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Sharing Music is Sharing Experiences

by Jenz Steiner

As a child of the late seventies, I still belong to the “generation tapedeck”. I want to contribute a short, but very personal story about how I became a fan, producer and strong supporter of net music.

Just as today – as teenagers, me and my friends did not have the money to buy all the music we liked on vinyl or CD. So in the early 90’s we recorded radio shows and compiled our own mixtapes and exchanged them with people sharing the same taste of music. We have made a virtue or even a passion out of necessity.

Compared to other parts of Germany, we had pretty good conditions to find interesting music. I had the privilege to grow up in Berlin, a city with 15 radio stations and nine TV-channels, providing a wide range of variety of music almost like the internet today. The youth channels of eastern state-run radio ? DT64 and western corporate radio ? Radio 4U, the privately run leftwing alternative Station Radio 100, some temporary pirate stations like Radio P and the allied forces stations BFBS and AFN have been enriching the old-fashioned radio-landscape with a very young, unique and urban sound.

Since my teenage years I was into Hip Hop, because of it’s “Do it yourself” flavour. I was very fascinated in how easy it seemed to create such moving and touching music with real simple and cheap means. This has marked my own work and artistic aesthetics down to the present day. This young genre of music made me understand that in order to create something artful, it is not important how much material you have, but how you organize and arrange what you have.

It was just a small and easy step to change from a passive Hip Hop consumer into an active “doer”.  In the mid 90’s me and my friends started rapping and producing Hip Hop music ourselves.

We did not have any studio equipment and were reliant on the simple technical means that we could afford, and even more on our own creativity. As students we used our plenty of spare time for practicing and endless jam sessions at home and quickly made good progress.

It has never been easy to make your presence known. The only ways to spread our music were self-copied tapes and live performances on stages of youth clubs and public rehearsals in city parks. Everything was pretty exciting until we started sending out demo tapes to different labels and playing outside of Berlin?s creative and liberal inner city. It was a drop of bitterness that most of the labels did, of course, not respond to the demo. The few answers we received, only included short violating and affronting notes. Whenever we had an audience that was not local, we were booed out, and sometimes even the power was turned off by the technician or organizer of the event. This can be very depressing for young and ambitious artists.

Fortunately things have changed. When the internet gained importance for musicians and music lovers, I have slowly been convinced that there definitely were plenty of people hungry for the music we were producing. After almost a decade of practice in the children’s room and on small stages, I released my first album on CD at my own expense in a run of 100 copies. I gave away all copies to my friends and acquaintances sharing the same views, experiences and lifestyle. This was a very personal matter and totally fulfilled me. I did not expect more than their feedback.

Two years later, in 2002, I came up with the second free album, which I released in the same way. But something went different this time. One of my former producers has been publishing the music as a free download album on the internet and after a month he reported an overwhelming number of 9000 complete album downloads. It did not take long for me to realize that the way I went so far, has been the right one. So I kept on doing what I always did. I was even more astonished that one pre-released song of my last album has been downloaded for 55.000 times before I had published the CD.

Henceforward it did not make much sense for me to try to get signed to a record label in order to publish my music there. I did not feel comfortable with the thought of my very personal music being commercially exploited by any company. I decided to publish my music in the future on the net for free under a creative commons license. This was a very political decision with strong side effects. First I chose the public domain model, free to use for everybody. One of my songs against gentrification and corrupt estate agents was used by such a real estate agency for a cinema commercial. The PD-license gave them the opportunity to turn the content of my song around in their interest. My hands were tied. I was not able to do anything against that. So for the future I decided to use another creative commons license model, not allowing commercial use without contacting me as originator of the music.

Even after that experience I give my music away for free, because I feel uncomfortable saying: “I am making music only for my friends.” and asking them at the same time to pay me for that. I want to be heard by people understanding and feeling what I am singing about. If I wanted to become a rich and famous celebrity, I would have chosen another way to get there.

Some of my friends are still hanging on to the dream of making a living from their music. I could not even imagine the transformation from an avid musician into a struggling free-lance “music worker”. There is a variety of evident reasons for my dismissive position. My strongest argument: music should be fun, not a job. If you want to make money, go to work! It really makes me sad to see how professional musicians that I know are facing strong difficulties. In order to survive, they are involved in many band projects and have to play on funerals, weddings and anniversaries. Often they are very unhappy with that, because they do not even get to play their own songs.

To me it seems important to have a thankful audience ? as well in front of the stage as in front of the computer.

On the one hand I am a strong supporter of free net music. It should be up to the musician to publish his work for free. On the other hand, it also seems plausible and acceptable to me to take money for concerts and any sound storage medium.

If you are a professional musician, you have invested into lessons, instruments, equipment, promotion and studio-usage-time in order to reach this level of professionalism. If you take your job very serious, you don’t have any other sources of income than giving concerts and selling any type of recording media.

When you make music on a semi-professional or even non-professional level, you may also chose this way, but you should also always have the chance and even the inner force to give your music away for free. Music is a part of human culture and its actual meaning is not to make a living from it but to express emotions, to underline and to reflect what you do, who you are and how you feel.

Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag
Sharing Music is Sharing Experiences von Jenz Steiner steht unter einer Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Lizenz.

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