Free music SUCKS ... or at least it will someday

From: Max Møller Rasmussen (
Date: Thu Jul 13 2000 - 05:48:29 MDT

by: mxm (Max M Rasmussen)

(Comments on Napster and Gnutella.)

Regarding all the hula around Napster and Gnutella, there are a lot of myths
and misunderstandings. I find that this is because most people don't really
understand what is going on. As a long time music fan, musician, programmer
and employee in the advertising business I probably have a somewhat more
rounded view of the whole affair.

It is as though writing music and software is considered to be one and the
same thing. Well it is not!

Software writers can make free software because they have a core business
they make money on. Thus the free software is a tool to them like a hammer
is to a carpenter. They loose money on the hammer but they make money
working with the hammer. The customer pays for it all.

Musicians make music. The customers pays. Or else they don't make money.
Simple as that.

85% of all music ever recorded has never made enough money to recover the
production cost. So probably all the free music on the net will have no
effects on most musicians. The problem is that it is the best musicians that
gets the problems. Those that actually sell their music and make a living.

If no one pays for music, the quality will drop dramatically.

The way the music industry works right now is like this: A new artist is
discovered and gets a record deal. The record company then assigns an
experienced producer to raise the quality of the music. This process is what
makes high quality music. Experience combined with fresh ideas. When there
is no money to pay a producer we will only have fresh ideas. Try listening
to the music on for that. It's demo quality at best. Not the kind of
music I want to spend the rest of my life listening to.

But what about other business models?

Why don't musicians make a living selling T-Shirts, playing concerts getting
famous and appearing in adds, tv-shows etc.

Yeah and why we are on it why not just get a "mcJob" and make music in your
spare time? Actually this is what most people do. And that is ok. There is
only so much talent to go around, and not everybody should make a living
making music. But to say that no one should?

Good musicians need to dedicate a lifetime producing and playing music to
get to be really good at it. Why on earth should a talented musician waste
his time printing t-shirts? Why should other people decide that a musician
must make a living by doing other stuff than making music? Just because
music CAN be distributed for free doesn't mean that it should.

There is a practical side to music distribution as well as an ethical side.

Ethically distributing music for free is like saying that it is ok to walk
into an unlocked house and steal all the money found there. And furthermore
it is like having all the thieves make doors without locks and then
installing them in peoples houses, without the inhabitants being able to do
anything about it.

"Well money is not like music, when somebody steals it it is gone. With
music you can just make a digital copy and no one has lost anything."
somebody might argue.

Yeah right! And if somebody steals your money you can make copies too. That
should be as legal as stealing music. We are just more used to money having
a value. That is the only difference between printed paper and music.

Off course freely distributed music has marketing value. But that only goes
so far. At some time the marketing must stop and money must be earned.

For a musician music is like money. The more is is copied the less it is
worth to the musician. There is fever people to sell it to. Napster,
Gnutella etc. creates an inflation in the amount of music. Thus causing a
deflation in the value of music.

This also means that music currently is worth less than it has been. And
that is ok by me. I don't want to pay $15 either, for an album that I can
get over the net for free.

The problem right now is that it is much simpler for me to find a song on
Gnutella than it is to buy it online. Even if i wanted too, it is a pain to
go to an online record store, find the song, dish up my credit card, pay for
it and wait a week for it to arrive. After which I then must convert it to
mp3 myself so that I can put it on my harddrive for listening convenience.

Besides I can't even order a single song to put on my HD. The record company
and the artist decide what I can buy.

Furthermore I have never understood why a music album that cost maybe
$1,000,000 to produce should cost as much as a $150,000,000 movie to buy.
This can only be because distribution and marketing is the main part of the
expense. That can be changed with net based distribution.

The fact that college kids with a computer can give me a better service than
an international record company should make somebody stop and think. Perhaps
the problem with Napster, Gnutella etc. is that you cannot easily pay for
the music, and that the music you can pay for online or in stores is so much
more expensive than necessary.

It is like somebody selling high priced bottled water next to the spring.
"But we have marketing and packaging expenses." Oh yes...

I would not mind paying for music downloaded over the net. But I am not
willing to pay more than it is worth.

The funny thing is that mass production of a single work of art is what has
made it possible in the past for musicians to get extremely rich. Now that
mass production is so easy it might be what makes it impossible for a
musician to be extremely rich.

But then again. I don't see that musicians has a birthright to get extremely
rich, or even to the possibility to be extremely rich. It's not like it is a
law of nature that if you have a hit single that you will never have to work
again. Most people in the world never has an opportunity like that. Most of
us work for wages all our lives. Being productive as long as possible. This
is not to say that it might never happen in a world with cheap digital
music. Nobody knows.

Maybe a system where you pay 10 cents for a song can make someone rich.
Maybe it would even be possible for more musicians to make a living that
way? If you can make 1 song a month and you want to make $3000 a month for a
comfortable living, each song must sell 30.000 copies. At that price I
believe that a LOT more music would be sold, so 30.000 copies would not be
unreasonable for music of a certain quality, with a good distribution
system. An album with 10 songs would cost $1. I would be willing to pay
that. If only I was able to.

The problem with Gnutella, Napster etc. from my point of view is not one of
intellectual copyright. That is a moot point when it cannot be upheld
anyway. The problem is that the labels and artist are clinging on to their
traditional business models. What the distributed systems gives is high
service and low price. What they take away is the artist possibility to make
a decent living.

I want something like just for music, where I can find
out everything about artist, songs, genres etc. and buy the music cheap and
without any hassle. Whether I have to subscribe or pay per download, I don't
care. It just has to be as easy as possible and with lots of service.


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