Should music really be free? No.

Music industry analyst Mark Mulligan has sparked huge debate with a series of posts which explain why music can’t just be free.

His statements won a round of vituperative responses, and the analyst responded to these with a post on his own blog this afternoon.

Mulligan points out that as an active musician and an industry analyst, he (and we agree with him) doesn’t believe artists should be returned to some romantic position as unpaid minstrels travelling from town-to-town in hope of earning a few cents to survive.

At the same time, Mulligan is in favour of file-sharing, and believes the industry needs to find ways to legitimise the practise, while engaging in dialogue with people who use the networks in order to convince them they should purchase some music now and then. It’s no naive notion – he also believes artists have a right to protect their copyright.

While in many ways the argument now says artists should be paid, but their labels are the enemy, he argues that labels offer a useful function for artists, once again observing this doesn’t mean labels don’t need to sort themselves out and be overhauled. “Most artists need support if they are to fulfil their potential and thrive,” he observes.

He finishes his argument pointing out the historical inaccuracy of those who point to the way musicians traded in the Middle Ages as some kind of aim for musicians in the post-paid age.

Far from the romantic vision of the musician moving from place-to-place to make a living, musicians where forced to eke an existence on very little. And why can that be appropriate when so many millions worldwide enjoy the art they create?

“Musicians like most artists in history before effective monetization of copyright struggled for money,” he writes, “Some would argue that this is the price artists should pay, it’s part of paying the creative dues. I don’t,” he concludes.

In a sense there is an endemic philosophy in the society we live which says people following vocational career paths should accept lower wages as part of the package for their freedom.

Nurses, teachers, musicians, actors, writers – almost everyone engaged in creative or altruistic endeavour across this planet face these kind of arguments on a daily basis.

What needs to be considered is that without nurses who’d care for the sick? Without teachers, who would teach our kids, and in a world without a financial model that favours creative endeavour would we quickly run out of new music and other art forms?

Here at Distorted Loop we were saddened at some of the comments made in response to Music Week’s report on recent claims by Pete Jenner that album sales are suffering as a result of iTunes cherry-picking by fans.

While we think some of Jenner’s arguments may well have been based on older concepts, we do agree with both Jenner and Mulligan that ensuring our artists can survive while practicing their art is critical. I’d go so far as to say that enabling creative and vocationally-focused people to make an honest living doing what they love is a hallmark of a civilised society. Otherwise the insistence that art and so on aren’t worth paying for leads us to a world in which no one can articulate the dreams and passions most of us hold.

We’re not in favour of the current model here, far from it, but we’ve seen enough exploitation of creative groups by those in power in our time to recognise that a model which draws fans to their musicians is essential, so we think Mulligan’s assertions raise some interesting questions, which anyone who loves music should attempt to respond to in a positive way.

For us it starts with the tenet that artists deserve to be paid. Labels need to go an awful lot further to ensure, 1/ They are fully riding the huge increase in interest in music that’s emerging right now, and 2/ Find a way to strengthen the bonds between artists and fans.

And we also think a little less disposable mass market pop music in exchange for a focus on radical cutting-edge new art may help justify the position of major labels.

We’re not equipped to engage in whole-scale debate here, but we would recommend you take a look at what Mulligan has to say. The debate continues, we think anyone who loves the creative arts should spend a little time figuring out how to ensure the creatives who make that art can survive. Without them, surely, our world would be a sadder and even more repressed place?

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