Like most emerging artists, Lelia makes full use of the internet to promote her music. Besides her website and thesixtyone, she’s on YouTube, Twitter, and Bandcamp. She has a Kickstarter page to raise funds. And, of course, the tried and true email list.
Earlier this month, Lelia sent out an email to her list. Part of it read:
For those of you new to my music, I have been putting out music and touring since 2005 on an independent basis. I have several records out, a good bit of my music is on Itunes, and my newer CD is in the store on my own website, but if you can’t get enough of my music and want more more more, I recently decided to release a digital collection of all my old records that I have put out and a TON of unreleased rare tunes that I won’t ever release…some acoustic, some live, and some are full on studio recordings that never made it onto a record. However, because of some of the upcoming events and if all goes according to plan, I am only going to be able to offer this for a short time longer.
A few days later, Ms. Broussard followed up with another email. Apparently, many of her fans thought she had meant she was giving away all this music for free. Not so.
What followed was an impassioned message about the struggle musicians like Lelia face getting to the point where they can sustain a musical career.
I do give away a lot of music to my fans, when you join the email list and throughout the year and will absolutely keep doing that, no question! But I can’t give away everything!! #youguys
Please hear me out for a sec on this. I am at this moment in time, a very poor, underpaid musician. Right now, I am not even permanently living anywhere…it may sound like a jet set life, traveling here and there for shows, but believe me, its not! I wouldn’t trade if for anything, I can’t NOT make music, I just have to…but there you go, that’s the truth, not so glamarous and jet setty! #newword
Even if I were on a major record label, that could still be the case. Unless I start selling out much bigger clubs than I am currently playing, I am losing money when I go out on tour, and unless I independently sell at least 10,000 records, I am barely breaking even on putting out a record because of all the costs that come with that.
That is why you see me busting my ass doing fund raising along with music, it’s the only way for me to fund my life and continue to write and record, and tour, and its how I am able to pay for some PR, radio campaigns, keeping all the things running that I do have. I haven’t raised enough for all of those things yet, but am working on it, which is why I keep at it like this and ask for support.
A lot of people just simply do not buy music anymore, they just illegally download it. I don’t like it, my musician friends don’t like it, but we realize its part of our world now, so we try to do and release music/things that fans might want that they can’t get elsewhere and that they would purchase, because they do want to support us.
I think Lelia’s message highlights some important points. The question of illegal downloading is often cast as generational, with young people seeing it as a way of life. It is also often framed as only an industry problem: corporate suits wanting to control culture versus new artists embracing the “benefits” of piracy. These are useful narratives for proponents of weaker copyright, but as Lelia attests to, they don’t necessarily hold up when compared to reality.
Although Lelia sells her music online, she also provides a good deal of it for free, either streaming or available for download. Some musicians choose to give all their music away online, others don’t even allow digital downloads for sale. Which is the best choice? I don’t know. But the bottom line is that it should remain the artist’s choice. Many copyright critics would rather take that choice away from artists, gussied up in a “it’s for your own good” argument.
Becoming a full-time musician is tough work. Yes, people would still create without the copyright incentive. But that’s not the best way to ensure our lives are enriched with the songs and sounds that connect with us emotionally and give us meaning. And as much as the internet has opened up new avenues for artists to connect with their fans, twitter followers, touring, and t-shirts are not enough to sustain a musical career.
Crafting good music often involves talents beyond that of individual artists like Lelia — talents of people like producers and engineers. Getting that music heard requires the investment of a great deal of time and money, and it also is aided greatly by other talented individuals like video producers and promoters.
Creativity provides many benefits. The question lurking beneath the copyright debates is “where should those benefits go?” Should they all flow to those looking for a cheap way to fill up their iPods and web sites looking for cheap ways to attract traffic and sell ads? Or should the law ensure that some of those benefits go back to those who devote their time and talents to create?