Music: Free, Shared, Gift, Or Something Else?
The past two weeks have been “business” weeks. My “desk” has been more of a office space than a mixing or recording space. I’m not talking about the dreams and vision stuff (although that does need some tweaking), but more mundane and everyday things. I’ve been working on budgets, business plans, logo ideas, publishing, invoicing, […]
The past two weeks have been “business” weeks. My “desk” has been more of a office space than a mixing or recording space. I’m not talking about the dreams and vision stuff (although that does need some tweaking), but more mundane and everyday things. I’ve been working on budgets, business plans, logo ideas, publishing, invoicing, distribution, marketing and so on.
Soul destroying stuff, I know.
But, I haven’t done enough of this in the last few years. Which makes my feeling that I haven’t been as productive or fruitful as possible seem all the more acute.
These past two weeks, one question I keep bumping into is the role of free in my “business model.” Free has become such an integral part of current discussions about the state of music business – free downloads, free streaming, etc.
But, I’m contrasting that with what I’m learning in the photography world, where the loud and consistent advice is to not work for free. In the past few months I’ve been (perhaps wrongly) excited about the opportunities to get my work out there for free (with credit). As a musician in the current climate, that seems smart. Get published with a reputable and big name site or publisher, grow your CV and go from there.
But, smart photographers I meet and talk to advise anything from extreme caution to flat out rejection of this idea. I don’t like everything about the photography business, but I do respect that photographers have been doing this “small scale creative business” thing for longer (and better) than many musicians have.
That got me thinking what we mean by words like free, giving, gifting, sharing. Imagine leaving 50 CDs in a park somewhere? That’s free isn’t it? It’s also meaningless. I have no idea what will become of them – will someone pick one up and listen to it, or will they just end up in the council trash?
Now, imagine I give 50 CDs away to bloggers in exchange for reviews or comments. That’s also free, but something very different is happening. What about giving away 50 CDs to people who come hear me at a gig? That’s also free, but a different dynamic as well.
When we think about free, sharing or whatever, it’s important not to loose sight of the need for a transactions. What the last two examples had, over leaving a stack of CDs in the park was the transaction. Transactions are not always monetary, sometimes they can be other kinds of interaction. Whatever the transaction, it should play a role in supporting you as a creator of music.
When I was a kid, there was a crass way of describing what you wanted from a music label – to get played, paid and laid. Of course these days, the musician takes that responsibly upon themselves (in, perhaps, a less juvenile way) than relying on a label to do it for them.
This is a big “why, what, how” question we should put in front of all our approaches to sharing music. Why are we doing this? What is the transaction we are looking for? How will this help sustain our craft, our lives and our families?
Because somehow, somewhere and in some way the piper has to be paid. You can choose not to set a financial price on a piece of work, but as long as you have some plan, some idea, some sense of how that will bring something tangible back to you that can be worked into a business model, or sense of vocation, or some such long term ideal, you can make more solid decisions about where you aim your creative output.