Friday, April 16, 2010

music: trying to get artists to let me compensate them

We should be in a golden age of abundant music creation. Record a song, upload it to iTunes and Amazon music store, blog/FB/tweet about its release, then sit back and collect most of the revenue from purchases by adoring fans. Use the profits to fund next recording. Friction-free commerce, screw the evil record company suits, master your own destiny, mutual exchange of value with fans.

But it isn't happening! Instead artists are fed up with the music business and frustrated by the declining sales of their label releases. The tired refrain from self-justifying music pirates "Artists should make money from merchandise sales and touring" is garbage; I want excellent recordings more than a T-shirt or a hit-or-miss performance that I may not be able to attend.

Whenever I hear about a recording by my heroes, I look to buy it online, but I only find songs from official album releases that I already own, which is frustrating as hell. I'm able to talk with some artists themselves about this, and the semi-conversations are dispiriting. I wind up feeling like I'm hassling them to accept my money.

From Thomas Dolby's blog post about the great set of performances he organized for the TED2010 conference
I usually put together a house band who play a short piece to open each of the 12 sessions over the 4 days of TED... After the four exhausting days of TED were over, we went to a local studio run by an old friend Chuck Mitchell, and recorded our 10 pieces for posterity. We managed to get them all down despite the onset of the familiar post-TED hangover. Perhaps I’ll include them on a TED house band compilation CD one day; and perhaps ‘Pistol’ will go on my album as-is. ...
# skierpage Says:
I don’t get it. You’re talking about some great performances to your fan base, they were obviously recorded during the TED conference, and you’ve even gone and re-recorded some of them. SO WHERE THE ^%$#@! IS THE [Buy Now!] BUTTON?!

C’mon, make some people happy and make a little money! What’s the problem?

# TMDR Says:
Interesting attitude, Skierpage. Believe it or not, the priority at a non-profit event like TED is *not* to make a ton of money from the music. As for the performances, I plan to make some of them available in due course, but I just got home jet-lagged from California and need a rest! And, as you can imagine, it’s not easy to clear copyrights for people like Sheryl Crow and David Byrne, so there’s a risk those may never get heard. A lot happens at TED that you can only experience by being there, but they’ve done a pretty good job of making a lot of the content available to the world for free, with a lot more to come. And, as I mentioned above, there was talk of a compilation CD featuring TED music.

# skierpage Says:
Dear TMDR,
Thank you so much for responding to my crass whingeing. Your performances have value, I long for a system that encourages and rewards you for making them available without it being a grinding chore. It sounds like musicians need to adopt standardized performance copyright clearance language (something concert bootleggers don’t have to mess with), and perhaps a lawyer-mandated USB pinprick accessory on the concert laptop to sign in blood after the performance?

So you know I’m not one of those “I’m not going to pay for music until it comes with a pink pony” liars on the ‘net, I just bought the SXSW version of “The Key to Her Ferrari” from Amazon MP3 Downloads while waiting. Sweet! (BTW, Amazon says “From the Album Alien’s Ate My Buick” — Apostrophes Ate Our Language.)

# TMDR Says:
Actually the point is, this is really nothing to do with the money. I have an album of my own music to finish, and that’s a higher priority than getting the TED intros–which are all cover versions bar one–out to the general public. But I promise some if not all of them will be available at some point, as audio or video or both.
Ouch, how to irritate the creative type with well-meaning exhortation. By the time “available at some point” rolls around, the excitement and interest will have dissipated. Meanwhile I can get immediate gratification from bootlegs and crummy YouTube videos, but the artist earns nothing.

I had a similar exchange with Max Tundra on Facebook:
Max Tundra: I did a cover version of "Digital Love" by Daft Punk, playing all the parts by hand/mouth. Check it out, on this great podcast full of reinterpretations: http://www.cokemachineglow.com/podcast/5145/fantasycovers2010-parttwo
You and 23 others like this.
S Page: You are a lock for Supertramp's next keyboard player! (5:34 on) How can we buy this performance, it's not on Amazon?

Max Tundra: It's not for sale, just grab it for free from the above link - there's a downloadable mp3 of the entire podcast.

S Page: Call me a crazy anachronism, but I like to compensate artists for their fine efforts ;-) Create new work, sell, profit, repeat until we die.

Max Tundra: Nice idea, but it'll never catch on
Sure I could get an audio editor such as Audacity and slice his song out of the podcast, but again the artist earns nothing. It is about the money, because if it doesn't show up artists will stop making quality (expensive) recordings.

I would love to exchange some money for these recordings and many more. Apparently it's not as simple as I make it out to be in my second sentence above. But it should be!

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