Musical Suicide for All

About a year ago, in March 2006, Bob Ostertag decided to put his music online for free, under a creative commons non-commercial license. This is not particularly unusual in itself – however, the fact that he has 28 years worth of recorded material on his site means he is providing a large portfolio to the public, without any immediate or direct prospect of monetising such work. This is precisely what his article “The Professional Suicide of a Recording Musician” is referring to.

Where The New Money Is

Ostertag makes several interesting points regarding traditional and developing models of music distribution, and concludes that it is now necessary to define new methods of making money from music (preferably for the musicians themselves). Prior to putting his back catalogue online, he made most of his musical income from concerts, not from recording sales – and this is typical of most musicians.

The major-label mentality of presenting the ‘record deal’ and consequent album/single sales as the lifeblood of a successful artist is deeply flawed, and geared towards perpetuating the monopoly of the majors rather than the interests of musicians. However, many bands still embrace that ethos – even though they might have few or no sales, or virtually no visitors to their website, they refuse to provide or distribute their work for free, as there remains a belief that this would somehow devalue their output. However, if you are not making money from restricting access to your music, it is clear that a new approach is needed – why not try and get your music out to as many people as possible, without restrictions?

Let The World Hear You

If the public has open access to your music, it’s easier to find it – if they like it, they might spread the word to like-minded friends. These friends then pass on the word, and even if no members of your distribution chain give you any money, they may go to your gig when you’re in town. If they really like you, they might make a donation to your site, or buy a CD. But if they’ve never heard your music in the first place, then you definitely won’t make a penny. Remember, a self-distributed artist can make more money from 5,000 album sales than a ‘major’ artist makes from two million sales – there’s no corporate bloat to suck up the proceeds of your work.

Something to bear in mind if you’re putting your work on the Web – if you use a Creative Commons license, it might be a good idea to stipulate ‘non-commercial’. If you leave it completely open, then anyone can take your music/video/book and start selling it themselves, without your permission or knowledge.


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