Is Moby's Music Still Good When Its Free?
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. And Alex, let's say you go out to dinner, and you go to an expensive restaurant. You pay a lot, or you pay a lot for a bottle of wine. Is it better? Is the food better? Is the wine better if you pay more?
CHADWICK: I kind of expect that it's going to be and that probably colors how I feel about the meal, yeah.
BRAND: Right. Right. Well, also, conversely, you could go, maybe to a diner or to a burger joint and have an incredible conversation with someone, and maybe you'll think that that diner was...
CHADWICK: That would be a valuable meal, sure.
BRAND: Fantastic. Well, so we can all agree, probably, that value isn't always as simple as what something costs, and take music for example. Artists and fans are, well, they are struggling over how much you should pay for an album.
CHADWICK: Yes, and this is all the debate about online and downloading and yeah, right.
BRAND: Yeah. Remember that album, In Rainbows that Radiohead released last year. It was digital download.
CHADWICK: Yeah. It's pay what you want.
BRAND: You could pay nothing. Well, the musician Moby has launched a website. It is called mobygratis.com. It is where independent filmmakers can download some of Moby's music for free. I asked him if he thinks free downloads and even illegal downloads lessen the value of art, lessen the value of his music.
Mr. MOBY (Musician): I think it's a very good question because when I was growing up - I mean, the first job I ever had was as a caddy at a golf course. And I worked for two weeks, just long enough to save up money to buy a David Bowie record. And so, boy, when I got that David Bowie record home, it was the most valuable thing I owned. And everything about it was valuable, like the artwork, the sleeves, the vinyl itself, and I studied it for, you know, for days and days and days. And now, if you're able to download something for free, it does, potentially, diminish the value of it. But at the same time, my only hope is that, I don't know, somehow music will transcend this. A great song is a great song, whether it's on vinyl or CD or cassette or reel to reel or mp3. Then again, that might be an overly optimistic view, but I do think that great music will transcend the medium in which it is delivered.
BRAND: Now, you got a lot of criticism when your album, Play, came out, and the fact that you let all the songs, most of the songs, be used in TV for advertisements…
Mr. MOBY: Yeah.
BRAND: Or on movie soundtracks, or TV or...
Mr. MOBY: It is sort of - there's this half truth, which is that all the songs from Play were licensed commercially. All the songs off of Play were licensed, but 90 percent of the licenses were to independent films and non-profits. But, yeah, I've certainly been crucified over and over again for licensing a lot of my music.
BRAND: Does that dilute the value of it, though, because, I mean, for a while, you couldn't turn on TV without hearing one of your songs as a backdrop for an advertisement. And I'm just wondering, then, does it become, the song is not about connecting with the listener, it's about selling something?
Mr. MOBY: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, one of the reasons that I licensed my music was, in the past, when I released records, they didn't get much press support. They didn't get a lot of radio play. They didn't get MTV play. So the only way I had, in which to get people to listen to my music, was by licensing it to movies or advertisements. Granted, that is sort of self serving because I'd made a record that I cared about. I wanted people to hear it. The other reason, and I don't want to sound like I'm being overly defensive, is, I grew up very, very poor. You know, my mother and I were on welfare and food stamps until I was 18, so I've always had this ethos of like, try and make a little bit of money now because you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow.
BRAND: I'm wondering, personally, do you value things less if you don't pay for them? And, if you could put that into context with your David Bowie "Lodger" story, now that you do have more money, would you value that album less because you could easily pay for it?
Mr. MOBY: It is such a good question. I don't know, and I guess, to some extent, one could argue that the value of something should transcend its cost. The value of something should be subjective. You know, if you love something, you should love it regardless of whether it costs five dollars or 500 or 5,000 dollars. Unfortunately, that's not the way our culture works, and we do collectively buy into this idea that things that are more expensive probably have more value. For me, how much I spend on something doesn't really effect how much I value it. Not to say that I'm enlightened, just, I don't know, somehow I don't associate cost with value.
BRAND: But now that you have more money and are relatively well off, does that change the way you view things than when you were a golf caddy?
Mr. MOBY: For some reason, luck or fluke, I have no idea, as a musician I have managed to make a decent amount of money, but my spending habits are the same as they were 20 years ago. Much to the chagrin of my friends. Like, my friends all think, oh, you've made some money, go do something fancy and extravagant
BRAND: And take us with you.
Mr. MOBY: Yeah, I still buy my soy milk at the deli on Prince Street, and I still take my laundry to the same laundromat. So I don't feel compelled to spend money just because it's there. Like with televisions, I have a small television, and it works just fine. I've never, I don't know that having a big gigantic television would necessarily make "The Family Guy" any funnier.
BRAND: Although it is pretty funny.
Mr. MOBY: It is pretty funny, but it's just as funny on my little 14 inch television as it would be on like some gigantic-enormal flat screen plasma thing.
BRAND: Or if you had to pay for it, I could reverse that. If you had to pay for "The Family Guy," would it be worth more to you, do you think, than if you got it for free?
Mr. MOBY: Me, personally, I don't think so. Maybe for other people it would. And at the end of the day, not to be too naive and philosophical, but life is short. And if something makes someone happy, far be it from me to criticize them. You know, if someone spends 100 dollars on a new pair of shoes, and they really love that pair of shoes because it cost them 100 dollars. And, if it makes them happy, more power to them, you know, because at the end of the day, we all end up in the same place. And so, if you can create a degree of happiness while you are alive, even if it's through something like getting a new pair of shoes, again far be it from me to criticize it.
BRAND: Have you heard of this thing called the Moby quotient?
Mr. MOBY: Yeah, I was actually just talking about that with a friend of mine earlier, and, I guess, it's the quotient of how much someone has sold out or not.
BRAND: What do you think of that?
Mr. MOBY: I think it's a little odd that I have somehow ended up as the poster child for selling out, when truth is, for better or worse, sad thing to say, everyone does it. In '99, 2000, 2001, I got a lot of criticism from journalists about licensing my music. What seemed particularly ironic is that a lot of these articles were written in magazines that are sustained by advertising revenue. It's just odd that people buy into this corporate consumer culture and then will criticize people who are involved in corporate consumer culture, you know. I mean...
BRAND: You think it's being hypocritical.
Mr. MOBY: I think, to an extent, but it's hard because a lot of times I find, though we all tend to have different standards for strangers than we have for ourselves. We do all, myself included, we tend to hold ourselves to pretty low standards. But when it comes to judging public figures or politicians or people we've never met, we tend to hold people to very high standards, and, if we held ourselves to those standards, we'd always fall short.
BRAND: Moby, thank you very much.
Mr. MOBY: My pleasure.
BRAND: That was Moby. His new album is called "Last Night," it's due out tomorrow and, by the way, it is not a free digital download. Here's a sample, though, that we caught streaming for free on his website.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.