Different Currencies

I admit it: I love trolling songwriter message boards and engaging people in debates over filesharing. Not only is it interesting to hear how artists think, but it helps me refine and better articulate my own opinions. (Besides, all the computer geeks are already in agreement with me, so it’s no fun.)

Recently, one poster wrote something to the effect of “I’ll never support filesharing of any kind; I just found two of my songs on an illegal P2P network.”

My response was: only two? Dude, I’d be worried. It sounds like your songs might not be worth stealing. (I don’t think he was amused.)

It’s funny, but a few years ago, I was dead-set against Napster, and cheered when it closed its doors. It’s kind of embarrassing to link to that, but I’ll admit right now that I didn’t really get the fundamental ideas behind Napster back then. That was before I started releasing records and playing live with more regularity.

In fact, it wasn’t until I started to behave like a working musician that I understood the good in filesharing. Funny how that happens.

I’m sure there are people out there who have every song I’ve ever released on their hard drives, who really like the music, and haven’t paid me any cash for it. You could argue that these people have “stolen” from me, but have they really? What if they tell ten friends how much they like it? What if they bring those ten people to my next show? What if they buy my next CD as a result of liking my first one?

Being a small-time, independent artist, I deal in many currencies. There’s dollars, to be sure, but there’s also good word-of-mouth, loyalty, mutual respect. In what is probably the most competitive of the entertainment industries, a little goodwill is worth a lot more than a CD sale to me.

Even if I do, realistically, lose some money to filesharing, it can’t possibly compare with the amount of money I would have to spend on publicists, distributors, and print and radio promotion to reach the amount of people I could reach with P2P and the web in general. I could easily drop $2000 on a local publicity campaign. Even if I sold my record at twice the amount I do now, that’s the equivalent of 200 records. I severely doubt that a small-potatoes artist like myself is losing that kind of money to piracy.

But let’s pretend I really am concerned about piracy and decide to add digital rights management (DRM) or lockboxing technology to my CD. Now, I have no idea how much it costs to do such a thing, so let’s say it’s an additional $0.50 per CD, times a run of a thousand. So, I spend $500 dollars locking my CDs up with some sort of DRM.

It’s already been argued to death (correctly) that DRM adds no value for customers, and in fact removes value. Honest customers who are used to ripping CDs to MP3 to play in their iPods would find that they can’t do that with my record.

But even worse: DRM doesn’t help me sell records. Am I really going to put a big sticker on the CD that says “now with DRM!” and then expect to sell more records? DRM is the opposite of the “free toy inside” approach. Or maybe it’s the same thing, except the free toy comes to life, grabs a toy you already own and escapes down the heating vent with it.

Plus, I’ve effectively spent $500 to lock myself out of the promotional opportunities afforded by filesharing. I wonder if I’ll sleep better knowing that millions of potential fans won’t be discovering my tunes.

So: no value-add for me, no value-add for my primary customers: my fans and listeners. At some point I have to wonder: do I really stand to lose $500 worth of sales to piracy? And if so, can I be certain that those people who didn’t pay will never, ever compensate me in the future?

No. I can’t be certain. So I’ll take the chance that people who like my music will eventually pay me — just not always in cash.

16 thoughts on “Different Currencies”

  1. Can I stand up and applaud now? You nailed it. Right on the head.

    What’s the saying in Hollywood when some tabloid publishes a trashy story about a star we haven’t heard from in awhile? “It’s when they stop talking about you that you have to worry.”

    This is sort of off-topic since we don’t do filesharing per se nor do we encourage taping of our webcast. But it happens. Although I’ve never received a complaint from an artist worried about people recording their music from the webcast and then not buying a CD, I can imagine the same musicians who are afraid of P2P might be concerned.

    I have had the unique pleasure of introducing a small audience here at Whole Wheat Radio (http://www.wholewheatradio.org ) to lesser-known artists for 2 years. Are we helping make anyone rich? Not even close. Are we helping them achieve massive fame? You’ve got to be kidding. But despite small ‘numbers’, many of our listeners are absolutely *devoted* to independent artists they discover on our webcast. They go to shows, buy a few CDs (http://www.wholewheatradio.org/wwsales.php ) tell their friends and generally function as a small ‘street team’ for the artist. Exactly what Scott said.

    I congratulate any musician who is so big, either in reality or in their mind, that they can afford to sacrifice devoted grassroots support in order to achieve more CD sales. You made it. You’re rubbing shoulders with the greats like Metallica now. No more having to hang with unknowns like Jolie Holland (http://www.jolieholland.com ) or Sloan Wainwright (http://www.sloanwainwright.com ) or Jay Howlett (http://www.blahblahwoofwoof.com/jayhome.html ) or Scott Andrew.

    But I think you’ll find the piracy you were so afraid of on the way up is now the least of your worries. Cuz now you’re just another dime-a-dozen guitar god…fodder for the great corporate entertainment machine to chew up and spit out like so many Gene Simmons…

    I have yet to meet an independent musician of any quality who is not grateful for the exposure our webcast provides and happily willing to accept some risk of being ‘bootlegged’ off the webcast in order to be heard. Glad you’re among them Scott!

  2. ‘DRM is the opposite of the “free toy inside” approach.’ Great line.

    You see, even talking about filesharing brought you attention from persons you have not had before. And as I defenetly like the line, I will surely podcast about that, go through your music files to see if I like some of them and – according to your licence and because you understood how to make a business – can play them on a local non-profit radiostation where I am always looking for such songs, because we want to release the recording afterwords for listeners.

    So you can say you are played in a german radio station. ;o)

    Of course, this is a small amount of listeners – but some here, some there … and some nice links to your blog. Yes, attention is a currency too.

  3. i couldn’t agree more…

    i think a lot of small indie artists will agree with you. your claims are very convincing to indie artists and fans.

    but how do we convince the popular artists who are against filesharing, and the big 5? what’s in it for them? will they ever let music fans trade music without feeling guilty?

  4. Not that I wouldn’t mind being as big ‘n famous as Gene Simmons. ;)

    Really, there’s only two plausible ways that copyright infringement can hurt someone like me. The first is to take one of my songs use it commercially, like, using the chorus of “American Thing” as a jingle for Glade Air Fresheners. Or something like that.

    The other would probably be wholesale copying and resale of the physical CDs as counterfeit merch, which is already happening over in Russia and Asia. That’s been a problem for many, many years, but it really impacts the most popular artists the most. Again, ya gotta have something worth stealing.

    I just don’t see why I should be worried about piracy of my stuff in an industry where 100,000 units sold is considered a commercial failure. I mean, just to sell 1000 records is a worthy feat. Slapping DRM on my CDs ain’t gonna sell more of ’em. But putting the tracks out there for people to sample, risk-free, just might.

  5. moonshake: I don’t think the Big 5 labels will ever admit to filesharing being even remotely good, even if they secretly think otherwise. To them, if music is exchanging hands without someone profiting, they see it as a loss. The amount of money they spend on creating and promoting a record is, IMO, insane, so they need every dime.

    The problem I have is that a lot of aspiring artists look to the major label system for cues on how to think about this stuff. I mean, if EMI says filesharing hurts sales, but some indie folk guy in Seattle says filesharing helps his sales, who’s more credible?

  6. “Slapping DRM on my CDs ain’t gonna sell more of ’em. But putting the tracks out there for people to sample, risk-free, just might.”

    Oh, definitely. And if you want proof- a friend posted a link to this post, and I followed it to see what you had to say. Then I noticed the MP3s, and after listening to a couple I think I’m going to buy the CD for another friend this christmas. So see, it works!

    Excellent post, and I agree with pretty much all that you said. I hardly ever buy CDs that are ‘protected’, because it’s so damn annoying not being able to share the music with other people.

  7. Bravo! Honestly, I’ve been trying to formulate an argument pro-P2P in my head, and you simply nailed every facet of the argument. Well said.

    I know that in doing my show, there is immense satisfaction that comes from showcasing lesser known artists, and actually hearing back from listeneres that they went out and bought that CD. (A recent example was the GarageBand.com episode I did of all unsigned acts.) What am I trying to say? well, just praising you for just a well thought out post.

    I’m going to point to this on my site and spread it around like wildfire.

    Take care;

  8. Hey Andrew!

    You’re so right. In a nutshell, sharing is just a good thing to do.

    Case in point…I found your site thru Derek Powazek ‘sharing’ his photo-blog…loved your music so I downloaded a couple of tunes…then discovered I liked it so much that I wanted to share it with friends. So I’ve linked to your site on my blog (where I’ve also linked to Derek and Heather and lots of other cool types) and as soon as I submit this post I’m buying…yes, BUYING…4 copies of ‘Where I’ve Been’.

    So yeah, it’s all about sharing the good stuff that we as individuals have to offer and if you can make a buck or two in the process, that’s killer.

    Rawk on!

    Kath :-)

  9. Scott said: “But putting the tracks out there for people to sample, risk-free, just might.”

    And indeed, it did. And now I keep telling people, “You should check this guy out! His CD is only seven bucks, and it won’t bollux up your computer when you try to copy it to the hard drive!”

    Score 1 for you.

  10. love this post, and as an independent musician myself, completely agree with what you said. I beg my visitors to share my tunes….thanks a lot…going to listen to your songs now…

  11. And then there’s Weed: free downloads, 3 free plays per file, 50% to artists, 35% to filesharers. Once bought, files can be played at will, burned to CD, and transfered to a portable player. And the service is free for artists.

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