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Sell Recordings, Not Copies · Monday January 04, 2010 by Crosbie Fitch

Dear recording artists, please at least consider the possibility of selling your recordings directly to your fans rather than to a record label, or worse, rather than trying to make and sell your own copies.

As yet, very few musicians have sold their recordings directly to their fans. There aren’t many facilities to do so either. You could certainly have a go tomorrow, but given a dearth of facilities and the unfamiliarity you and your fan base will have in purchasing or commissioning your recordings, at this stage you are as much likely to find it a damp squib as a roaring success.

There are two discrete situations in which one could sell a recording:

  1. You have already produced a recording, but have not yet released/published it. You are interested in your fans’ best offer in case it may be better than that of a record label.
  2. You are interested in producing a recording, and invite record labels and your fans to tender their offers of commission.

There is also a continuous process of selling one’s recordings:

  1. You regularly produce and release recordings to your audience by way of ‘priming the pump’. You invite your keenest fans to commission the release of subsequent recordings. The initial releases are thus promotional loss-leaders to build the fan base to a size where their subsequent commissions match and possibly exceed your costs of production.

In all cases 1-3, the purchaser of the recording effectively ends up with the right to make copies. If you sell a recording to a label, they get any copyright (the privilege that suspends everyone else’s liberty to reproduce it). If you sell a recording to your fan base, any copyright is neutralised (your fans’ and everyone else’s liberty to reproduce it is restored). Indeed, when selling recordings to your fans, copyright becomes a redundant nuisance to be disposed of, rather than a privilege to be sold to those unscrupulous labels who’d exploit it in their sale of copies.

At least when an artist sells a recording to their fans, they retain all their (natural) rights. When an artist sells a recording to a label the artist loses their liberty to make copies by transferring away the privilege that suspends it. When an artist sells a recording to their fans they retain their liberty to make copies because this is a consequence of neutralising rather than transferring their privilege of copyright. In other words, the artist is also a fan (their own fan) and so similarly enjoys the restoration of their liberty to share and build upon their own work.

The recording (as deliverable) comprises the digital master and all components thereof as would typically be expected by a record label. If sold to one’s fans, then at the point of exchange this must be supplied or made available to the purchaser (one’s fans), e.g. as FLAC files via BitTorrent. Anyone (including the recording producer) can then sell material copies (media and delivery costs) in instances where such delivery of the recording is preferred, e.g. on DVD-ROM.

In the other direction, the sale price that the artist agrees is equitable in exchange for the recording (say $10,000) is provided from each fan (say $10 from each of 1,000) and delivered to the artist (or the company representing all those involved in the production of the recording). Typically, each fan will pay the same amount, but some schemes may involve variations.

There are umpteen other issues, but I’ll keep things brief.

This is not an investment in the artist, but the sale of a recording. The fans get the recording they want. The artist gets the money they want. Moreover, everyone gets their liberty restored.

In terms of facilities that exist today, one could attempt to shoehorn eBay’s Dutch auction to sell 1,000 ‘shares’ in a recording – if you reckon you’d easily sell out and the minimum bid price was around $10 (if you hoped for at least $10k). This also has to pass eBay’s scrutiny as the sort of auction it’s happy to see (doubtful).

Alternatively you could try Kickstarter. See Pros and Cons of the Kickstarter Model by Kristen Strezo. For background reading see 1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly and my article Selling Music Recordings.

Predictably, the more artists that start selling their recordings to their fans, the more facilities will be developed, and the more familiar fans will be with this means of encouraging their favourite artists to produce recordings for them.

However, it is important to note that ‘more facilities’ means ‘less overhead’. The more facilities there are to enable artists to sell their recordings to their fans, the more competition there is to provide artists with more efficient service at ever lower prices. Contrast that with a single taxation and disbursement administration that has every incentive to ratchet up the costs and overheads of its inefficient and uncompetitive service.

As we should learn from history, privileged cartels and government backed central services are the entities to establish ONLY if you want less rather than more of your fans’ money.

So, cut out the middleman! Or at least ensure that there’s a highly competitive environment such that any middlemen have to be extremely fit, lean and cost conscious if they expect you to use them in selling your recordings to your fans. If you create a tax instead, you’re creating one humongous Jabba the Hutt and very little prospect of seeing much more than a tiny trickle of treasure leak from its greedy clutches.

_____________________________________________
This article is based on this comment in my discussion with Indiana Gregg at a2f2a.com

mark pombo said 2693 days ago :

How is this different from selling your own cd’s or mp3’s to your fans? It seems more straight forward to just copyright your own work and distibute it yourself…

Crosbie Fitch said 2692 days ago :

These days, it is actually more straightforward to let your fans copy and distribute your work. Why appoint a record label to do this under copyright at great expense (not least the litigious threat to your fans)?

With distribution catered for, all that’s left is to invite your fans to commission your next piece of work. Why let a record label take 99% or more of your fans’ money simply to avoid the hassle of making a deal yourself?



 

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