It seems my last column about the de-valuation of music over the last few years has struck a bit of a nerve. Not only did we get numerous comments to the blog itself but many people contacted me directly with messages of support as well as points of disagreement. That's fine with me. Much of what I hope to accomplish here is to start a dialogue and maybe make a few folks think in a new way about a subject that is a constant "elephant in the room" for many of us in the music business. I've gotta tell you that I'm getting tired of having friends and family look at me guiltily as they discuss the new CD that some work mate burned for them for free or as they tell me about the hot new blog they found where you can download entire albums for nothing.
I'd like to take this opportunity to dig a little deeper into the topic and clarify my stance on some of these issues. First of all, I don't expect people to NEVER get music for free. Nowadays it is almost impossible to avoid the above mentioned, home made free CD that a well intentioned friend has made for you. People like to share music. It seems to be something that is hard wired into us and I think that within reason it is a great thing. As long as music defines people and inspires passionate responses, it will continue to be a relevant thing in our lives. We like to turn our friends on to the music that excites us and we like to find like-minded listeners who are into what we are. The CD burner phenomenon can be a great way to promote music and to turn others on to things that they might not find out about otherwise. I never bought into the whole "Home Taping is Killing the Music Business" rap and in my younger days I have made more than a few "brilliant" mix tapes of my own for friends and women I was hoping to impress with the breadth of my coolness and musical knowledge. I generally feel the same way about blogs that post individual tracks, especially ones that focus on eclectic music that has little or no chance of traditional radio exposure. Here's the thing though, all of this can be part of a healthy way of spreading the word about good music IF (and this is a pretty big if folks) at some point the loop is completed with some form of commerce being involved for the artist or the label. What I mean by this is, if you love the first Bombay Dub Orchestra CD that your office mate was nice enough to burn for you, then make it a point to BUY the new one when you see it up on i-tunes. If that Pacifika track you downloaded from the latest hipster blog has been rocking your i-pod for the last few weeks, then go and PAY to see the band when they come to play live in your town. Better yet, BUY the CD when you're at the show. Here's a novel thought: with the holidays coming just around the corner, why don't you make a list of all of those great new bands that you've discovered via the blogs and BUY copies of the CDs for your friends and loved ones that you know would like them. I could go on and on but you're a smart crew, you get my point. Exposing people to music by making it available to them for free is a valid concept-but the final link in the chain of the process HAS to at some point involve someone at some point putting money in the pocket of the artists and labels whose sweat and blood are all over that music.
Here at Six Degrees, we don't just talk the talk, we walk the walk. In recent months we have: given away an entire album's worth of tracks from the Real Tuesday Weld via E Music, given away a 10 song sampler for Hispanic Heritage Month in conjunction with the Latin oriented site Batanga and given away a Six Degrees Digital Sampler that anyone could get for free with purchase at Amazon.com's new digital store. All of this is in addition to the many tracks we offer (all with various label's permission) here on our blog and the fact that we offer one free track from EVERY one of our releases. Clearly we are not "buy or die" Nazis here at the label. We are consumers and fans ourselves and I know for a fact that some of the best ways that I've been turned on to new music are through receiving free tracks. Still, we are a business and we really like being able to pay our artists royalties so that they can feed their families and we're kind of partial to making payroll for our employees and providing health insurance for them as well.
In closing this latest rant, let me just ask you to think about it. Take a moment to take stock of what music has meant to you and your quality of life. Remember that behind every record, every slamming electronic floor-filler, every heart breakingly beautiful ballad or hair raising rock tune, there is an artist who deserves to be compensated for their work.
Bring on your comments because in our next column I will print and address the best of them