The Paradox of Pirate Logic : Music Versus Music Software – Part 1

by Chris Whitten
(Copyright in the Author, Posted with Permission)

The bottom line for many in the often heated piracy debate is this: “Give us a good product at a fair price, make it convenient and easy to obtain and we’ll buy it”.

There is a digital product that ticks most of those boxes. So by comparing two products I wonder if we can learn anything about the chances of reducing music and movie piracy by making it better quality, more affordable and easy to download?

I’m of course talking about music production software.

About 7 years ago I was involved in creating a virtual drum instrument in collaboration with a Swedish music software producer Toontrack. Our product has been critically acclaimed, is a best seller, but is also unfortunately a favourite with software pirates. The pirate’s ‘advice’ to “adapt or die” appears then to ring hollow. As a performance musician I added music software creation to my resume by adapting to new technology, but all that happened was the pirates followed me.

With a foot in each camp, music technology and music performance, I’d like to take a look at the claim that “if you build it they will come.” Let’s see if the available evidence supports that idea.

Straight away we need to acknowledge two things: firstly, no one has ever suggested music software has gone backwards in quality over the last few years. It’s also pretty easy to obtain, including plenty of free alternatives, often offered by new companies trying to build a customer base, or by hobbyist’s happy with the kudos of creating a popular plug-in. Secondly, music software is heavily pirated.

So the signs don’t look good, and the more you look at music software piracy, the more the excuses and arguments made by movie and music pirates seem questionable. Let’s look at a couple of them:

Entertainment pirates claim they are fighting corporate greed. Movies and music need to be liberated from the clutches of billionaires who remain powerful by buying political influence.

This rhetoric may sound compelling, but the reality is that most music software companies are small privately owned businesses, and/or collectives of young innovators and entrepreneurs. Most were founded no earlier than the late 1990’s and still retain the same management and design teams that started the business in the first place. In fact, many music software producers comprise one or two people working from home.

The biggest and longest established names like Spectrasonics and Native Instruments employ between 50 and 270 staff, but those are the exceptions. Even so, we are hardly talking ‘megacorps’ here. For example, one of the hottest names in computer sequencing and recording software, Cockos (producers of Reaper), has a staff of three. Cockos has an instant download demo of Reaper available. They also offer a discounted purchase price of $60 for Reaper, if you declare earnings of less than $20,000 from its commercial use each year. So you could be Donald Trump and buy Reaper for $60 as long as music is your hobby. And yet Reaper appears prominently for free download on piracy sites.

Entertainment pirates claim movies and music are overpriced.

Music software users though have many free options. Apart from the new producers and hobbyists mentioned above, many established software producers offer free products.

For example, Elysia’s Niveau Filter:

And Sonimus’ SonEQ:

One of my own offerings, a sample pack for Toontrack’s EZdrummer, has a retail price of $89.00, but regularly sells for $39.99 from certain online retailers.

To use these software plug-ins you need a computer audio workstation, known as a ‘DAW’. Technology giant Apple give you one free with every computer; Garageband.  Audacity is a multi-track audio recorder and editor that is also free. And as mentioned above Reaper is $60.  Even the more expensive DAW’s like Logic Studio (Apple) and Live (Ableton) come bundled with a host of free software instruments, fx plug-ins and audio loops – something not dreamed of 10 years ago.

So can we still claim music software is over priced? No, not reasonably so.


End Part 1.

Coming Up Part 2.