Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Steve Perry Haiku

I insulted steve
it was very traumatic
the tale is too long

People Show Failing Respect For Creatives

Recently I came across a story through Digg about Creative Commons and photographers.

The posts in the comment thread were somewhat brutal and many people seemed to be adamant that photography and creativity no longer had value because it was so commonly available for free. One person even insinuated that if people expected to be paid for creativity then they should be paid for bodily functions... nice.

This was my response that immediately started getting buried by negative ratings one would assume because I dare to want something in-between "only pros get paid" and "all information should be free".


I am not sure that CC is really working to foster and protect creativity. Actually, I have not seen much work done as it relates to the web to promote a photographers ability to earn fair compensation for what they do. Honestly, I think we have a deeper problem here, as reflected in these comments. Creativity is losing value in the minds of people.

The line between pro and amateur is the real outdated concept here... We had a great opportunity to bring in hordes of new contributers and content generators and allow them to be good at what they do while earning a modest income from...*shock* art! There is no reason people shouldn't make some portion of their income from creativity even if it never becomes their main source of income. Saying a work has no value depending on who the creator is and what title they have is ridiculous.

Talented people should be informed that their work has value. Often I think they just assume it doesn't and others take advantage of that. Maybe thats the real issue. Even if you take one great image in your whole life... its still a great image.


I understand why people would want to share and I certainly don't mean to imply that they are wrong to do so, But I think there are also a lot of talented non-pro people that are not being given an opportunity or encouragement to use their skill to help pay their bills because the current vibe seems to be "set it free or you are being antisocial"

We are spending lots of effort on sharing content and not enough effort on creating a system/attitude that supports creatives throughout the range of skill, equipment, and creativity. All I am wishing for is something in between "no value" and traditional "over priced pro". A range of "creative middle class artist" supported by licensing system that allows much of the freedom of CC but also encourages modest compensation when it makes sense. I have spent quite a bit of time at Creative Commons trying to figure out if it would fit that goal and honestly I just haven't found a way that I think it could. Someone here mentioned dual licensing and I need to put some thought into that before closing the book on CC though.

If we are going to tear down the status quo, maybe we should consider finding ways to include the talented people that have traditionally been left out. Do I want to continue to pay Getty $500 for a rights managed image? Hell no! But I would be glad to pay $10-$50 to a struggling person who is studying photography at night and managed to get a great shot that was similar to the $500 one.


This person had some good points... but still he was sort of an "all or nothing" advocate... summed up by this statement. "You seem to be suggesting that 'creative output' deserves some form of income. It does. It deserves the income that their customers are willing to pay for it. No more, no less. "

Yes, and I am trying to encourage people to be honest with themselves about the value of that output... lets say someone makes a decent living and also has a popular blog on the side that promotes them and therefore indirectly increases their income. One day you see an image on flicker that you think would be perfect to communicate the "feel" of a post. Instead of just taking it because the person has put it up under a CC license and you are in the "gray area" perhaps they should offer to pay a small fee for it. I would like to change peoples minds in a broad way about what that value for creativity IS. (crazy I know) We don't seem to be talking about a scale of worth... either its free, nearly free, or it is prohibitively expensive. There could be a huge range of value and affordability.

Content creators and content users could ultimately benefit from a system that made it simple and convenient to freely share, or pay on a sliding scale depending on the quality and the usage. I see this as one of the largest wasted online opportunities of the last decade. Call it "having a micro job" or "The Creative Middle Class" but the trading and exchange of digital content for (very small) payments never evolved the way I had hoped it would and it seems to me that just people that use the content or want to make money distributing / organizing of that content are getting most of the advantage, while people that are good at making images, music, etc... have not. You mentioned that the worth of "creative output" is set by the market and competition – I would say that the worth is set by the market and competition and modified by the tools available to deliver and license it. Its easy to leave a tip for a waitperson because the system and the social standard is in place. It is a huge pain to try to pay a small fair fee to a web based creative.

I am not advocating things returning to the way they were... I was just hoping for something different and perhaps better than what has happened.


I don't know why I still fight it... Its not new, people have always had a low opinion of "artists". The idea that you should be able to make a living doing art is still foreign and confusing to most people. Its just that now the web has uncovered so many people with artistic leanings and since we all are so convinced of our own worthlessness by all the lack of respect... we are just giving away all we create even if it does have modest commercial worth. Nothings going to stop the landslide... Soon the dream of the web allowing for an "creative middle class" will be fully crushed and only the very rich or people willing to live in poverty or off the kindness of others will have the time to develop artistic skill... much like its always been.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The "Incident”

The time frame of this story is around the mid-1990s, and this is how I remember it, although I’m sure that some of the details are getting a bit fuzzy...

So, one of the many things that I’ve done to support myself while making art and music all these years was selling high-end recording systems and synthesizers at a shop here in Dallas that catered to studios and professional musicians.

One day, a local producer came in with two guys I’d never seen before, and they were trying to find a really good piano sound for a project they were working on. We had just gotten in the Kurzweil Micropiano, and at the time it was a hell of a deal for such a cool little box. I think we had them on sale for like $279, which was a great price.

I hooked one up for them, and let them play with it for a while, and they really seemed to enjoy it. The guy who was sitting at the keyboard kept saying “Yeah, this is it, this is the sex!” All the while, they kept hassling me about the price, trying to get it for cheaper than the $279 that we had it on sale for.

I explained to them that it was an excellent price, and that was as low as we were going on those because they were selling so fast. But they wouldn’t shut up about getting a little extra off. They kept asking for the “Portuguese discount,” saying things like “Hey, what’s the Portuguese price on this?” I had NO IDEA what they were talking about.

So, to try to get their attention away from the price, I casually asked, “So, what kind of music do you guys do?” The guy at the keyboard responded, “Oh, pop rock.” I said, “Oh, yeah, really, like what? Does it sound like something I may have heard?” He responded, “Well, do you know Journey?” and I said to him, “Oh, yeah, sure,” with a less-than-enthusiastic tone in my voice. I guess as he picked up on this and said, “What, didn’t you like them?”

Being a very diplomatic guy, I simply said, “No, not really, it just wasn’t my thing,” to which one of them responded, “Well, they were more of a chick band.” I said, “Well, not any ‘chicks’ I hang out with.” They kind of smirked at that. Then he said, “So, you really didn’t like Journey?”

At this point, they’d been hassling me for so long about the price, and they seemed really oddly intent on just giving me a hard time, so I decided to give them a hard time back. I responded, “What are you, some kind of Journey freaks?” They all had a great laugh about that, and the guy at the piano looked at the other guys and said, “Well, yeah, we kind of liked them!”

Then he turned to me and said, “No, I’m really curious: what didn’t you like about them?” At this point, I was in full Smartass Mode, and didn’t see any reason to hold back. So I said, “What, you mean you like that guy’s voice?” And in my most shrill Steve-Perry impersonation I sang “Ooh, he’s lovin’, ooh he’s touchin’, anothaaaaaaaaah!” For some reason they found this incredibly amusing. They were slapping each other on the back, laughing, and I thought that the guy at the keyboard was about to fall off the stool.

When he had calmed down enough, he said, “So, you didn’t like his voice?” And I said, “Well no, I like men that sing like MEN,” which brought on another round of thunderous laughter and backslapping.

I couldn’t figure out why they kept asking me about Journey. Before I could figure it out, he asked me, “You didn’t like ANYTHING that they did?” So I said, “Well, there was that solo stuff that he had,” and sang a few notes of my mock-version of “Oh Sherrie,” to which he replied, “Oh, so you liked that?” I said, “No, that pretty much sucked too.”

It was about this time that I noticed that the local producer was turning beet-red and quivering with anger. I made a lame excuse and excused myself to go check on something in the back room, knowing that I had said something terribly terribly wrong, but not able to figure out what it was. One of the other salesmen came into the back room and I asked him, “Hey, do you know what I might have said to make John [not his real name] so pissed off?”

And it was at that point that he said, “Well, that’s Steve Perry you’ve been saying all those things to.”

I felt like somebody had punched me in the stomach. I mean, I was being honest, I don’t really care for his voice and wasn’t ever really into Journey, but just the idea of insulting anyone so badly made me feel ill. It’s not the sort of thing I go around doing. I have a lot of respect for talent in general, and he’s obviously a talented man… just not my cup of tea.

So I steeled myself and came out of hiding in the back room, and walked up to him and said something completely lame like “I’m sorry, Mr. Perry, I didn’t realize it was you.” And he said, “That’s OK, [XYZ] Record Company has the same opinion of my voice that you do. Maybe you could go work for them.”

He ended up buying the Micropiano… for the $279. And I was thankful that he was very gracious about the whole thing. I only hope that he didn’t take it too personally, and thought it was funny, and gets a kick out of telling the story about the goofy guy in Dallas who was mocking him right to his face.

I’ve NEVER been able to live this down with the people I used to work with, and it came to be known as “The Steve Perry Incident.”

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Creative Middle Class, Part 1

I have been reading online arguments regarding DRM/copyright and it has me thinking about this touchy subject again.

I wish that in these arguments people would consider all content creators, not just big studios/record companies. As a self published photographer, musician, and short film maker, it seems like no people don't stop to think about the new "creative middle class". People just want digital content to be free even if it means hobbling someone who relies on a modest income from digital works.

I know that the model is to "set it free" and hope for a return... but I only see that working on a very large scale. For example, if I made a well produced instructional video for a rarely used art technique and the 5000 people in the world who where interested in using it could either pay me a modest $10 or download a hijacked version of it... I hate to say it but the number of people that would choose to just snag it for free would most likely make the project not worth doing and thus a valuable bit of fairly priced content would never be made. If you are a well established and famous band with a very devoted fan base you may be able to get a minority portion of them to pay a modest price for your works and that would be OK because of the scale. The rest of us... good luck with that.