Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Everything Is Free Now (more reflections on David Lowry's letter to Emily White)

(For the letter that originally sparked these thoughts please follow the link below)
http://thetrichordist.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/letter-to-emily-white-at-npr-all-songs-considered/

Back in 2001 alt-country/americana artist Gillian Welch released a song on her 3rd album Time (The Revelator) album called 'Everything Is Free' with the lines 'Someone hit the big score they figured it out, that we're gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay' 
Sadly this is all too true and has been the case for artists for centuries really (the whole artist starving in the garret scenario is because for so many artists the need to create art is so much more than a whim or hobby but a vital and essential part of living, breathing and being part of the planet )

In his response to NPR DJ Emily White stating that of her 11,000 strong catalogue of music she actually only bought 15 of them David Lowry made the point that this ever growing demand to access 'Music for Free' culture is a moral and ethical issue that needs to be addressed...

As a self employed musician and singer songer-songwriter with my own label imprint Hushland I feel compelled to add my own thoughts here as this is an issue that is not in the least bit theoretical but current and relevant to me on a daily basis.

I've spent the last week or so trawling through many responses to this debate from both sides.
Many folks make the point that there is nothing new about Emily having music for free as she's a DJ and for as long as the music industry has been operating DJ's have been recipients of music for free as part of an overall promotional campaign to get the music heard. Folks have also been saying that David Lowry needs to 'Get with the Program' that he's talking about days gone by and not focussing on the fact that internet has made music accessible and directly available to so many more folks than it ever could have reached. That the internet gives power directly back to the artists to create and market in ways that bypass traditional routes and is an empowering resource in favour of the artist in comparison to the old style record label calling all the shots and dictating creative strategies etc... These are things I agree with. I love the internet and the entrepreneurial and innovative ways to market and create products and involve fans in ways that both refreshing and exciting. None of these things are the main issues of the debate as far as I'm concerned. There are both good and bad working practices in both the new and old systems, and the fact that artists have so often been exploited by major labels and at the raw end of a bad deal is not news at all...

To me the crux of the debate is the financial value of a music and whether it is acceptable that artists be required and expected to make their products 'free' and just accept and put up with the fact that folks will be able to access it without paying for it regardless of whether this is what the artist has intended for their product.

These are the questions that I want to raise here...


What does being a copyright owner of something you have created actually mean today?


Does the consumer based demand that products be at available for free mean loss of excellence?


How does it effect the artist on a day to day basis? 

You don't walk into a restaurant and eat a freshly prepared meal and expect to get it for free
You don't go to a shop to get an ornament you like for your home and expect it to be free
You don't go to a designer clothing label (or any clothes label) and expect to walk out and wear their product for free

I could go on and on... of those 3 examples in order to create the products lots of expenses have been incurred to make them and usually more than one person involved in realising the finished product. Farmers are required to grow food for our meals, factory workers to create materials and fabrics for clothes/ ornaments, then staff are employed to sell the products. No one in this picture will be doing it as a favour or at mates rates, at the lowest acceptable rate they will be doing it for minimum wages. It would be immoral and ethically wrong not to pay a fee for these things...

So here's the parallels to that picture and more regarding my own creating of a music product.

I have self funded and released 3 of my own full length albums as well as being involved in the releasing of more. I have called in many favours and mates rates to do all this and still have had huge outgoings, all of this has been done in my own unpaid time...

Here's a breakdown of how I've made and created my trilogy of albums so far...
There are many ways to create products, I'm not saying this is the best way etc but this is how I've done it...
I am not including time that it took to rehearse and write and create the songs in the first place.
I'm creating a lowest type rate budget for this example...

STUDIO TIME
Personally the longest I've ever booked a studio for recording is 7 days... usually 4 - 5 days recording and 2- 3 days mixing. These are always decisions based on budget.

The average day in the studio with and engineer costs a minimum of £200.00 so for one weeks recording/mixing you're looking at looking at a minimum of approx. £1400.00

SESSION MUSICIANS
Minimum Wage for a session musician at musicians union rates (and I've spent much more on session musicians rates than this!) is £40 per hour with £120 for a minimum 3 hour session.
So for the sake of argument say I use 3 other musicians for a days 7.5 (basically 1 days recording) hours recording time each thats £300 per day for them... so an extra £900
(just for the record I have paid a single session musician the sum of £350 for a 3 hour session on one of my albums- and rightly so as they are a top class musician with huge amounts of training and expertise and I would not expect to pay an expert at the top of their field a minimum wage for their time anyway)

MASTERING
Mastering (the thing you do after mixing an album getting it ready to be pressed) can sometimes be done in same studio you record in or can send it off to a specialist- this can be anything from £150- £500...

PRODUCER
Working with a producer- an agreed daily rate minimum (could be anything from £100- £350) per day though mainstream producers can charge 10x that much per day etc!!)
nb: You don't need to work with a producer to create an album, personally its something that I've found incredibly helpful as they have brought an objectivity and further ideas to the overall product that I've been creating and helped me realise my own artistic vision in ways I couldn't have achieved on my own. Again if I'm employing someone who is an expert I don't expect to pay a minimum wage for them!!

Thats just recording part of an album...

SLEEVE DESIGN
Then there's artwork for the album, design and layout paying somebody to do that could be anything from 1- 5 days work minimum, £200 per day is again a low wage for a self employed graphic designer daily rate... so for arguments sake lets say a budget of 2.5 days a further £500

PRINTING/PRESSING
Printing and pressing 1000 physical copies of a product- with jewel cases (the plastic cases) costs around £800- digi- packs £1200- £1500/ usually recycled materials cost more so that could be up to £ 2000 if you want to do it ethically.... 1000 copies is a standard minimum print/press run

PR
Then there's PR and marketing for the product...
over the years I've done it myself/ I've spent £500 using a good local PR person and I've spent £3000 (at a discounted rate from £5000 for a national agency as I was still going to do a fair bit of my own PR) Despite the payment all PR its still a huge gamble as there is zero guarantee that you will actually be reviewed or get the television/ radio time you pay the PR person to pitch on your behalf...
(There are of course further advertising costs if you wish to place an advert for the product in a any magazine... mainstream mags can cost in the £1000's )

So looking at just recording a physical album without any PR- looking at a bare minimum of between £2000- £5000

Then there's website and webpage maintenance and design which you of course can do yourself or pay someone else to do for you.... I haven't included budgets for official photo shoots or making music video either...

So in order to make and market an album these costs can easily add up to around £10,000 on expenses and believe me this an extremely modest budget!! (So many artists have to scrape, scrimp call on favours from friends not pay other musicians/ artists a fair wage for being involved in creating a album)

So lets say I am have my shiny new product and I'm now in debt somewhere between £5000- £10,000
I need to start selling my product to begin get myself out of debt and here's where the issue begins...

Doing the math: if I have pressed 1000 copies and I'm £5000.00 in debt I need to sell 500 at £10 each before I can think of making a profit. Now in the past that was an incredibly viable option.

Traditional means of selling CDs was in shops and at gigs and more recently through a website...
The problem is that free culture is demanding I release my product of free or at least let the fans name the price, and if I use any sort of digital distribution within in days of my product release the technology is available to make it downloadable for free from other sites...

Any touring artist will tell you that physical CD sales at gigs are down due to products now being more available and cheaper online and aside from the fact that logistics and finances from petrol costs to paying musicians to what you can get from a venue re any form of payment in order to actually tour often requires making a further loss as Chris TT has eloquently put in his blog) http://christt.com/songwriting/an-under-priced-industry/

Back in 2004 I could pretty much guarantee that I would sell CD's to at least 10% of what ever audience I had.
At my level of touring that can mean performing in venues with audience numbers averaging anything between 10 people in a bar to 200 in a club or theatre (sometimes at festivals /on tour support slots etc its many more but this is an average). So depending on the night that could mean sales of 1- 20 CD's. So in theory if I put together 3x 10-14 day tours a year I could pretty much guarantee that I would have at least broken even on album costs within 12 months. 
(Not making a loss on tour is completely different scenario!)

Nowadays people just don't buy CD's at gigs like they used to. I often get emails from folks telling me how much they enjoyed my live set and that they've just got my album, but they haven't bought it from me though and so I see much, much less of an income from CD sales yet get far more feed back and response on all my music than ever before... Also folks see £10 as too expensive for a CD even if they are going to pay for one, so are now looking at paying under that price for a CD more like £7.50 or less...  

There are other ways to make a product sure... and more and more artists are choosing to release entirely digital products. 


One of the problems for an indie artist such as myself at this time is being caught in the middle. The new guard and ways are not yet fully established and the old guard and ways still hold a lot of power.
Mainstream and Major labels and industry folks still demand that in order to be taken seriously you have to release both physical and digital copies of your music with a push for vinyl releases becoming more and more popular as well. I'm not a fan of any mainstream music awards etc but just as an example a prize like Britain's Mercury music prize requires that in order to enter an artist has to be on a label, have a physical distribution deal (not just digital) and pay a fee of £500- thats just to submit your music.

I could record a digital only release product (and many artists are forced to) I could just record this product myself in my own home studio (and have done- though expenses for mic and computers and programs are still incurred in order to do this)
I can do all the artwork/ press promotion etc myself and be completely self contained unit (and there are lots of talented artists who do this successfully and I take my hat off to them for doing so! I am glad that the technology is available for them to do this also!) It is a model that works very well for some folks and I'm glad it does.

However why should I be limited to this?

I believe in the pursuit of creative excellence and diversity in the art that I make and therefore employ folks around me who can help to deliver this.
My personal skills are in my own songwriting and musicianship. I am not a wonderful recording engineer. I am not brilliant at computer tech. I am not a whizz at PR. Though I am  multi-instrumentalist there are times when I would rather employ a session musician who will run rings round me both technically and creatively.
I try to diversify and am continually adding to my skill set but there are plenty of people out there who will do a far better job on the various tasks than me and personally I believe my product is better for it etc...

So why should I now be under pressure to give my music away when I have personally invested time and hired experts to work with me on it?  Or not to mind if folks download it illegally as to quote a phrase I've heard frequently "at least its getting it out there" 
Please explain to me why is it a problem for folks to buy the product if they like it and would like to own it for themselves and listen to it?
Many companies and buisnesses use freebies as a marketing tool and it can be a helpful one, but that is always in order ultimately to sell something. Why should a music products be any different why should the products all be free? Does this not devalue both the artists and the work and the material?

In all other vocational trades, training, experience and expertise is reflected in wages.
Not so for musicians. Gig fees are minimal and usually at rates that were acceptable in the 80's or 90's no pay rise with the cost of inflation etc... Recession has effected festivals who were once open to taking risks on lesser known artists which once meant festivals were a great way to gain exposure (even though most wouldn't offer any fee to a lesser know artist to play) Now festival organisers have to ensure that they will sell tickets and so are pretty much booking the name drawing acts- with a few offering a competition to unknown acts in order to play them. Festivals and gig venues are also using submission sites like Sonic Bids for their applications a site which requires a subscription membership fee as well as fees to submit an application to each event. Arts grants and funding are being cut across the UK. It is a tricky time to work in the creative industries and be self employed.

Fair trade is an issue here.

So why not use crowd funding to source the funds for the product?

I'm actually a big fan of crowd funding and think it a great innovative idea however it has proven most successful for folks with an already big existing network of fans, in order to generate those fans touring etc has to be a viable option and for a band just starting out it is a huge catch 22, without the gigs you can't get the product out there to generate fans etc and so it becomes yet another loss leader...
I may well try this in the future and am open push all sorts of doors to create music...

But ultimately regardless of where the funds to make the product come from the question is still "does artist themselves not deserve to be paid for what they have created?"

The internet does have many ways to get music out there and distributed, youtube, CD Baby, Bandcamp  and more etc... These are all wonderful, helpful tools and do a great job at putting the power back into artists hands- however in my mind that still doesn't mean that an artist shouldn't be paid if folks want to own the product they have created!

Ultimately as a musician I need a wage as it is my job. My wages are broken up into various factors. There's gig/ performance/ session fees.
Any royalty I can gain from air play, performance and licensing from being a member of PRS/ MCPS and Revenue from any product I have released.
In order to scrape a living I need each of these avenues of revenue to be working for me and at present each one is undergoing major cuts and losses due to the changing times and culture.
I have bills to pay and very soon with the birth of my first child, mouths other than my own to feed. I have personally invested in my career and this is what I know and am most qualified to do.
I have a been a working musician for 17 years and I can honestly say that the impact of download free culture is huge on me as an individual. I have seen a dramatic loss as to the income that I was able to make from sales of my product even just 5 years ago. It doesn't seem to make sense alongside the upward trajectory that my exposure, radio play, mainstream positive reviews/ features in press and venues that I am playing that I should be struggling more now to make a living as a musician than I ever have been! I know I am not alone in my experience of this.
I want to pay the musicians in my band and folks who are involved in making and marketing my products a fair wage for their time. I want to be able to continue in the job that I'm most suited and qualified to do and not have to push it out to hobby status.

So to round up, personally as a self employed an indie artist, who is passionate and committed to continuing to try and create works of quality, I would ask that if you'd like to own it and listen to it please pay the small one off fee that comes with either the download or CD or vinyl that is being sold.

If you value something or someone, treat it/them with respect. Models and modes of communication and technology change all the time and rightly so. However principals are entirely transferable.

If I have made something it belongs to me. This is a basic principle.
If someone else would like to have that product for themselves they need to have my permission to take/use it. Sometimes that will be for a fee, sometimes I will be happy to give it to them for free and say yes pass it on to whoever... The less stressed and struggling to make ends meet the more likely I am to be able to generate more free products and fan led payment of products.

As an independent artist in these changing times I want to say that yes lets shape a future that finally favours the artist. Lets challenge the growing apathy among consumers and try and inform folks that what they do does have direct impact on the individual independent labels and musicians at grass roots level. I have never been willing to go along with anything just because of popular opinion. I believe a worker is worth their pay.

Rant over and out!!!




Everything is free now
That's what they say
Everything I ever done
Gonna give it away.
Someone hit the big score
They figured it out
That we're gonna do it anyway
Even if doesn't pay.

I can get a tip jar
Gas up the car
Try to make a little change
Down at the bar.
Or I can get a straight job
I've done it before
Never minded working hard
It's who I'm working for.

Everything is free now
That's what they say
Everything I ever done
Gotta give it away.
Someone hit the big score
They figured it out
That we're gonna do it anyway
Even if doesn't pay.

Every day I wake up
Humming a song
But I don't need to run around
I just stay home.
Sing a little love song
My love and myself
If there's something that you want to hear
You can sing it yourself.

'Cause everything is free now
That's what I said
No one's got to listen to
The words in my head.
Someone hit the big score
And I figured it out
That I'm gonna do it anyway
Even if doesn't pay.

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