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Billy Bragg

Joe,

I don't think your analogy properly reflects the argument I made in the NYT.

Imagine if a person who walks by everyday without paying you a penny is using your performance in the subway to make money.

Does this person have a moral obligation to offer you some reward for your creative input to their business?

Mrs. The 'Wart

Billy:
I think you're right on this one. Joe is off the rez.

(Disclosure: I'm a big fan)

boyhowdy

I agree that Joe went too far.

But I also I note that many, many other bloggers have used Billy's NYT piece to suggest that he would be opposed to, say, putting a song FROM an album on a NON-profit blog along with promotional text, urging people to think of that song as a sample of an album, and providing direct links ot purchase of said album.

It looks here like neither of you are not making that argument. Yet Billy's concept of technological rights protection seems to disallow bloggers to promote you in that way -- which, as many others besides Joe have noted or alluded to (playing in your apartment cannot be promoted, not profitable), this is a big part of how sales/popularity seem to be driven in modern music culture.

Joe/Billy: thoughts on this?

If it helps, I note that, if fan promotion on blogs using single tracks was disallowed, I would not have purchased both the Bragg/Wilco Guthrie tribute CDs, as I would not have been introduced to them.

Tim Lee

Joe,

You're right. Billy (and your wife) are wrong.


Billy Bragg

Tim,

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

Boyhowdy,

I have no problem with my music appearing on a non-profit site. I think peer-to-peer recommendation is a crucial promotional tool for independent artists. And I'm not in favour of criminalising my audience either. There is a simpler way. Listeners don't pay me royalties when my song is on the radio - the station and the advertisers do. Thats the kind of model I want to see operate.

Joe

Billy,
Thanks for engaging with us here. I want to point out that despite the seemingly "extreme" view I have, I don't consider myself to be particularly reactionary on the subject of online music. I certainly don't think the view that musicians should get paid for their works online is "dumb" or anything like that.

Re: royalties. Yes, the radio model works, though I think that's partly because radio stations are always licensed and regulated and they really have no choice in the matter.

As for online, I don't think we'll ever get there. There will never (probably a stupid word to use on my part) be a way to adequately measure where, when and how many times a given track is being streamed. My assumption is that is that online is a true Pandora's box, and there's no way to get it back in. Sure, some sites will try ad-supported models, but for the most part, music, once it's out there, it's just out there.

I don't say that with any judgment of how it "should" be. Music "should be free"; artists "should get paid" -- whatever. Questions of "should" aren't as interesting as questions of "what is".

Billy Bragg

Joe,

The reason radio stations are licensed is to ensure that they pay their royalties. Wasn't so in the early days, they had to be dragged kicking and screaming into line with intellectual property rights. Lots of people still taped stuff of the radio without paying for it - me included - but that wasn't used as justification by the stations for not paying royalties.

'What is' only is for as long was we let it be is.

Tim Lee

It's worth mentioning that Billy is essentially describing Imeem's business model: users share music freely and the site gives artists (more precisely, labels) a cut of the ad revenue. It's not a bad model, and one that other sites may adopt.

The essential point, though, is that the way to determine the right compensation for artists is in the marketplace, not on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Nobody's forcing musicians to post their music on Bebo, and if musicians are being undercompensated, that's a market opportunity for one of Bebo's competitors to capitalize on. My personal hunch is that free music is going to become the norm within the next decade, but I'd be perfectly happy to be proven wrong by a successful site that turns a profit while paying musicians. I don't, however, think it will be a sign of some kind of deep moral failing if the market price for most music in the 21st century turns out to be zero.

Mike Masnick

Billy,

Radio royalties don't really support your point. In the US, musicians DON'T get royalties from radio (publishers and composers do, musicians do not). In fact, for many years, the money exchange went the other direction (not legally) through payola. In that scenario, clearly, there was much more benefit to the promotional value of being on the radio than the royalties.

So, in fact, there is a constant flux between who benefits the most.

But the key point is rather straightforward. If it was such a raw deal for you, why did you allow Bebo to use your music? You can't go back and complain in retrospect. If you wanted a piece of the monetization, you should have negotiated for it.

You chose not to. To complain afterwards isn't particularly convincing.

Billy Bragg

Tim,

What will happen if the market value of music becomes zero is that independent artists won't be able to make a living and all the music you hear will come directly from corporations. Goodbye Radiohead, hello Hannah Montana.

Mike,

The point about the radio analogy is not how or what they pay, its that they pay at all. Radio recognises the value that music adds to their business. That's the principle we need to establish on the internet before we can start to work out the complex business of how to actually distribute royalties.

btw I never joined Bebo. I guess I should have made that clearer in the article. None of the dozen or more Billy Bragg's on there are actually me, but that's another problem for another NYT op-ed.

Joe

Billy,
On radio: whether licensing came before royalties or royalties came before licensing isn't too significant. The point is that radio is inherently a highly regulated, transparent market, with high barriers to entry, where it's trivial to monitor how often a given song is being played. That will never be the case online.

The suggestion that if the marginal value of a track went to zero, we'd see the end of independent music is almost provably false. Funny that you should say: "Goodbye Radiohead, hello Hannah Montana.", when it's Radiohead that did the whole pay-what-you-will music thing. Hannah Montana also happens to be a success story of the post-album music industry. The big money with her is TV and touring, though I guess that's what you mean that she's a product of the corporations.

Besides Radiohead, there are numerous examples of bands finding other ways to make money besides selling tracks or CDs. In fact, independent musicians seem more eager to experiment with these models. It's the corporate-backed ones that are reluctant to see things change.

Part of me wonders whether this is in fact a generational thing. We're used to established media companies railing against certain changes, while the upstarts tend to embrace them. It does seem to me, so some extent, that established musicians that have successfully navigated "the game" feel they have more to lose by the shifting sands, while upstarts take the new terrain more in stride.

I'd also like to see some evidence that the decline of music sales has had a negative impact on musical output. My hunch is that it has not.

Saw Lady

Hi,

I'm a subway musician. When people LISTEN to my music and don't give me money, that's OK because I'm essentially giving my music for free when I busk, but when people VIDEO-TAPE me when I busk, or record my playing and don't pay me - that is stealing!
And by the way, subway musicians do sue. I was filmed by VH1 when I played at Times Square - they filmed me without my permission and they were going to air it without my permission. I sued, and won - not only did they not air the footage, but the team that filmed me got fired.

All the best,

Saw Lady
http://www.SawLady.com/blog

Billy Bragg

Joe,

You missed the thrust of my comment.

Yes, Radiohead put out a pay-as-you please album, but that was only after having a pervious album debut at No1 in the US charts. Could they have based their whole career on that model? I doubt it.

You proved my point about Hannah Montana - without her huge tv ratings she wouldn't sell tickets nor record. That's where future stars will come from, while the potential Radioheads will languish in obscurity.

On your radio/web distinction, are you suggesting that it will never be possible to tell who has downloaded what song from which site? The click-through technology is already there. With a little bit of imagination, surely it could be modified to count music file downloads?

I agree, independent musicians do find ways to navigate the new technology, but no-one, to my knowledge, has broken out without selling their recordings to the public.


Joe

"On your radio/web distinction, are you suggesting that it will never be possible to tell who has downloaded what song from which site?"

Yes.

As for Hannah Montana. Sure, she's backed by a corporate parent. But she also proves that money can be made outside of the traditional track model. And just because the most prominent example is corporate-backed, I don't think it necessarily follows, at all, that all future Hannah Montanas have to be.

Joe

Also,
With respect to Hannah Montana. Sure, she, (well, Miley Cyrus), parlayed TV popularity into ticket sales, but I see no inherent why a band or musician couldn't parlay popularity on blogs and social nets into ticket sales as well. How does the declining value of recorded music kneecap a musician from becoming popular and turning that into a touring career?

Billy Bragg

Joe,

Hannah Montana didn't 'parlay' her tv appearances into a pop career. She was brought into existence by focus-group led marketing and then force fed to her potential audience by Disney's media empire. Nothing about her is organic.

Think about the megabucks Disney put behind promoting her and ask yourself who is going to back a cutting edge artist who can't get on tv and can't make any money from recordings?

The bloggers and the SocNets? Again I ask you, where is this band that has parlayed their popularity on blogs and social nets into a successful career? Don't you think people like Michael Arrington would be nailing me with their example if such a band existed?

Mike Masnick

Billy,

No offense, but it's simply incorrect to say this model only works for the Radioheads of the world. I spent nearly a decade chronicling example after example after example of it working for smaller named artists, and everyone whined and complained "oh, that will never work for big name artists."

And now it does work for big name artists and people complain "oh that will never work for small artists."

It will, it does and it will continue to.

The problem is that you are thinking too much in terms of the old way of doing business, where everything is judged based on how much MUSIC you sell. But that's not the way to look at it.

The simple facts are this, despite music being widely available for free, more music is being made today than ever before in history. More people are listening to more music than ever before in history. More musicians are earning money from careers in music than ever before in history. More money is being made from concert revenue than ever before in history. Hell, even the sales of musical instruments is higher today than ever before in history.

The only thing not doing better than ever before? Sales of recorded music itself. But every other part of the industry, all of which only functions because of the music, is made much more valuable.

That "free" music makes every other aspect of the industry more valuable, and it allows all of these participants to make more money than ever before in history.

Don't fret the simple economic fact that the price of music goes to free. Celebrate it. Embrace it, and let it make you even MORE money in many different ways.

boyhowdy

Joe: I have concerns about the business model that says that recorded music cannot inherently be profitable, but it can lead to touring profitability. Saying that the value of recorded music is declining makes this process sound inherent, but our technology is not so determinant as all that -- this process exists, in part, because parts of the industry have not yet agreed to meet in the middle, but that does not mean the reactionary position is the only possible solution. In other words, I think it is still legitimate to believe that, as Billy points out, recorded music is only valueless if we make it so.

Why cannot a recorded track be a product -- why music musicians themselves be "product"? Well, in part, because it winnows down what music is, and can be, beyond anything we might consider healthy in a larger sense. What would a touring-as-profit model mean for a disabled artist who cannot tour without huge cost? An artist who makes music which is inherently unperformable? Artists who require ten guys on stage to make the sound they like?

I'm oversensitive to this, yes -- my brother was a member of Skavoovie and the Epitones, a popular ska band that went bust when they found that after four albums, though their last album was by far the most popular, touring could not sustain the costs incurred by ten guys on the road. In their case, selling records was totally profitable enough to keep them -- barely -- paying rent for the first three albums. Then Napster came along, and they couldn't afford to keep going. Now most of them make music which requires smaller bands, or perform solo. THIS is a model which supports independent music? Or is it a business/economic model which limits the types of music and musicians which can succeed, thus inherently hurting MUSIC by narrowing the possibility set to that kind of music which can best be performed?

In other words: notice the prevalence of LO-FI music in the world these days? That's because this economic model best sustains music which has low production values, i.e. low costs for production. I prefer a diversity of sound, and, like Billy, believe there is both a third way...and that if people really want it, it will be sustainable.

And Billy: thanks for stopping in, and validating the efforts of honest non-profit music bloggers like myself, despite my garbled posting. I'm especially proud to be one of your promoters on my own music blog, and will continue to look for opportunities to help others hear about, sample, and purchase your music whenever I get a chance. Your willingness to engage in this, and help listeners see that they are not being criminalized, but are being asked to help sustain a model which better sustains artists, is part of the third way, right there.

Joe

Billy, I suspect more bands have turned touring and word-of-mouth buzz into successful recording careers, rather than the other way around. The reverse: success selling CDs turning into a successful touring a career doesn't make much sense.

How did it work for you coming up? Did you record some music and then have that turn into demand for you to tour? Or did you bust your ass in small clubs, ultimately leading to word-of-mouth interest and other commercial opportunities?

Billy Bragg

Okay Mike, maybe you can tell me the name of this band that has broken big using the internet as its only base?

And why it is that MySpace shouldn't pay for the content that brings people and advertisers to the site?

If I am guilty of thinking in an old way, then its because I believe that businesses which use my music to generate revenue for themselves should pay me a royalty for doing so.

Joe

Boyhowdy,
Cool about your brother having been in Skavoovie... I actually saw them a few times in high school/college.

That being said, I wonder if the decline of Napster might just be a useful whipping boy. After all, the big Northeast Ska scene sorta went bust after a major bubble in the mid-to-late 90s (Masnick, back me up on this?)

Also, yeah, I do imagine it's tougher for touring to support you if you're a 10+ person band, because unfortunately, that doesn't give you any pricing power.

Joe

Also, Bowhowdy,
Unfortunately, the value of music isn't determined by what we want it to be. Nothing ever is. Otherwise, oil would be worth $20 barrel, Bear Stearns would be back at $60, and I'd be drawing a $300k salary. For that matter, there'd be people wiling to pay $15 for a CD of the music I've written. Unfortunately, they're not.

Billy Bragg

Boyhowdy,

I have no problem with people like you whose love of music drives you to tell the world about what you enjoy. My problem is with the big earning SocNets and their owners. They're making money off of free content and we need to wise up and get out act together so we can enjoy the benefits the internet offers - but on terms we can live with.

Joe,

Sure I started out doing shows and then made a record. But until that record was on the radio, I couldn't get gigs outside of my area. The record legitimised me in a way that passing out cassette tapes never did. Promoters and media around the UK started taking me seriously and, more importantly, people in the US heard me and invited me over to tour.

I recognise this model no longer functions, but the point I'm making is that I could not have done it on live alone.

Joe

Billy,
When those radio stations gave you the much-needed jolt to your career, were they required to pay royalties at that point? And if they were, was that the main value you got out of that? It sounds like the main value you got from radio play was the promotional aspect, or as you say, the legitimization.

Billy Bragg

Joe,

I'm afraid its 2am here and I'm reluctantly going to have to leave your discussion. Thanks for hosting an interesting debate.

I will check in tomorrow though, just to see if any of you 'free music' guys have come up with the name of a band that has broken through on internet promotion alone.

My regards to your wife.

Billy

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  • The Stalwart is a blog written by Joseph Weisenthal, covering such topics as stocks, business, economics, politics, technology, gambling, chess, poker, economics, current events, music, math, Chinese food, science, randomness, kurtosis, sports, evolutionary fitness, and anything else of the author's choosing. The words contained herein are the author's own, not affiliated with any other firm or employer.

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