The Ethics of This Stuff

I've been doing this blog for years and it has provided many of you with much good music. It is also something that I have enjoyed doing. When I started doing it, I struggled with the issue of posting music without compensating the artist. I rationalized my actions by not posting full releases, by (mostly) sticking with obscure and very difficult to find releases, by not running ads, by hosting the music myself and not through some scumbags like Megaupload, etc. But the fact is, these were rationalizations. Oh, sure there is the little disclaimer at the side stating all music is up here for educational purposes and that it will be removed by request - but, while not dishonest, that statement is born out of an urge to cover one's ass rather than any felt obligation to educate. And, while I have never had a complaint about Crud Crud from an artist or artist representative (in fact, I've gotten fan letters from artists I've posted), I have always felt a bit uncomfortable doing this.

Besides doing this blog, I also run a couple small record labels. Over the years, sales have gone from pretty damn good to not very damn good, almost pretty damn bad. Meanwhile, the music I put out has gotten more and more popular. Many people listen to it, but they don't pay for it. One of the Nothing People found a torrent site that tracked the number of times a file had been downloaded. He looked up their (then) most recent album Soft Crash and found that it had been downloaded 40,000 times. How many of those people listened to it is unknown, perhaps half of the downloaders are hoarders. But let's say half of the people who downloaded it listened to it, that an audience of 20,000 got the album for free. Now consider how many copies of Soft Crash my label sold. I pressed 1000 copies on vinyl. The band was compensated with 200 copies. About 50 copies were sent out as promos to radio stations, magazines, and blogs. Of the 750 remaining copy, I have sold 650. I will assume that the Nothing People held on to 50 copies and sold the rest. So that is a grand total of 800 copies of Soft Crash sold vs at least 20,000 downloaded off one torrent site and listened to. The 800 copies that the Nothing People and I sold were paid for. The 20,000 "copies" off of that torrent site were not. I've know about this for a few years and it still bugs the shit out of me. However, I have still done this blog. 
About a week ago a young intern at NPR wrote a piece stating that she had 11,000 songs in her computer but only had bought 15 cds ever. She felt a little guilty but what she was doing was to convenient to change. David Lowery of the bands Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven wrote a very passionate, well-thought-out and informative response, which I urge you to read. It is long but you will learn a lot about how music and the internet works these days and what "artists" like myself are up against. (The link to the initial NPR piece is in the first paragraph of Lowery's letter). 

Knowing that since the beginning of this blog, I've danced around the issues addressed by Lowery, that I've complained about regarding the Soft Crash album, I can no longer continue doing Crud Crud as I have been doing it. I mean, technically I could, but to do so would make me more of a hypocrite than I already am and that is something I do not want to be. So, until I can figure how to do Crud Crud in a way that I find is honest and ethical (such as getting permission to post things, recording music/sounds out in the wild, using music which I own the rights to, etc.), this thing will be on hiatus (hiatus not retirement). 

I struggle with this issue also. I only post sample tracks from the LPs I feature. I think of it as giving a mix tape to lots of people. I hope it piques their interest and that they look for more music by the artists. But based on the fact that hundreds of people have downloaded music from my site, and I have only received a handful of thank yous, I suspect that most downloaders expect access to free music. They neither think of the work the artist put into it nor the work the blogger put into posting it. So I've considered scrapping the blog as well.
The ethics of this is really interesting to me as an artist. My blog only shares things I have created myself, or things I have permission for. Most research on the subject suggests that file sharing improves sales more than harms them for less well known acts. I know that the stuff I give away sells much better than the stuff I used to bust my ass to sell back in the day. Might be cuz it is better music, but I doubt it. I think it is the exposure that sharing has allowed. I get about 1 to 2 percent of downloaders that aren't freeloaders. I would guess that compares to "radio listeners" and "buyers" back in the day. If you think of yourself more as a DJ than a pirate, you may find the ethics more comfortable.

There is "dogs can read your mind" to check out as an example of another approach. Everything posted there is submitted by artists. I am sure that many musicians would love to be included on crud crud and would gladly give you permission.

Anyway...I'll continue to watch when you come back.
Thanks for the comments. A couple replies:

- I do think that part of the problem is that people feel that they are entitled to free music - or at least have no concept of what is involved in making/recording/releasing music. Really, it isn't a whole hell of a lot different than the old takes of city kids thinking milk came from a factory and not a cow. Lowery's piece is a good step toward educating people how things work.

- As someone who has run independent record labels for over 15 years, I can state without a fraction of a doubt that filesharing has NOT increased sales of the records I put out. In fact, even though the bands I release get more popular and my labels gain greater profiles and lots of critical praise, my sales have plummeted. The very dry joke going around indie labels (made up by the buyer at the main indie record distro) is that 300 is the new 1000. That is, where a label could expect to sell 1000 of a release it now, banks on selling 300 and hopes to sell 500. Sure, there might be a bump for people who worked hard to sell 100 of anything, but overall sales are in decline. You can site these studies that say otherwise, but I am telling you from my own personal experience and from others - big and small - in the indie label world. Yes, there will be exceptions and, yes, the economy in general sucks, but competing against free is a losing battle.

- What this really comes down to for me are two things: Who profits from the use of content and does the artist have control over the use of his/her work. I feel strongly that if someone's work (music, art, photography, writing, whatever) is being used to make someone money, the creator needs to see some of that money. Youtube, rapidfile, blogspot, facebook, whatever site that runs ads and has an artists content posted on it, should be paying royalties. People who have paypal donation buttons on their music blogs should be paying the artists whose work they post. Second, if an artist does not want their work associated with something, they should have the right to block use of it. Now I dont mean stop people from reporting on it or criticizing it or what is referred to as fair use. I mean something like the band Heart keeping Sarah Palin from using their song Barracuda in her run for vice president.

I think both of those requests are very reasonable, very fair, and really just goddamn common sense and decency.

- I am not shutting down this blog. I will continue it, but I will be seeking permission from artists to post their work. There will be some exceptions: I am not going to try to find some unknown Armenian peasant fiddler who appears on an album on a Soviet record label, put out in a country that no longer exists. But if the artist is living, I will try to track them down. A friend of mine complained that this would be difficult. But it isn't. Not nowadays. It just takes not being lazy, like the NPR intern. I do not think getting people to say Yes will be a problem. I've had plenty of artists write me happy to see their work here. I figure that same kind of folks will be even happier that someone not only likes their work but is respectful enough to ask them if they can use it. Not only do I think that this is just good practice, but it will also improve the blog. With permission will come stories, histories, and maybe even more music, stuff previously unreleased.
Thanks for the thought-provoking read...while I think there is a completely legitimate educational claim to write about and preview extremely rare or limited records, I think you're dead on with your principles.
Oh come on, Scott, the stuff you (and I) post is out of print. Were it not for this blog, this stuff would be unlistened to. And what good is that?

You buy a lot of stuff from used record stores and that doesn't monetarily benefit the artist either.

Don't stop!
Ha! Mr Fab, my friend, I knew you would chime in sooner or later. I know that there is a distinction to what you and I do and posting full records of new or in print stuff. But I don't that excuses either of us from not making the effort to contact an artist and ask for permission to post their work, if only out of common courtesy. And, I think that at this point it is important that bloggers like you and I make a very public point about doing that.

Your blog, Crud Crud, Fatty Jumbo's and a handful of others were among the first wave or two of MP3 blogs - and a far majority of these focused on obscure or very hard to find music AND offered some context and good writing. Without trying to sound like some artsy fartsy egghead, while what we were doing came from pretty pure motives and with some forethought (not posting full albums of current or in print material), we wound up providing an artsy cover for profiteers and ignorant lazy bastards.

I don't want to do that any more. Out of self interest (my record labels) and because I feel some kind...uh I dont know, just something that isnt right, I think it is important for me to figure out how to do this another way, a way that is respectful to the artists whose work we celebrate, and hopefully help to strip away the years of lies and justifications that profiteers and lazy people have created. And, having tracked down many a band, some defunct for 40 years, in order to put out a record or get copies of a long out of print record, I know that finding these people is not very much work and that the contact is often personally rewarding for both me and the artist. Seriously, man, is there really any excuse for people like you and I not to do this, other than pure laziness?
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