Head to Head: Should music be free? Part 2

This is another from my work blog.head to head

Does the music itself have value, or is monetization through gigs & merchandise enough?

Cont’d from Should music be free? Part 1 where Oli and Jacob discussed the musician Trent Reznor’s pioneering efforts online to make music pay.  And Oli told Jacob he may have got the wrong end of the stick.

Oli:  Why shouldn’t people pay to own or play a record (and yes, ‘pay’ here could include Spotify style ad-supported models, I mean it in a wide sense where musicians are being reimbursed for people listening to their recorded music)?  I believe musicians should be able to monetize the actual music.

Some people are claiming that music should be free, that digital piracy is absolutely fine because Artists can and should make money out of just gigs and merchandise.  This is a position held by a fair number of technology utopians but I believe is disconnected from how most people feel.  Most people see value in music and are quite happy to buy a song from the artist.  The current problems have been to do with cost and ease of purchase/use, not with the actual concept of paying for music.

Jacob: Completely agree that music has a value.   I’d be cautious of one point:  ‘musicians should be able to monetize [it]’ – I’m not sure how far ‘shoulds’ get you in economics…

Artists need to monetize music however they can.  And I don’t think making money out of gigs and merchandise is a consolation prize for them.

I think you’re right that the Nine Inch Nails innovation is exactly what we need to see.  I also agree that the concept of paying for music is probably accepted and that it’s issues around ease of purchase (and also ideas around ‘fair value’ – the feeling that we’ve been ripped off for so long) that are really the important ones.

Oli: Fair point on the sloppy usage of ‘should’. What I intended to convey was that I believe people are actually okay with the concept of paying for recorded music and most people do not expect it to be free. If I am correct in this, then musicians should be in a position where they can charge money for it and people will want to pay for it. I didn’t intend ‘should’ to convey that there was some ‘God-given’ right, or that there was any moral cause here.

I still disagree about gigs & merchandise.   I think we may be going across purposes here because I’m not saying that these aren’t important revenue streams, I am merely rejecting the notion put forward by some people that all recorded music should be free and that gigs & merch are an entirely satisfactory alternative revenue stream.

This is hugely insulting to these individuals who have worked to produce the music, they are effectively being told that all that work is worthless and they must now do further work before they should be recompensed.  I can’t understand how it could be argued making money off merchandise is okay, but making money off recorded music is not. If someone were to come along and start producing perfect replicas of the bands merchandise at a lower cost, stealing their customers, how does the band now make money? Purely through gigs? If we would protect the band and make producing these cheaper replicas illegal, why is this different from recorded music?

I currently cannot see the feasibility of any system where bands are not recompensed for recorded work.  Ultimately I won’t be surprised if the mechanism for payment gets hidden (e.g. a subscription/tax is hidden somewhere, song plays are tracked and artists are then recompensed out of a pot based on this) but there has to be some system whereby artists get paid for recorded music.

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