Thursday, October 29, 2009

Piece6 - Free kills mediocrity

I'd like to skip all the clichés about free things, but they are pretty true. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and, at the same time, the best things in life are free.

However, the musical band collective Bomb the Music Industry! embody both of these clichés quite well, but are far from cliché. A ska-punk collective hailing from Long Island, New York, they turn what we consider basic music production and distribution assumptions on their heads and the end result is amazing. Free albums downloaded over the net, spray-painting shirts brought by fans, and to top it off, all shows are all ages and $10. They distribute physical CDs & vinyl through a label called Asian Man Records, but otherwise Jeff Rosenstock, the lead singer and guitarist of BTMI!, puts their songs up on their own "record label", Quote Unquote Records.

Promoted by Jeff as "The first ever donation based record label", Quote Unquote Records is pretty much a gallery of music of Jeff's friends. Like, if they have a record, but no label, he'll put it up on the site. This brings me to my point that you the reader may have been wondering about. Money. As previously mentioned, this is a "donation-based label" so, much like Radiohead's In Rainbows, you pay what you want, or what you think it's worth. But staying afloat sometimes takes more than that.

When they play shows they, "charge what it takes to get there" according to an interview. And they actually kind of break even. To encourage buying of physical media, BTMI! released their newest album Scrambles on CD with a 32-page zine and a sticker decoder for their fun cover. Also, for the truly indie, they had an LP pressed on clear red vinyl (both $10). A neat little incentive to contribute money to this great band.

Another person who I just found out about who is doing sort of the same thing is Cory Doctorow. Cory Doctorow is (as far as I understand it) a "science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger -- the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of the bestselling Tor Teens/HarperCollins UK novel LITTLE BROTHER."* He gives some of his books and works away for free, in turn generating hype and a following in the hopes that they will buy something. It's a different model from the antiquated, "Our stuff is ours and until you pay us, you can't have it, so there."

Here's how I see it: the old business model worked because the cost to reproduce and distribute copies of music, text, and movies were just too great for the consumers to get it themselves. Now the consumers can also be the distributors. While illegal, people will disobey laws they see unjust, unfair, or otherwise objectionable. In this case, it could be that charging the same rate for every piece of music, regardless of quality, is absurd. It is more sane to pay for things you enjoy rather than being forced to support a band that just raped your eardrums. That may be an exaggeration, but still.

I propose a system of pricing where, the consumer pays what they want, and after awhile, a running average or the most frequent price paid for the cd and post that as a "suggested price" as Bomb the Music Industry! does. Also, CDs, text, and movies are easily reproduced, but merchandise, concerts and a gigantic theatre screen are not. these are the surest methods of income.

The internet has brought about this drastic change of business models and I think, for the better. Those who are truly great and work hard, will get rewarded. Those who suck and are lazy will be out on their asses.



* Quote take from here.
Bomb the Music Industry!: [Wikipedia][MySpace][Tumblr][Twitter][QuoteUnquoteRecords]
Cory Doctorow: [Wikipedia][PersonalWebsite(Craphound)][BoingBoing]

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