Firstly, I should point out I’m not in anyway denigrating net-labels and artists who choose to give their work away, I’m just stating why I choose not too. I know this is a somewhat emotive subject and that some people will disagree with some of the things that I say here, but here’s my thoughts nonetheless…
I choose to place a value on my work. Here’s some reasons behind this decision:
Time – In terms of time, it takes a lot of time for me to create each album I release. I don’t have any kind of exact figure, but it’s months of work (six at a guess) for each album. So I don’t see something that took so long as ‘valueless’ and in a sense, nothing is ‘free’. Any artist will spend time and money creating their work.
I’m working on my music full-time, it’s what I’m doing on a daily basis and have been doing so for the last six years (and part-time for years before that) and it means a lot to me.
Music as disposable commodity – I feel quite strongly about this. Music shouldn’t be seen as disposable, something that is listened to two or three times and is then ‘discarded’ – the listener having extracted the ‘interest’ from it and then moves on. I feel the music should be of sufficient interest to warrant many repeated listenings over time. I think a listener may be more likely to simply delete a free release that they have tired of as opposed to an album they have bought.
I’ve noticed almost an element of pique in some quarters – “how dare you charge for your music !” kind of thing – a slight exaggeration, but that’s the sentiment, as if the artist is predominantly interested in money (although of course in some cases, that can well be true). In my case, I should point out that my sales and royalties are actually very small amounts of money in the scheme of things – I certainly couldn’t live off my musical earnings. However, I’m very thankful to the listeners who buy my work and any money I get goes back into buying new software, equipment etc. to hopefully improve my work. For me, the fact that a person is prepared to buy something I’ve created, (partially) encourages me to carry on creating new work – though I should say that I would carry on doing it anyway, the real drive is to create.
Regarding piracy, if someone wants to pirate my work, naturally there’s nothing I can do about that (that’s their karma) and I can see some positives in that from the point of exposure. If music-making is ‘just for fun’ and / or for one’s own enjoyment, I can understand the ‘free option’ and that getting feedback from listeners is its own reward. I can see many positives, but for the reasons I stated earlier, it’s not my approach. Saying that, I’ve contributed free tracks to compilations and have some free material on my site, but not whole albums.
I apply the same criteria to my ‘unwanted Jazz’ side-project ‘Formbank‘ and that one hardly sells at all, but the ‘value’ issue still applies.
Lastly, I should say that I’ve noticed that there is a certain ‘moral high ground’ attached to making ones work free – that’s cool, but it shouldn’t make every artist have to feel it’s the only way to go.