I still buy music even though I can download it for free…

A while ago I stumbled on this brilliant YouTube video by Mike Lombardo in which he effectively, intelligently – and highly amusingly – lays into blogger Phillip Brocoum over an online article entitled “Filesharing Will Go Down in History As the Greatest Thing Ever to Happen to Music”. In the article, Brocoum claims that all music should be free, that musicians should not expect to be paid for their art, that artists don’t and never have made any money, and the essentially the very best thing that can happen to music is for people to download it from torrent sites for free. Now, I doubt that anyone capable of logical thought can regard this as anything other than a great shower of shit (even without reading the guy’s other posts defending bestiality and the awe-inspiring “I’m not racist, I just don’t want to live near black people because they play loud rap music at 3am”) but it DID make me take a long look at exactly how I consume music. After all, even within the dimmest of idiots there is some sort of cellular activity and so it is with the tiniest grains of truth within a deeply and hysterically flawed argument.

Firstly – I confess. I download music from filesharing websites. In fact I am doing it as I write this, in orde to listen to something on my drive home. This should contravene all my ethics given that I am a) a musician and b) firmly believe that I and all other musicians deserve to be paid for the art they produce. Except it doesn’t, because the indisputable evidence of my dwindling bank account shows that I still buy music at pretty much the same rate as I did before. I just don’t end up buying stuff that turns out to be rubbish. Record companies argue that filesharing has damaged music sales, and they enjoy passing this damage onto their artists. Presumably in the same way that home taping killed music, this flies in the face of the hard evidence that between 2006-2009 music sales have continued to rise. http://blog.tunecore.com/2010/10/music-purchases-and-net-revenue-for-artists-are-up-gross-revenue-for-labels-is-down.html.

How many times have we all bought albums on the basis of a couple of songs that we liked but the album turned out to be thunderous disappointment? I’d estimate that I only regularly play 10% of the albums I own, which makes me wish I hadn’t wasted quite so much money on the other 90%. Thinking back to my schooldays, the most common way of acquiring music was taping it off a friend. The quality was appalling, but at least it gave you a taste of the album. And if you loved it, you’d yearn for that chrome tapey goodness all of your very own. And if it was a dog-egg, it got taped over. The same is true of filesharing – some albums I yearn to own on CD because of the quality of the recording, and the remaining 90% of my mp3 collection collects virtual dust, and the only reason they don’t fall into the purchase category is because I don’t like them. I hearby apologise unreservedly to the record companies who allowed said artists to produce such lazy albums for my refusal to into the trap of wasting money on something I don’t like.

What can I say. It was a quiet afternoon. Notice the lack of arrow asking “Is this by Motley Crue?” which goes directly to the “Delete” box? Some things don’t need explaining.

However what happens with the stuff I do like is a lot more convoluted nowadays. In fact, so convoluted that I produced this flowchart to explain how it works. Or at least seems to. There are definitely artists who I feel some sort of moral obligation to support, and I do my best to buy their records through the means that earns them the most money, either at gigs or direct from their websites. Does this artist represent something significant to me? Some artists we grow up with, some play shows that inspire us or transport us somewhere, or in some way touch us and enrich our lives. If so then they definitely deserve my support. Is the album sonically excellent, an example of recording and performance mastery? Do I love it so much that I want to hold it in my hand? If yes, then it absolutely deserves to be owned on CD.

But for albums that don’t make the grade, they get bought second hand, when and if I find them. And this is the important bit – artists don’t make any money by me buying CDs off eBay or second hand stores even though they are legitimate copies! So in fact, its purely a quality thing that prevents me from sticking with my illegal download. Perhaps the record companies should blame second hand CD sales too. But if they did that, they would have to question how good the album was if people wanted to sell it second hand. Perhaps it’s best to ignore that part. For the rest, I’ll buy legitimate download copies through Amazon so that at least I feel I’m doing my bit…*

“Their actions now do not impact today’s record sales figures because they never contributed to them in the first place.”

Maybe I should be chastised for this “purchasing strategy”, but as stated earlier it doesn’t change the fact that filesharing hasn’t changed the amount of money I spend on music, and I would maintain it’s true for others too. At the extreme end of the scale are people who never buy music and only ever download music from torrent sites or copy off other people. But this is the type of person who would never have bought music; years ago they would have taped them, copied them or failing that, just listened to the radio. Their actions now do not impact today’s record sales figures because they never contributed to them in the first place. You can debate the ethics of their actions as much as you like, but you can’t make the argument that they are contributing to drops in sales. Some people are simply not music consumers – if they can’t get it free, they simply won’t listen. And while you may never make money selling them albums, they may just like the music enough to buy a gig ticket one day and a t-shirt while they’re there.

With so many acts now having means to sell their music online, they become less reliant on record companies bankrolling them. The strong (read: business savvy) will survive and the stupid will die. Smart bands know the following things:

  • True fans don’t pirate music. Therefore, cultivate your fans. Give them something more than just the CD and the occasional show.
  • Fans at gigs spend loads of money on merchandise. Refer back to point 1 for what to do here.
  • Don’t deliver weak albums. Should sound obvious, but apparently no-one told Bon Jovi this.
  • Don’t be lazy. Bands who want to ride the momentum of past greatnesses are in for a nasty shock.
  • Take control. A band is a business, and you need to be aware of trends. You can hate filesharing all you like, or you can try and take advantage of it.

Filesharing is definitely not the future. No-one has the right to expect someone to produce work that they enjoy for free. You don’t expect a plumber to fix a leak just for the love of pipework. But it can work to the advantage of a band if they are smart and are prepared to work hard with their fan base. But for artists that just want a fat record company paycheck and not to have to do anything other than turn up and sing, filesharing may make life a little uncomfortable. But maybe in some cases that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Right. I’m off to delete a load of Motley Crue albums.



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