But if they steal it – how can I make money?

ChillApologies in advance. This is a long post.

Take the weekend to think about it, and I’d be delighted for you to weigh in with your thoughts and comments. I’ve linked to some other reading, which I think would also be helpful. This is one to mull over, and I’d love your take on it.

In a roundabout way, it’s about this recording.

Piracy revisited
I wrote a post back in April called ‘Should I Be Worried About Piracy?‘, to which my answer was, in a nutshell, “no”.

This was meant to be a bit of a controversial post, though at the time I didn’t get much of the flak that I was bracing myself for. So I figured that most people saw the sense of it. I even had some good feedback about it elsewhere.

But today, I received a passionate and very angry comment on that post – and it highlights some important issues and it raises some things that are both emotionally charged and based in the world of real, day-to-day economics.

I’m going to republish that comment here in full, and then I’m going to respond to it directly.

But first, some music.



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That’s the music of Ellen Sift and her production partner, Kurt Goebel. They record as Worldwide Groove Corporation, and that’s their album ‘Chillodesiac Lounge Vol. 1: Fever’. Listen to the whole thing, if you like. The whole album is there to be listened to. You can read on while it plays, of course.

[RSS and email subscribers - you may have to go to the blog itself to hear the music. Click to go to the page on New Music Strategies]

Now, in response to my post about piracy, Ellen contributed the following comment on New Music Strategies today, which I present here in full:

This is an interesting perspective and worth considering for me, since I’ve been so upset by finding complete strangers in far away places who have posted my entire album for free download. And by the time I track it down, it shows that my record has been downloaded TENS OF THOUSANDS OF TIMES. Seriously.

I gotta say, I have some issues with your perspective and I truly wonder if YOU have ever released a record. Have you? Have YOU ever spent your own money producing a record in the evenings after you’ve worked all day on the paying gigs, and finally got the kid to bed and you’re really tired? Have YOU spent 4 years staying on task, and investing thousands of your hard earned dollars producing your own record, in hopes to make some money with it and get yourself ahead in your career? Because I think if YOU ever did that, and then encountered dozens of instances where people have taken it upon themselves to give your entire record away for free to thousands and thousands and thousands of people, you might feel a little bit differently.

That’s not to say I completely disagree with your points. I think mp3s can be a splendid way of PROMOTING your music, however it should be at the discretion and control of the ARTIST. NOT complete strangers who have no intellectual stake in the work. I have made songs available for free on Last.fm etc. But it’s at MY choosing, which songs. I know you say that they need to hear/like/buy your music in that order, but once it’s downloaded, who needs to pay for it? That’s why people can hear my entire record for free through my STREAMING PLAYER on my website. They can even embed that player on their blog or whatever, and that’s great. They can listen to in an infinite number of times, but they will not be able to download it to their drive or iPod. This distinction is essential because they still might buy it then.

It does me absolutely NO good to have a million fans who have not paid one cent for my record. I have bills to pay and expenses in creating that music. How the hell are we supposed to make a living??
It’s the message you’re perpetuating that makes things way worse for us. Have YOU ever tried to make a living as a musician/artist? Because if you haven’t then you’re really stepping over the line in justifying free downloading, unless it’s at the artists discretion.

I must respond to the following points:
1) People who share your music are recommending you to people who respect their taste and opinion;”

Yeah… so THEY can download it for free. That does me NO GOOD. I need to pay my bills. It cost me huge amounts of time and my hard earned money to create this music. This is a business. For profit.

” 2) The vast majority of people who have unauthorised copies of your music would not have ordinarily paid for it anyway;”

Really? Is that a scientific fact? Have you asked them, or been looking over their shoulder? I think this is a gross assumption, based on a commonly held opinion, and it’s entirely irrelevant!!! It’s irrelevant. If they don’t want to pay, then they don’t need to have it. What other industry is expected to just hand it over without a fight? NONE! You are completely devaluing our work. If it’s worth nothing to you, then you don’t need to have it.

” 3) Do you really want for people who cannot afford your music to be prevented from ever hearing it?”

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!? This is music, not life saving medicine. Anyone who owns a computer and has the technology to download music for free surely has the $.99 to pay for a measly download. “Can’t afford it” my ass.

I appreciate many of the things you have said, but your spreading this opinion to the public makes me as angry as finding my album posted for free download.

It should be at MY discretion and no one else’s.

And here’s my response:
It was a lot longer, but I’ve cut it right down in the interests of what passes for ‘brevity’ on this blog…

Hi Ellen,

I rather like your music. And I take your point. But I respectfully disagree.

You’ll be pleased to hear that I have made records – as a producer and as a musical collaborator. I’ve invested money in recordings – thousands of dollars, as you have – and I’ve run an independent record label. You might have liked some of it – it was jazz.

I don’t think I’ve ever had any right to tell people they couldn’t listen to a piece of music I made.

But the important thing is not whether or not people download your music. They do, and you can’t stop them, no matter how much you might want to.

You can either get really angry and upset about it, demand that they behave differently and insist that people pay you for the work that you did. Or, you can accept the world as it is, realise that you can’t change everyone’s behaviour, and instead look for other ways to make money from the recordings you have made.

Personally, I’d be delighted with tens of thousands of people liking my music enough to download it. I know I’m not alone in that. I don’t know for a fact that there are no people amongst all of free downloaders who may have found and bought your album had there been no free copies available anywhere – but a large part of my research in my day job at the university suggests that this would be a rare case indeed.

Most of the people who downloaded your music for free discovered your music by downloading it for free. As good as your internet strategy may be, it most likely hadn’t reached these people.

We’re on the same team
The thing that I hope you realise is that the point of this blog is to help musicians make money doing what they do – not to prevent them from doing so.

We actually want the same thing here. I’d be delighted for you to make far more money from your music than you would ever have been able to by simply selling discs or mp3s one at a time to individual customers.

You’ve probably got what must be just about the perfect music to be able to do that on a massive scale. And the more people who will find it and download it for nothing, the more chance you’ve got of making a lot of money as a result.

It’s not rocket science, but you do need to think about the business angle a little differently.

If I was your consultant / coach – I’d be strongly pushing you in the direction of synchronisation and corporate co-branding opportunities – and that’s just for starters. The fact that thousands of people already like your music enough to seek it out and download it online? Awesome.

Alternate scenario: imagine a world in which you had received the same amount of cash sales as you have in reality – but zero instead of tens of thousands of free downloads. Would you consider this a greater or a lesser success?

Anyway. To my mind, you are a prime candidate for shifting to a new business model. Selling individual tracks to individual consumers as if they were buying a virtual copy of a CD is NOT the only way to do this.

That said, I still believe there’s a place for selling mp3s online. I still buy them and so do most people I know – and not because of any moral compunction to do so, or because I want to “help out the artist”. I do it because it suits me to do so. Where it’s convenient, reliable and straightforward, it’s so much easier to just fork over a few dollars rather than spend a few hours trawling through the various download sites. But then, I’m not 14 and bored.

And I do want to briefly touch on your incredulity that some people might not be able to pay for music.

Let me introduce my undergraduate students. They have a very limited budget. 99 cents for a track is nothing, really – you’re right. But they don’t want one track. They want hundreds. Thousands. Their appetite for music is voracious.

The people who get the most enthusiastic about music – all music – are the very people whose budgets are strapped so tight, they have to decide what music they CANNOT pay for. And so their choice is either do without, or source another way.

In those circumstances, I would rather they had my music in their collections than were prevented from doing so. Your opinion may differ. But I did want to make the point that it’s not about whether they can afford a single track or a particular album – but instead, it’s about getting hold of all of the music their input-hungry brains can handle – and for that, your imaginary 99 cents is a drop in the bucket.

I do understand your frustration and anger – but to borrow an analogy from Clay Shirky, it’s the same frustration and anger that the scribes felt when Gutenberg created the printing press. The point is, when the game changes, you can’t just keep insisting that everybody pay you for your valuable services in the way they always used to.

I spend a great deal of time these days helping musicians and record companies implement new strategies for their music business, in an environment where lots of things – especially digital things – are free. For most of them, it’s frightening, emotionally fraught and entirely nerve-wracking.

I really recommend you read Lawrence Lessig and Chris Anderson on this stuff.

You’ll get some fabulous ideas about how you can make money with your music – all without trying to stop ‘pirates’ from ‘stealing from you’.

Which they’re not. You’ve lost no money, and you are short no stock. Mp3s are like a magical product. If I download one from you, we both have it. If I give it away to another person, all three of us have it. We’re not running out here.

I know it cost you time, energy and money to create it (and I agree you should be rewarded many times over for that). But each individual copy costs you no more each time to provide.

You’re angry about not having made the money that you would have hypothetically made if all of those people who downloaded your album for free had handed you cash. Which they were never going to do.

You are annoyed about not having imaginary money.

How do I know? This is what I do. Research and engagement with an industry, its participants and its consumers. I don’t claim to know a whole lot about a whole lot, but if there’s one thing I’ve managed to establish with a reasonable degree of certainty, it’s that the ‘lost sale’ is a romantic, tragic myth.

So – to return to my point here – let’s instead channel that energy toward actually making actual money, dealing with the world as it is, and making a living as a clearly talented composer, arranger and vocalist.

Keep selling your mp3s online by all means. But stop fretting about piracy, and get out there and make some money.

Let me know if you want any help with that. I’d be delighted, and reasonably inexpensive… :)

107 thoughts on “But if they steal it – how can I make money?

  1. Mile says:

    First of all worldwide groove is great…personaly i just love it… but from my perspective as a user.. they will get a lot more attention and feedback if they just let the damn thing get stolen..if you look at it this way: the only downside is that they wount get money from true fan’s that’s it… which they wount get it anyway.. if they dont spread their music… + points to: – their music will spread faster throughout the world – they will get more attention from the public – that leads to business opportunities and that leads to… that.. true fan’s will defenetly buy the cd and belive me at least 5% of the world listen to this kindof music.. so if you addup the equasion they will get their payback.. and besides their music is realy great.. i see no reason why they would’nt succeed?… and for all you idiot’s with comment’s about stealing and what’s who’s and what’s right.. in our modern fucked up society…its called commercialization & marketing.. live with it… take use of it.. spread the damn thing and let ppl know… you cant sell a banana to a monkey if the monkey doesn’t even know the banana exist’s….

  2. Kali Azzura says:

    Well, I just discovered Worldwide Groove Corporation because of this post and I’m listening to them right now. :) They officially have a new fan.
    As a struggling musician myself, I’m am one of those who has, on the odd occasion, “acquried” music without paying for it and I have to agree with Andrew that I wouldn’t have actually paid for those particular mp3 anyway. I also figure that I am adding to the pool of music that people rip off the net so why can’t I take something back every now and then?

    However, I must also say that I have also paid for some music this year too – I raced out and bought Sia’s CDs even though I knew I could find her stuff online for free. Why did I make an exception with her? Because I got REALLY excited about her music and I wanted to support a fellow Australian in her musical endeavours. I also bought Pomplamoose’s dongle since they are making a grass roots effort and have enormous talent. (You’ll notice I enjoy promoting my favourite musicians too ;)

    I still haven’t worked out what the next step is for myself either – I haven’t invested much money in my music yet because I haven’t been able to afford it – I’ve just got some fans who like my raw and rough mostly live acoustic recordings of cover songs on Youtube and are telling me they are waiting for me to release a CD. I’m just worried I will spend money I don’t have on making professional recordings and buying mechanical licenses only to find that few people actually end up paying for the music. That would irritate me too!

    So until I work out how to survive in the industry today, I won’t feel guilty too about enjoying other people’s music for free (I still buy the music I really want) and I’ll try not to be irritated that I don’t make money from the recordings I do which people rip off the net.

    Kali Azzura

  3. Jeff says:

    personally the only song I’ve ever been bothered to listen to is by the band ‘Come Down Jenny’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLm2RvAwiVo

  4. Brad says:

    Music piracy has it’s good and bad things.
    For one, pirating music may give something to do instead of other crimes (but that’s kinda a stupid point).
    Two, pirating music introduces people to new types of music, which they may enjoy a lot, and end up buying many albums of the same type.
    Also, it gives a good idea of what to expect. Most people (with limited cash at least) won’t go into a music store and buy a random record. Usually it will be something they’ve been recommended or heard on the radio. “Piracy” gives people a chance to hear music that isn’t “popular” enough for the radio, hence promoting smaller, newer bands and artists.

    The Cons:
    It takes money away from people who have tried hard to get in the industry and create a record.
    It helps spread computer viruses. :P
    And more that I can’t think of.

  5. keenan vaughan mate! says:

    mate, suck my right nip. you all bang on about this shit- cut it out little boys. and stop being counts to brad, he’s really cool you know! and hung
    :P

  6. Ben says:

    At the end of the day music piracy is happening and its only going to carry on, and the industry can either change with the times and find other means of generating an income stream or end up fighting a loosing battle. Miilions of people arent just going to stop illegally downloading tracks.

    http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/the-new-music-industry-is-not-coming.html