Last week I had to send a rather snippy email to a journalist. The writer and editor of a foreign jazz newsletter, he was on my press list to receive a free download of each Catch and Release track, for the purposes of review and criticism. He informed me that the project would get a mention in the next issue, and I opened it with interest. I was dismayed to find that, instead of critiquing the project, he’d printed the internet links to the tunes, meaning that any of his readers who felt like it could download the music free. He seemed like a decent bloke, he responded to my email with an apology, and it was clear that the incident was the result of a genuine misunderstanding. But it’s interesting that, without a word of suggestion from me, he assumed that music on the internet was free.
I realize that I’ve come across this quite a lot recently. When I explain our project to people, they often come back with “so you’re just giving it away?” It seems we’re getting used to the idea of not paying for music.
This brings us neatly to U2. By now most of you will have realized you have the new U2 album in your iTunes collection, whether you wanted it or not (you probably didn’t), and some of you have probably taken the steps necessary to remove it. (If you didn’t know, here’s the story.) Now, it’s clear that Apple paid U2 for this album (a shitload, presumably), and it’s their choice what they do with it, but to the average consumer, it looks like one of the world’s most popular bands has made an album and is giving it away; and if U2’s music is free, everyone else’s should be too. (The online backlash to this “gift” from Apple has been hilarious- worth looking into if you’ve got some time to kill…)
As I explained to my journalist friend, recording music is expensive. Even with a label or a cashed-up producer, the money has to come from somewhere. Each of these tracks costs me upwards of five hundred bucks to make, and the only way I’m going to see any of that back is by selling the stuff. And if I don’t recoup the money, I can’t afford to make more recordings. That’s the practical reason for charging money, but I also think that giving music away reduces the value we attach to it.
I don’t have a solution to this. I think we’re all assuming that in the coming years, an industry-wide model for music distribution will reveal itself, and hopefully this will involve payment to the artists. But for the time being, I’m making a bit of an effort to buy music. Just a dollar here and there for an independent release, or a classic missing from my library. Just to keep my hand in.
Did you download the U2 thing? Delete it? Is it really that damaging, or just a misjudged marketing attempt? Is there a way we can all send our home recordings to Bono’s iTunes? Let me know!