Monday 17 May 2010

Should I give my tabs away for free?

A few weeks back Vic Jazzguts posted a video talking about free lessons; he only left it there for 2 days so it's gone, but it did get me thinking. I've got a lot of random thoughts about my free tabs, in no particular order:

  • I like to arrange songs by other artists, so I don't own the copyright. Even though arranging requires additional effort on your own behalf, and results in the creation of something different - really, you should seek permission before selling something you don't fully own, and some sort of cut should go back to the artist.

  • Producing a tab is a result of how I think. I don't work things out totally from ear, and I like to write things down as I work them out. Where "writing down" means typing into tab editing software - pencil and paper are so twentieth century. So once I've arranged a song, a tab exists. I can either do nothing with it, or do something with it.

  • I've got a day job, my livelihood doesn't rely on making money from tabs. However I wouldn't say no to making money from tabs, hence why I put a donation button on my tab page, for people who want to saying "thank you" with a dollar sign.

  • Some people's livelihoods _do_ depend on making money from tabs. By "doing it for free", I am taking potential income away from them. Okay that's a whole world of arguments and debates, akin to movie piracy, but the bottom line is if I had a tab to Naudo's "Stand By Me" for free, and somebody else had a similar transcription that they were charging for, where do you think the average punter would go?

  • I take a lot from the internet for free. Free software, free information, other peoples free stuff. I'm putting something back into the universal cookie jar. If there was nobody putting stuff into the universal cookie jar there wouldn't be anything to take, right?

  • I'm quite passionate about the guitar as a hobby, almost to the point I can't understand why every person on the planet wouldn't want to play the guitar, or at least some sort of musical instrument. So every time I get a "thank you, you inspired me to start playing/keep playing/re-sparked my interest in the guitar" I get a warm fuzzy. I get an even warmer fuzzy when somebody posts up a video of them playing something they learnt from my tabs. Then when I see they have modified the way they play from mine I get new ideas and new directions...and when I see they have played it better than me I force myself to swallow any pride and ego, and celebrate in their joy and success.

  • I've maintained that when I am doing public performances I won't do it for free - I won't do other musicians out of a job. Even if I don't need the money, and I just do a gig for the enjoyment. This is tied into me earning an income from a day job, and the struggling musicians trying to make a living. If I won't "undercut" other musicians at gigs, isn't tabs the same deal?

  • Sigh, I'm going to have to say this one out loud, and you probably won't like to hear it. I knew that if I put tabs out I would become popular. It's about value adding, giving just a little bit more than the next guy. Seeing a video you like _and_ being given a free tab is always going to be more popular than seeing a video you like "no tabs available". For guitarists of course; non-guitarists don't care about tabs. This is by no means the primary reason I started doing tabs - in fact, the primary reason I started posting them was that I was constantly nagged to. Perhaps somewhere in me is ego that still needs to be squashed and put back into its place.

Well that's about all that springs to mind just now on the subject. At the moment I'm still posting free tabs (one went out yesterday in fact); and generally I still need to make them as part of the arranging process, but not so much anymore. I'm secretly keeping all my Dark Side of the Moon tabs to myself (the ones on YouTube are woefully out of date) thinking that one day I might make an instructional DVD/book. Do I (a) keep putting up free tabs; (b) stop giving out tabs; (c) charge a fee for tabs that are legally released with copyright holders consent; (d) charge a fee for tabs on the sly without the copyright holders knowledge or even (e) give them out only by email when people ask?

It's a tough one.



  1. I'm not sure what to think about that. Had I never seen your tabs I may never have been able to motivate myself to begin learning this style, and now I can't see how I lived without it :) . from a broader view, how is this different than the millions of non-FS tab out there on every guitar website. If I had no access to even those simple tabs I wouldn't be playing the guitar at all. Of course I can see how some would argue that the tabs with greater complexity and accuracy (such as these) are a different story. They contain more of the essence of the song and perhaps the copyright details deserve more consideration. On the other hand I've never felt like I needed to cut Roger Waters or David Gilmore a check after playing Wish You Were Here at a gig. Not exactly the same i know, but similar i think.
    But JAW, when it gets down to it, I would pay good money for that DSotM tab. I know it would be money well spent. :)

  2. well, i honestly don't know if you should charge or not, but hey! i have a sneaky Woody Guthrie quote on a similar matter

    "This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."


  3. Yep - and that's the reason why I have been giving them away for free, for guys like you Ryan :) And yes, I too have been using the free tabs that abound the internet for many years; hence the reason I feel I should add some more to the "world collection".

    I hope I didn't come off sounding like money was the issue, because it's not. The thing that bothers me the most is giving away for free what other people make their livelihoods from (I'd hate for someone else to be doing what I do for free!), and to an extent the legality of copyright infringement.

    ...and don't worry Ryan, once the DSoTM starts to find form, you'll be first on the list to get demo copies of any tabs/lessons so you can let me know how I'm going! :)

  4. Ha, good one Q :) You have to wonder sometimes whether freebies or even piracy _creates_ more interest/attention and in fact in the bigger picture generates more revenue than clinging to the copyright letter of the law.

    The digital age, which has been upon us for quite sometime, seems to have left big corporations scratching their heads with what to do. The old glory days are over. I don't know what the new model is, or what it should be, but I reckon something like iTunes could be close.

    iTunes however is still the worst software in the world (he says as he annoyingly runs it to pull some audio recordings from his iphone...)

  5. pffbt..Apple fans and their toys ;)

    The answer is in (your own word)cloud :

  6. Hey, I ain't no Apple fanboi, but they are really starting to do a good job. I'm bashing away here on an old Dell D620 laptop, running Win XP, using Chrome browser. Nothing Apple to be seen, except the iphone currently plugged into it!

    Nice wordle - "Get Playing Guitar" indeed. In fact, "Get Playing Guitar Tabs Free", at a stretch :)

  7. As I see it, piracy is good for the small guy and bad for the big guy. Not sure how that fits in with giving away stuff for free - but I suspect by introducing people to the genre then you might bring a lot of new people in which would not otherwise buy tabs etc.

    I've paid for about 4 or 5 scores/tabs now, and a couple of CDs - mainly from guys I saw playing on youtube. I'd never even paid for a single CD before that.

  8. You, JAW, never struck me as someone who cares much about money. But I still stand by the fact that if i had to choose between spending $100 on gas and food or a DSotM FS JAW tab, I would choose the tab. (hell i wouldn't be leaving the house much after that anyway, so who needs gas :) ). I see you as a teacher. My teacher. My Sensei if you will :) There is not, in my opinion, a greater gift than what a talented musician can give. (at least for a another musician wanna-be)
    I love that quote "Q" brought. If I was Pink Floyd or the Beatles or anyone else and saw Naudo or that little Korean kid jung, (who i could write on about for days after seeing him for the 1st time just last week.), playing my music, I would dump every last note I ever wrote on them, giddy with excitement that my creation inspired so much.

    Bands deserve money. It is hard work and very time consuming. But, they have made plenty (most of the ones you cover at least). If asked, on my death bed, if i would rather have an extra million dollars in my pocket or a million people playing my music, the choice would be easy.

    BTW, started Canon the other day. (yeah, not floyd) :) and i cant get away from it now. :) So much to learn, so little time.

  9. Hi,

    I only found your site about a week ago, but I have to say THANK YOU for putting the tabs up for free. It is wonderful to have access to a couple of great sounding (modern-ish) songs that can be played by a relative beginner in classical/fingerstyle guitar.


  10. First let me start by saying thank you. I have been following your work for a few years and it was watching videos of Naudo, Sungha Jung, Andy McKee and yourself which motivated me to buy a classical guitar and learn solo-fingerstyle two years ago.

    The fact that you had created tablature for some of my favourite songs has undoubtedly improved my playing and kept me interested, however I am a 19-year-old student and really can't afford to pay for them. I really hope one day to have a "few bucks" to donate, but until then the best I can do is to continue referencing you as the author of the arrangement.

    That said I would love to get my hands on the DSoTM tabs (Breathe was the first full song I could play) and if you do release an instructional book I will find a way to purchase it!

    Good luck and keep up the great work, you are of exceptional value to the guitar community.

  11. Thanks Aypz for the thanks, I get a buzz from hearing that other players have been inspired by my stuff. I think I fit in as a translator between a beginner and a guru - I am inspired by gurus and can work out a bit of what they are doing, and then have something I can share with those who can't work out what they are doing.

    There doesn't seem to be enough intermediate fingerstyle player help out there, and I can understand it to a point. A beginner in rhythm or lead guitar will find their own way once they have the basics covered (and probably become "proper musicians" - see my recent post). Whereas in fingerstyle land, there is a much bigger learning curve before you get the basics covered...and not so much material to get there. There is some expert material for when you are an expert though!

    It suprises me. Outside the classical scene, fingerstyle doesn't seem to be as big as it should be. I don't understand it, fingerstyle would have to be the most satisfying guitar style to play.

    But I digress, as usual.

    Money? nah, don't worry about it. My day job looks after me more than enough. Besides, I'd just spend the donation on beer :)

    Dunno what is going to happen to my DSotM project, it is a _massive_ undertaking that I don't have the time for. Maybe over the years I will get there; I hope so. It's a worthwhile project, and totally doable. Very challenging; for instance I have a pretty good resolve for "Time"...but I haven't done the solo. That solo will take me a long, long while to get something I'd be happy with. For now I'm going to stick to just the basics of each song, but the completed works would have to have every solo arranged in as well.

    Did I mention massive undertaking? :)

    Anyway, thanks for the thanks, and don't forget to post some videos on youtube and send me a link. It's good for you :)

  12. All I can tell you is I started like you, giving free tabs downloadable from my website. But I stopped doing this when I compared the number of clicks for each tab and the number of "Thanks" I got in return. Not that I am doing this for that particular reason, but it was kind of I only share tabs with subscribers, but for every song I post, I also post a tutorial video.

    To paraphrase you: "It’s about value adding, giving just a little bit more than the next guy" ;)

    Ayways, interesting blog you've got there ! I'll keep reading it :)

    Take care,


  13. The world generally doesn't want to say thanks, that's for sure. 560 downloads of my tabs per day in August 2010 according to my stats - 180 downloads of my mp3's per day. I get about 1 donation per month, on average about $10 (pays for my strings! :)) and around 10 messages of thanks.

    I have considered a subscribe type system, but really, all you are getting is a list of the people who are downloading from you. Unless you are making money, or are planning on making money in the future, a list of people doesn't really mean anything.

    What does keep it worthwhile is those few people who message or email me with a personal thanks, or post a video response. I like the "warm fuzzy" I get from someone who was excited enough to learn the song from my tab, and then showed me a video of how they went.

    Perhaps I've missed my calling, I should have been a teacher :)

    Hey, shoot me through your website, I'm always interested in how other people approach creating tabs/lessons and getting them out to the masses.

  14. I totally agree with you on the fact that one person saying thanks sincerely or sending me his take on the tab I sent him is worth all the time I put into my youtube channel and makes me forget everything about the bad aspect you've mentioned :)

    Here's the adress of my youtube account:

    What I am aiming for is improving and sharing what I've found out from listening to my favorite players with youtube's community :) As I said, it's time consuming, but the feeling of helping people out is also greatly rewarding :)


  15. A bit late to the party on this post, but better than never right? How you choose to disseminate your tabs in the future is certainly up to you, and in all honesty, I wouldn't blame you for trying to earn something a bit more substantial than a 'thanks' from your effort.

    However, the fact that you've chosen to provide them as a gift for the time being is the reason I play guitar today. I stumbled across you on youtube about four years ago. The first song I ever learned to play on the guitar? Spanish Romance. The second was your arrangement of Here Comes the Sun.

    I've probably learned more from you and your tabs than any where else. Whether this is of any value to you, I don't know, though I'm certain I owe you a great many thanks.

  16. Yeah, better to comment, thanks for the feedback Wing! It's great to hear that you've got something out of my tabs; that is enough for me. Music is a gift, and should be shared. I haven't got to the bottom of what is legal, and if I could give up my day job and focus on making music lessons as an income - so for now, I'll just keep putting them out for free so long as nobody (in authority) tells me to stop!

    Now, record a video of yourself playing Here Comes The Sun and post it on Youtube for me to see :) It is good for you - forces you to learn a song to performance level, forces you to overcome performance anxiety, forces you to become a better player...and who knows, it might give you an interest in performing for an audience! If tabs are given out as a gift, then the music that happens as a result of them should be a gift too :)


    1. mr.jaw can i ask a question plz how to convert piano sheet musi to guitar tabs. plz help me. im one of your fun :) plz reply..

    2. You can't "convert" piano sheet to guitar tabs...well, let me expand on that.

      Generally, unless it is a really easy piano piece, it won't be possible to play as it is written. You get a full layout of notes and two hands with a piano, no such joy with guitar. So "converting" from piano to guitar means "arranging".

      You would use tabbing software to type the notes from the piano piece into tab. It would be a bit painstaking though, in PowerTab that I use you type in tab - but if you can read treble clef and you know your fretboard then away you go.

      So really, the answer to your question is:
      (a) You need to be able to read music score, treble and bass clef.
      (b) You need to be able to use tabbing software - anyone reading this is already using a computer, there is no need for pens and paper anymore!
      (c) Unless it is a really, really easy piano piece, you will need to change - arrange - the piece into something that is playable on the guitar. Generally piano pieces are not directly playable on the guitar.

      Good observation though, I've always considered the path to home spun fingerstyle is (1) learn pieces from tabs to get your playinig skills up; (2) transcribe pieces from watching someone play into tab to get your music understanding/composition skills up; (3) arrange your own stuff with the skills you have developed!

      I'm thinking that (2a) arrange a piece for guitar from piano score is even better than transcribing, because all the music structure is there, you just have to mix it up into something playable on guitar.

      Hmm, that is blog worthy. Thanks!

  17. I think of guitar players, music lovers, etc as a community. The essence of a community begins with sharing, and that you're doing a great job at sharing what you're skilled at, and in return, you gain motivation, inspiration, a feeling of doing something good. The internet is bringing back that feeling of a community where everyone can share freely, as it should! Operating systems should be free (i use stricly linux!), software, etc. Of course the money hungry powers that be are trying to put an end to this, using money as a leash to control people and restrain their creativity. Keep on sharing mate, while you still can! You're a great human being for doing so!

  18. Jaw, I love your way of thinking and giving to people and your fans your great talents on the guitar. You are truely a wonderful and generous man! And because of that fore mentioned, I have become a big fan of yours! You restore my faith in humanity with your generosity. I love playing the guitar and especially since I've discovered fingerstyle, I love it even more. Your free services provide me with the capability of learning all these great songs without breaking my bank account (which really has next to nothing in it). I'm sure if you were counting on making money this way, things would be different, but I gotta tell you, with all the crap that's going on in the world these days and all the greedy people out there, you shine!! Many thanks over and over again!! Please keep doing what you're doing and you will ALWAYS have my GREATEST respect!!