Music without strings

ASCAP SucksTaste is the most subjective sense, taste in foods, taste in other humans, etc.  Never truer than when talking about musical tastes.  But there is one thing about music that is universally understood and agreed upon:  and that is that ASCAP sucks.

Seriously, they are like a heavily funded flock of vultures who prey on small businesses and business-owners.  OK, so maybe that scrappy local coffee shop on the corner didn’t know that they weren’t technically allowed to play  the radio in the shop (did you know that?), but did you really have to send one of you operatives to the cafe, and follow that up with letters threatening legal action (and damages on the order of 100s of 1000s of $$ PER SONG).

Yes, the radio is technically not OK (even though that EM radiation is INSIDE YOUR HEAD RIGHT NOW), neither is Pandora etc., nor are your CDs or iPod libraries.  So whats a business-owner to do?  You don’t want your customers to sit in silence, they might start noticing things like how dirty the floors are, or that its a beautiful day outside, or worse!

It’s actually a very common concern, and for the internet-savvy out there, there are lots of options available for accessing completely royalty/copyright-free music.  Here are some of the best:

  • Jamendo – MP3s made available by artists for download, free, without restriction.
  • FreePlay Music – Free music, sorted by style + feel
  • copyrightfriendly – Library of copy-friendly media (music, art, etc.)
  • ccMixter –  A Creative Commons remix community
  • Musopen – Radio streaming royalty-free classical music, includes sheet music too!

4 comments to Music without strings

  • Peter Overton

    I know it's a surprise for most people to learn that music isn't actually free, but remember, songwriting is a job like any other. Except that unlike something like graphic design or legal services, the writer has no way to control who gets to use their work. For some reason, people have this notion that they shouldn't have to pay for someone's music. If you want people to be able to afford to make that music, folks need to be paid for their work. If you want free music (or free anything for that matter), make it yourself.It's not ASCAP and BMI (both non-profit) who are evil, it's record labels (and the whole now-obsolete business model). Really, they drag down the whole industry and inadvertently prevent great music from ever seeing the light of day. The industry is a mess, and certainly crooked in many ways, but the problems are much deeper than ASCAP and BMI. ASCAP and BMI are just about the only friends a writer has in this world. Everybody else expects them to work for free.I say Spotify is the way to go. You're gladly paying for that haircut, gym membership, MobileMe subscription, $5 coffee, and $10 cocktail; why should someone else's songs be an exception?

  • Joel Brock

    Awesome! Insight from a professional!Granted, the model is flawed and the industry is failing. And yes, the labels may deserve blame for the root causes. ASCAP/BMI feels my ire for their bullying and vindictive treatment of small businesses.I am all for artists getting paid for their labors! I wish there was a viable new paradigm just waiting to take hold, perhaps one that doesn't prey on small businesses using litigious scare tactics and sentencing minimum wage workers to the horrors of Muzak. Maybe Spotify is this new paradigm? Certainly LOOKS promising. We won't know until the service becomes available in the US (….still waiting…..)

  • Peter Overton

    Yeah, I should know that you support creative-types being paid for their work. There are so many others out there who don't realize that these people aren't automatically paid though, which is what brings out the rant in me. It's not their fault though — why should an average consumer be required to understand the inner workings of a complex business model? They shouldn't, but this particular business model is so convoluted and outdated that it makes itself look bad. 50 years of crooked business practices have created a unique situation in which people expect music to be free, but also expect it to be good. As with everything else, you get what you pay for.ASCAP/BMI (PROs) are in the unfortunate position of having to kind of navigate the industry on the writer's behalf, which means they have to operate within the current paradigm. I won't say they're completely faultless, but they certainly have to walk a tricky line being non-profit organizations stuck in the awkward symbiosis of record labels and writers (without whom, labels wouldn't exist).This is of course a very long conversation with no perfect answer. That said, I do believe that a number of factors, including the outdated business model, difficult to implement copyright law, and the now nearly pointless format of radio are largely responsible for the unfortunate need for the Muzak goon squad. It's a fleeting attempt to maintain some semblance of control over something that really can't be controlled (the number of people within earshot of your store's speakers). Put simply, no business expects their electricity or gas service to be free, and their monthly bill is directly proportionate to the size of their establishment. The same should apply to music, or any other amenity they would like to feature in their business. Because the PROs don't run the industry, they can't do much to change this, and the current ways of dealing with this really only address the symptom, not the cause. That's up to the industry powers that be. Of course record labels are huge and timid, and therefore somewhat out of touch and slow to react. You have an industry run by corporations, but driven by the ever-changing whims of 15-year old kids — how could they be anything but timid and out of touch? It's no wonder they resort to marketing to create successful music. They wouldn't stand a chance if they didn't take the lead and tell us what we're supposed to like.But with the internet providing access to the vast amounts of music that used to fly under the radar, people simply don't consume music in the same ways they used to (Pandora was a fitting choice of names), and labels can no longer be assured that they've got control of the situation. But rather than adapting, they stubbornly tried to apply the old rules to a new and completely different market. This had the obvious effect of preventing the industry from evolving with the market, and I believe this discrepancy represents a lot of what people hate about the music industry. But none of this is news anymore.I do think that a subscription-based music service could be a near-perfect solution if the US can ever accept it, and with Apple's recent purchase of Lala, I assume it's in the works. The great thing about that system is that it could be completely adaptable to both the individual user and the business owner. Of course in the US, we'd need at least two competing services, lest we begin to hear cries of socialism and anti-trust. And with two competing services, there will likely be different rates, payment schemes, sweetheart deals, etc, which is a slippery slope to a system every bit as crooked as the one we're trying to escape. Clearly, this is all beyond my pay scale!But the odds are, no matter what happens, writers will need PROs to ensure they get paid. If they don't get paid, they'll all have to get jobs at McDonald's, and the labels will have to do the songwriting. There's a scary thought!I should qualify all of these ramblings by clarifying that I'm absolutely not an expert on the music business. These are just over-simplified observations and opinions from the somewhat outside perspective of one who participates in the industry only as much as I have to. Also, this applies more to the writer/artist side of things than it does to the band realm. Writers don't have touring and merchandise as potential sources of income, and bands already work at McDonald's.Whew!

  • bh

    Man, if you think ASCAP sucks, look into SoundExchange some day.

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