Here is an English version of a recent interview in Spanish web magazine “The Cool News”.
Carl-Otto Johansson is a Swedish singer, songwriter and producer who makes music under the name ”Orphan Songs”. His solo debut came in 2008 and was re-released under a CC license in 2011. Right now he is preparing a new album.
Which was the beginning of your musical career?
In the nineties and early 2000s I was living in Malmoe in southern Sweden. Back then I had a band called ”Eyedrop”. We worked hard and wove dreams of some day making it big. Eyedrop only released one album: ”You and me vs. the machine” (2002). It won critical acclaim but was anything but a commercial success. While recording the second album there were some drama in the band which eventually resulted in a split. Being the singer and songwriter, I went on recording the songs Eyedrop left behind. I called them ”Orphan Songs”, and the name stuck to the point that I decided to name my solo project ”Orphan Songs” too. I worked for two years on my solo debut which came out in 2008. It was very well recieved by critics. I then worked with minor labels and publishers, but without much results. Good reviews, yes – but no record sales to speak of. I get occasional radio time and I’ve had some songs featured in films, but not enough to support a career that would enable me to quit my day job and focus on making music.
How did you decide to publish your own music in the digital universe?
I think I realized rather early that the Internet would have a huge impact on the music business. In 2003 I tried something on my website called ”Pay if you want to”. The idea was basically that you could download everything for free and those who liked it could ”pay” (or rather donate) an amount of their choosing to support the music making. It was basically the idea of ”freeware”, but for music instead of software. I imagined a bright future for DIY bands in which we could sidestep profit seeking record companies, publishers, record stores and all other middle men that make records so expensive. The listeners would only have to pay a fraction of what they would normally pay in the record store but the band would still get more for each record ”sold” than they would get when beloning to a label. After one year of trying this concept the statistics showed thousands of downloads but only three people had sent me money. I did get a lot of appreciation from fans so I ruled out the notion that they considered my music to be poor. My conclusion was that people probably were too conditioned not to give anything back when given the option to pay for free stuff. Also, most people were not comfortable with online money transactions back then. Perhaps I was too early with that sort of thing. Anyway, I eventually scrapped the idea but the thoughts of a music revolution stuck with me.
Do you think Internet is going to change the music industry forever?
Yes. There is no turning back now. I am sure the Internet is the most important tool we have to bring about change in any area, whether it be culture, finance or politics. I think what is happening in the world right now is a major paradigm shift. It’s like there are two major opposing movements. One is represented by the old, rigid, ego-based structures, corporations and organizations which are trying to protect their power and wealth by building walls and cracking down on those who challange the status quo. The other movement is towards empathy, sharing, collaboration, participation and creativity. It’s not easy to put your finger on it or give it a name. But it’s not just the music community, it’s everywhere if you know what to look for.
Why Creative Commons? Why Jamendo?
I believe sharing is part of human nature. We feel good when we share with others and when others share with us. I’m certain there will be a shift at some point when enough people, so to speak, get off the profit-seeking bandwagon and instead decide to use their creativity for the common good of all.
To me, Creative Commons licenses represent a platform for people who want to free human creativity and change the world for the better. Just imagine what would happen if enough bands, artists, photographers, illustrators and film makers would distribute their works for free and ask for no compensation. There would be an abundance of free music, photos, illustrations and film footage instantly available to everyone. Who do you think would pay expensive licenses to use commercial alternatives? Once the tipping point is reached it would spark an enormous creativity and positive energy among people. Companies would probably also start using the free material to save money, not realizing that in doing so they would undermine the market system which they are part of. Furthermore, this shift would not necessarily be limited to art but extend to other areas of human creativity as well. Imagine new ideas within technology and medicine being shared and co-created within their respective communities without patents and protection of designs. But that’s for later. Revolutions have a tendency to start with the artists, writers, thinkers and philosophers. If we free the arts, the rest will follow.
My humble contribution to this process is that I share my music for free under a Creative Commons license (Attribution – Share alike (BY-SA)). I thought long and hard about which license to choose. The sensible choice seemed to be the non-commercial license, but I changed my mind after having read a discussion in an online forum where someone discussed the CC licences for music in comparison to the notions of ”freeware” and ”shareware” in the programming community. I then realized that setting a non-commercial restriction on music would hamper the movement towards a better world – so to speak. I’m not an idealist and I’m not exaggerating my own role. But I am trying to live life by the saying ”be the change you want to see in the world”.
Publishing my songs on Jamendo came naturally after I realized what I wanted to do. I think I just googled ”free music” and Jamendo was the first hit. After checking it out I decided it was the right place for my music.
Do you earn money with your music? How?
Except from donations, no. For a long time I considered making music an expensive hobby. I used to say: ”Some play golf. I play music instead. It’s just as expensive and time consuming, but it makes more people happy.” I’ve given up on ever making any money off my music. I’ll just do it anyway, because I love it and to reach out to people. It was actually a huge relief when I gave up the thought of “making it” in the music business. I realized that it is the money system itself that holds us back. The struggle for money keeps people trapped and it kills creativity. As an alternative for the future I support a ”Resource Based Economy” as described by Jacque Fresco of the Venus Project. In the current monetary-market system, the major aim is profit. Everything else comes second, if considered at all. I’m not sure the planet will survive another hundred years of ruthless exploitation in the name of “economic growth”. In fact, I have just released a pop song to help raise awareness about one of the many flaws of the current system. It’s called ”Not made to last” and deals with the fact that cheap, low quality products that break easily are actually considered ”good” for the economy. No matter the actual ”cost” for nature. We gotta keep the wheels of economy turning, right?
Do you do concerts?
I don’t have time to go on the road nowadays. I’ve got a daytime job and two kids. When I do concerts, it’s only because I really want to as there is no money in it. A few years ago I went to London for a couple of shows. And I intend to do more acoustic sets in the near future. It’s easy to do concerts when all you need to bring is yourself and a guitar.
Which has been the best and the worst moment you have ever had during your work in Orphan Songs?
I can’t recall any major catastrophes, although the break-up my old band Eyedrop left an emptiness at the time. My major concern today is finding the time to record. I have so many ideas for songs, but very little time for arranging, recording and mixing. I could make music all day long.
Spanish version is here.