Are you a FairMusic consumer?
by Sebastian Merrick of Kazum
I'm lucky. Being in the music business as a World music promoter, I get quite a lot of free CDs posted to me. Well, I say free; it's a perk of the job, a bit like getting a preferential mortgage rate if you work at a bank - but not quite as valuable … However, I do buy CDs and pay for tracks online. And I think the music I buy is probably the music I enjoy the most. Just an example of that basic principle: the more you invest personally in something, the more you get out of it.
Having worked with many musicians and record companies from all round the world, I can tell you this: there is a huge difference between the top 100 selling CDs and the rest. No need to mention the top 6 albums (Charts August 2011) are: Amy, Adele, Beyonce and Lady G (yes that's the top 6!); the rest, well, the rest are the rest.
Many of the musicians I work with are happy to sell 500 CDs a year in the UK. Most sell less. CD sales are often measured in 100s.
This has consequences. People assume that, since Lady Gaga's Born This Way can cost £8.93 on Amazon (not subject to VAT by the way), all CDs should be so cheap. But if you sell 500,000 CDs, they sure can be cheaper than if you only sell 5,000. People have got used to music being available from cheap to free.
But music has never been really free. Just think of those Gypsy musicians playing at
weddings. No money, no funny - and in advance of course. In many cultures, it's a mark of prestige to shower musicians with money for their services, as seen in this video of an amazing Turkish Gypsy clarinettist at a wedding - even if the money is old style Lira with lots of 000s!
What is unlicensed music?
In the past, we copied music onto cassettes. However, the result was a lower quality copy of the original and it was time-consuming. Today, copying digital music takes a fraction of the time and you can end up with an exact copy, so many people do it without considering the consequences.
Many people don't realise that unlicensed music includes all of the following:
- burning a CD for friends
- forwarding a track in an email
- downloading albums from file sharing websites
- uploading music videos on YouTube without permission
- uploading tracks that you have not created yourself onto MySpace
- even playing music as a DJ or at a public event (even from an original CD) without paying royalties
Now obviously the last one of these is not something that DJs in small clubs (as opposed to say radio) worry about. Venues pay a Performing Rights Society licence fee to cover this. And YouTube videos are generally low sound quality and not so easy to export to your MP3 player, so illegal uploads are often seen by record companies as publicity tools rather than threats to sales.
The ethical dimension
Many of my musician friends live a reasonably tough life not far from the poverty line, because of a lack of income. If you think it's okay to copy their music, then a poor musician may be subsidising your lifestyle.
In the case of world music, that can bizarrely mean musicians from poorer countries subsidising consumers from richer nations!
There is an ethical dimension. During the Egyptian anti-Mubarek protests, people shared dramatic photos of the demonstrators protesting. Interestingly, some people sharing the photos were careful to say that they did not have the right to share them but have done so for the benefit of the cause. They felt it was unfair in such a political context with people suffering to simply re-post the pictures without crediting the photographer or agency who owned the rights. They were trying to be fair. FairTrade is now well-established in the supermarkets. Unlicensed music is usually not FairMusic.
Live music concerts
And copying music has a negative effect on live events. Record labels have less income and have stopped giving money to support the live concerts of their artists. Result: fewer good concerts of the music you love.
Olay, it's more complicated than that - but not much. The way music gets out there is changing. You can access free music legally in many ways. Some bands (normally well-established ones) decide to give their music away for free. It's their choice. But what doesn't change is that unlicensed copying of music ultimately has an effect on the creators.
I'm not saying I've never copied a CD. I'll do so to send music to promote an artist to the media when the record company can't provide promos. Sometimes, if the music is really not easily available any other way, I may do so. But generally copying music has a detrimental effect on the music business, on the creators, the labels, the promoters, and in the end the fans. So if you like a track I'm playing as a DJ and ask me for a copy, don't be upset if l tell you what it is and where you can buy it.
What can you do?
If you are concerned to consume music fairly on the belly dance scene, the main thing is to be aware.
- Don't assume you can't find a track or CD through legal channels. There are 1,250 'belly dance' MP3s listed on Amazon and 220 bellydance CDs, which includes a lot of older reissues
- If you want to share a track with a friend, don't just email an MP3 you've already bought or burn a CD. Instead, buy the track again online and email it. It'll probably only cost 70p and the gesture will be much more appreciated. An original CD as a gift is sooo much nicer than a sad-looking CDR.
- When you post a YouTube link on Facebook, include a link for the track on Amazon or other online retailer if you can find it.
- If you really have to buy a CDR compilation to practice to, why would you pay more than the cost of the CDR, since the compiler will not have spent more than this on it? And consider buying at least some of the originals of tracks on the compilation.
- As a music consumer, be aware that you really are part of an interlinked creative economy.
And I'm sure it's the music that you buy fairly that will be the music you treasure most.
Sebastian Merrick is a music promoter working within World music. His company Kazum has brought many Balkan Gypsy artists to the UK as well as working with Turkish, Arabic and Ethiopian music.
Legendary Turkish diva Sezen Aksu (composer of Tarkan's Simarik and dance classic Salla) will perform at the Royal Albert Hall on 20 October 2011. Sezen Aksu's new album Öptüm is released in the UK on World Village in September 2011 and is available on Amazon