Why should anyone pay anything for music ever?

Arms getting tired now.

Arms getting tired now.

Oh Lord, not this again.

Speaking as someone whose sole income has been derived from performing/arranging/recording/teaching music for the past thirty years, I’m hardly impartial on the issue.  It seems like a no-brainer, right?  Commerce is based on the exchange of money for goods and services.

But the onslaught of technology has now brought every shred of music ever recorded by anyone since the dawn of recording into our homes and mobile devices, 24/7/365.  And it’s all free for us!  Right?

Right.  Help yourself to the All-You-Can-Gorge Aural Buffet.  It’s Free!

Funny thing about restaurant buffets.  Have you ever noticed how, the more choices are offered, the crappier the food is?  There’s this general degradation of service that comes with dilution of the product.  And eventually, we end up sickened by the spew that we dove into so gleefully just moments before.

Well, guess what.

It’s not that the degradation of popular music wasn’t already taking place before we all gave all our leisure time to The  Ones And Zeroes.  It’s just been accelerated by it to a degree unforeseen by our old buddies on the Isle of Antikythera.

And for someone who has always made a living by foraging on the outermost fringes of popular taste (see def. “jazz”, The Blue Devils Dictionary), I’m hardly concerned by what popular culture has to say on anything.  As I told my parents back when they thought I was throwing my life away (one of many times):  “All my heroes are dead black junkies.”

Maybe an overstatement, but that’s how one talked to one’s parents in that particular era.  Maybe any era.

So here’s my beef:  (Oh thank GAWD he’s finally coming to the point)  <Shut up.  This is my blog.>

So here’s my beef:  It seems a sizable chunk of the music-consuming public believes that it is their birthright to help themselves to whatever they want, because “record companies suck” or “the musicians are already rich” or “they’re dead now” or any number of other straw men people prop up to avoid saying “I’m too cheap to pay for this.”

And then these same people protest Columbus Day.  Irony much?

Whatever truth there is in any of the above assertions, and I’ll admit there is plenty, it doesn’t justify stealing someone’s product.  Really.

Allow me to interject a dollop of perspective.  For me to proudly press into your hand a recording of my music, I had to do the following steps, preferably in this order:

1.  Learn to sing and/or play an instrument.  (A lifetime, but let’s condense it to ten years for this example.)

2.  Study enough of the tradition to be able to comment meaningfully upon it.  (A minimum of five additional years, and probably a lot longer, but let’s assume we just met and I did this step before the proud hand-pressing part.)

3.  Network and create with other like-minded musicians.  Form a band and rehearse.

4.  Find a worthwhile idea and nurture it into a full-blown work of art that we are willing to put our names on.

5.  Hone it through live performance in usually-underpaid venues.

6.  Eventually, acquire enough capital and sweat equity to go into a recording studio and lay down some tracks.

7.  Mix and master said tracks.

8.  Produce a product that incorporates liner notes, artwork, pay mechanical rights if not original works, register with BMI or ASCAP if they are original works, pay work dues to the union, press CDs.  (Yes, I am Old School.)

9.  Proudly press said CD into your hand and proclaim, “Ten bucks please!”

I left out a bunch of stuff, but those are the broad strokes.

So, you know, download if you must and help yourself to whatever you find.  But just understand that producing all this product takes a lot of time, effort, and money.  And if it’s truly the Noble Independent Artist you wish to support, recognize that we won’t be around if we don’t get compensated for what we do.

I look at music the same way I look at dentistry.  When I was young and on a limited income, I used to get my teeth cleaned at a dental training center for free. Aspiring dental technicians learned on your mouth, and it took twice as long as it should have, and sometimes they slipped clumsily into your gum line with their sharp instruments.  But it was free, so why not?

After bleeding awhile, I decided I could afford to go to a real dentist.  But in my inexperience, I still chose based on price, and ended up going to dental mills that were just interested in getting people in and out as quickly as possible.  They made it on volume, but their service was not particularly attentive or high-quality.  I was still bleeding, just doing it quicker.

Then I started getting more selective, and realized the best dentists charged more.  Why?  Because they could, and they deserved it.  And since this is my mouth we’re talking about here, that thing I make a living with, I decided to shoulder the cost and pay up, because in the long run it was worth it.

We can’t all go to the Free Dental Clinic.  If we did, all the good dentists would quit and decide to become musicians.  And that would break their parents’ hearts.



  1. Hmmm, music as capitalism… art as capitalism… hmmm… well, I guess a feller’s got to eat, right? Of course, on the other hand as Bill Gates once said (to paraphrase): you can only eat so many steaks. Yeah, the little guys get hurt, but haven’t we always…? We live in a world of hypocricy, no-one’s exempt – get used to it, adapt and move on. It’s not going back to what it was, and excessively rich and decadent artists have certainly contributed their share to the new dynamic. I have a lot more to say on this subject too, but time and space and willingness to put forth the effort constrain me presently, so I’ll just leave it as is. And btw, good luck to you as well… sincerely.

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