Countering The Commoditization Of Music By Giving Credit And Creating Value

Chrome_semi_quavers_emerging_from_water_ripple-150x150By Musician and Marketing Consultant Solveig Whittle (@shadesofsolveig).

Ubiquity drives the commoditization of music and other intellectual property, lowering value and decreasing discovery.

Giving credit, or attribution, counteracts this effect and creates value.

I read two posts this week which got me thinking about how these two ideas related in the worlds of both social media and independent music. One post was from Tommy Darker on Music Think Tank called ”Premiumization 101 For Musicians” (from whence came the quote below) and the other was by Bob Dunn, my favorite WordPress guru, called “Make Sure Your Shared Tweets Display Your Twitter Handle“. These seem like disparate posts, but bear with me for a minute or two.

"We know that there's no economical value in non-scarce things. Then how do musicians expect to make money out of digital music, especially now that's it's becoming more and more commodified and easy to have access to? Something abundant eventually becomes free at some point…You create market value by selling scarce things. Get it right asap." – Tommy Darker

"[Big Tech] have to keep commodifying things to keep the share price up, but in doing so they have made all content, including music and newspapers, worthless, in order to make their billions.” – Thom Yorke [Radiohead] as quoted by Music Tech Policy

Giving Credit Raises The Artist Above The Noise

Both in the online world of social media and the world of independent music, it’s difficult to rise above the noise. Digital technology has made it both easier to create content and easier to share it. We can remix songs, record performances or create videos on our laptops and phones and upload them instantly to Soundcloud or YouTube. Links are shared and retweeted almost instantaneously. This Mashable article on how much data is created every minute on the internet was itself retweeted over 3,000 times by the time of this writing.

That’s why giving credit to others’ ideas is important. It’s important because music, writing, applications (code) and other intellectual property are proliferating so quickly that they are, in effect, being driven into commodity status. “Music like water” is not just a quaint idea, it’s really true that music is all around us today, seemingly free of charge.

The “music as a paid utility” model proposed by Leonhard and Kusek in 2005 has not happened, however. Artist compensation and copyright models for all types of digitized intellectual property remain confused, with compensation bunched up in strange places (like with platform providers such as Google, Apple, Amazon, or middle-men like music labels). Whole segments of the creative supply chain are being driven out from book publishers to music producers and recording studios.

The Music Tech Policy article explains why tech platform providers like Google, in particular, are driven to commoditize digital content, but that’s not the main point here. My point is how, as content creators, do we counteract this effect?

As a writer and an artist, I believe strongly in the concept of crediting the work of others. That’s why I propose the idea that attribution is a critical form of compensation for artists and creators of intellectual property.

Attribution, or receiving credit for one’s work or ideas, increases an author or artist’s visibility, and allows them, over time, to rise above the noise.

As consumers crowd source (or share) the best content, it rises to others’ attention, perhaps even “going viral”, and thereby allowing at some point for monetization (either past or future). However, this only works if the original idea, the original work, is properly attributed.

Giving Yourself Credit Is the First Step

So where does Bob Dunn’s post about Twitter share buttons come in? I find it amazing that many writers fail to properly set the options on their social media share buttons on their blogs. Yes, they have social share buttons, but when you click on them to share their article on Twitter, they don’t append the “via @[Twitter handle]” at all, or it says “via @sharethis” after the article title and link. Sometimes, there’s just a link, and not even the article title.

Every artist who remixes the work of another, whether music or video, and every content curator who forwards the work of another author, should strive to make attribution a part of their routine. And every artist who creates work should make it easy for others to properly give them credit for it. That means putting your website URL on all your social media sites, and vice versa. Make it easy for viewers of your YouTube video to link to your other sites.

It’s important to credit your collaborators (“work-for-hire” musicians, producers), those who have contributed significantly to the creation of a work that bears your name. Giving credit to others who are good at what they do does not detract from one’s own work, it only enhances it.

If all of us who create, curate and consume artistic content make this effort, over time, the best work will become noticed, and the creators will have the opportunity to be not only recognized, but also compensated, for their work. Perhaps I live in a utopian dream world, but if “music like water” was a valid proposal, why not “give credit as currency”?

What do you think? Do you ensure it’s easy for others to credit your work? Do you license your work under the Creative Commons License? Do you credit others for their work when you curate or remix it?


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  1. Attribution is important; it’s one way to differentiate one piece of music product from another. As noted yesterday, our problem is one of abundance; people don’t value that of which they have too much. In order to restore value, we need to focus on what is not abundant – quality, a certain artist, or a specific performance, etc.

  2. I’m one of those few who actually sits and watches the credits roll at the end of a good movie. I’m always amazed at how many people it takes to pull off something amazingly entertaining. It’s the same for a good piece of music. It might be different if the average listener knew how much work is involved with creating a song, album or even a show. And it’s almost always a collaboration in some way. Can’t strap them in their seats, but we still need to roll the credits.

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