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Thank You for the Music

By Björn Ulvaeus.

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'Thank You for the Music' - is this the tune of the grateful file sharer? It's about his gratefulness he's just downloaded something he thinks was given to him? Maybe he sends an appreciative thought to the kind unselfish creator when the latter's motoring around town in his nighttime taxi job so he can put food on the table for his wife and hungry children?

Surely the warm thoughts reach him in the cold of night - the file sharer's thankfulness, the creator's reward!

Seriously: the joy of creation can never be denied and it's really fantastic to know that something you've written is being listened to by a lot of people and provoking feelings in them. It may give them goose bumps and that irresistible urge to listen again. Maybe a song you wrote helps some poor depressed sods out there to at least for a short moment forget their woes.

All of this is reward too. But the condition for these songs existing is still almost always that the songwriter can afford to work fulltime at it and cultivate his talent.

I'm writing this to try to convey a picture from inside, well aware that in many ways I'm an especially unsuitable spokesperson for the 'poor songwriters' who still haven't been able to save up enough to buy their first Lear jet. But I get so angry when a number of conservative members of parliament, the Pirate Party, and others who want to limit IP rights on the Internet try to paint a potent impersonal picture of the 'IP industry' as their archenemy.

The people they're attacking are of flesh and blood who are passionate about what they do. When I speak with younger colleagues about their current situation I feel strongly for them and I understand their unrest about the future. Some of them feel what they're doing is going to be devalued even more. The advocates of 'file sharing' say in a condescending way 'they can go out and play a few gigs if they need money'.

They totally ignore the fact that those who are responsible for the Swedish music phenomenon haven't even got close to living the life of the artist. The artists are the songwriters and the producers.

Part of the creative process is removing junk. To know when something is good one must cold as ice and with no prejudice be able to identify and discard whatever is bad or mediocre.

And that's very time consuming.

If you don't have the time - if you simply can't afford the time - the quality of your work suffers.

You can be lucky with a few peaks but in the long run your overall level will be lower. And I remember so well when Benny and I were no longer forced to rumble about town and play in different constellations. And the feeling of pride we had in being able to call ourselves composers and lyricists and be able to support ourselves in our profession!

It's what the songwriters behind Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion, and all the other world famous artists have been doing and continue to do. And what we hope new talent in Sweden will be able to continue to do.

To get an entire generation who've accustomed themselves to free file sharing to understand IP rights are as important as other property rights: that's difficult - but it can be done. A few years back I grasped for the first time the music my youngest daughter listened to was downloaded for free from Napster - she had no clue what she was doing.

But it was easy to explain to her and now she's one of those who'd rather pay for her downloads. Under the condition that it's easy and without difficulties of course.

It's possible to create understanding. And there have to be solutions for modern IP law that works on the Internet without resorting to invasion of privacy.

'Who can live without it...'

Those words were written originally for a mini-musical called 'The Girl with the Golden Hair'. The singer is a young girl who is happy she has a talent - or more precisely happy because people stop and listen when she sings. On a higher and more poetic level the words can be said to convey thankfulness that there's something called 'music' we can all listen to.

Björn Ulvaeus

Björn Ulvaeus was a member of the pop group ABBA from 1973 to 1980, put 'Mamma Mia' up at the West End and on Broadway, and is currently involved in the production of the movie based on the musical. He was awarded the Hedenius Prize for his work with the International Humanist and Ethical Union in 2006.

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