I live in Austin, Texas. For those of you who don’t know, music is big here… very big. I can go out on any night of the week, any week of the year and hear live music. As you can imagine, with all of those musicians it’s pretty hard for any of them to stand up and be counted by a Megacorp Music Company. It happens often enough for people to keep trying, but it’s a difficult road.
Erin Ivey, who I’ve been following for about a year now is working to finish an album by going directly to the community. I think this is pure genius! For a while, I’ve had an idea that I would be doing pretty good if I could get 1 million people to give me $1 a year for what I do. (Now I just need to find the right million!) Basically it’s the idea that just about all of us have something that is of value to someone. You can shoot for the over-inflated Hollywood kind of value, which seems to have a number of side-effects. You can also make a direct connection to your fans.
Many open source projects do this. They provide software that people like. They don’t sell it. They keep it open, but they ask for support from the people that want to use it. I happily donate to projects that I use from time to time. Amazingly all of those dollars can add up. If you were to donate a small fraction of what you pay to commercial software to projects that you use I think you would be amazed at the difference it would make. The money you donate goes for many things: hardware and hosting to keep a project going, booths at trade shows and other approaches to getting these projects out next to their commercial counterparts. A lot of money donated would allow someone to devote their full time to keeping the project moving forward.
On the music side, here is what Erin is doing. She has put up a pre-sale page for her upcoming album. Her “buy-in” is pretty modest. But then she suggests some premium levels. At each level you get the album, plus some extras. The ultimate is a private concert and a tin of chocolate, home-made by Erin herself. Many people won’t pay any attention to this, because they have no connection. They don’t value what she’s doing like the people who have followed her music. But I’ll tell you, sitting in the shadowy confines of the Ghost Room in Austin, listening to Erin wrap herself in a song spread it around the audience so that you too float and fly with the melody… well… it’s pretty cool. As someone who has had that experience I’m grateful for a chance to be in on something like this rather than waiting for some commercial marketing machine.
I think it’s the same with open source projects. Many people just do no have the experience of finding technology that makes a difference for them. They pretty much use what they’re given. Yet, when you find that special project and discover that there are other ways to do things it gives you a sense of empowerment. “I don’t have to use the software that do. Ithey make me change. I have something that does things the way that I want to.” It’s an easy step to go from advocate to participant by lending a little support. If money’s not your thing, then there are other kinds of support that are needed. You don’t even have to be a coder. Many projects need translation, writing– as in people who can communicate information and documentation in clear language for non-technical people– and a number of other things. I know of one instance where a broadcaster donated a voice-over advocating Linux to be open-sourced as a radio ad. (It actually was scheduled to run here in the Austin area for a while.) You don’t have to just be a consumer. You can be a part of what you like and use and help keep it alive.
Good luck, Erin. I’m looking forward to the new album. I think it’s awesome that you are giving your fans a chance to help make it happen. I think you’re on the edge of the future of art, science and technology. We drive what we want. We make it happen, as a community.