TED Conversations

Singer Songwriter & Vocal Coach, Lizanne Hennessey - Voice Coach


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Should Music be Free?

We live in a digital age where music is easily accessible, which is a great thing.
We also live in a digital age where it is socially accepted to steal music.
It makes sense to pay a buck for a cup of pre-fab coffee, but not for a piece of music.


Behind a piece of music is expertise, investment, skill and professionalism.
You wouldn't ask a contractor to build your house for free, just because he 'likes his job', would you?

If everyone who contributes to this discussion were to buy my album (let me stress - this is by no means a request to do so!!!), I would have enough money to buy groceries this month. The royalties we earned on selling our music made it possible to buy our house.

Who benefits from free music?

I'm curious, from the point of view of the 'starving musician', what your thoughts are!


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  • May 14 2013: Well first off, the "intellectual labor" given to this conversation is equitable to that of producing a piece of music. To produce a song, one needs an instrument, recording equipment, and acquired skill to preform; to write this comment, I needed an instrument (my computer), recording equipment (the internet), and acquired skill (knowledge gained from education and experience) - all of which demanding their respective investments. Another equity can be found in the fact that some people also are paid online publishers, yet the majority of online dialogue is composed voluntarily.

    Secondly, the issue of advancing technology eliminating paying-jobs, by no means is unique to music and musicians. As more sophisticated technology develops, the production and distribution of products becomes easier and easier - from an economic point, I see this as alleviating stresses from "supply," enabling "demand" to increase unabated, and therefore decreasing the overall price of a given product.

    So from these given points, I ask, why is it the musician you are worried about? Surly, I am willing to pay for an overpriced coffee at the cafe, but that cup of joe made at home doesn't come without cost either. In its infancy coffee was priceless and the efforts given to its production far outweigh that of most music. Now, centuries later, we give it no concern - and likewise for things like clothing or automobiles. Intellectual labor of production becomes consolidated, being reduced overall, within an industry as technology exponentially increases one's ability to produce.

    Music is beautiful, but isn't also the noise of the wind? It is the musician who chooses to invest their labor to music and therefore I must say it is also the musicians duty to protect their property and retains its value. I feel morality, and in many ways business logic itself, say stealing is never beneficial in the long run. But in this ruthless existence, can we expect anyone not to?
    • May 14 2013: Hi Morgan!
      Thanks so much for your thoughts on this!

      You made an interesting comparison about musicians and writers: "some people... the majority of online dialogue is composed voluntarily".
      The contributions to this discussion are indeed voluntary and offered at no cost, which by no means makes them any less valuable, I agree. I am a TED translator because I stand behind what it stands for, and require no fee to do so. And, yes, there are times when I have given my skill away for free, or provided my music as a service, free of charge. Those are voluntary circumstances that I have control over, though. When I provide music and ask a price for it, that is also voluntary. When it is stolen, it is no longer voluntary. It is out of my control.

      You are absolutely right, that "the issue of advancing technology eliminating paying-jobs, by no means is unique to music and musicians". When it comes to music, there is an overwhelming supply. So much, in fact, that its value has decreased.

      Yes, music is indeed all around us, and inside us, which we can all enjoy free of charge. But does that automatically mean it should not be considered a skill? Do you think all musicians should just 'get a real job'?

      My answer to your question, "why is it the musician you are worried about?" is simple. Because I am a musician. I made the conscious choice to be a musician, it is a skill I have worked for and developed that goes beyond what I learned through education, experience and investment.

      Like any other skilled professional, I made time (and sacrificed) to achieve a certain level of professionalism and produce a product that I feel is very valuable. It costs me more than money to produce it. I guess that makes it difficult for me to understand why someone else would not find it as something of value.

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