Team Open

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Jonathan Mann

The most prolific songwriter we know is also the most generous with his music.

On a lark, songwriter Jonathan Mann decided to try writing a new song every day. Nearly five years later, he’s still going. And he’s made every one of those songs — 1780 and counting — available to share, remix, and reuse for free under a Creative Commons license.

So, Jonathan’s a starving artist, right? Well, not exactly. In Jonathan’s experience, if you give people the music for free, more than a few fans will come back to pay for it. “You’re actually gaining control by making it so that more people can discover your music,” he says. “When you find somebody that you’re totally into, you’ll want to give them lots of money.”

Songwriter Jonathan Mann was in the mood for a fun challenge. He decided that he’d write a new song every day for one month. Nearly five years later, he hasn’t stopped.

Jonathan’s songs are often goofy, but they can be heart-wrenching too, like the one that he and his ex-girlfriend Ivory King wrote together to announce that they were breaking up or his song based on the controversial Torture Memos. But the real gems are when he covers topics that most songwriters wouldn’t think to cover — when he was trying to sell his bed, he wrote a song to advertise it. He also wrote one addressing complaints about the iPhone 4 antenna, and Steve Jobs used it in one of his keynote presentations.

Jonathan uploads his music videos to YouTube every day, and offers downloads on his Bandcamp and SoundCloud pages. And every song — 1780 and counting — is available to share, remix, and reuse under a Creative Commons license.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer to me,” Jonathan says. “I don’t even really understand why anyone would do anything different. It makes such simple sense. You’re not losing the rights to your music. You’re not giving up control; you’re actually gaining control by making it so that more people can discover your music.

“When I find a new band I like, after I’ve listened to them for a couple weeks online, I’m so psyched to jump onto their Bandcamp page and pay them a hundred dollars or however much the most I can pay them is, to buy whatever they have to sell me. And to me, that’s the right model. When you find somebody that you’re totally into, you’ll want to give them lots of money.”

And that’s the philosophy that Jonathan has built his career on: give people the music for free, and more than a few of them will come back to pay for it. “If somebody stumbles across me and they start listening to songs and they keep clicking and they keep clicking, I want them to feel so excited by what I’m doing that they want to pay me.”

What gets Jonathan excited is encouraging people to spend a little more time working on the creative projects they love. “So many people, when they hear what I do, they tell me that they wish that they could be making more of whatever it is they make. They wish that they were more tapped into their creativity.”

Why do people lose touch with their creativity? If you ask Jonathan, it’s because they worry too much about making it perfect. “The mindset that people need to get away from is this idea that every time you sit down to make something, it has to be great. People put themselves under tremendous pressure to make something good. As soon as you let go of that pressure to make something good, you open the floodgates. Some of it isn’t going to be good, and that’s totally cool. Maybe even get excited about the crap, just let it be crappy.”

Jonathan’s just-do-it approach to creativity is contagious — “A lot of my YouTube followers are teenage songwriters,” he says with obvious pride. But his music is contagious too. He doesn’t just let people download and share his songs; he writes songs that you have to share as soon as you hear them.

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Creative Commons License

Jonathan Mann (Team Open) was written by Elliot Harmon for Creative Commons. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The illustration of Jonathan Mann 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.