20 January 2009

Should Emerging Artists Abandon Non-Commercial in their CC licenses?

Disclaimer: Any business decision is a kind of a gamble taken by the individual or company and can succeed or fail. As such, no-one can and should make the decisions about your future. All I'm trying to do here is to encourage ways of thinking about an issue. In the end, it's your call ... your gamble.

Does it make sense for emerging artists to license their materials via the Creative Commons Attribution License rather than the intuitively more obvious Creative Commons Non-Commercial?

Even people in searches of day jobs are increasingly doing unpaid internships in order to get additional experience and prove what they can do in a realistic environment. It makes it easier for employers to eventually give them a paying job.

Arguably an emerging artist is in a similar position. So by giving away their work with just their name attached to it, they make it more attractive for others to use in their work.

So let's say someone now uses that work in an advertisement without paying the music maker. There are two ways of looking at this scenario for an emerging artist:

a) I "lost" the revenue I "should" have made, or
b) I have an additional item in my resume, in my quest for eventually getting paid for making music.

But does point a) even really apply, if the song was only used, because it was free?

In a routine scenario, like a theoretically lost couple of hundred dollars, euros, or whatever - this is not a life changing thing you'll be kicking yourself forever for. But how would you feel, if your free song became an international sensation, maybe performed by an established star, or used in a Coke or McDonalds commercial around the world?

As unlikely as that is, you should think this case through, and consider, if that would be a positive or a negative scenario for you. Would you have ever gotten that gig, if your song wasn't free? Established artists may very well and very legitimately say "yes" to that answer, but this article isn't for them :-)

With a worldwide hit to your credit, do you think you could maybe now get paying gigs to write jingles in your local market, get a gig in a trade-show, or maybe sell some t-shirts or ringtones, or a song for Guitar Hero 17 or The Sims "Retirement Home 2" expansion pack? All this because of your now obvious credibility as a hit maker?

Maybe even that wouldn't be so terrible after all?

Imagine yourself at 85, in your fusion-powered rocking chair, with your in-ear iMusicTalkNoiseThingy and looking across your video integrated tri-focals showing beach while you're actually sitting in room 23 of the Shady Pines retirement home in Winnipeg, Canada -- in January.

And someone interrupts your daydream about the good old days asking about your life. Would you rather say: "I recorded 5 jingles for a couple of hundred bucks each. And my CD made 500 bucks on amazon.com" Or would you rather say: "In 2010, Coke used my song for their commercial during the Olympics. And then I was on Letterman. Right after the guy with the animals...".


Again: this may not apply for established artists in a given field of music creation, but it may potentially apply for those wanting to be considered in a new field. And if releasing with an Attribution license, what if they don't attribute you properly? Would the courts give you damages for that? How much does it matter? Or maybe one needs to think about how to ensure that you can prove that it's your song. Because whatever happens, you'll want to be able to take credit for the credit that's due to you. Quite possibly publishing your work on the Internet where you give yourself proper credit is actually a good mechanism for making your claim.

And to preempt an obvious question: But doesn't giving things away for free make it harder for those currently making a living in that field? Answer: Yes it does, and so does your very effort to enter that field.

Once you have achieved a certain amount of notoriety and credibility, it might make more sense to switch to non-commercial licensing, just like you might not be interning once you've had a paying job or two under your belt.

Feel free to argue for or against in the comments section for this article.

1 comments - add your comment:

gurdonark said...

I believe that the attribution license is a very good thing for an additional reason--to create a "social currency" of exchange among artist and listener is a wonderful and creative thing, even if I must continue to toil at and enjoy my day job forever.