This post is part of a larger discussion that involves intellectual property of every form, ranging from artwork to patents. But here, specifically, we will confine the discussion to music.
In one of her TEDx talks, Jodi Beggs discussed several ways in which musicians survive economically. She did not spend much time on the conventional recording industry, but discussed alternative funding sources such as “pay what you want” and crowdfunding. She also spoke about freely-available music downloads and the presumed threat of digital music downloading and sharing.
Of course the conventional funding method for artists is to sign with a recording company which then handles overhead costs of producing, marketing, and distributing the artist’s music. This relationship gives artists the chance to focus on their music instead of handling the day-to-day job of running a business. Typically, artists must trade some of their profits and much of their independence for the business services they receive from recording companies. In some cases, artists are bound by exclusivity clauses that prevent them from performing outside those contractual relationships.
Some musicians have explored “pay what you want” funding methods as a way to create a less adversarial and more friendly relationship with their customers. Other artists have turned to crowdfunding, such as kickstarter, to support their profession. This last group is beginning to look more civilitic, although most crowd funding campaigns remain based on some kind of exchange system to reward support. Even so, the bulk of the gifting is to the artist, presumably as a reward for the good works they have already created, even though it is unlikely those works were themselves freely given.
In addressing the question of digital music downloading and sharing, Jodi said,
…the weakened copyright protection, because of digital downloading, has not helped the producers of music, but it has actually helped society overall because it has resulted in a transfer of surplus economic value from producers to consumers and we have new consumers entering the market that either wouldn’t or couldn’t pay the old prices for music. Not something the industry likes to hear, but something that’s based on very valid scientific principles.
So, contrary to the tenets of Adam Smith, Jodi seems to be encouraging an economic philosophy that elevates “helping society overall” above the economic benefit to the music producers themselves.
In order to make the transition to a more civilitic recording industry, we would need to combine the last two points of Jodi’s discussion: crowdfunding and digital downloading. This is what it would look like:
- Musicians would do the work of performing and recording, presumably because it is what they love to do, and because it contributes value to the world. As part of that effort, the music would be made freely available for download and/or distribution to the masses. After all, music that is not heard does not enrich the world.
- The reciprocal side of the equation is that people who hear and love the music contribute in kind, whether back to the musician or in some other positive way. They might choose to make a donation of some kind back to the musician, or they might just “pay it forward” to someone else in faith that it will eventually reach back to the musician. In any event, the musician receives value back from the world in appreciation for their own form of contribution.
- Overall, the musician provides music without any explicit promise of reward. Conversely, the world supports the musician without any explicit promise of additional music. This arrangement is fully ivi on both sides: things freely given without expectation of direct reciprocity. Of course it follows that better musicians will likely receive higher levels of appreciation. At the same time, it follows that greater appreciation is more likely to free up musicians to perform more works.
A good friend of mine is a singer/songwriter. Because of her, I have always considered how civilitics would apply to musicians. As with any profession, musicians have overhead tasks that must be done in order to pursue their ultimate goal of performing: there is time spent practicing, tuning, writing, coordinating, planning, and so on. In the economic world, most of those overhead activities do not generate revenue, so they must be covered by money earned from other activities such as performances and selling recordings. However, in a civilitic system, every activity that contributes to value in the world (as overhead activities do), holds the possibility for earning appreciation (ivi) from the community at large.
My friend, Peggy Lang, once had the opportunity to sign with a major recording company but she remained independent and never achieved the comparative musical success that some of her counterparts managed. I think she would tell you she managed to keep her soul in the bargain. It has made the pursuit of her music more challenging and it has forced her to support herself in other ways. Not surprisingly, exchange economics does not support those who challenge the established system.
After speaking with Peggy, she is making her album, In My Garden, available for free download as a civilitic gesture. Producing a run of CDs, marketing, and distributing them, is a large expense for a sole musician, so Peggy is making the download of this album available and is adding value to the world in doing so. She is not requesting any payment in exchange, though I am sure she would certainly put any donations to a good use. Mostly, in making this gift to the world, there is a hope that this will generate another civilitic gift forward. So if you download and enjoy the music, the most appropriate response is to contribute something of your own toward making the world a better place.