Class 6 liveblog: In conversation with Brad Turcotte

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This was the first time our class got kicked off with music. We were treated to Brad’s track, Making Me Nervous as well as two other tracks.

Background:

Brad is a really successful one-man band and web musician. He offers his music online, on www.bradsucks.net. What is really unusual is his copyright policy – his music can either be downloaded for free or purchased. He has a pretty “liberal” copyright policy; essentially he allows the public to use and distribute his music in any way they wish.

I thought it will be best to summarize Brad’s views on a number of issues instead of transcribing the entire interview:

Music distribution model

With reference to the 6 possible models outlined in David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists – And Megastars, Brad thinks he uses a combination of the “self-distribution” and “license” models. He does mostly self-distribution through his website and other sites like iTunes, Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody, CD Baby). In addition, he has a non-exclusive 5-year contract with Magnatunes.com in which he gets a percentage of profits they make.

Why adopt such an approach?

Brad is interested in both music and the web. He saw the possibility of this model very early when MP3s become popular on the web, and it seemed obvious to him that music would now be accessed through files instead of CDs. The simple approach of cutting off “middlemen” appealed to him.

On copyright

Brad has stated on his website that the public is free to use his music. Original samplers may even be used commercially. This approach has worked well thus far. This model has been an economical way for him to attain publicity on a scale he had never imagined. He has been able to obtain “free advertising” and spread his music round the globe. Any kind of publicity is useful for a budding musician.

Brad also referred us to an article by Kevin Kelly that played a part in his development of this particular model of music distribution.

While Brad has come across instances when others used his music without giving him credit, he noticed how these projects do not normally go very far. Since he already has a presence on the web, it is easy for him to discredit such attempts through blogging. The publicity from such scandals can actually be beneficial for him.

Brad did clarify though that he still has financial needs, he is still a “capitalist”. He just does not think that revenue can be obtained simply by forcing people to pay for songs. Since he already obtains free publicity from his fans’ voluntary distribution of his music, he thinks he should “go easy” on copyright.

Ultimately, revenue will still be earned once he develops a relationship with his fans. Donations, sale of his CDs, purchase of his CDs and licensing will naturally follow. Brad has been earning his income from all this diverse sources. His music has even been noticed by William Gibson, author of Cyberpunk, who came across his music through a YouTube video. Brad thinks that his model of music distributorship, which was very novel when he first launched it, was actually instrumental in drawing attention to his music. He has also noticed that his fans seem more willing to donate because they are aware that he is an independent musician and the money they pay does not go to recording companies or large corporations.

While copyright has a place in protecting other parties such as corporation, in Brad’s opinion, it cannot ultimately harm him. On the contrary, any unauthorized use of his music will lead to more publicity for him.

The future musician and the music industry

Brad sees himself as a “humanized” and independent musician who builds relationships with his fans. His success is probably due in no small part to the connection his fans feel with him. Some of the things he has done to make him a “personable” musician include organizing a contest for background vocals, blogging and posting drafts of his songs online.

Brad thinks this model of distribution through the web allows him to be a semi-professional musician. He is able to be engaged in other activities such as programming, apart from music. Looking to the future, he thinks that it is probable that record companies would increasingly be open to alternative modes of distribution that include profit sharing. See, for example, rcrdlbl.com.

Web difference

How is the web crucial in causing Brad’s music to thrive? Brad finds that he would never have been able to succeed without the explosion of MP3s and the web. The web offers avenues for people to be easily connected to him and for them, in turn, to be connected to others and spread his works. File sharing through the web has essentially provided free marketing of musicians’ works. The numerous untrackable networks in the web, together with file sharing, have caused music files to be spread in most unpredictable ways. In today’s world, everyone has infinitely more choices than before. It is no longer the age when you could only obtain music through the radio or records.

Future plans?

Brad’s plans will be quite dynamic. The main focus will still be on giving his fans many options in using his music.

I think I’m not alone in thinking that this class was really inspiring, especially for any aspiring musicians amongst us. While we may discuss about copyright and web difference, it certainly helps to hear what an actual musician thinks about all our debates.

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