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chriszabriskie (Artist)

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chriszabriskie on 10/24/2011 at 09:00AM

Why I Went CC BY

I’ve been releasing my music under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial license for a few years now. I’ve always wanted my records to be free to download and share with others. A Creative Commons license, while not the ultimate solution to the world’s copyright law problems, is definitely an easy and clear way to make that known. However, a few weeks ago, I changed the license on all of my records from the Non-Commercial (CC BY-NC) license to a much more permissive Attribution license (CC BY). This means anyone can use my songs in their creative projects, even if they are commercial in nature. All I request is credit.

Why? I understand that allowing free commercial usage of your art might sound crazy to many musicians. What if someone uses your song to promote or sell something that you don’t agree with or wouldn’t sponsor? And why shouldn’t you be making money from it, too? I look at it this way: there is a complete dearth of good music in the world that is also free for other artists to use. The Free Music Archive is leading the way in that regard, but the demand is overwhelming. Take video, for example. There are 48 hours of new video being uploaded just to YouTube every minute. Somebody, somewhere, always needs music for their project.

Now, Creative Commons licenses help a lot of those video makers out, and a Non-Commercial license makes sense for many works, but in the end, who are we really protecting our art from? The Coca-Cola Company doesn’t go digging through the Free Music Archive when it’s putting together a new campaign. It’s people with Etsy stores making videos to advertise their new, handmade products. It’s filmmakers who, while the goal of making their short film isn’t monetary, can’t use BY-NC licensed music because one day they might press up some DVDs and try to make back some of their expenses. And if that dude’s free Flash game gets really popular, he’ll be on the search for different tunes once he wants to sell it in the App Store. Bummer. Think of all those people not listening to your music when they otherwise would be.

You have to think outside the very dusty box if you want anyone to hear what you do, let alone buy it. In my case, I can give away my records, but also work on commissioned projects as another source of income. A film I worked on a couple of years ago (as well as one I'm working on music for now) utilize a combination of new compositions and some of my CC-licensed songs that are here on the site. Just being a part of the Free Music Archive for a month has already brought a number of new composing opportunities my way. These artists might never have heard my music if I hadn't licensed it the way I have.

So my view is don’t just "give it away" -- release it into the wild in a way that encourages new things to be created from it, and don't penalize someone who might get lucky enough to make some money in the process. Let people do what they want with your music, and they'll promote you. Then keep moving forward. Keep creating something new to share. I get to create and express myself, people get to listen, and other creative folk can take what I do and make something new from it, free from worry about getting sued. We all win at that point, don’t you think?

Here are some rad people that I’m not going to sue:

chris zabriskie


jelnet on 10/26/11 at 10:42AM
Fascinating post, thanks. I'm curious to know whether people would pay for your music on itunes when they also have to the option to download it for free?

Anyway your post has certainly given me food for thought. Also loved the Lost video/music and posted it on my Facebook, thanks!
chriszabriskie on 10/26/11 at 12:12PM
People do buy my music online, and it's usually to support the music and me directly. Very few artists make any real money by selling songs digitally, but there will always be people who, even if it's not about supporting the artist, just find iTunes or Amazon the most convenient option for them.

jelnet on 10/26/11 at 12:57PM
What about selling CD's, do you think that's not worth bothering with nowadays?

Do you get to do music full time, i.e. are you "living the dream" of making your living from it? :-D
chriszabriskie on 10/26/11 at 03:56PM
I used to press CDs but there is next to zero demand for them anymore, at least on my end. I might do some vinyl next year in a very limited fashion, but that's still sort of its own niche thing.

"Living the dream" doesn't sound very appealing to me, at least in the traditional way of doing it (selling records, touring, merch, etc.), plus it's not really the way to go for the kind of music I make. I don't like creating and having to worry about how to sell what I make later on. I do compositions for hire and that's a part of my life that grows every year, so if I got to the point where I could (and would still want to) live off of just making music, it'd have to be via a pretty non-traditional route. Music should be fun and interesting to make, and having a stable day job takes all the monetary pressure off of the art.
jelnet on 10/26/11 at 04:17PM
Personally I still love having a physical object (e.g. CD/artwork) attched to the music and to date I've sold more CD's than digital, but maybe that's a thing of the UK.

I too have the day job and I think your comment about taking the monetary pressure off the art makes sense.

The only downside I feel is the lack of time one can devote to one's art, one of the frustsrations of the day job!
chriszabriskie on 10/26/11 at 05:38PM
I still buy vinyl occasionally and I do like the physical aspect of owning an album, but my musical world has grown increasingly digital and cloud-based. It's tough to beat the convenience. I like not having shelves full of stuff.

I think it's good to occupy one's brain with non-art stuff for a good portion of the day. When making music, for example, becomes the only thing you do, it's your day job, and you'll have days where you have to do it but you don't want to. I prefer to compose when the mood strikes me, rather than because I have to.
Kademlia on 11/17/11 at 05:47PM
I applaud you for having on open mind and not being afraid to open if further!
Almost every day I work with artists who, when presented with the idea of Creative Commons, almost always choose that route. Nonetheless, most are still very cautious about going CC-BY... Your way of thinking might give them another perspective :)

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