• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Stop wasting time looking for files and revisions. Connect your Gmail, DriveDropbox, and Slack accounts and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio will automatically organize all your file attachments. Learn more and claim your free account.


A Critical Look at Music Piracy

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 6 months ago



A Critical Look at Music Piracy


 I know a guy that has sixty-eight gigabytes of music on his Mac.  That works out to roughly a month of continuous music, so much that the computer simply stopped functioning a while back and he had to buy an external hard drive to shelve it all. Never mind bands, he has entire genres of music I have never heard of—electro-prog, danceabilly, moshi-moshi, and so on.  My friend’s collection is truly scary in its depth and, to his credit, he’s knowledgeable about most of it.

Since I’ve been in college, some of the best sober music conversations I’ve had were with this particular guy.  He’s given genuine thought to it, to why certain bands or records succeed where others fail; to the evolution of different genres or instruments; to the state of radio and commercial music as a whole.

“Music for so many people is just background noise,” he told me one day over the summer, trudging up an unair-conditioned stairwell to his apartment.  “It’s just, like, something to do something else to.  Nobody sits and actually listens to music anymore—it’s only on in the background while they work out or drink or fuck or whatever.  Nobody treats it how it should be treated.  I mean, you don’t put a movie on and then do homework, do you?  No, you sit for two hours and you watch that movie.”

 This is the sort of thing he rails on about.  He could—and often has—gone for hours about various musical injustices, and I loved to listen to him do it.  It was a good match.

He fished through his pockets for his apartment key while I tried to imagine what the living room of a man in possession of thirty-one days of music might look like.  He pushed the door open for me and I peered in, expecting crates of CDs posing as furniture, jewel cases piled up in drifts, the greatest stereo system in State College.

And of course, like most of the rest of my expectations, this, too, was woefully misbegotten.  His was a small apartment, neat and furnished entirely in particleboard from Ikea.  He led me in and told me to sit while he did something in the kitchen. 

      “Nice table!”  I said dryly.

      “Thanks!”  He set down a couple of coffee in front of me.  “It’s the new Flyürgen!”

      He sat down in a chair opposite mine.  “So I downloaded four gigs of music last night.  Tracked down that new Thom Yorke record.”

      “Isn’t that not out for another, like, two months?”

      He shrugged.  “I guess.  Out now, far as I’m concerned.  Found it on some blog, I don’t remember which.  Want a copy?”

      I didn’t hear the question.  I was busy staring at the little shelf of CDs from across the room, no bigger than his hip Swedish microwave.

      “Wait, how much of this shit do you download?”  I asked, clumsily, in retrospect.

      “Huh?  Oh, all of it.  These are just presents and stuff.”  He pointed to the shelf.  “CDs are too much of a pain in the ass.”

      “So’s iTunes.”

      He shot me a withering look.  “I use bit Torrent.”

      Sixty-eight gigs of music and none of it is his.  “Huh,” was all I could say.  How could this kid, so thorough and worldly in his appreciation of music, not have actually bought a single CD.

      The incredulity must have slipped across my face because he offered, presumably as an excuse, “No man, I make up for it by going to a lot of shows.”

This all took place in post-Crowbar State College.  Nobody goes to a lot of shows, and even ignoring that, how is going to a show on par with buying a CD?  Sure, it’s great to play for an enthusiastic crowd—I’ve done it, and its an unrivaled experience—but I also know first hand that good crowds do not pay the bills.  Playing in a serious band is an expensive proposition, and one that, unless you’ve been there yourself or on someone that has, you’re libel not to think about.  After the cost of gear, recording the CD, getting artwork done, the CD made up, the t-shirts, gas to and from, food and beer, bands often lose money when they tour. 

Even major label artists fall victim to it: the label does not pay for you to record, but rather, loans you the money to do so. After recording and production, promotion, radio and video costs, its not uncommon for bands to owe their labels upwards of $1,000,000, which is taken straight out of the band’s CD sales.  Even in the best of circumstances, the band is getting exactly $1 of the anywhere from $10-$19 that you paid for the CD.  Split that between four band members, and each has enough for a gumball.  There are song-writing royalties, but unless you get write the next “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, they will not earn you a spot on MTV Cribs. 

The system was slanted to begin with, but with the advent and proliferation of digital media, everything now has been thrown for a bit of a mindfuck.  It’s so easy now to upload a record up onto an MP3 blog for the whole world to download, free of charge or obligation.  It’s hard not to: coming from a 56K household as I have, using the Penn State network is, to use a trite metaphor, like upgrading from a Pinto to a Porsche.  It was so fast.  Why take the half hour and trudge down to City Lights when whatever I wanted to listen to was right there?  In the wake of the downloading frenzy, its easy to commit the sin my friend the sixty-eight gig man railed on about.  I lost respect for the music.  I forget that people put impossible amounts of time and effort into it.  Music is art, but downloading it off blogs, I’ve put it on par with pornography.

Consider then, the money that wasn’t spent on a record.  That’s money that never makes it through the system, ending up ultimately in the artist’s pocket.  A significant portion of the CD buying population is in their twenties, if not college-age.  Incidentally, that age group—our age group—is responsible for the vast majority of downloading.  Multiply that money by the number of CDs downloaded by those twenty-somethings in a year.  You’ll have to use your imagination, the number is too large to properly estimate. That’s how many millions of dollars aren’t going into the record industry; money that isn’t trickling down and greasing the wheels; money that isn’t offering an incentive to musicians, producers, ad-men, video directors, choreographers, roadies etc. to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. 

      The result?

      A product—be it single, record, video, whatever—that simply isn’t as good as what we, the music-buying population, are used to.

There is a certain merit to the argument that musicianship won’t be affected.  Creativity and money should be, and often are, mutually exclusive, and some brilliant records have been with a four-track in a bedroom—Iron and Wine’s Creek Drank the Cradle, Flipper’s Sex Bomb, and so on.  It’s important to remember, though, it’s still a business.  Being a rock star is still a job. 

To put it in perspective, say you’re a Subway sandwhich artist, and out of the blue one day, your boss comes over to you and says, “Son, you do damn fine work.  Your sandwiches are a testament to all that is good and holy in the world, but we won’t be paying you for the past two weeks of work.”

You would scream and shout, get the police involved, right?  At the least you’d feel disheartened?  You love those sandwiches, but what’s the point?  The same scenario can be applied to any job field, but most people never think about it like that. I don’t think we zany twenty-somethings wake-up every morning thinking, “Today I’m going to fuck over that damn Cat Power.  Her voice is so good it pisses me off!”  Or maybe it’s plain, old, boring greed.

 “Either way, record companies have lost the edge they once had.  They no longer offer a unique product, something you can’t get any place else.  Hell, CDs themselves have been rendered obsolete in every way except for their ease in copying and transporting files.  Downloading has shot the industry in both feet.  The question then, is where do we go from here?  The record industry has to do something, obviously, to make their product again.  It could spurn the oft-discussed price reduction ($20 at Sam Goody’s for a CD is too much anyway), or perhaps they’ll use the same tactics the movie industry used to promote DVD technology, adding bonus materials to each disc, but those, too, are files, easily uploadable and downloadable. 

There is digital watermarking technology—a technique by which artists and labels can imprint hidden copyright notices on discs, preventing reproduction by dishonest means, but there are loopholes even in that, too.  Thom Yorke’s The Eraser leaked a full two months before; an employee at the pressing plant stole it and posted it on the internet.  Only through the good graces of Thom Yorke’s fans refusing to download the record was the leak not a disaster, and even then, there’s no telling how many sales were lost because of it. 

The ball is in the labels’ court now.  The fans have risen up and taken music for their own, and unless an equally drastic shift happens, the course has been set.  Things are going to change, and, in the words of my friend, the 68 gigabyte man, “music is seriously going to fuck shit up one day.”

I don’t know what he meant by that.


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.