Since the dawn of civilization, people have loved free things. People will even take stuff they really do not want or could care less to have, just because they are getting it for free. Who wouldn’t want free stuff? I definitely would! If you want to give me something for free, why wouldn’t I take it? Especially if it is something I want, getting it for free makes it way more enticing.
Music consumers trying to get music for free is a big problem today! But this is NOT a new problem. Prior to the Internet and illegal downloading, getting music for free had been a problem for many years. The music business faced this problem for many years prior to the Internet with illegal bootleg copies of albums and concerts. Labels tried for years to combat fans making duplicate copies of records onto cassette tape. But the “stealing music” has never reached the magnitude that it has in the last 13 years. There seems to be no solution in the immediate future for pirating music. Yak, companies are coming up with solutions to monetize on music with streaming and attractive download prices, but illegal downloading of music is still a MAJOR problem. The music industry generates about $4 billion in online music sales, but looses about $40 billion to illegal downloads.
Artists, labels, managers, and music publishers have looked elsewhere to recoup revenue and generate income from music, outside of traditional album sales. One of the most popular ways musicians try to create revenue streams is from licensing their music to TV shows, movies, and video games, among many other outlets. In many cases this can be a great source for generating revenue from your music. But lately many artists have come across some big obstacles. One of the biggest obstacles that seem to pop up more often lately is production companies are refusing to pay for music. Understandably this has frustrated countless musicians, but what can you do?? How can you stand up to some of these major companies and fight for your rights as a creative artist. One notable artist has taken to the Internet to air his anger, and refuses to allow a production company to use his music for free.
London based DJ, Whitey, aka NJ White has had enough with companies expecting to use his music for free. Just this month, November 2013, Whitey (born Nathan Joseph White) rejected a request to license his music for free by UK based television company Betty TV. He rejected the request on the grounds that it was unreasonable to pay other people professionally involved with their shows, without paying to license his music. Whitey took to emailing the company to tell them straight up how he felt about being told that Betty TV could not afford to pay him for the use of his music. He went on to repost the email online, in hopes of opening up a public discussion regarding the industry’s abuse of musicians. His post had gone viral overnight, and generated over 500,000 views in its first 24 hours. On twitter, his post had over 1800 retweets. His email and the open discussion online exploded onto mainstream press. It generated articles in Music Week, The Guardian, the BBC and numerous other online sources.
Check out one of Whitey’s most viewed videos from YouTube:
Whitey had gone online and posted his email response to Betty TV because as he wants to “encourage people to reblog” it, and wants “to see a public discussion begin about this kind of industry abuse of musicians.” He explained his reasons for refusing to allow his music to be used for free on their television shows. I have to say, out of all the public rants musicians, and music industry figures have made regarding the current social and corporate attitude regarding the value of their music, Whitey has presented one of the most compelling cases. Despite how blunt and direct the tone is in his email, he no doubt articulates his point effectively.
Whitey explains that there is no label, and he owns his material himself, adding that he does not know “who they have been emailing” to negotiate the free use of his music. The fact that Whitey doesn’t have a label is common for majority of working musicians today. In almost all cases, this also means the artist fronted the money to record and manufacture their music themselves. Whitey explains his frustration, and that he is “sick and tired” of hearing the same line that “unfortunately there’s no budget for music.” Whitey argues his case by pointing right back at the company and declaring that they are using this excuse “as if some fixed law of the universe handed you down a sad but immutable financial verdict preventing you from budgeting to pay for music.” He is right to say that THEIR company put the budget together, not some outside entity that Betty TV cannot ask to include music in their production budget. He simply adds that they “have chosen to allocate no money for music.”
Part of what makes Whitey’s email so effective is the fact that he helps them identify with whom he is and the experience he has had getting there. Many outsiders to the music industry forget something that Whitey eloquently depicts…the many years it takes for a musician to master their instrument and work they commit to putting together pieces of music that is appealing to fans and companies who want to exploit their music. Whitey states that he is “a professional musician, who lives from his music.” He shares how he spent an enormous amount of time, dedication, commitment, and investment it took him to make his music. Whitey says, “It took me half a lifetime to learn the skills, years to claw my way up the structure, to the point where a stranger like you will write to me. This music is my hard-earned property. I’ve licensed music to some of the biggest shows, brands, games and TV production companies on earth; from Breaking Bad to The Sopranos, from Coca-Cola to Visa, HBO to Rockstar Games.”
He turns the table on Betty TV, and has them look in the mirror and see what they are asking him to do. Would they ask a director, writer, or anyone else in the creative aspect of their productions to work for nothing? Obviously not! He says, their “industry has a precedent of paying these people, of valuing their work.” Why not for music? Why not for his music?
I absolutely admire how Whitey takes it even further and compares expecting to use his music for free as something that would equate to bad manners, terrible etiquette, or lower common values and morals. Whitey paints the picture of coming into someone’s home or restaurant and eating for free. He says, “Would you walk into someone’s home, eat from their bowl, and walk out smiling, saying, ‘So sorry, I’ve no budget for food?’ Of course you would not. Because, culturally, we classify that as theft.” But the problem is that cultural today, people have an overall disdain for and value music much lower than they did in the past. For most artists, the value placed on music is too low. Everyone involved in filming shows and movies gets paid. Writers, grip, tech, caterer, assistants, custodial crew, everyone! Whitey cuts deep by looking at maintenance and the janitorial crew. He says, “even the cleaner who mopped your set and scrubbed the toilets after the shoot will get paid. The musician? Give him nothing.” But these companies have the money! Why cut the costs at the music? For what? Why the music? Music is an instrumental part of many of the most celebrated films and TV shows. Everyoner knows the theme for Star Wars. The music from Titanic. Try watching a horror movie without the music? Bet you won’t be that scared. Imagine watching any television show with no theme song, no score, and no featured music…wow, talk about a boring show! Any major show on TV today has some of their most heartfelt and emotional segments elevated by great placement of fantastic songs and score. Some of the best songs of the last decade were first featured on many hit TV shows, prior to the artists becoming successful with mainstream music fans. Many of these shows have dedicated soundtracks and websites strictly for the music featured on that respective series.
I agree with Whitey’s point of view on Betty TV’s unwillingness to pay him, that it is not being a lack of funds on their part, but actually a lack of value for music and respect for him as an artist. He says, “You are a successful, financially solvent and globally recognized company with a string of hit shows. Working on multiple series in close co-operation with Channel 4, from a west London office, with a string of awards under your belt. You have real money; to pretend otherwise is an insult.”
Betty TV has since issued a response to Whitey’s email. According to this article from The Guardian, a spokesperson from Betty said “We use a collective licensing system that ensures both the recording artist and composer are paid. We apologize for any confusion and we have contacted the artist to clarify this. We would never use music without permission and going through the proper procedures.”
The issue of getting music for free or not is no doubt a contentious and heated topic. It can go both ways. Some musicians feel that music should be given for free to anyone, and that free music is the best way to promote yourself and get people to hear your music. Some musicians would even be willing to allow it to be used for free in any major syndicated TV show, with a mere credit listing during some point in the show would be payment enough. But just as many, if not more musicians perceive giving their music away for free, or allowing entities to use it with no cost as a being robbed. They see it as it is something of theirs being stolen, and refuse to allow anyone to steal their art or their chance of making a living from it.
Many think that the continued use and consumption of music for free as a continued devaluing of their work and the art of music. Can you blame them? Can you blame Whitey for being upset and standing up for himself? I can’t…