Musical Values in a digital age:

Written by Peter Doran for peterdoran.com. Sign up for newsletter & get free music here.

Photo by Sergey Sergeev (Wet Plate Collodion)

Some thoughts on abundance vs scarcity, & the values of recorded and live music in the digital age:

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This week I spent a little bit of time with a Russian photographer called Sergey Sergeev. I discovered his work online earlier this year and immediately fell in love with it. Sergey is passionate about traditional photographic technique and processes, and tends to avoid the digital world. We did a shoot together yesterday morning in the place where I made my new album "Outlines". The plan was to get some nice photos for the album cover / packaging / booklet etc.  I feel it went well, but we won't see anything until the pictures are developed. This is a strange sensation in a world where we're used to getting things instantaneously! I look forward to the results - the light was good, and I trust his eye...
Sergey spoke with boyish excitement about the magic and the science of this old-style photography. I lack the knowledge to write about it properly, but it sounds really interesting. He develops his own pictures using  old-world chemical processes, there is no ink or printers involved and because of this, every one is truly unique and special. This stands in stark contrast to the world we live in now, where so much is digital and can be replicated exactly without any loss of quality. All of this got me thinking about value, abundance, scarcity and worth. There are parallels between music and photography, and both are art-forms that have been affected in the digital age.

What is the Original & Where is the Copy?

The connection or division between art and commerce is something that gets discussed time and time again. They are two different worlds that must find a way to live together. Music is a priceless thing. I can't put a monetary value on my favourite songs and albums. But yet, creative people must eat. I've thought a lot specifically about my next record "Outlines" (Released September 2014) - how much should I sell it for, and how do I connect it with music fans online? I want this album to find an audience that loves it. I want it to spread. "The internet is a copy machine" , I read that in "Show your work" by Austin Kleon, he was quoting Kevin Kelly's article "better than free" (both of which are good reads for creatives). If music can be copied and shared for next to nothing, Should I make my recordings available online for next to nothing? Does offering your music for free online devalue it? I don't know for sure that it does. Who says that a song is worth  0.99c exactly anyway. So in music, what is the original, and where is the copy?  I think now that any kind of recording is a copy. For me, the original is the living breathing performance of the songs that travel into the microphones and onto tape or hard drive. They will be preserved there for all time. These are your immortality projects. But the original is already gone. Smoke in the air. The original work must be reborn again and again as live performances - experienced in the moment by living breathing  people - people who may, or may not be watching through their phone-screens! The live show is a living pulsing thing filled with moments of connection that you can't digitally replicate.

Name Your Price, fill your ears.

There is value in the copy too of course, in the recorded artefact. Whether through CD, Vinyl, downloads, streams etc. - It's a way for an artist to get in the ears of the listener, at the time and place of the listener's choosing. How do you put a price on these things, what is that worth?  Is an album worth €9.99 ? I'd like to think so. But it depends on how deep the connection is between the listener and music. So perceived value will differ from person to person. I like the idea of giving people the option to pay (If they wish to, and if they can) and to encourage them to pass the music on. If your music is share-worthy and as good as you hope it is, maybe people will spread it. I have spent over a decade getting to a point where I can make a record like "Outlines". I want to add it to the jukebox of the world and and invite people to fill their ears with it. As far as sales go, and ownership, I like the concept of  name-your-price, the idea of leaving a digital hat out for anyone who'd like to throw some coins my way. People have the option to throw money into the hat as a gesture of gratitude, as a way to help me continue to make music in the future - €7.99 would buy me a new packet of strings for example. But this approach is about more than exchanging money for digital files. It's about nurturing the artist so they can go on being an artist. The understanding is there too, that if the listener is curious but not fully invested yet, they can download your album for free and take their time in getting to know it. The most important thing is that people are getting to hear the work.

"Don’t price them too high. What matters is that you sell a large number of them. Your drawings must go out into the world." - Picasso

Every musician is a  source. We create and we document, we write and record. But Why? Why do we record these things? Nobody had a gun to my head demanding I make a record. Basically I made this under my own steam. As Seth Godin would say I picked myself. I think you record your songs so that as many people as possible can get enjoyment from them. As an artist or writer you are compelled to create - you're not writing for anyone in particular but when the thing is done, if it's something worth sharing then go ahead and share it!. If I truly believe that this music improves the world in some way then it should be made available as easy as possible in internet land. Does this thinking devalue music ? I don't know... Does it me look like I have no faith  in my work? Who knows. You can't control what others think anyway.

This album was made from people's generosity and talents, it was made out of love.

The reason I've been thinking about this so much recently in specific relation to this new album is because of the way it's been made. I've made records in the past that have cost a lot of money, but it gets harder and harder to justify spending huge amounts of money on an album that may never earn it back. With "Outlines", I wanted to make a quality record, simply, and with little or no budget. I wanted to see if it could be done. So, this album has been made from people's generosity and talents, it was made out of love. So why then, when it's time to release it, should I put an unmovable €9.99 price on this piece of art. I think the digital album should be free and people should be free to pay if they wish. Maybe I'm rambling, maybe I'm dreaming... Any money generated will keep me alive and  keep the hope machine running.  It will go back to the people that made the music. It can be used to promote the record or invested in future projects. I don't want a private jet. I absolutely do not want a private jet, let me just put that on record. The music is there for other people. I need to get it to them. Let the digital recordings be the seeds in the fruit that lead to new fruit trees. Let the songs take root in other peoples minds and let them lead the listener back again to the source, to the Daddy tree. Get people into a room and make music for them,  make them  happy. That's what excites me. That's the mission. Anything else is bullshit.  All I can hope for, is that this work is of value and that it will delight some people. Everything else is a waste of time. So yes, The Painting and the print, the original and the copy. Scarce or abundant. So many different angles to think about with any art. Everyone wants something special, valuable. We all long for something a little out of the ordinary. The live performance, the room of people, the whites of their eyes., the songs, the lyrics, the recordings, even these blog posts... they're all different types of creative expression and should be treated with care and respect. I look forward the to sharing the new record with you soon. It's being mastered in Arizona on June 30th. This incidentally will be the first BIG financial outlay of the project. (about $850). ____________________________________________________________________________________________

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these things... Are you a musician, do you think I'm talking nonsense? Are you a music fan, where do you get your music online? Do you use iTunes, bandcamp, Torrents, Youtube, spotify etc? Do albums matter to you or are you more into singles? I'm endlessly curious and would love to hear your thoughts 🙂   write to peterdoranmusic [at] gmail.com or use the comment box below.