Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Music in an IP free world, my view

As some of you know I have been slacking on my blogging because I have been concentrating on making music (see http://flag-in-flames.blogspot.com). This has meant that music, the state of the industry and music related things have been on my mind extensively the last few months. I am against the idea of intellectual property, so how does this work when you are also a musician, and if all IP laws related to music were to go away tomorrow and suddenly all music was available for free download with no threat of violence against those who might partake in downloading, how would this effect the industry? I have been thinking about it and have been cruising around the Music site that hosts my songs, soundcloud, and I have come to the realization that there is about to be a new golden age in music and what is currently holding it back are IP laws. Contrary to the popular misconception that IP laws encourage the creative process, I believe they discourage it.

To illustrate this let's look at a popular rap artist, Tupac. He released only a couple of albums while he was alive, yet he recorded 10 songs for every one song that ever made it to the album, since his death those lost songs have been released by his family. Had he not died, it is likely that those unreleased songs would never have seen the light of day. They never would have passed the muster of the filter that is the big record companies who would have said these other songs were not of a high enough standard or would not have enough mass appeal to make them enough money, etc. He is a special case due to an early death all of his cutting room floor (so to speak) material has been released postmortem. However, his case does make you wonder what other musicians have stored away unreleased because the record companies didn't think they would be successful enough to make a profit on. Take the idea that recorded music can be seriously profitable out of the equation and you take away the incentive for musicians to not release all of the stuff they make, whether or not it passes muster from some record executive. In today's model musicians would be breaking their contracts with the record labels if they simply released the songs for free on the internet that the labels did not want to have on their newest albums.

Also as the barriers to entry get ever lower it allows more and more people to unleash their creative potential through music, video, etc. Currently IP just gets in the way, there are literally millions of ways any song or video could be mashed up, many of them may even be better than the originals, but IP law makes it much more difficult to pursue this line of creative endeavor. Get rid of IP and you get rid of the barriers that are preventing creative people from releasing their inner creativity on the public, much of it will be crap, but much of it will be amazing stuff. I see the advent of new technology as the ushering in of a new dawn for musical creativity, for the fan of music this will be a great thing. For musicians the lower costs of recording, production, release and distribution will be a great thing. The only ones who will be negatively effected will be record executives, and has-been musicians who thought that they would live off of royalties on a song they wrote while in high school all the way to retirement.

I see a day when all musicians release all of their recorded music for free on the internet, and if they desire to make a living doing music then they focus their efforts on live shows, using the internet and music downloads in the way that musicians in the past used the radio, as a way to promote their music so that people would come out to see them live. Let's face it, IP as it relates to music has only been a concept for the last 50-100 years since the record player was invented and records starting getting popular, before that people wrote songs and sang songs to entertain and they sang other peoples songs without any hesitation. They made a living, and so will musicians into the IP free future. The record executives will lose most of their power, but there will always be a need for some organization to help promote artists so the artist can be heard. This will be the new role for the recording industry, to market and promote bands. However, the roles will reverse. In the current structure a musician signs up with a record label and they end up essentially working for the label, the label dictates to them what songs go on the album, how much they will advertise the new album, who the band can tour with, and a host of other things, the musicians become the employees of the label. In the future as I envision it, the roles will reverse, a musician will hire a musical agent to promote their music and get it into the ears of the general public, but the musicians will dictate how this is done, they will decide on what songs they want to release, they will have the control. This will end stories like you would often hear in the 1980's where a label would sign a new band, give them 10 cents per album sold, promote the hell out of the first album and then on the second album when the band would get $1 per album sold the label would refuse to promote it. Giving the 1980's a glut of one hit wonders. Or situations like Prince ran into where the record label actually claimed to own his name, in my vision of the IP free future the label/promoter, or whatever their new title would be would work for Prince and not the other way around, much like a talent agent.

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