Saturday, April 5, 2014

Music Piracy(?)

I'm currently taking a class for my Communications degree about today's media. The question was basically if we thought music piracy was unethical or if it was good for music. My answer wound up kind of long, but it turned into a pretty good blog post.

Hit album, or gateway drug?
I'm a little hypocritical on this one. It is unethical, but I don't think it's a bad thing.

Here's my history on music piracy. I absolutely love music. I always have. I remember discovering a bunch of my Dad's 45s and listening to them over and over on my Fisher Price record player (yes, I'm old...). The first album I purchased was Michael Jackson's Thriller (on vinyl, btw), and I was one of
the first in my neighborhood to get it because it was hard to find at the time. I tried to buy music whenever I could (Cassettes, Records, 45s, cassingles, and eventually CDs) but I usually lacked the funds, so I would wait for American
Top 40 each week and record my favorite songs right off the radio. I honestly never gave it a second thought, but it was technically music piracy.

It was easier leave the Mafia than this club

When I had a bit more disposable income, I joined one of those music clubs (12 cassettes for a penny!) and expanded my library. Eventually I discovered MP3s in their infancy and discovered I could download songs from FTP servers. This was huge for me and again, it never occurred to me that it was piracy. I viewed it as someone letting me listen to their music collection and taking a copy of the ones I liked. I discovered so many new artists and songs. 

Eventually I downloaded Napster like everyone else, and my music
collection grew and grew (which was quite an accomplishment over a 56k
dial-up). I began to hear the rumblings about downloading songs off Napster
being illegal and pirating music became a household word. I wasn't too
ethically bothered by it. My justification was that the majority of songs I
downloaded were either already available for free on the radio, or songs I
realistically would never buy anyway. Napster was eventually shut down and I
turned to some of the alternates, but then Apple introduced iTunes.


I had tried a couple legitimate on-line music services, but hated the copy protection or proprietary formats that crippled each song. Although iTunes had copy protection, it was still light years ahead of the alternatives. iTune's primary appeal to me was the guaranteed quality of the songs. Most songs on illegal sites back then were either poor or incomplete copies. You had to download the whole song before listening to it so you'd wind up downloading multiple copies of the same song in an attempt to find one of decent quality. iTunes fixed that by working directly with the music companies and providing professionally created digital music files.

 About this time, I was becoming more serious about my writing, working on
a novel and eventually screenwriting. While learning about the business side
of it, I realized that in order to make money on it, I'd have to have people
either buy my books, or pay to see my movies. It didn't take long to make
the connection to other media, including music. While musicians make a lot
of their money off things other than their albums (live shows, etc), they
won't continue to create music if they aren't selling albums. Now I look at
purchasing music as a "vote" to the artist that I like what they're doing
and I hope they'll continue to do it. I could easily still download or
listen to it for free, but very few artists can afford to keep releasing
music without a paying audience.

Today, I purchase nearly all of my music and subscribe to iTunes match
which basically legalizes all of my previous downloads for a yearly fee of
$25. If I download anything from a file sharing site it either isn't
available on iTunes or Amazon, or is a bootleg recording, which again, isn't
available. I don't look down on anyone who still downloads their stuff for
free, but I personally don't do it anymore, especially since I can afford

One important note was during all my "piracy" years I STILL BOUGHT MUSIC.
I think the current model of free, ad supported streaming (Pandora, Spotify)
coupled with legitimate downloads (iTunes, Amazon) is basically the new
model we'll see in the future. Music on the radio is essentially an
advertisement for the artist's album. If you like the song, you'll buy the
album or go to the concert. Pirated music is no different. I discovered so
many new artists, and subsequently bought songs, albums, and attended
concerts of the artists I liked.

For the most part, piracy is good for the entertainment industry. You think Microsoft would be so dominant if all of their copies of Windows or Office were legitimate, or Sony would have established the first Playstation if the games weren't so easy to copy? Nope. Today's recorded music is a loss leader for more lucrative Live performances or music licenses for movies and