The Cost of a Free Culture

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. This brings me to the main point of this article, as participants in the active creative commons culture and community, as consumers of the freely distributed art we too have a responsibility towards the continuation of this culture. Our responsibility is to feed back into the system and to 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. [AS]

The article photo was taken by Liquid Oh

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  1. December 20, 2011

    Amazing article, and, of course, totally agree. Creative Commons’s world is based on people’s effort, resources and time, not on money, so, it’s really fragile in fact. We must continue supporting all this things to mantain it alive, and, of course, “spreading”. This is the main factor to improve. It’s one of the factors most expensive in a commercial world, so, is a reflection of its importance.


  2. December 20, 2011

    Dear Alexander,

    thanks for your article. You hit nicely the point. To spread all over the CC music is the first help that anyone can do to the CC net-releasing labels. Then, it is up to the listeners to judge the quality … but ….. this comes later … 🙂


  3. SoundShiva
    December 22, 2011

    Free music costs alot of money, but this is your choice to make it free when you launching your netlabel. And this is a big problem for whole free culture. One big motivation to make release free is PR, you can put/spam/publish your release everywhere and if its really dig people you will take alot of attention and interest.

    All professional work needs money: coverarts/mastering/pr + your time.
    Here is still many labels which making stuff just for fun or cause all we making this or cause “my friend have netlabel, i want one too!” etc. This is your choice. This is why here is still few top interestig/quality netlabels, because their managers have alot of expirience and proffesionals in their teams. Its hard game to play “free netlabel”. Dont ask people to waste their time on comment your blog, this 3 comments on FBL costs alot! but do u really need this comment engine? i guess no. Just let people share your release on socials or comment @ facebook let them work for your label by one click if they want to. Look forward, think simple. (check Cut Netlabel btw) Swap your listener with youself – what you want? Yes.

    Dont tell me you didnt think about money. we all need food everyday or pay bills. You cant spent time for free always. Once your label will die like many others. This is ok. Have fun. If here is no money think about strategy how it can help your self or our projects, or how your projects can help your netlabel etc. And here is still to many people like you who can help without money just ask them.

    good luck

  4. December 23, 2011

    Great article. Good to keep the wheels turning and discussions flowing regarding feedback and support.

    Recently I read some comments/opinions saying making music available for free was devaluing the art and even causing damage to the music scene as a whole. I do not support this opinion. This is a direct attack on Creative Commons.
    But the question begs, if the music is free and stats show there is very few comments, is this a metric that free music is taken less seriously?

    Take care.

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