Arrr Matey, We All Be Pirates!
In this new age of digital music, one of the most common and infamous gremlins facing the music industry today is piracy. Music piracy doesn’t just include file sharing; it also includes the download and distribution of any music without the permission of the copyright holder. In the strictest sense of the phrase, last year when I emailed my sister a Loreena McKennitt MP3, I became a music pirate. Of course, I also bought her the whole corresponding Loreena McKennitt album a month later for Christmas.
As Time Magazine’s Technoculture column author Lev Grossman put it, “Most of us really are criminals. Almost everybody owns a little stolen music. But a little piracy can be a good thing. Sure, O.K., I ripped the audio of the Shins’ Phantom Limb off a YouTube video. But on the strength of that minor copyright atrocity, I legally bought two complete Shins albums and shelled out for a Shins concert. The legit market feeds off the black market.”
Of course, this is not always the case. A few months ago I was chatting with a fan over Twitter. She mentioned she liked one of my songs, so I said, “Oh thanks! You can download it off my website.” “Oh no, that’s O.K.,” she replied. “I already ripped it off YouTube.” She obviously did not comprehend that she’d just stolen from me. She assumed that since stealing was common practice, that it was also kosher.
Thus, music makers like myself are left with a conundrum; do we give away music to sell music? Will the majority of listeners be conscientious enough to listen to our free music, and if they like it, buy what they already have? Will a few free MP3s entice a person to buy a whole album, often enough that we can financially stay afloat? To me, it feels like musicians have become little more then glorified missionaries; doing a lot of nice stuff for free and getting peanuts or nothing in return.
The Devaluation of Music
Let’s insert this situation into another context. Say you’re a fruit vendor. Would you give someone a free melon, and then expect them to buy one too, without making that part of the original deal? Say you’re a landlord. Would you let someone live in your rental house free for a month with no contract, and then expect them – out of the goodness of their heart – to pay to rent it for a second month? Not likely.
When people get something for free once, they expect to always get it free. Would you pay to take your dog on a walk? No, it’s free. Would you pay to watch a sunset? No, it’s free. If someone tried to charge you money to have birds sing outside your window, you’d think they were nuts.
Speaking for myself, if I get a free MP3, I’m happy. But I’m not going to go out and buy that same MP3 just to give the artist a measly tip. Why would I? It was free; their gift to me. And once people come to view something as common domain, they’ll never shell out for it again, because getting it for free has become their right and privilege.
Back when albums and CDs were all the rage, people valued music more. Why? Because when you invested $18 into an album, it was special. If the case got cracked or the disc got scratched, you got annoyed, even if the song on it weren’t your favorites. Nowadays, if a $0.99 MP3 accidentally gets deleted, doesn’t get paid for, or the file gets corrupted, nobody really cares. It’s a $0.99 cent computer file – not a work of art. It’s a cheap, superfluous commodity worth less then a McDonald’s Happy Meal.
The Big Lie: Musicians Are Rich
Besides music piracy and the devaluation of music, another big thing working against the music industry is its own persona of surplus wealth. For decades musicians have been personified as rich, sexy, pop icons with ten Lamborghinis, a mansion in Malibu and a vacation mansion in Hawaii. They tote posh fashion accessories worth more then my car, and every guitarist has two hot blondes on each arm. Whether it’s morally right or wrong, people don’t really care if someone like Paris Hilton is missing $0.99. According to CelebrityNetWorth.com, the diva gets upwards of $100,000 just to “appear” at a party or club. So fans, naturally (though they may love her dearly), assume she won’t be missing anything if they rip her song off YouTube.
I can’t tell you how many times people have invited me to go to lunch with them at some swanky restaurant that charges $20 for a baby carrot sautéed in balsamic reduction and a perfectly round dome of rice. Despite the misconception of glory and fame, I drive a Hyundai Accent (that’s 1 Hyundai Accent – not 10) and my favorite restaurant is The Olive Garden. I live in a home under 2,000 square feet and I love shopping at Kohls (especially during those 50% off sales). I’m a regular, middleclass person, who balances a budget and turns the lights off when I leave a room to save electricity.
So, when 500 people download my MP3 for free, that’s $495 I don’t have. For my husband and I, $495 is the equivalent of 3.5 weeks worth groceries. For my little Hyundai Accent, it’s nearly 20 tanks of gas! I could go on a small tour with that much money.
So, next time you download a free MP3, think twice. What’s the artist getting out of this? Are you subscribing to their email list? Great! You just bought their CD with your contact information. In other words, your contact information was the currency used to buy that MP3 (sorry to bust your bubble, but nothing is really free). Are you downloading an MP3 off a blog, ripping it off YouTube, or receiving it from a friend? If you like the music, strongly consider buying it.
Support your artists! Most of us really are starving.
A few tips for my fellow divas and rock stars:
1. Try giving a free MP3 or collection of MP3s away on your main website in exchange for your listener subscribing to your email list. This may sound like a logistical nightmare (who wants to email out another MP3 every time someone subscribes to their email list?) But using a webhost like BandZoogle or a service like ReverbNation can make the sign-up and download process automatic, thus taking the pressure off you.
2. If you’re going to make an MP3 available as a free download through a blog or other website, make sure that you use the same MP3 every time. Otherwise, all a person has to do is surf the web a bit and they can download a different song here, and a different song there, eventually downloading your whole album for free. You’ll never see a dime.
3. Getting your music streamed on internet radio stations like Pandora is a great way to promote your music without getting robbed blind. To learn how you can submit your music to Pandora Radio check out the following link.
How to Get Your Music Aired on Pandora Radio:
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