Response To Groupie’s Article Entitled “Why Music Piracy Is Good”

I tried to write this in the comments section but I couldn’t stop writing and there was a character limit.

Original article

Response:

Alright I’m going to correct a few things for you, but firstly I’d like to point out that this is a tired argument. I first started hearing it 10 years ago when Napster was the shiz. Josh you’re probably in your first or second year of some arts degree which means you were born in the 90s and maybe you’ve just started to ponder the value of music and what kind of currency can be exchanged for the right to put it on your iPod or whatever. So it’s no surprise that you’re only just now coming to these conclusions.

Before I get in to some specifics, it’s worth mentioning that yes, value can be gained by giving your music away online for free. It’s not a ground breaking idea, I remember getting sampler disks with Rolling Stone years ago and industries of all types give away free samples of their products. The main idea being that the consumer (yes, you’re a consumer) will like what they are trying and invest in the full kablamo. The key thing to consider here is that the decision to give a sample away for free is entirely up to the person who owns the product (yes, we can talk about music as a product). Now the INTERNET is real and it’s changed a lot things including the right for an artist to choose whether or not their art is available online for free.

And here we go:

“pioneering new ways of making money out of music” – That’s true, the internet has afforded all sorts of opportunities for artists, labels or whoever to make money. The sad truth is the music industry hasn’t been as good at it as the tech industry is. Most of all the enterprising folks who are cashing in on music using the internet as a vehicle are tech companies (the ultimate example being Apple, who brought back their company from the grave using art made by musicians as their vehicle for success). This means more middle men taking pieces of the already shrinking pie which in fact equals less money for artists.

“and because both have realised that there’s other ways to be successful today, besides simply shifting units.” – “Shifting units” is the primary way to make money for an artists (units being records, singles, tickets, t shirts, USB Drives that look like BMW keys etc).

“First off, the file-sharing debate has been raging for years. From Napster to Kazaa to Limewire to BitTorrent to Megaupload to FilesTube, and now on to services like Spotify and Rdio” – Rdio and Spotify are legitimate subscription services who have agreements with copyright owners to offer access to music. Napster, Kazaa, Limewire, ButTorrent and megaupload are not even close to the same thing.

“OK sure, that sucks for record companies and record stores – but what does that mean for musicians?” – Well, lots of things, most of them bad. Firstly, this is an old myth – that all record labels are bad and that they take all the money anyway. Here is a fun perspective – record labels are like free banks. They license your music (meaning an artists assigns them certain rights for a period of time) and for that privilege they give you a whack of cash – a recording advance, money for video clips and they can commit to a particular spend on marketing and publicity that isn’t necessarily recoupable. For this they say “We will give you this money to make music. We think we are going to sell butt tonnes or records and you can pay us back through the sale of those records. Once the advance is paid back, we can start splitting the income from record sales (the percentages vary but are usually in favour of the artist). And hey, no interest on that, bud. And another thing, if you don’t sell any records, don’t worry about paying that shit back.”

Now this is a generalisation but most deals come out something like this. I’ve never signed a deal for any of our acts that’s wasn’t like this and most managers I know would seek similar terms, depending on the genre of the artist and the level of commitment the label is willing to put up.

Bottom line, bands do (or can) make money from record sales.

“Some bands bemoan this, but the smart ones have recognised that fighting the logic is futile, and have looked for profit in other areas; touring, mainly, but also through corporate partnerships, advertisements, vinyl, merchandise and other special stuff for fans” – OK, this might come as a shock, but these were revenue streams available to artists before pirating was a thing. As a manger I don’t factor record sales in to our financial projections anymore and I put more reliance on these alternative forms of income. If you take away music sales you’re left with a big fucking hole.

“In the olden days of rock’n’roll (i.e. before Myspace), touring was seen as a way of promoting the album. The album was the product, the live show was the advertisement. Now, the balance has shifted in the complete opposite direction; bands are using their albums to coax people along to their live shows, as a teaser of “what to expect.” – Insightful. You’re right.

“Many bands, especially younger up-and-comers, are not only accepting of the idea of file-sharing and downloading, but welcoming of it, because it will bring more people to their shows.” – They are giving it away now but one day hope to sell it. As you pointed out earlier, giving away tracks is a form of promotion. You want people to hear your stuff, go to your shows and buy your music legitimately. No one writes music hoping to just give it away for ever and if they do then they aren’t hoping to make a career out of it and that’s fine, but it’s a different thing to what we are talking about.

“Think that’s a little naive? That every person who downloads the new Foo Fighters album will go and check out their live show?” – Well, kind of but that’s not the point. The point is that artists primarily create art. They are entertainers second. At least every artist worth knowing is. If you are able to create incredible art that contributes significantly to culture, you should be able to earn an income from that outright. You shouldn’t have to put everything you have in to creating this thing and then have to schlep yourself over the globe just so you can eat a dinner that doesn’t come from a can.

“67 albums x approx. $15 per album = $1005 (I “stole” from musicians)
43 concerts x average $40 per concert = $1720 (I paid to musicians)”

This is such spazoid logic, it makes my brain hurt. The artist’s income should look like this – 1005 + 1720 = 2725. How about I start stealing Groupie Magazines off the shelf and start justifying it like this:
Potential Groupie magazines bought = 12 issues x $8 each = $96
Money spent of things advertised in Groupie per year = $200 (or whatever). Groupie gets more ads, Groupie is up.
Do you see how dumb that is?

“Saying that music sharing is bad for the musicians, is like saying that making your own hamburgers at home is bad for McDonalds” – What? No, in fact it’s nothing like that. The equivalent would be making your own music at home and not buying other people’s music. Jesus.

” If I had to pay for the music in the first place, I probably wouldn’t buy it, meaning I wouldn’t listen to it, meaning they lose a fan. It’s literally a “try before you buy” situation. ” – Wow, fuck, this just keeps getting worse. You know, it’s possible to “try” music before you buy it without pirating – radio, blogs, streaming services, listening stations if they still exist, iTunes and other digital retailers offer previews on their website. The list goes on.

“I want to try on my jeans before I shell out my hard-earned for them. If they’re good, I’ll buy them. If they’re not,” – No, I think what you’re saying is if you like the music you’ll go to the shows, but that’s not the same thing as paying for the music. To use the same analogy, you’re saying you want to be able to have the jeans for free and if they look good on you maybe you’ll go back and buy a t-shirt by the same company. Testing out the quality of the threads and all that.

Shit, I don’t even have the time to go through the rest of the article bit by bit. Hopefully I’ve made my point by now. Point being that that you’re wrong, that artists should be able to make money from their music AND their shows AND their merch. I think your problem is that you’re part of generations that attaches value to ownership of a physical product. Digital files don’t mean as much to you as vinyl, even though the content is more or less the same. You wouldn’t rip a 7″ off from a shop but you’re happy to take songs from Pirate Bay and justify it by saying that you’ll give the band money in other ways. Justify it how you want but the bottom line is that an artist has asked you for money in exchange for their music but you would rather steal it. Yes, you’re hurting “the machine” and “the man” but mostly your hurting artists and if you don’t think you are, you should live off an artists income for a month and experience soul destruction at it’s most pure.

Of course the internet has changed everything and we’re all still adjusting to it. Frankly, the music industry has been slow to adapt but that doesn’t mean music should have no monetary value and that doesn’t mean that art should be free.

Head of Community at Blackbird Ventures, Festival Director of Sydney Craft Beer Week, ex-artist Manager at Umbrella. Family man, dedicated home brewer. Sydney sider. All 'round rad dude. I blog sometimes but it has never really become a habit, however I'm all over the Internet and you can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook (only if you're a mate).

2 comments: On Response To Groupie’s Article Entitled “Why Music Piracy Is Good”

  • Grear argument except for the bit about there being little difference between vinyl & Mp3s. Chalk & cheese I’m afraid… Cheers

  • Great explanation! It’s spot-on that we never hear torrenters (or even those like Kim Dotcom) mentioning the financing and marketing facets of labels. The argument is often “distribution is free on the Internet so it’s better for artists to skip labels and glean money directly.” Unfortunately, with an infinitely wide distribution center there’s no way for consumers to know who might be good and who just recorded themselves playing a Kazoo. While many labels do often choose “mainstream” artists over more creative or new, prior to the 90’s there were whole A&R departments who truly enjoyed and worked to bring new and diverse talent. Now we can’t tell what’s what unless it’s on an Apple commercial.

    Forcing “the industry” to change simply because a technology shift makes free music possible doesn’t mean the technology and actions are ethical non-damaging. I often wonder if those downloading consider the “Freedom of information” they’re demanding more ethical and civil than killing thousands of jobs in the music and film industries. 99% of those people aren’t “Evil Capitalists,” they’re folks working their butts off.

    End of rant ;)

    PG

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Head of Community at Blackbird Ventures. Festival Director of Sydney Craft Beer Week. Homebrewer. Family man. Former Artist Manager / Founder at (The Rubens, Cloud Control, Urthboy, Winterbourne and more).

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