I would try, like a new chord sequence. We can try it on and see what happens.

Interestingly enough, three of the sites I posted this letter on took down the link immediately. They even left the page up with my letter on it and one of the guys said that he hadn't thought of it like this and was saddened that it might damage my continued output.

 - - -

    TWO: Don’t Be A Lazy Bugger

I am not advocating any general kind of policy towards downloading. It is a complicated issue with many angles: legal, moral and psychological. I’ll give my take on some of this throughout this post.

I am just pointing out that if you get any value from my work, and you would like to see it continue to develop, then downloading my files without paying is a vote to have me stop. It’s no different than how one may choose to boycott a company that abuses its workers. Once you have that information then you can choose to support them or not. That's all. I'm not making any huge claims for anyone else. I am just stating my affairs. The financing of all of this is dubious even if everyone does pay for everything at current market rates. Then when you add in that anyone can just take for free everything I have worked so hard to make, it is like having the wind sucked out of your sails.

One poster wrote, “while i sympathize, you don't need to be paid in order to keep creating... plenty of poorer musicians than you make new recordings every day. Not trying to be rude here, just saying.”

This is true. In a way, facing this stuff is purifying and distilling of my aims. Why am I driven to engage the creative process anyway? It certainly isn’t the money. Most of the projects I take on have a piss poor chance of being highly successful. But I do try to take my workmanship up to as high a level I can, partly because this is the most satisfying for me, but also because it gives my work better odds for competing in the market. I mean let’s be frank: we live in a culture of capitalism. This means value is recognized by the exchange of money. As “un-commercial” as some of my recordings can be, you probably won’t be surprised to hear me say that it gives me great joy and satisfaction to receive a check in the mail for my work: “Look, my culture is clearly saying to me that I am valued.” Call that crass, short-sided, greedy, opportunistic, low or whatever. But it is real. If these were the only exchanges I received from my work, I would starve to death on the inside. But take it away, and I would need to be organizing my life in a very different way.

The poster above is correct that I should be able to take the “money equation” out of the creative process and still continue. Yet, this sounds like the voice of inexperience speaking, as the “money equation” doesn’t enter into the creative process at all for me. And by that, I mean when I am working on composing, or producing, or preparing a performance, the space that I enter isn’t touched by the flow of dollars. However when I step back out of that space, I see that there is no way to work at the level and rate that I strive for without putting money back into the equation. Everything costs money. If I want to play a show in Poland I need cash in order to fly there. If I want to make a record, then I need to have a studio to record in. And if I want to spend time developing my craft on my instrument then I need funds in order to cover my expenses while I do so.

I am not saying that I think I am entitled to anything. If the world shouts out a big NO to my work, then it is true I won't stop doing it. But I will have to move at a much, much slower rate and not get as far as I would like before I leave this planet.

 - - -

    THREE:  Mickey Is My Master

Just because it is illegal doesn’t make it wrong.

It’s all fine and well to say, “Downloading files for free is illegal and you just shouldn’t do it. Copyright law says it is illegal. End of argument.” But we all know the connection between the legal system and the business world is completely dodgy. The only reason any law is in place, regarding how business gets done, is because someone with a lot of money hustled someone in government to enact a law to his or her own benefit.

Two examples:

The reason why I don’t collect back-end royalties (royalties when the shows are broadcast or re-broadcast) for scoring work I have done for ESPN is that Disney owns ESPN. When Disney went to congress to ‘re-negotiate’ the length of years of the copyright law, because the time limit was coming up for the trademark on Mickey Mouse, they also set up the processes for exemptions of back back-end royalties. I have only limited info about this, and someone can probably correct me with more details, but basically Disney is so powerful that they were able to set new terms for how royalties were paid. Or not paid, in this case.

Secondly, some things about copyright law are completely messed up. That it is largely illegal for artists to work with existing copyrighted material in order to make derivative works, I think, is damaging to our culture. We should give our artists free reign to copy, change, mess with, abuse, mock, and torment the works of every other artist and all icons (commercial, political and cultural) created by our societies. For one it is great way for people to find their own voices. But it also makes our world much more interesting and exciting when people are playing with it. Thankfully, it goes on anyway but technically much of it is illegal. Though, in my mind, not wrong.

 - - -

    FOUR:  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

When I go out on the web looking for free downloads of music that I made and own, I find four kinds of sites:

    1. The fans sites. Basically these are music blogs that don’t just review the recordings they like, they post links to download for free. These folks seem to genuinely want to support the artist’s process but are clueless to the full repercussions of their actions. Yes, they do turn on new people to the music. But they also say “Hey, just take it for free. It doesn’t matter. These musicians are either too rich or poor to care.”

    2. The semi-fans sites that run goggle ads alongside of their “reviews”. These are the same as above, except they are scumming the bottom by generating money for themselves by means of other’s good works.

    3. The pay networks. These guys pump up their links so they appear near the top of a google search for an artist. They generally offer torrent links, but you can’t get the links without paying them a yearly fee. Once the fee is paid you gain access to their network and an enormous amount of links. They use nearly artist’s name in existence in order to generate traffic to their site.

    4. The pay sites. If you can believe this, there are sites that offer my files for a fee!!!! One in Russia sells my mp3s for around $0.09 a track. Pure scam. No money comes back to any artist, though they have the nerve to present the site as if this is the case.

 

Most of the sites fall into category number 3. No matter how your parse the arguments (file sharing is good promo for artists, most people who download for free eventually purchase, and so forth), there is no justification that this contributes, in any way, to our culture. These sites don’t care about the material they are sharing, they are simply using people’s artistic output to make money for themselves.

Since the web is universally linked to itself you only need one free site to “share” files to everyone. You don’t need hundreds of torrent sites to do this. This means that these folks (category 3) are in competition with each other. And since they make up the bulk of the download sites, they may be responsible for the meme that states that downloading for free is OK. This means the people arguing for free downloads could well be passing on a meme that was started by this segment of the industry in the first place. Even if they didn’t start it, they certainly have an interest in keeping it going and growing. I call double bullshit on that one. Legal action is probably the only way to stop it. Or a vacuum of consumers.

The category four pay sites I have nothing to say about. Category two is probably partly reachable via an appeal, but I suspect not. Category one is definitely reachable and I have had three sites pull down the files already. At the end of the day, this is like fighting the war on drugs – essentially un-fightable as long as there are consumers who participate. I don’t feel like joining in a ‘war on drugs’ style battle, and it isn’t necessary anyway. The only thing that is necessary is that I generate enough cash to keep my own creative process going. So fighting downloaders isn’t great solution. Finding folks who support my work and who would help encourage others ‘lovers’ to become real supporters sounds to be a far more promising path.

 - - -

    FIVE:  The Linda Blair’s of Downloading

There are many psychological aspects of downloading that play into all of this. The main one, in my experience, is there is a kind of ‘possession of the media’ that has virtually nothing to do with engaging it. What I mean is that there seems to be a kind of mindset that goes with pulling stuff down from the web into your computer that has more to with feeling like you are out of the loop rather than in it.

There is all this data and information ‘out there.’ If I pull it down onto my own laptop then I have it ‘in here.’ Music, images, film, text, ideas. All these cool things that I see out there would be way cooler to have them in me. Or at least on my own laptop, then it feels like I ‘own’ them.

I have a suspicion that a lot of the free downloading of music we see may fall into this category. That many music downloaders never listen to this stuff anyway. Or if they do, then they don’t spend a whole lot of time with it. How could they? If you are an avid downloader then much of your time is spent downloading and searching for things to download rather than going deep with the media. If I am correct about this then we are talking about an act of accumulation rather than an actual experience with the music.

If this makes up the bulk of downloaders, then there isn’t much real threat. However, nobody has the real numbers on this. And, if these folks aren’t really engaging the material anyway, then they don’t really need it in the first place.

When you have to pay for something -- turning hours of your own work over for something that you value – a different kind of connection happens. There is a higher value in the relationship. You come to it with something more, you ask for something more and you are open to something more.

 - - -

    SIX:  Lust for Life

In addition to being an aspiring artist, I have also been a patron, myself. I do support artists that I think deserve support. Funnily, in the late 1980’s and 1990’s I used to buy every Iggy Pop record that came out, even though I didn’t like some of them. I felt like I owed Iggy something for making things that not only moved me, but also stretched into areas where no one else would go. I made a decision to support him even after these two things weren’t, personally, the case for me anymore. That decision alone and the act of buying his stuff gave me the feeling that I was participating in his work. Which, I was.

This is an example of the relationship an artist would love to have with their audience – that we are co-chaperoning a vision together. And to do that people need to be present to the work and really engage it. Meaning their ears have to be open to the music and they need to be willing go deep into it and spend time with it. But, they also need to help finance it. Otherwise it will go away. Or at least that particular vision of it may go away. We all know other visions will continue to come and go.

I am NOT saying don’t download my files for free. That is kind of a dumb thing to say, as many have pointed out for many varied reasons. I’m saying think about how music comes into our culture in the first place and find a way to support it. One great way of supporting it is paying for it. Keeping in mind that this only covers part of the nut. We all have day jobs anyway. Nearly all of my solo recordings were only financed because I had made some money through King Crimson. I think Bill Bruford might say the same about Earthworks and Yes. I also, run a small record label and I am building a music coaching practice. If I thought of a way to make a side living doing something else that doesn’t disperse me too much, believe me, I would jump on it. In truth, being a pro these days means making about half a living.

 - - -

    SEVEN: Accept or Perish

From another poster:

“I don't want to dismiss Trey's more than good intentions, but fighting illegal downloads is like facing windmills, and it takes a lot of energy that would be better suited for the creative process, music and business wise. It is frustrating, it is cold, but unfortunately this is how it is.”

As I said above I am not interested in ‘fighting’ illegal downloads. I am interested in having a good strong base of people who support what I do, in order that I can keep on doing it. Some of these people aren’t aware that downloading my files is a vote to have me stop doing that. Make them aware and maybe, just maybe, something could change.

And just because there is a consensus in our culture doesn’t mean we have to accept that consensus. I think an evolving human being is one who is becoming more and more in contact with the repercussions of their actions, extending out further and further into the future. So my small little part in this dialogue is throwing in some information that some people might not be aware of. Then they can decide, based on many other variables as well, whether their actions align with their values. If you’re basing your decisions on bad or limited information then you aren’t armed well.

Regarding the question of whether digital downloading is killing the industry or not, I can’t definitively say. What I can say is that my sales and the sales of many of the musicians I know have dropped upwards of 90% over the last two years. Could it be that interest in our work has just waned? Could it be that our newer material just isn’t as good as it used to be? Or could it be that it is all available for free online? (Earlier this week I found a link for the entire King Crimson catalog, including 20 or 30 collector club discs. The whole catalog!!!) There is no definitive answer, but….come on.

And regarding whether music and the music business has completely gone to the dogs, the brilliant Danny Barnes says No. Danny has the most positive take on the current state of music and the music industry of anyone I have ever come across. Please go read this article by him and be refreshed and inspired about the great things that have, and do, come from all of this technology and global coalescing. And then read this article by him about how to make a living as a musician.

 

 - - -

    EIGHT: Joe The Plumber

From another poster:

“The last line in your first paragraph sums up the issue nicely:

     ‘How would a plumber or a car mechanic feel about that??’

A plumber or car mechanic does not earn money for work performed ten years ago. They must work every day of their life to earn their keep. They cannot expect royalties from a drain they repaired in 1993, or an engine rebuilt in 2002. They must consistently offer new services to expect an income.

Now artists must also earn their keep like honest men. The bourgeois notion of the "rock star" who becomes rich from a couple months of work performed a decade prior has now ended. Welcome to the twenty-first century, Mr. Gunn.”

Silly man, you can’t make one copy of a record and sell it. Then make a whole new one the next day. You’d still be only making $10 a day. Plus it takes years and years to develop into the musician you go into the studio with. I guess I could charge $20,000 for a ‘special edition of one’ for each disc. That sounds strange but fun. Then the owner who had financed it could give it away for free. I could go for that. But the current way to finance a record is to go into debt making it, then hope to break even some day. This usually takes two to five years. Then, and only then, can you begin to make any money from sales. A Plumber gets paid by the hour; I’ve never been paid by the hour. This analogy doesn’t fit.

And regarding RSWBRFACOMWPADP’s (rock stars who becomes rich from a couple months of work performed a decade prior)…. Oh how I wish I were one of them. I’m afraid that applies mostly to the generation behind Pat Mastelotto and me. Pat busts his ass out on the road, touring like a fiend, and recording whenever possible in order to enter the special club of RSWBRFACOMWPADP’s. You really never know when one of your projects might blow up. Personally, I’ve given up. I’m trying to trim my expenses as much as possible and just figure a way to keep on doing what I do, as cheap as I can.

It might be valuable, at this junction, to break the off-held taboo of divulging the numbers of what we are talking about here. Keep in mind that I present this not as a sympathy play – I have largely moved on from this way of life as my main source of income (for obvious reasons!) – and I am happy enough with my own state of affairs. But, I think it may be wise to have something concrete to look at.

So here are some royalty numbers for my share of the King Crimson records that I have played on. These include from THRAK & VROOOM up through The Power to Believe. These numbers also include all DGM releases with KC that I participated in since 1994, including the DVDs and all of the Collector’s Club discs.

Jan 1 – June 30 2007: $3,650.50
July 1 – Dec 31, 2007: $3,147.50
Jan 1 – Jun 30, 2008: $4,604.00
July 1 – Dec 31, 2008: $3,604.62

There is also publishing money that comes in for these recordings, being that I was a writer for most all of the material. It is too complicated to pull the exact, specific data out of my publishing statements, but the general numbers for same recordings above are always under $1000 a year.

I don’t have very good ways to go through the various statements and present what the numbers were eight and ten years ago. But I can say that these numbers were higher by double, triple, quintuple and even at one point ten times higher than now. Any connection to free downloads? I open to opinions. But I have mine.

 - - -

    NINE: I’m So Special

It seems to me the root of this discussion centers around the issue of specialists. We are, inside all of this, asking ourselves whether it is important to have pro’s or not. Perhaps our culture will vote that amateur and semi-pro’s fill the musical, literary and photography fields (all forms that are easily transferred digitally without compensation.)

Amateurs, in my mind, are those who work purely from enjoyment and engage with their mediums only when they feel moved to. Pro’s have dedicated the sum of their lives to a craft and put their, and their families, survival online with their work. Semi-pro’s tread magically between the two in some ratio, or they have regular jobs that support a professional level of dedication squeezed in between the cracks of their busy lives.

None of these categories seems necessarily better suited to producing masters then any other, which I’ll confess is a virtue I hold for a strong and vibrant culture. We tend to think of professional musicians as being the highest version of musician. I think this is because they have, supposedly, spent the most time doing it. Also, being capitalists we think because you can make a living doing something you are better at it. Though we all know incredible musicians who are not pros. And I know many non-pros who have imaginations far exceeding many damn, good pros.

I guess the question I am raising here is: Do we really want pros or not? It is certainly true that the culture we had (now gone) where musicians could make A LOT of money didn’t necessarily serve us well. The bloated egotism of artists lost in fame, drugs, sex and their own personalities doesn’t seem like a fertile soil for growing real masters.

However, I would also add that neither the Discipline era King Crimson nor The Power to Believe era King Crimson could have come into being if we were functioning as semi-pros. I don’t believe it is possible to build up those kinds of new vocabularies and that kind of facility on the instruments while pushing oneself musically that far, with out space to do so. This doesn’t mean that devoting a whole lot of time to being a musician is going to guarantee those levels of music – clearly something else was going on in those examples. But without the space to explore, it is definitely harder to leave the ground for thinner air.

Obviously I am biased on the topic, because I have made my living as a musician and I think it really was THE way to fully devote myself to the form. However, even now as I move to the side a bit branching out in other professional directions, I still think it is vital for our culture to have professional specialists. They are the ones who can show us things that are possible that we can’t quite imagine ourselves.

What is interesting is that these are decisions our culture, mostly, gets to make for us. Though I still think we can influence the big picture if we see something going off in a direction we disagree with. If we want pros then we need to decide to not take their work without compensation. If we don’t want pros, and believe the semi-pro or amateur roles fill our culture adequately, then it doesn’t matter whether music is free.

Which finally brings me to:

    TEN: Freedom is for the Free

Interestingly, no one has presented this argument: Music should be free.

------------------------

Terve! And thanks to you all. I must get back to work, now.

Cheers,

Trey

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Reader Comments (64)

If I may, I'd like to squeeze a final comment in. Kris Nelson, you say: 'The complete and utter street ignorance of the reason originality is a virtue is a damned tragedy.' I think there's a subtle relationship between technology and originality that this comment doesn't capture.

Everyone is influenced by their precursors, but the interesting thing about digital technology is that it can circumvent the need to INTERNALISE one's influences. People who play instruments in imitation of others, paint pictures in imitation of others, or shoot movies in imitation of others are - by virtue of coordinating their hands to realise the imitation, and (if they aren't closely consulting a copy of the original) by 'creative misremembering' - performing a transformative act even as they imitate. This type of creativity, minor though it may seem, can lead in short order to the acquisition of skills and the subsequent creation of original work.

Sampling and digital cut-and-paste don't work that way. These techniques can still lead to interesting results, and the people using them can still go on to better things. But (returning to a comment I posted earlier) greater conscious, self-imposed standards are required to ensure that this is the case, because it isn't necessarily innate in the process.

Unlike you, I don't make a massive virtue of originality. I am, however, interested in the way that influences are transmitted, and I'm concerned that we might lose out on the creativity involved in internalising one's influences before expressing them. Maybe that's just a highfalutin way of saying the same thing as you, but I thought it was a point worth adding.

To put my cards on the table, I'm a big fan of some 'artists' (you may dispute their claim to the term), such as Steinski and DJ Shadow, who combine bits of other people's recordings in interesting ways. And Trey's erstwhile King Crimson/KTU colleague Pat Mastelotto - no slouch when it comes to artistry and creativity - has done some interesting work of this type, such as his 'BPM&M' album, which cut-and-pasted bits of the King Crimson archive.

I think there's a place for such work, although obviously not to the exclusion of other ways of making music.

August 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErk Gah

While I understand your comment, here's what I am talking about.

The ability to manipulate instruments which have real-time control over discreet sets of tones gives one the freedom with good technique to be able to do lots more than spinning a record with pre-recorded sound on it.

The mindset of using the studio as an instrument, or of utilising electronic realisation, is fine in theory, but there are some design issues that beg revision. Those who use the "studio in a box" of software/laptops can usually come up with some great stuff, but also there is a lot of "sameness" to it. You can close your eyes and not know whether you're listening to Squarepusher or Aphex Twin because the design methodology of the point-and-click software forces you into certain thinking patterns. This is obviously not always true, and is less prevalent in terms of stagnant potential than my first point. I think people like DJ Spooky and DJ Shadow are great, and they are more concerned with the music side of things, making them more electronic artists than the "Disc Jockey" which the overused prefix DJ would indicate. Probably affixed there because they DJ sets occassionaly.

Which all comes down to dance music. Nothing wrong with it. But the very format of it precludes much originality in song structure. By definition. You can't stuff great music into a mould and sell it out of a vending machine. It wants to be free to be itself. Now if something is composed with some energy and it happens to be danceaBLE, that's one thing, but if you make an entire career of it, then what have you really accomplished other than had some fun and watched people bob up and down for hours. Where's the intimacy? The subtlety? The communion on an emotional and mental level as WELL as the physical? When dance music becomes the MAJOR ART FORM on the planet, we are in trouble.

I would not place Pat into the category of "street ignorance" - not by a long shot. I am speaking of rappers and club DJs who do very little musical work, but are making the money and being flown from club to club to DJ their stuff. What Pat did with BPM&M is amazing wonderful cool! More industrial than dance music I would say. I would LOVE to see BPM&M and Skinny Puppy do something together.

Ultimately, I am just sick of seeing "artists" bob up and down behind a lap top or DJ booth - the real impression is made when you can perform something realtime, which is something new brought into the world structure-wise, in tandem with other people who come together in their individualities to form a group which can affect you deeply on an emotional, mental, and physical level. The possibility of a train-wreck mess or beautiful improvisation which deviates from the same old beat, the same old ritual, the same old actions, the same old beat, the same old ritual, the same old actions, the same old melody, the same old beat, round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round - is what I personally want to go experience. I want it to be an experience. I want to leave a live show feeling like I am a different person from the one who showed up for it.

That's just me, of course.

August 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKris Nelson

@Kris:
What I love is when dj/laptop/mixer twisters UMPHasize their having pushed/released/twisted a knob (I assume so that people can see they'd done something).

@ZERbrecher:
We are definitely in an interesting place, that it is quicker to upload something and summarize it than it is to contact the artist for permission (which I don't doubt). Or is it that doing both is too time consuming? I admire that you admit to laziness playing a role; it plays a role in far too much of my life, as well. Still, it would seem to me that a canned letter ripped off to the artist you want to feature might be a gesture which'd support your endeavor. Otherwise, I was serious about stealing cds; as long as they're from Borders or Wal*Mart ; - /

August 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdavidly

http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/how-much-do-music-artists-earn-online/

A pretty sobering graphic on just how much musicians get screwed in the marketplace

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNeil W

From interview with Chris Binns of HiFi+ Magazine interviewing Peter Gabriel:

CB: and your view on the copy protection issue?

PG:: I'm on two sides of the fence, maybe three, as an artist, but I've also got involved in OD2, which is a digital distribution network, so I've spent a lot of time discussing the issue. In some ways we are the canary down the mine, the first battle ground, but behind us goes anyone who creates anything that can be turned into data whether its software, films pictures or music. Do people who create material have entitlement to get royalties? That's a bigger question for society. I would argue that you would get better range, better quality and better choice if you do pay the creator something. We live in the luxury of the in between world at the moment where some people pay for the records while others get it for free. It is the part of it that is the market stall, and at a certain point there will be less fruit on the stall if there's no money coming in. It's strange for me to see some artists saying 'yeah I'm all for file sharing and free down-loading' and at the same time they take multi-million pound contracts from record companies. In the case of our record label, Real World, many of the artists get sixty or seventy percent of their income from record royalties. If that is taken away, a lot of them will not be able to continue as working musicians - the same applies to young bands, anyone outside of the mainstream. The other side of the coin is what is it people would be prepared to pay for? I think were it me, I would look for convenience and speed with all the range of musical possibilities on offer - while the key for me would be that it was well filtered, because I know that in twenty hours of watching TV or listening to music, I know that there is better stuff than I am currently getting but I don't have the time or energy to wade through it. That is something that I would pay for. I read a few years ago that the average record is played 1.3 times, and at first that depressed me a lot until I thought about it and looked at my own record collection and realised that it was probably about right; while there maybe twenty or so discs that you play regularly, there is a ton of stuff that has just been casual purchases - maybe you liked the cover - and you played it once and never went back to it. This should be reflected in the price one pays for the download, if you try and charge what you would pay in a record store it's never going to work.

CB: Do you not feel that people still want to physically own music in the shape of an artefact?

PG:: I think it's partly an anal instinct in us that we want to collect artefacts and show them off. There is a display mechanism at work too, like peacock feathers on a date, and part of who you are is what you are wearing, what you read, and of course what you are listening to; these are flags that you use to identify yourself within your tribe...

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKris Nelson

Peter Gabriel: "Do people who create material have entitlement to get royalties? ... you ... get better range, better quality and better choice if you ... pay the creator something."

Gabriel seems to recognise that there are two questions here:

[a] Should creators be paid?
[b] Should creators be paid per unit shifted?

In effect, he says [b] is a question for someone else (or him & everybody else). At any rate, he doesn't answer it.

He gives a reason to answer 'yes' to [a], but that's not where the controversy lies--we all want creators to eat, stay healthy, and put their kids through school, right?

I trust he's a better person than to hope his answer to [a] will rub off on [b]: a "well, I didn't actually say that" approach to legitimating the royalty system.

Paying popular artists more money: this is at best a monstrously inefficient way to promote range, quality, and choice; arguably, it works against all three, as "artists" and record companies chase universal appeal.

Who is the bigger money spinner, Elvis Presley or Mark Sanders? I hope Mr. Sanders is making a living, these days, but it wasn't always so; musicians don't come much finer. Presley? Feh!

The challenge is to find a way to pay musicians to create (in concert & in the studio), while getting their work to as many people as possible. The problem being that the royalty/piracy system seems to trade the one off against the other.

I don't have the answer, but perhaps fostering tastes for improvisation (never the same river twice), live music (hot dates), good in-concert sound (why is it that people seem not to care?--perhaps the answer will tell us a lot about the "death" of the music industry), and cheap recording (calling cards) will help. I seem to remember that some crazy English guitarist has been dropping some of those buzzwords for a long time.

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermatthew brandi

To all musicians who want to make a living out of it;(for what it's worth)

I recently read Robert Fripp saying (i think it was in the booklet of the RED dvd)"Only become a professional musician if you got no choice"
He knows probably a thing or two about the music industry, if you ask me.

If touring is your hobby -go ahead.If not- find a partner with a good job.
We can talk untill forever about what's legal ,or honest, or how things should be ideally.
People are people and have been (will be) so for ages.

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartin van Eijden

Well, the thread has probably dissapated but I'll post anyway (slow work day).

I'm the son of a NYC-area classical/Jazz musician who has the unique resume of having played with Duke and Ella and Pops, but who also played at the Metropolitan Opera for a few decades. One of Dad's famous career stories is having to play 1st trombone on Alban Berg's 12-tone Lulu without any rehearsals because the usual 1st was trapped in a snowstorm in Buffalo or wherever. (This performance was also broadcast on radio, so I heard him play it.)

Could that kind of playing or career be done part time, as a night job while (for instance) computer programming during the day?

Forget about it. No way. not remotely possible.

The question, then, becomes whether that matters, and whether the kind of rock and pop music we seem to be discussing should be view any differently.

Going back to Trey's plea for the continued existence of the profesional musician, I know there's still a small batch of rock/pop/alt musicians who make a kind of music that could not be made as a part-time, night job. It requires study and practice and, perhaps, some breathing time for contemplation and living the vestiges of a normal life (otherwise, how do you generate anything to say if you do nothing but work all day and night?) Indeed, in my family growing up the idea of a "part time musician" or hobbyist didn't really exist: You practiced several hours a day or you weren't a musician, or not making music worth listening to (right or wrong this was the prejudice).

But I guess the key question (in light of dowloading) becomes, "But who needs the kind of music full-time pop/rock musicians make? There's tons and tons of free-ish music out there made by people working in their spare time in home studios and whatnot, that's reasonably good: And they are so dying to be heard they'll stuff it into your hands for free.

What I suspect, however, is that the vast majority of the music made in this way is listened to on headphone while somebody is mowing their lawn or working out. It's musical wallpaper and nobody really invests solid listening time to it. And you know what? Most of that part-time music probably isn't worth just sitting down and listening to.

Our world is getting more complex and interconnected and intecultural. it's also changing extremely quickly. My belief is that such a world can't be reflected in three chords or autotune: That kind of easy world is a fake world and does nothing to help us come to terms with the world we are actually in.

For that you need higher "technology" music-wise: You need the kinds of musicians who have the kinds of chops that can adequately make use of any kind of time signatures and harmonic ideas, the kinds of things that can't really be faked in a home studio. For example, would bands like Opeth exist if they had day jobs? Maybe that doesn't matter, but my feeling is that metal has only remained relevant (and really interesting) because those guys have been picking up the chops and musical technology necessary to express what they express.

Don't get me wrong, as a NYC resident (for many decades) the lessons of punk are not lost on me. A lot can be said with three chords if you are saying what you really have to say. But life and time have moved on from there and it will not always be possible to say anything meaningful or relevant with just three chords. In fact, listen to most of the lifeless dreck that passes for "punk" these days: Is it really relevant or just wallowing in it's own uselessness?

As a result, we need profesional rock/pop musicians of the Trey Gunn "ilk" and for that to remain true we need to pay them for their recordings, and not just concerts.To honestly reflect the real world, musicians need skills and chops and the kind of chops that can't be gained at the end of a "real" work day. This is, I think, no different from haing classical musicians that can play 12 tone classical opera (a musical vocabulary developed in Europe between the two world wars).

On the other hand, if nobody actually LISTENS to music anymore, then maybe it doesn't matter.

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEm

Well put, EM.

Aside from personal bias for the survival of my livelihood, I hope that if it ain't me it is somebody.

cheers,

Trey

August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTrey Gunn

Thanks Trey. Randy

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRandy Chiurazzi

I'm not an artist, I'm a listener. And I used to download music for free in the bad old days when it was a new thing, but as I've aged I'm much more interested in making sure that artists are paid for their work. Since I'm in the Army and in a position of leadership, I even scold my young Soldiers about their torrenting habits.

At any rate, another site linked me to this post, and interested as I am in listening to new music I decided to see if it was available on Zune pass - it is, and I'm listening to it right now. Since Zune is now my primary means of paying for music, I'm interested to know, how do you get paid from them? Per download or a monthly rate or what? I hope it's a valid model for the artists, since it's a great model for me, and I'd like to continue feeling good about it ;)

September 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Thanks for a stimulating post Mr G,here`s my thoughts regarding the last comment-`Music should be free`.
Music is free-
We-(the punters/consumers/listeners/audient) Pay the craftsmen for his time/effort and sacrifice. Isn`t it that simple?.
15 years or more to reach a point of `availability` to the muse.The willing sacrifice of time and self.The audacity and bravery to perform.The sheer niaivety and optimism.
We can,we do and we should pay the musician.
I`ve taken part in performances when the space lit up,The very audience/performers became something else. Recorded medium is a faint echoe of that.A sad reverberation fading away.
I would pay dearly to be there again.
Fortunately, there`s no guarantee.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob Gillon

My context: I download music illegally, and lots of it. I crave new music and I search blogs and sites for bands I have hitherto not heard before. Approximately 80% of what I download will end up in the trash. Of the remaining 20% I keep (and I will keep a whole album if that is what I downloaded) often only a track or two will force its way into high rotation and hence would I therefore ultimately consider worthy of purchase. Most these bands are not likely to be on itunes etc, nor are they likely to tour my town anytime soon. So I ask myself: what is the best way for me to contribute financially to these artists in a proportional manner to the enjoyment their album brings me? Even if it were possible, it certainly wouldn't be paying full retail price for the CD to a record label, when I know that only a pittance of that money will ever make it back to the artist. Were the album on itunes, nor would I wish to subsequently purchase the one or two tracks belatedly, when again, the artist will see maybe 2c of the purchase price.

What staggers me the most, however, is that despite the known lament of artists missing the money boat, I could count on one hand the number of band sites (of thousands) I subsequently visit that have a link to a paypal (or equivalent) account which I could use to directly show my financial appreciation of their work. I don't mean a merchandise link or purchase links to tracks (I have the music already), I mean the electronic equivalent of a busker's hat or open guitar case into which I can throw cash or coins that will go directly to their pocket. For my context, this is precisely how I would like to pay for one or two songs off an otherwise forgettable album I downloaded illegally, or even for a whole album I thoroughly enjoy yet don't value, or can't afford, at $50 retail.

So my point is that artists need to think more about how to use technology to increase the ways that genuine and appreciative fans can get you money DIRECTLY. A simple paypal (or equivalent) link may be all it takes. Yes, this may or may not dramatically increase the financial love you receive from your fans, but 1) it can't hurt, 2) is sooo simple to do, 3) is a step in the right direction towards equitable reimbursement and 4) at the very least will give you another axe to grind when fans still don't pay for your talent!

In my mind, digital technology has not only changed how people consume music, it has changed how they go about valuing it's relative financial worth. Make it easier for your fans to show you what they think your art is worth.

October 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Trey - this is undoubtably the best piece I've read yet on the subject - I'm with you, Trey!

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMick Glossop

Hello Matt, just to correct a point or two, I have an independently released album on iTunes, I get way more than 2 cents per song sale. It's about 50 cents for a 99 cent song. Apple gets 35 cents, Tunecore gets 15 for managing the downloads, and I get the rest. Please don't spread that around. Also you stated, "Most these bands are not likely to be on itunes" well, any band that WANTS to be on iTunes and receive support for their music that way CAN EASILY get on iTunes. I started investigating how to get my album on there at 7:00 PM on a New Year's Eve, and before the corks were popped at midnight, my wave files and album art were uploaded and all set to go. If they aren't on iTunes when they could be it's their own fault, their own choice, and if they make it that hard for fans to support them, then please, for everyone else's sake, support someone else.

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Another thought about a new business model to replace all the old ones that don't work for various reasons. I really think the only answer is a cheap, ubiquitous subscription model of some kind, that gives you on demand access to any song you can ever hope to think of, with tracking of plays so that the entity running the subscription can pay back a royalty to whoever songs get played.

I have a 250GB hard drive full to the brim of music I've ripped from my CD collection. There is another 250GB drive for backup (but that's just conversation). Half of the drive was music from CDs I acquired from my "Linda Blair" days of rapid CD collection expansion. I'm not proud of those days; I still need to get into half of that again in some depth to even realize what I have there. I never knew my collection would double again in the course of my CD review business, but it has, and all I can tell you is having that much music is a pain to manage. I've never downloaded anything except one Van Halen track I couldn't successfully rip from the CD.

With this much music, and the very real possibility of never, ever listening to a large chunk of it over the next 20 or 30 years, the thought eventually crosses your mind that what the heck are you doing with it? Why have it, why save it, why back it up, why scroll through it all? In a nutshell, why OWN it? Did I really want to OWN it? Was my goal to OWN it? The discs themselves are stacked up in 50 or so 100-count boxes in the garage where they risk being smashed by my wife's car every time she pulls in. Is this something I envisioned? Is this what I WANTED? Well, no.

Simply put, what I wanted (or what I was after, my goal, if you will) was to be able to listen to any song on these albums any time I wanted to. Of course I can do that now, after spending tons of time ripping CDs (where some others might have spend tons of time finding and downloading, same difference, time spent, time wasted, time I'd love to have back), but really I think the answer would have also been there for me in a subscription model, where I didn't have to do the ripping, etc. I don't really want to own it, at the end of the day. I'm after access. And I wonder if it is so much different for downloaders, either legal or illegal. They still have to back up their hard drives and make Seagate and Hitachi and Verbatim and all of those guys rich in the process.

If I could just get online and get any CD, any book, any game, any movie, any TV series, any magazine, any newspaper, any piece of software, any piece of 'intellectual property', any time I wanted, and the whole thing was just a line item on my Mastercard, I'd be happy. I wouldn't want or need to own ANYTHING. I just want access. Give me 24/7 access to anything and everything. No more management, no more hard drives, no more backups. Why own ANYTHING digital, illegally or legally?

There is no solution in what I've written. I've expressed a preference. But I think we all have to address this LINDA BLAIR tendency we all must have to some degree (or obsession in the worst cases) to have to own everything, and then divide ourselves into criminals and non-criminals, depending on the strength of our arguments in blog posts. Could we do that? Could we evolve to do that?

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Dave, I've had the same issue of access where my books are concerned. I don't really want 7-8 large bookcases full of books in my house. And I don't want to pack them up and move them to the next house. I'd donate them all to the library tomorrow if I knew I could check any one of them back out in the future. Let them do the storage and upkeep and let others in the community read the books. I love it.

However for me here, as a practical matter, it doesn't work. The library for one, tends to sell good number of donated books at book sales - to what? To buy more books. Great, so 40 donated books are sold for 50 cents each so they can buy the new Danielle Steele for $20? I'm not participating in that. I wish it worked differently.

But the point you make with digital products removes that aspect of it. Gimme access! I already pay for access to the internet, for access to a cell phone network, for access to a YMCA, for access to cable TV, etc. Add it to my bill. Just don't limit me.

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBryan Mayer

Thanks Dave for pointing out the division of monies you receive from your independent release on iTunes.

Compare your comments to the link posted by Neil W (August 10), and even in this thread alone, it's not hard to see how much conflicting information there is out there about the royalties artists actually receive for their work. Rather than "Please don't spread that around", if your numbers are accurate, promoting figures like these can only serve to reduce cynicism that people (perhaps like me) have towards the new "regime". I don't think it should be underestimated that when people see figures suggesting the vast share of the purchase price still does not end up in the artist pocket, despite the shift to the new digital way of things, it does make it somewhat easier to justify in their own mind the use of illegal means to obtain the same content (quite wrongly of course).

But my point still stands: whether you choose to release material via a record label or via an online store, or whether you are anti-establishment and prefer only to release 7" vinyl at gigs (which are the kind of rips I download a fair bit), or whether you're somewhere in between, why not ALSO use the technology available and have a DIRECT means for fans to show their financial support? Why continue to rely on the old methods of royalty-living to eek out an existence?

If it were as much the norm that people knew they could visit any artist/band site to make a "donation" as it is to visit itunes to purchase a song, I can't help but think all artists might be better off.

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

I think the music business (artists, etc.) specfically and society in general needs to get to a place where a downloader (or hoarder, or digital hoarder), needs to be looked at by everyone else with the feeling of, "Why do you bother? Why are you wasting time and effort stuffing billions and billions of ones and zeros onto huge personal hard drives?" Anecdotally, I recently met a friend of a friend for the first time, and within fifteen minutes he had already revealed that he illegally downloads everything and anything, and that he had embezzled money from his employer when he was a teenager. He was quite proud of himself!

Let's use a real-world, physically analogy with a library. Say you and a friend both live close to a public library, but your friend has additionally amassed a huge collection of books in his basement through various illegal means. It's large, it's impressive, it's deep, but at the end of the day, it's only about 1/40 the size of the public library's collection. Your friend even admits to you that he hasn't read even half the books. You're looking around at his cache of books, and you turn to him and say, "Why did you bother doing this? Can you show me even one book here that I can't just walk over and check out of the public library and read? Why did you do something illegal when you could of just read any of these books by going down the street, plus had access to thousands more? One small house fire and all this hoarding is for naught anyway!"

I feel like that's the direction digital media needs to head towards. Make the digital hoarder feel stupid for taking his own time, bandwidth and hardware to accumulate something that anyone in the world can digitally license in an instant at a very, very fair price. Access, access, access. I really think that concept holds the key to a world where piracy and hoarding are only the realm of folks with deep emotional issues, and not the general public at large.

October 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Well, at the risk of being redundant (since I've not got the time or patience to read through every comment) I'll add my 2 cents for what it is worth.

First of all, I have been a big fan of Trey's since he joined KC and I have most of his CD's bought either new or used.
I do download a lot of music, the web is a great place to find and discover new interesting stuff. Generally, if I find something I like, I will want to own it. Here is where it get's complicated for me. I don't have unlimited funds. And yet unfortunately from about the age of 12 when I saved my lunch money to buy the latest Gary Numan single on colored vinyl, I have a bit of the mindless collector mentality that I struggle with on an almost daily basis. For example, I recently discovered The Pineapple thief. I was able to download the entire discography easily. I loved it, and immediately ordered from KSCope all the cds that they had. The rest of the cds were out of print, and quite limited. My only option was to wait for an unknown period of time for reissues, or turn to ebay, which is what I did. I paid inflated prices for the music, and the huge profits did not go to the artist, though I supported them as much as I could. I really enjoy live shows and will gladly pay to see them if they ever come to LA.
But I love to shop in used CD stores. I buy a lot of my CDs from them. None of this goes to the artist afaik. I never really think about it, any more than I think about the author when I buy a used book or a car manufacturer if I buy a used car.
I hate to buy digital downloads (with an exception I will discuss later). I love owning the physical object, I prefer the higher quality of the audio, I like the permanence of the item, I like the art/booklets etc. If I like the music I will get the cd. The price of a new CD is pretty high. Target will sell them new for 9.99 or 7.99 sometimes and it is a no brainer. $17.99 ,well then I'll look for it used.
Where am I going with this? Well, let's look at another band I love. Porcupine Tree. I have most of their CD's, a lot bought new, some used. I go to their shows. I buy their digital releases. Why? Because they are offering CD quality or BETTER. A 24-bit recording of a live show? I m buying it. I would rather have a CD or Blu-Ray, but if those are not an option because they don't exist or are too expensive on ebay, then digital it is. I have bought most of the band members solo stuff as well. I have bought the deluxe packages also. I think Steve Wilson is an extremely canny businessman as well as an amazing artist and knows exactly how to generate revenue from his fanbase.
So, what I think this means, and sorry for taking so long to get to it, is that an artist today needs to look at how to maximize his or her revenue and connect with the fans directly.

1. Offer the music directly to the fans. CDs or Digital Flac or better. Price competitively. $9.99 or less. Hopefully you are getting all of this money, no-one else takes a cut. Make it so that it's not even worth buying it used.
2. Offer live show recordings in super high quality. Price reasonably. Better to have a lot of smaller transactions than a few high ones.
3. Offer deluxe versions or limited editions, again, directly to the customer.
4. Tour as much as possible. Sell limited releases at the shows.
5. Twitter to keep everyone informed about releases, shows etc. Not your breakfast though. I was resistant to twitter for a long time but now it is the easiest way to track the bands I love.
6. Offer some free stuff to generate traffic to the site.
7. Generate a relationship with the fan. For example, I now feel that we need to go back to more of a sponsership style relationship with the artist and his or her fans. As a theoretical example, lets say you set up the Trey Gunn Sponsorship program.

$50/year: Gets you all flac versions of music that year, plus one physical CD and early access to ticket purchases and first in the door at shows (I am a member of Porcupine trees Fans of a Blank Planet that does the live show thing). Cost to you should be no higher than $10.
$100/year: Gets you 24bit high res recordings, one physical CD, signed, one physical Blu Ray of a live show, signed, out-takes, early access to tickets, C2Y:$20
$250/year: All of the above, plus limited editions, downloads of all shows, discounted tickets, meet and greet at shows etc. C2Y:$50

So, to summarize, yes, it's a lot of work for you to generate stuff, perform shows etc. but, let's say you could manage to secure 100 hard core fans at the $250 level, that is $20,000, after expenses.
Lets add another 500 at $100 and 1000 at $50. So from a core fanbase of well under 2000 people, you might be able to generate 20,000 + 40,000 + 40,000 = $100,000.

Do you have that many "core" fans? I don't think I am a "core" fan but I'd be pretty interested in the $100 per year option. I don't know how many sales an artist gets these days. I was astonished to learn that the Pineapple thief had only sold about 40,000 CDs of all their first 6 or 7 albums combined. Then again, they had only printed limited runs of some titles to 1000 discs. Instead of the label offering them digitally, the discs sell for huge amounts on ebay constantly. That I don't understand. Yes, reissue them and remaster over time, but why not give the fans who clearly want to own the music some way of getting it that feeds back to the artists.

This of course presumes that you can continue to create music that interests and captivates. Trey, when you were with KC and touring, there was bound to be more interest in you and your music. It doesn't surprise me that today, interest in that music has dropped off, because it is no longer contemporary. The contemporary people already bought the CDs and the current generation will occasionally stumble across KC and buy the back catalog. If KC goes on the road again, there will be an uptick in interest, though you can guarantee that most of the audience will be old farts like me. Despite the fact that I am a big fan of your work, you pretty quickly dropped from my radar once you left KC, and though I keep checking back, there are so many other bands and so on to look out for, it's tough to compete. As you grow and develop as an artist, you will shed some fans and get new ones. Getting it in front of people is the hardest thing. I personally feel that the majority of people today that download music for free would never buy it in any case, so these are not sales that you lost. The people that really want to listen and experience the music I believe want to own it properly, you just need to make it easy for them. I think that the artists need to emphasize the importance of high quality music and release at the highest possible bit-rate as a reaction to the pervasive idea that mp3 is good enough. It is good enough when you are not really listening to it, and in that sense, it's like listening to the radio while you do something else. I also think that touring is extremely important and again people, especially younger people need to discover the joy of seeing a live band play. And keep the merchandise reasonable so it can be an impulse buy on the way out.

If you are already doing some of these things, and I just haven't noticed them, well, sorry for wasting everyone's time.

And I am sorry if this sounded a bit scattered, it is a complicated issue, peoples music habits are changing constantly, and ultimately the artist has to evolve, just like so many other industries affected by the computer.

October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAl

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