The Whinging Musician and Downloading: Part Two
Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 12:30PM
Trey Gunn in downloading

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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.


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    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.

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    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.



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