Cre­ative Com­mons cul­ture is a won­der­ful thing. It exists purely for the sake of pro­lif­er­at­ing artis­tic endeav­ours, free from the con­straint of over­ar­ch­ing insti­tu­tions and at the pure will of the cre­ator. Ulti­mately the con­sumer wins in this sys­tem by being granted access to this art for free, for zero dol­lars. How­ever, for such a won­der­ful sys­tem that is in place it begs the ques­tion – what does free art cost? Who or what funds this free cul­ture, this grand dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion and cre­ative works?

As an avid con­sumer of cre­ative com­mons works (whether it is via netlabel’s dis­trib­ut­ing music, pho­tog­ra­phy on Flickr or pub­li­ca­tions dis­trib­uted dig­i­tally) I have been blessed with the seem­ingly never end­ing resources I have at my dis­posal. I can sit at my desk­top and per­form a quick Google search, bet­ter yet I can visit numer­ous net­la­bel catalogue’s (Son­ic­Squir­rel comes to mind), net­la­bel blogs (Yaman­ote Dreams), netlabel’s them­selves or even peruse Band­camp for artists releas­ing under a cre­ative com­mons license, all for free (if we dis­re­gard my down­load costs from my inter­net provider). After a long period of time con­sum­ing art for my own grat­i­fi­ca­tion it got me think­ing: Surely every­thing I have acquired for free could not have been cre­ated with­out some sort of cost burden.

The sim­ple fact is that every­thing I have taken for granted has taken time, money and ded­i­ca­tion to cre­ate and dis­trib­ute. Every­thing from small to big projects that are released under a cre­ative com­mons license impedes some detri­ment to the artist (though I wish to be care­ful not to speak for the artist here). Recently film­maker Vin­cent Moon and Copen­hagen band Efterk­lang released the film ‘An Island’ under a cre­ative com­mons license. The film crew and band tra­versed a small pop­u­lated island of the Copen­hagen coast and doc­u­mented the trip, per­form­ing songs in full takes live with cit­i­zens of the island from all walks of life. The scenery was stun­ning, the music enig­matic and the whole project a glim­mer­ing show­case of what cre­ative com­mons art can pro­vide. Upon com­ple­tion the film was (and still is) offered as a free down­load. I can’t imag­ine the time and resources that went into the cre­ation of this short film or how much fund­ing it would have needed to be completed.

We then can move on to the exam­ple of cre­ative com­mons music. The net­la­bel world man­i­fests in var­i­ous forms. For exam­ple, netlabel’s may run sim­ply from a Google blog­ger or Word­Press plat­form, other’s will go beyond this and design their own web­sites as well as host them on ded­i­cated domains. Judg­ing by some net­la­bel design there is sig­nif­i­cant work being put into the pre­sen­ta­tion of cre­ative com­mons music. One step fur­ther, the cre­ation of net­la­bel music is also a time expen­sive and cost incur­ring process. Take James McDougall’s release on Impul­sive Habi­tat. The record­ing equip­ment needed to cap­ture the mag­nif­i­cent thun­der­storm in North­ern Queens­land, Aus­tralia along with the chirp­ing crick­ets deep into the night would not have come at a deflated price. The artist, too, puts con­sid­er­able con­tri­bu­tions to giv­ing their work away for free under a cre­ative com­mons license.

If artists are incur­ring these costs on their own behalf I am sure they are doing it purely out of love of cre­at­ing and shar­ing – a strong ethos within the cre­ative com­mons cul­ture. Upon rumi­na­tion on these sub­jects I did how­ever begin to ask myself what I could give back in return. What could I, a per­son sit­ting at my desk­top on the other side of the world, con­tribute that was not of mon­e­tary value towards the pro­lif­er­a­tion of a cre­ative com­mons cul­ture? The answer was clear and sim­ple for me, it was a con­tri­bu­tion to this cul­ture by way of my own resources and time. I cre­ated a word­press blog to pro­mote net­la­bel music, I became involved in sev­eral net­la­bel pro­mo­tion and pod­cast­ing as well as writ­ing for other cre­ative com­mons pub­li­ca­tions. Being able to con­tribute back into a sys­tem that I had taken so much from was reward­ing and still is. Although this level of con­tri­bu­tion may not be for every­one there are lit­tle things one can do to con­tribute to the cre­ative com­mons culture.

I would like to point you towards a spe­cific release, this time on Portugal’s Feed­back Loop Net­la­bel. The Dwindler’s short EP Dreams has gar­nered an incred­i­ble 54,000 down­loads (accord­ing to the page). This is an astound­ing amount of down­loads for one group and one release, yet on the release page at the net­la­bel there are a mere 10 comments/reviews. This is approx­i­mately 1.84–4% of feed­back com­pa­ra­ble to the amount of down­loads. If we fac­tor in poten­tial emails sent to the duo/netlabel as well as twit­ter we can con­ser­v­a­tively say around 200 men­tions and feed­back may have been gen­er­ated which would equal .003% of feed­back rel­a­tive to the amount of downloads.

As con­sumers of the freely dis­trib­uted art we are par­tic­i­pants in the cre­ative com­mons cul­ture and com­mu­nity, but it is time we become active. Our respon­si­bil­ity is to feed back into the sys­tem and keep it alive. To do this, all it takes is a few sec­onds to leave a com­ment on a release page or a few sec­onds to share a release through social media. Get involved in the cre­ative com­mons cul­ture, it won’t cost you much.


13 thoughts on “Free Culture

  1. ends on such a good point. i would have assumed how­ever that avid con­sumers of free art would be very active in feed­ing back into the loop. im shocked to learn of some exam­ples that defy this belief. get on it you self­ish ass’s

  2. A lis­tener who gives credit pro­vides more than just grat­i­fi­ca­tion for the artist and net­la­bel. A lis­tener who com­ments, or reviews, or spreads the word, helps cre­ate the fab­ric of the net­la­bel sub­cul­ture. The growth of net­la­bel music hap­pens when it becomes more than just one more gratis down­load, but instead becomes a shared idea about how music cul­ture can work. This shar­ing of the idea goes beyond the mere music release, and includes the com­ment, the weblog post, the tweet, the video re-using the music, the photo or sketch inspired by the music (and vice versa), and even the good, old-fashioned “mix” CD or zip file.

    Thank you for mak­ing the point that the shar­ing is a kind­ness which involves a cost to the musi­cian and net­la­bel, but also rec­og­niz­ing that a kind­ness in repay­ment in this instance may be more valu­able than currency.

  3. I strug­gle with this. I lis­ten to a lot of free music, and share some of my favourites via the tag #yourfreemu­sic­to­day on twit­ter, but I only occa­sion­ally leave com­ments. Some­times that’s because I don’t know where to leave com­ments — a review on doesn’t seem to be the best way to con­nect back to the artist — and some­times it’s because a four word “I like your music” just doesn’t seem enough (even though it would prob­a­bly mean some­thing to the artist).

    So here’s what it seems like to me: we have good con­nec­tions to the music, but we don’t have good con­nec­tions to the musi­cian. When artists have blogs, tum­blrs, twit­ter feeds, etc, it’s pos­si­ble to make those con­nec­tions — although it can be dif­fi­cult to track down those chan­nels, but are there any other plat­forms avail­able to cre­ate a bet­ter sense of com­mu­nity between artists and fans?

    • Paul C. — It’s up to the artists and the net­la­bels to pro­vide easy ways for lis­ten­ers to feed back their expe­ri­ences, it shouldn’t be a dif­fi­cult thing, and if it is dif­fi­cult, this isn’t the fault of the lis­tener. I think it’s the duty of net­la­bels to fos­ter net­work­ing and pro­mote con­tactabil­ity to the artists they represent.

      I think that any venue and any form of feed­back is bet­ter than none at all, so a com­ment on the archive say­ing “I like this” is actu­ally a great thing. The artist prob­a­bly will see it.

      Your com­ment hints at the ques­tion of cen­tral­iza­tion of net­la­bel cul­ture… (a con­nec­tive hub) which is a con­cept that’s been float­ing around for a cou­ple of years, but is a pie-in-the-sky con­cept for now.

      • This cen­tralised hub for net­la­bel music has been very elu­sive. But again, I reit­er­ate what C. Rei­der says here that any form of com­ment is a good thing — even on an page.

      • C. — where there’s a net­la­bel, it’s usu­ally eas­ier to give some sort of feed­back — I was think­ing more of indi­vid­ual artists, some of whom are dif­fi­cult to con­tact, but I guess that’s on them. Good to hear that even the feed­back means some­thing to artists! Now I guess the onus is on me to post more comments…

        I don’t think there needs to be a con­nec­tive hub — I’m more sup­port­ive of the “small pieces, loosely joined” approach.

    • 1.) Trust me, a lit­tle encour­age­ment goes a long way, even a mere ‘four words…’

      2.) ‘Under-Commenting’ is a truly unusual phe­nom­e­non pecu­liar to Cre­ative Commons-licensed work (or pecu­liar to releases?). Here is a case-in-point: Tom Fahy’s 2007 jazz album, Aestrid, pro­duced by the Stag Records net­la­bel, has been down­loaded over 218,000 times, but nary a com­ment: Aestrid (Stag Records, 2007). Dis­clo­sure: I have down­loaded said album, enjoyed it, but didn’t com­ment! WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?

      3.) Sonic Squir­rel appears to be almost entirely non-functional of late, at least from a ‘music man­age­ment’ point of view.

      Great arti­cle, Mr. Stretton.

  4. A great arti­cle really. I’ve been involved in main­tain­ing a net­la­bel for let’s say 5 year, then I quit it because of the lack of response and artist involve­ment. If more peo­ple were think­ing the same way as Alex does I’d prob­a­bly still be doing it.

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