THE CONTEST EVERYBODY LOSES

I have always wanted to write for a living, although I certainly can't complain about the regular paychecks and benefits that come with this less exciting job. Many of you know from bitter firsthand experience that making money writing is very difficult today. It has never been easy, of course; there's a reason Kafka was an insurance clerk, TS Eliot worked at Lloyd's of London, Vonnegut ran a Saab dealership, Harper Lee made reservations for Eastern Airlines customers, and Orwell was a cop in colonial Burma. No one will claim that writing professionally ever has been anything but risky and difficult.

Today, however, people who generate creative output for a living – this problem isn't limited to writing, of course – face the additional obstacle of changing expectations. Namely that they are expected to work for free or close to it. If you think all those writers on big name sites (Slate, HuffPo, Gawker, etc.) are being paid more than a pittance or at all for the content they generate, you are mistaken. Consumers now expect to be provided with content for free; behold the wailing and gnashing of teeth across the internet when something is put "behind a paywall" at Harper's or the NY Times. Can you believe that they actually expect us to pay for information and entertainment? That's so 20th Century.

Another more insidious type of work-for-free arrangement has become disturbingly common among people who work in art, graphic design, and web development: the "crowdsourcing" of content. Crowdsourcing is one of those horrid buzzwords crafted to sound techno-libertarian and empowering (Harness the power of collective ideas!) but in reality, media outlets use it to get for free content or services they would otherwise need to pay a professional to do. Need a new logo, or perhaps some cover art for your next issue? Paying someone is a waste of money. Just have a "contest" and legions of unemployed, publicity-seeking artists/designers will gladly produce your artwork on their own time and freely hand it over in the hopes of winning five minutes' worth of exposure and attention.

By now we have all realized that musician Amanda Palmer is probably the worst person on Earth, what with the fiasco of asking for a million bucks from her fans to record an album (I guess her multimillionaire husband couldn't finance the endeavor, nor could Palmer from her previous earnings). She followed that up with a truly reprehensible scheme to "crowdsource" the backing band for her subsequent tour, getting a group of volunteer musicians in each city on the tour to join her on stage. Compensation would consist of "beer, merchandise, and hugs", said the repugnant excuse for a human. Isn't that neat? What a great way to let the fan community take part in creating the performances, and as a total coincidence I guess she won't have to pay, feed, transport, and house any musicians throughout the tour!

This kind of explicit middle finger to people attempting to make a living writing, drawing, playing an instrument, painting, and so on can only succeed when there is a critical mass of people desperate for work and struggling to make ends meet. It's an interesting collective action problem; certainly each artist knows that submitting designs for free is hurting every artist's efforts to make a living, but the individual incentive for publicity, credentials, ("winner of the….") and attention is too strong. And of course the internet makes it remarkably fast, cheap, and easy to harness the creative talents of thousands of people with the promise of nothing more than a pat on the back. The majesty of the new economy is infinite indeed, with its myriad ways of providing things that are ostensibly free but carry great hidden costs.

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144 Responses to “THE CONTEST EVERYBODY LOSES”

  1. Tymothi Loving Says:

    She asked for 100,000 dollars, not a million, to record the album. When she wound up getting that much more money, she did personalized superdeluxe packages for her supporters. How any of that was a "fiasco" is unclear to me. Especially in the context: In a post complaining about musicians not being paid, it's a fiasco because…she got paid? That makes no sense. And yes, she did go back and pay the people who played for her, the vast majority of whom, if you believe what they actually tweeted/posted about it, were not doing it for "exposure" but for a chance to play on stage with one of their favorite artists, and were not, for the most part, professional musicians themselves and would likely never have had the opportunity. And of course, as mentioned earlier in the thread, she was already paying several musicians on the tour. But yeah, you're right, that makes her the worst person in the world. Might I suggest some basic research next time?

  2. Tymothi Loving Says:

    Also, just to point out, the kickstarter wasn't to record the album, it was to promote it, publish it and tour on it, and she has the album in digital format on her website as "pay what you want" for download, including for free. Yes, truly a reprehensible human being.

  3. Rodrigo S Says:

    Checked out her album and fwiw it's not bad.

  4. ladiesbane Says:

    Let me add that this is a problem of different parts. Regarding free sites for news, let me compare "free online content" to the television broadcasts of my childhood. Believe it or not, there was a time when it was free to watch TV, kids. We put up with advertisements so that content was sponsored without viewer payment. This is a model I am comfortable with.

    If your town has a free weekly magazine that sells ad space to support circulation, you might be comfortable with it, too. They might pay a pittance for you to write a movie review, or they might not. It's always been around. And it's not a bad thing.

    Again, one small segment of the problem. But complaining that consumers want free news is misleading, in the same way that it is when Republicans complain that women want "free birth control." Zero copay prescription drugs (whether birth control or statins) still cost money, and that money comes from premiums rather than consumer copay. We still pay, but not at the point of service. Capisce?

  5. Arslan Says:

    "Of course you are paid what you're worth. It is EXACTLY what the market will bear. By what measure is that otherwise valued? By YOU? Of course not."

    Incorrect. The worker must necessarily be paid significantly less than the product he or she made, otherwise there is no point in hiring them.

    Also I want to thank One Disillusioned Guy for his intriguing explanations of the music business and I hope to see more in the future.

    As for me, I'm glad I didn't get sucked into the trap of free-lance writing. I actually do some editing, proofreading, or dubbing/VO from time to time but I get paid quite well for it as I live abroad.

    I am most concerned with the flood of crap writing that has appeared since this this trend became the norm. For example, look how many articles are "The top (Arbitrarily-chosen number) crazy things you didn't notice about (Pop culture icon)." Then you have shitty political articles on liberal sites like Addicting Info that tell you shit many of us have known for years. Ditto with Alternet, but they make it even better and divide every article into 6 pages or so.

  6. One Dissillusioned Guy Says:

    @Southern Beale,

    "Musicians and artists always made their big money off of touring. And that's still true. Record sales and radio airplay were how you got your name and music out there so you could sell tickets to the tour. "

    Sorry, but this is absolutely not true. Up until about 30 years ago, the really big money for recording acts was in record ssales, to the extent that labels would either partially or totally underwrite touring costs in the interest of selling even MORE records. The truly deep revenue stream was publishing (I know "royalty artists," guys who had hits performing and recording their own material) who've been living entirely off publishing money for decades. JohnPhillips was receiving upwards of $100,000 a year in publishing money off of Mamas and Papas hits in the 80s, even though he hadn't sung in public for years.

    Napster of course totally upended this model, along with the rest of the record company based business paradigm. I know what I'm describing seems like science fiction here in the brave new digital world of the 20th century, but that's really how it used to work. The Rolling Stones aren't rich because they tour, their tours are absurdley expensive travelling circus productions. The money comes from publishing and it's many ancillary benefits; licensing, new use fees, etc.

  7. One Dissillusioned Guy Says:

    @Southern Beale,

    "There is still money in publishing."

    Sorry, didn't read your whole post. You're obviously up on the mechanics of this, although god knows most people aren't.

    I still stand by my other assertions though. The "record so you can generate an audience to tour to because touring is where the money is" is a fairly recent develepment. From the late 60s (when big-production-value "rock tours" became the norm), to the early 90s, approximately, touring was often a money-losing proposition for acts with hits, and was actually subsidized by labels. Of course, they charged those expenses against artists future royalties. THAT hasn't changed.

  8. One Dissillusioned Guy Says:

    Living in Nashville though, I can see why you'd assume twas ever thus. Country artists have always been low-flying propositions, manning their own merch tables and travelling by bus. I'm talking big money rock and roll, where, for a few decades at least, even mid-level hacks like REO Speedwagon felt entitled to a plane. And are now spending their twilight years playing county fairs right alongside the country guys, and wondering what happened to all the money lol.

  9. bb in GA Says:

    There was a culture clash back in the 90s when corporate subsidies came to rock 'n roll touring bands. I seem to remember the Black Crowes lead singer dissing the corporate sponsor (Miller Lite?) in terms of "This ain't Rock 'n Roll having the blankety blank suits in this blah blah – Sex, drugs, ROCK 'n ROLL!" or something like that.

    I think it was a multiple act tour and the Crowes got bounced back to Atlanta over that by the 'suits.'

    //bb

  10. Rodrigo S Says:

    @ODG:

    You keep blaming Napster, but file sharing is only a small part (some would argue not a part. I{m not sure I buy that) of why it's harder to sell records than it used to be. Among other things I think have been more important:

    The costs of production and distribution have plummeted due to new technology, and that has brought more people into the game than there ever were before. It's a crowded field and the majors have less of a piece of it.

    It turned out that people mostly prefer buying singles to albums, so the composition of purchases has changed. No more selling 2 good songs and a bunch of filler for $20.

    There are tons of free-ish ways to consume music that didn't exist before – Spotify, Pandora, Last.fm, Youtube, etc.

    There's also all the music people already own – a massive catalog that has been recorded since, say, the 1970's that is still hanging around and competing with new music.

    There are also many more entertainment options on which people can spend their money than there were back in the day.

    It's easy to beat up on file sharers for getting something for nothing, but I think that's a convenient way to avoid acknowledging all the other ways the industry and peoples's media consumption have changed.

  11. One Dissillusioned Guy Says:

    @Rodrigo,

    I'm not blaming Napster ecxlusively, but you have to admit that a paradigm shift from "saving up my allowance for a month so I can buy the "Animals Greatest Hits" album on sale at the drugstore for $2.98" to "I can has all teh music in the world for freeee" is pretty radical.

    What filesharing has done is completely upend the business model extant from the very beginning of recorded music's history at the start of the 20th century, while almost totally de-monetizing what was once a source of real wealth for musicians (yeah I know the majors screwed a lot of people too, but at least they didn't steal ALL of it. Napster was like being robbed and having the shit kicked out of you by Columbia records, then having Napster come along and steal the watch off your bleeding wrist).

    Yes there's a lot moore options now, but for me that's all part of the paradigm shift. "Music" used to be a treat, and real, live performance was considered far superior to the "canned" recorded version. Now live performance is nonexistant for most people, and recorded music is ubiquitous, like air. John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" was a seminal recording that literally changed my life (there was a period when I listened to it in it's entirety every day). Now it's downloadable "information" and even a lot of students in jazz performance programs lack the patience to listen to it all the way through. They just click through to the next download.

  12. Rodrigo S Says:

    Yeah, there has definitely been a paradigm shift. And I think you're right that recorded music is not as valuable as it once was, not just because of piracy but because almost everything is available on demand everywhere.

    I think it's not as bad as all that, though. When recorded music became a thing, people complained that it was killing opportunities for live musicians (and it was) and taking the soul out of music (probably wasn't). What followed was a transformation of the music business that resulted in greater creative output than any other period. This new transition is undermining the old model, but it's also creating opportunities for artists who embrace it and learn how to work it. For all that it's harder to sell a record these days, the music scene is more vibrant than it ever was and there are more musicians than there ever were.

    It's also worth thinking about what the impact of file sharing has really been. All the research I've read suggests piracy vastly inflates the perceived demand for music. That is to say, if people suddenly all had to pay, almost no illegal downloads would turn into sales. And there's evidence that at least some piracy (not a lot, but it's a thing) leads to sales further down the line by people who want the back catalog, want to support the artist, etc. My gut tells me that in a world without piracy the more famous acts would sell a little more music, and a lot of lesser-known acts would become even less well known and sell nothing.

    A pirate is, at least, a fan. You might not sell him a record but if you have his attention you might sell him something else. Before the feds took down Megaupload, they were even doing deals with some artists to pay them according to the traffic and subscriptions their material drove to the site. I think deals like that will become more common as more artists come into their own in the current paradigm (though it would help if the DOJ carried less water for the majors).

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  14. Mackeyser Says:

    @eau

    What's the deal with the Amazon ebook self publishers? I don't know the reference.
    Can you or someone link a reference or at least break that down? The spoiler didn't help in that I pretty much got that Amazon would do that.

    Pretty much figured they wouldn't turn the "self publishing milieu into a 'goddamned piazza' " (and who said "You've Got Mail" wasn't quottable?)

    @ One Dissillusioned Guy

    Loving everything you've posted in this thread. Former multimedia engineer. Best friend has many industry connections (now friends) including musicians who've had #1 hits and been at the top. No point in name dropping, but you'd probably know them or know of them. Keep preachin' brother.

    The NFL couldn't be the NFL without College Football. MLB couldn't be Major League Baseball without its farm system.

    And yet, the music industry has systematically dismantled its developmental "league" and wondered…sincerely WONDERED why the Pro game has suffered. Why there aren't any Jimi Hendrixes? Why aren't there any Jimmy Pages? James Browns? Beatles? Stevie Wonders? Billy Joels? And don't even get me started about the total lack of the Jim Croces and Don MacLeans and folks like them. I remember Gene Simmons saying before they went back out on tour (this was when they first reformed) saying they reformed KISS and did it because "everyone else out there just sucks" or something to that effect.

    I pay for all my music and encourage everyone I know to do the same. I'm disheartened by those who think music is for free.

    The thing to worry about when it comes to "artists getting paid" which is a noble goal, is to make sure the medicine doesn't kill. By that I mean microtransactions. Pay-to-view, clickable content will boom then bust. Worse, it'll be like porn in the early days of the internet (I owned an internet consulting business in 1997 and since there were NO banks that had merchant accounts that allowed one to just put in your CC and the only websites that were making actual money were porn sites, I had to visit them and then call them and ask each one "how do I pay you?" so I could then apply that model to my non-porn clients). It was ugly stuff. I don't enjoy porn (really), but the model is VERY indicative of what's going on now in the general content arena.

    At first, with the porn model, there was the boom of free stuff. Like now. Then, as the sites found ways to make money in this digital frontier, the premium content was gated. Some was on a subscription basis. Others on a 'per use' basis. The point is that the content was gated behind monetary walls SOLELY at the discretion of the providers.

    This may seem like no big deal when applied to porn, but now it's fully coming at us for both music AND news. And that's a HUGE deal. Thomas Jefferson once said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilizati

  15. Mackeyser Says:

    This may seem like no big deal when applied to porn, but now it's fully coming at us for both music AND news. And that's a HUGE deal. Thomas Jefferson once said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilizati­on, it expects what never was and never will be." If we put microtransactions on information acquisition, the problems that stem from that are legion. We can't iTunes our way to being better citizens.

    Anyway, artists need to get paid. I'm ALL for that. I'm just hoping for a model that doesn't become a "media" model that includes all "content" that includes News and then makes it harder to simply stay informed as a Citizen (of wherever).

  16. ZDG Says:

    I would just like to point out that Amanda Palmer didn't ask for a million dollars. She asked for 100,000. People /gave her/ a million because she has a large fanbase. And at what point in any marriage would it be okay for you to ask your spouse for such a large sum of money? They're both artists who rose to fame via the old-school venues you are so romanticizing, and they do their art in the same solitude they did before. AND, in response to the outcry that her grand theft orchestra request received, she changed the project so that they could pay the volunteer musicians. If you absolutely have to blame your pointless "the internet is changing things for the worse" rant on someone, at least do your fucking research beforehand.

  17. jon Says:

    It really does come down to "What should customers do?"

    I love music and try to support it. But sometimes "theft" isn't theft. If I own the LP and want it on my computer, I can buy a piece of equipment and transfer the content on my own. Or I could go to the library and check it out and burn it to my hard drive. Either way, the artist doesn't get a new sale. I can say I paid taxes to the library which then paid the producer, but I am fooling myself if I think my contribution is equal to what I get out of it. (And don't libraries fuck with the notion of capitalism anyway? And isn't it weird that most of the people who check out books are middle class white women? Meanwhile, the computers are being used by minority children who are downloading music and games to their flashdrives and other devices.)

    I've contributed to some Kickstarter things here and there, mostly friends' bands and such when I had extra money. The DIY thing is good, up to a point, as is the corporate manager model. Ani Difranco is probably the more successful version of what Amanda Palmer did, and Ani didn't have the baggage of being somewhat famous before she just became successful (or whatever she really is.) Part of me is happy that bands of my youth are touring to make money, because I wanted to see them (being able to see James in Tucson was something I never expected, seeing their CDs for sale at one of the few local record stores was also unexpected, even at $7.99.) I did recently buy Songs of Couch and Consultation from Ms Katie Lee herself, and it was a delight to get a 1957 recording on CD even at $25. But I had the album, bought at a yard sale, and wanted to thank her. So I did.

    I also have about a month's listening on my iTunes. Some was my CD collection, some is stuff I got online, most is legit, some isn't, and as long as I don't "share" it seems to be no problem. Free samples on most musician websites could fill most hard drives, while samples on record label sites could fill another. Maybe not always the latest and greatest, but it's not hard to not steal and still get a walloping amount of stuff for free.

    It's too easy to be cheap, stay under the radar, and not contribute a dime to the industry. Then again, that's true with books, software, and everything else. I guess the customer can buy as much as he can afford to, and I try to do that. But I'm fucking lucky to have disposable income. Do I think those without money are insufficiently entitled to entertainment? That's heading in a new direction, and I think it leads directly toward an answer of "too bad you can't tape your favorite songs from the radio anymore." And the realization that the internet is the new radio. And library. And friends willing to lend stuff. And more.

  18. One Dissillusioned Guy Says:

    @Jon,

    "And the realization that the internet is the new radio. And library."

    Actually no, they're not. Both broadcast radio and library systems pay artists. Most library systems cut authors and other artists a slice of the revenue from late/lender fees. Not very much, but at least they make the effort. All commercial radio stations must pay licencing fees to BMI and ASCAP, who then distribute this revenue on a "per play" basis to signatory artists. The internet is actually more analogous to radio in the 1920s, before these hard-won agreements were negotiated by publishing rights organizations and the AFM.

  19. Rodrigo S Says:

    Don't the labels turn right around and kick the money back to the radio stations for the publicity? I thought that's what "payola" was all about.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Payola

  20. Johnny Sack Says:

    Hey walk- I caught your stealth argument against a minimum wage there. Screw you

  21. One Dissillusioned Guy Says:

    @Rodrigo S.

    "Don't the labels turn right around and kick the money back to the radio stations for the publicity? I thought that's what "payola" was all about."

    I have no idea. "Payola" or "pay for play" is a 50 year old paradigm. Radio stations don't control their own playlists anymore, that's all done at Clearchannel-monopoly-central lol. I'm sure there's some skeevy corporate jiggery pokery going on, there always is, but I have no idea what it is these days.

    The ASCAP-BMI stuff has nothing to do with record labels though, that's publishing/performing-rights stuff. Labels will sometimes dip into it through in-house publishing raids, ie. "we'll sign you if you give us half your publishing," but that would come under the heading of "really bad contracts you shouldn't sign."

    "For all that it's harder to sell a record these days, the music scene is more vibrant than it ever was and there are more musicians than there ever were."

    It's unarguably true that there are "more musicians than ever," but they also make less money than ever. In fact most "musicians" (and I'm using the term loosely, the rise of rock and roll, and particularly "punk rock" in the 70s, has in many ways been the Triumph of the Amateur. A lot of people playing in indie bands are, by the standards of any professional musician, clueless wankers) don't make a living at it. Digitalization is only partially responsible for this (and by "partially" I mean "completely demonetized the recording side of the business") but the plain fact is, most of the ways people made a living with music when I started playing professionally in 1972 are no longer viable. I don't have any glib solutions, and I'm aware that "life is change" and all that, but it's simply true that change has not been good to the professional musician in recent decades, making-a-living-wise.

    Whether the "scene" is "more vibrant than ever" is an entirely subjective call. In terms of access, yeah, as a "consumer" you have a much easier time getting at formerly hard-to-find exotic ethnic and world musics. On the other hand, I'm not seeing the kind of iconic, paradigm-shifting musicians out there that we've seen in the past, no John Coltranes, Charlie Parkers, Jimi Hendrixs, James Browns. Not even any Princes. The "farm team" system of club circuits, label A&R talent scouts etc. that nurtured these people and gave them the space to develop no longer exist. Sure, that system was often preditory, but it did allow musicians to eat while developing a personal style. Nowdays you have to do all that stuff yourself, and until you've actually been in the position (as I have been) of having to finance and produce your own recordings, book your own tours, do your own publicity etc., you have no idea how much time and energy that sucks away from being a musician. It really blows, man. When I hear people complain about how much "music sucks, noe" (and use that as a justification for not paying for it) I point out that even people fairly high up the food chain now only play music part time. Their main job is raising money for recording, booking tours, costing out expenses on the road, and running a PR firm.

  22. Rodrigo S Says:

    @One Dissillusioned Guy

    "Digitalization is only partially responsible for this (and by "partially" I mean "completely demonetized the recording side of the business")"

    http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/industry/retail/pricewaterhouse-coopers-u-s-music-market-1007295152.story

    You keep mentioning this, but all the figures I can find (such as presented in the article above) suggest recorded music is a business still worth billions of dollars with prospects for growth. At least some artists have to be making good money on recorded music, though I get that in a lot of ways it has to be harder than it was.

  23. One Dissillusioned Guy Says:

    Try looking somewhere besides industry puff pieces in pet publications like Billboard

    http://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2012/08/overall-recorded-music-sales-expected-to-decline-by-2013-chart.html

    In any case, the question is not "is the industry growing" but "is any money reaching the artist." I think you'll find, with even a rudimentary search, that average income for professional musicians has been in decline for some time.

    It's really no different that the rest of American life; a massive transfer of wealth to the top.

  24. Chris Says:

    So many people don't know the difference between crowd sourcing and crowd funding and are totally misreading this article.

    99designs.com represents all that is evil and soulless in the design world. Hundreds of people do variations on the work. Only one person gets paid – a small amount – if they are lucky. That is, if the sponsor of the "contest" doesn't jut simply steal a design and run off with it. It diminishes the value of every designer's time and worth, causIng many talented artists to simply switch careers because it is no longer worth their time and effort. So not only is the value lessened, but the overall quality of the talent pool continues to drop. There is no upside to anyone but the contest runner, who is taking outsourcing to the next level. Hence the name "crowd sourcing".

    Kickstarter – artists, film makers, engineers – get paid up front if their idea is wanted by enough people. The risk is on the investor. If it doesnt raise enough money, then the entrepeneur is free to try to fund it themselves, and nobody has lost a thing. It is a wonderful tool for a variety of markets.

  25. One Dissillusioned Guy Says:

    @Chris,

    "It diminishes the value of every designer's time and worth, causIng many talented artists to simply switch careers because it is no longer worth their time and effort. So not only is the value lessened, but the overall quality of the talent pool continues to drop."

    This, times two. I'm old enough to remember when the ranks of "musicians" were not populated exclusively by pot-fogged faux-hippies, punk rockers, trustafarians, and various and sundry other types who had no real expectations of return on their work beyond a chance to live on ramen noodles until such time as they became rock stars. The dreamers have always been with us and always will be. Trained, professional musicians are an endangered species.

    Music is a craft as well as an art, and the great artists of the past invested a lot oof time and effort in studying and honing the technical part of their craft. This was possible, in large part, because music was a job as well as an opportunity for artistic expression. I could throw out examples all day long, but the first that springs to mind is Charlie Parker. Parker spent the early years of his career as an annonymous sideman in the big bands of Jay Mcshann and Earl Hines. On a salary. When he became well known enough to front his own ensembles he recorded, and he did not finance these recordings himselves, record companies did. He played clubs and concert for which he received a wage or a fee, not door receipts. Parkers job was creating music, not managing a booking agency, running a venue, or creating a record label/publicity agency, all of which modern musicians are obliged to do. And, absurdely, we're supposed to be happy about this. We're supposed to find it "empowering" or something. What it truly is, is a massive drain on our time, energy, and creative facilities.

    I've seen a lot of truly first rate musicians give up in the face of this.

  26. Rodrigo S Says:

    "I've seen a lot of truly first rate musicians give up in the face of this."

    Not to sound crass, but put me in contact and I'll hire one to play a tiny violin. Virtually every professional has to deal with some amount of businessy stuff that has to get done so their practice can function

  27. Rodrigo S Says:

    If the business side is too much of a drain, then sign with a label, contract your own agent, get a 20-something to hop on the twitters and talk you up, or what not. DIY is not the only option (just the only option if you want to keep all your winnings)

  28. Phillip Says:

    Hey-

    @chris
    @oldguy

    I love where you are taking this, but I think you are looking at it a bit wrong from a value of work perspective. This isn't the flow of new creation, it is the addition to the stock of culture. The point of digitization is that nothing is ever forgotten, and everyone has access to all of it, minus whatever new content has yet to be added.

    I believe that the creation of art is one of the most valuable things a culture can do. But I don't think it can be monentized, it has been forced into the category of public good.

    But most of all, I know that I have been poor, but with internet. And even if I couldn't spend a dime and I didn't want to steal, there is more cultureout there, unconditionally free, that I could spend my entire life doing nothing but consuming it and never have to pirate anything. That's what you are really up against.

    As are the record companies. And as long as we condition survival upon producing something monentizable, we are all going to end up miserable.

  29. One Dissillusioned Guy Says:

    @Rodrigo,

    Virtually every professional musician I knew when I started 40 years ago (including me) regarded his career as a small business, so I'm not suggesting musicians are strangers to the business paradigm, we're not. What I'm talking about is a massive paradigm shift where ALL of the risk and labor-intensive stuff has been transferred to the artist. Again, this pparallels the rest of American life, where people are expected to accept extremly modest remuneration for increasingly higher levels of risk and insecurity which, stangely enough, the people at the top don't have to deal with. Sure, they sometimes suffer setbacks but, again, I've never seen a Sprint executive working a day job.

    "Not to sound crass, but put me in contact and I'll hire one to play a tiny violin."

    And the next time you or anyone else complains about how crappy the music scene is, I'll use this same "tough shit" argument. I'll repeat this slowly and clearly, again; what's happened in the arts is exactly what's happened in, say law and finance. The best and the brightest, at least some of whom in the past might have wound up doing truly valuable work in urban planning or community law, largely go to Wall Street now (where the money is) to construct funny money "financial instruments" that crash the economy. It's why we have so few GPs now; the enormous cost of medical school is more easily amortized by becoming a plastic surgeon.

    "If the business side is too much of a drain, then sign with a label, contract your own agent, get a 20-something to hop on the twitters and talk you up, or what not. DIY is not the only option (just the only option if you want to keep all your winnings)"

    Again, it behooves you not to make sweeping statements about a business you know nothing about. "Sign with a label"? Unless you're Britney Spears, you won't me signing with any labels. Labels, for the most part, don't "develop" talent anymore. They'd much rather you did all the work of recording a CD, touring, building a fan base etc. At which point they may or may not offer you a distribution deal on their imprint. This is exactly what I'm talking about (and what you continually refuse to acknowlege) All risk and expense has been transferred to the artist. I can hear you winding up to start going on about "yeah, that's why you don't need record companies anymore" but the fact is, the "official" music business is still where the superstructure is to bring products to market. For every indie band who makesit big self-distributing their own product, there's a thousand who get lost in the vast forest of internet detritus. 99% of the the tracks on i-tunes don't sell enough to be even statitically measurable.

    Really man, we could argue specifics all day here, but the bottom line is this; I've been in the music business for forty years, and I see through my own lived experience (and the statistical evidence backs me up) that's it's much, much harder to make a living now than it was 40 years ago. There's a lot of different reasons for this, you're right, it's not all Napster. But having to assume ALL of the risk and expense of recording and then trying to sell something that most people now think they should get for free really doesn't help. Why is it so difficult for you to understand that?

  30. One Dissillusioned Guy Says:

    @Philip,

    "As are the record companies. And as long as we condition survival upon producing something monentizable, we are all going to end up miserable."

    Contrary to the long screeds I've been posting here, I actually see this in very simple term; How much do we, as a culture, value music/art? The way we keep score in this society is money, so, since we're seemingly unwilling to compensate artists in this or any other way, we obviously value it not at all.

  31. roymacIII Says:

    Actually no, they're not. Both broadcast radio and library systems pay artists. Most library systems cut authors and other artists a slice of the revenue from late/lender fees. Not very much, but at least they make the effort.

    Paying artists or labels is definitely not the norm for any library I've seen. I work in one of the largest library systems in my state and we send not a dime of our late fines to artistss and I've never heard of one around here that does. I'm not saying that none do, but I've not heard of it, and would be very very surprised if even a large minority of libraries did that. Certainly not most.

  32. Rodrigo S Says:

    @One Dissillusioned Guy

    "But having to assume ALL of the risk and expense of recording and then trying to sell something that most people now think they should get for free really doesn't help. Why is it so difficult for you to understand that?"

    I agree with you that it has gotten harder, and I agree that trying to directly sell something that most people don't think they should have to directly pay for is a really difficult way to try to do business. I guess I'm reading a subtext that might not be there – that things should go back to the way they used to be, and that nobody is making it – and that's why I'm arguing with you.

    To some extent, yeah, there has been risk shifting going in throughout society. It's not just a music thing. But it's also not necessarily a bad thing for people who are good at what they do, or for the consumers who ultimately support the whole endevour – even though it's a dynamic that creates winners and losers, and I think we ought to do more to make sure that everyone can at least get by.

    But as a consumer, would I want to go back to the days when I had to pay $25 (in 1990 money no less) to buy an album with two good songs on it and when the only other alternative was to catch whatever was on the radio? Or to the days of having to troll through dozens of crappy records (that I probably had to buy) to find something good that wasn't being promoted in my area? Hell no. That was some bullshit, and everyone bitched about it, but people had no choice.

    Why should we mourne the death of the ecosystem that market control permitted the labels to create for a very few musicians? Music seems as good as it ever was, and there is more of it to choose from than there ever was, performed by more artists than there ever were. You deride today's performers as amatures, but that is some arrogant shit to say about people who are going out there and crushing it without a clique of king makers to ease their way by refusing to distribute 99.99% of their potential competition.

    "Contrary to the long screeds I've been posting here, I actually see this in very simple term; How much do we, as a culture, value music/art? The way we keep score in this society is money, so, since we're seemingly unwilling to compensate artists in this or any other way, we obviously value it not at all."

    But there is no "we, as a culture". There's no collective decision to pay some people but not to pay others, no cultural conspiracy to say a bad secretary should be paid more than a bad artist. The world just needs more bad secretaries than bad artists.

  33. Phillip Says:

    @Rodrigo

    But we do value music and culture in our society! It forms a gigantic part of people's personal identities and is almost omnipresent. Just about every single person has strong opinions and deep emotional responses to music.

    The issue is that with the advent of the internet, music has become a public good. (non-rival, non-excludable). The only point you can capture value is the point you first release it- which is where kickstarter fits. But because it is so hard to make money off of it, the market will only supply a tiny fraction of he demand. This is true for national defense as well, which is the classic example of a public good.

    Point being, there should be government support of artists. Trying to make money off of value is, in this case, a fool's errand. And from what you say, most professional musicians seem to be coming to that conclusion.

  34. Rodrigo S Says:

    "The issue is that with the advent of the internet, music has become a public good. (non-rival, non-excludable). The only point you can capture value is the point you first release it- which is where kickstarter fits. But because it is so hard to make money off of it, the market will only supply a tiny fraction of he demand."

    I think you have to go back to the tape to evaluate this argument. Recorded music is still a multi-billion dollar industry and paid digital distribution models are in their relative infancy. A ton of money is being made on recorded music, and a lot more will be made in the future. So it's too simplistic to say that the only way value can be captured is at release – lots of people are managing somehow. Similarly, I don't think there's a music shortage. As you said, it's almost omnipresent. There are more bands out there with more music than you can shake a stick at (this is part of why it's harder to make money, too). It seems like there's an over supply of music rather than an under supply.

    "Point being, there should be government support of artists."

    As long as we can pitch in a few dollars for lowly economists, I'm all in on this idea. =)

  35. OnedisillusionedGuy Says:

    "@roymacIII,

    "I'm not saying that none do, but I've not heard of it, and would be very very surprised if even a large minority of libraries did that."

    You're right, I stand corrected. It's the British and Canadian library systems that do that, it's part of their national copywrite law, which also, iincidentally, contains provisions for "neighboring rights," ie payments to artists who played on a session but do not hold copywrite to the composition.

    Broadcast radio though, just not get to play CDs for free. All radio stations must be signatories to ASCAP and BMI agreements and pay llicencing fees to those entities, who then distribute them to artists.

  36. OnedisillusionedGuy Says:

    @Rodrigo,

    "I guess I'm reading a subtext that might not be there – that things should go back to the way they used to be, and that nobody is making it – and that's why I'm arguing with you."

    Well then we're arguing at crosspurposes then. I neither wish nor think it possible for thing to return to some imagined golden age of recorded music. Record companies (the majors anyway) were and are a lying, duplicious sackfull of bastards to deal with, although as I pointed out they didn't steal ALL of your money and copyrights, just most of it. And they were a structure that was, at least up to the 70s anyway, in the business of developing long-term careers for their artists.

    What I've been objecting to all along is this notion that I'm supposed to bbe somehow happy about all these fantastic opportunities to spend my limited time, energy and resourses doing all these myriad things that other entities uses to do 9for a cut, of course). And it pisses me off to be painted as some kind of effete whiner who's angry because he can't become a millionare playing stadiums as "easily" as I once could. That kind of stuff has always been a crap shoot, and I didn't get into music for that reason anyway. I did it because I really love playing the saxophone, and found that, much to my surprise and delight, I could make a modest living at it. I've watched that living progressively eroded over the years, and if I try to point out that making it increasingly impossible for musicians to get paid for their efforts might not be such a kewl thing, I get lectured on what a dinosaur I am for not getting onboard this wonderful new digital train we're all going to get rich on. Often by people who haven't the foggiest notion what the realities of life as a professional musician actually are.

    It's the same old shit, really. I used to get screwed by my record company. Now I get fucked when my "internet distributor" goes under, taking hundreds of my CDs with it. Same shit, different pile.

    The question is, and always has been, do you value recorded music as a necessary and beneficial part of your life? If you do, you should have a problem with musicians getting paid.

  37. OnedisillusionedGuy Says:

    Sorry, that should be "you should have a problem with musicians NOT getting pad."

  38. Rodrigo S Says:

    @ODJ:

    If you have recordings for sale somewhere, point me in that direction. I've got some acquaintances who are fans of the sax and it's getting to be that time of year.

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