Today I finished up the last mix for my upcoming album. As I start the process of mastering, artwork, duplication, etc., the obvious question arises:

Should I give my music away?

Last month I wrote an article about pirating plugins which spawned a healthy debate. (As I write this, there are 147 comments on that one post.)

That post hit a nerve with a lot of you. Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, I think we will all agree that the advent of digital products has changed things forever.

We can argue the point that you wouldn’t steal a lawnmower, so why would you steal a piece of software? … and I’ve made that argument plenty of times … but there’s still a disconnect. To go from 1 lawnmower to 1,000 would require many hours and dollars. To go from 1 digital item to 1,000 would require very little time or money. Just copy and paste, right?

The Digital Age

We’ve seen this affect the sale of music. People are able to easily access and reproduce music without spending a dime. Is it wrong to take a musician’s work and “steal” it without paying them for their efforts?

That’s been the focus of anyone and everyone in the music industry for years. They shut down Napster, the FBI got involved, but file-sharing has only grown with the advancing technology. The more it grows, the more people seem to focus on it.

Here’s what I think — We’re focusing on the WRONG THING.

I’ve heard politicians talk about wanting to bail out the big newspapers and magazines, making sure they never go out of business. But people are changing the way that they want to consume information. I can get news on my iPhone for free. Why would I pay for a magazine that isn’t nearly as comprehensive?

Technology is Not the Enemy

The problem here is that a lot of people are trying to ignore new and emerging technology. They want to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Remember Johannes Gutenberg? He invented the printing press. Was that a bad thing? Not at all! It changed the face of literature forever. Authors could reproduce their work much more easily. Churchgoers could have copies of the Bible, rather than just hearing it read aloud on Sundays. The list goes on and on.

But what about those scribes who made their living manually copying books by hand? They probably hated Gutenberg. “That dummy just made us obsolete,” they said.

We would all agree that the printing press was a good thing for humanity, although it wasn’t ideal for people who made their living from copying books by hand.

Embrace the Changes

Rather than fight against changes in technology, we need to embrace them. Had the local “scribe union” of the 15th century boycotted the printing press, demanding that people pay them to copy their books (at a much slower pace and with many more errors), they would have eventually starved.

The old model of the music industry is just that…old. When radio came along, did it kill music? Nope. When the internet came along, did it kill music? Again, nope. But it did change the way music is sold and distributed, and we as musicians/engineers/producers need to change as well.

We need to figure out ways to add value to our music. We need to entertain the idea of giving our music away for free. As Derek Webb, singer/songwriter and co-founder of said:

“A great record is its own best marketing tool.”

The record, the album, has shifted from being the product to being the marketing tool. The product itself is now YOU, the artist.

For those of you who are songwriter/musicians like me, this is important stuff to think about.

For those of you who are recording engineers, this affects you, too. As engineers, we need to know what the goals of our clients are. They may not be expecting to sell their album using the traditional methods, and if you can develop marketing skills to help them market themselves using the album you’ve just created, you’re creating opportunities that a typical engineer wouldn’t have access to.

So, what am I going to do?

I haven’t decided yet, but I’m toying around with the idea of both giving the music away and also selling it…giving people the choice. I’m also thinking about coming up with extra bonus material to sell along with the album, like behind-the-scenes videos on how the album was made or a recording of the live CD-release concert.

Don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know once I decide. 🙂

Until then, if you’re looking for ideas/inspiration, check out this video on making money with music in a digital world. I didn’t create the video, I simply found it and thought it was very thought-provoking. Check it out AFTER you leave a comment and let us know what you think.

I’ll need 15 comments on this post at LEAST. Let’s get the conversation started.

[Photo by MarcinMoga / Lolek]