Giving It All Away: Josh Woodward’s Musical Story

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Most musicians strive for a “rags to riches” story, or at least to be paid for their work, which can be difficult with things like piracy and illegal downloads. However, Josh Woodward is not your typical musician. He is a Creative Commons (CC) Artist. Artists like Josh apply Creative Commons Licenses to their tracks, which allows for other people to legally download the music for free and use it in their own projects, like videos made for YouTube. When a Creative Commons License is used, no copyright infringements occur which is great for the person posting the video, however it is not required that the CC Artist gets paid for his or her work! 

There are many types of CC licenses including the one for “commercial use”. This license allows for someone to download a track and use it in a video and even profit from that project without the artist getting a cut. (They do have to be given credit at the end of the video though, along with a link to their music.) This hardly seems fair for someone like Josh Woodward who has spent many years creating a catalogue of over 200 songs, but he’s not complaining! If you think he goes without any rewards, you would be wrong. Woodward explained that it is not always about the money:

“Nothing is more rewarding to me than to go through and read the comments and emails I get from people. So many of them found me because my music was used in someone's video, which is a unique experience with Creative Commons. I still am stunned that I'm able to make a living doing my dream.”

So how does Josh make a living? It’s true that his entire catalogue is available online for free, but people can contribute donations to his website via PayPal or other methods, one being that his music is also on iTunes. Josh was asked why he thought people still donate when they have the option not to, and he responded with this:

“I think it's hard to give a blanket reason why and how people are willing to support the art they enjoy. My approach has been to give people a wide variety of ways to help out. Some prefer simple donations, some buy my music digitally, some want CDs, others want to commission their own songs, etc. The only common thread is that if I'd gone with the old approach of hiding my music behind an $18 jewel case... almost nobody would be buying it. You need to build a relationship with listeners over time before they'll be willing to support you, and letting them have the music for free is by far the easiest way to do that.” 

Originally, Josh did take the “old approach” and released his first CD, Here Today “the traditional route”. 

“Around that time,” he recalled, “I got involved with an online weekly song-writing competition called ‘Song Fight’. As part of their website, all the songs were eternally archived for free downloads.” When Josh released his second album, Crawford Street, most of the tracks were already available on Song Fight for free, so he “felt weird” charging people for the album. “After giving it away for free, I saw a huge difference in downloads, and weirdly, sales went up as well because of the increased exposure. I never went back.”

Although the Ann Arbor native has an extensive body of work, it doesn’t mean he records or writes something every day:

“Not even close. In fact, most days I don't do either. Both writing and recording are very intense and draining for me, and I tend to block off the better part of a day for either [process] so I can really dive in and not get distracted. A lot of people describe me as ‘prolific’ because I have a catalogue of over 200 songs, but those were spread out over [several] years.... I think ‘tenacious’ would be the better description.” On average, Josh claimed that it adds up to “barely over a song a month”.

Josh’s love of being a musician keeps him going every day. He is often described as a “One-Man-Show” because he plays every instrument, sings every song and records everything (including his music videos) himself: 

“Being an artist is one of the only things you can do in life where you can create something new out of thin air. That feeling I get after working all day on a new song, then listening back to something that didn't exist yesterday - that's my favourite part of being a musician.” With regards to his favourite instrument, Woodward insisted “The acoustic guitar will always be my musical security blanket. Nine times out of ten, when I sit down to write a song, it happens on an acoustic and builds from there. But there's something unique I love about all the instruments I play.”

Josh wasn’t sure if a “typical day” actually existed, but if it did, this is what it would look like for him:  

“After waking up around 7 and getting a shower, it's up in the air. Some days, I'll start working on writing, or recording. But for every minute I spend ... I spend probably 5 minutes on the non-musical side of things - uploading to libraries, building new features on my website, answering emails, researching, cleaning my studio after recording sessions, etc. I also try to make time to head to the gym, keep the coffee and tea flowing, and just giving my mind a break. I bounce around until evening, then relax with my family for awhile, and eventually sit down with a good book or to binge on TV or movies before going to sleep around midnight.”

Lastly, here is Josh’s advice for people looking to become a Creative Commons Artist:

“The best thing I could say to someone looking to share their music online is to be generous, and be everywhere. It's not enough to throw an album up on [websites like] “CDBaby” or “Bandcamp” and hope that the masses find it and buy it out of the recognition of your sheer brilliance. Start giving them new free content on a regular basis, be involved, and answer every single email you get. Your music isn't the product that people buy anymore - it's you.”

For more information on Creative Commons Licenses and how they work, visit www.creativecommons.org.

For more information about Josh and to download his music, visit www.joshwoodward.com .

Finally, to see a film which prominently features music by Josh Woodward and other Creative Commons Artists, you can watch “2014: One Day at a Time”.