[linux-audio-user] Linux-Music and making a living...

John Mulholland johnmulholland at fastmail.fm
Sat Sep 10 17:03:23 EDT 2005

Jay Vaughan wrote:

>> What about composing and recording music, and selling it?
> in that case it doesn't matter that you used linux to do it.  it never 
> matters what tools you make music with.

I am not so sure. Do concert goers really have the abilty to discern the 
music made on one violin from another? Would the performer? Does it 
matter in the hip hop mixtape community that the majority of music is 
made with uncleared samples? But of course you are not referring to a 
particular instrument, but an operating system. I could (attempt to) 
construct an argument here about how an operating system could be viewed 
as an instrument, but no. I'll just say that when I heard how fantastic 
the Hydrogen drum machine sounded recently, it mattered to me. So I 
think it is fair to say, to some performers, and some listeners, it does 
matter what tools you make music with.

The composing and recording part of your question should be fairly 
straight forward. If you are unsure of anything about that, you have 
come to the right place. The selling it part perhaps less straight forward.

I guess there are two ways to look at this. One is that you'll make a 
career out of Linux and music using both as tools to provide a service. 
For inspiration consider replacing the word Linux with 'General 
Computing,' and take comfort from the fact that some of the finest minds 
on the planet are working together. The other alternative would be that 
your music is a product. (I hate that term.) This is a ramble, and I 
hope it is of benefit, here goes...

There is the traditional legacy system of established music industry 
companies that you may wish to consider. If you are not already aware of 
it, Creative Commons (CC) can advise and help you to set up legally 
binding prononcements on how your content can be used and abused. If 
this is the way you wish to go there are a few CC aware labels (who may 
be interested in your work). Fading Ways and Loca are both excellent. 
Magnatune are also commited to CC and have an interesting pricing 
mechanism. There is a minimum, suggested and maximum price; Most people 
pay more. So far I think Magnatune are the only ones to have 
experimented with a differing price mechanism and CC content.

More recently it is becoming apparent just how many companies are 
grabbing as much CC content as they can. Some doing so with pages that 
have very small print. I would advise you to treat such group with no 
less caution than you would another label.

But what if you want to start up your own label? That would be a pretty 
cool way of selling your music right? I am amazed that there are not 
more labels around now that CC is available. Perhaps the last big hurdle 
to creating a label (the cost of legal documentation and taking 
payments) it still beyond most people. I am similarly amazed that this 
information is not more widely available.

Whether we like it or not, every action we make has a commercial 
resonance and an element of cultural capital. Playing an ancient and 
expensive violin, or wearing your baseball cap at different angle, or 
even a pair of white headphones all have a signifigance. It is this 
information that is economically important. The sad truth is that most 
of the largest record labels really do not care what they sell, as long 
as the information available to them suggests it will sell .

The music industry is like the rest of the economy in that works by 
selling 'bundles.' In reality what you don't want pays for what you do. 
In the past this was seen clearest by ' the album track paying for the 
single.' Today, you may consider that you dont really want Apple to know 
everything about your listening habits, you just want a particular tune. 
However, Apple will make far more from licensing playlist information 
than they ever will from selling "mp3s".

I am sorry I have no answers for you but I can offer some questions;

1. Should lists of freely available content be covered by a licence?
2. Should access to a list, or the items within it, be charged for?
3. How about if the charge was shown with the the percentage donated 
directly to the artist?
4. Could such a payment gateway be built using open source tools, and 
made open and secure?
5. Should access constitute right to copy, and is there any need for DRM 
in this system? Or in any other?

Big questions I know, but they are worth considering, particularly if 
you are looking to make a living out of Linux and music. Hope that helps


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