Wednesday, 15 August 2012

"Music is Free"


"Music is Free":

In 1809 the only way you could "own" music was to purchase the sheet music.  Of course, you'd have to be capable of "playing" the music laid out before you which in all likelihood entailed years of lessons at an instrument, otherwise that paper was only dots on a page.  If you could read it but played poorly your music sounded bad.  If you were a capable player perhaps your music sounded enjoyable.  But to hear that music performed by a virtuouso, that could change your life.

The 20th Century gave us recordings.  Recordings of brilliantly talently musicians performing works of genius by inspired composers.  Now,  for the first time, you could hear a performance of Django Reinhart, Dizzy Gillespi, The Beatles, The Sex Pistols, at any time, without having to leave your home!

This is a very important distinction: way before the mp3, CD, cassette, 8-track, vinyl album and rotary disc, the only way to hear the music of a composer was to attend a live performance.  Which in the 1800's and earlier, the average citizen was excluded from such events.  Pretty much the privaledge of royalty and their entourage.

I confess, personally, I adore music.  Since the age of three I've been capitvated by sound.  Especially sounds being combined in beautiful ways.  I attended my first concert - a Boston Pops concert - at three and a half years of age.  I was euphoric (my mother put me into piano lessons  immediately after, I could read music before English!)  As a kid I'd listen to both sides of whatever album was on, just to hear everything.  I never understood how my friends could bore of it so easily.  My brother first introduced me to rock and roll with a Beach Boys Greatest Hits album.  I would sit through that in its entirety as well.  In the age of the vynil album it was a thing of pride to display your collection.  And it was all paid for.

This entire dialog is spurred by a conversation I had a few weeks back with a bartender ,he made the absurd comment that musicians should simply stop expecting to be paid for their music.  He furthered this with the all too typical refrain of "musicians will make it up at their live performance."  Imagine my glee at this comment.

What everyone seems to conveniently forget when they adopt this line of reasoning is all the thousands of people other than the artists that are involved in the recording process.  People who own studios, engineers, producers, manufacturers of recording gear, distributors, label people, publicists, managers, etc.  These people are also seriously in jeopardy of losing their livelihoods if everyone simply stops paying for music.  File "sharing" is a great way to promote music, but in the end it amounts to stealing. 

But music is free right?

Really?

Ask yourself: can you write a song?  Congratulations to those of you who can, it's a wonderful thing, well done.  The rest of you?  Ever wonder how it happens?  Ever feel a tinge of envy?  Now ask yourself: what is it worth?

Nothing? 

Nothing at all? 

Honestly?  By a reverse comparison, if I walked into your bar and sat down to drink a beer, wouldn't you expect me to pay for it?  But I don't think it has any value.  I mean, you could make it up in advertising right?  Or if my car needs repairing, I'll just come and get it once it's fixed, because that's free too right?  Or my legal matters, you'll just settle them for free too right?  No of course not, you'd expect to be paid for your services. 

I cannot possibly know how important music is to any of you reading this.  I live in a bubble - as most artists do - for me it is only superceded by sunlight, oxygen, food and shelter.  To have something so precious to me dismissed as valueless is infuriating.

It's not because I'm a money grubbing sleezeball, I've never really cared greatly about money.  It's nice, but it's never been the end goal.  Turns out the act of creation and performance is my most fulfilling moment.  To hear someone discredit the efforts of all the millions of artists and that have come before me, to simply dismiss thier efforts, their art, and insist it has no monetary value seems wildly absurd.  And I'll defend everyone with that statement: your Nicklebacks, Celine Dions, Mariah Careys, U2s... whoever is an easy target.  These megastars are like corporations, they employ armies of talented producers, engineers, assistants, musicians, truck drivers, roadies, grips, agents, managers, merch people... use your imagination.  Their art creates jobs for thousands of people.  And all those people expect to get paid.

But not if music is free.

This is a discussion that won't be resolved in the next few weeks.  I will be bold however and state, "Music is Not Free."  At least it can't be as long as we're paying for bread, gasoline, legal fees, haircuts, sports jackets, lawn cutting, bowling, plumbing, dentistry, wine and cheese, or every other thing you need or desire.  I think a great many artists would offer their creations for free if society sponsered electricity and some food, but until that utopian moment arrives I think it is hypocritical to assert the Music is Free. 

There is no shame in paying for art: there is only reward.  The shame comes from stealing art.  If you don't pay, you will never value it.  And that is a truth about human nature.

Please support the artists that inspire you: it always helps and it always will.

MRH

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