Musica Gratuitous
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Musica Gratuitous

Photo by Fanch the System.
Illegal music downloading has been a hot topic for almost a decade now, and the conversation has moved at a glacial pace. In the States, the music recording industry has sued individual consumers, encrypted CDs to prevent burning, and passed overreaching copyright laws to halt the momentum of rabid file-swappers. None of it has stopped people from getting ripped music off the internet since the process is just too quick, easy, and convenient.
Canada now steps in with its own recommendations on how to handle the situation. The government has proposed its version of the DMCA, which has been panned so badly that it’s now hiding in the recesses of the Conservative basement waiting for us to get distracted by something shiny before reappearing. Meanwhile, the Songwriters Association of Canada has proposed a monthly levy of $5 on using the internet that would give unlimited access to downloading, with the proceeds from the levy distributed to artists.
Of course, since you boys and girls have been so naughty, no one’s really asking for your opinion. (Why open a dialogue when litigation and imposed levies work so much better?) If any changes stand a chance of making a lasting impact, the industry better understand what the consumers are thinking.
So: how do you want the future of music to be? (Our terms are defined after the fold, by the way.)

Mandatory Monthly Fee

The Deets: A monthly fee of $5 to legally download an unlimited amount of music costs the same as buying five CDs a year at a brick-and-mortar store, which isn’t a bad deal.
The Damage: Of course, once sales drop to nothing (like Jesus, this levy would only need one CD to feed a nation of music listeners), the fee will rise until the music industry essentially becomes a public utility supported by you and me.
Example: Er, hospitals and libraries?

Pay What You Want

The Deets: Kinda self-explanatory, no?
The Damage: One problem with this option is that only accomplished bands and artists have a reasonable expectation that fans will pay. Will smaller bands find similar success without the big money push from the music labels? Also, what if people’s idea of fair value starts to slide since there’s no suggested price?
Example: Radiohead did this and netted an estimated $3 million for In Rainbows. Torontonian Jane Siberry also tried PWYW and apparently fans paid more than they would if the music had been on iTunes!

Sponsored Music

The Deets: This option is similar to Pay What You Want, except fans pay at the beginning of the process, which ensures that the artist is compensated. Fans would support an artist by paying for costs to develop the music and, then, the music would be released to be freely downloaded. As much as music lovers cringe at the idea, there could be corporate support as well. Corporations sponsor artists’ tours, so why not their music as well?
The Damage: Sure, artists may not make as much if people are contributing towards only the production costs, but they could always list an asking price instead. We all know the pop acts already pimp themselves out for bar mitzvahs and birthday parties. Even better, maybe some artists will have an asking price to not release any new music. Will.I.Am, name your price!
Example: Jill Sobule did this with her latest album, grabbing the $80,000 required for start-up.

Free Low Quality, Pay High Quality

The Deets: The music in low quality is released free (kinda like, you know, the radio) and a separate higher quality version for music purists is released for not free.
The Damage: This option allows newcomers to sample an artist’s music without hurting their wallets. At the same time, a higher quality edition will satisfy fans who are willing to pay stupendous amounts for the “whole experience”: artwork, fancy collector’s encasing, special features, snippets of the band’s hair.
Example: Nine Inch Nails went this route and scored a whopping $2.6 million in sales through their website and Amazon, with $750,000 from their Mega Super Duper Awesome Edition alone.

Free Music, Period

The Deets: The thinking goes like this: who needs record labels anyway? Make the music free and then have artists make money on tour. It’s how most artists make money anyhow. Besides, record labels suck! (As Amy Poehler as Avril Lavigne would say: “Bleh! Wah! I’m a punk!”)
The Damage: Of course, when the carbon emissions from all the travelling artists on tour melt the ice caps, those record label execs will have the last laugh! Bah, progress!
Example: Uh, in the 1500s before the creation of copyright laws?