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HOW FREE IS FREE??

HOW FREE IS FREE??

Every year, BBC Radio 6 Music broadcasts the John Peel Lecture, which is essentially a TED talk for the music industry. This year, Iggy Pop stepped up to talk, and his topic was “Free Music in a Capitalist Society.” Pretty topical in music media today, but he decided to talk about it because “the shit has really hit the fan on the subject thanks to U2 and Apple.” It’s true, the internet exploded the day people checked their iTunes libraries, to find a random U2 album there. People were frantically working to try and delete the album from their library. It sparked a lot of talks about piracy along with it, and how to go about supporting artists, which is what Iggy talked about during his speech most of the time. Towards the beginning he says

“To tell you the truth, when it come to art, money is an unimportant detail. It just happens to be a HUGE unimportant detail. But a good LP is a being, it is not a product. It has a life force, a personality, and a history just like you and me.”
“As I learned when I hit 30 plus, and realized I was penniless, and almost unable to get my music released, music had become an industrial art, and it was people who excelled at the industry who got to make the art. I had to sell most of my future rights to keep making records and keep going, and NOW, thanks to digital advances, we have a very large industry which is laughably, maybe, almost entirely pirate, so nobody can collect shit.”
“I only ever wanted the money because it was symbolic of love and the best thing I ever did was to make a lifetime commitment to continue playing music no matter what, which is what I resolved to do at the age of 18.”

Money is very important to the music industry, though, especially when artists aren’t getting their fair share, however, he goes on to say

“The second kind of freedom to me that is important in the media is the idea of giving freely. When you feel or sense that someone that someone is giving you something not out of profit, but out of self-respect, Christian charity, whatever it is. That has a very powerful energy.”

Making music for music’s sake, and for the art. It’s what everyone wants to hear from an artist. The main point though is that money is no longer an expected part of the industry, and it is up to the consumer to decide if they spend their money or not. He is aware that music can easily be gotten for free by anyone, so someone going and buying music is your way to say thank you to an artist. It’s supporting them, and showing them love, from his perspective. He goes on to talk about U2’s mentality, and how it ruined this charitable sort of mindset by saying

“The people who don't want the free U2 download are trying to say, don't try to force me. And they've got a point. Part of the process when you buy something from an artist, it’s a kind of anointing, you are giving people love. It’s your choice to give or withhold. You are giving a lot of yourself, besides the money. But in this particular case, without the convention, maybe some people felt like they were robbed of that chance and they have a point.”

So now, U2 has taken the charitable mindset of the music industry today, and flipped it on it’s head, and in this case, it’s not a good thing. Now they’re the ones who are donating something to their fans, and it just doesn’t sit well with a lot of people.

The issue, however, comes to piracy again. File sharing had created this “music is an industry based on charity” mindset, so Iggy goes on to talk about it more, saying

“So is the thieving that big a deal? Ethically, yes, and it destroys people because it's a bad road you take. But I don't think that's the biggest problem for the music biz. I think people are just a little bit bored, and more than a little bit broke. No money. Especially simple working people who have been totally left out, screwed and abandoned. If I had to depend on what I actually get from sales I’d be tending bars between sets. I mean honestly it’s become a patronage system. There’s a lot of corps involved and I don’t fault any of them but it’s not as much fun as playing at the Music Machine in Camden Town in 1977. There is a general atmosphere of resentment, pressure, kind of strange perpetual war, dripping on all the time. And I think that prosecuting some college kid because she shared a file is a lot like sending somebody to Australia 200 years ago for poaching his lordship's rabbit. That's how it must seem to poor people who just want to watch a crappy movie for free after they’ve been working themselves to death all day at Tesco or whatever, you know.”

There you go. You can't fault someone for not wanting to drop $9.99 on an album they haven't been able to listen to at all. If you put out something good, people will go out of their way to pay you for it, even if they have the ability to get it for free.


You can listen to Iggy Pop’s full speech


Or read the transcript


Recently, though, Clutch frontman, Neil Fallon, has stated that piracy has actually helped the band a lot more. In an interview with Pop Culture Madness, he said

“In the ’90s we had the backing of every major label on planet earth; we got signed and dropped and signed and dropped,”

“Nothing ever really happened for Clutch, we had very small shows — even if we got played on the radio.”
“It was only when people started pirating music that our shows got bigger,”
“I mean I can’t say that for a fact, but I hazard a guess that … if someone liked the band that they heard for free, even though it was ‘illegal,’ then they came to our show and bought a t-shirt and has become a lifelong fan. I’m alright with that.”

It is nice to hear that someone is actually benefitting from file sharing in some way. File sharing is ethically wrong, there’s no denying that, but if it gains bands more exposure, and more fans than they would without it, there are at least some upsides. Even for U2’s newest album, even though it’s free, you have the option of buying the CD or vinyl copy, which some people would prefer. Maybe releasing their album for free led to more physical sales. There is no way to tell, but music over the past couple of years has become a confusing landscape, and artists are trying to change their methods constantly to keep up with it.

You can watch the interview with Neil Fallon here: