Harvard Ph.D. candidate Derrick Ashong thinks he has a better way:
- Ashong, a Ph.D. student in Afro-American Studies and Ethnomusicology, is also CEO of ASAFO Productions, a talent agency that represents new, up-and-coming musical performers – like the funk/harmony/R&B group Ashong himself sings with, Soulfege.
But ASAFO Productions does more than simply represent its clients. It offers them a new way of getting their music out to the public that just might revolutionize the music industry.
ASAFO’s secret weapon is a new way of licensing music called the FAM License, an acronym standing for “Freedom, Access, Music.”
….The terms of the license are so liberal, they might be summed up as “steal this song.” But there is more to the idea than just anarchic generosity.
The license allows anyone to copy and distribute the music commercially or noncommercially in a modified or unmodified form. The only stipulation is that the artistic credits for the original composition must accompany all subsequent copies.
But why would musicians want to give their music away? The answer is simple: exposure.
….What people can do with music licensed under FAM is basically pass it around – download it from the Internet, burn it on CDs, send it to radio disc jockeys, music promoters, and friends around the world.
….And yet, Ashong insists, the FAM license does not prevent musicians from making money from their music. They can still sell CDs themselves, a far more profitable way of marketing their music than signing with a big company. They can also perform live, which is how most musicians make the greatest portion of their income, and because of the wider notoriety the FAM license will gain for them, the offers for gigs should come in greater quantities.
And because the FAM license only licenses recorded music, not songs, songwriters will still be able to profit from their work if their compositions become popular.
….In designing the FAM license, Ashong and his colleagues consulted with some of the pioneers in the free software field and are convinced that the music industry, which has been losing money for the last few years, is in need of a similar approach.
“There’s no working model right now for artists to get paid for what they do,” said David Brunton ’97, a partner in a Washington, D.C.-based software development firm, Plusthree, as well as a partner in ASAFO. “The only model is one that allows five record labels to barely stay afloat.”
In the three and a half years ASAFO Productions has been in existence, all those involved have learned a tremendous amount about the music industry, how it operates, and most important of all, what happens next. Brunton isn’t quite willing to predict the future, but he believes that the FAM License concept has a good chance of being part of it.
“It’s an unproven model in the recording industry, but it’s worked phenomenally well in the software industry. If it eclipses the mainstream model or just remains an alternative, it will still be a great success.” [Harvard Gazette]
We are beginning to see an outline of the future music biz come together: with income from a broadband access pool, selling their own CD’s, songwriting royalties, live performance fees, and merchandising, we could create something that doesn’t exist right now – a middle class of musicians. Right now we have a small elite plutocracy and a whole lot of peasants – no wonder the current system is rotting from the inside. No free society can exist without a strong middle class.