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Music/Recording/Copy · Friday February 05, 2010 by Crosbie Fitch

There are three words that the record labels love people to conflate: Music, Recording, and Copy. These are glued together by corruption, by the labels’ 18th century privilege of copyright. They’re happy for you to believe that when you buy a CD you’re buying the music.

However, once you dissolve the despicable glue that creates that illusion, you can properly separate those three concepts and realise that the recording is not the music, and the copy is not the recording. You can also realise that the copy is not the music.

It is critical to distinguish between these elements in order to distinguish between the respective amounts of work that goes into their production. It’s then possible to figure out what the heck you as an artist should be selling, e.g. a piece of plastic that costs a penny for a thousand times that amount, or precious hours of your life preparing and performing in a recording studio for a goodly day rate.

I have been having this discussion with Suzanne Lainson on TechDirt.

The artist has traditionally sold their studio recording to the label (in exchange for whatever the contract stipulated), and this has been the case for decades. So, let’s agree that the artist is familiar with the process of selling the recording (of their music, in a studio performance).

Like a label, the artist is also familiar with the process of selling copies of their recording, e.g. CDs via mail order.

However, very few artists are familiar with the process of selling their recording to their fans.

The figure I use of $10,000 is just an example. Obviously the actual amount depends on the artist, the size of their audience, and the number of fans interested in commissioning them to make a recording.

But let’s say the artist did accept $10,000 from 1,000 fans in exchange for a studio performance, a recording thereof, and the (copyleft) release of that recording to those fans.

It becomes the property of all those fans (as well as the artist), and it becomes the property of whoever those fans distribute it to, whether for love or money, e.g. via public file-sharing networks.

  • The artist gets paid $10,000.
  • The fans get a new studio recording of the artist that they wanted.
  • Everyone keeps their liberty (no-one gets prosecuted for file-sharing, playing it in public, or remixing it, etc.).

You may think $10,000 is too low. Sure, perhaps you have a thousand wealthy fans who can afford $100 each, or a million fans $1. The point is not the price, but the exchange of the recording with the fans for their money – and that it’s nothing to do with the sale of copies, or any monopoly.

And no, fans don’t sit in the studio. That would make it a live performance and ticketed event. The fans are only buying the recorded studio performance, and this enables the artist to sell their music via that recording to a global fanbase, without the hassle of everyone having to fly to a large stadium somewhere.

Once the deal has been done, the recording has to be delivered to the fans who commissioned it, e.g. FLAC files via BitTorrent, or even commemorative DVDs (for an additional amount). Those fans can then redistribute it as MP3s and/or remix it as they see fit.

Let’s recap

The copy is a means of communicating a music recording, but the copy is not the music, nor the recording – and the recording isn’t the music.

The music takes talent and is made by talented musicians, whose talent can obtain a high market value.

The recording is not the music. It is a recording OF the music.

The recording takes skill to get ‘just right’. Recording engineers’ skill can be highly valued.

The copy is not the recording. It is a copy OF the recording.

The copy takes zero skill to produce and takes a microsecond. There is no market for the skill or services of people who make digital copies – because everyone and their dog can make millions of them in double-quick time for next to nothing.

So sell what takes talent and skill – the music and the recording of it. Then the copies are as free as nature makes them.

And let’s not forget, so then are the people: Money for art, liberty for people.

Peter Green said 1684 days ago :

That makes so much sense… to every one but the parasitic labels.
Excellent piece!

Maniquí said 1673 days ago :

Do you think there is a place in then industry (ie. like a new business model) for music labels in the future?

Probably not a business based on “just selling copies”, but maybe by promoting and patronaging their artists, arranging concerts, selling limited editions, organizing stuff?

Thanks.

Crosbie Fitch said 1673 days ago :

Maniquí, I daresay promotional, or more appropriately, discoveral agencies will arise to help fans discover the artists that suit their taste and commission their studio and live performances.

I doubt that the DNA of existing labels permits them to undergo such a paradigm inversion.



 

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