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 15 2013: I don't think that being a musician isn't any less of a "real job" as would be owning a fortune 500 company. Being a musician you are your own employer, like any business owner. Whether or not a musician is compensated for work is left to their own accord - ultimately relying upon the vehicle of sales. And this situation presents the major paradox at hand: the musician vs. the artist.

    The artist produces music for love, for the inherent rhythms of life which ache to be expressed. The musician on the other hand, professionally produces music (professionally in the strict sense of being paid for work) and hopes that other individuals' desire for music is enough to create substantial profits.

    In a naturalist sense, technology is here to stay and stealing music will only become easier. So what are your choices? Can one be both "musician" and "artist" anymore? Surly, jingle-writers for commercials or the pianist producing dark-ominous tones for tv shows are "musicians" per my given definition; but, i doubt anyone will be lining up for their concerts.

    Right now musicians aren't being paid much because that is the norm. I think if today a band, theoretically, had an impact equivalent to that of The Beatles, they would sell increasingly less albums as their popularity grows because the access to free music would only grow with their fame.

    But hopefully, this trend can reverse itself (and i think there is some reasonable evidence to support that it already is). As less people buy music, production value decreases for lack of quality musicians, and individuals become more inclined to pay for good music... I think the fact is tho, it is the greater society who needs to financially support musicians. As you commented earlier, certain vehicles use advertisements to pay musicians for their work. These vehicles i see as job security and if musicians (in meaning "artists" as earlier defined) want to be paid for their chosen trade, it is their responsibility to retain that.
    • May 16 2013: Mogan, I really like how you differentiate 'artists' from 'musicians'. As long as we're analyzing, you could even go further and say there are two types of artists, and two types of musicians.

      I suggest:
      There are artists who create, and there are artists who are created.
      There are musicians who love to make music, and there are musicians who have to make music.

      The artist who creates is exactly what you suggest, someone who "produces music for love, for the inherent rhythms of life which ache to be expressed".

      The artist who is created is the vehicle a label uses to cash in, but who has less freedom to express him/herself.

      The musician who loves to make music is someone who 'has a day job', but has the financial and practical freedom to express him/herself through music.

      The musician who HAS to make music is... well, is like that well-known joke:
      "What did the starving musician do when he won the lottery?
      He continued playing gigs till it was all gone."
      For this musician, making music is more than a choice, and it goes beyond love for music - it's a calling, a deep-rooted passion, and it's a livelihood.
      In fact, it's all of the above.

      I agree, that the trend is changing. I am grateful that the internet has allowed me to reach people on a global scale with my music! Like you say, it really does boil down to support, which as we've learned from this conversation and others, support comes in many forms, not only in the form of money!

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