Cory Brown founded Absolutely Kosher
records in a San Francisco living room 12 years ago. Since then he's built the label up to national notoriety, releasing records from bands such as Xiu Xiu
, and 60 Watt Kid
. But changes in the economics and technology of the music industry have hurt small labels like Absolutely Kosher and its artists along with the major companies that many music fans (ourselves included) fervently criticize. To make the plight of indie artists and labels better known, Brown recently launched I Buy Music
, an initiative to encourage music fans to pay for the music they like. Wondering what inspired Brown's initiative, we sent him some questions about the new campaign, which, in its first week of existence, has already earned support from kingpin indie label Sub Pop
. Here's what Brown told us about his new initiative and the state of Absolutely Kosher:
First of all, what is I Buy Music? Is it a campaign? A crusade? A religious movement? A business strategy?
I Buy Music is an initiative to empower the people who spend their hard-earned money to support the musicians they love, respect and admire. Buying music is the most reliable and consistent way to show your support of a musician short of giving her/him money directly. The whole concept is explained on our website
Why start this now? Any event/experience/disappointment in particular inspire you?
I'd been feeling really down about work (my record label) and I'd nearly given up. Our sales have slid and it's created lot of pressure financially. I started an independent label to provide an equitable profit model to the musicians I work with. To have that pulled out from under us by potential supporters, people who profess to love what we do, felt like something of a betrayal. I think this sentiment is something a lot of musicians and labels have been feeling.
I've been looking for a way to turn things around and reverse the slide, and I realized the problem was so much bigger than my small label and the bands I work with. Then it occurred to me that I was looking in the wrong direction, that the industry's and the press' overall obsession with the problems had made us all myopic. We haven't stopped selling music, we're just selling less than before. The people who are keeping us in business and helping us pay our bands deserve to know what that means to us, not just to me and my label, but to the entire conduit that our releases travel.
I think the industry as a whole has failed spectacularly to draw the line between buying music and supporting musicians and their supply line, without whom there would be no business. The message is simple, just in case they don't understand it: If you love music, you buy music. And if you buy music, you should be proud. You should identify yourself with that pride, knowing you did your part.
What's your one-or-two sentence answer to those who ask, why should I buy music when I can get it for free?
I honestly think that people who ask that question are asking it of themselves, not of me, and that they're asking the wrong question. The real question they should be asking is, "Do I want to be the kind of person who ignores the time, effort and sacrifice of others with only a regard for myself?"
Do you think downloading music for free against an artist's/label's wishes is morally wrong?
In the past, I have become publicly angry with people who did just this, debasing people for their actions on Internet forums and mailing lists, even in person. This started to foster a real "us vs. them" feeling in me, one that I didn't feel good about, a way of thought that is unhealthy for me. It's very dangerous to condemn people for behavior that has become somewhat commonplace or one that comes from ignorance or misdirected sentiment, even when that behavior has a negative effect on you personally. I don't like it when organized religion does this in our country or in others.
That said, I feel strongly that a creator (and by extension, his or her agents) should unequivocally have some reasonable say in how their creation is disseminated. I believe that right is justified both morally and legally as well as practically, because contrary to the beliefs of some, no creator is ever obligated to share his or her creations with the rest of society. If we create such a caustic environment where creators have so little control of their work, the potential losses to us as a society, should they choose silence over surrender, are immeasurable.
I know you say that I Buy Music isn't a about the debate over the future of music sales/labels/tech/etc., but what are your thoughts on the debate? Which side do you lean toward, if any?
I am on the side of the future of music and in order to be on that side, musicians need to be able to earn a living wage. If that is not a primary focus of either side of the debate, then the debate is poop. And by poop, I mean utter bullshit.
What do you hope to accomplish with I Buy Music? What can we expect from it in the future?
I hope to make our message and its meaning commonplace. I hope our culture can grasp the value of music to our society and consequently, the value of of the people who make and promote it. At the very least, if we can create that sense of pride and identity in people who buy music, we will have accomplished what many still think is impossible, that we as citizens are responsible for the things and people we value.