BoingBoing was one of my favourite sites. For a while in 2000, Cory Doctorow and I both had recently moved from Canada to the US, and we ran into each other virtually on the well, occasionally.

BoingBoing's music coverage consists almost entirely of articles about how musicians that are giving their music away for free are still successful. What they don't cover are the many musicians who give their music away for free that aren't successful, or how much less money musicians that give their music away for free are making than they would have otherwise, which seems a little unfair given that they were the ones who put in the labor to make the product in the first place, not to get all Marxist or anything. The idea is constantly brought up that you don't need money to make music anymore, that it's not costing anyone anything, and so why shouldn't it be free? To which I say: bullshit.

I suspect that the people promoting this idea are mainly writers, since writers are one of the few groups who can make art without any up-front money.[5] But almost every other artistic genre requires money to do, from a little to a lot. Visual art is fundamentally impossible without money, since you have to buy materials. Movies are impossible without money, at least if you want to make a good movie and have lighting and sets and like that. Classical music and opera are certainly impossible without money, at least if you want to actually perform them. And dancers need costumes!

The key caveat here is "if you want to make a good" whatever. It is possible to make music totally for free (assuming you are middle-class and have a computer already). But it's very limiting in terms of what you're going to do. Maybe one of the key problems with music no longer coming to listeners as a physical object is that they tend to think the production of the music involved no physical objects either. But most music does, at least if it's going to be good, and physical objects, regrettably, cost a lot. Sure, Girl Talk's music can be made with nothing but a laptop. But do we really want all our music to sound like Girl Talk?


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25 November 2008