In Chris Zabriskie’s words, he owes Creative Commons his entire career. Chris is a composer with nine albums available under a CC license. With the attribution requirement on the license, Chris gets credited in numerous videos and songs, increasing his visibility.
This year, a film Chris worked on was nominated for an Academy Award, and he counts companies like adidas, Cartoon Network, and The Wall Street Journal among his long list of clients. “Literally every job I’ve taken, music I’ve licensed or scored, is because people were searching for CC. My career is 100% due to CC. I can’t imagine CC not working for everyone. I recommend it to everybody.”
Earlier this year when I spoke with Chris Zabriskie, he told me: “I’m thinking about getting the Creative Commons attribution logo tattooed on my wrist. Literally. I’m not kidding.”
He wasn’t. In July of 2014, he did it.
In Chris Zabriskie’s words, he owes Creative Commons his entire career. Chris is a composer with nine albums available for free download through Creative Commons and for purchase at digital retailers. He composes original scores and songs for advertisements, games, companies, and films around the world. This past year, one of the films he worked on was nominated for an Academy Award, and in a long list of clients, Chris has contributed to the music needs of companies including adidas, Cartoon Network, and The Wall Street Journal.
Chris has been actively using CC licenses since 2009, beginning with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license. In 2011, he removed the NC (NonCommercial) restriction, allowing others to reuse his music in commercial contexts. Chris has always been an advocate for sharing music, but felt drawn to it after realizing how strenuous the licensing process can be for artists. These days, he says, it is hard for musicians to be educated on music licensing with information spread out over out-of-date books and blogs. By openly licensing his music, Chris hopes to do as much as he can to alleviate what can be a “total nightmare” for other musicians, filmmakers, and companies.
“CC is a really good, clear way to communicate what you can and can’t do. You could do your own licensing page with all sorts of stipulations, but CC has done all the work for you. It’s accepted, it’s recognized, and people go looking for it.”
Chris’s music has been used in over 10,000 videos on YouTube — and those are just the ones he knows about. With his music attached to his name through the attribution requirement on the CC license, Chris gets credited in tens of thousands of videos and songs. By doing so, it opens opportunities for Chris to make money through separate licensing deals for companies, films, advertisements, and various other projects.
“I couldn’t have the same success without the exposure CC allows. It’s key to my business model — first is making music people enjoy, and the second part is sharing.”
Moreover, it allows Chris the opportunity to make the kind of music he wants, in the way he wants. In a symbiotic relationship, Chris can create music in a bubble and not worry about promoting it afterwards.
“It’s remarkable the internet and CC have allowed me to make exactly what I want to make. I just put it online, and I get promoted in tens of thousands of videos, games, and dozens of films,” Chris explains. “Everyone wins, no one’s being used, and I don’t have to tweet all the time. CC is ideal for someone like me.”
With his success, Chris can afford to make music his full-time career, but opts to keep his day job at Treehouse because he loves the work. He still counts people hearing his music as one of his biggest accomplishments.
“I never thought many people would hear my music. The kind of music I make, it’s not going to be on the radio, a video isn’t going to go viral. CC changed everything for me,” Chris continues. “Literally every job I’ve taken, music I’ve licensed or scored, is because people were searching for CC. My career is 100% due to CC.”
For other musicians, it can be easy to think that Chris’s path to success may only work for artists who do instrumental pieces. Chris wondered the same thing. As an experiment, he released some of his music from when he sang in a band on Free Music Archive. This material was used as well — with some of the download counts beating some of his instrumental records.
“There’s always an audience for something, but it’s getting to them. The easier you make it for people to find you, they eventually do. If you close your stuff off, it’s going to kill you. Sharing isn’t the same as giving away,” says Chris.
“I can’t imagine CC not working for everyone. I recommend it to everybody. I can’t figure out a good downside.”
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Music and film
Chris Zabriskie (Team Open) was written by Meryl Mohan for Creative Commons. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
The illustration of Chris Zabriskie was created by Luke Surl. To the extent possible under the law, Luke Surl has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights under the CC0 Public Domain Declaration.