But why isn’t everything free?

Why free music at all?

This year marks my tenth anniversary as a self-publishing composer.  While I was writing music before that point, 2006 was the year I started my first music website.  I posted a few PDFs of original hymns with no price tag attached.  I had no idea what I was doing.

Since then, I’ve spent a lot of my musical life creating, promoting, and benefiting from free music.  I love that free distribution methods allow composers to build strong connections with performers.  I love that performers with limited means can access good scores.  Free music can build great relationships.

Also, in certain religious contexts, I think it’s admirable for talented composers to give a portion of their work freely as a gift to God and those who worship.  I would be quite uncomfortable if my spiritual life was directly tied to my business model.

A gradual change

Those who have followed my work over the past few years have surely noticed a shift.  I still publish several small pieces each year for free – usually children’s songs and hymns.  Sometimes I’ll also publish something larger without asking for compensation.  But most of my new choral arrangements and larger works are published or distributed by methods that have a definite price tag.

Why?  Have I abandoned free music?  Am I just another sellout who started with generous intentions, but somehow became ensnared by capitalist greed?

Not exactly.  Here are my big three reasons for limiting (not eliminating) what I give away for free:

First, “free” isn’t free.

It’s easy to extol the virtues of free music, but it is only free for the consumer.  In order to produce and distribute it, I still get to pay for instruments, recording equipment, computer hardware, software, web hosting . . . plus the education that helped me learn to compose was certainly not free, either.

I’ve accepted donations since I started publishing, and I’ve had several very generous donors.  But those donations don’t cover half of the expenses I just listed.

In essence, I pay to give stuff away.  I do it gladly, because I like it.  But over time, it’s not a sustainable model.  I want to be generous, not stupid.

Second, my time is worth more now.

I’m not talking about professional billable time here, although my value has risen in that way as well.

When I started publishing free music online, I was an unmarried college student.  I could spend hours and hours composing for the fun of it, and the worst consequence was usually a headache the next day.

Now I have a beautiful wife and four kids, and a pretty demanding full-time job.  If I want to compose for six hours, I either take that time away from my family (not good) or away from sleep (better, but tough).

I still make it a priority to compose, because it’s not just something I enjoy doing; it’s a big part of who I am.  But the time I spend to compose is not trivial.  I don’t do it because I’m bored.

Third, people value things with a price tag.

Right or wrong, to many serious musicians, the fact that a composition is offered for free implies that it has little musical value.

If I’m honest, I have to admit some snobbishness in this area myself: I’ve discovered that many of the free scores I have tried with my choirs are free because they are unsellable.  Bad writing and editing are common in the free music world, partly because the internet has made it so easy for anyone to publish anything.

Of course, that criticism is not true of every free score or every composer of free scores.  Some I like very much.  But mining through the reams of mediocre free music to find a rare gem is not a time investment most experienced directors will make.

Good musicians expect good music to have a cost.  Right or wrong, it’s a cultural expectation.  And I take it personally.  If I am going to sell something, I work hard to make sure it’s truly good.

Of course, I don’t sabotage my free works so my paid pieces look good.  I just make sure that I give extra thought, care, and attention to detail when I’m writing something I expect others to purchase.  And it seems to work.  I have received some great positive feedback about my paid scores.

So am I done with free music?

Of course not.  What I’ve published as free will remain free, and I’ll regularly add to that collection.  But alongside them are some great compositions that are worth the price of admission.

Whether you’re a paying customer, a donor, or just a fan of the free stuff, thanks for your support.  It’s been a great ten years.


I’ll say up front that I’m not a Libertarian in the political sense.  I really enjoy some things that government provides, including public education for my kids and FDIC coverage for the few dollars in my bank account.  I don’t feel like I fit into any political party well.  I am registered as a Republican so I can vote in primary elections, but I’m disappointed with Republican congressmen just as frequently as I’m disappointed with Democrats.

Today is July 4th.  The distinction of that date as the birthday of our country is debatable, but I’m not one to refuse to celebrate on a technicality.  My favorite part of this holiday (when I get to witness it) is the parade.  Many small towns in our country have parades with old cars, tractors, fire engines, Shriners in little cars, and marching bands.

But the part of the parade that has always affected me most is when I watch the veterans march by.  When I was little, there were still a few World War I veterans walking or riding on trailers in each parade.  They are gone, but we have many of the Greatest Generation, the World War II veterans, along with those who served in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and more recent conflicts in places like Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  And of course there are those who have not yet come home, who we also remember.

These veterans remind me of the men and women who were instrumental in our country becoming independent.  The core issue was liberty.  They wanted to be able to chart their own course, to choose for themselves what they and their country would become.

Personal liberty was the basic principle that allowed some Americans to become great, and others terrible.  Liberty is the driving force behind the American Dream, whatever that means to each American.  It is the idea that no matter what you were at birth, you can choose what to become.

Liberty is not all about prosperity; with true liberty, a rich man can become poor just as easily as a poor man can become rich.  And some people can choose to do terrible things with their freedom.  But the essence of freedom is risk.  It is risky to give people the freedom to choose, because they may choose the worst things for themselves and others.

But the risks of liberty are worth their potential price.  There are many forces in our country that would reduce or eradicate our ability to choose.  Clearly, a civil society does need just rules and laws that protect the innocent and keep order so that all may enjoy their right to choose how to live.  But when those rules become so cumbersome that even the most honest and upright among us cannot live without breaking some statute, there is no reason and no respect for the laws that are actually important.

The laws that run our country are so complex that we cannot understand, enforce, or even read all of them.  To those who respect the law, there is a constant, nagging discomfort as we know that we are always doing something wrong according to some law.  To those who have no respect for the law, there is a sense that everything is illegal anyway – why bother trying to obey?

I am certainly not suggesting that we should carelessly discard laws without regard for the consequences.  I am simply suggesting that our liberty and sanity might be improved by ditching some of the legal language, by writing laws that the people who are supposed to follow them can understand.  When a bill of over one thousand pages becomes law, does that really help any American know what he or she should change in response to it?  Clearly not.

I look back to a set of laws that provided a great framework for society but also great room for liberty.  The most famous of these?  “Thou shalt not kill.”  Four very clear words that everyone who heard could understand.

To celebrate our country, let us exercise the liberty we have and uphold the personal virtues and self-control which makes liberty possible.  I believe that God ordained this country to exist with liberty and justice.  We cannot have justice without liberty, and in order to maintain our liberty, we must act justly.

A semi-accidental Facebook essay

I was going to write a short post on Facebook about some recent issues.  It turned out to be much longer than I expected, and I’m reposting it here so I can find it in the future:

Somehow this turned into an essay. Sorry. If you’re reading, read to the end before becoming offended, please.

You may have heard about the recent events surrounding Kate Kelly and her excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ms. Kelly started an organization that demanded that women be ordained to the priesthood.

This is a tough issue, and I won’t pretend to know all the answers. Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe that our church is directed by revelation from Christ. Changes in doctrine or fundamental practices are not made whimsically. And doctrine is pretty important to our faith; we don’t go to church just to sing songs and feel good – we go to teach and learn what we claim is the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s a big claim.

So when somebody in the church preaches something that doesn’t line up with revelation, it’s the duty of bishops and other leaders to set the record straight. One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

When a church member continues to teach ideas that are contrary to the doctrines of the church, he or she may be subject to church discipline, which can include excommunication.

I’m not a bishop, but I’ve known a lot of them. I know that excommunication is the last thing they want to do. I know that they have very solemn feelings about that process.

And in the case of Kate Kelly, they took this step because they felt it was necessary. Her bishop wrote, in part: “The problem is that you have persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others…You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them while remaining in full fellowship in the church…”

I don’t know whether God will at some time reveal that women should be ordained to the priesthood. But I do know that if that change does one day occur, it will not be because God saw that people signed a petition. It will not be because God saw people carrying signs in protest. If it happens, it will be because God, knowing all, gives the revelation.

And the part that upsets me personally about the entire series of events (especially with the extremely heavy media coverage) is that has taken the focus away from Jesus Christ. The point of the church is to lead people to Him.

The media has become enthralled with Ms. Kelly’s excommunication because it prompts strong emotions (and big readership) from all sides of the issue. But excommunication is a very small part of the procedures of the church. The church is about Jesus Christ and his mission to save us.

What would Jesus do? Love and serve others, and teach them the truth. When we deviate from that, we place a wedge between ourselves and God, no matter what issue we are passionately defending.

My comments to the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission has established an inbox for public commentary on an open internet.  If you want to comment, do it today.

Here’s what I sent:


I am an independent internet music publisher and a public educator.  I see the establishment of so-called “fast lanes” as a direct threat to all of my professional activities.
By establishing a paid “fast lane,” smaller web-based services will by definition receive inferior service speeds from the affected network providers.  For me as a small content publisher, this is a crushing blow to my ability to distribute music files in mp3 or PDF format.  It already takes a significant amount of time for most consumers to download these products.  An intentional bottleneck engineered by an ISP will make sharing my content even more difficult.


For independent artists in any medium, net neutrality is an issue of free-speech access to the public.  An open internet is driven by what people decide they want to consume.  This gives small artists the ability to compete on a more level playing field with others who have more resources.  With the exception of illegal activities like child pornography, the infrastructure of the internet should not discriminate based on the content provided or the money backing that content.  The infrastructure must be neutral so that content consumers can truly choose.


Politically, net neutrality is also a big deal.  What if one political candidate is willing to pay a corporation for fast-lane access for his website, while his opponent does not pay in order to avoid an apparent conflict of interest?  Will the speed of internet service tip the scales in an election?  The possibility is not unreasonable.


On the education side, the websites and web-based services that are most useful to education are not often the most popular or well-funded ventures.  Certainly many of these tools will not qualify for an internet “fast lane.”  Should large corporations have the authority to decide which educational content is worthy to be shared at high bandwidth?  That sets a dangerous precedent.  We have enough revisionist history already; ISPs do not need to be in the business of rewriting the curriculum by making certain pieces of educational content more accessible than others.


The internet today is far from perfect, but an internet that functions as a puppet with corporations holding the strings of content access will become a dystopian nightmare.

Nathan Howe

My best Craigslist ad ever

See it on Craigslist:

Here’s the text:

Philosophers Wanted: Get Your Ideal Existential Crisis Car – $1999 (Fort Morgan)

Are you tired of the shackles of economic materialism? Dude, you’ll never gain any street cred with the proletariat if your sporty late-model sedan makes you a poster child for the bourgeoisie. You need this 2000 VW Passat Wagon now.

Let’s be real for a minute. If Max Weber, Karl Marx, or Georg Hegel were alive today, would they be driving Huyndais? Heck no (assuming you believe in Heck). You need some precision German engineering to help alleviate the pain of ontological shock.

Don’t be constrained by deontological constructs which dictate that a car should offer heat, air conditioning, or power steering. After all, Nitzsche says you are an Übermensch who can create your own values, right? Plus, if you die in a fiery crash (perhaps by driving into the abyss?), you can stay calm in your smug nihilism, because life and death are entirely devoid of meaning anyway.

Think about the intellectual thrill of pondering balance and dualism while scraping the windshield on the outside and the inside. Cars with working defrosters simply can’t offer this depth of philosophical experience.

If you’re more of a John Stuart Mill type, this car is more utilitarian than a sport utility vehicle. While providing necessary transportation, it provides very little opportunity for harmful hedonism. It won’t even tell you the outside temperature (see photos).

Sartre fan? Of course you are. Consider the benefits of the broken sound system with AM/FM radio, cassette deck, and CD changer. You will hear no sound from this radio, which is clearly a superior nothingness compared to listening to no sound from a simple AM/FM model.

By the way, if you happen to be a hard determinist, you will buy this car regardless of your contrary preferences or desires. You might as well send your money now. Speaking of determinism, you Aquinians out there will be particularly pleased to know that this car has never been in an accident, because accidents do not exist.

On the other hand, if you follow Berkeley and his explanation of bundle theory, the car is simply a collection of various properties, and the object itself does not exist. A few fender-benders shouldn’t be a deal-breaker if you don’t believe in the car in the first place (see photos if you are willing to temporarily suspend that disbelief).

You Whitehead-loving process philosophers out there will be ecstatic to know that this vehicle has experienced a change within. The motor was replaced around 130,000 miles by a previous owner. No documentation of this work is available, but don’t worry, just channel some Solipism, and realize that nothing can be known, anyway.

I am asking only $1999 for this extremely valuable vehicle (unless you are nihilist, in which case value is nonexistent, but you still can’t have my car without paying for it). You may think that this is a high price, but I subscribe to Adam Smith’s idea of enlightened self-interest. By giving you the opportunity to own my 2000 Passat Wagon, I receive remuneration that enables me to buy another car that will allow me to carry my entire family, which is not currently possible due to non-Sartre-approved oppressive government regulations regarding safety seats. As long as my children grow up to serve the greater good, the world will benefit from your purchase.

However, my asking price is intentionally high because, like Hobbes, I maintain that humans are inherently evil. This leaves room for negotiation between us.

The car is located in Fort Morgan, Colorado. The town is not the birthplace of Alfred North Whitehead, but it is the birthplace of Robert G. Whitehead, the man who marketed Blue Star Ointment. That’s close, right?

Act now, because if Heraclitus is correct, the car, my offer, and the world itself will have changed by the time you read this.

  • Location: Fort Morgan
  • do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers

Epilogue to the “Parade of Losers” Series

Several months ago, I wrote a series of posts with advice about sending music to the annual submissions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I did this by featuring my losing entries.  This is the series, in case you missed it:

  1. I Am His Son
  2. Baptism
  3. Sonnet on Endurance
  4. Series Summary

I mentioned that I finished the series before results were announced.  Now the 2013 results have been out for awhile, and I’m not going to spoil any secrets by talking about it here.

My submission for 2013, Like Sunlight Gleams Thy Grace, O Lord, has a long and strange history.  My good friend David Macfarlane wrote the hymn, and he submitted it in the hymn category a few years ago.

No award.

When that happens with my own work, I usually shrug and pick something else to send the next year.  But I really liked the message and melody of this particular hymn, so I asked David if I could arrange it as an anthem.  We submitted it.

No award.

At this point, I was pretty disappointed.  It was not because I just wanted an award and didn’t get one; I received a different award in the cultural arts submissions that year, so I certainly didn’t qualify for any pity.  I just knew that David’s hymn was beautiful and powerful (and honestly better than some of the anthems I’ve heard at previous Church Music Festivals), and I wanted people to hear it.

So I did something I’ve never done, something I wouldn’t recommend.  I revised the anthem arrangement and resubmitted it.  I worked hard to make it look good on the page.  I made some of the divisi optional in order to make it more accessible for ward or stake choirs.  I also included a digital recording (which is allowed only for orchestral works and multi-voice anthems).  I stuffed it in a manila envelope, mailed it off, and tried not to get my hopes up.

Award of Merit.

Did my edits change the substance or suitability of the piece?  Not really.  But according to one musician “in the know,” judges for the annual submissions can change from year to year.  As I said, I would never recommend that a musician should resubmit a piece to the same competition two years in a row, but I had an exceptional motivation and desire regarding this piece, so I submitted it against my better logical judgment.

I’m not sure if there is a moral to this particular story, but I do know that David’s hymn is awesome.  You can hear it at this year’s Church Music Festival on Temple Square.  It’s on Valentine’s Day this year – February 14, 2014 at 7:30 pm.  I’ll be there (weather permitting), so catch me and say hello if you attend.

And remember that this year’s submissions close March 31.  Let’s make some more great new music for use in the Church.

Election Night Blues in the key of C

Dear Colorado,

I get it. Amendment 66 was perhaps an extreme approach to education funding. I don’t agree with your choice, but I do understand why you didn’t pass it.

But can we agree that we need to do something about school funding? Since I began teaching, we have always been told to do more with less. Every year there are a few more State-imposed mandates with no additional funding to make them happen.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I want my kids to learn from great teachers. Great teachers don’t get into education for the money. We do it because we love helping students learn. But it sometimes gets tough to love the job when teaching your kids doesn’t pay enough for me to adequately support my kids. When I leave teaching, it won’t be because I hated the job or performed poorly. It will be because I can’t afford to teach.

Colorado, your kids suffer because you can’t decide what you want. On the one hand, you want high-performing schools and teachers. You said so by passing Senate Bill 191, which raises the bar for how teachers are assessed. On the other hand, you fall behind most other states in funding education.

This isn’t a sob story about this one ballot initiative. This is a call to all of the reasonable people out there in Colorado: FIGURE IT OUT. If you want awesome schools, figure out how to pay for them. Colorado, tonight your answer was no. Figure out a solution you can accept, and say yes.

Hopefully you can figure it out before too many of our best and brightest teachers have moved on to other states or different professions.