Steve Coleman gives music away

And why not!
Steve Coleman has bravely made a large amount of his music available as free mp3s on his website. Not individual tracks or samples but whole CDs. He’s also including notes and personnel lists. You can also download Steve’s essays on music at the site and will be able to download scores of his compositions soon.

Steve Coleman
(Photo from

Has Steve lost it? Is he crazy? Clearly no! He’s being brave enough to do what many musicians have talked about. When I and many others recorded vinyl onto cassette tapes in the 70s and 80s and shared then with friends, that led to more publicity to the artists, more fans and more sales too as we eventually replaced those C90s with pristine vinyl. Home taping was ‘skill in music’ as the saying used to almost go.

My thoughts are that in sharing his music; the wonderful Cleveland Watkiss has been on a similar route recently; many people will discover it and share it and then, hopefully buy his CDs, go to his gigs and become interested in his music. Steve Lawson, solo bassist extraordinaire, has found similarly that it is a case of being creative about how modern musicians can make money, not by following the old, failed music business routes.

Steve Coleman gives his own rationale for giving music away here. Interestingly, his decision is led by his philosophy about the nature of music rather than any commercial angle. This is how Steve approaches his music too – deeply conceived, deeply realised and deeply felt. I’ll be glad to get mp3 versions of M Base material that I have on vinyl. You should buy some of Steve’s music too as this is great, vital music that is hugely influential in contemporary jazz. Without M-Base, Dave Holland’s current bands would sound very different; Vijay Iyer would not be doing what he is doing in the same way and contemporary jazz would sound quite different.

OK, the links….
Steve Coleman’s Website
Download Steve’s music
Buy Steve’s music
Read Steve’s Essays
Play Steve’s Scores

Further links to musicians mentioned here:
Steve Lawson
Cleveland Watkiss

Excellent discussion on filesharing (post by Andrew Dubber and fascinating discussion in the comments:
9 out of 10 Dentists

    Steve Coleman’s Rationale on Making Music Available for Free

(from Steve’s website)
Many people have asked me what are my reasons for giving away music for free. Well, why not? Why should everything always cost something? For me music is organized sound that can be used as sonic symbols to communicate ideas. Since my main goal is the communication of these ideas to the people, then why not provide this music for free and thereby facilitating the distribution of this music to the people. However the distribution of music in this way is not in the best interest of commercial music companies, i.e. record companies, music distributors, retail stores etc.

My reasons for providing free music comes from my belief that musical ideas should not be owned by anyone. I believe that ideas should be free for anyone to use (but not to necessarily sell to others or make others pay for the use of these ideas). The concept of a commons area where ideas can be used for the benefit of all but for the profit of no one may seem like an unrealizable concept in the world today. Basically greed runs the world today and it is because of this that the concept of ownership exits.

There would be no need to own something exclusively unless the use of it was restricted to the owner for reasons of conservation, or the owner wishes to rent out the use of the item to others for a fee. The concept of wealth also stems from ownership and control of resources.

I believe that ideas should be an area that is common to all people. It has been proven that real progress is made when ideas are shared and developed collectively. The ancient Egyptian society is one example of this and the development of the Internet is an example in modern times. The growth of the Internet is definitely due to the concept of open-source software, freeware and shareware. For the most part commercial development has inhibited growth by introducing concepts of ownership, exclusive or restrictive ideas, and the concept of paying for information which in many cases is available for free elsewhere.

Although it is not practical in the present society to have a situation where all ideas and information are available for the use of all, there should be areas where ideas and information are free for the use of everyone. This is especially true of creative ideas and inspired thought.

However people have asked me “if you are going to give away music then how will you survive and make a living?” It does cost money to make recordings, engineers and musicians have to be paid and materials needs to be purchased. However it is not necessary to have the mentality that we need to make a profit from all that we produce. If a person has a strong conviction and a reason for what they are doing, that alone should be enough motivation for the action to be consummated.

Money is not real in the first place, it is an agreed upon concept, in fact just another idea. This particular idea has no value unless everyone agrees on its worth. And generally speaking the desire for, striving for and acquisition of money almost always has a negative effect on the mind. The quest for money, and material acquisition in general, is a barrier to spiritual development.

Giving some ideas and music away does not mean that all needs to be given away for free. But there are some people who either cannot pay for the music or would never even listen to it in the first place if they had to pay for it. For this group of people, and for all the others who have purchased and supported the music in the past, there should be an area where they can go to listen to the music at no charge. I envision a situation where maybe one third to one half of the music that I create and make available to the public will be free of charge. The same would apply to other ideas about the music, general information, music theory, philosophy, etc.

There are still live performances that people can come to and these cannot be free as I need, at a minimum, to pay band members and my management team. Sometimes I personally make a profit on performances that my group does, sometimes I break even, other times I actually lose money. Overall I manage to make a living. When we go out on the road there are no big road crews, sound people and equipment. It is not a big operation and no one is becoming wealthy. Any extra money that I do make goes back into research, development of ideas and trips to places that have infrastructures that make it nearly impossible to make money. As a group we have made several trips to countries like Cuba, Senegal, India etc. and in almost all of these cases the expenses have been paid by myself.

There should be some ideas and concepts that are available for all to use, to contribute to the advancement of all.

Note from Phil: Special thanks to my good friend Chris Montgomery (photographer/biker/traveller/guitarist/all-round good bloke) for the heads up on this.

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