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Frank Turner

Short Replies

August 27, 2009

Wow, OK, so that last post generated a lot of, shall we say, heat. Responses ranged from the interesting and thoughtful to virulent character assassination. Haha, oh well, can’t win em all. While standing behind what I said before, I felt moved to rush off a couple of responses before heading out for the day.

Firstly I think it’s important to restate that my views below are about the situation as it stands now. As I stated, the business paradigm of music is shifting. It seems to me more than likely that paying for recorded music will become a thing of the past reasonably soon. Models such as the one Madonna is employing (recording essentially as a promotional tool for tours) are interesting. But the point is this hasn’t happened yet. Radiohead tried to jump the gun on that one, but it’s different for a band with a huge fanbase, their own studio and 10 years of major label marketing behind them. I’m trying to discuss the economics of the situation right now for people like me.

Interesting points were raised (hat-tip to Wez and Simon) about the distinction between physical and digital product. My 2 cents right here is to say that digital product, while having no production cost as far as a CD or a vinyl is concerned, still has the cost of recording. If I give all my recordings away free, I get left with a massive unpaid studio bill, and a situation where everyone except the artist gets paid, which seems a little unjust to me. Also interesting points about trying-before-you-buy (myspace and last.fm, anyone?), and about the “right” price for CDs and albums. The reduction in price since the advent of the internet has been telling and welcome, and continued discussion on this is always good (and natural in a free market). Wez put it well though, by saying that the internet kinda short-circuits the maths by introducing a “divided by zero” idea. I guess for me personally, as old-fashioned as this may be, for the time being I still regard a collection of music as something with intrinsic economic value.

My only retraction on my first post would be my use of the word “expect”, as in “expect to get paid”. That comes across wrong. I’m acutely aware that I do this by choice, no one owes me a living, and I’m competing in a free market. Obviously we’re also talking about art here, and on that level of course I’d write songs and play out as much as I could regardless. But writing and playing are not, alas, all that I do. Promotion, logistics and administration take up a large part of my time, in trying to let as many people hear what I do as possible. I’m not “all about the money” (seriously, I’d be in the wrong job) but neither do I have a trust fund or major label to catch me when I fall. It seems to me that a lot of bands skirt this issue, choose not to talk about it, or present an unrealistic front (usually when backed by a lot of major label cash). Personally, I can’t afford to be like that, and I try to be as honest as I can about the realities of my life with the people who are interested in it. In short, I’m not rich or middle class enough to say I don’t care about money. I’ve got to eat, I’ve got bills to pay. I don’t make much money out of what I do, nor do I think I ever will, but it’d be nice to get by.

I’m not trying to be antagonistic to the people who enjoy my music, you guys enable me to do what I do. If it still sounds petulant to some people for me to say that I “expect” some reward when other people enjoy the fruits of my art, time and money, I can only respond that it sounds petulant to me when people say they expect it for free. All of this is about trying to find an equilibrium where we can maximize everyone’s enjoyment of music. Here’s hoping for some progress down that path.