This post started out as a comment on my previous post, in reply to one from Jeff Schmidt. But it’s too long for that, so it’s now its own post.
Here’s Jeff’s comment:
4 years ago – I could have said this exact thing -probably word for word.
Today – not so much.
If I was on the cutting edge of music market thinking then, maybe I’m on the cutting edge now with the complete opposite opinion. Is the tide is turning that much? I think so.
Pay what you want is a cop out.
Stand up for your work and put a value on it.
Telling people to “pay what they want” is the same as telling people you don’t really think it’s worth anything.
When someone tweets/facebooks/myspaces/social medias about new music available that is “pay what you want” – its not an enticement.
Rather, a flag for me to not waste my time.
It sounds like the artist telling me they don’t expect me to find enough value in their work to pay for it – so they’re letting me feel ok with paying nothing.
Dirty little secret. Giving music to me for free isn’t going to make me LIKE it more.
Do you know how much FREE music I regularly listen to? Almost none.
It’s easily downloaded – quickly forgotten.
The artist has swapped an email update note about a download stat instead of payment. Nice. Hope you can pay the rent.
Name another business that successfully exists on a pay what you want model?
Go to an art show – do you see paintings, sculptures, Jewelry and other art works put out as “pay what you want”?
Can you “pay what you want” to see a quality film? Go to a restaurant? Read a new book?
If a piece of sculpture I love is priced beyond my means – is that also a case of “brinksmanship”between the sculptor and I?
Does the sculptor OWE me the opportunity to TRY their sculpture out in my home – for free?
Is this what the internet has done to musical artists – reduced us to beggars, pandering to the marginally interested?
To be clear – Allowing people the option to pay more than asking price is not the same as saying “pay what you want”.
And here’s my response:
Firstly, I don’t think ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ is the same as ‘pay what you want’ - the ability to pay or not pay with money is the same, but the impetus to consider value is different. It’s not possible to force someone to see the distinction, but for me as an artist, it’s key.
The problem with putting a price on it is that it never has represented my sense of the value in what I did – it’s a market defined value that makes a whole lot of sense when I have a fixed outlay to produce a set number of CDs, so can set a price based on my understanding of the likelihood of my audience being a) of a certain size and b) willing to pay a market-related price. That’s about recouping a fixed cost on the manufacture of a scarce product.
If the product being sold has no manufacturing cost (producing the music in the first place has inherent costs, but they are considerably lower than they’ve ever been before, and in many cases for people who own their own equipment, the main cost is time) then there is no outlay that needs dividing up. There’s no point at which the supply runs out, so I don’t have a fixed possible income based no multiplying the number of scarce items available by a unit cost, minus manufacturing cost.
I have a document of some music, music that the person hearing it may think is worthless shit, may think is the soundtrack to their life thus far, or more likely will enjoy in certain circumstances for a time, and it’ll become part of the aural patchwork of their life along with the hundreds or thousands of other works of music that they choose to own or just encounter via other media.
So, if I refuse to buy into the Big Music idea that the best way to think of downloadable music is as ‘digitised CDs’ and keep behaving as those there’s a meaningful unit cost – despite there being a never ending supply of units, as though the shop was being constantly restocked with premium quality product regardless of how many shoplifters there are – I can stop trying to put barriers in the way of people getting it, and start talking about the value in what I do. The value to me (which is huge – this shit is the soundtrack to my life thus far. It’s not a commodity I’ve invented to try and monetize and the realisation of its value is not based on any measure of the monetary of it as a business asset) and potential value to the listener –
- the points of contact
- the story it tells and is a part of
- the process of making it
- it’s context within other musics of a similar kind…
It’s possible to load it with value. And whether or not the smallest possible value one can put into bandcamp is ‘Free’ or not is entirely moot. ‘Free’ is just another number here, and it allows us to talk about value beyond money. Because someone downloading something for free hasn’t said they think it’s worthless. They’ve said that the value is not yet monetary to them.
Now, it may be that laziness, selfishness or just good old capitalist ‘why spend money I don’t have to?’ says to that person that they shouldn’t bother coming back to pay for it even if they decide down the line that they love it.
But if they hadn’t been able to get it for free in the first place, and build a relationship with the music, they’d quite possibly never have got to the position where they would be thinking about it at all. And thinking about it means they can share it, talk about it, play it to friends. All of which have value, all of which have potential to turn into revenue, all of which reduce vastly the cost of marketing a record.
Let’s not forget that 9/10 records on labels don’t recoup. That doesn’t mean the label, their advertising department and the pluggers aren’t getting paid, it means that the debt that the artist was gifted when they signed the deal has still not been paid off in sales revenue, and those costs are still being piled on.
Our thinking about this stuff has been hijacked by an economic system that has no process for dealing with ‘how to pay for ubiquitous goods’ – the only example anyone comes up with is ‘water’ – where it’s free on tap and people pay for the bottled version. But that’s a rubbish metaphor as there’s no distinction between ‘water’ and ‘my water’ – bottled water is just a marketing trick.
Generically, Music – as a concept – is worthless. ‘My’ music – the music that matters to me and soundtracks my day is worth FAR more than I could ever possibly pay for a CD. And there is no scientific measure of ‘good music’. Music plays so many different roles, means so many different things and one person’s gormet meal is another one’s shit sandwich.
I don’t expect Big Music to ever understand it. Because to understand, they need to acknowledge their own obsolescence in the process. It’s not that there aren’t macro-industrial processes that are still valuable, it’s just that they don’t have the infrastructure set up for the ones that matter for music as art/culture/meaning. Theirs work beautifully for convincing a million Glee fans to part with 99c a week for a download, but not so much for empowering audiences and musicians to connect in a way that makes the free/not free debate about value not ‘where can I get it cheapest?’
It’s a grown up relationship, that makes no sense to a vast part of the population of Britain or America, because we really have no economic precedent for it.
Which makes it all the more fun.
(Oh, and here’s Jeff’s first solo album – it’s amazing)by