Free Ride

Moses Avalon

I have never met Robert Levine, but if I do, buying him a drink will not be enough. If I could, I would buy Robert Levine a car. Yes… That seems appropriate for the mastery of work he has created in his book, Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business.

Recently I sat on a panel for MEIEA, (Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association Summit) on their “New Entrepreneurs” panel. With me was Kyle Bylin, a free-tard who used to write for both Hypebot and Billboard.

I call him a free-tard, not because he’s dumb (quite the contrary) Or because I have anything against him (I do not) but because like so many of the net-generation–raised where you could achieve notoriety without actually producing anything tangible–he seemed to still believe in ideals like the Long Tail theory of economics.

You remember that one, don’t you? You give music away for free (or charge next to nothing) and somehow make up the difference on the volume, touring and merchandise. It’s the Long Tail logic that inspired Radiohead’s famous “pay what you want” release In Rainbows: an experiment that neither they, nor anyone else in the know, has repeated. (Results here.)

I know that few under 25 will readily agree with Levine’s Free Ride, but my guess is that this is mostly out of some kind of generational loyalty. You can’t get laid today unless you disagree with old farts who still believe in selling physical goods and creating passive revenue streams. Instead, to get ‘em hot nowadays, you talk of giving away everything while your investors wait patiently. This is what makes you look like a hero. This is today’s rock star. Instead of free love, we now have free everything.

When I mentioned Free Ride on the MEIEA panel, Kyle rolled his eyes, “I wish I had time to debunk line by line everything in that book.” I responded, “Then why don’t you?” I’d certainly like to hear some intelligent counter arguments and if anyone could offer them inteligently it would be Kyle. But, he supplied none at the time. (Maybe reading this will motivate him.)

If you have not read Free Ride and you are a songwriter, recording artist, journalist or TV person, then you are living in ignorance. The freemium model postulated by Google and ISPs is wreaking havoc on our economy and Levine tells you how with arguments (although some would say sophistry) as solid as granite.

In several lucid chapters Levine explains and elaborates the issues I introduced in my 2005 piece, The DRM Manifesto, with far more astonishing detail than i ever could. More of this sentiment was recently touched upon in a Dave Lowery piece about the new boss being worse than the old boss.

But one day “generation free” will be over forty and they, like so many hippies when they reached middle-age, will realize that a fair amount of the anti-establishment rhetoric they supported was the product of generational group-think, not sound economic theory.

Parting joke courtesy of Moses Supposes reader Matt Skills, “A million people walk into a bar in Silicon Valley. No one buys anything. It was a great sucess.”

Mo out


23 responses to “Free Ride”

  1. John says:

    I think you’re mistaking the Long Tail with the Freemium model. Freemium is giving away music to increase sales of tickets, merchandise and other branded goods. Long tail is all that stuff Tunecore distributes that sells little individually but sales of the catalog overall has some significance.

  2. d+b+t says:

    I’m not super familiar with the economic theories of the music industry or the books you mention, though I’d be interested to read them. But something I personally think is relevant is that not everyone can afford to pay for every album or piece of music they like. I know I can’t, and I’d have to be pretty well off to financially support every artist making something I like. That’s why I appreciate the free or donation / pay what you want format. I think it is a conscientious distribution choice which acknowledges that plain economic fact about a huge cross-section of listeners, while providing the option for people to contribute if they are able and willing to support.

    It is certainly a problem that people don’t value the creation of music as much as they should considering the benefits they receive from it, and therefore don’t view supporting artists they like as something that is really needed. This possibly stems from the fact that most people are not highly dedicated musicians and therefore don’t understand the time & effort involved in producing music. That coupled with the greatly increased amount of music available both legitimately free and stolen, since historically speaking far more people have access to production (and bootlegging) tools than ever before.

    I’m not an expert by any means, but I see the whole “free everything” movement as primarily an economic reaction. A lot of people just don’t have enough money to pay for what everything is worth (or what is charged for it, in many cases). You could really go down the rabbit hole with that one though, and I’m not trying to. But I do think everything is connected in many ways. In any case, it is unfortunately a difficult problem to solve, and as everyone knows, requiring payment for music only puts a slight hurdle in the way of people acquiring it for free on their own.

    I make all of my music available for free or donation. I wouldn’t say I know that it’s the best option, but as an independent artist in midst of the current economy & general trends of culture, I can’t help but recognize that restricting music only to those willing to pay a certain price will decrease the amount of people who will listen to it, considering the vast amount of choices one can make. This goes especially for music that is more exploratory or challenging than whatever is popular in any major musical arena at the moment.

    Since my own art is ultimately about communicating with people and expressing my position in culture, it doesn’t seem particularly effective to hold what I make at arm’s length and make people steal it from me. But also, while I greatly appreciate receiving financial support for what I make, I’m obviously not making music because it’s a good way to make money. I’m making it because it’s essential to my existence!

    So there is one perspective from someone who gives away music for free. Hope it’s interesting.

  3. ‘STEALING MY SONG’ the song – HARVEY SID FISHER .com- 3/12/12

  4. old driveway says:

    d b t .

    If you want to give away your stuff that’s fine. That’s an artists choice. But supporting file-sharing sites amounts to FORCING ALL ARTISTS to give away their stuff for free.

    Also generally people who claim that they “can’t afford” to buy all the music they like have
    1. A $500 smartphone and $75 a month phone and data plan
    2. A $1000 computer and $40 a month high speed internet connection
    3. $100 a month cable TV subscription.

    Not saying you are this hypocrite. But I am saying there are an awful lot of these hypocrites out there.

    • d+b+t says:

      I wasn’t talking about file sharing, I was talking about reasons why I appreciate the pay what you want format. I think it’s the artist’s prerogative to charge, and I agree with you.

      While there are most assuredly hypocrites and a fair lot of them too, it would be quite a stretch & at very least a baseless assumption to lump all music consumers into that category. My point remains and bears considering, at least for me. There are many segments of the population that aren’t hypocritically “poor”, whose lack of luxury finances can’t be totally theorized away into how they aren’t actually poor. I personally know plenty of people with no TV, no computer or more like $300 computers, no car or old beaters, old cell phones, barely getting by with all their living costs. It’s fairly widespread. There are a lot of factors involved, and that’s the economic rabbit hole I was talking about… Anyway, costs can add up quickly for people who really like music, so they turn to the plethora of by-artist-choice freely available music, or they steal it.

      Look back at my original post for why I think it’s important for me as an artist to engage with those demographics. I’d be interested if anyone has any thoughts on what I’m talking about. I’m not being hard line on pushing a certain view, I’m just sharing my perspective because the things I think about as an artist don’t seem to be addressed in the general discussion.

  5. Janis says:

    Long Tail’s not bad — the problem is that it’s a cultural idea, and people treat it like an economic one. Is it possible, with the long tail, for ANYTHING to find a sustainable audience of like-minded people? Yes. Is it possible for ANYONE to make a sustainable LIVING from that audience? Aahhhhh …

  6. Matt says:

    Well I feel so honored that you quoted that lil joke o mine. 🙂

    And to add just a bit of fuel here for no wicked reasons: I think the problem is that most ppl dont understand the difference beteeen revenue from performance rights pn the one hand and mechanicals on the other. IMHO “free downloads” are totally ok IF the dough is still coming e.g. from “performances” including play counts on ipods et al. But DRM has been lesd to the grave and no one wants more of anything “new”. BUT it should still be made clear that a record is merely a product of “print” and people like the freetards just dont want to pay for something physical cause they like digital the better anyway. I say: let em d/l whatever they want but if they play/use/mix up tgat song it should be made clear that someones gotta pay. SubscriptionServices like rdio etc are on the right path but the old child is now the problem child and no one employed to him wants to “get rid of him”. I’m curiously awaiting how things are working themselves put, at least its pretty clear that things obviously have got to change, cause now tgere are like 2 dystems running and both are disfunctional.

    Btw the reference to those hippieagers… I like.

    • admin says:

      Mat, i had no idea it was YOUR original Joke. Had i known i would have given it greater attribution. It’s now all over twitter and i just repeated it a dozen times at the New Music Seminar.

      Now we have to figure out a way to monitize it.


  7. Matt says:

    sorry for all those typing errors in my other comment, I should have checked before sending….

    One more thing for critical freetards:
    If you think its ok that artists should really give away their music e.g. their own creations for free just to sell tickets for concerts, tshirts and all other kinds of mostly useless stuff then why do we all pay for anything else? why don’t we get cars for free sponsored by shell? why don’t we get big macs for free so ronald mcdonald can live off his mercy especially for kids? why don’t we get free homes, don’t we pay enough for electricity, heating, water et al? why ain’t traveling free? At least we all buy lots of stuff when we’re on vacation, don’t we, just like its merch! if music should be free, then cinema should also be free so we can buy more popcorn! and disneyland should be free, yeah, free rides for all. Thats a skinny! And don’t forget to buy mercy. Merch merch! Hey, concerts should also be free, so we can buy more merch there, too. All companies who sell things, should give them away for free, tight? and sell their advertising gifts? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Of course if McDonald starts making burgers their freebies ppl are more likely to pay for McDonalds Caps, T-Shirts and maybe a whole clothing line but come on…..

  8. mike froedge says:

    It amazes me that ANY person with any intelligence attempts to rationalize that while EVERYONE else in every other career on the planet expects to get PAID for their work… it is somehow “optional” merely because music is involved?….

    NO. It is not optional. I expect to be paid a fair price for my work, just like anyone else, and I expect to not have my intellectual property stolen and distributed without consent, just as no one in their right mind would want all the stuff in their house stolen and distributed to others without consent.

    There is NO rational argument for stealing music. None. The end.

    • Eric Nedelman says:

      I strongly agree with Mike, “There is NO rational argument for stealing music. None. The end.”

      I also don’t see a need for giving away music for free just to make easy or accessible. If you can’t afford to pay for my music, I am unable to afford to support your entertainment needs. In contrast, I would be happy to give you a T-shirt for free, as a promotional item that makes you feel proud to support me as an artist. Even if the T-shirt costs me more to give away than for you to buy my music, the T-shirt has a greater promotional potential then the potential that you would share a link to my site to buy my music based on a free download. If you buy the music, then you are invested in the purchase and potentially care about it more than the 11,000 free downloads on your music player.

  9. Hi, I worked 12 yrs. saving for the equipement and thousands of hours doing the music and lyrics for a christian cd and I now have 2 professional demos I paid for and it took all year to get them done. I have working 9 to 10 hours a day in a hot machine shop-5 nights and one day. I am 55 yrs. old. Social Security isnt enough to live on and that happens when ur 53 early retirement and 66 for full benefits and u cant make more than 1400 dollars a month. I have taken care of myself all my life since i graduated high school. Right now I have severe carpel tunnel syndrome. I have to wrap my hands and arms up just to hold the parts. I lost both parents at age 8 after I came back from the orphanage and have no brothers or sisters. Music is the only thing that can save me from being homeless again. Do you really think I want to give up all my work for free? Nobody cares if i cant make it to work. Why should a bunch of spoiled teens with phones steal everything I worked and dreamed for. Let alone every penny and dime for 12 yrs. to buy all the equipement and get 2 professional demos made. I worked overtime and the government kept a thousand and gave me 148 dollars. Now i claim zero and cant pay the bills and i cant get food stamps either. I am an Army Veteran. Where r all the people who pay their way instead of stealing everything they can get their hands on. How bout u teenagers getting a job and some respect for other peoples work. I dont download music becuz i wouldnt want it done to me….thanks for listening!!!

  10. […] facts surrounding the company’s relationship with users and related issues surrounding the “freemium model.” Avalon has experience that spans from recording and engineering to artist advocacy and authoring […]

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  12. […] in search results, is a strong indicator of actual file trade demand. In fact, industry watchdog Moses Avalon argued such this week at New Music Seminar. Yet, when I went to look on Google Insights to see […]

  13. […] Digital Music; Steve Savoca, head of content for Spotify, and singer/producer Wyclef Jean. Producer Moses Avalon did a full-on rant predicting Google’s downfall, and why that might be a good thing for the […]

  14. […] Digital Music; Steve Savoca, head of content for Spotify, and singer/producer Wyclef Jean. Producer Moses Avalon did a full-on rant predicting Google’s downfall, and why that might be a good thing for the […]

  15. […] Digital Music; Steve Savoca, head of content for Spotify, and singer/producer Wyclef Jean. Producer Moses Avalon did a full-on rant predicting Google’s downfall, and why that might be a good thing for the […]

  16. […] Digital Music; Steve Savoca, head of content for Spotify, and singer/producer Wyclef Jean. Producer Moses Avalon did a full-on rant predicting Google’s downfall, and why that might be a good thing for the […]

  17. Neel Daniel says:

    I just finished Free Ride and enjoyed it. Although I did know many of the details in the book already, it is always good to get another angle on them.

    Thanks for standing up to the points this book makes. I agree the under 25 crowd (maybe even the under 35 crowd) would not understand the points this book makes.

  18. Jay Willingham says:

    In 2000, at the ABA Entertainment and Arts Committe conference in Orlando, the major label legal heads were gnashing their teeth at Napster’s guy who was on the dias with them. I do not recall if it was Sean Parker.

    The handwriting was on the wall.

    We wondered aloud from the floor if the labels would be better off making the Napster developers wealthy by buying them and starting immediatley to try to figuring out how to monetize the concept.

    Instead they sued their fans, their schools, and their fans’ grandmothers.

    The labels that survived have become pop culture pariahs, and as usual, the artists suffer; this time in a time warp to the music business before Edison.

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