Thursday, February 21, 2008
Turning A Bicycle Into A Car
I’ve been an independent musician all my life. I’ve dabbled in business with the “music industry”, 99% of it a disappointing experience. More like your worst nightmare. I’ve always pushed the idea that musicians should be self-sufficient, and shouldn’t sell their souls and empower an industry that can’t support them. I write my own songs, engineer my own recordings, manufacture and distribute my own CDs, arrange my own promo and tours. In the past I’ve posted unreleased recordings of my band on download sites for those that might enjoy it. I post full songs on MP3 sites like MySpace. I make MP3s of CDs I’ve bought. I download MP3s of obscure albums I bought as a kid but can no longer find.
I also play guitar in a well-known band that is often faced with internet-based drama, from rumors that misinform the public to the spread of leaked recordings that misrepresent the band’s music. That makes me an unknown, unsigned artist in a major-label rock band, who funds his own albums as a little D.I.Y. label but is illegally downloaded in proportion to the exposure of the major-label band, and I’m an illegal downloader myself. Kinda puts me in the vast gray area between sides of the tired ol’ issue of downloading.
Overheard a good conversation about it the other day. Went something like this…
I bought 1000 albums, and then CDs, over the past twenty years. I bought them once, why should I have to buy them again every time there’s a new format? Isn’t it ok to just make my own MP3s so my music collection can be portable? And if so, why isn’t it ok to download the MP3s from someone else, rather than making them myself?
You don’t have to re-buy your albums in a new format - if you want to listen to the albums you bought, dust off your turntable and play your albums. Buying one thing doesn’t entitle you to the other - buying a bicycle doesn’t give you the right to a free car.
OK, but if I can turn my bicycle into a car, why can’t I still ride it?
You’re buying the objects that carry the music, not the music. Today, the physical object is not something you hold in your hand, the physical object is a file on your drive - you need to buy the file.
OK, what if I -want- to buy files of an album that’s out-of-print and unavailable. Isn’t it ok to download MP3s from someone who has the album, rather than going without the music?
Who says you can have everything you want?
Yeah, but if there’s nothing available to buy, no one’s losing a sale, so what’s the harm in just letting me enjoy the music that someone else wants to share with me? Idealistically, maybe people will start getting into the band again, they end up with one of the songs licensed for a big movie, and it revives their careers and music…?
You don’t own the rights to the songs to make these decisions.
OK, well a music career doesn’t go very far without listeners, so you shouldn’t undermine our importance and strength.
It sounds like you’re fighting to take away our power to govern our own music.
Sure, we’ve been treated like we’re the enemy for a while now, now there’s opposition.
When you steal from us, you are the enemy.
You’ve denied us options and don’t listen to what we want, and make things difficult for us. We started downloading as the new way of getting music, and you sued children, took away our favorite websites, tried to destroy everything instead of being part of everything. You could have easily embraced downloading ten years ago instead of putting us through unnecessary crap all this time. We had all these great sites for getting independent music like mp3.com and the old Napster, and you killed them.
No, YOU killed independent music. You took artists that pay out their pocket for studio time, manufacturing, everything, people who barely make a living selling 1000 CDs but do it for the love, and you put their albums on Torrent sites and stole half the food out of their families’ mouths.
Well, whoever downloaded those albums obviously didn’t like them enough to go out and buy them, so they didn’t lose a sale. If you like an album that much, you’ll show your support, and buy the album. It’s like getting a free sample at a supermarket - if you didn’t like the album enough to buy it, you wouldn’t have bought it anyway, whether there was a free sample or not. But at least there was a free sample - if anything, that free sample might have created more sales.
It’s not a free sample, it’s a free entire-product - like giving away a whole movie instead of a preview. And do you really think a 12-year-old kid is gonna go ask his mom to buy an album for him, when he can just quietly steal it off a torrent site?
OK, but the kid is gonna become a fan of the band, maybe enough of one to go to shows, buy merch, buy the next album.
There won’t be a next album, because too many people stole the first one.
OK, well at least there are ways for indie artists who can’t get on iTunes to be part of the system - stuff like SNOCAP on MySpace.
The music industry is dying…
It should. It’s a flawed system that leaves artists starving and labels scurrying, it doesn’t work.
At least it was a system that didn’t leave an open door for people to give into the temptation to steal. We want to get your spending money, but we can’t “sign” every kid on myspace that sells his own music on there. I guess we’ll have to wait for enough kids on myspace to break copyright laws, sue myspace, take over myspace, and turn the site into something that benefits the industry.
Go ahead. We’ll just open another site to give us what we want. And another, and another.
Great, together we’ll keep lawyers rich.
You’re only complaining because there’s nothing keeping -you- rich. We’re simply not satisfied doing business with you anymore - we’re in an age where we’re willing to trade a little sound quality for a little more convenience and access to a lot more music than you make available. We stopped buying CDs because you stopped supporting artists and art, and don’t give us enough quality and diversity. A band like Pink Floyd would have never given us The Wall or Dark Side Of the Moon if they were signed today, because you would have dropped them after their first album didn’t sell enough.
Their album wouldn’t have sold enough because you would have illegally downloaded away all the reportable sales.
So you’re saying that the consumer killed music and the music industry?
Are you saying the consumer holds no accountability for how the stealing added up?
Are YOU saying that the industry holds no accountability for how they treated us when we got on board with the new downloading technology and the industry refused to be part of it, and gave us no choice but to move ahead without them and trade our own MP3s?
I buy music, I steal music. I also sell music. People buy my music, people also steal my music.
In the end, people just want their music. And we’ll get it the easiest way we can.
posted 2:35 PM