"Everything Is Free" as written by Gillian Howard Welch and David Todd Rawlings....
Everything is free now, that's what they say
Everything I ever done, gonna give it away
Someone hit the big score, they figured it out
They were gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay

I can get a tip jar, gas up the car
Try to make a little change down at the bar
Or I can get a straight job, I done it before
Never minded workin' hard, it's who I'm workin' for

Everything is free now, that's what they say
Everything I ever done, gotta give it away
Someone hit the big score, they figured it out
They were gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay

Every day I wake up, hummin' a song
But I don't need to run around, I just stay at home
And sing a little love song, my lover, myself
If there's something that you wanna hear, you can sing it yourself

'Cause everything is free now, that's what I said
No ones gotta listen to the words in my head
Someone hit the big score, I figured it out
And I'm gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay


Lyrics submitted by HagbardCeline, edited by sarahp

"Everything Is Free" as written by Gillian Howard Welch David Todd Rawlings

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Everything Is Free song meanings
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11 Comments

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  • +3
    General CommentI know this song is about file-sharing, but when I first heard it, that never occurred to me. I was crying by the end of it, because even though I'm not a musician, it still feels really relevant to me.

    As someone who has been in codependent relationships, I felt like the song also illustrated the position of being the "selfless" person in the couple. There's something that feels redeeming about it, because it allows you to disseminate your love/creative power/awareness. But it can also be destructive, because you fall into a place of false martyrdom where the other person becomes dependent upon you, and you gain a sense of importance from it.

    "Everything is free now, that's what they say
    Everything I ever done, gonna give it away
    Someone hit the big score, they figured it out
    They were gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay"
    -Someone is using her, and her arguable "selflessness" allows her to get used, regardless of the other person's failure to reciprocate (or "pay" her). Even whether they're involved in her life or not, they realize she is still going to be a person with her shit straight, doing what she needs to be doing. Therefore, there's no harm done in milking her.

    "Or I can get a straight job, I done it before
    Never minded workin' hard, it's who I'm workin' for"
    -This is where the narrator acknowledges that doing what she needs to be doing to help herself may not be as simple as it sounds. Whereas previously the song was content in concluding she was "gonna do it anyway", regardless of how the other party treated her, she now realizes that if other people are involved, their intentions and her response can affect the integrity of the whole action.

    "Every day I wake up, hummin' a song
    But I don't need to run around, I just stay at home
    And sing a little love song, my lover, myself
    If there's something that you wanna hear, you can sing it yourself"
    -This is where I feel as though the narrator begins to realize that maybe her actions are not so selfless, and that in the end what matters is that everyone ultimately holds themselves accountable for their position. The narrator knows what she needs to be doing, which is making music, but also realizes that this need can be satiated without involving people who will take advantage of it. This may be the best route, because those opportunists will be forced to "sing it themselves"- pretty much the "tough love" concept. In the end, it's better for everyone.

    What I think is so beautiful about this song is the contradictions expressed. At first, she seems accepting of the fact that people will take advantage of her, because she's internalized their notion that she's going to be making music anyway. It's kind of like when someone knows they can use you because you'll love them anyway. Although it's true you do love them, you also believe what they want you to believe- that not catering to them is proof you don't love them. Likewise, people who steal Gillian's music may feel as though a subsequent refusal on her part to distribute her music illustrates her lack of commitment to being a musician. Later in the song, however, she acknowledges how fucked up this idea is because in the end, "no ones gotta listen to the words in my head", and she owes nothing to no one. There is no need for guilt, therefore, and no need to sustain an unhealthy relationship. This shift is illustrated when she moves from singing "They were gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay" (the perspective of the fans towards the artist, rationalizing their behavior) to "And I'm gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay" (the perspective of the artist, seeing that her worth is related to her commitment in staying true to herself, rather than the perspective and opinions of her fans). Because in the end she admits that she makes music ultimately for herself (because she HAS to make music), she liberates herself from the destructive sense of obligation that both artists and enablers have, and subsequently allows herself to make the most conscientious, objective choices.


    bluemoondayon December 15, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentShe's saying she wants to (or feels forced to) resign from music because she has to give away her work for free. I don't think she works for a big label.
    Arafelison May 18, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMickzzzzz is correct. Gillian is known to be very anti-file sharing, and is one of the few artists in the bluegrass/folk genre that doesn't allow concert "taping". I asked her specifically backstage at MerleFest if this song was about Napster and such, and she said, "There might be a little of that in there...", spoken with a wry smile.

    The first verse should be "WE'RE gonna do it anyway"...in other words, the artists are supposed to keep trudging along even if their work is given away. But by the third verse it gets personal, "I'm gonna do it anyway". She comes to the conclusion that she will do nothing different (thoughts of a straight job notwithstanding), regardless of whether or not she is properly compensated.

    Gillian owns her own label and has her own website on which she sells downloads. She's determined to make her living as an independent songwriter/artist, a tough thing to do in today's economy. Especially in the rather obscure genre that she represents.
    jtharrison July 02, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWords from Gil herself on this:
    npr.org/templates/story/…

    There are also a handful of other concerts on the web officially recorded.

    daytrotter.com/dt/dave-rawlings-machine-concert/…
    npr.org/templates/story/…
    rahulioon February 06, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song is a reaction to the napster phenomenon from a musician's point of view.
    mickzzzzzzon January 04, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it's:

    "Someone hit the big score, the figured it out
    That we're gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay"

    And I think mickzzzzzz's interpretation is spot on...
    marginalboyon May 24, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"I can get a straight job, I done it before/ Never minded workin' hard, it's who I'm working for"

    I think she is conveying how difficult is to work under music management. She is saying that she could get a "tip jar" or make "change at the bar"

    I do not see relevance to napster. By "everything is free" i think she is sayin that she is giving her heart and soul to the "Man". The record companies "hit the big score"...
    Jstraw2001on May 26, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWonder what she gets it royalities. Holmes Brothers has a nice cover of this song.
    marko86on February 02, 2009   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationI have been influenced by this song to think of the "freeware" culture of figuring something out, and giving it away, no quest for glory, just doing it because it can be done. I don't think it is the intent of the song now I have read all the lyrics, but that is what I heard on first impression. She complains, but it is what musicians have also always done, figure it out, give it out, just 'cause they want to.
    Flamencoprofon January 17, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThanks for the Holmes Brothers recommendation. They are great soul singers. New awesome band to binge listen to on spotify for free. Oh the irony!!!!!
    badfishy91on August 17, 2016   Link

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