Crowdfunded and public domain Well-Tempered Clavier in Grammy voting: extrapolate!


According to the most recent Kimiko Ishizaka Concerts and Announcements newsletter (via) and a
social media post, Ishizaka’s crowdfunded and released under CC0 J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is eligible and gaining votes for a Grammy Award.

My first thought was that even eligibility is probably a major accomplishment for a crowdfunded and libre work. I can’t tell from the Grammy FAQ whether the cutoff is very low or high, but it looks low, without knowledge of whether the terms used have particular meanings in the industry:

For the 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards, albums must be released between Oct. 1, 2014 and Sept. 30, 2015. Recordings must be commercially released in general distribution in the United States, i.e. sales by label to a branch or recognized independent distributor, via the Internet, or mail order/retail sales for a nationally marketed product. Recordings must be available for sale from any date within the eligibility period through at least the date of the current year’s voting deadline (final ballot).

I imagine entry into the voting list for works made outside the industry might be more tenuous even if “commercially released in general distribution” is a low bar:

The Academy accepts entries online from its members and from registered media companies. Entrants are provided information on how to submit their recordings electronically for consideration.

Ishizaka’s album has been a critical and according to the social media post above, commercial success:

Second, the financing model that made the recording possible is a ray of hope in a depressed and depleted industry. Before the recording was even made, Kimiko’s fans had pre-ordered enough copies of the recording that it instantly surged to #31 on the classical charts when it was released. That no-risk model ought to be very attractive to record label executives these days.

Third, and finally, the recording has been a commercial success. Quickly surpassing 1,000,000 streams on Spotify, reaching #1 in sales on and, and leading the entire Navona catalog every month since its release in global sales, Kimiko Ishizaka’s Well-Tempered Clavier proves that there is a market for selling CDs and digital copies of freely licensed music.

Most of this success is surely due to Ishizaka being a world-class musician (coincidentally, also a world-class athlete) with a taste aligned to sizable demand for new great performances of classical works. But it also seems that her well executed crowdfunding campaign and dedication of the work to the public domain greatly increased the success, building both financial resources and cultural relevance before and after release.

This can be effectively copied by musicians and other artists of any class: crowdfunding to finance and more importantly to ensure a minimum popularity, free licensing and preferably public domain to enable peer production of cultural relevance (e.g., Ishizaka’s recordings on the relevant Wikipedia pages) or at least maintenance of creative legacy.

Why isn’t this freedom respecting path more often taken? I suspect lack of people and institutions with knowledge required to take it with confidence. Some of Ishizaka’s supporters have long involvement in free software. The vast majority of artists don’t actively want to partner with freedom infringing industries that are destroying the internet and decreasing equality and security. They do want distribution and a shot at stardom (whatever that means in their genre). In most fields institutions that know how to provide what artists want in a freedom respecting and more effective way just do not exist. It’s up to people with previous experience in various free knowledge movements to create and market those institutions.

The need is greatest for movies, due to their position at the top of the commanding heights of culture and apologia for freedom infringing regimes, and the total lack of any competitive freedom respecting institutions for distribution and marketing of movies. There are also huge opportunities for entrepreneurs to build freedom respecting mass marketing and distribution institutions for books, music, games, software, and every other field.

The first link above points out that Ishizaka’s public domain recordings are used in numerous YouTube videos. I would be not be surprised if over the next decades the recordings are incorporated into millions of other works of all kinds, collectively with many billions of views. This brings up two other questions.

First, how do we keep track of such use so that there are credible metrics which favor commons-based production and displace freedom infringing metrics which currently describe what is popular and therefore culturally relevant? Earlier this year and in 2014 I worked on background and a proposal for building such metrics (and other things, but this was the motivation of my participation). The proposal did not get funded. I will eventually publish detailed notes and recommendations for going forward, but if anyone wants advice or collaboration on similar or related efforts, feel free to get in touch.

Second, wouldn’t it be better for the commons if such popular works were released under copyleft rather than unconditional public domain terms? Presumably the vast majority of the millions of works that will incorporate Ishizaka’s recordings will be proprietary. Would the negative impact of copyleft of use (I would ratchet down considerably my estimate of appearing in millions of works) and thus cultural relevance of single work be offset by some of the remaining uses complying with copyleft and being free themselves, and the ability to tax non-compliant uses? I would love to see evidence on this, e.g., in the form of worked out models, economics lab experiments, and empirical data from (possibly arranged) natural experiments.

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