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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 13 2013: ideally no it should not, but right now that's how it is.

    it's funny, though, Liz, I tend to think that even if you don't get paid on the surface, in some way or other you do get paid. for example, even if noone gives you money for your music on the web, maybe they pay with love, in other words you feel good knowing that people like your music and are hitting you on the web. Or maybe more people come to your concert cause they stole your music on the web, and at the concert of course they're going to pay.
    • May 13 2013: Greg, I hear you, absolutely. In fact, this is a discussion I often have with my husband, actually!

      He is a multi-instrumentalist and recording/mixing/mastering engineer. He went to a musical elementary school, then graduated from conservatory with honors. He has won numerous music awards, performed with well-known artists. He has invested money, energy and his life in music and is someone with integrity, and an incredibly professional mentality. I sometimes say, as a joke, he is music incarnate. But he really is. Music is the only way he has ever earned a living.

      I am self-taught, a professional amateur', you might say. I make music and sing because I love it with all my heart and soul. I have done lots of crazy jobs - from picking tomatoes to waiting tables to designing children's clothing - and have now made the conscious choice to focus purely on music.

      We are both musicians, we write and record the music we release together, we perform together, but often have very different views when it comes to asking for money for our music. Performing live is a good example:

      My instinct is to give. If we are asked to perform somewhere, I tend to always say yes, even if there is no money. My first love is singing, so at that moment, it's all I am concerned with.
      My husband reminds me that it costs money to buy the gas to drive there, it costs money to park there, the babysitter costs money, all the equipment we use cost money to buy in the first place...

      If we did all our gigs for free, it would actually cost US money to perform. We would be paying everyone BUT ourselves to work.
      Which, of course, makes no sense, and I am thrown back into the 'real world', where just can't pay my bills with a smile...!

      When I consider whether or not I am a successful musician, I believe I AM, because I have reached people with my music. My husband believes he is NOT, because he can't pay the bills based on the sales of our music alone. That's the difference.
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        • May 14 2013: Indeed, Kate, I feel we're lucky we found each other!! ;)

          What a neat thing about that motor mechanic! I truly wish something like that was possible in our community. We live in a small, rural area with a limited source of, or interest, in cultural enrichment. Our experience is, that if music is 'required', and if there is any budget available, it has to fit certain requirements our music just doesn't comply to (read: people want a loud, live jukebox, not an acoustic duo who plays sensitive songs they wrote themselves).
          But, I wonder if it's a cultural thing.

          When we visit my parents in the states, on a small island in the Pacific Northwest, we do experience this! The community is close and appreciative of skills and the arts. We have performed there to raise funds for local education, as a trade for skills, services and goods, and sometimes, purely because it is so appreciated. Sometimes, those rewards go beyond the value of money.
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        May 14 2013: yeah, it's hard to put into words, but I do believe if you do the work, you get the pay. But you never know how it will work out, for example let's say you gave a free gig, and your husband was bitter, but then some billionaire came up to you afterwards who was in the audience and wanted to, I don't know, use your music in an ad for one of his products at some tremendous rate. So it all worked out, right? Didn't the punk rockers used to tour and perform for low profit, but then the fans would put them up for free in the towns they played in, and feed them for free, and who knows? give them gifts, so in a way they got paid. Gotta think it all works out.
        • May 15 2013: Hey Greg,
          you've just described my wildest dream, Greg! Where are all those billionaires for pete's sake? Why aren't they at my gigs?! ;)

          Your comment reminded me of how The Police 'broke through'. They were on the verge of throwing it in, were constantly fighting, going nowhere. They played a venue for next to nothing in New York somewhere, to an audience of about three people. It couldn't have been more depressing, but they played and they entertained, because that's what they do.
          After the show, one of the members of the audience turned out to be one of the hottest radio pluggers in NY. He loved the band, gave them maximum exposure on stations throughout the nation, and the rest is history.

          I have stopped 'waiting for the big break', because making music means more to me than 15 minutes of fame. Or, any length of fame for that matter!
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        May 15 2013: Lizanne, just letting my mind wander, you were asking why the billionaires aren't at your gigs (with a wink and a smile), I'm wondering if you're ever at their gigs, sometimes billionaires appear in public here and there and we might have a chance to see them. No, I get it, you're an artist, so you let's see you don't want to learn more about finance? Or you do? Let's say you were given a chance to attend a talk by Warren Buffett, a famous billionaire, would you take it? Some people think artists are bad at finance, but some of the big ones are good at it, for instance, Mick Jagger is reputed to be a great businessman.

        Do you think the music business is competitive?

        Why do you think some people score big in music, and others don't? Do some people just write better songs? What makes one song better than another? Why do some people write better songs?
        • May 16 2013: Hi Greg,
          In all honesty, I have been striving to improve my business skills ever since I started singing professionally. It is not my strength, but I work at it to get better, absolutely. I actually think all artists should get some training in business - we are, in fact, small entrepreneurs. Money is not going to fall at our feet, just because we play music (unless we play in on the street!!)

          This is actually my criticism of music schools and conservatories, that are wonderful at teaching people to be proficient, skilled performers, but don't teach them how to run a business - like how a contract is put together, what to watch out for, how to protect your rights, how to book a gig, how to make sure you get paid!

          Yes, I think the music business is incredibly competitive, which I do not agree with, because comparing music is simply comparing apples and pears. Another reason why I do not like competitions or music-based reality shows.

          Why I think people score, and others don't? So many reasons. Some are within your control - proficiency, talent, business know-how, money. Others aren't, like luck, timing.

          I don't know if songs are 'better' than others. What I do know is some songs 'reach' me, and others don't. I believe there are a gazillion good songs in the world, though, that we sadly never get a chance to hear, because the competitive side of the industry takes over the airwaves with a low-risk, money-making product. Just because a song is spun often on the radio, doesn't necessarily make it good... but some people are easily convinced.
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        May 16 2013: it kind of seems to me like you have some mixed feelings about succeeding financially with your music, L. Didn't you say you're inclined to perform for free if someone asks, and yet you wish a billionaire would show up and pay you a lot of money for your music. What really are your goals, do you want to hit big and make a lot of money, do you just want to be happy? Personally I don't see any contradiction between making money and being happy, but it does help to be clear on what you want.

        If someone wanted to seriously succeed in music, I believe my first advice would be to move to Los Angeles. Would we agree that Los Angeles is the center of the music universe? I live on the edge of L.A. in a suburb called Glendale, and I can tell you that life is awesomely great in Southern California.

        As for what makes a great song, wow, it's tough. Could part of it be that we feel like we like the singer, that if we knew that person we would like them and consider them a friend. I know likeability matters when we choose a President in the U.S., people rather feel that they'd like a president who they'd enjoy sitting down and having a beer with. Then there's often something about a great song that lets everyone in, you feel like you're living the song with the singer, like you've had some of those experiences or felt some of those feelings. Or sometimes a great song teaches you something, about how to deal with a situation in life.

        You know, I follow the Maasai way, and we believe courage is the most important value in life. When you show courage, maybe you get ideas and inspiration for a song that non-courageous people don't get. How do you show courage, Lizanne?
        • May 17 2013: Greg, I so enjoy your thought-provoking comments on this!

          You know, I think what I want is quite simple: to continue to invest in and make music, to improve my technique, to write songs and share them with the world, to reach as many as I can with my voice.
          I have consciously chosen to make music my profession, which means I need to earn my living from it. Fortunately, like many musicians do, I have a variety of methods besides selling my music to do so. I think, being versatile is essential to survival in the music biz.

          The 'joke' about the billionaire has to do with a joke I think I posted here somewhere, but I'll do it again:
          What did the starving musician do when he won the lottery?
          He continued playing gigs till the money was all gone.
          No amount of money can change the inherent goal of a natural-born musician, which is simply to make music forever.

          How much I would love to move to the states, Greg! Unfortunately, I am a Dutch citizen now. That's a long story, but I renounced my American nationality about ten years ago. We're on the waiting list for a family sponsored visa, but I do agree with you, that Holland is probably not the best country to be in right now, for anyone in the arts.

          I agree, courage is incredibly important. Sometimes, just getting up in the morning takes courage.
          Choosing this lifestyle, making the decision to live off music alone, takes courage.
          Hearing people say 'Get a real job', and continuing my job anyway, takes courage. Teaching children the importance of music, but never forcing it upon them, takes courage.
          Passing on what I know to my students, showing them the reality of that world, and that it really isn't about those 15 minutes of fame, that it really is hard work, that it takes time and practice and sacrifice, and that it isn't always fun to be a musician, in the knowledge it could ruin their idealistic view of being one, takes courage.
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        • May 17 2013: I agree, Kate. I personally think, knowing anything about music has nothing to do with it. A 'good song' to you, is one that touches you in some way!

          Although, and I'm sure you know what I mean, there are catchy songs (like those used in commercials) that stick in your mind to the point of utter torment! Don't know if those are necessarily 'good', but they certainly do get their point across...!
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        • May 18 2013: You wouldn't believe how tough it is to get into that world, Kate. But you're right, it is lucrative, and just as competitive as the music industry.
          My husband wrote some music for TV, the royalties alone were enough for us to put a down payment on our house!
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        May 17 2013: Thanks, Lizanne, so you were joking about the billionaire, you don't really want a billionaire to come up to you after your gigs and proffer some enormous sum for one of your songs.

        Know that I tend to be a hyper-critical person, if someone is happy doing what they're doing, I'll come along and criticize them and try to make them dislike what they're doing. With that said, I slightly wish you'd become more ambitious. I tend to think that ambition drives people to produce better productions, and it also makes them more interesting people. Don't get me wrong, you're already good and interesting. But if you were to say I want to make five million dollars off of music, and live in Beverly Hills (or the Dutch equivalent thereof), I think you might be even better and more interesting.

        You'll probably kill me, but in some of your vids you looked a little overweight. What if you got a gym membership, Liz, and really went, I mean when I think of the women making it big in music, most of them are a little trimmer. I know you have children and a husband, but these other women have many responsibilities, too, many of them have husbands and children as well.

        Watching one of your vids, something about screaming by will.i.am, reminded me of the movie "Screamers" by System of a Down, a fairly famous rock band. Actually System got their start right here in Glendale where I live, Glendale has a huge Armenian population. Screamers is about the Armenian genocide, the band's grandparents were affected or killed, the title of the movie means some people have to scream when they see something wrong. I saw it in Glendale, many older Armenian people in the audience.
        • May 18 2013: Greg, you are absolutely right, and I so respect and appreciate your genuine honesty!!

          I am absolutely aware, that I lack ambition, not because I don't stand 100% behind what I do, but because I do not crave society's definition of success in the music industry. I also firmly believe 'success' in music these days is, at best, temporary.

          And no, I am not skinny, not just because I am a Mom, or because I lack the discipline or physical ability to exercise, but mostly because I am completely satisfied with my body. In fact, I would sooner try to counter the trend by remaining how I am, then try to squeeze myself into the mold.
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        • May 18 2013: Kate, I'm flattered by your comment.
          I don't feel 'at all 'attacked' by Greg's observation because 1) I think he is posing a view that is not necessarily his own, and 2) even if it is true, I feel no desire whatsoever to yield to society's notion of beauty by altering my own, and 3) it is true that physical appearance is essential in the popular music industry. I have a pretty indestructible self-image, which I worked too hard for to let falter!

          My husband and I were just discussing the importance of the visual aspect in music. Recently, someone told him, they didn't like a particular song, but after they saw the video for it, they suddenly 'got it', and found the song to be good after all. We were bemused by this, because to us, a song's quality has nothing to do with a visual aspect, but to many, apparently, it does.

          Yes, his work was on Dutch TV. It ran one season. We've actually got our music on lots of licensing sites, along with a gazillion other pieces... But you never know, one of our songs may be just what a producer is looking for! Thanks for your support, Kate!!!
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          May 18 2013: I'm kind of surprised, Kate. Here you are criticizing my expression, but you don't mind lancing into me and saying I make "gross" judgements. I was very soft in the way I expressed myself, you are being very harsh. If the soft criticism I directed toward Lizanne would make her stop making vids, she better never enter the public eye in any way whatsoever, cause she's going to get a heck of a lot worse than that.

          Lizanne seems like a special person to me, exceptionally smart and well-spoken. It's true, a lot of people are content not to go for too much in life, but I would tend to think Liz would have a better chance than most to really succeed big-time. I like to see people go for big-time success, what's wrong with being ambitious, as you attempt to fulfill your ambitions, you meet more interesting people, you have more adventures, you produce better product, you improve more people's lives. I was trying to analyze what might hold her back, and, I'm sorry, I noticed her figure. I don't see any way to say it except to say it. Why are people so sensitive about weight, when I was overweight people said I was fat and I didn't get bent out of shape about it. I would think they meant well. What would be wrong with going to a gym and getting into better shape, you'd feel better, be able to do more and better, meet new people, look better, probably feel better about yourself. It's no skin off my back if she doesn't want to, it's her life, it's just a suggestion. Personally if I could entertain millions of people and make millions of dollars and travel around the world, and all I had to do was spend some time in a gym, I think I'd do it. Would you?

          I'm not obsessed with fame or wealth, I simply think life is short, and you should go for as much success as possible.

          I don't have weight issues. I found a diet that helped me lose weight, and I guarantee you life is better when you're slimmer, so I mention the diet here and there.

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        • May 18 2013: I see what you mean, Kate.
          It does indeed take quite a bit to push my boundaries, as we talked about in another conversation!

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