Curt Smith on the (Musical) Value of Sharing

Curt Smith is a musician and a co-founder of Tears for Fears. I got my first record deal when I was 18 years old-next year that will be...

Curt Smith is a musician and a co-founder of Tears for Fears.

I got my first record deal when I was 18 years old-next year that will be about 30 years ago, so I have been doing it for quite a while. The industry when I first started was very much one-sided in the sense that it favored the industry and not the musicians. We would sign deals when we were quite young that were pretty bad across the board: from record deals to publishing deals, even management deals and touring. You just didn't make as high of a percentage as you would now. But of course that has changed over the years, especially in the last few years with the internet and sharing your music with people.

Technology has changed so much that now, people are quite capable of making records themselves. It used to be a very expensive process, but its not anymore. In the past, the industry controlled how your music got out there, so if you didn't have a record deal it would never be on shelves; there was no Amazon, there was no iTunes. There was basically just radio, and the record companies controlled that as well. Now, with the freedom of the internet, people can go and discover your stuff.

The down side is that there is now so much music, some form of filtering tool is required. That's starting to happen more with sites where people vote on music-you can breeze through a site, listen to different genres of music, and see which songs are being appreciated the most. But I think one of the big challenges is finding a good system of filtering so you can far more easily find music you may be interested in.

A bigger challenge, from the perspective of the artist, is how to get yourself seen. How do you stand out from X-million people on MySpace or however many there are now? Some of it you can get through hard work-live work, for example, is far more important than is has been in a long time, because that's something you can't replicate online. So building up a live following holds the value that it used to do, only now the word of mouth will spread more quickly due to the internet.

Artists have always created things with the goal of sharing them with people, and that idea goes way back. If you wrote music, you would go out and perform it on the street corner or you would perform it in a club; you wanted to be heard and share it with people. So I think the primary reason to make art is to share it with people. I don't primarily make music just for me, I want it to be listened to by other people, I want people to take it apart, I want people to delve into it and get the different textures and different meanings of lyrics. That kind of stuff I find fascinating. I like to delve into music or any form of art; then I actually feel like I'm involved in it. The difficulty right now lies with how we monetize that. Without sounding completely cold, unless we find a consistent way of monetizing it, then we can't do it any more. We love the stories of the starving artist, but there is only so long you can starve before you are actually going to have to go out and find a job. Those are the problems we have yet to completely solve.

Story as told to Eric Steuer. Click the play button below to listen to the interview on which this piece is based.

Eric Steuer is the creative director of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that works to make it easier for creators to share their work with the rest of the world. It also provides tools to make it easier for people to find creative work that's been made available to them-and the rest of the world-to use, share, reuse etc., freely and legally. This is the third in a series of edited and condensed interviews called "We like to share," in which Steuer talked to people who work across a variety of fields who use sharing as an approach to benefit the work that they do.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

via International Monetary Fund / Flickr and Streetsblog Denver / Flickr

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