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Sell your own music. Keep the profits.

Buy. Donate. The artist decides.

NOTE: Not all website features described in this document have been implemented yet. Developers will publish new features and functionality as the various components of the project are prepared for public use.

The New Music Industry

An Appeal to Independent Artists

by Ben Johnson, Lead Developer and creator, indieTorrent.org
Last revised June 20, 2008
Draft Version

Table of Contents

  1. Table of Contents
  2. Executive Summary
  3. The Bare Essentials
    1. The Author, In Brief
    2. Mission Statement and Scope
    3. Introduction (and A Lengthy One at That)
  4. Getting Up-To-Speed
    1. Basic Terminology
    2. Personal Philosophy
    3. The State of the Industry
  5. Problems With the Status Quo
    1. Reasons for Which The Current Model Cannot Be Salvaged
  6. Enter indieTorrent.org
    1. How indieTorrent.org Protects Your Creative Works (Music)
    2. Pricing Structure
    3. Financial Strategy
    4. Motivation for Artists to use indieTorrent.org
    5. Motivation for Fans to use indieTorrent.org
    6. Other Benefits of Participating on indieTorrent.org
    7. File Formats for Music Downloads
  7. Hope for the Future
    1. Fans Will Pay For Music, One Way or Another
    2. Do People Tip? A Question of Etiquette
    3. Boosting Your Fan-Base: Fishing for Fans
  8. The DRM and Copyright Pitfalls
    1. Labels Are Becoming Obsolete; Don't Help Them Stay Relevant
    2. The Death of DRM in Music
    3. The Potential for the Illegal Resale of Your Copyrighted Music (And Why It's No Big Deal)
    4. A Simple, Yet Illustrative Case Study
  9. Additional Reading
    1. Record Labels
    2. Emerging Alternatives to Copyright
    3. The Pirate Bay
    4. Free Software (Definition)

Executive Summary

The indieTorrent.org project provides an e-commerce framework that enables independent musicians to sell their own music while keeping all profits. There are no record labels and no middlemen, and artists may join the indieTorrent.org community free of charge. The only requirement for an artist to join is that he electronically signs a straightforward document certifying that he owns the copyright to the music he is attempting to sell. The indieTorrent.org platform is very simply an e-commerce store that was built from the ground up with the express purpose of selling digital music and merchandise.

Indie artists are able to upload their digital catalogs to the website and have complete control over the sale of their music. Each artist is assigned his own URL, e.g., http://indieTorrent.org/band-name-here, for ease of access. Artists set their own song prices and are permitted to edit/activate/deactivate/delete songs and albums at any time. Artists are permitted to close their accounts whenever they like and are not under contractual obligation of any kind, nor is exclusivity required. Artists are free to sell their music in any number of other stores. The artist's only legal obligation is to assert in good faith that the individual on-file as the Artist Representative is either the sole copyright holder of any uploaded music, or an appointed party with the authority to commit the artist to a legally-binding agreement.

Fans who browse the music in the indieTorrent.org Music Marketplace enjoy 90-second track previews and receive CD-quality audio files for any songs that they buy. Customers are also be permitted to download purchased music an unlimited number of times (in case of a hard-drive crash, old audio formats become obsolete, etc.).

indieTorrent.org informs the customer exactly how much of his purchase will go to the artist (something that very few enterprises will do). During checkout, the customer will see, for example, "$12.43 of your money will go to the artist, $0.66 will go to payment processing, and $1.86 will go to bandwidth, server, and design/development overhead for this site." Even further, customers see a running total of how much they've spent on the site and how that total has been allocated on the other side of the transaction (% to artist, % to payment processing, % to site overhead). As if that isn't enough transparency, each artist has the option to display his own "bounty" (total earnings) on his artist profile page. The purpose of this is so the artist (or a fan) is able to observe a given band's cumulative sales totals in real-time. This feature also ensures that artists cannot be ripped-off at the end of a given month; artists will know exactly how many dollars in sales they'll receive before pay-day arrives. Of course, this figure will also contribute to artist popularity rankings.

indieTorrent.org is operated as a for-profit LLC (at least for the time being), but exists solely for the betterment of the independent music community — the stakeholders are the artists and their fans. This idea is not for sale; it is already free, and its freedom will always be defended, ardently. No offer to purchase the company will be entertained, but we're always looking to form strategic partnerships and realize investments.

A core team of developers and designers who maintain and better the indieTorrent.org source code and website site will be paid a modest stipend (~$25,000/yr. for part-time) and will be responsible for all aspects of day-to-day operations (designing, programming, audio encoding, performing customer service-related functions, etc.) and leading future development efforts. The source-code (underlying program code) for the entire indieTorrent.org platform will be published as Free (as in freedom) Software and by extension made available for any individual who would like to operate his or her very own online digital music store using the indieTorrent.org code-base. (indieTorrent.org may or may not charge money for access to the project source code; we are still working to determine which scenario would benefit the community most.) Requirements for do-it-yourselfers are simple: a Web server, an SSL certificate, and a payment-processing/merchant account.

One requisite for Free Software is that any interested party is able to review the "source code" behind the software, which ensures security, integrity, honesty, and the absence of back-doors, which are built into many non-free, proprietary software applications (perhaps even Microsoft Windows Vista). When dealing with e-commerce applications, it is critical that all personal data security mechanisms are transparent, certifiable, and not reliant upon obscurity. Online shoppers should be wary of e-commerce software that is kept secret from them.

The "torrent" in indieTorrent.org is attributable to the fact that one component of the site is a custom torrent tracker (and torrent index) that will be used for posting legal torrent files. Artists who can't (or won't) charge money for their music (no talent, no renown, etc.) can use a custom browser-based graphical user interface (GUI) to upload their music to the indieTorrent.org torrent index. Uploaded torrents will be indexed by meaningful/searchable criteria (much as they are on existing music torrent trackers, like etree.org's "taping-friendly artist" index). The burden of the bandwidth required to move all those audio files will fall on the fans who download the gratis (free of charge) music — not indieTorrent.org. This is the power of the BitTorrent protocol, and it will allow indieTorrent.org to provide a very useful mass-music-distribution function without incurring an enormous monthly bandwidth bill. All indieTorrent.org has to do is provide the torrent file tracker/index and honor legitimate requests to have files that violate copyright/site policy removed.

One of the most interesting features of indieTorrent.org is what we're calling the "Tip Jar". Each artist who is brave enough to provide his music free of charge (using the torrent tracker service) will be given his very own Tip Jar into which new listeners and loyal fans can place monetary donations using a credit/debit card or PayPal Checkout — in any currency and denomination. Naturally, this encourages artists to provide zero-cost music while making money in other far more innovative ways. Radiohead fans will be quick to note that the indieTorrent.org project very much embraces the strategy that Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and several other recording artists have been using to distribute their music over the last several years.

To clarify, artists have two choices:

  1. To upload their music and set their own song/album prices; artists sell their music in a graphically-customizable e-commorce storefront. Customers pay for digital music (by credit card or PayPal) and then download CD-quality audio files from dedicated, high-bandwidth servers.
  2. To make their music available, gratis (at no charge); artists do not charge for their music and, in return, are given the ability to received donations through a secure, e-commerce platform. These artists enjoy customized profiles, too, and all of the other benefits that "regular" artists receive.

These two choices are not mutually exclusive; artists are encouraged to leverage both services to maximize revenue and exposure. Sell a little music, offer a little music free of charge. We encourage all artists to stir the public's curiosity with a hit-single or two on the Free for All torrent tracker and then set-up a storefront when the artist is ready to start selling music. This strategy provides for artists to receive a little bit of tip money to help turn their music production efforts into realized revenue.

Welcome to the future of digital music.

The Bare Essentials

The Author, In Brief

My professional background is in Web development, and, in particular, the business of e-commerce. I have over seven years of practical e-commerce experience, acquired in part as a senior-level Web developer for a $1.5B retailer. In the course of my career, I have built dozens of websites, many of which to this day rely on my custom industrial-grade e-commerce software.

My proclivity for e-commerce lead my career to some interesting places, and in mid-2005, I began spending time with some new friends who were insiders on the Dallas indie music scene. At the time, I didn't know much about making music, but as somewhat of a music collector, I knew that I was tired of overpriced CDs and first-generation digital music stores that fell woefully short of their promise to reduce prices and revolutionize the customer's music-buying experience.

After meeting dozens of incredibly talented musicians who could barely pay their bills, I began to wonder how such a suffocating status quo had ever come to be. After two full years of primary-source research, I realized to what extent the U.S. recording industry is a ravenous and decadent leviathan that all but a roomful of people on this planet could assuredly do without.

My interactions with these commendably brave and increasingly weary indie artists have inspired me to assume what for me was a very unexpected interest in the music-making and distribution business. Over the past year, I have applied my technological vision and Web development expertise in order to draft a provocative call-to-action aimed not only at independent musicians, but at anybody who values the freedom of information.

Presently, I own and operate a small technology firm based in San Diego, California, which affords me the opportunity to sharpen my pencil at every turn and remain afloat as the technology-driven tide continues to rise. I love all manner of electronic gadgetry and have written volumes of technical articles and tutorials (most of which I have published on the Internet, to be used for any purpose). I build computers in my spare time and am also a hobbyist musician (electric guitar).

Above all, I am a freedom-loving human being who values the gift of sentient thought.

Mission Statement and Scope

“To bring trust and mutual value to the relationship between artist and fan.”

indieTorrent.org's intent is to bring dignity and intimacy to the relationship between artist and fan. From the early days of Tin Pan Alley, career criminals have had their financial hooks firmly staked in the music industry's tenderest meat: talented young artists and their loyal fans. The record industry has a long list of dirty laundry, atop which sits impulsive greed and its mistreatment of musicians. indieTorrent.org seeks to end the Industry's reign over the artist-fan relationship by informing music fans the world over that there are alternatives to overpaying for unprotected investments that are subject to crippling usage restrictions (basically, the music that is purchased in virtually every online music marketplace today).

The music-buying populace has been ripped-off for decades and forced into compliance with a mold that the music industry kingpins have cast for the sole purpose of reveling in opulence at every young musician's expense. And, the fans are every bit as much the victims in this crooked scheme. Traditionally, the musician gets screwed, the fan gets screwed, and the fat-cats laugh all the way to the bank. (For more information as to how exactly the label cartels operate, see industry guru Steve Albini's poignant observations as to why a $250,000 record deal advance leaves each band member with about $4,000 net income.)

Downloading music a la indieTorrent.org removes the labels and brands from the equation, thus leaving the fan with reasonably-priced music. indieTorrent.org also provides forward-thinking artists with a way to make their music freely accessible to the masses; as such, fans are faced with an ethical decision as to whether or not they will tip (donate to) such daring artists. Asking customers to pay only for the products or services that they find to be of value is not a new concept, after all. The Shareware and Freeware industries have existed for decades and thrive on the fact that people do in fact pay for products and services that meet their expectations, even when payment is not mandatory.

The goal at indieTorrent.org is, very simply, to destroy the pervasive monopoly that exists and give aural edification back to the masses — to the fans and the artists to whom it rightfully belongs.

Introduction (and A Lengthy One at That)

Artistic expression, in the form of auditory stimulation, or music, is one of the most significant gifts with which humanity has been endowed. It is indeed peculiar that the vibration of a string or the forceful collision of atomic arrangements can produce a resonant frequency that speaks to the human consciousness in a meaningful way. (I'm still talking about music.) Such a wondrous marvel should come as no surprise, however, because this invisible sea of vibratory signals constitutes, metaphysically speaking, the precise medium over which all communication occurs. While some of us recognize the significance inherent in the ability to create meaningful sounds, many of us fail to realize that the ability to communicate those sounds is perpetually under threat.

Much in the way that the news-journalism industry manipulates the availability of information in order to subjugate the masses, the recording industry manipulates the price and availability of music (music is simply a form of information) in order to achieve the very same result. On a fundamental level, the music industry seeks to control the availability and flow of information (music) largely in an effort to further its own agenda. The mega-corporations that own the music industry (and they do own it, as we shall see) are effectively the same mega-corporations that fabricate the news. Not coincidentally, Rupert Murdoch, the puppet master of many such corporations (e.g., FOX News), owns myspace.com, which, apparently, has become the hub of all independent music. That we have allowed greedy corporations — entities accountable to nobody — to control our lives/music for so long (and with such limited intervention!) astounds me.

While it may be difficult to prove, many "community" websites, like MySpace and Facebook, are not meant to serve the community at all. In fact, many such "social networking" sites exist only as façades for the massive effort to construct databases full of information about Americans (and foreigners), their interests, preferences, personal details, attitudes towards particular subjects, reactions to contrived events (which are peddled as "news" through the mainstream media), etc. Facebook and MySpace are the very simply the polling arms of questionable (if not sinister) organizations and their sole function is to determine how many people are buying the "movie version" of events, and to what extent. The fact that MySpace and other data-mining operations sell the amassed data and use the profit to fund the further manipulation of this vicious systems' unwitting participants (who happen to be you and me) is entirely secondary to what's going on under the covers. We would do well to note that most (but not all) "free services" are offered only to divert attention from an underlying (and often nefarious) data-mining agenda.

No free service should be trusted unless those providing the service are able to demonstrate that the service does not perform any function auxiliary to its publicly-stated purpose. In the Web and software businesses, this uncommon hallmark of an honest endeavor is often achieved by publishing the source code — the application's guts — for public review. To date, there is no digital music marketplace that uses Free Software to give the monopolies a run for their money (it's really our money). I will herein propose two free companion services that are Free Software and stand to be of massive benefit to a great many human beings, and there is no hidden agenda to be concealed; a claim that is elucidated by way of the transparency that is integral to the indieTorrent.org project.

Human beings possess a rather unique skill, which is that they harness the power of association, quite effortlessly, in order to construct the "human experience". That is to say, human beings have an uncanny gift that allows them to associate one perceived object or event with another, thus committing a personally-crafted experience to memory (rather than a series of unrelated and meaningless snapshots). It is for this reason that we relate a certain song to the countless circumstances around any occasion on which the song has affected us. When you think of The Outfield's Your Love (you know, "Josie's on a va-ca-tion far a-way..."), perhaps you recall fogging-up the windows in your old man's DeVille, circa 1986. Or, maybe you remember the first time that somebody crushed your heart. Within each of us, there exist specific memories that are part and parcel to the aural (vibrational) patterns from which songs we've heard are comprised. Simply put, one's favorite (and sometimes least favorite) songs are inextricably linked with one's memories and one's sense of self. Music is a permanently-ingrained part of each of us.

By limiting the availability of certain music, the music industry gatekeepers are, by extension, stifling the human experience. The spectrum of music that reaches the masses is utterly narrow. Very few musicians, regardless of their innate talents, are ushered through the gauntlet that leads to a monetarily-successful career. The musicians who manage to pique the industry's interest are hand-selected and carefully groomed to fit a particular mold that serves a particular agenda. Many musicians are asked to change their names, to change their personae, or to "tone it down". The musicians who refuse to abide by the industry's immovable precepts are rarely given the opportunity to have a voice on the radio or anywhere else. Fortunately, we're about to shatter the status quo.

The music-dissemination business is poised to undergo a bloom of unprecedented import. And soon. Musicians, though only recently (with the advent of the Internet), have been granted the opportunity to make their music available to the world, virtually free of personal expense. This is precisely what the indieTorrent.org project is all about. Very few musicians are aware of how easy it is to blanket the entire planet with their music. Those who would seek to profit from the talents of unwitting musicians have seen to it that the ease with which any artist could sell his own music, without the music industry taking a cut, remains a secret. For some sobering background as to why projects like indieTorrent.org are such a threat to the American Corporate Establishment, see Kevin Flaherty's powerful essay, Militant Electronic Piracy: Non-Violent Insurgency Tactics Against the American Corporate State.

Of course, the fundamental difference between wholesale electronic piracy and indieTorrent.org, though, is that indieTorrent.org stands to inflict sustainable damage to the establishment's stranglehold on the record industry while staying within the confines of established U.S. law. Operating "legitimate businesses" that fit indieTorrent.org's description (fair, transparent, free [as in freedom], etc.) is largely uncharted territory, which is a little daunting to me, but at the same time provides for some unique business opportunities.

My passion around the indieTorrent.org project stems from my desire to support the cause of all the independent musicians (and especially those brave enough to refuse the big-four labels and other "middleman organizations"). My goal is to provide a means by which all independent musicians are able to profit from their musical works (yes, even monetarily). The indieTorrent.org framework gives indie artists the ability to sell their own music (and merchandise) on a dedicated platform. The basic idea is that each participant artist's music/merchandise store will operate as a "node" on the larger indieTorrent.org "hub" (e.g., band-name-here.indieTorrent.org), but without the intimidating overhead that is typically associated with conducting e-commerce operations over the Internet.

The indieTorrent.org community is designed to be self-sustaining, and in so being, spreads what were hitherto the significant costs of SSL certificates, dedicated servers, and the like, very thinly among all of the musicians who contribute to the sale of "music without unreasonable limitations" (my own term). This overhead burden is shared by all indieTorrent.org participant artists in the form of a percentage-based, overhead-covering tax that is placed on each sale. In other words, it will be possible for artists to sell their own music while taking an ~85% cut of the sale (compare that with the cut that iTunes, SNOCAP, Amazon, Rhapsody, etc. leave for the artist). The only costs deducted from the sale are those required to pay the payment processor (presently PayPal) and fund the indieTorrent.org venture (e.g., the development effort, customer support/tech personnel, Webhosting, etc.). No strings attached. You sell your music through indieTorrent.org, we take about 10% of each sale to cover our operating expenses. ~5-8% of the sale will unavoidably go to PayPal to cover the monetary transaction (e.g., credit card, PayPal Express Checkout). (indieTorrent.org does not endorse and is not affiliated with PayPal in any way.)

I am just as excited to offer a completely cost-free companion service to musicians who either cannot or will not demand money for their music (bless their hearts). This service is appropriately called the "Free For All" service. As a complement to the aforementioned music store in which artists set their own song/album prices and receive money for their music (less indieTorrent.org's modest cost-covering cut), indieTorrent.org will also feature the "Free For All" forum. Any independent musician can publish his or her music using the Free for All service, but with the understanding that the public will be able to download the music free of charge. (As with the for-purchase music on indieTorrent.org, all music that is uploaded to the Free for All service is mandatorily governed under the freedom-friendly Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license). Musicians who opt not to charge money for one or more songs will each receive a "Tip Jar" to which appreciative fans can contribute. Fans are able to "tip" as little or as much as they feel appropriate and have the choice of paying with a credit card or a PayPal account (the payment processing cost for either is the same, is out of our control, and will be deducted from the total donation). Basically, indieTorrent.org provides complimentary publishing platform for budding indie artists in exchange for those artists offering music to the public at no cost. In fact, bands who are selling music on indieTorrent.org may also choose to offer select musical works to fans (and potential fans) using this "Free for All" component of the indieTorrent.org community website. Some readers may be wondering why anyone would be crazy enough to give his or her music away for free. We'll get to that, not to worry.

Most Internet users are familiar with "blogs". A "blog", which is short for "Web log", is a central repository in which an individual can publish any content he or she sees fit. (indieTorrent.org is very much a massive music blog). In essence, blogs provide a framework for the publication and syndication of information. Not surprisingly, blogs have cut the legs out from under the traditional news-media in a period of less than three years. The record label industry is destined to suffer the very same fate as the news/journalism industry, and for precisely the same reasons. Both industries are rife with shameless individuals whose greed is boundless (and many of the very same individuals poison both industries). Moreover, the business of deceiving others for monetary gain is rapidly losing its luster as droves of human beings (artists and music-buyers included) wake-up from an intellectual ice-age.

My intent herein is to demonstrate, with all possible cogency, that there is a much better way forward than alongside iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, etc. It is now possible for any given musician to blanket the entire planet with the opportunity to hear (and pay for, if requested) his or her message with no up-front monetary investment. The nominal tax on each sale, which is covered in brief above, will always be far less than the competition's mandated cut. In fact, the more artists that join the indieTorrent.org community, the lower our 10% overhead tax on each digital music sale will fall. See the section entitled Financial Strategy for more details.

The dawn of informational freedom is upon us. An unstoppable force, the likes of which have not been seen within recent human history, is afoot. This latent force is the result of thousands of years of the systematic suppression of information and the freedom of artistic expression. The reservoir is about to burst. The recording industry is in its death throes and it is well aware that its concerted efforts to control the flow of information, across all media, are suddenly failing. We should expect that the recording industry will not give-up without a fight.

Getting Up-To-Speed

Basic Terminology

The first (and most important) distinction to be made deals with the word "free". We have a tendency (especially where anything digital is concerned) to associate the word "free" with zero-cost. The problem is that we find ourselves lacking a word to describe adequately "things" that may not be zero-cost, but that are free (as in "freedom"). To reduce the ambiguity or confusion around the word "free", I use the terms "gratis", "zero-cost", "free of charge", and the like to refer to things that do not cost money to acquire. Conversely, I use the term "free" to describe a lack of restrictions placed on the object in question. (Special thanks to RMS for taking the time out of his day to beat this concept into my head.)

I prefer to avoid the term "consumer" as it may apply to one who purchases music. The term "consumer", by nature, implies the desire to consume, or permanently use-up. Music fans do not consume music; they enjoy it – often the same songs over and over. Music does not disappear, become obsolete, or otherwise unusable. Music is information and is therefore timeless and indestructible. Reality is permanently imbued with a song's presence from the moment of the song's creation (like light waves, those sound waves never truly stop bouncing around). As such, I find the term "consumer" unacceptable to describe the type of customer, or user, who purchases music within the framework that I propose herein. I prefer to define the purchaser or "fan" as "someone who is passionately devoted to the enjoyment of another's artistic exhibition". I find these terms to be far more suitable and in alignment with the indieTorrent.org Mission Statement.

I use the terms "music industry", "record industry", "music labels", and similar to describe, collectively, the corporations that ubiquitously control the production, sale, and distribution of music (digital or otherwise). There are four record labels that control the vast majority of the worldwide music market (70% worldwide and 85% domestically, in the United States): Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, EMI Group, and Warner Music Group (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Four_record_labels). When I address the "music industry", I am addressing those particular organizations, with few exceptions.

I use the term "digital music industry" or "digital music stores" to describe the providers of digital music distribution services. It is absolutely essential to identify these organizations as parasites; they have no hand in creating salable works, nor do they own the rights to reproduce such works. In other words, all extant digital music stores serve as middlemen (supported by the fact that they take a for-profit cut of each sale and offer little beyond the empty promise of "good exposure").

As a brief aside, existing music stores are clever in that they convince the artist that the relationship is symbiotic. Apple essentially says, in a more ambiguous way, "We'll help you sell your music if you help us sell iPods." (iPod sales are the only reason the iTunes store exists, as we shall see.) If the relationship were truly mutually-beneficial, Apple would provide the customer with details regarding the artist's cut of each sale (and indieTorrent.org does precisely that). The truth is that artists don't need the iTunes music store and that Apple benefits far more from the relationship than does the artist. Instead, artists should use a next-generation service such as one (or both) of the services outlined in this essay. iTunes takes a whopping 35% cut from each sale, if we concern ourselves with nothing else regarding existing digital music marketplaces.

The term "artist" is plenty suitable to describe one who produces music. I use the terms "artist", "musician", and "band(s)" to describe such individuals. I would like to note that I address independent artists, exclusively, throughout this paper. Unfortunately, those who have already signed contracts with record labels that impose copyright restrictions may be exempt from the freedoms that I encourage all independent artists to exercise herein. Of course, there are some labels (often termed "indie-friendly") that allow musicians to sell their copyrighted music elsewhere, without demanding exclusive rights to some portion of any earned revenue.

The dubious term "intellectual property" only recently gained widespread popularity and we will all be better off if we banish the term from our vocabularies. Instead, we should speak specifically about trademarks, patents, and copyrights — wherever one of the three applies. They are all very different concepts and lumping them together under a catchy buzzword does not bring us any closer to mutual agreement and understanding. The term "intellectual property" is a misnomer and a contrivance, as Richard M. Stallman elucidates in his essay, Did You Say "Intellectual Property"? It's a Seductive Mirage.

Personal Philosophy

My interest in authoring the indieTorrent.org project stems from a firm philosophical belief that information is meant to be shared, and by extension, that knowledge is meant to be collective, rather than hoarded for personal or monetary gain. I'm not suggesting that we do away with capitalism, necessarily, but I am suggesting that a major shift in paradigm — in the way we think about and legislate artistic expression and original works — is required to progress as a "global society".

The indieTorrent.org framework consists of two distinct service-offerings: one offering is designed to allow independent artists to sell their music while reaping more profit than they could otherwise reap through a competing online music store; the other offering is designed to allow independent artists to give their music away for free, but includes the unique ability to accept "tips" through a virtual "Tip Jar". Some artists will decide to give their musical works away in exchange for fan loyalty and the willingness for fans to "tip". Some artists will demand money for every song and consequently forego a Tip Jar. Both options are equally viable and neither option requires any kind of up-front investment on behalf of the artist.

Whether artists turn to indieTorrent.org to sell their music, or, alternatively, give their music away for free in exchange for tips/donations, artists will be required to publish all music that appears on indieTorrent.org under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license. The logic behind this mandate is simple: from the minute that a musical work is performed in front of any entity external to the work's own creator(s), the work can no longer be protected from so-called "unauthorized duplication". Musicians must be cautious in their attempts to marginalize the duplication of their musical works, whether authorized or not; the game of chasing phantom "music pirates" is a contrivance; little more than a carefully-set trap. The DRM (copy protection) peddlers work overtime to make their cause appear sincere and are eagerly waiting for that trap to slam shut on the bewildered musician's foot.

Alpha Rev's Casey McPherson helps to illustrate this point when in his band's promo reel (October, 2007) he says, “From the point that you lay it down on a record, the point you play at a show — when it's more than just you there — that's when it's no longer yours.” McPherson then makes a salient statement: “That's what it's like... When you're making music, it's not like you're making something out of nothing. It's as if it's already there and you're just hearing it for yourself, for the first time.” McPherson may be suggesting that musicians don't so much create music as they tune into the infinite band of frequencies from which the whole of consciousness is composed. If that is so, then musicians certainly deserve to be compensated for their ability to snatch fleeting melodic opportunities right out of thin air and relay them to the rest of us — in the form of music. Musicians serve as the metaphorical radio antennas that allow those less musically inclined to experience a much broader spectrum of reality than they would otherwise experience. For this, we owe musicians our gratitude. And our money.

Most musicians don't want to give their talents away. I understand that and can sympathize (to some extent). But, I cannot overemphasize that attempting to control your music and trying to limit the rights of those who support its creation (your fans) will ultimately hurt your bottom line. DRM technologies are designed specifically to control, by attempted force (i.e., the customer/user has no choice but to comply), what can legally be done with your music. Digital music fans unanimously agree that DRM technologies are alienating and imply a lack of trust in the fan. I happen to agree that DRM is offensive to music buyers; being sold a DRM-laden song feels similar to being unjustly tailed throughout a department store under suspicion of theft. As an artist, if you sell your music through iTunes (or any organization that employs DRM of any kind), you're "passing the buck" to your fans, plain and simple. With the introduction of indieTorrent.org, artists can no longer reach for the "I don't put the DRM in the flippin' music!" excuse.

The intellectual property war is a farce (much like the wars on drugs and terrorism). It's not that music/software pirates don't exist; they're real. Just as there are real "terrorists". But, the fact of the matter is that the "real" terrorists and music pirates are almost always government-provocateured, and are themselves uninformed stooges in the overall plot. The only reason it works is because everybody is kept on a "need-to-know" basis in order to ensure that those at the top of the pyramid are the only ones who really know what's going on. DRM advocates know full well that piracy cannot be stopped (or even slowed — for evidence of this assertion, consider that Windows Vista, the most expensive, best-researched DRM software ever created — years in the making — was "cracked" before it even hit the shelves. Despite that knowledge, the DRM-pushers work tirelessly to cash-in on DRM technologies that a) don't work and b) irritate customers. In principle, the RIAA's behavior is akin to knowingly selling a "lemon" automobile to an unsuspecting buyer and then suing him if he tries to repair it — with the federal government's blessing and sworn protection! Think about it: if a customer spends $1,000 on music from the iTunes Music Store, he ultimately receives 1,000 songs that are intentionally crippled in that the audio files are embedded with Apple's DRM encryption technology (the sole purpose of which is to prevent playback on any non-Apple device/player). Worse yet, if our theoretical customer makes any attempt at decrypting the files he bought, even if his only intention is to play his music on a non-Apple device in his own home, several different entities have a legal basis on which to sue him. One such entity is the RIAA, which works under the protection of the U.S. Government and operates with complete impunity.

The dirty little secret is that no government — not even the oft-peddled New World Order — can solve the "problem" of piracy. The most powerful government-corporations in the world (they are one and the same) have long been trying to stop piracy and will continue to do so, as long as we continue to fund their efforts through purchasing their anti-freedom products. Of course, the efforts of organizations like the RIAA, the MPAA, and the billion-dollar-lawyers' club have only been met with mockery and further disobedience. See The Pirate Bay under Additional Reading for the hard facts as to why, exactly, piracy simply cannot be slowed or stopped.)

Operations like the iTunes Music Store pretend that they're in it for the artists. Well, I spoke with literally hundreds of artists in the course of researching the indieTorrent.org project and I have yet to meet a single artist who believes that the cuts offered at iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, or in virtually any other online music store are "acceptable". If iTunes is being fair to the artist, why doesn't Apple publish the artist's cut of each sale? indieTorrent.org publishes not only the artist's cut of each sale (even during checkout), but it also keeps a running total so that each customer can see exactly how much money he or she has contributed to indie artists (and how much has gone to credit card processing and other relevant expenses required to run indieTorrent.org). We should believe that the other music stores are in it for the artist only once they demonstrate that they're willing to be transparent to the customer!

Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Has a tangible enemy been identified in the "intellectual property (I.P.) war"?
  2. Have those behind the intellectual property war identified attainable benchmarks for victory (or even progress)?

If you said "No!" to both questions, you are correct. The so-called "enemy" in this "war" is the 12-year-old girl next door. The RIAA and the MPAA aren't going after the big piracy outfits (because they can't, as I will prove); they're "making examples" of innocent families in which the children allegedly "stole" a few songs. These frivolous lawsuits, routinely filed against children, are merely distractions to conceal the fact that the RIAA and MPAA can do absolutely nothing to stop piracy. It is no coincidence that a Google search for "12 year old girl sued" leads straight to foxnews.com. Try it for yourself. (Perhaps now you are starting to see how Rupert Murdoch, MySpace.com, fear-peddling, the mainstream media, and the U.S. government fit into the larger picture.) Fear is the best mechanism for mass control (because brute force is largely ineffective), and as long as the general public remains frightened of the these untouchable agencies and their thug tactics (even when the public isn't doing anything illegal!), the status quo will never change. These criminal organizations are hoping that the threat of a name-brand lawsuit will keep people in forfeiture of their most innate and fundamental freedoms. The very freedoms that allow us to to share and communicate — the freedoms that make us human — are under direct assault.

Most digital music fans don't realize that labels, the RIAA, and Apple/the iPod are very purposely driving-up the cost of digital music (regardless of the artist) by developing hardware and software that employ DRM (Digital Rights Management) schemes. As indie music fans, we ought to be outraged and dedicated to bringing the gouging and profiteering to an end.

A fascination with the Free Software software model (see gnu.org/philosophy or Additional Reading for some background) spawned my interest in taking principles similar to those embraced within the Free Software community and applying them to other creative works, such as music. The Free Software community has demonstrated, with marked results, its ability to further the universal benefit of computing software by supplanting the proprietary software model. Before the Free Software model, the de facto strategy was to write a piece of software, conceal the source code used to compile the software, legally forbid the reverse-engineering or modification of the software, and accumulate as much money as possible through the exclusive right to sell the software. This model presents several problems for customers, the most notable of which is that once a particular software product has been made proprietary, the possibility for would-be contributors to improve upon or redistribute "better" (meaning faster, more functional, more secure, etc.) versions of the software disappears. For the end-user, this results in a potentially sub-par product that does not perform as well as it could under a less restrictive software license. Additionally, it means that the user must pay for said license. The Free Software model eliminates unreasonable restrictions on software and permits software authors to sell or provide software gratis. Some might argue that a Free Software-based business model cannot possibly generate profit. I am pleased to inform those individuals that the GNU/Linux community has long since demonstrated that there is plenty of money to be made through the creation and distribution of a Free Software product. (Remember that Free Software may cost money; we mean free as in freedom, not as in price. For this reason, Free Software can be sold.)

It is my belief that musicians, in particular, have much to learn from the Free Software community. Red Hat [GNU/]Linux offers its computer operating system for free, but the company stays afloat (and does quite well) through the sale of auxiliary services, such as business-grade technical support, which many customers find to add significant value at a fair price. Similarly, musicians could, in theory, give their product (digital music files) away for free, and then offer additional, for-pay, value-added services (such as concerts and merchandise) to fund operations.

Much to my excitement, I have spoken with several independent artists who would at least be willing to try giving some of their music away for free. All considered, there is compelling evidence to support the assertion that to do so would ultimately boost the bottom-line. I want to reiterate: indieTorrent.org is not about giving your music away because you're a "nice guy" artist and simply desire to make the world a shinier, happier place. While you're welcome to do so, the idea is to boost your recognition, renown, ticket sales, and merchandise sales (especially if you sell your merch on indieTorrent.org), without spending a penny. It seems, however, that a distinct myopia has developed among some musicians, perhaps as a result of the recording industry's unparalleled precedent for self-indulgence and greed. Naturally, Apple and the labels don't like competition (especially at $0.00 per song), so they stop at nothing to convince musicians that giving away music is a career-ending move and that signing with a well-guarded label is the only way forward. Nevertheless, musicians are increasingly catching-on to the scam and realizing that, at the very minimum, they should retain the exclusive rights to dictate the intellectual property terms that govern their own music.

While I may not be able to convince all indie musicians to throw their hats into the crowd and give-away digital copies of their music, I may be able to convince enough of them to make a dent in the label industry's 85% market-share, by persuading would-be label-goers to become independent artists. At the very least, such a dent would cement a better future for music and create an opportunity for more intelligent business models to emerge. I can only show musicians the proof that Internet music piracy is not a threat, but rather it is a conduit to unprecedented renown, and that by giving one's music away for free, one is able to reap very reasonable profits through an entirely new way of thinking about digital music and how best to profit from its production (and not so much its "sale"). Eminem fans (and Rolling Stone readers) will remember how much of a boost "music piracy" provided to Eminem's career. The difference between Metallica's Lars Ulrich and Eminem is that Eminem let the pirates, and the tendency for information to free itself from any constraints imposed, work in his favor. Lars Ulrich resisted the natural and unrelenting evolution of music, and his stubborn pride ended his own career.

I will work tirelessly to make the information contained within this document available to as many musicians as possible. I would also like to be clear that I have no stake, whatsoever, in any commercial interest related to this project. indieTorrent.org will be run as a not-for-profit organization (hence the .org) as soon as the State of California approves the required paperwork (which may take up to one year from April, 2008). I have no interest in selling anything or making money for myself (beyond only what is necessary to continue to develop/maintain the site and cover costs), but rather, I desire to share my knowledge and understanding of technology with others for the betterment of humankind. I am simply providing an opportunity for independent, visionary artists to broaden their coverage and appeal, and thus their bottom-lines, without spending any money.

Again, the artist has the option of leveraging both of indieTorrent.org's music distribution models, or both; the models are not mutually exclusive. Using indieTorrent.org, artists are able to:

  1. Sell music in the indieTorrent.org music store and keep ~85% of each sale.
  2. Give music away, for free, to anybody who wants to download it. In exchange for the artist's philanthropic effort (whether it's one song or 100 songs), indieTorrent.org will facilitate the downloading process and satisfy the bandwidth requirement. Better yet, indieTorrent.org will provide a "Tip Jar" for the "starving artist" and allow the artist to accept monetary donations in any amount and currency through the benevolent contributions of download-happy fans.

It is high-time we return to an era of artistic fortitude and intellectual integrity, and that won't be possible until we completely eliminate the need for traditional labels and start moving our own music — like hotcakes!

The State of the Industry

Apple's iTunes Music Store is a quintessential example that serves to illustrate many points throughout this paper, the first being that people are willing to pay for digitally distributed music. (I use the iTunes Music Store as an example throughout this paper because it happens to be the best-selling digital music store to-date, and boasts a whopping 85% marketshare.)

Amidst all of the excitement around the first-generation digital music stores, such as the iTunes Music Store, buyers overlooked some of the terminal flaws inherent in these stores. The public's prevailing intelligence is never to be taken for granted, however, and it turns out that music buyers are finally outraged at the nonsensical (if not unethical) business practices that these online stores readily embrace.

Music buyers are further disenchanted because the digital music industry lives in a perpetual state of malcontent and the fallout from the next political squabble over copy protection schemes, file formats, or Fair Use is only a day away. While apparently frustrated and ignored, it seems that music fans are still willing to pay up to $1.00 per song, even though those purchases are unprotected investments that are bound to the will of criminal corporations (see the Apple Stock Scandal of 2006 for more information regarding Apple's criminality). What's more is that even in consideration of the boundless file-swapping, intellectual property theft, and unfettered access to all one's binary desires, people are nonetheless inspired to spend money on digital music.

The reason I feel it so important to establish the fact that music fans are willing to pay for digital downloads is because the same willingness should inspire hope that fans will donate to artists, when given the opportunity, even if no donation is required. After all, it is clear that iTunes shoppers are buying the music solely in an effort to support their favorite artists, because the customer could just as easily pirate the music elsewhere – for free. (Sure, some may enjoy the convenience, and some may fear the legal risks of pirating music, but the vast majority of music fans have almost no concern for intellectual property laws as they apply to musical works and would just as soon "steal" the music.) While this statistic is not necessarily central to my argument, it is important to any artist who is hellbent on charging money for every note of his music. The opportunity cost of refusing to offer free music (even if only a hit single, as a complement to his for-sale music) is likely greater than any sum that could be fetched through online sales. I will do my best to demonstrate this throughout the paper, but again, indieTorrent.org doesn't require artists to give-away their music; indieTorrent.org only encourages giving music away.

Time.com cited the iTunes Music Store as "Invention of the Year" in 2003, underscored with the headline, "Steve Jobs' new Music Store showed foot-dragging record labels and freeloading music pirates that there is a third way". I will introduce a fourth way (ironically, the "music pirates" will play an indirect role in its success), because the third way (iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, etc.) constitutes extortion and no artist or fan should be willing to stand for it.

I may not have billions of dollars at my disposal, nor an army of clever Apple marketers. But, thanks to the Internet, neither is required to change the digital music industry, as I shall demonstrate.

Problems With the Status Quo

Reasons for Which The Current Model Cannot Be Salvaged

To those sufficiently out-of-touch to ask, "What's wrong with the way we're doing it?", I say, "Everything!" This section could be an essay unto itself, but we can discuss only the digital delivery process, thereby keeping the discussion simple.

Heretofore, every attempt at revolutionizing the distribution and sale of music (digital, especially) has resulted in failure for one particular reason: profit motive on behalf of the middleman. Every major hindrance to the progression of the awe-inspiring digital music phenomenon stems directly from a given distributor's (or "middleman's") interest in generating profit based on its distribution method, or "music store". But, wait, Apple openly admits that it does not generate profit based on music sales in the iTunes Music Store. Well, there may be no money in the iTunes Music Store, but iPod sales are up — way up (September, 2005).

Apple has decided to implement a proprietary DRM (Digital Rights Management) encryption scheme so that music purchased in the iTunes Music Store won't play in any software player other than iTunes or on any hardware besides the iPod. Apple sells the idea as though DRM is intended to protect the integrity of the artist's work, but that assertion is frail and easily refuted. The RIAA and the artists that it represents are die-hard DRM-supporters because the technology puts money in the "big four's" coffers and, of course, the burden of that expense rests with the artist and the fan.

There are plenty of easy ways to circumvent Apple's DRM scheme (see hymn-project.org or search the Internet for "decrypt itunes music"), so let us not pretend that DRM is in place to protect the integrity of a copyrighted work. A fact to which I allude more than once in this paper is that piracy cannot be stopped; DRM schemes are drills in futility. So, why are these music stores bothering? One reason is that by locking the iTunes Music Store audio format to the iPod, Apple seeks to control, if not completely, a major share of the digital music business (they own the proprietary music format and the player and control 85% of the market at last pulse-check). I don't take issue with fact that Apple exists with the sole purpose of generating profit for its stakeholders (after all, this is the function of corporations). I do take issue with the fact that artists and fans seem content to sit back and allow Apple to monopolize the digital music business at their expense.

At present (February, 2008), the pricing model that online music stores embrace makes very little sense; for example, in the iTunes Music Store, the first track on 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin', Intro, is six (6) seconds in length, yet it costs the full $0.99 that all other tracks do. Why should a six-second song cost as much as a five minute forty-nine second song? It shouldn't. The whole model is busted. As a music-centered community, we must not be afraid to scrap everything that has been done before now, and then start anew. Enter indieTorrent.org.

Enter indieTorrent.org

How indieTorrent.org Protects Your Creative Works (Music)

"Copyleft" is a term that is commonly used to describe alternatives and additions to traditional copyright law. Wherever the Internet is concerned, copyleft licenses are usually more effective in governing the terms of electronic data acquisition and use. In essence, copyleft licenses provide somewhat of a middle ground between the rigid terms of copyright and the unregulated sea of information that is the "public domain". The basis for copyright law was established well before the Internet existed, thus we should not expect copyright law to govern adequately a medium for which it was never designed or intended.

With a Creative Commons license, you keep your copyright but allow people to copy and distribute your work provided they give you credit — and only on the conditions you specify. The Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license is a perfect fit for most musicians. Under this "by-nc-nd" license, licensees must:

  • Attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that the author/licensor endorses the licensee or the licensee's use of the work).
  • Not use the work for any commercial purposes.
  • Not alter, transform, or build upon the work.

Again, copyleft licenses are not intended to supplant copyright. Rather, copyleft licenses are designed to account for the shortcomings of copyright use as it applies to electronic media. Copyleft licensors (that's you, musicians) can even create custom licenses as different project-based licensing needs arise. For example, if you create and sell an ambient mix-tape, you may want others to be able to sample from your music or use in their own creations. Copyleft provides artists with a straightforward legal framework for meeting all of their needs with respect to protecting their creative works.

Even if you make your music available gratis and then later decide that the music is worth selling, you won't have to compete with others attempting to sell copies of your songs that were acquired when the music could be acquired free of charge.

The Creative Commons licensing model dramatically simplifies the process of licensing any digital asset for mass distribution. The Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license is simple, concise, and is carefully tailored to suit the needs of artists who want to harness the true power of the Internet. indieTorrent.org is here to help artists leverage the World Wide Web as a free, highly-accessible distribution channel for their music.

Pricing Structure

The indieTorrent.org pricing structure is very simple. Artists are able to set whatever prices they like. However, there is, unfortunately, a lower price boundary that is required to cover the cost of the monetary transaction (2.9% + $0.30), and that expense is unavoidably applied at the mercy of our payment processor (presently PayPal). Said another way, there is a minimum price point of about $0.35 for singles (a single song sold for $0.35 would yield no money for the artist and no money for the indieTorrent.org community).

Due to the inescapable credit card/PayPal processing fee, it is highly profitable (and mutually-beneficial to the artist, the fan, and indieTorrent.org's programmers/staff) for fans to purchase as much music as possible at any given time. The more music that is purchased per transaction, the more everybody involved in the transaction stands to gain. Best of all, no one party gains at another's expense; everybody wins, every sale. Artists are able to set volume discount rules to be applied to their music sales, too.

This pricing model also drastically simplifies the complexity of measuring sales performance in a digital music marketplace. The fact that a given song isn't selling can only be attributed to the fact that the song is priced disproportionately high relative to its perceived value. The artist has no one to blame but him or her self when music doesn't sell. There are no politics, favors, or biased advertising at play; just the earnest opinions of avid listeners in the form of song/download ratings, fan reviews, etc. Of course, we'll still provide artists with free analytical tools and statistics to help them move their music.

A marginal percentage of each song sold will contribute to the maintenance costs associated with running indieTorrent.org. This money goes directly into the hardware and hosting costs required to run the site, as well as the stipends of the individuals who dedicate the bulk of their waking hours to the indieTorrent.org community. Those who choose to contribute to the site's maintenance and future development do so from a motivation born of generosity and cultural progression, not monetary gain. indieTorrent.org will ultimately become a not-for-profit venture that takes from each sale only what it needs to cover its expenses and exist indefinitely.

Plenty of "business tycoons" have cautioned me that not-for-profit businesses are for treehuggers and that serious bands will steer away from music stores that aren't designed to stuff somebody else's pockets. The rationale is as follows: "What will convince prospective bands that the developers will actually improve the site, if nobody (other than the artist) is profiting from each sale on indieTorrent.org?" Our developers are paid in accordance with a "market average" for comparable positions, so, they have just as much motivation as anyone else to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. In case the fact isn't obvious, we get excited about music, regardless of the monetary compensation involved. Indeed, running indieTorrent.org is the best job in the world, and we stay up all night, with black, sunken eyes, just to get our music/coding fix.

Financial Strategy

Below is a generic income statement that has been simplified to demonstrate how indieTorrent.org is expected to perform in its opening months:

item quantity unit



revenues

est. units sold 1200 songs/mo.
average song price 1.00 dollars
transactions 120 transactions/mo.
average transaction amount 10 dollars
total revenue 1200 dollars/mo.



operating expenses

web hosting 19.95 dollars/mo.



paypal merchant account fee 30 dollars/mo.
paypal per-transaction fees (est.) 70.80 dollars/mo.
paypal's total cut of sales 0.08



total operating expenses 120.75 dollars/mo.
indieTorrent.org's total cut of sales 0.1



cost of sales

musician pay-out 1079.25 dollars/mo.
revenue required to cover operating exp. 0.1006250
total cost of sales 1079.25 dollars/mo.



income

revenues less cost of sales, op. exp. & taxes 0 dollars/mo.

Notice that the "bottom-line" is zero dollars ($0.00). This means that in the beginning, indieTorrent.org will be "breaking-even" (making no profit). If we assume that the initial sales volume for the digital music marketplace is 1,200 songs per month, and that no employees are paid, we can conclude that indieTorrent.org will have $0.00 balance at the end of each month. If no employees are paid and each period's ending balance is $0.00, then no taxes are owed. (LLCs registered in the State of California must pay a minumum LLC tax of $800.00/yr., but, for the sake of simplicity, this fee is omitted in the sample income statement. In the "real world", this tax liability is figured into the organization's income statement and consequently reflected in the break-even tax that indieTorrent.org deducts from each digital music sale.)

Motivation for Artists to use indieTorrent.org

If receiving over 80% of each sale isn't enough to pique your interest, there are plenty of other reasons to join the indieTorrent.org community:

  • You'll have access to your very own digital record and merchandise store, which is powered by a well-written, secure, industry-standard e-commerce platform that I have authored as the foundation of the indieTorrent.org project. This software/code will be published as Free Software, so that any person may do whatever he or she sees fit with the software. In other words, if you had the know-how, you would be welcome to download the indieTorrent.org e-commerce platform, install it on your own website, and then customize the software to suit your own band's needs. Of course, you could always pay somebody else to do that part! Or better yet, watch our free video tutorials that explain the entire process, step-by-step. Heck, if you are a real programming guru, you can even modify the code and sell tires in your online store. Or monagrammed scarves. The only drawback to installing our software on your own website is that you'll have to:
    1. Pay for your own SSL certificate (to allow for secure payment transactions)
    2. Have your own PayPal Merchant account. The reason you would need a PayPal merchant account is because we use the PayPal API, on the basis that it's well-documented and easy to use. (You could always rewrite the code to use a different payment processor.) Merchant accounts typically cost individuals about $30 USD per month, and there is always a per-transaction fee associated with each charge.
    3. Do a fair amount of custom e-commerce related configuration that artists who sell their music on indieTorrent.org's official website will not have to perform.
  • Think of your home on indieTorrent.org like a MySpace page on crank — more customizable, way better looking, and under your complete control. As if that weren't enough, you can have as many songs as you want, complete with 90-second previews, for sale right on your own profile page. Your profile page is your very own digital music store! Upload and then sell as few or as many songs as you like. There is no limit as to how big your catalog can grow, and as long as you abide by the terms of our content licensing requirements, you are free to sell all the music you like — the music just has to be yours, whether you're a solo act or a complete orchestra.
  • When we say fully-customizable, we mean it. As an artist, you'll be able to create your own templates, using the Smarty Templating Engine for PHP, for use on your artist profile page. Smarty mark-up is essentially HTML, but with some pretty sweet functionality that doesn't require any complex coding. Smarty "tags" enable a template-designer to use a documented list of pre-defined variables to represent dynamic data on an HTML page. In other words, if you put the code {$songPrice} into your profile page template, customers visiting your digital music store will see the actual song price, e.g., $0.85, instead of the Smarty tag. We offer in-depth video tutorials for help with creating templates, too. Of course, you can always visit the indieTorrent.org community template forum, where HTML and Smarty experts will be happy to field your template-related questions.
  • On your profile page, you are able to publish contact information that is intended for individuals who may be interested in licensing your work for commercial purposes. We provide a way for you to make yourself available for inquiries about your music, and, you are free (and encouraged to) license your work to interested parties per YOUR OWN TERMS. Anyone who buys music on indieTorrent.org, or downloads music free of charge using our "Free for All" service, will be bound by the license that is clearly marked at the foot of every page on the official indieTorrent.org website. However, you are free to negotiate whatever terms you like with anybody who contacts you about the commercial use of your work. While indieTorrent.org cannot facilitate your negotiations with third parties, we provide an industry-standard "cue sheet" feature in each artist's profile, so he or she can "hit the ground running" and be prepared for immediate negotiations with any interested parties. We're here to help you sell music and will do everything we can to facilitate the process!
  • Your music is no less "protected" on indieTorrent.org than it is anywhere else, including iTunes and the like. Your songs are your unique creation, and we take that fact very seriously. The Creative Commons licenses that are in use on indieTorrent.org are no less "authentic" than copyright licenses. They're just different from and complementary to copyright. You keep your copyright, but you permit people to share your music with others, non-commercially, unless an interested party contacts you through your profile page and you subsequently arrive at your own negotiations with said person. The subject of copyright governance on indieTorrent.org is addressed at great length in the How indieTorrent.org Protects Your Creative Works (Music) section of this document.
  • We don't embed DRM (Digital Rights Management) software in your music. DRM software hampers the user experience, violates Fair Use doctrine, and makes good honest people feel like criminals in their own homes after they've spent hundreds of dollars on an expensive portable music player and thousands of dollars on an accompanying computer. Worse yet, the expense of futile DRM technologies is exactly why artists only keep an unspeakable fraction of each song they sell on competing digital music services. Thanks, but we'll pass on the DRM, and we hope you will, too.
  • We have a legal arbitration process in place to handle any dispute that arises as to the ownership of a musical work made available for sale on indieTorrent.org. We will remove any music that is made available for sale by anyone other than the rightful copyright holder, and we will permanently ban individuals who attempt to sell music that they are not authorized to publish and distribute. This policy is intended to protect the rightful owner(s) of all creative works, including works not licensed for sale and distribution on indieTorrent.org. indieTorrent.org will not tolerate any abuse of the "don't sell music that doesn't belong to you" policy.
  • You'll have your own unique URL, such as http://indietorrent.org/your-band-name-here.
  • Here's how it works:
    1. You create an artist account on indieTorrent.org; it's free and only takes a few minutes. In the process, you'll enter the bare-bones of an artist profile that you can flesh-out later if you like. Next, you'll be presented with our Terms of Service and must agree not to sell music to which you do not own the copyright; these are legally-binding documents.
    2. You decide which music you want to sell. You'll be able to set-up your music catalog, enter track listing data, upload album artwork, enable/disable certain songs or complete albums in your digital catalog, and more. You will also set the price that you demand for each of your songs. You can set the price of each song to a value anywhere between $0.35 and $10,000 (that had better be one good song!). If you like, you can even configure volume discounts and "package deals" when users buy multiple albums at the same time. This is a wise move for you, considering that you make more money when your fans buy more music at once (due to how payment processing fees are applied). You can even configure coupon codes, which would, say, enable you to give out "free download" coupon vouchers at one of your concerts and allow your fans to redeem the coupons in your personal music store on indieTorrent.org. It's a great way for you to drive traffic to your profile page, from which you can provide links to your band's official website or your MySpace page (we shutter at the thought).
    3. Next, you'll upload the audio files for the songs in your digital catalog. Don't worry, we'll walk you through the entire process, tell you which format to use, and provide you with extensive documentation and video tutorials to help you make the most of your free music and merchandise store.
    4. If you plan to sell merchandise through your indieTorrent.org storefront, you will need to complete some additional configuration that is required in order to offer merchandise. You can set up categories for your merch, e.g., t-shirts, posters, physical CDs, etc., set prices, configure shipping choices, and most importantly, tell us where to "pipe" (send) each order that is placed in your storefront.
    5. You'll have the opportunity to preview everything and even place a few test orders to see what your fans will experience when they visit your store and buy your music. When you're satisfied with your catalog and set-up choices, you'll publish your catalog to the public, at which point customers will be able to add items from your store to their shopping carts.
    6. Users can have music from any number of bands' storefronts in their shopping carts at the same time. Further, users can put merchandise and digital music into the same shopping cart; the checkout process is automatically tailored to require only the information that is applicable to the items in the customer's shopping cart. For this reason, your fans won't be asked for a shipping address if they are buying only digital music (since files don't require shipping). You'll be able to set-up your own "if you like my music, you might like so-and-so's music" links in your storefront, so you and your buddies' bands can "scratch each others' backs" and boost everybody's sales and exposure in so doing.
    7. From the moment you publish your first song or merch item, you'll have access to detailed information about your storefront's sales performance in a "dashboard" interface when you log into your artist account. The same interface will be used to monitor your Tip Jar performance. These numbers are updated in real-time and any sales that are completed will be reflected in your dashboard immediately.
    8. Once per month, you will receive a physical check from indieTorrent.org in the amount owed to you for your total sales during the month, in consideration of both digital music and merchandise. In theory, you could accept the money from your fans directly, but a) you would have to have your own PayPal Website Payments PRO account (which you could get for $30/mo.), but you would also have to be willing to provide your PayPal API key (which enables anyone in possession of it to conduct monetary transactions on your behalf) to indieTorrent.org. We don't want to assume that risk. If our website became compromised for any reason (and no website is immune), we wouldn't want malicious individuals obtaining your API key and for example crediting themselves repeated refunds from your PayPal merchant account. Also, there is an issue of "double taxation" with these online payment processors, like PayPal. As PayPal states, it's free to send money. Of course, it isn't free to receive money. Whoever receives the money from the customer must forfeit 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction to PayPal for processing the customer's credit card or PayPal Checkout payment. (To receive that money, one must have a certified SSL certificate installed on the website and be Payment Card Industry compliant.) In other words, if indieTorrent.org accepted the money from the customer and then sent you whatever was left over after PayPal's processing fees were deducted from the sale total, PayPal would again charge the 2.9% + $0.30. The result is that you get hit with the fee twice and must therefore pass that expense along to your fans/customers. I've devised somewhat of a clever trick for funneling all of the money through one merchant account (ours) and then using a free bill-pay service with our banking institution to cut checks to the artists each month. One of the best things about all of this is that you won't be surprised by the amount on your check. Because of the fact that we display your sales numbers (only the total dollar amount) to your customers, you can watch your totals for the month and expect a check for the exact amount. This feature is designed to ensure that indieTorrent.org can never pay you any less than you deserve based on your sales volume, which, again, you can monitor in real-time. If you don't like waiting for a check every month and would rather receive the money directly, you are welcome to download the indieTorrent.org source code and set-up your own music store on your own website. We won't be hurt... that's why the project source code is free! indieTorrent.org is about selling your music, not making other people rich.
    9. You're making money!
  • You'll have access to a "Tip Jar" through which ardent supporters can fund your creative efforts with monetary donations of any amount — securely, using either a credit/debit card or PayPal Checkout. Fans are able to donate in any currency and denomination. That's as good as gold! Any donations that your fans make will be subject to the same electronic processing fee that our payment provider demands (2.9% + $0.30). The amount that remains after the payment is processed will be added to your monthly check. (indieTorrent.org does not keep any portion of your tips.)
  • If you decide to cancel your account at any time, you are free to do so. The only requirement we have is that customers who have already bought music from you will continue to have access to that music even after you cancel your account. We feel that this is only fair to the customer and is a requirement if we are to offer music that can truly be considered a "protected investment" (and not a complete waste of money if a hard drive with a customer's entire legitimately-purchased music collection fails somewhere along the way). This is one of the differences that really sets us apart from other services that only let customers download songs once, which is total hogwash, in the author's modest opinion. We will retain only the information that we must legally keep about you in the event that you delete your account. We have to keep your name on-file, along with any electronic signatures (requested when you create your account) provided to us for the purpose of authorizing the sale of your music on the indieTorrent.org website.

Motivation for Fans to use indieTorrent.org

Nobody is going to have to twist a fan's arm to download free music or even to buy music at a reasonable price. If you download some music from indieTorrent.org and decide to tip the artist, your donations will not only support your favorite bands, but, moreover, you're declining to support the monster labels that mistreat those artists, stifle their creativity and talent in favor of what "sells", and pocket undeserved dividends. You're receiving more for less, even if you donate $10 after downloading a full CD for free. You're not obligated to donate so much as a dollar... but karma's a bitch! Besides, many artists have indicated an interest in sending hand-signed memorabilia and other unique promotional materials to individuals who regularly donate to their cause after downloading free music. We'll keep you posted on how that unfolds.

A few of the "nuts-and-bolts" of what makes indieTorrent.org so different from every other digital music store, aside from all of the philosophy and methodology described at length in this paper, are as follows:

  • We publish our financial data — in real-time. As a customer, you can be sure that any organization is acting in your best interest only if you have access to its financial data, which is required to know just how your money is being spent on the other side of the transaction. indieTorrent.org shows music shoppers how much money any given band has accumulated through digital record sales and received donations (AKA, "Tip Jar" tips) on the website. Every time somebody buys something, that running total is incremented, in real-time, with every completed sale.
  • We show you how much of a "cut" goes to each entity involved in the transactions that take place in our digital music marketplace, both before and after you check-out of our e-commerce store. This means that as a customer, you'll have the opportunity to see how much of your order total will actually be given to the artist before you check-out and spend any money. Not only that, but we'll also show you how much of your hard-earned money is going to the credit card companies that provide our payment processing services, as well as how much is going to support the indieTorrent.org community's hosting and bandwidth needs. Our goal is to make the transaction as transparent as possible to all parties involved: the musician, the music-buyer, and the indieTorrent.org community. It is only in this manner that we will develop a community of trusting people who can conduct business with one another in complete confidence.
  • indieTorrent.org is going multilingual. That's right, the ability for people to sample and shop for music in whatever language they prefer is in the works. We'll internationalize as many areas of the site as we can. The extent to which we'll be successful in maximizing language availability is contingent upon the help of translators. Please contact us if you have an interest in translating content for this website.
  • You can download music that you've bought as many times as you want (within reason... those who abuse this policy will have their download quotas restricted, like little babies). iTunes, Amazon, and all of the other conglomerates only let you download each song that you buy once! Absurd, we say. You can even go to a friend's house, log into your indieTorrent.org account, and download an album you bought to your friend's computer, too. While it would be a lot faster and easier to stick your copy on a USB thumb-drive and spare us the bandwidth expense, there is nothing in the indieTorrent.org licensing policy that would prevent that. In fact, that type of sharing is encouraged! Just remember to tell your friend about the Tip Jar feature on indieTorrent.org!
  • All music sold on indieTorrent.org is CD-quality lossless audio. When you buy a CD on indieTorrent.org, you are buying the exact same information that is recorded onto an officially-pressed CD that you would buy in a record store (or even better, your favorite artist's indieTorrent.org merch store). This is not true of any other digital music store in existence. Every other store sells compressed MP3s, M4As, and WMAs that are nowhere near CD-quality and will be obsoleted within a few years. Unless you buy your digital music from indieTorrent.org, your investment is not protected because file formats change and lossy compression algorithms are only viable for so long. Don't waste money on music from stores that only offer lossy audio formats so they can save money on bandwidth and generate further profits for their corporate stake-holders. While we offer MP3s for maximum device compatibility and convenience, your purchase still entitles you to the CD-quality version of the digital file, which you can download at any time. Music uploaded to the "Free for All" service cannot possibly be regulated, and is therefore provided as-is ("ya get what ya get"). indieTorrent.org doesn't even host the actual files posted in the Free for All section of the site — fans host those files themselves, which leads to a longer discussion about the nature of the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol. (We'll save that for another essay.)
  • Fast downloads. If you don't achieve over 150 KB/s during purchased song downloads on a broadband connection, we want to know about it (so we can figure out how to afford more bandwidth). And while we have no control over torrent download speeds (this applies only to files downloaded through the Free for All service), those speeds may actually exceed our 150 KB/s target download rate. That's the beauty of the BitTorrent protocol; more downloaders means faster downloads for everyone.
  • There are just too many incentives to list! Come try the service already!

Other Benefits of Participating on indieTorrent.org

indieTorrent.org will become home to a Wiki-like (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki) repository that is designed to store a wealth of information about artists, bands, songs, and music, in general. This repository is freely viewable and editable by the general public and will be used to give visitors to indieTorrent.org the ability to search for music by sales rank, popularity, and based on the content/ratings of editorial reviews that fans contribute.

Artists will have the opportunity to maintain their own "official" profile pages within the site, but anyone will have the chance to contribute to the articles that are related to a particular artist, album, song, etc.

For the technically inclined, indieTorrent.org will feature an XML-based RSS feed that allows any other site to download official artist content (text and images – not music) from the indieTorrent.org repository and display it live on that site. Even those who don't understand the technology will still benefit from its presence: an RSS feed allows an artist to maintain one central data source for information about himself/herself/the band, which can be accessed from anywhere else on the Internet. For example, let us suppose that a band has a U.S. tour in the near future. Rather than post the tour dates on dozens of different sites or a MySpace page, the band can simply post the dates in its indieTorrent.org biography and any site on the Web can grab the data from indieTorrent.org, thereby eliminating the need to recreate and maintain data on several different websites.

indieTorrent.org will also offer a merchandise store to any artist who wants to sell a physical product online. Again, the typical e-commerce costs are mitigated by selling merchandise through the indieTorrent.org community website. While indieTorrent.org lacks the resources (and desire, at least presently) to handle the order fulfillment logistics, we can pipe your store's order data, securely and in real-time, to a password-protected order management console that allows you to fulfill your own orders or forward them on to a fulfillment service of your choice.

File Formats for Music Downloads

Music will initially be delivered in four different formats, for the customer's convenience. Different from any other service, and best of all, indieTorrent.org will be the first digital music marketplace to endorse the FLAC audio format as its choice format. The FLAC format is a lossless audio format that retains the 1,411 kilobits per second digital audio bit rate contained in the original CD recording. FLAC-encoded audio files can also be compressed to less than half of their original file size with no loss in quality. We will also offer a variety of other formats. We have gone to great lengths to ensure maximum compatibility between the various file formats offered on indieTorrent.org and audio devices of every sort. FLAC files can be converted to any other format, too, which means that users can download FLAC files and then convert them to any other audio format. Now that's freedom!

Hope for the Future

Why Fans Will Pay For Music, One Way or Another

When music collectors are asked why they purchase records as opposed to pirate them on the Internet, the answers most commonly given, in my experience, are:

  1. "I want to support the band."
  2. "I don't want to participate in anything illegal."
  3. "I enjoy the liner-notes, lyrics, artwork, and possession of the physical CD."

For the indieTorrent.org model to be successful, fans' needs, as reflected in the above responses, will have to be honored. We're quite proud of the fact that indieTorrent.org is one of the first music stores to give fans the opportunity truly to support the artist, without middlemen keeping a little "support" for themselves. Every transaction conducted on indieTorrent.org will support only the artist (and to a small extent, the indieTorrent.org community of artists), whether it's a Tip Jar donation to a "starving artist" or the sale of a hit single. Unlike music store transactions, Tip Jar donations are not subject to indieTorrent.org's cost-covering percentage, which means that every dime of each donation goes directly to the artist.

There's nothing illegal about indieTorrent.org; fan concern #2 can be checked-off the list.

indieTorrent.org is sure to be a mecca for music collectors of every sort. The digital music medium provides some enormous advantages over traditional distribution methods. Rather than ship the customer a paper sleeve that is prone to decay, discoloration, moisture damage, and the inevitable toll of time, paying and donating customers will also have exclusive access to digital artwork that would traditionally be used in printing the CD sleeve, liner notes, etc. (While the most suitable format for artwork distribution is debatable, something like a PDF file with high resolution [print-quality] and/or vector-based artwork may work well [though, I would much prefer to avoid the endorsement or use of proprietary document formats, such as PDF]).

How nice would it be for customers to be able to print their own CD jackets, sleeves, posters, and disc labels from high-quality digital files (contributed both by fans and musicians)? This idea presents tremendous opportunity for serious music collectors to store, sort, archive, and maintain a massive music collection using a high-capacity storage device and, optionally, a computer. One of the most important and fundamental advantages of digital media is its low storage cost. No more bulky CD cases, no more worrying about scratched discs, no more warped/wilted sleeves and jackets; the music becomes as timeless as the upgradeable medium on which it is stored. Portability and efficiency are king, and an all-digital music collection fits quite nicely with the public demand for both. An entire music collection, including any accompanying artwork, can now fit in the palm of a human hand. The user can produce a burned copy of the original, uncompressed, high-fidelity audio on-demand... all without having to rip an original CD. Anybody who has ever attempted to rip a 200+ CD collection to digital files knows what I mean. Which format do you choose? At what bit-rate? What is lossy vs. lossless compression? indieTorrent.org will eliminate the hassle and the confusion for the fan by dramatically simplifying the entire music buying/collecting process.

We have established that fans are willing to pay for digital music (the extant [and thriving] online music stores are evidence of this assertion). Why is that? Aren't all Internet-users little more than greedy, irresponsible leeches who will freeload and steal whenever the opportunity presents itself? That's what the labels would have us believe, and if that's the type of relationship you intend to have with your Internet audience, you may as well pack-it-in right now. As an artist, your livelihood depends on those "freeloading punks", believe it or not.

The fundamental motivation for music fans to purchase music is simple: to promote the advancement of a work's creator. As such, buying a CD from a record label (especially through the iTunes Music Store, in which there is no physical product to manufacture, nor the overhead associated with such manufacture) cannot and should not be considered "supporting the artist". Currently, artists receive only a marginal portion of the proceeds generated from a song/album sale on iTunes and its ilk. Similarly, by purchasing a CD from a retail store, the customer is funding all organizations in the distribution chain (most of which are expendable); the artist only sees a minute fraction of the proceeds. We're talking about middlemen here. 10 minutes with an Internet search engine is sufficient to sample the extent to which music fans are disenchanted with big labels and big brands. Fans are so tired of being jerked-around that they are more than willing to pay good money for a service that meets their expectations, which, quite frankly, are very fair and reasonable. The "hardcore" music fans (called "brand advocates" in traditional marketing lingo) are willing to pay even more for music when unique incentives are at stake.

In fact, a plenitude of music fans consider themselves to be "collectors", and bands should reach out to this small, but invaluable, audience. A collector likely defines herself as an individual who takes pride in her music collection. Such an individual takes extreme care to maintain a well-groomed music library; the individual meticulously maintains the condition of her discs, organizes the discs by meaningful criteria, and values any printed or promotional materials that may come with or inside the CD package. Collectors will not only spend money on the music itself, but also on auxiliary or promotional products, such as posters, t-shirts, rare collectible discs, vinyl, and the like. If musicians were to give this particular breed of fan an incentive for downloading free music and donating to a "Tip Jar" instead of buying music through traditional means, the results might be enlightening.

The motivation for the fan to donate to the artist can stem from one of any number of sources. A potential idea would be for the band to offer unique incentives to those who consistently donate to its cause. indieTorrent.org will keep a running tally of who donates what to which artist. Of course, fans who donate can opt not to be recognized, publicly, but we will otherwise publish the top 10 fans' total contributions on every page of the site. We believe in recognizing those who contribute most to the survival of independent artists. We will also be working with bands to come up with special thank-you gifts for their most prominent supporters. For example, users who donate what would traditionally constitute "buying the full catalog" (let's say $100) might receive an autographed poster or other bonus/promotional materials, the production cost of which would be marginal as compared to the money that would be lost selling the same CD catalog through a label and the accompanying retail chain.

In essence, the model that I'm proposing offers a different way for artists to "make bank" by giving their music away for free (or at a very reasonable cost to the fan) and pampering die-hard fans with unique merchandise, free concert tickets, hand-signed memorabilia, and the like.

For those too broke to donate in exchange for free music (that's me, for sure), there's another option. People who want to download from the selection of free music but who cannot offer a monetary contribution are able to write reviews, rate songs/albums/artists, clean-up song lyrics, organize free album artwork, etc. in order to earn credits that participating artists will accept in lieu of money. We'll find a way for everybody to pitch-in! The goal is to make the indieTorrent.org community as popular as possible. Popularity will keep the music prices low and every artist's exposure, profit, and "Tip Jar" potential to a maximum.

Do People Tip? A Question of Etiquette

Would you stiff a bartender on the tip? Okay, me too, but only if he shorted me on the volume of booze in my drink. A notion to which any bartender or waitperson can attest, a small minority of people will stiff artists on the tip — and it might be simply because the downloader didn't perceive any value in a particular song. Site-goers may also stiff artists on the tip because of a problem with the indieTorrent.org website, in which case the responsibility rests with our designers and developers. The fact of the matter is that if fans aren't tipping, either the music is lacking or the website is lacking (and possibly both), in which case our job, as a community of independent artists and their fans, should be to change and improve upon the status quo, such that the music acquisition process becomes worthy of a tip. We're running out of excuses not to be selling an astronomical volume of our own music.

Some may be thinking, "Yeah, yeah... the waitress/bartender analogy doesn't apply to the Internet because of the anonymity inherent on the Internet." Those who have spent sufficient time in the online community may have perspective that the naysayers would find rousing. The online community, as a whole, strictly enforces etiquette in virtually all manner of interaction. There are certain things that "you just don't do" online, and the number of people who are willing to abide by the unwritten rules of conduct is staggering.

If you've ever been golfing, the extent to which golfers recognize the rules of golfing etiquette is immediately apparent. Forget popping wheelies in the golf cart or tossing empties into water hazards. The same adherence to etiquette is pervasive within in the online community, namely because there is much incentive for people who join the online community to abide by the established rules. Even though activity on the Internet can largely be conducted anonymously (although, that is now changing, thanks to the fraud that is the "War on Terror"), it becomes very difficult for "trolls" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll) and disruptive/abusive users to make effective use of a given online service. One often finds that those who are unable to abide by the rules are quickly identified, politely asked to abide, and then forcefully ousted. Said another way, the online community is very much a self-regulating system that has a natural tendency to move towards true democracy.

Boosting Your Fan-Base: Fishing for Fans

It doesn't take a seasoned fisherman to understand that strapping an "All bluefish, please jump inside the boat!" sign to the side of a fishing vessel probably won't entice the bluefish. Yelling at the fish is not likely to work, either. A wily bluefish won't often appear unsolicited, period. (The same is true of music fans!) When fishing, one must toss bait overboard so as to stir the curiosity of a potentially-interested party. All fishermen understand that catching anything worthwhile requires an investment in some decent bait.

Giving-away music can be considered the musician's investment in bait. If they are to "reel-in" (sorry, I couldn't help myself) the big crowds, musicians may want to consider chumming-up the indie scene with some juicy music in order to entice prospective fans. The free music serves as the up-front expenditure (which, in actuality, costs the artist nothing, save the one-time production cost of the files) that draws fans to venues and the merchandise tables thereat. I simply cannot overstate the fact that viral, rampant duplication of your music is the best thing for your bottom-line (not the worst!), especially given that the massive storage and bandwidth requirements to facilitate the process cost you absolutely nothing. indieTorrent.org takes care of that burden by leveraging the miracles of modern techology, such as Braham Cohen's BitTorrent Protocol (which accounts for the "torrent" in indieTorrent.org). For a deeper explanation of what a torrent is, see the BitTorrent Protocol Wikipedia entry.

The simple truth is that you can't sell-out venues if people don't know about your shows. People won't know (or care) about your shows if they don't know who you are. People won't know who you are if they've never heard your music. People won't hear your music if you don't make your music accessible. Your music isn't maximally accessible unless it's cheap (or free) and easy to acquire. You get the point. Put your music out there! Don't rely on the labels to do it for you, or you'll be left in the digital dust!

The DRM and Copyright Pitfalls

Labels Are Becoming Obsolete; Don't Help Them Stay Relevant

Naturally, there are immediate concerns that arise for artists when the record labels are cropped-out of the frame. Who does all the promoting? Who secures the gigs? Who scores the radio airtime? How do we send our message to the public? Suffice it to say, not the record labels; the need for their services is dwindling at a speed proportionate to the advancement of communication technologies (such as fiber optics and quantum computers). Those familiar with Moore's Law are well aware that the capabilities of computers double roughly every 18 months; we're talking about exponential growth here, folks. The planet is rapidly approaching a point in time after which those 18-month leaps will be so phenomenal in their impact and nature that if leveraged for the common good, these gargantuan leaps will allow regular people — just like you and me — to accomplish some truly extraordinary feats. indieTorrent.org promises to blossom into one of those feats.

There are plenty of promotional agencies that are able to satisfy the public relations component of the music-making process without demanding rights to the music via contractual agreement. With all of the surplus revenue that can potentially be generated via removing the labels from the equation, there should be sufficient income to enlist the services of such an organization, should an artist feel compelled to do so.

The aim of indieTorrent.org is not to stamp-out the need for auxiliary promotion; it is to reduce the reliance upon, and financial burden of, conventional marketing and sales methods. indieTorrent.org's promotional prowess will be contingent upon the amount of attention it receives from artists and fans. Spreading the word about and participating on the site are two excellent ways to boost the site's sphere of influence.

It is indieTorrent.org's hope that it will be able to acquire the endorsement of well-respected and popular independent artists, who will help to promote the site's statement of purpose. This promotion should increase attention and awareness to a point at which the historical dependence on record labels for purposes of promotion becomes unnecessary. Promotion for the site means promotion for the artists who use it. And, of course, the exposure is free.

Some people will remember Lars Ulrich (from Metallica) and all of his whining/carrying-on about how music pirates were taking food off his family's table during the Napster era (before there were legitimate digital music stores). Lars publicly condemned his fans for "stealing" his music. Even though Lars was living in a multi-million-dollar home and reveling in opulence, his grievances were somewhat legitimate. I can see why an artist would feel cheated if he spent $1,000,000 producing 150,000 records to sell and then everybody pirated the record from the Internet and the artist was left with a warehouse full of dusty CDs. But, times have changed. A lot. We live in a digital world. If, as an artist, you don't spend any money pressing CDs, distributing them, and employing a middleman, there are very few costs associated with pumping your music out to the masses.

Even if the masses decide to steal your music (which they always will, to some extent), there is no realizable loss incurred. When you make your record available to the entire planet in dozens of currencies via indieTorrent.org, it costs you nothing to reach a global audience. Even if 95% of that global audience decides to "pirate" the record from elsewhere, so be it. If the remaining 5% of such a large audience decides to pay you for your efforts, you'll be a millionaire.

I cannot overemphasize how important it is to leverage freely-available technologies to circulate your music as widely as possible, even if not for immediate monetary gain. I am not the first author to argue that the smartest thing up-and-coming musicians can do is to put their own music on the "pirate sites". Given that some percentage of people are going to steal your music no matter what you do, the key to making money with your music online becomes cutting the cost for you to distribute your music. You'll see your distribution and advertising costs plunge when you sell your digital records through indieTorrent.org. Your fans will be downloading your disc/album artwork and printing everything themselves within three minutes of buying your new CD. There are no jewel cases to buy, no packages to ship, no CDs to press. Your up-front costs for selling your record to the world are limited to your audio production costs (which are steep, I know — that's exactly why indieTorrent.org seeks to marginalize every other expense).

Go ahead. Let people download your record from the Internet and burn it all they like. Immortal Technique, who has taken himself from the impoverished streets of Peru to to a position of extreme respect among his fans, peers, and contemporaries, is bar-none the one of the most hardened Hip-Hop artists on the planet. He said it first in his acclaimed track Obnoxious:

Immortal Technique, I made this to bump in your ride
Or burn it off the Internet, and bump it outside
N#@ga, we keeping it live, we keeping it live
We keeping it live, we keeping it live
Burn it off the f*@#in' Internet, and bump it outside

"Tec", as his fans call him, is a reigning Hip-Hop battle champion at a young age — and he has street credit (not to mention the wisdom of a shaman). Tec clearly sees a purpose (beyond money) in giving-away his music over the Internet. For the real artists, the music is about the message, not the money. But they can't spread the message without the money. That's why it is fully our responsibility, as stewards of every manner of musical talent, to ensure that every human being on the planet with Internet access and a love for music can contribute to the artists that he or she loves most.

Unlike Immortal Technique, Lars Ulrich lacked any type of understanding of his own industry and blamed his loyal fans for his financial strife, rather than the label whose servant he ultimately became. He assumed the role of spokesperson on behalf of his label and their business interests and ultimately estranged his fans and permanently tarnished his image and career.

The Death of DRM in Music

The indieTorrent.org methodology eliminates two of the fundamental problems in the digital music distribution industry: DRM (Digital Rights Management) and Fair Use. One of the primary gripes that users have with purchasing digital music is that they don't "own" the music; they own the right to listen to the music – within the smothering constraints of "Fair Use" (which is hardly fair, at least given the manner in which Fair Use laws are presently imposed). Further, users complain that the proprietary nature of both audio codecs and audio players hinders the digital music experience. The digital music experience becomes far more comprehensive and pleasurable to the end-user without DRM and unreasonable copyright expectations.

The primary complaints expressed by those who purchase digital music are:

  1. The music isn't of sufficient quality; it's compressed to a 128kbps AAC audio file (typically, in October, 2005) within an MPEG-4 container. What happens when a newer, better format is released? Do I have to re-download my entire music collection? (To this day, that answer remains an unequivocal "Yes". And, you'll have to pay for every song a second time!)
  2. The music won't play on my portable device, or restrictions are imposed in the chain-of-control (supplier's server, desktop hardware/software, jukebox, portable device) that makes it inconvenient to store or listen to the music in the manner of my choosing.
  3. There exists the possibility that my investment is not protected (e.g. The iTunes Music Store closes unexpectedly due to a lawsuit, lack of interest/funding, or similar). Without the iTunes software, there is no way to decrypt and listen to the music I have purchased.
  4. I live in fear of losing my entire music collection due to a hard disk failure or system crash. At present, most digital music stores will not allow me to re-download files that I have purchased without having to pay the entire cost a second time.

Clearly, the purchaser's concerns have been disregarded. Those who stand to profit from the incompatibility of formats and devices have leveraged the DRM and Fair Use controversies to synthesize a war against the paying customer. The lack of standardization, in addition to the burden of countless restrictions, is a major blow to the immense potential for digital music distribution. Without the burden of DRM and Fair Use, music truly is "free" (even if it costs money).

The Potential for the Illegal Resale of Your Copyrighted Music (And Why It's No Big Deal)

Many people ask me, "Okay, so, what stops Tootie Twotone from purchasing digital music files from the Website and distributing them on the Web?" Absolutely nothing. As the familiar maxim states, "If it can be played, it can be copied." As I mentioned in the Introduction, the whole DRM war is a fruitless endeavor to keep record companies and purveyors of DRM-laden digital content eternally relevant. They are building a "time-bomb" into their product. At any time, iTunes can disappear and your collection won't be worth a cent. Of course, they'd rather stick-around and continue to steal money, cook the books, while fans and artists fund their good-times.

So what if your fans buy your music and then throw copies of it onto the Internet? The oft-stifled truth is that, as an independent artist, you want as many people as possible to distribute and put others onto your work. The proliferation of your music across the Internet is free advertising for you. How else could a band afford the opportunity for users in every corner of the world, quite literally, to hear its music, and thereby provide the opportunity and motivation for them to attend an international tour date (or support the music through optional donations or for-pay downloads)? The task of global dissemination is actually much better left to the experts, who we traditionally label as "music pirates". These individuals have enormous access to bandwidth, equipment, and other network resources that no artist himself could ever hope to afford. Let pirates do the heavy-lifting — for free. Forget the opportunity cost of pirated music; as I said, we're in dire need of a radical revision in paradigm and the complete overhaul of an obsolete business model.

Copylefted intellectual property agreements provide the potential for individuals to buy, or otherwise acquire (legally), digital music that is protected, but not necessarily governed by traditional copyright constraints. Invariably, selfish individuals will attempt to redistribute said music for self-profit, regardless of the intellectual property laws in effect. This point has been proved time and again, as the most sophisticated anti-piracy gadgets from Apple and Microsoft are embarrassingly "cracked", literally before the product even hits the shelves. Street vendors in every major city in the world sell open-jacket copies of movies, an act which carries a $250,000 fine in some places (like the United States). These markets cannot be deterred or shut-down. Under indieTorrent.org's Creative Commons licensing terms, such resale for profit is illegal, but it will inevitably be done. Again, I strongly urge you not to expend your efforts attempting to thwart these thieves; focus your efforts elsewhere, because squelching music piracy is a lost cause. Similarly, why would someone be willing to pay for a knock-off when the files will inevitably be available for free over P2P networks? P2P networks and software/music piracy are here to stay and are becoming increasingly easy to use (and thereby more accessible to the "average user"). There have been countless dollars spent and concerted efforts made to squash the underground information trade, and no such effort has been even moderately successful. The human desire to share knowledge and information is far too powerful an opponent for any single organization, or group of organizations (the United States Federal Government and associated groups, such as the RIAA, for example), to overcome. Furthermore, I think it is a mistake to assume that the world would, in any way, be better-off without digital pirates; they serve a very important and unique purpose, from which all of us benefit, as I shall seek to demonstrate at length in a separate essay.

Eventually, the enlightened musicians arrive at the simple truth: if you give your music away, stealing it becomes impossible. One cannot sell counterfeit CDs when anyone can download the music for free, directly from the artist. The trick is offering complementary, value-added services to accompany your gratis music. Your music will be available at no cost for the majority of listeners, courtesy of the Internet, whether you wish it or not.

A Simple, Yet Illustrative Case Study

A friend of mine attended a Sarah McLachlan concert in the spring of 2005, and at the concert, she bought a Let There Be Morning CD, by The Perishers. She allowed me to make a copy of the CD, to which I listened obsessively for several months. In September, The Perishers made an intimate appearance at Trees in downtown Dallas, Texas. I attended the show and not only witnessed a stellar Perishers performance (Aqualung, you were good, too!), but I also bought two more copies of Let There Be Morning, as well as a Perishers t-shirt. All four members of the band signed both of my CDs and were gracious enough to stand-in for a group photo (which, to this day, hangs above my desk).

As a direct result of my friend sharing her CD, the Perishers sold two CDs, one of which could be considered collateral for the copy I had already burned. It is important to note, however, that payment for both of the CDs I purchased went directly to the band, in its entirety; no middleman, no label, no taxes, no fees, no cut to be taken. The Perishers profited more from selling me two CDs at $10 apiece than they did selling dozens of copies in a record store. The $20 t-shirt also generated pure profit for the Perishers. Of course, there are production costs associated with both the CDs and the t-shirt, but those costs can be considered negligible when compared to the opportunity cost of selling and promoting through a label. Case in point: a sufficiently large percentage of human beings, when given the opportunity, are fair, honest, generous, and allot credit where credit is due. The fan wins, the band wins, the label empire loses. I won't shed a tear.

Additional Reading

Record Labels:

Emerging Alternatives to Copyright:

The Pirate Bay:

Free Software (Definition):