Alien Skin


The subject of music artists not receiving remuneration for their work is an important one for me but not a straightforward issue as one may think. After reading a number of comments on a Facebook post of my friend Jo Huber, I considered adding my two cents, but the size of my posted comment kept growing so instead I continued it in this blog...

Source: Facebook post, January 16

Jo has probably seen my Facebook posts in which I displayed unscrupulous websites that were distributing my music as Alien Skin. I did this occasionally to make readers aware that the situation confronting all artists, and especially affecting smaller independents like myself, is quite prevalent, making it often difficult for us to even recoup production costs let alone benefit from handsome profits. After awhile with such an uncontrollable abundance of avenues where my work was being offered, without remuneration to me, I gave up.

What offends me most is not individual people downloading my music for free, that's a separate issue I discuss below; it's subscription sites that profit from people's monthly payments allowing them to 'legally' download all they wish. Including, possibly, your music & mine too. These sites pay the artist zero, including brand name artists. They actually MAKE money from our work, not just offering technical loopholes to download music for free, illegally. I tried complaining to ISPs for awhile to no avail. That's another story and it has been commented that ISPs do make good profits themselves from selling premium internet packages allowing greater volume downloads to customers and therefore greatly benefit from the download of movies and music in great quantities. Whether this downloading is legal or illegal is of little concern to them. So, complaining to an ISP may not bring about the results wanted. Further, many of these 'illegal' sites offering subscriptions operate out of Russia where there is no unequivocal copyright law to challenge them with.

The issue of the general public freely downloading our music without permission is another subject all together and one that I believe is as much the impact of social, economic & psychological conditioning as anything else, and includes the dramatic changes in technology over the past 15 years. I use Google Alert to notify me of any references to my Alien Skin releases. I know for instance as soon as I release a CD someone will purposely buy it & rip it and the music gets distributed all over the net onto these thoroughly unscrupulous and illegal subscription sites.

Out of paranoia and before I understood the 'pay for' subscription sites I outlined above, I used to only upload song teasers in the vain hope that I would tempt fans to buy the full release; it made little difference to the outcome. Now I have all Alien Skin music available to stream in full online, on my website. My experiments over the years have proven to me that people who like my work are not necessarily going to buy it all the time, if ever. There will be fans who do buy it regardless of whether they can get it for free elsewhere. These are people (the minority) who consciously choose to SUPPORT the artist - some will only buy the physical CD (not happy with just an impersonal digital download) and some go out of their way to purchase it from a real shop. I am grateful to these people for their endearing support & I never take them or their support for granted. Again these are the minority and of course the more popular an artist you are, even if the percentages stay similar, the greater your absolute sales. There are always going to be these 'special' fans but I'm afraid the majority of people (including other 'fans') are not of this caliber. So basically we end up complaining about these later fans. They enjoy the music but do not wish to give us their support. These 2 type of fans are different and I would hazard a guess, as no one reading this will likely be a major selling artist, most of our fans are of the later caliber, casual fans.

Consider that millions of songs from ALL artists are available online, including millions of other distractions and products to buy. You can troll the net and find lots of songs you love every single day of your life, but who has the money or even passionate interest to buy large quantities of music everyday. That's never going to happen. I know it's a hot passionate subject and musicians can get very upset that our work appears to have little monetary value and believing that anyone who likes our music should PAY for it. That is what we're saying really: you LIKE it you PAY for it. These days what difference is there between someone who hears our music & loves it but doesn't download or buy it and someone who likes it and acquires it with no compensation to us? To me there is little difference. If we prevent people from hearing our music because we are AFRAID they may not pay for it, what are we achieving? There is SO MUCH competition, that no one will miss us or our work. That is the bare fact, NO ONE will miss us and will not really care if we disappear! And therefore our love of self expression through music becomes a solitary, private internal exercise or one that is shared with a tiny circle of musician friends patting each other on the back.

I would love more people to buy my work, hell yes, but I know that it doesn't come that simply, it has so much to do with social proof and building a powerful public profile, a very recognizable brand name, as well as high profile touring and big dollar Marketing. That for most of us is not going to happen. Wishing to magically receive similar fruits as the big players receive will only continue to frustrate and depress us and constantly have us concerned that people are ENJOYING our music without us getting paid. Again it's that frustration of 'how can you enjoy my music without giving me money?' Frankly too, if you upload your music whether on your site, on Soundcloud, on YouTube, anywhere, you run the risk of it being downloaded. So do you stop presenting your much loved creations, your babies, because of the fear you won't get paid for them?

I know it is frustrating & hurtful but the reality is that our work, although priceless to us, is valueless to the buying public in the sense that the competition is excessively extreme, everyone and their pet robot are releasing music. We are only tiny players and people will generally only spend the money they can afford on music, or more specifically on an artist that is in someway 'life changing' to them, even if this is only symbolic & in small degrees. Every person is different and will make up their own mind as to what that special thing that attracts them to THAT artist is. It may be a state of mind, a wish to be seen to be associated with the people that follow that genre, a wish to feel a part of a certain tribe, a wish to feel a small part of something larger....the psychology maybe endless here. It's NOT therefore JUST about three & a half minutes of music, or whatever. Liking a song is of itself not enough for someone to give us money for it.

Create first for ourselves and do not automatically expect people to pay for the privilege of liking what we do, as much as I, too, would appreciate their financial support for my work.

The alternative is to keep our music secret, be so over protective that few if anyone will hear it (or hear it in full), and in doing so we make sure no one will. This will most definitely prevent even the chance of us progressing further. I'd like to think that with Alien Skin, over the years, I have established a reputation with a number of people who may or may not have ever considered paying me by buying my work. I prefer to think my music is finding a receptive home with listeners who enjoy what I create and return to listen to it over the years. I prefer NOT to penalize people by making it hard for them to find and freely listen to Alien Skin, even if they do not wish to support me by paying me...what benefit is it to me to keep my music from people's ears, minds and hearts, it being what I love doing? There is no benefit, I'd rather be inclusive rather than exclusive.

One can either decide to keep one's music secret, private and well guarded with the result that your own creative desires & talents are strangled or you can open it up and reach as many interested people as possible. If they decide to support you and pay you, all the better, but you cannot rely on it or expect it. Those who really adore your work and adore you for it and WANT to support you, the artist, will do so, but this contingent will ALWAYS be the small minority! So, for me, I let everyone else in as well simply because even though I know they won't buy, I still want them to know and enjoy Alien Skin. I do not want this paranoia to stop me creating music, something I've been doing for 40 years.

So, in closing, the question to me is: do we continue producing original music, it being an expession of who we are as people & artists or do we continue with paranoia and prevent others from hearing and enjoying what we enjoy creating simply because we want money first? I know the argument: 'the amount of money and time we use up producing our works' BUT ... even though we may hate the reality - music sales, in and of themselves, by small players like myself and most people reading this, is never going to earn us much at all.

I value all responses and would love to hear other people's opinions as well.


2015-01-20 16:16:28 - George /Alien Skin
thank you Darin and Andrea for commenting, I'm pleased you've found some interest in what I've written.
2015-01-20 15:57:45 - Darin
Great piece George. There are so few new artists today that I really enjoy, that I really don't purchase much new music anymore. I have my absolute, all time fave bands/groups, most of them from the 80's or earlier, that if they make new music, I always purchase it to add to my collection. I still enjoy discovering new artists each year but they seem to be few and far between. I do use Spotify, mostly to give something a listen, in its entirety and then decide if it's something I want to have in my own collection. I am still torn sometimes though on whether I want to own an actual CD to hold and look at or add albums to my digital collection, which takes up less physical room nowadays.
2014-01-21 12:36:45 - Andreas Kuepper
An excellent article
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