Music like water, now 08:55 on Tuesday

I’m not sure I buy into the music like water argument. I do think it’s very much a possible future, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s inevitable.

I would really like to try and live that future though. Get excited about it. Feel it, and report back how it works.

The biggest problem is, the distribution channels are already good enough (just), but the promotion and indirect monetization opportunities are not. At least not for a tiny artist, who doesn’t do live gigs. If you’re Nine Inch Nails and you can afford a music video director to shoot and edit a freebie “live video from rehearsals” (in a very moodily lit 100 square meter warehouse), the story is a bit different.

You can always put your music out there, but you can’t squeeze money out of it indirectly, the way you are supposed to make it when music flows like water.

The best source for indirect income would be the copyright societies (Teosto and Gramex here in Finland). The problem with these societies is, they actually prohibit releasing free music (although putting “free promotional downloads” on your own site is allowed). They cling to the past as much as the big labels, even though the societies do not have a crumbling business model to protect, but should exist only to serve the interests of composers, arrangers and music publishers. In fact, Teosto’s mission statement includes the following two goals:

  • Offering the best possible service to composers, arrangers and music publishers, and to music using customers
  • Increasing revenue from selected markets

Now, if releasing free music is the best way to increase revenue, shouldn’t they support that?

Apparently no. Or not yet. So if I want to let my children (the songs I make) swim in the waters of free music, I must cut myself off from the copyright societies. I currently get a few hundred euros every year from Teosto and Gramex for music I’ve made in the past. Terminating my customer agreement with Teosto would mean the money from future airplay of my music would go to a pool instead of my personal account, and probably (hopefully) would be used later to further the artistic development of Finnish music. This could be giving out grants to aspiring bands for tour support or shooting videos, or promoting Finnish music through money awards.

So, living in the music like water future would incur a cost for me, but I’m intrigued to try. I still have until the end of the year to decide whether to terminate my Teosto agreement.

4 Responses to “Music like water, now”


  1. Janne Says:

    Isn’t this the exact same situation than what professional bloggers and open source authors see? For most of them, the strategy is to make money because of the thing they do, not from the thing they do – that is, using those indirect methods.

    I don’t think the collection society monies are indirect per se. They are delayed, but they do come directly from the music itself. A few hundred euros sounds like something you could conceivably cover by making your music create new opportunities for you personally.

    I know my open source efforts have given me lots of financial stability, even though the direct return from them is almost nil.

  2. Niko Says:

    I understand the direct vs. indirect question is about whether consumers pay for the music directly — in other words, whether music is “free” for the consumer. In that sense, collection society monies are indirect: it’s the radio stations etc. who pay for the music, and consumers can enjoy the music for free.

    I think this is also what Leonhard (+ others) are suggesting, that we should have a flat fee for music, making music (or entertainment in general) a commodity like water. Nobody questions the recurring water payment. This would not be much different from the current levies on storage media, only the payment would be based on access to music rather than capability to store music.

  3. Orion Says:

    This comic seems to be pretty appropriate for your post: http://blog.wired.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/06/25/riaa.jpg

  4. Petteri Kuyikka Says:

    Puhut asiaa!