How to Get Your Money For Nothing and Your Kicks For Free

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Creativity has long been considered something that can be encouraged and nurtured. In the 15th century, Europe was dragged out of the Dark Ages by a push led by the dominant Medici family to promote the arts in Florence. Envoys were sent out of Tuscany to collect great lost works from libraries across the western world and Greek scholars were encouraged to bring their learning to what later became known as the ‘Athens of the Middle Ages’. Out of this environment, creativity and great artisans such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli prospered.

Six centuries later, the debate of how best to encourage creativity still rages on. The advent of the Internet gave the world many fantastic opportunities to promote both personal and global development, but it also reignited the debate over how creativity should be nurtured.

The Internet has ‘free’ built into it. The whole idea was to free up information and make it available to the masses, rather than to just an elect few who could afford it. We no longer have to buy encyclopaedias, as we can simply type Wikipedia into our browsers and access a vast amount of information. We no longer have to buy televisions or Sky subscriptions, as most of their content can be found throughout the web and streamed directly to our laptops. And inevitably, we no longer have to pay upwards of ten pounds for our favourite musicians’ albums, so easy is it to download their music for free through file-sharing clients.

This may seem a positive phenomenon, as we can now save the change in our pockets for the more pressing matters of life, such as paying bills or putting food on the table, whilst getting our cultural kicks for free. Unfortunately, there are downsides to the free Internet, especially in relation to creative industries.

Consuming the cavalcade of free content on the web has adverse affects on the people who produce that content. The producers of content – artists, musicians, authors, directors, actors and so on – receive no direct payment for their work and therefore become less able to make a living from their art.

The argument on the anti-piracy side states that piracy is already exacting catastrophic consequences on the music industry especially. In America, the number of professional musicians has fallen by 25 per cent since the turn of the millennium, whilst globally the value of the music industry has dropped by almost a third.

Whilst it is difficult to find empathy with record label execs and A&R men, most will accept that it would be a tragedy if independent musicians were unable to sustain their art. Around the world, statistics would suggest that this tragedy may already be unravelling – In the past two years, not a single new Spanish artist has featured in the country’s top 50 selling albums.

Anti-Piracy propagators also make pains to declare that it is not just those within the music industry who suffer from illegal downloads. A study by the ‘Institute for Policy Innovation’ blames piracy for costing the US economy 12 billion a year. It also states that over 40 thousand jobs have been lost in industries that have nothing to do with music through a “ripple effect”.

Of course, we must be careful in blindly accepting statistics as ‘facts’, but it is helpful to understand why so many people feel so passionately about putting anti-piracy counter-measures into legislation.

Whether this passion is borne out of a wish to ensure that musicians can carry on creating their art or instead out of economic reasons, it is difficult to discern. But both creativity and economy needn’t be damaged by piracy; it just takes a little imagination to understand how. Imagination, incidentally, being what is critically lacking in the one track minds of the major record labels.

Let’s start with creativity. Budding musicians are often cited as being those worst affected by online piracy, as they can’t sell their music in a free landscape. I mean who’s going to buy their local band’s latest single when they don’t even buy the professionals’ EP’s? The pro piracy legislation brigade would say that not having access to royalties and music sales dents musicians creativity as they can’t afford to produce their music.

But why look at in this way? Musicians are influenced by other musicians – that goes without saying. Listen to any interview with any artist and you will hear them recount a long list of musicians that have inspired them to go out and pick up an instrument.
Surely, in a world where music is free and anybody can listen to anything they wish, there will be more musicians being influenced by more music. The orgy of influences would create an intensely diverse range of musical acts and performers which can only be a good thing for the true music fan.

Crucially, none of these musicians would be in it for the money – because they wouldn’t make any. Just real music, from real musicians who are attempting to grasp something that transcends the crude capitalist notion that money equates to happiness.

And ever since Napster ushered in the new millennium by opening the floodgates for peer to peer MP3 file sharing, this is exactly what has begun to happen. Open mic nights across Britain have flourished, giving new artists a stage to show the world their talents and generate that beautiful kick between audience and performer that no amount of wealth and fame can ever beat.

Granted, the charts aren’t exactly jam-packed with these independent acts and you won’t hear many of them on MTV. But there are so many other different channels, websites, mediums and ways that musicians can use to promote their music nowadays that these traditional bastions of the industry are becoming more and more irrelevant.

Channels like SBTV have pioneered a new way to help artists gain recognition for their work and, Christ, isn’t it a whole load more refreshing and less homogenising than the crap MTV and the charts would like to force feed us.

But what about economy? Musicians and record companies still need a way to cover their costs. Recording studios and guitars don’t come cheap.
A new business model is the only answer and this model begins with the record companies and their practices. Luckily there are a lot of senseless costs in the music business which which can be cut. We no longer need an A&R man to find a band, tell his label chief, force the band into a contract, get someone halfway across the world to create a bucket-load of CD’s and then ship them all the way back for stocking in a record store. Music has gone digital, so why bother with this guff?

CD romanticisers will object, but in the long run nobody will remember or care for the pleasure of holding their favourite band’s latest album in their hands. People enjoyed music before the current system of monetising and packaging it sprang up and they will continue to enjoy it after it dies.

The hipsters’ soup de Jour ‘Odd Future’ have shown that artists can even rake in the dollars without selling their music. All earnings stem through live shows and the hugely successful Odd Future brand which has built up around the hip-hop group. They bypass the dastardly music pirates by giving their music away for free. Sly foxes.

Whilst independent musicians may frown at this cold-hearted branding, for the pop superstars that the industry depends upon for its revenue Tyler the Creator and his motley crew have demonstrated that ‘Brand Bands’ may be the way to go.

If we are to re-create Renaissance Florence and usher in a golden age of music, then we must all move on. As music fans we should support as many bands as we can, by going along to as many gigs as possible. Whilst the record industry must look towards a new-age business model, rather than clinging on to the current one like a toddler to their dummy.

If we all work together and take responsibility, rather than throwing accusations back and forth, then we’ll all come out the other side happy, with music in our ears and spare change in our pockets.

Which side of the argument do you sit on? Shout at me on Twitter @ianoryx

This article was originally published by Turn On Tune In 

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