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Frank Coppola

I love this article. You are so write.

Frank Coppola

I meant right....


well, the real truth is that no one wants to pay for anything- ever.

so if you say music should be free, then movies should be too, then all television, all cable programming ...everything in art should be created at cost to the artist to be given away for free

and everything should just be subsidized by...who? sponsors? so we have one million product placement deals that just get sketchier by the year- to the point where you have content that's essentially a giant plug for some corporation?

does that make good art?

jeff- what do you do for day job that gives you a paycheck?

i think then if we could analyze how you make your own income, then we could dissect why someone should pay you for your day's work or not as well?

Jeff MacDougall

I never said that "music should be free". The crux of my argument is that we, as a capitalists, charge for two things. Goods and services. I think we have been categorizing music incorrectly. Tossing it into the "goods" column while it should really be in "services". Re-framing it this way, I believe, will open up some new solutions that we haven't thought of yet.

I don't think everything should or can be subsidized. That's not the only way to capitalize on content. But many things can without compromising their value. It's not as black and white as that.

As for my own income, I make some money doing music production and sales of my own merch (but like most musicians in todays market, not nearly enough to live on). The bulk of my income is made as a marketing professional, creating television and web content, ads and promos for several high profile clients.

Scott Feldman

Hey Jeff -

I'm willing to go along with the concept that music isn't a product. Actually, even if it was, I'm not entirely sure it matters. It seems as if the real issue isn't understanding what music "is." Instead it's about how best to use/leverage it to accomplish a goal. Granted that goal could be anything from making a million bucks to curing the common cold ...

I'd rather see the discussion centered around the value. This isn't a discussion of its monetary value, but rather the value/response/emotion it brings to the fan. That might lead to getting music back on track as a quality-driven device instead of something using net revenues to validate success.

Jeff MacDougall

Couldn't agree more, Scott. I simply framed my piece this way to shake things up a bit. To throw some light on the over emphasis of IP.

Noah Lampert

Excellent article.

It is a service and not a tangible product. To MikeInCleveland, I don't believe Jeff was trying to get all Socrates on us and say that anyone who charges to hear their music is a charlatan but that the value we attach to buying music is inherently flawed.

Excellent point and I think streaming audio services will bear this out in time.


Simple truth: music has been free for longer than it's been paid for. When we, as a species, opened our mouths to sing, we didn't preface our singing with, "I'll sing for you if you give me your pig," we sang for purpose, to the gods, for rain, for summer, for whatever. Music simply is, and it always will be.

And thus, I agree with Jeff wholly. As a music professional in the business, I feel obliged to understand the content going into the products we peddle, be it digital download, streaming, or even physical. But yes, the content is not the product. The content is the soul of the product, and in general, souls are not for sale.

In summation, music is. It cannot be stopped. It will always exist. As long as humans connect viscerally with rhythm and melody, it will continue to exist and grow outside of any economic construct. Composers and musicians will continue to flourish even as they live in poverty because the arts provide meaning, and that is something that cannot be bought.

Eric Jensen

Thank you. Very glad to see this.

Music is an experience, not a product. When I think of music I don’t think of record labels and souvenirs, but artists, and even the artist is only a symbol, a conduit for the experience of music.

Music is a form of human expression and connection that is timeless and transcends economies and cultures. I think it is important to understand that this is the nature of things and go from there. In the Béla Fleck film, “Throw Down Your Heart” there is thisamazing, intense scene where an entire village is playing this gigantic marimba. I don’t imagine they were thinking about the downturn in CD sales.

When we shift our mindset to that of a service industry that is providing a profound human experience it opens up all sorts of possibilities for getting value to people and making a little money in the process.

Ian Heath

good article, but the title is misleading. it should read "Your Music is not A product".

Telling artists their music is not THEIR product makes it sound like you think they should give it away for free and make money off their ancillary goods.

thankfully, that wasn't the point of your article.


jeff, when the truth is spoken, it all seems so simple. everything you said is so correct and true i just laughed the entire time i was reading it. the only people mad at what you have said are the label executives. they know it to be true also, but the hustle states that, "the game is to be sold, not told". now that its been told. game over!! well done. GLORIOUS!!

Aaron Gibson

Jeff, I am not sure how many musicians will be able to grasp this concept at all. I do. The very thing that has kept my focus on music for 25 years is the essence of what music (as an art form) is, the experience! Painters pour their heart into a canvas, and yes they can make copies, but the real art was done on one piece of canvas, same with a sculptor, etc. Music, however, is in the air; you play it then it's gone. All that the listener has is the memory of the moment and that is why they buy the CD. To remember that moment.



i remember seeing the great, Art Blakey perform at a jazz club called sweet basil in new york several years ago, "Art Blakey has past on and sweet basil closed its doors i'm sure. i sat for several sets and listen to his quartet. i noticed that after every set he performed, he would thank the audience for allowing him the pleasure to perform his art DIRECTLY from the source to the receiver. what i took from that was, the relationship and respect to and from his audience IS the value. and that music should not be giving a value based on keeping the lights on at some music corporation or paying the salary of some clueless music executive.


Bob Dobbolina

You're preaching to the converted here, Jeff. What would've made this article worth reading are some solutions / alternative ways for artists to generate income from their 'services'.

How about instead of 1000 words of the same 'tired' rambling, you give readers 1000 words suggesting ways to pay the bills with their art?


Sorry, what is your definition of a product?

Is software a product?
Are eBooks products?
Are digital movies products?

Just because you can't touch it doesn't mean it can't be a product. That just makes it an intangible product.



i have been turned on to several new digital music, marketing and promotions sites right here on, HYPEBOT. everyday, Hypebot introduces new music based business trying to build a new ecosystem to help artist manage and make money from there own sweat and blood. take what platforms like hypebot, tunecore and topspin has to offer you and build your own system.


Jeff MacDougall

If I thought everyone reading this was a convert, Bob, I wouldn't have bothered.

If you have google, then you can find literally hundreds of ideas on how to generate income from music. You don't need me to write up 1000 words about it. The problem is that those "solutions" are generic.

The whole point of this post is that by shifting everyone's focus away from "ownership", perhaps we can all come up with our own specific ideas to help our own specific business model(s). Customized solutions are the only onces that will have any real value long term. Their is no magic bullet here.

Jeff MacDougall

Nope. nope and nope.

Selling "intangible products" is really just a way of providing a "service" so that it looks, smells and feels like a "good". It's a way to conceptualize something, like an insurance policy, so that the buyer feels more comfortable purchasing it. But in reality, insurance is a service.

The problem with digital is that there is no scarcity. No one really owns a digital product because they can't really loan it to someone. They can't sell it second hand if they don't like it. And in some cases, the product can be altered or taken away after they've already purchased it. Like I said in the article, "It's absurd".

P.S. I think it's ironic that you are re-making the argument that I specifically countered in the post itself. My point is that the concept of "an intangible product" is crap. And it's why I specifically stated that I blame all of us for allowing the definition stand.

Jeff MacDougall

I should add that software is a different animal. Yes, it's virtual, but it's a virtual machine. You can get more out of it than you put in. That gives it value on a whole different plane.

Jean Renard

I think you tip on a complex point, but miss the overall beachhead of how we deal with the problem that without income musicians can not readily create, record and certainly not tour in any meaningful ways. A brilliant artist in a town far far away with no local population cannot make it without selling something.

Music is both goods and services and it always has been. Sheet musics were the goods before recorded music, concerts were the services and when other people performed the works composed by say Mozart, fees were paid. Choreographers make money from their choreography via copyright, it can be argued that dance is even more an experience than music as the recording of it fails to deliver 1/100000 of the experience.
That leaves Permissions, copyrights whatever you call it, there has always been some form of value to the music or art itself and in the end there was the goal of compensation using whatever means possible.

Picasso was a painter, he sold goods, but because of lots of things, his signature on those goods meant that his color blotches were worth more than mine would ever be. Artistic merit aside, if he has been accused of being a Nazi (he was not) the perceived value of his goods would have greatly diminished so we can see the fluid dynamics involved in the "market value" of things and the art itself yes?

If the product of your work is not protected somehow, you will simply not be able to make a living. If it is only at the live level ok, if it is selling the image of your music so be it, if it is only selling t-shirts ok too. But I caution everyone in assuming that all artists will be able to ever tour or even perform, or ever sell t-shirts, some could be deaf like Beethoven, then how do they pay the rent if the product of their creation is not monetized? This is not about labels but living in an industrial, market economy where the arts in general have been forsaken by the public and there are no kings to donate to the arts or give a damn about culture and diversity of expression. Those facts then drive the arguments for looking at the arts as goods.

I think it is understandable that an art form be hard to pin down. Not all artists will see their future the same way, what is clear is that the option to monetize their works must remain with the artists and not abandoned to others like "pirates" who would close off a source of income just because they can.
That is not my definition of freedom.


Nice! And I agree...

The funny thing to me is that the musicians and bands for whom their songs really are a product are the people at the bottom of the pile. The people struggling to just get a decent recording made so they can try and sell it and start the whole 'make a living' ball rolling. Yet I can't name a single struggling musician that I know who would not be downright gleeful to find out that 1000 people had downloaded their song without paying for it - simply because it means 1000 people like it!


word of advice: try to avoid calling the record company guy a liar or a fool when he's sending you royalty checks for selling the product that embeds the experience of your music.


Music is not your product!!! T-shirts are!

Digital music isn't real, so it must be me hearing voices and sounds! I must be going nuts!

So I'm talking to this producer right now, and I'm asking him to record my next album for free! It won't be real since I'm going to release it only on iTunes! But he doesn't want to record my album of unreal music for free! What a !*@?%$%$!

Isitindie(Keith Griffis)

I couldn't agree more about music as a service. We have done this for years with software shifting from the tangible good mentality to the SoftwareAsAService (SaaS). The next step is to determine how to build a business model for your music. Waiting for a new streaming service to silver your problem is not going to did it though. Myself and others are working to empower artists with free tools to do this. Although the industry is dead in its current form, web2.0 has exploded your potential fan base. Use the tools of social media like Bloggers do and you open up limitless growth potential.


Thanks for responding. I understand what you are saying, but your definition of "product" doesn't match with the common understanding of the word.

The Apple App store is selling software products. People consider Angry Birds to be a product. It doesn't matter that there is no physical medium. This is not a misunderstanding perpetuated by the music industry, this is how things are understood by normal people in the internet world.

Scarcity is not a requirement to be a product, either. The limitations you cite (inability to loan, sell, or alter) are not inherent in all digital files, they are inherent in particular implementations.

I think you are highlighting limitations with current music offerings, not a problem with our understanding of the word "product."


Software is not a virtual machine. Regardless, I don't think this supports your initial argument, because it suggests that wrapping music in a program and making it interactive somehow makes it a product.


Personally, I'd record someone's next album for free if I liked the music enough.

Jeff MacDougall

"...I understand what you are saying, but your definition of "product" doesn't match with the common understanding of the word."

This is exactly the point. The common understanding of the word "product" has been defined (in my opinion) poorly, allowing us to venture down a path that will ultimately end in failure. (at least where recorded music is concerned) And it all stems from copyright, trademark and patent "reform" over the last few decades.

Jeff MacDougall

It's not?? How is it not a virtual machine? How would you define software vs. content?

Jeff MacDougall

Just because it's not real doesn't mean it doesn't have value or that you can't charge for it or charge someone to help make it, distribute it, etc. It simply means that it's virtual.

Let me put it another way. If it has no re-sale value, then let's call it a service. Fair enough?

Jeff MacDougall

Thank you Keith. This is exactly the kind of conversation I was hoping to inspire. I'm not telling anyone that music is worthless (quite the opposite). I'm just asking people to look at it inside a different economic model.


I think the crux of your argument (and please correct me if I'm wrong) has to do with art vs. product. Art is content for the eventual product. Art has an inherent intangible value (hence the culture of free music on the internet where data can be copied indefinitely), products have a set price point.

Jeff MacDougall

"I think you tip on a complex point, but miss the overall beachhead of how we deal with the problem that without income musicians can not readily create, record and certainly not tour in any meaningful ways."

Maybe I'm too close to it because I wrote it... but the whole point of the post was to tackle "how we deal with the problem..." The industry is dying because the current approach is fundamentally incorrect. I'm simply trying to get people to view digital products differently so that solutions might rise to the surface.

"Music is both goods and services and it always has been."

WAS. Music was both goods and services. That changed when Napster was born. I was never arguing that a CD wasn't a product. Or that sheet music wasn't a product. Those are, in fact, products. Once you can divorce the physical good from the content that gives it it's value, the game has changed.

And my post never addressed licensing or copyright. That is a whole different discussion.


Each turn of the technology -- sheet music, piano rolls, early recordings, radio, later recordings -- required a reworking of the royalty arrangements which underlay the terms of business.

My suggestion is that with the digital revolution, there were three problems which stopped any acceptable royalty system from developing:

1) The rickety structure going back to sheet music had led to too many players with veto power, so no negotiations could be successfully concluded. Also, there were too many players -- in particular the publishers and the labels -- who felt this was the time to ensure they got the lion's share of the money.

2) In the past tech shifts, a solution was imposed through government-imposed royalty rates. However, the Internet shift happened in an era where the underlying belief was that Government is Bad and thus everything was thrown back on the private parties to negotiate. Which they could not do: see #1.

3) In the digital era, "business" no longer has much to do with the manufacture and distribution of copies. Now that copies are manufactured and distributed by individuals -- literally children, in many cases -- there is no choke point left where royalties can be collected.

The lawsuits against Napster, Kazaa, Grokster etc have destroyed the last point where royalties might have been collectible. At this point you have 10 years of embedded culture -- 3 generations+ of high school students -- which is now royalty-proofed.

Jeff MacDougall

I never called anyone a liar or a fool. I only wrote that if a certain person made a certain statement, then they might be lying or perhaps they bought into a certain myth.

If a person disagrees with my opinion that it's a myth, then a person will have nothing to be offended about.

Leanne Regalla

Love this, Jeff! You've articulated very well something I have felt for a while. I'm going to hang on to this, re-read and think on it a lot. Because I can see this is my direction, providing people with an experience.

Jeff MacDougall

Actually, it has more to do with commerce in general. Art (in this discussion) is what we capture and embed into a "good" to give it more value. In the case of digital, there is no "embeding" the art into a "good". For example, he Apple "Store" isn't really a store at all. It's providing a service. The service of re-arranging bits on a hard drive (in a quick, reliable way) that will then play back a sound recording. But everyone looks at it as if it's really selling products. So, with that line of thinking, I'm asking everyone to look at your digital music as a service. Mostly because the consumer (in general) won't accept digital content as a product. But I think they will accept it as a service. Services can be charged for. I'm not asking anyone to give anything away. By looking at things a little differently, perhaps someone smarter than myself will have a lightbulb moment.

Bel J

Wow! I couldn't even understand your argument.
Vague references with no substance.
Can everyone get off the music isn't a product bandwagon?
If musicians want to make a living from selling their music, then does it really matter how it is viewed? Seems to me that by telling people it's one thing or another, limits their capacity to find different ways to sell their product.... I mean service.....
Come on, does it matter? Most bands will give their music away for free, it's the band who also uses such methods of the 1000true fans etc that will also have a product/service available to buy.

If you love music and you want to support the artist involved in making it, then stop limiting it's definition and just enjoy it.

Wicked D



OK OK, I read this type of articles all the time. so lets do this TOMORROW.


What would happen then. The first day or two would be ok, maybe slightly inconvenienced. But as the days went by, and they had to drive and see movies with no music and live in silence, they would realize the VALUE of MUSIC. IT IS VERY VALUABLE, AND IT SHOULD BE COMPENSATED END OF STORY. Good or Service, doesn't change the fact that people found ways to get it free, the cat's out of the bag people, and the only way they'll pay for that music is.

1. Scarcity (Difficult to create)
1. Emotional Attachment
2. Available income to purchase.
3. Perceived Value

So here's my prediction, Music will continue to struggle, and it will become the Music Hobby ans Opposted to the Music Business.

Music, Movies and TV will become Cloud based, and people would be paid royalties from moneys collected from advertisers.

Welcome to the MUSIC "_CLOUD?_______"

Suzanne Lainson

I'll go beyond this and say most people don't even care about you, the musician. They care about themselves. So even music is just a means to an end. It might be a mood adjuster. It might serve as a status system if it can be displayed in some fashion. It may be a way to get dates and have sex. It may serve as a form of self-expression. It might lead to a conversation or relationship either with the music creator or with another music listener.

So in the future music consumers may not even turn to professional musicians for what they want if they can find substitutes. There will always be music. And there will always be people making music. But we won't necessarily seek out people to make music for us. We may end up making our own music.


The idea that anyone can own a sound is absurd. Musicians deserve to get paid for doing what they do, if enough people are interested in listening to them: what mechanism they get paid by is irrelevant, but the current orthodoxy is analogous to shouting at the top of your voice in an effort to attract attention and then trying to charge people for having heard you. At the end of the day all payment for music, or other performances, is patronage, and whatever way you can persuade a patron to support your art is fine, but the sooner everyone loses this sense of entitlement to a particular mechanism the better.


People have been making music for longer than they've been paid for it, and the art has continued to progress.

Robin Davey

It could be seen that if artists are brands then all output could be considered a part of that brand. Some direct product, some byproduct and indeed some services. For instance a bootleg of a live concert is not a product, but a byproduct of the bands output. When shared amongst fans, it still promotes the brand, and encompasses the aspects of the brands output. However it does not directly relate to a product, but could certainly be seen as providing a service.

A live fan video shot on an iphone and uploaded to youtube is the more modern equivalent. And indeed free mp3s, however they are obtained also help promote the brand.

A band signed to a label rarely made money from musical product, but generated income from the services and byproducts of their music, such as T-Shirts and Gig fees.

Labels think they suffer because of pirated music but in reality they are suffering from a bad business model that didn't see this coming. Their 360 deals came too late.

It's important that bands seeking a new system do understand that selling music is not always number one in building dollars for your business.

I would argue that digital music can be seen as a service, a byproduct and still a tangible product in itself too.

I have been giving away my bands debut album for free since 2006 direct from our website, it is also available on many torrent sites. It still generates income from iTunes every month, where people buy it even though they can get it for free. Therefor I would consider it as all 3 of these things.


So "tired" that you read all 1000 words before being snarky. If you're converted, what's your solution?


I'm a simple music lover, not artist. If I have a friend who loves Musician A... so he shares it with me. Then I fall in love with Musician A's work -- therefore following Musician A - playing YouTube videos, showing up at live shows, buying t-shirts, etc., didn't I just make that free "stolen" music worthwhile?

Seems if we stop calling it this horrible crime, then we can share music to pass on the passion and excitement to the next person. The artist makes a lot more money off me - just not through the original CD.

Carolyn Todd

Good article, Jeff. I agree on the importance of the customer experience.

But from my perspective, intangibility is the key differentiator between products and services.

On the scale of intangibility, physical products like golf clubs, a CD player, a new car are very tangible (you can touch and feel and trial ahead of time) whereas the most intangible services are things like airline flights, retail banking, insurance, weather forecasts. Perhaps a university education is one of the most intangible services around.

My point is that there is a spectrum of tangibility that defines the difference between products and services.

Where does music fit in? I kind of see it as somewhere between completely tangible and completely intangible.

Example: when I buy an Elton John song on CD or download an MP3 version I am buying a product. I can trial it (listen to it) before I buy it. Once I buy it I can experience it again and again. It doesn't perish. I will possess it forever. It's not variable. Every time I play that song it will be the same.

But when I go to an Elton John concert, which I will at the end of March, I'm paying for the customer experience. And I'm paying a lot. It's variable (Elton John will have good days and bad). It's perishable (I can only see him one night in State College PA, it doesn't last forever). And the music is produced at the same time that I experience it (simultaneous production and consumption).

Intangibility, perishability, variability, and simultaneous production and consumption are what define the difference between products and services.

Not technology such as digital versus analog.

But still, customer experience is important!


A "service" is an economic action where the buyer does NOT obtain permanent ownership of the thing purchased. It's labor rendered temporarily.

A good is a product that can be used to satisfy some desire or need, and the buyer obtains ownership from the seller in a transaction. It absolutely does not need to be tangible.

Hiring a band to sing at your venue is a service. Digital mp3s on line is a product.

This article is not only devoid of content, it's just wrong.

Jeff MacDougall

I agree with most of what you say here.

I guess my problem with digital goods is that the rules keep changing. Digital goods can (sometimes inexplicably) disappear from a hard drive or mp3 player, or they can be given expiration dates (some ebooks). You can't loan them out or re-sell them.

Given the recording industries troubles regarding sales, I think it's time to at least consider "digital" as a service and not a product.

Jeff MacDougall

Seriously?? Your first paragraph --

"A 'service' is an economic action where the buyer does NOT obtain permanent ownership of the thing purchased. It's labor rendered temporarily."

-- describes a digital download perfectly.

You can't re-sell it. You can't loan it out. It technically always belongs to the copyright holder. If it's an ebook it could be altered after the purchase, or worse, expire.

A digital download of an MP3 is no more "mine" than a an episode of TV show sitting on my Tivo. I might concede to the last sentence about it not being temporary, except that if I lose the file somehow, most "stores" won't allow a re-download even though they have a record of payment.

You can pontificate all day about how my point is "just wrong", but consumers simply aren't buying it. Literally.

Carolyn Todd

I see your point. So the digital music is more like a license, sort of like software, which is definitely a service. And also, you're correct that you don't own it. The copyright is NOT transferred to you. But I would say that from the point of tangibility, an MP3 download is more tangible than a live concert. It's a matter of degree.

JJ Biener

I have to say this is one of the more Kafka-esque arguments I've seen in some time. My biggest problem is that even though it is not your intention, you provide ammunition to those who seek to destroy the artists ability to support themselves with their work. We have enough trouble trying to defend our work without people like you cutting our legs out from under us.

As was mentioned in another comment music can be a service if it is performed. Recorded music is another matter. A performance exists for a period of time then it is gone. Recorded music can be played repeatedly indefinitely. So by definition, recorded music is not a service.

Let's look at it another way. Would buy a plastic disk for $18? I don't think so. Would you buy a pile of building materials for $350,000? I don't think so. In the case of the CD, you really are buying the music. In the case of the house you are paying for the expertise of the architect, engineers and builders. In these and in most cases, what you are paying for is the intellectual property.

No matter what semantic games you try to play, intellectual property can be and is a product. In the case of music, the difference between a CD and a download is the delivery method. That's it. The product is the same.

If you are trying to help us musicians, go back to square one. We don't need anyone else undermining our property rights.

JJ Biener

Jeff, "You can't re-sell it. You can't loan it out. It technically always belongs to the copyright holder."

You can't define whether something is product strictly from the consumer's point of view. Whether a the consumer can resell or loan something is not the deciding factor. As an artist, I can resell a piece of recorded music multiple times just like any other product.

With a service, it has to be performed each time for each customer. A service provider can't resell their services. If paint someone house, no one else is going to pay me for that job.

I commend you for thinking outside the box, but you are just wrong on this one. Try again.

Jeff MacDougall

You bring up some interesting points about how to define a product vs. a service... but really, I was just hoping that by taking a different perspective, we might find some solutions. Let's face it, the current model of selling digital isn't working... and it's only getting worse.

Bob MacGougall

Demagogy, Jeff. You are nitpicking words and aren't saying anything substantial.


In geek-speak "virtual machine" is a term meaning software emulation of a computer. Maybe you're using it in a non-standard way.

Tom Giarrosso

Interesting thoughts on service vs. product, and how the current method is a losing battle.

No one has the answers. But niche marketing and building your audience seems the way to move forward as an artist, since most of us don't have the numbers to do otherwise.

Most of my friends have day jobs while doing this. But sticking your head in the sand while things change isn't the answer. Trying new things and connecting with people probably is a good direction to start in.

Jeff MacDougall

I'm sorry you feel that way. But honestly, they aren't "seeking to destroy" anything. They simply don't see the need to spend money to sample music anymore. Fans want to hear your music and will support you. The general public doesn't care. If you feel that pointing out the obvious is "cutting your legs out from under you" then we all have bigger problems.

The whole point of the article was to try to get everyone to consider recorded music differently. So we might find some solutions where there don't seem to be any. The music fan already understands this stuff. That's the reason the business is dying. They don't need me to point anything out.

As far as the difference between a download and a CD goes? Really? the delivery method? One cost a certain amount to make. The other... pennies (if that). Do you think that the public doesn't know that?

If you cling to your "property rights", without even trying to consider other ways to get paid, you've already lost.

Justin Boland

^^I expected the same, and agree that would be a better / more accurate title

Justin Boland

"If the product of your work is not protected somehow, you will simply not be able to make a living."


The ENTIRE music industry is quite literally composed of people making a living off work that is not protected. That's been the whole conversation for 10 years now.

Tim Wood

This argument amounts to question-begging. If the good sold is an experience, then it doesn't matter whether the vehicle for delivery of the experience is a downloaded "unit" or a real-time stream. The customer has chosen to pay for the means to have a certain experience.

Today, downloads work better than streams: they don't depend on a device's connection to the network at the time, nor consume bandwidth with each use, nor involve even potential usage metering. Though futurists don't like to talk about it, real-world limitations greatly degrade user experience, hence the value proposition of the new technology, until the bugs get worked out.

It's true that "having" music in digital form means something different from possession of physical media. Vis a vis streaming, you can think of your (non-DRM) digital music files as a cached copy, under your full control, of the same information that exists "out there" on the Net. Caching usually brings enormous benefits up and down the computing stack. I wish to hold onto, and add to, my cache for the foreseeable. :)

JJ Biener

What you wrote is not only not obvious, it isn't even true. Just because you come up with this little brainstorm, that doesn't make it true.

It is fine to think about recorded music differently, but we shouldn't have to surrender our rights to do so. As far as possible solutions, there are plenty that haven't been tried. Surrender isn't a solution.

Yes, the only difference between a CD and a download is the delivery method. If I download a CD from iTunes or I buy a physical CD and rip its contents on to my mp3 player, there is no difference. I have the music that I can listen to any time I want. If you can't see something this basic, then you really have no business writing on the subject.

As far as the cost, the vast majority come from the actual production itself, the recording, the engineering, the producing. Then there is the time writing, arranging and practicing. Then there is time and expense marketing the music so you know it exists. This is what costs money. The plastic disk is the smallest part of the equation. Even if the public doesn't know this (and I believe they do), you should if you are going to be writing about it.

Yes, I am going to cling to my property rights, because once I give them up I can never get them back, and I will lose any possibility of being paid for my work.

Jeff MacDougall

I see your point. I simply felt it was necessary to frame things differently since so many in our business are hung up on IP and ownership.

Jeff MacDougall

Couldn't agree more, Tom.

Jeff MacDougall

Oh, I see. Yes, I just meant it's a virtual machine in the way that a washing machine or hair dryer is a tangible machine.

Jeff MacDougall

I am well versed in the music production and marketing game. I know very well how expensive and time consuming it can be. But all that is moot if the consumer doesn't give a crap.

I should point out that I never said we should give up all our intellectual property rights. I think they serve a very valuable purpose in protecting music from other entities that would try to capitalize on our hard work. But using those same laws to try to police individual consumers is, I believe, the single worst idea the music business has employed. It's turned the people against us.

Also, I think that the concept of not having IP rights means that you "lose any possibility" to get paid is simply not true. I've even thought it might be beneficial to place my next project directly into the public domain (as an experiment) but it turns out that it's incredibly difficult to do.


Godvin, as The Last Of The Of The Real Hustlahz ......having grown up with the adage " the game iz to be sold, not told " actually being the primary principle when navigating onez way through the jungle, the Masterz of the game held the jewel to the whole play on wordz to themselvez and didn't reveal the gem to anyone but those who'd come to the same realisation via experience : the game isn't to be sold nor told ; THE GAME IZ TO BE EXECUTED!

Jeff MacDougall

interesting observation. And if you are right, it's all the more reason to start creating business models that don't involve IP.


If nobody wants to pay for anything any more... if you "can't compete with 'free'"... why are digital sales up every year since 2003 when they became available mainstream? I think there are a lot of heads in the sand over this one. In 5 years time this will be a non-question.


Ways to pay the bills? I'm wondering what ways you don't know about Bob. Since 2000 there are more ways to pay the bills than ever before. I've seen people organise tours online. I've seen fans funding albums online. I've seen artists with minor appeal who could never get heard before, finally get heard. I've seen artists who can't sell enough tracks break even with merchandise. And I've seen thousands of new small labels and publishers. But it's not about technique it's about content. If an artist is fantastic today things have never been better.

Gurdan Thomas

Music - yes of course there have been since human beginnings music, as there have been hunters (farmers), organisers (councillers), cooks, protectors (guards, policemen), storytellers (authors) - and people aren’t just uni-task beings - we do many things - many people like to cook, write, act, make music, part-time police, volunteer to work in politics or on school councils etc - but most people take activities and spend years honing, learning, practising and developing these skills and we call these professions - it’s an extension of helping each other. Humans flourished /flourish because we are able to work together, to use our strengths - to specialise in order to all benefit. Following this came the barter system then advancing on that, money. A technological advancement on physical money is electronic money - you can’t touch it, can’t see it - so is that not real? Is it ok for me to help myself to €1000 of your cyber money because it is digital? Why should a musician’s job of performing, recording, arranging, orchestrating not to mention all the other less desirable things you have to do such as travelling, organising, trying to get gigs, advertising, paying for rehearsal, buying and maintaining equipment be diminished because of an idea that music should be free because humans have been doing it for time immemorial - we might as well say we should have cakes for free because humans have always been making things to eat - and yes I love to roll of a batch of cakes of a Sunday for fun and share them for free with my friends. But if you walked into a bakery and took a tray, leaving without paying because you can philosophise that they’re not really a product - or should be free I’m not sure you’d get away with it.

I suspect that what Jeff is getting at is more a case of it’s much easier to copy digital music - and transfer it across the internet at such an ever increasing exponential rate so perhaps we need to look at other ways to sell the product - sorry service, but is it really a service? What makes a service? Something that somebody provides either for free (which often leads to other rewards of various value such as feelgood factor, developing friendships, experience etc), or for monetry compensation could be regarded as a service - Yes I think playing live music is a service - and people sometimes pay to go to concerts - but you can’t copy the live performance (yes you can record it, but it’s not the same, there’s no interaction from a recording), Plumbing is a service - the plumber comes along and solves your specific problem. Teaching also, a service. (Incidentally the idea that something is of less value because you can’t hold it is ridiculous - or that it doesn’t last forever - like words from a councillor, teacher or psychiatrist - once they’ve spoken the sound dies - so should they not be paid?) But something that is created like a book, a painting, an aeroplane - something that has been laboured over - is that not a product? Of course books and paintings can be transformed into a digital form and therefore copied very easily - so does this reduce their status as valued products (sorry I can’t bring myself to call them services - I simply can’t see how they are) - is a machinegun because of the incredible difficulties you would have copying it valued more as a product that can be sold than a piece of beautifully composed, arranged, performed and recorded piece of music?
I think that to say that recorded music is not a product merely because it exists in a digital format and therefore can be and is copied and not payed for is a falsehood - of course people in the music industry need to adapt - but I think that the article is calling the spade a digital shovel.

Incidentally - my points touch also upon other responses to Jeff’s interesting and well written piece.


Jeff... >>Sooner or later, we will come up with a format that will have enough added value and people will "buy."<< - I like the article, well-written and well-informed. And your conclusions, mostly. But I don't think music-for-sale is in the bad state we are led to believe. The fact is most people never bought music. In our peak year for CD albums (2003, I'm in the UK) people bought 5 albums on average and less than 1 single. During that CD frenzy, when we couldn't get single tracks, the mainstream was clogged with Big Label product and small bands couldn't get heard, retail got used to shifting weak units in a different way. Now the brakes are off it's not surprising Big Music finds it hard to sell. But do you know a fantastic act that can't get any traction online? I think great acts find it much easier to get to their audience... and that audience buys all kinds of stuff including music. The music that's devalued and won't shift is the old-style corporate stuff. And those numbers are the only numbers that really get tracked... new bands online don't always get their numbers into SoundScan. But for sure, you can sell music today if it's excellent.


But merely calling it a 'service' instead of a 'product' isn't really a new economic model, is it. Your conclusion, which emphasizes listener experience and satisfaction, implies that this would be a new approach, whereas many creative people have been doing this for many years. Artists are always trying new things and are open to new ideas - we are, by definition, creative people. The consumer has never had so many legal ways to listen to music. And whilst I, and others like me, will continue to follow all new developments and opportunities (and I'll take a look at your site later, Keith) I think we're getting a little tired of being told that unspecified economic models will somehow save us from the erosion of our rights - which, as Chris Castle has ably demonstrated, are fundamental human rights, not some recent legal concoction.


Payment for music is not a recent phenomenon. Even in ancient Egypt, 'musician' was a genuine profession (mostly for women).


The idea of owning a recording of a sound is certainly not absurd.


I'm trying to find a way to relate to this so tell me if I'm on or off - as a graphic designer I design for a client and it is a service I provide. At the end of the process they get a product like a printed poster.

Similarly a musician creates music and then the end result is a product that someone can use (a CD). The service of creating music and then packaging that and distributing it for people to experience it is akin to the poster. Except instead of experiencing with your ears, you experience the poster with your eyes.

Someone could take my poster and copy it and give it to their friends or hang it up on their walls. In a way, I can't really own the poster once it's in people's hand. Just like with a CD, people will take it, reproduce it, pass it to their friends, and play it over and over. It's a way of experiencing something - triggering a memory.

I guess the problem with the ideas of products versus services is that it's hard to see how it translates across mediums.

Jeff MacDougall

Hey James,

Could you point me to this? -

"I think we're getting a little tired of being told that unspecified economic models will somehow save us from the erosion of our rights - which, as Chris Castle has ably demonstrated, are fundamental human rights, not some recent legal concoction."

I'm curious to know what Chris Castle said. Thanks!

Also, I honestly believe you can get away with considering a digital download a product or a service. I realize that many people are experimenting and having success.

This post was really aimed at the artist unable or unwilling to let go of some of their old beliefs.


A band signed to a label rarely made money from musical product...
This is simply because their income from recording came in the form of the label advance. Whilst it would be true to say most bands don't make any additional money from recordings (ie. they didn't recoup), it would be misleading to imply that recordings were not, overall, a source of cash.

...but generated income from the services and byproducts of their music, such as T-Shirts and Gig fees.
That's true of many artists, partly depending on their musical genre. But plenty of good bands with international followings had to beg for tour support from their labels just to cover costs (which they hoped to recoup through record sales - so, at least in this respect, labels have always been involved in touring). And many smaller artists today still have to pay-to-play.

On a slightly tangential, more general point, not every type of music lends itself to merchandise or live performance. There are plenty of bands whose records I love but have no desire to buy merchandise or see them play live. I know this doesn't apply to you, Robin, but when some people demand that artists make their money from other revenue streams, it is quite clear from their tone that they mean 'other revenue streams that I'm not interested in and therefore won't have to pay for either'! I've no doubt that this is many people's sole motivation for their calls for a new (but always unspecified) economic model.

Jeff MacDougall

Thanks for the well thought out response. To be honest, I'm not totally convinced myself that it's really a service (although, I do consider software a service, as well as ebooks at this point). I really just wanted to have a conversation about how we "might" view our work a little differently... where the talk didn't end with "It's my copyright and they are stealing so shut the F@#$ up dude!"

Copyright has gotten so strong that even if I wanted to hand over my work to the Public Domain (as an economic experiment), it would incredibly difficult to do. We are so ingrained in IP that we find ourselves in a position where we can't even do an empirical test to see if the idea that "copyright spurs creation" is even true.

Jeff MacDougall

I agree with you about sales when it comes to the individual artist. My larger point about consumers purchasing music en masse was aimed at the corporations. They are constantly trying to develop a way to create a digital product that will rival the box set -- in both intrinsic value and retail price. I don't think that's going to happen.

Jeff MacDougall

Yeah. The lines can get very blurry. In fact, the line between digital being a good or a service really has nothing to do with it being digital at all. It's more about how it's used. I'm choosing to view digital copies of my work as a service because it changes my frame of mind and helps me to think of new ways to monetize it. Not everyone needs to do that. I just figured that, since digital sales have flat-lined, I would share my thoughts (albeit, in a heavy handed way) about the subject.

As for you, when you make a poster for a third party (work for hire) you are providing a service. If you make a poster for yourself, you are creating a product. Where I think things get interesting is when that poster gets digitized and you may or may not want to sell .jpegs of the poster. How you frame that sales opportunity could be the difference between large profits and no interest at all.


If you have an artistic talent in music or art or whatever, your expression is the product of that gift. Similarly, a drawing or painting produced by an artist is simply a product of that gift...some artists get so precious about their gifts, as if they created it themselves...that is sad.



Copyright law was not written to protect goods or services but rather the expression of ideas. In other words, if you think of a cool idea (a song, some computer code, etc.) you have the right for a limited amount of time to say who can and cannot legally express your idea. As a result, when I buy a CD, I'm not buying music or plastic, I'm buying a right to listen to something (with limitations).

Jeff S.



Really, you think it's "sad" that someone might take credit for something he poured his heart and soul into? Who deserves the credit?



I think that's the key here. It's a frame of mind - not necessarily a hard rule or that one way is more "correct" than the other. It's just a way to reframe how the market uses the output of our creativity. And because the market for selling and distributing music is in such turmoil, musicians have to especially reframe their thinking so that they can come up with better ways to make a living off their music.


I agree Jeff.

Catherine Hol

Nobody "flourishes" when they live in poverty, Rick.

Only if it's a temporary state, maybe. But not the long-term version.

Shachar Oren

Music is intelectual property. IP is IP - it can be productized, or not. It can be sold, or not. It is up to the creator to decide what his IP is worth, but since the inception of culture, it has never been a cut and dry issue. The inventors of the wheel or of how to make fire, I doubt they collected royalties for 75 years, not to mention 75 hours. But when a writer puts time and often hard dollars into creating something, it is nice and proper to be able to control if and how one wants to release the IP and if and how to be compensated for it. The challange w/ digital media is that once an IP creator puts certain digital media out (music, video, game, app, copy, software, image), it is hard to impose controls and monetize. A bit unfair - not all IP is "digitizable" so we have a market were some IP is protectable (like, inventions, physical goods etc.), but all the digital items I mentioned, they are NO LONGER easy to manage distribution wise, sale-wise, protection wise. It creates an unfair market, where not all IP verticals are equally protected, and that is a major cause of confusion in our "fair market". To bring it back a full cycle tho: It is up to the IP creator, I think, to decide if the creation is to become a product or not, but it was nice when the creator had options, and these days those options in many formats are gone, which makes the economics in those markets hard to manage.

Catherine Hol

Surely, not to "remember that moment" but to actually have that moment again?

The recording is like a preservation of a moment, so that it can be repeated as much as you like. It enables the repetition of the experience.

Catherine Hol

If the pieces of plastic called CDs were the "real" product, and the music wasn't, then why would there be any distinction between CDs?

Why wouldn't someone just go into a record store and say "10 CDs please ... " Why do they specify a particular artist, if the music isn't really what they're buying?

Catherine Hol

Agreed, James.

I think that, even more important that defining whether 'music' is a product or a service, we should make the distinction between music as a live experience and music as a recording.

Why do we call it 'music production' when we make recordings?

Music may be a "service", but a recording is definitely 'produced'.

Jeff MacDougall

Agreed. Did I imply somewhere that this wasn't the case?

(That's a serious question because I could see how I could have unintentionally done that)

Catherine Hol

Succinctly put, Tim.

Thanks for your clarity.

"If the good sold is an experience, then it doesn't matter whether the vehicle for delivery of the experience is a downloaded "unit" or a real-time stream. The customer has chosen to pay for the means to have a certain experience."

And the means to have a certain experience?

A recording.


Wow, I am impressed with how you are responding to all these comments. Very cool of you. Anyway, to answer your question, I would say no, but you also didn't refer to copyright law much (what it means, etc) and I think this is crucial. To my mind, the debate should not be about whether music is a product or a service, but rather, is current copyright law good (I think it is) and, if so, why aren't we enforcing it? I mean, all the debates around free don't happen much with books and movies, but music, well, I'm just staggered at how many people think it should be free by law. Nuts, I think!

Jeff MacDougall

Thanks for the compliment. I didn't write this simply to be a snarky rant. I wrote it (heavily handed, I'll concede) to spark conversation. Too many on our side of the fence (content creators) simply tow the party line and say that IP and current copyright law are our God given rights. They aren't. The are government granted rights, and as such, could be voted away.

(which I fear could happen in the next 20-50 years if the labels pockets run dry and can no longer afford to pay their lobbyists - while, simultaneously, tech companies like Google or Apple pay lobbyists to dismantle copyright)

As far as the value of Copyright goes... I really have no idea. We have been living with it for so long, it's hard to know if the idea has any real merit. The fashion and food industries don't have copyright and from famous designers and chefs to secondary markets, they seem to be thriving. Of course, they don't have digital to contend with.

It would incredibly difficult to do any kind of experiment and track all the variables that might go into the success of a song or album that wasn't covered by copyright... but on top of that, It's literally almost impossible to even try.

Recently, I was considering releasing my next project directly into the Public Domain only to discover that placing it in there (mostly due to the re-working of copyright law over the years) requires an obscene amount of work... which, of course, I find ironic.

In my gut I believe that a certain amount of copyright law is a good thing. But I think the current state of IP rights is probably doing more harm than good to the culture as a whole.

Regarding enforcement - I really don't know how you'd go about it without stepping all over the 4th amendment. If they really wanted to stop file sharing, they could do it. But when the dust settled, I wouldn't be surprised if IP became a thing for the history books.

Oh, and it will happen with movies like music. It's just a matter of time. (it's already happening more and more everyday with books)

Ironically, TV is the only one that will survive without a complete facelift because it was already designed as a third party system.


Careful about your claims there. Regarding resale, check out redigi.com. Looks like ownership of digital goods may be real after all. It's just taken someone looking at it a different way.

Catherine Hol

@Jeff, check out creative commons copyright zero:



I get what is being said...I do beleive that after I buy the content loaded media, it is mine to duplicate and give a way for free ad infinitum.

Tape trading did not destroy the industry, it strengthened it, in fact, most people when given the ability to buy an album that they already had a tape of, do so for the art work and tangibles...


This is an idea that myself and many others have been trying to make, but you covered every point perfectly. Excellent article. The truth is you can't compete with free, it comes down to getting in your head that people have become used to being able to get any music they want anytime they want wherever they want. Can't go back now. Maybe music is just going to bring in less money than before, except for the individuals who can think outside the box. Scratch that - if you use more ingenuity when it comes to revenue streams than artists used to, in addition to making good music (that's step one!) and engaging fans, you'll be alright. If your stuff is good you can take advantage of enough avenues. Name someone who is struggling too much for their popularity level or quality of music, and see if you can find out why. A lot of income has been lost to tanking record sales, but maybe that income was fabricated in the first place. 12 song albums with 1 track we wanted? For $18? What?


It seems to me that you see making music and making a living of it as a given right;
I believe that whatever you do or make, if it has true value for mankind, it will prosper and provide for you. :-)

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