Zeitung Citing

I was delighted to learn last week that my article in VAN about streaming and piracy, in its German translation, was cited by the major German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung. I had a friend translate the relevant paragraph for me last night, and unfortunately the author seems to have spectacularly missed the point:

[The fact that most people use Spotify for free] affects classical musicians even worse than their colleagues in pop, as the specialist online magazine for classical music, VAN, has pointed out in the past few days: not only are classical “songs” more seldom listened to than non-classical; they are also often considerably longer. Because of this, VAN recommends that classical musicians and composers should publish their recordings and compositions for free online. Many are doing this, for example on the platform SoundCloud, which is delighted to receive the work of composers of contemporary and famous or popular “e-music”.

Just to be clear, in the original article (and in the translation), I said the opposite:

Professional musicians who know that their music has limited appeal should think very carefully about whether their music belongs on a streaming service at all. Small record labels should do the same. Few people are in music, least of all classical music, for wealth or power, but giving music away for next to nothing is a surefire way to never make a living from it. Instead, musicians can continue doing what they’ve been doing in one form or another for centuries: selling their music.

Publishing their music online for free is what musicians are already doing on streaming services, and it’s not working.

What I did say, and perhaps what the author of the article mistook as being the whole of the argument, is that putting music online for free in a limited or inconvenient way, such as a couple of songs from an album, or streaming only through video, can be a promotional tool to generate more sales. Barriers are powerful. Many people will pay out a little money to get something they want a little more conveniently. Video game makers know this, and and use it in a disappointingly gross way; but it doesn’t have to be as manipulative as that. Netflix and Audible—and hell, even Spotify—use free trials with limits (in the former two cases, limited time; in the latter, limited convenience) to encourage users to subscribe to their product. The point of giving something away when you’re trying to make a living on it—especially something as ephemeral as a digital copy of a piece of music—is to make people interested enough to pay you.

I don’t think anyone trying to make a living making any sort of specialist product should give it away.