Follow The Not Free

by Joseph Matheny on October 4, 2007

Follow The Not Free

Jason Lubyk

OK imagine all the copyfight battles are over. And the outcome isn’t some corporate legal Satan-tech locked down media delivery system. Or some kind of shrug-inspiring compromise like micropayments or flat-rate schemes. Imagine that information has become truly free. Technology advanced to such a point where downloads happen as fast as changing a channel and is so easy to use that your cyborg grandma can operate it with her new vat grown arms. Large media corporations slowly crawl to a halt, drained and exhausted by irrelevance, futile hands outstretched trying to stop the tsunami of data. A thousand, than a million, than a billion file sharing sites bloom … so impossible to keep up.


So everyone has just given up. Some with sad and bitter resignation, some with relaxed healing jubilation.

Now what?

Despite those who can only interpret human motivation in terms of economic motivation, the need to creatively express one’s self will not whither away when physical copies or locked down electronic ones do – although who knows, maybe the cave painters of Lascaux were working on commission? – but not everyone wants to be working on a project after a day at the info cube, if not burnt out, then not at optimum lucidity.

So how does one keep a kid over ones head, the roof fed, the AI bill collectors at bay while doing one’s art?

Good question.

Since Radiohead is in the news this week with a free download scheme lets throw out some ideas on how to survive as a musician in a world where intellectual property has all but become useless thanks (or not) to new technologies.

Live shows. This is the obvious one. Watching a performance via video or what have you just isn’t the same. Everyone needs the pagan thrill of ecstatic physicality once in a while in order to lose oneself to find oneself. And to get laid. I can’t find it now, but I came across an interview with an obscure metal band who made the point that maybe fifty people bought their physical CD, but 10,000 plus people downloaded one of their songs off the internet, thus greatly increasing the potential ticket buyers. And I think they have a point. In addition, live shows give you an opportunity to sell …

Merchandise. T-shirts. Coffee cups. Coke mirrors. Condoms. Etc. If you don’t do shows you can set up a Café Press type thing or get it manufactured in China. Whatever. There’s plenty of information on the internet on how to do it.

Collectible objects. I’ve heard of small companies going cassette only, and I bet they move more units than a similar sized company selling just CDs. CDs are everyday mundane while cassettes can be cool, unique art objects. Think vinyl, unique limited edition packaging. This mostly would work on the hardcore collector completist fanboy types, but what the fuck, they got money to burn.

Websites. Not the pay a buck a download model, because really, despite the studies thrown out there by anti-copyright types proving that people who download more buy more, from my experience I can’t remember the last time I saw a friend of mine buy a CD – and it’s not because they’re that broke – but they do download a fucking shitload of music, pathologically collecting it like a crazy lady in a tobacco-stained housecoat collects cats. I don’t even know of my Mac-cultish friends have even bought a single song off iTunes, even just to stick it to Bill Gates.

A possible model could be a website where the music is provided by an artist (or group or artists) for free and is monetized by an ad network. People would come to the website because it would be the first exclusive place to hear the music, possibly adding some other features like videos, blogs, forums, whatever. There have been some clumsy attempts at something similar, but this model has a lot of potential yet to be mined.

Of course this all could be utter bullshit and free information makes it impossible to make a buck no matter what strategy, or the media conglomerates succeed and make buying music feel like you’re partying like it’s 1989, or maybe this will only work for the largest and most elite acts, or (ideal scenario) the playing field levels and instead of a few acts making all the bling millions are able to make a decent living wage from their art.

But really, who knows? What do you have to lose except for the income that you might lose anyway?

So get out there and enjoy the few years of experimentation and play you have until p2p fabbing really fucks shit up.


Alexinthevoid October 4, 2007 at 8:53 am

With you all the way . . . and living these questions on a day to day basis. Keep up the good work Jason & Alterati.

Talmadge October 4, 2007 at 10:15 am

Copyright issues go beyond music. and it goes beyond the spectator context. Ideally it keeps plagiarists at bay too.

but who knows, personally i like the idea of leaving the lawyers out of the scene and dealing with a thief on a one to one level.

WEBmadman October 4, 2007 at 4:42 pm

“instead of a few acts making all the bling millions are able to make a decent living wage from their art”

That would be nice- a hope I’ve had since before the p2p.

I do have to point out though, that in your article you remain fixated on the consumer product oriented model of supporting the arts- creating a sellable product, which you control, to monetize, thus reinforcing the scarcity model of neo-capitalism…

What I’ve found myself involved with here in Canada is the pretty well developed network for artist run centres-

They are just one example of ways to support artists that move away from the consumer product model of business.

In the end, though, I don’t think there will be a “one size fits all” answer- as another model, look at the Tecno Brega scene in Brazil…

In the end I think it might call on the creative to get creative- just my thought anyway.

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