Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Musician As Businessperson The Entrepreneur as Artisan


The New York Times brought up an ongoing debate with its Free Music? Only With a Fight article back on March 15, 2008 under its BUSINESS| What's Online section. The fight is over the economics.

Hugh MacLeod asked the same basic question, in his case regarding software, how does a software company make money, if all software is free? via gapingvoid: "cartoons drawn on the back of business cards" by hugh macleod back on 4/8/08.

On Page 122 of this month's Wired Magazine, I'm given a brief mention in the first paragraph of an article, "Open Source Software Made Developers Cool; Now It Can Make Them Rich", all to do with monetization of Open Source software. Here's the online version.

Last spring, marketer and blogger Hugh MacLeod posted a question on his site: If open source is such a phenomenon, where are all the open source billionaires? His audience wasn't amused. Open source software relies on a community of volunteer developers who tinker on, write for, or amend a program, then give it away free. MacLeod's site filled up with complaints that even to look for billionaires violated the spirit of the open source movement. "There have to be rewards," one commenter wrote, "but they don't have to be financial."

What gets me working for Microsoft is that I've always been very interested in something else, namely, how people make a living. This is true for large companies, small companies, billionaires and "humble tradesmen" alike. This is why I can work with a large software company like Microsoft, or a small tailoring firm like English Cut, and find them both utterly fascinating. Everybody needs to get paid; that is the great constant in business.

Much of today's economy seems to be based on the intangibles of creativity rather than the production of product. This weblog initially looked at fair use and copyright issues and its impact on the economic viability at the individual level. Special interest has also been paid to the economics of this new paradigm at a more broad based level. Hugh MacLeod provides some insight from the world of Web 2.0.

Last summer, at a dinner party in London, I had the great pleasure of meeting Simon Phipps, the Head of Open Source at Sun Microsystems. .. A lot of the conversation was off the record, but one of my main take-outs was that Simon passionately believes that "The Future Is Open Source".

A few weeks ago, I met a young developer who worked in an IT department of a large insurance company. I asked him what kind of software did he use. Answer: About 75% Microsoft, 25% Open Source. I asked him why did he not use more Open Source? I thought IT people loved Open Source?

"If something goes wrong with Microsoft, I can phone Microsoft up and have it fixed. With Open Source, I have to rely on the community."

And the community, as much as we may love it, is unpredictable. It might care about your problem and want to fix it, then again, it may not. Anyone who has ever witnessed something online go "viral", good or bad, will know what I'm talking about.

When you buy a Microsoft product, you're not just getting ones and zeros. There's also a form of "social contract" implicit in the commercial transaction. You gave them money, this entitles you to certain expectations.

The last time this was considered, under Troubadour Troubles - Economic, Legal, Moral? You Pick, links were provided to David Byrne and his advice on Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars. This time the advice comes from Entrepreneurial Mind, who provided back on March 28, 2008 a perspective on the Musician as Artisan.

The music industry is facing an interesting puzzle these days How do you run a business where customers do not want to pay and they do not want advertising?
Efforts to sell music by subscription have mainly failed...traditional radio's offer of free music surrounded by audio advertising also is being rejected by a generation that resents undesirable interruptions.

"They want to be the program director, and they insist that the program be free," says Jerry Del Colliano.

The big boys in the industry do what big boys do in any industry undergoing fundamental change -- they try to get the government to protect their interests.

The predictions from the Institutue for the Future about the future of small business might offer a glimpse into the future of music:

Artisans, historically defined as skilled craftsmen who fashioned goods by hand, will re-emerge as an influential force in the coming decade. These next-gen artisans will craft their goods and shape the economy -- through upswings and downturns -- with an effect reaching far beyond their neighborhoods, or even their nations. They'll work differently than their medieval counterparts, combining brain with brawn as advances in technology and the reaches of globalization give them greater opportunities to succeed.

Summing it all up from Hugh MacLeod:

The reason Microsoft is able to charge the money it does IS NOT JUST BECAUSE OF THE SOFTWARE. Like Open Source, the social contract can often matter far more than the ones and zeros.
Summing it all up from Professor Cornwall:
...I hope that it is an industry sustained by talented artists -- and successful artisans -- who help us understand love, heart ache, happiness, sadness, joy, despair.

I have to admit being pleased with the idea that the rock star provided the more business oriented advice and the business professor talked about issues closer to the artistic soul. Both Hugh MacLeod and Professor Cornwall, I suspect, are approaching the same place from different directions. Whether they or we all will arrive at the same place is another question. The challenge is to actively instill the humanity that Professor Cornwall evokes into the so far unwritten and to a large extent unrealized social contract that Hugh MacLeod suggests.

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