I Sell Music, Not Weed Grinders… Dammnit.
This post is by Debra of Devi.
The short answer is: We don’t have a choice.
The long answer is: We have a choice.
We can stand by while people download Get Free from file-sharing networks–people we may never know exist. Or we can encourage them to download it from us, in exchange for their email addresses, which means we get to interact with them, invite them to gigs, become friends and possibly sell them something down the line.
It took me awhile to get here, as Eric Hebert of Evolvor Media, can attest. He advised us to do this months ago. I said, Hell no. He told me about using a free release of an album to build up a decent fanlist. When we talked money, he mentioned a band that made weed grinders made with the band’s logo on them.
They sold 5,000 weed grinders for $10 each.
My response was to snap, “I’m not in the business of selling tchotchkes! I’m a musician.” But in my head I was doing the math.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t bring myself to give away my album. It had cost me time, money, blood, sweat and tears to make. Eric was going to have to pry Get Free out of my cold, dead hands if he wanted to release it for free.
See, once upon a time, I was a little punk rocker in a punk rock band. When we made a new album, we would sell a few hundred CDs pretty quickly, and use the money to print some T-shirts, get a van and go on tour, where we’d sell more CDs, plus shirts. We even toured Europe a few times, and came home with enough money to make another album. Ah, those were the days.
I naively thought I could use the same DIY model with Get Free–sell CDs to raise money to tour. But people don’t buy CDs any more; they want downloads.
OK, I figured,we’ll sell downloads. We scored a coveted digital distribution deal from Redeye USA. Had to go through an A&R process and everything. But people don’t buy downloads either, at least people under 30 don’t. My 20-year-old nephew, a music fanatic, has never bought a download. He looked at me like I was crazy when I asked him if he buys downloads.
“Why would I do that?” he said.
Even though reality was staring me in the face, I wouldn’t look it in the eye. And then I encountered Dave, one of the most obnoxious guys I’ve ever met.
I was having a drink at LITM here in Jersey City when a chunky guy in a baseball cap slid onto the next bar stool and insisted on telling me all about himself. Dave was the marketing guy for a smallish video game company. And all the company’s video game designers would come drooping by his desk with the same complaint: My game’s been pirated! My game’s been pirated!
“What a bunch of whiners,” Dave sneered. “They should be so lucky that someone likes their games enough to pirate them.”
“Why,” I replied acidly, “should they be glad to have their work stolen?”
“Hey man,” Dave snorted, “that’s capitalism!”
“Dude,” I said, becoming rapidly incensed, “what is the fucking foundation of capitalism?”
“Err,” Dave said.
“Property rights!” I sputtered. “Property! Rights!”
I told him I was a musician pissed that my music was being pirated because now I couldn’t raise any money to tour. “Helloooo,” I said, “Why do you think it’s called pirating? Because it’s the same thing pirates did in the 1800s…steal!”
This launched Dave into a soliloquy that ranged from the pointlessness of thinking one could ever make a living as an artist to waving his Droid in my face while declaring, “I don’t want to hear some stupid album made in a fancy studio. Make an album on THIS, and I’ll listen to it! Lo fi, all the way!”
As he ranted, he made a valid point. No one owed me or the game designers a living just because we couldn’t keep the horse in the barn.
The only way to talk with Dave was to interrupt him, forcibly. So I poked him in the shoulder and yelled, “Hey! How would you feel if you went into work one morning and your boss said, ‘Dave, go home and relax, our new device sucked up your brainwaves last night while you were sleeping and extracted all the data we need to program our new Dave-Robot. He’ll do your job this week. Paycheck? What paycheck?”
Ha ha, Dave laughed, that’ll never happen. I tried to explain to him that that’s kind of how I felt; like I had encoded the music in my brain onto these silver discs I had hoped to sell. Only somebody had broken the code and now the contents of my brain were out there circulating for anyone to have.
“Oh c’mon!” Dave scoffed, “It’s not like you’ve ever starved!”
I thought about the week I’d lived on polenta and pinto beans, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, because I’d had just enough money to buy a bag of polenta, a bag of beans, some green peppers and a Metrocard.
“Fuck you, man,” I muttered, as I grabbed my purse and stalked toward the door. “Fuck YOU!”
“Hey, this was nice!” Dave said, as he twirled around in his seat, looking genuinely perplexed. “We should do it again sometime.”
Out on the street I burst into tears, moaning “I don’t wanna sell weed grinders! I don’t wanna!” By the time I’d walked the three blocks home, I was a tear-streaked, heartbroken mess. I’d poured my guts into making this album, and now what?
I walked into my apartment and came face to face with the huge Maha Kala drawing hanging in my living room. Maha Kala is a fierce Tibetan deity who stands in your way shaking his six arms and the various props and weapons they carry.
Although he’s scary, his purpose is actually benevolent. When you’re headed down the wrong path, he jumps onto it and does his thing until you get the hint: this path is not yours. I smiled; Dave was Maha Kala waving a Droid.
I can bitch and moan about file sharing, but that’s a pointless path to take. Or I can accept file sharing and all its implications, and get excited about it, even. Yes, I have a problem, I’ve created two products (CDs and downloads) that a large number of music fans don’t buy anymore. But that’s all it is, a problem, not the end of the world.
In the two weeks since releasing Get Free as a free download, we’ve signed up about four hundred people, who have in turn received our auto response email thanking them and encouraging them to come say hello on Facebook et al. We’ve corresponded with some enthusiastic new fans and can’t wait to get out there and play for them in person.
We’ll figure out how. In the meantime, feel free to download our album, only coincidently entitled "Get Free"!