time for sharing

For a majority of a generation of people who are now mostly grown up, free music from the internet is now considered an unalienable right along with those dinosaurs free speech, freedom of the press, habeas corpus, personal privacy, etc. Anyone with access to a computer and the posession of a minimum of point and click skills can fill an iPod to overflowing without ever paying a dime. To give you and idea where I'm going with this, let's start with the terminology: "File Sharing" is the innocent sounding euphemism for what it really is: unpaid downloading. "P2P" translates to unauthorized uploads provided for unpaid downloading. Here's some interesting research:

According to a CBS News poll, nearly 70% of 18 to 29 year olds think that file sharing unpaid downloading is okay in some circumstances, and the 18 to 29 years olds are the age group that does the majority of the unpaid downloading.

The perception of music for free has many justifications and they all contain an element of truth. These are a few that I'm aware of:

  • I'm getting back at the record industry, the man, ect.
  • The artist is rich and can afford the loss of my little purchase.
  • I'm a poor artist myself so I'm entitled to a break.
  • The artist makes his money off concerts and touring so it's not necessary to pay for his music.
  • I'm just browsing and if I like it I'll buy it.
  • An MP3 is not full quality so it's not the real thing.
  • I'm helping to promote their music by uploading to P2P networks where I've found music I never would have found otherwise.

Taken idividually:

I'm getting back at the record industry.

While it's true that the record industry was and is corrupt and some form of punishment/protest is necessary to kill it. The RIAA's agressive prosecution of dead grandmothers, elderly computer novices, a woman with multiple sclerosis, and even those without any computer at all is doing a fine job of killing itself without your help. A positive endorsement of a new business model is in order and artists like myself and many many others have gone to extraordinary lengths to provide the opportunity to purchase music directly. Unpaid downloading negates these efforts quite efficiently.

The artist is rich and can afford the loss of my little purchase.

I can only speak for myself and short of providing bank and credit card statements, you'll just have to take my word for it. I pretty much live month to month like most artists out there. I don't own property, assets, or any of those monetary instruments over $10,000 you always read about on the back of the customs forms you fill out when you return to the US. Also, do not take this as complaining - this is a lifestyle choice that comes with the freedom to make the kind of music I want and wouldn't trade for anything. My main assets are the intellectual property I've been responsible for creating or designing - music, books, bass guitars and one crappy video. The integrity of my book publisher (Hal Leonard) and bass manufacturer (Ibanez) have fortunately provided me with honest accounting and royalties that make the income form the record industry (money from actually creating music) laughable. Thankfully, my books and basses are not on any P2P network that I know of yet. The direct loss of the income from one encoded CD download is 10 Euros (almost $14). So basically, that's my lunch sitting there taking up space in your iPod. And yes, I'm trying to make you feel guilty.

I'm a poor artist myself so I'm entitled to a break.

This is one of the better ones. Still, bottom line is, I'm supposed to sacrifice my lunch (see above) and at the same time you get to keep your lunch money and you also have the added possibility of being inspired by my work. Still have an appetite?

The artist makes his money off concerts and touring so it's not necessary to pay for his music

This is one from the man himself: Shawn Fanning - one of the original founders of Napster. So Shawn, if you're reading this - I wish you were with me and my bandmates during that one particular US tour. You know the one where the 4 of us in one van circumnavigated the North American continent for 7 weeks and ended up netting less than $300 a week. And that was before individual personal food and phone expenses. So as a creator of music, according to you, I'm sentenced to lifting bass amps, trap cases, my own luggage and driving an ungodly and unsafe amount of miles a day (that's right, that's the kind of tours you get with this kind of creative music) until I physically can't do it anymore. Oh yeah, there's no retirement plan for touring musicians - so I'm actually supposed to tour and live out of a suitcase away from my family for the rest of my life pretty much until I drop dead. Sure, I'll do it as long as you join me - you do have CPR certification, a drivers licence and some other sort of useful skill like lifting equipment, right?

I'm just browsing and if I like it I'll buy it.

It would be great if that was true. But the numbers don't agree. Back when the Supreme Court was deciding the Napster case and it was about to shut down. There was a huge surge in downloading - everyone was grabbing everything they could before there were left having to look elsewhere to find it, which of course, they did and continue to do. Unpaid downloading has become such a casual activity specifically because the consequences for the artist are never taken into account or discussed. Every artists that goes to the trouble and expense of providing direct purchases also provides samples of each tune for this specific browsing purpose. Putting off the decision to buy even if you have good intentions is not a good enough justification.

An MP3 is not full quality so it's not the real thing so it's not really stealing.

That's why MP3's are priced less. An MP3's intended listening environment is a car or earphones where the ambient noise pretty much eliminates any advantage of listening to CD-quality encoding.

I'm helping to promote their music by making it available to P2P networks where I've found music I never would have found otherwise.

This is the old "internet as radio" comparison. Like all of these justifications, there's an element of truth involved. Still, getting more music onto more iPods is still not the same as the one-time listening experience that you get with radio. It's great in theory but it doesn't have any real world evidence for me. If it were true, then my personal music royalty income and direct sales income would easily eclipse book and bass royalties, but the numbers don't lie. It's true, a cassette tape of music off of FM was an early form of "unpaid downloading" but that doesn't make it any more ethical. For the majority of mainstream music artists out there, more unpaid downloading does mean more exposure which translates to more "buzz" which, because of the Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Amazon machinery - translates to more sales, radio airplay, concerts and eventually more income. That's why most major artists don't take a stand against downloading because their peripheral income machinery is greased with the unpaid downloading phenomena.

- - - - -

The old business model for the record industry started its slow death about a decade ago. Since the music I make has always been at the fringe of the traditional record industry, I'm more than happy to see it go. Unfortunately, a new improved version doesn't seem to be functioning any better.

It takes only a small degree of intellect to grasp the supply and demand logic of the situation: The supply of unique music in the marketplace is not infinite. In order to perpetuate the availability of a product, its producers need support. Unauthorized uploading and unpaid downloading weakens the already flimsy support system that exists for music that's not mainstream.

Another byproduct of the "music should be free" generation is that the consideration of music as something that's "disposable" has increased exponentially. Since there's no exchange taking place, the value placed on owning a piece of music is not accompanied with any sense of paying for it or a sense of earning the right to own. The experience of being personally invested in your own music catalogue is now absent from a whole generation.

In the old business model, artists like myself struggled with the expense of hiring lawyers to look over contracts that we signed with record labels, naive in the belief that the other side would keep up their part of the bargain. Still, it was eventually with tacet resignation that you could expect to get screwed and you tried to get as much money up front as possible in order to create incentive for the record company to market and sell your work. The new model is much more abstract in that there's no contract with all the anonymous downloaders out there. But still, the same sense of resignation is required to do business in the Record Industry 2.0 business model.

With the overwhelming acceptance of unpaid downloading, it really isn't going to matter whatever new, convenient, ethical delivery system is provided. People seem to be determined to get their music for free. Fringe musicians like myself are facing an ethical vacuum that really calls into question the sacrifices necessary to continue a life of artistic creativity weighed against the sobering austerity that the marketplace participants (i.e. you, and Shawn and all the other downloders) are asking us to accept.

I don't pretend to think that my contribution to this discourse will make even the smallest .001% dent in what seems to have evolved into a permanent online condition. And I also don't intend for it to be misconstrued as a cry for help. Mainly, in all the discussions that I've read, the voice of the individual artist seems to be the one most absent. And finally, I would like to use this opportunity to personally thank and congratulate the many that have contributed to the perpetuation of creative music by direct purchases on mine and other artists sites.