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I often observe (and sometimes get involved in) this discussion on twitter: “Musicians should be paid for what they do, it’s a trade that requires huge skill, lots of practice and expensive instruments. Plumbers don’t plumb for free”, and I agree. Yet I still give away my music on bandcamp, why?

Before I get into detail let me just say this applies to ME and ME ONLY. If you recognise this then fine. If your experience is totally different, then that’s fine too – in which case please ignore this, don’t rant at me, this isn’t about you. also. PWYW means “Pay what you want” which in my case, includes nothing.

Right, that’s out of the way, lets get going.

Firstly, music for me is a hobby (see my “about” page) and I don’t expect to get paid for my hobbies. I pay to play in Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra, I pay to volunteer at a heritage railway, I buy my own books to read and my own DVDs to watch (yep, old school). I’m having fun here, why should expect (and the key word here is expect) people to pay for me to have fun? Of course plumbers and electricians – and professional musicians naturally – expect to be paid, it’s their job! Music is not my job, and never will be. I have another one.

It doesn’t much defray the cost of making music. Have you seen the price of violin strings?? And they last a year. Granted those are the posh strings that go on my orchestra violin, but most of my other violins have 5 or more strings so the total per instrument isn’t much less. Also bear in mind I have quite a few violins – and bows need rehairing too. At least the synths have minimal running costs. I suppose I should be grateful we no longer need to record to tape! So, while lovely to get, (see below), 2 or 3 quid doesn’t go very far on any putative balance sheet for musical activities.

In my humble experience, putting a minimum price on a album means that nobody downloads it at all. Having an option of ‘free’ perversely seems to let people pay for it. Now, I am a very niche artiste, I know that. I often say that I’m not even ‘a nobody’. My latest album has (at time of writing) 11 downloads, and that’s excellent for me. So this may not apply to you if you have a wider audience base.

I have experimented with this over time. Helicopter Quartet albums are also free/PWYW and get reasonable (see above) download figures. The one time I put a minimum price – of £3 – on an album … nothing. The same with CSMA albums (which all have a minimum price), they all have the minimum number of downloads – zero. We do sell quite a few at gigs though.

This doesn’t mean I don’t want you to pay for music, even mine. It all helps. A download will buy me a coffee, pay for a train fare to somewhere I can film another video for a track or help me to pay for someone else’s music (bandcamp – it’s the same fiver going round in circles sometimes I think) And of course there’s that lovely warm fuzzy feeling that people really like what you do, enough to put actual cold hard cash into your hand (well, paypal account) for the privilege of owning it. I love that feeling. But I’m not going to force you to give it to me.

Of course, other people have different experiences, even in similar genres, and choose to do different things, and I respect that. One thing that we can be sure of, people are fickle and nobody has all the answers. We can only speak from our own experiences.

This is about downloads of my own music of course. If you want me to session on your future gold-selling album, then I will expect to get paid at least a session fee – I’m not mad.

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