Is the free dissemination of music on the Web ultimately helpful or harmful to the economics of new music? Jeff Harrington, Composer and Computer Programmer

Jeff Harrington
Jeff Harrington
Photo by Elsie Russell

What we have today on the Web music distribution scene is chaos. Nobody is making much money selling music on the Internet. A few of us are selling CDs and a few are getting paid by the download, but on whole there is no working music business in place. What we do have on the Web, though, is an audience and that is new music’s first big problem. Shrinking audiences. Dying audiences. How can we be worried about the economic impact of this or that technology when we don’t even have people’s ears?

Radio, of course was the first free distribution model. Most new music composers would love to have more radio broadcasts yet these same musicians have fears about uploading a few MP3s. How many of us have not “illegally” taped a radio broadcast and then shared it with friends? For that matter, how many new artists have you learned about from “home-taping pirates?” Free music is everywhere, not just on the Web. Free music distribution on the Web is really just another type of radio but now the listener is the DJ sampling “songs” for a few seconds until his or her ear is excited.

On MP3.COM there is little or no critical hierarchy. There is little order at all, in fact. This might present a problem to many people who don’t want their music lumped together with hobbyists and random genres of musicians who might call themselves “experimental classical” or whatever. But for those who want listens by any and all people and not just the “new music expert” audience, it presents an amazing opportunity to do new music outreach to new audiences – and this will benefit the entire community.

No one can know the long-term consequences of this anarchic style of listening but anybody who thinks it is unhealthy to the future of new music is naïve. We need new audiences. We need to engage them and get them to consider composing new music themselves. New music has to become ubiquitous to survive. It has to become as vital a listening option to young people as any corporate pop cultural candy.

When the systems are in place, we can look at them and decide how best to exploit them to our artistic needs. But today, I believe that there is great benefit to getting on board and getting your name recognized as an interesting figure on the web new music scene. Remember, early adoption ensures Web search engine placement and if a critical hierarchy does develop (which it most certainly will) it might provide some benefit in that regard also.

The ladder of careerism has lost all of its bottom rungs. Most new music composers, are in a state of deep fear that their music will never be heard, much less reap them economic benefit. We all got into new music to be heard and people on the Web are listening. Why not take the risk and upload an MP3?