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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