By Danyl Strype
[This is an opinion piece from a member the Creative Commons Aotearoa NZ community. If you want to write for us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org]
DIY MySpam is a song and video by independent musician Jayme Gutierrez, which sings the praises of the share and donate business model
One point Jayme’s playful lyrics make is that for most of the history of recorded music, the successful artists and songs have been chosen by corporate gatekeepers, which increasingly own both the major music labels which manufacture and sell musical commodities, and the mass media channels which promote them. However, in the decentralized social media culture of the web, we the audience decide which musicians becomes prominent, via the network effect of sharing music we like in our social networks and patronising its creators through direct donations and crowdfunding campaigns.
Although Jayme Gutierrez doesn’t appear to use CreativeCommons licenses yet, he does offer ‘magnet links’ on his own homepage, to help people freely torrent his music.
This must be deeply confusing to anyone who buys into the anti-BitTorrent hysteria, which has resulted in dawn raids on Kim Dotcom’s family home, and threatens UK webmaster Richard O’Dwyer with extradition to the US for copyright violation. How could anyone hope to make a living out of music without trying desperately to generate profit through creating artificial scarcity? Jayme is relying on the what Malcolm Gladwell, author of ‘The Tipping Point’, calls the “stickiness factor”. He hopes that having his music circulating freely online will attract people to his website to make donations, or offer him paid jobs as a composer and musician.
Could these tactics of self-production and self-promotion to a global audience be the future for budding musicians, and indeed artists of all kinds? These digital tools do open up a plethora of opportunities for hobby musicians (and for those whose political ideologies reject commercialization entirely), but contrary to the self-serving propaganda of the recording industry associations, the change we are seeing is not from music-making being a paid activity, to being an unpaid activity.
Rather, it is a change away from an extremely well-paid activity for a handful of mega-stars, and the corporate bureaucracy that has grown up around them. A change to a paid activity for anyone who can find success in the share and donate economy – the native economy of the Internet. A true “free market” in a way that a market dependent on the corporate welfare of a state-enforced monopoly like copyright can never honestly claim to be. We the audience decide, with our ‘Likes’ and our pledges, who makes a living out of their music. This could be seen as the first steps towards a radical democratization of culture (and indeed investment).
If so, what role does that leave for people who make their living off the “content industries”? It’s the same question faced by people working in fossil fuel industries, as communities transition to renewable energy, and by chemical industries as people increasingly join the “slow food” movement, and choose ‘organic and ‘spray-free”. These are questions which public organisations, whether they be part of governmental or civil society, can help to answer. At heart though, they are exactly the sort of questions we need artistic (and academic) freedom to answer. Freedom which the beneficiaries of the “content industries” are desperate to see taken away. We must not let them succeed, for our own sake, but also for theirs.
Danyl is a community organiser and long-time Creative Commons Aotearoa NZ supporter, based in Ōtepoti (Dunedin). Danyl set up InterActive, a media activist resource centre and was one of the founders of pioneering citizen journalism website Aotearoa Indymedia. He also set up the Aotearoa Permaculture Network.