Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.

Recently Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered and GM of what appears to be her college radio station, wrote a post on the NPR blog in which she acknowledged that while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, she’s only paid for 15 CDs in her life. Our intention is not to embarrass or shame her. We believe young people like Emily White who are fully engaged in the music scene are the artist’s biggest allies. We also believe–for reasons we’ll get into–that she has been been badly misinformed by the Free Culture movement. We only ask the opportunity to present a countervailing viewpoint.


My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you. I believe you are already on the side of musicians and artists and you are just grappling with how to do the right thing. I applaud your courage in admitting you do not pay for music, and that you do not want to but you are grappling with the moral implications. I just think that you have been presented with some false choices by what sounds a lot like what we hear from the “Free Culture” adherents.

I must disagree with the underlying premise of what you have written. Fairly compensating musicians is not a problem that is up to governments and large corporations to solve. It is not up to them to make it “convenient” so you don’t behave unethically. (Besides–is it really that inconvenient to download a song from iTunes into your iPhone? Is it that hard to type in your password? I think millions would disagree.)

Rather, fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices. I would suggest to you that, like so many other policies in our society, it is up to us individually to put pressure on our governments and private corporations to act ethically and fairly when it comes to artists rights. Not the other way around. We cannot wait for these entities to act in the myriad little transactions that make up an ethical life. I’d suggest to you that, as a 21-year old adult who wants to work in the music business, it is especially important for you to come to grips with these very personal ethical issues.

I’ve been teaching college students about the economics of the music business at the University of Georgia for the last two years. Unfortunately for artists, most of them share your attitude about purchasing music. There is a disconnect between their personal behavior and a greater social injustice that is occurring. You seem to have internalized that ripping 11,000 tracks in your iPod compared to your purchase of 15 CDs in your lifetime feels pretty disproportionate. You also seem to recognize that you are not just ripping off the record labels but you are directly ripping off the artist and songwriters whose music you “don’t buy”. It doesn’t really matter that you didn’t take these tracks from a file-sharing site. That may seem like a neat dodge, but I’d suggest to you that from the artist’s point of view, it’s kind of irrelevant.

Now, my students typically justify their own disproportionate choices in one of two ways. I’m not trying to set up a “strawman”, but I do have a lot of  anecdotal experience with this.

“It’s OK not to pay for music because record companies rip off artists and do not pay artists anything.” In the vast majority of cases, this is not true. There have been some highly publicized abuses by record labels. But most record contracts specify royalties and advances to artists. Advances are important to understand–a prepayment of unearned royalties. Not a debt, more like a bet. The artist only has to “repay” (or “recoup”) the advance from record sales. If there are no or insufficient record sales, the advance is written off by the record company. So it’s false to say that record companies don’t pay artists. Most of the time they not only pay artists, but they make bets on artists.  And it should go without saying that the bets will get smaller and fewer the more unrecouped advances are paid by labels.

Secondly, by law the record label must pay songwriters (who may also be artists) something called a “mechanical royalty” for sales of CDs or downloads of the song. This is paid regardless of whether a record is recouped or not. The rate is predetermined, and the license is compulsory. Meaning that the file sharing sites could get the same license if they wanted to, at least for the songs. They don’t. They don’t wanna pay artists.

Also, you must consider the fact that the vast majority of artists are releasing albums independently and there is not a “real” record company. Usually just an imprint owned by the artist. In the vast majority of cases you are taking money directly from the artist. How does one know which labels are artist owned? It’s not always clear. But even in the case of corporate record labels, shouldn’t they be rewarded for the bets they make that provides you with recordings you enjoy? It’s not like the money goes into a giant bonfire in the middle of the woods while satanic priests conduct black masses and animal sacrifices. Usually some of that money flows back to artists, engineers and people like you who graduate from college and get jobs in the industry. And record labels also give your college radio stations all those CDs you play.

Artists can make money on the road (or its variant “Artists are rich”). The average income of a musician that files taxes is something like 35k a year w/o benefits. The vast majority of artists do not make significant money on the road. Until recently, most touring activity was a money losing operation. The idea was the artists would make up the loss through recorded music sales. This has been reversed by the financial logic of file-sharing and streaming. You now tour to support making albums if you are very, very lucky. Otherwise, you pay for making albums out of your own pocket. Only the very top tier of musicians make ANY money on the road. And only the 1% of the 1% makes significant money on the road. (For now.)

Over the last 12 years I’ve watched revenue flowing to artists collapse.

Recorded music revenue is down 64% since 1999.

Per capita spending on music is 47% lower than it was in 1973!!

The number of professional musicians has fallen 25% since 2000.

Of the 75,000 albums released in 2010 only 2,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. Only 1,000 sold more than 10,000 copies. Without going into details, 10,000 albums is about the point where independent artists begin to go into the black on professional album production, marketing and promotion.

On a personal level, I have witnessed the impoverishment of many critically acclaimed but marginally commercial artists. In particular, two dear friends: Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Vic Chesnutt. Both of these artists, despite growing global popularity, saw their total  incomes fall in the last decade. There is no other explanation except for the fact that “fans” made the unethical choice to take their music without compensating these artists.

Shortly before Christmas 2009, Vic took his life. He was my neighbor, and I was there as they put him in the ambulance. On March 6th, 2010, Mark Linkous shot himself in the heart. Anybody who knew either of these musicians will tell you that the pair suffered depression. They will also tell you their situation was worsened by their financial situation. Vic was deeply in debt to hospitals and, at the time, was publicly complaining about losing his home. Mark was living in abject squalor in his remote studio in the Smokey Mountains without adequate access to the mental health care he so desperately needed.

I present these two stories to you not because I’m pointing fingers or want to shame you. I just want to illustrate that “small” personal decisions have very real consequences, particularly when millions of people make the decision not to compensate artists they supposedly “love”. And it is up to us individually to examine the consequences of our actions. It is not up to governments or corporations to make us choose to behave ethically. We have to do that ourselves.


Now, having said all that, I also deeply empathize with your generation. You have grown up in a time when technological and commercial interests are attempting to change our principles and morality. Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done. Although it is the premise of every “machines gone wild” story since Jules Verne or Fritz Lang, this is exactly backwards. Sadly, I see the effects of this thinking with many of my students.

These technological and commercial interests have largely exerted this pressure through the Free Culture movement, which is funded by a handful of large tech corporations and their foundations in the US, Canada, Europe and other countries.* Your letter clearly shows that you sense that something is deeply wrong, but you don’t put your finger on it. I want to commend you for doing this. I also want to enlist you in the fight to correct this outrage. Let me try to to show you exactly what is wrong. What it is you can’t put your finger on.

The fundamental shift in principals and morality is about who gets to control and exploit the work of an artist. The accepted norm for hudreds of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time. (Since the works that are are almost invariably the subject of these discussions are popular culture of one type or another, the duration of the copyright term is pretty much irrelevant for an ethical discussion.) By allowing the artist to treat his/her work as actual property, the artist can decide how to monetize his or her work. This system has worked very well for fans and artists. Now we are being asked to undo this not because we think this is a bad or unfair way to compensate artists but simply because it is technologically possible for corporations or individuals to exploit artists work without their permission on a massive scale and globally. We are being asked to continue to let these companies violate the law without being punished or prosecuted. We are being asked to change our morality and principals to match what I think are immoral and unethical business models.

Who are these companies? They are sites like The Pirate Bay, or Kim Dotcom and Megaupload. They are “legitimate” companies like Google that serve ads to these sites through AdChoices and Doubleclick. They are companies like Grooveshark that operate streaming sites without permission from artists and over the objections of the artist, much less payment of royalties lawfully set by the artist. They are the venture capitalists that raise money for these sites. They are the hardware makers that sell racks of servers to these companies. And so on and  so on.

What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles to allow the equivalent of looting. Say there is a neighborhood in your local big city. Let’s call it The ‘Net. In this neighborhood there are record stores. Because of some antiquated laws, The ‘Net was never assigned a police force. So in this neighborhood people simply loot all the products from the shelves of the record store. People know it’s wrong, but they do it because they know they will rarely be punished for doing so. What the commercial Free Culture movement (see the “hybrid economy”) is saying is that instead of putting a police force in this neighborhood we should simply change our values and morality to accept this behavior. We should change our morality and ethics to accept looting because it is simply possible to get away with it.  And nothing says freedom like getting away with it, right?

But it’s worse than that. It turns out that Verizon, AT&T, Charter etc etc are charging a toll to get into this neighborhood to get the free stuff. Further, companies like Google are selling maps (search results) that tell you where the stuff is that you want to loot. Companies like Megavideo are charging for a high speed looting service (premium accounts for faster downloads). Google is also selling ads in this neighborhood and sharing the revenue with everyone except the people who make the stuff being looted. Further, in order to loot you need to have a $1,000 dollar laptop, a $500 dollar iPhone or $400 Samsumg tablet. It turns out the supposedly “free” stuff really isn’t free. In fact it’s an expensive way to get “free” music. (Like most claimed “disruptive innovations”it turns out expensive subsidies exist elsewhere.) Companies are actually making money from this looting activity. These companies only make money if you change your principles and morality! And none of that money goes to the artists!

And believe it or not this is where the problem with Spotify starts. The internet is full of stories from artists detailing just how little they receive from Spotify. I shan’t repeat them here. They are epic. Spotify does not exist in a vacuum. The reason they can get away with paying so little to artists is because the alternative is The ‘Net where people have already purchased all the gear they need to loot those songs for free. Now while something like Spotify may be a solution for how to compensate artists fairly in the future, it is not a fair system now. As long as the consumer makes the unethical choice to support the looters, Spotify will not have to compensate artists fairly. There is simply no market pressure. Yet Spotify’s CEO is the 10th richest man in the UK music industry ahead of all but one artist on his service.


So let’s go back and look at what it would have cost you to ethically and legally support the artists.

And I’m gonna give you a break. I’m not gonna even factor in the record company share. Let’s just pretend for your sake the record company isnt simply the artists imprint and  all record labels are evil and don’t deserve any money. Let’s just make the calculation based on exactly what the artist should make. First, the mechanical royalty to the songwriters. This is generally the artist. The royalty that is supposed to be paid by law is 9.1 cents a song for every download or copy. So that is $1,001 for all 11,000 of your songs. Now let’s suppose the artist has an average 15% royalty rate. This is calculated at wholesale value. Trust me, but this comes to 10.35 cents a song or $1,138.50. So to ethically and morally “get right” with the artists you would need to pay $2,139.50.

As a college student I’m sure this seems like a staggering sum of money. And in a way, it is. At least until you consider that you probably accumulated all these songs over a period of 10 years (5th grade). Sot that’s $17.82 dollars a month. Considering you are in your prime music buying years, you admit your life is “music centric” and you are a DJ, that $18 dollars a month sounds like a bargain. Certainly much much less than what I spent each month on music  during the 4 years I was a college radio DJ.

Let’s look at other things you (or your parents) might pay for each month and compare.

Smart phone with data plan: $40-100 a month.

High speed internet access: $30-60 dollars a month. Wait, but you use the university network? Well, buried in your student fees or tuition you are being charged a fee on the upper end of that scale.

Tuition at American University, Washington DC (excluding fees, room and board and books): $2,086 a month.

Car insurance or Metro card?  $100 a month?

Or simply look at the  value of the web appliances you use to enjoy music:

$2,139.50 = 1 smart phone + 1 full size ipod + 1 macbook.

Why do you pay real money for this other stuff but not music?


The existential questions that your generation gets to answer are these:

Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?

Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?

Why do we gladly give our money to some of the largest richest corporations in the world but not the companies and individuals who create and sell music?

This is a bit of hyperbole to emphasize the point. But it’s as if:

Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Hardware: Giant mega corporations.Cool! have some money!

Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class.Screw you, you greedy bastards!

Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!

I am genuinely stunned by this. Since you appear to love first generation Indie Rock, and as a founding member of a first generation Indie Rock band I am now legally obligated to issue this order: kids, lawn, vacate.

You are doing it wrong.


Emily, I know you are not exactly saying what I’ve illustrated above. You’ve unfortunately stumbled into the middle of a giant philosophical fight between artists and powerful commercial interests. To your benefit, it is clear you are trying to answer those existential questions posed to your generation. And in your heart, you grasp the contradiction. But I have to take issue with the following statement:

As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. I can’t support them with concert tickets and t-shirts alone. But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.

I’m sorry, but what is inconvenient about iTunes and, say, iTunes match (that let’s you stream all your music to all your devices) aside from having to pay? Same with Pandora premium, MOG and a host of other legitimate services. I can’t imagine that any other legal music service that is gonna be simpler than these to use. Isn’t convenience already here!

Ultimately there are three “inconvenient” things that MUST happen for any legal service:

1.create an account and provide a payment method (once)

2.enter your password.

3. Pay for music.

So what you are really saying is that you won’t do these three things. This is too inconvenient.  And I would guess that the most inconvenient part is….step 3.

That’s fine. But then you must live with the moral and ethical choice that you are making to not pay artists. And artists won’t be paid. And it won’t be the fault of some far away evil corporation. You “and your peers” ultimately bear this responsibility.

You may also find that this ultimately hinders your hopes of finding a job in the music industry.  Unless you’re planning on working for free.  Or unless you think Google is in the music industry–which it is not.

I also find this all this sort of sad.  Many in your generation are willing to pay a little extra to buy “fair trade” coffee that insures the workers that harvested the coffee were paid fairly.  Many in your generation will pay a little more to buy clothing and shoes from manufacturers that  certify they don’t use  sweatshops.  Many in your generation pressured Apple to examine working conditions at Foxconn in China.  Your generation is largely responsible for the recent cultural changes that has given more equality to same sex couples.  On nearly every count your generation is much more ethical and fair than my generation.   Except for one thing.  Artist rights.


At the start of this I did say that I hoped to convert you to actively helping musicians and artists. That ultimately someone like you, someone so passionately involved in music is the best ally that musicians could have. Let me humbly suggest a few things:

First, you could legally buy music from artists. The best way to insure the money goes to artists? Buy it directly from their website or at their live shows. But if you can’t do that, there is a wide range of services and sites that will allow you to do this conveniently. Encourage your “peers” to also do this.

Second, actively “call out” those that profit by exploiting artists without compensation. File sharing sites are supported by corporate web advertising. Call corporations out by giving specific examples. For instance, say your favorite artist is Yo La Tengo. If you search at Google “free mp3 download Yo La Tengo” you will come up with various sites that offer illegal downloads of Yo La Tengo songs. I clicked on a link to the site http://www.beemp3.com where I found You La Tengo’s entire masterpiece album I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass.

I also found an ad for Geico Insurance which appeared to have been serviced to the site by “Ads by Google”. You won’t get any response by writing a file sharing site. They already know what they are doing is wrong. However Geico might be interested in this. And technically, Google’s policy is to not support piracy sites, however it seems to be rarely enforced. The best way to write any large corporation is to search for the “investor’s relations” page. For some reason there is always a human being on the other end of that contact form. You could also write your Congressman and Senator and suggest they come up with some way to divert the flow of advertising money back to the artists.

And on that matter of the $2,139.50 you owe to artists? Why not donate something to a charity that helps artists. Consider this your penance. In fact I’ll make a deal with you. For every dollar you personally donate I’ll match it up to the $500. Here are some suggestions.

Nuci’s Space.   This is Athens Georgia’s home grown musician health and mental health charity.  This would be a nice place to donate money if you were a fan of Vic Chesnutt.


Music Cares. You can also donate to this charity run by the NARAS (the Grammys). http://www.grammy.org/musicares/donate

Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.  Friends speak highly of this organization.

American Heart Association Memorial Donation. Or since you loved Big Star and Alex Chilton, why not make a donation to The American Heart Association in Alex Chilton’s name? (Alex died of a heart attack) https://donate.americanheart.org/ecommerce/donation/acknowledgement_info.jsp?campaignId=&site=Heart&itemId=prod20007

I’m open to suggestions on this.

I sincerely wish you luck in your career in the music business and hope this has been enlightening in some small way.

David Lowery


EDITOR’S UPDATE. 12:42 PM Central  6/19/2012 .  Trichordist does not allow any anonymous posting.  We generally like to verify people are using their real name or an identity that we can track back to a real person. We think think this keep the tone of the debate more honest and civilized.  But it takes a lot of work. This post has gone completely viral and we are getting thousands of visitors a minute.  While we normally enjoy our readers comments it’s not possible to verify and moderate this volume of comments.  We are just 4 guys doing this part time when we aren’t doing our other jobs.  If you feel like this somehow infringes your freedom of speech I would remind you that you have the entire world wide web to share your opinions about this article.  We will from time to time  continue to randomly select comments based on our personal whims for publication. We will also respond thoughtfully, nicely, rudely, absurdly or however we feel at the time. That’s our freedom of expression.

EDITOR’S UPDATE 11:12 PM Central 6/20/2012.  You realize we had over half a million visits to this site the last two days?   We will probably never get through the volume of comments.  However we are still from time time randomly selecting  comments and publishing. Especially people who’ve posted good, intelligent or funny comments before.  And many many of your comments have been great.  We especially enjoy those that maybe disagree but seek to find common ground.

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1,039 thoughts on “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.

    1. I agree – Thank you David Lowery! The hypocrites at corporate-sponsored NPR really do NOT care about working people and, aside from some feel-good gesturing totally ignore musicians. All they have to do is try to look cool, which they don’t, while making sure not to offend their corporate sponsors, which include ADM, Walmart, and a long list of other rapacious enterprises.

      1. Wait wait, what? Why the random NPR bashing? Corporate sponsored? They only get 17% of their funding through corporations. When you cut that down to just “ADM” and “Walmart”, I doubt it is above 10%.

        They’re the only national radio station sponsored by listeners, from which the majority of their money comes from at nearly 40%. I would assume they are a lot less beholden to corporations than your average radio station or newspaper that relies on ad revenue from businesses.

      2. I’m reminded of the story where Tom Watson@IBM refused a resignation from an engineer that lost money on a risky venture for the company: “You can’t be serious. We’ve just spent $10 million dollars educating you!”.

        I don’t think being vindictive against particular individuals has been a particularly effective strategy in the past – usually just results in a further entrenched attitude about greed. I’d say educate her and make her aware of how her decisions effect artists. Since she has chosen a profession where she is hoping to become a content creator, sooner or later she will become cognizant of the problem. And better sooner rather than later.

    2. Welcome to The Entitlement Generation, or The Me Generation, whatever you want to call them or they like to call themselves, most kids today under 40 are irreverant to the ethic standards their great grandparents fought for in WWII and in succeeding generations that built this country up. Unfortunately, we have ourselves to blame. The kids of the 1960’s generation that protested in the streets, smoking pot, free sex, politically oriented concerts in the park, and no I’m not talking about OWS…. they’re copycats….. the 60’s peace, free love, let’s all live in a commune folks brought this on all of us.

      Through theire very relaxed, I don’t give darn attitude about money and finances and my future, had kids. So they had to grow up and learn to be responsible citizens. Well, their kids grew up in a very relaxed home environment, which led to the grandchildren of these 60’s kids growing up to be The Slacker Generation. Well, the slackers are in their 40’s with kids, and their kids have learned fomr their parents and grandparents about how to be even better slackers. You fault the parents for how these kids’ behaviors and their look at life…. it’s all about what can you do for me? What can I get from you? I call these people Democrats today. They are the Obama followers who are more concerned about getting something from you than to go out and work for it themselves. This is the mantra of the Democratic Party platform today, not the Democratic Party that my parents were a part of 30+ years ago… and that holds true for the GOP as well. They have both gone to extremes… but I digress……

      Kids today are spoiled and their parents are not helping the situation any. I have a half a dozen friends with kids ranging in ages from high school up through college and after college, with the post college kids still living at home. The reason? They can’t afford to live alone in their own apartment. What! Who said kids have to have their own place at that age as an excuse for not leaving the care and feeding of their momma and poppa? Get out of the friggin house now, and live with a room mates. We’ve all done it, because we cherished our freedoms after college. We had a job, lived with friends or strangers because it was the thing to do… to be on our own, and our parents forced us to do it.

      Today, parents as far too permissive to act like parents. no matter how old your kids are, you are not their friend. You are their parents and it remains up to you to parent the kids, even when the kids are adults… if parenting is required…. and it seems it still does for a lot of kids, even in their 30’s and 40’s.

      So, it’s no wonder this college kid who downloads music from illegal and free websites has 11,000+ songs. Eventually, she will be caught and will have to pay the fine and the time, unless she’s d/l songs from China….. lol

      NPR? this radio network is a losing proposition these days, boring to listen to unless you’re stoned out of your mind and hanging out in your den on the bean bag chair reading about President Obama and thinking what he’s telling you is the truth. If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ll know that with him, what you see ain’t what you get. What you get is far worse than you can imagine.

    3. A letter to David Lowery…

      David, I don’t disagree with what you saying but I do feel quite strongly about the situation myself and my generation find ourselves in.

      I am a supporter of situationism, but given we live in a capitalist society its just not possible, nor is it fair to the creators of culture as you rightly point out.

      Speaking for myself, however, can I just make these points. It is not that want to evade paying for music from artists that I love but rather I don’t want to pay for music which I listen to once and cast aside because it is rubbish. I, a student, simply haven’t got the money to operate like this.

      I do use Spotify Premium, and am becoming increasingly aware of the injustice being done here, but may I add I regularly go to gigs to see the artists I most admire, big and small, I regularly buy merchandise, and regularly promote their music to friends and colleagues who otherwise would not listen to them, call myself and others like me, voluntary promoters, if you will.

      Anyhow, as you have pointed out this is not enough to sustain excessive living in the modern capitalist society we find ourselves in. Things have indeed changed and a generation of artists have experienced this change the hard way unfortunately. We have gone from a time of total control over cash flows in the industry to relatively no control. We need to find a middle ground that suits both the artist and the buyer. So I ask this…

      Why not create an organisation or a party, who operates like iTunes or Spotify but rather charges you proportionately in relation to how much you listen to certain bands/artists. Why can I not listen to say, Muse’s latest album and upon the first listen decide that is shit and get charged only for that listen? Say 0.5p a track for example? Why can Liars not reap the benefits of me listening to their new album on repeat over the past few days? Hypothetically speaking, you could even set barriers for total cost/ownership in that if you reach 1000 listens you stop paying and the music becomes free to access. Surely this is a fair way to operate giving power to the people and equally ensuring the best artists receive their dues?

      I want a system which is fair for me… and the artist.

      Kind Regards,


    4. I too agree with Mr. Lowry except for one thing he overlooked: Emily said she wants to support the artists through streaming on-demand music… something like youtube maybe, but for music. Under that scenario the musicians would be getting paid a few pennies every time a song is streamed. I fail to see how browbeating Emily for proposing this solution is a good idea, since it appears she’s trying to find a way that supports both her love of music and the artists.

      By the way BUYING these songs would cost about $11,000. I have my doubts Emily or anybody else will be spending that much for music. I’ve spent around $1000 on Greatest Hits CDs, but otherwise I just look for artist-supporting sources like the radio.

      Why? Because I am not made of money. And no I did not spend thousands of dollars on a smartphone or cable or your other examples. My TV is free via antenna, my phone costs a mere $5/month, and my internet is just $15/month. I budget my spending because, like most Americans, I am not rich.

    5. “Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?”

      It’s because it’s far more difficult to steal the aforementioned items. The people who steal music would also steal iPods and data plans if the chance of being caught was remote. There have always been, and always will be, self-entitled people who disregard others.

    6. I think Emily has been upfront and honest; but as far as I can see, she is not doing anything wrong.

      Have I misunderstood or did she say she will pay for convenience i.e. iTunes; she never said iTunes was inconvenient to her as your response is making out!

      The fact that she downloads and pays for them at all is justification for her argument in my eyes. The issue I have is the free streaming that completely removes the incentive to go and buy. People listen and listen and listen and then get bored. I also understand that we cannot restrict the internet this way.

      The solution is to try and eradicate these scummy pirate sites and increase the costs of downloads if that is the way people continue to listen to music and it is the way they like to obtain music.

      Lets listen to our fans rather than vilifying them…we’ve all been there. I downloaded Altered Images’ ‘Happy Birthday’ for a birthday mix tape I was compiling…it was naughty of me, but I didn’t want the whole track. We’ve all done it!

    7. That was indeed excellent. It has challenged me to do the right thing as well (especially since my own income–book sales–is based on a similar moral paradigm). I know I have to delete the iPhone downloading app that I find myself using daily, but the joy of piling up the songs without personal cost is really addictive. And, I believe, there lies the problem. Like many other compulsions, we will jump through hoops to rationalize, justify and normalize our addictions. A brilliant, well-argued letter is only half the solution. More than likely, the other half will require a deep and honest self-intervention.

  1. The amazing lack of self-awareness coupled with apparent moral blindness is what I find most galling. College kids copying music — whatever the increased in ease and volume — is not new. 20 years ago, I smuggled rare LPs out of the radio station library and took them back to my dorm room to tape. But the assumption that anything that can be taken for free should be, and that figuring out how to get paid for their work is the artists’ problem, has gone from a guilty secret to an open assumption. (Practically speaking, it of course *is* an artist’s problem how to make their vocation financially sustainable, but a little help from the people making off with their work would be nice.) The most telling aspect of the NPR piece to me is the fact that the question of how artists would be more fairly compensated by some Spotify-like future service is reduced to a parenthetical aside, clearly falling into the area of “not my problem.” What I don’t understand is this: If you a) enjoy art, and b) would like more of it, why are you not willing and indeed eager to help the artists whose work you enjoy? I do think it’s more of a cultural problem than a generational one: Students who’ve never had to support themselves financially are inevitably less sensitive to the value of a dollar — I doubt 35K a year without benefits means much to them yet — but the US has across the board become a winner-take-all culture, where failure to exploit every available loophole makes you not moral but a sucker. What we see in younger generations is merely the concentrated version of what we have allowed our country to become.

    1. NPR is all about lack of awareness. They criticize the world while taking their funding from some of the worst corporate abusers in existence, starting with General Motors and the Insurance companies that make sure the US is the only developed nation without health care for–you guessed it–musicians and other artists and workers.For those suckers who think they mean it when they say, “folks like you,” check out this list:


    2. Excellent point. Worse still, the winners buy the loopholes. The co-opting of all economic interaction that David points to takes what is possibly the most democratic of exchanges and turns it into ponzi fodder. This didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen as a result of consolidated individual effort, and David is also right that reversing it is only going to be possible in the same way.

      Government, unfortunately, suffers from the same sponsorship.

    3. I agree, but as a college student myself I can say the issue is often that we simply have no money to spend on music. I don’t have $10/mo to give to music or cable TV. I’ve given up TV, but I refuse to give up music. For that reason I largely listen to albums that indie artists give away for free, but that gets old. Fast.

  2. David, you have nailed it. This post is a keeper, and a new reference point for those who think that music should be costless. Copyright laws are there for a reason. Copyright protections are written into the Constitution to enable creative careers, since the beginning of the U.S. of A.

    1. Can you enlighten me as to which Constitution you’ve read anything about copyright in? Because I’m not sure if copyright was a big issue when the only non-verbal forms of communication were some form of paint/lithographs, handwriting or using one of the handful of printing presses on the continent…

      1. Precedent has oft been ignored concerning what is now known as the copyright clause, especially considering the prevailing opinions on the matter were largely cast out and rewritten in the 70s by the major film studios (namely Disney and Universal) as the result of throwing a tantrum at Sony for creating Betamax. The terminology actually used in the Constitution, which is what I was prodding Chris to answer to, referred to the work of craftsmen (i.e. people that make furniture, pottery, carts, buggies, horseshoes, etc), which would evolve into modern patent law, and sciences, which referred primarily to literature.

        Naturally the argument of the living document and an ever-changing judiciary would apply here as it has several times in the past — but I want to emphasize that history has shown it’s the group with the deepest pockets that tend to shape legislation and the judicial “activism” regarding this sort of thing… And Google happens to be worth over $70 billion and climbing. You referred to them as “legitimate” (your quotation marks, not mine) for contributing to websites they have absolutely no affiliation with (The Pirate Bay) and another that now exists as nothing more than an FBI seizure image (Mega*).

        You seem to know a lot about the recording industry — and I can certainly respect that — but you seem to know absolutely nothing about the technology industry or the culture that surrounds it. You also don’t seem to realize that the type of people this type of message, with all of its outdated information and misunderstandings of the internet, actually needs to get through to are not going to ever change their ways.

        Society is changing and this happens all of the time. I’m not saying piracy is ethical, but I do not think that censoring the internet — which is really the only way to *ever* stop the problem you perceive — is any sort of reasonable solution. The recording industry has faced similar problems many times in the last century: bootleg 8-track mix tapes being sold at truck stops in the 70s, high school kids recording songs off of the radio with cassette tapes in the 80s, kids swapping tapes and mix CDs in the 90s and the advent of p2p file sharing in the 00s. I assure you that there is nothing anyone can do to stop this without drastically infringing on the rights of everyone, even those who have never downloaded a song, movie or TV show in their life.

      2. Article One, Section 8, clause 8 of the US constitution: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

        I hope you aren’t American, that way I can assume you just don’t know the Constitutions of other countries. If you are American then I think you should read it. At least once.

      3. Article I Section 8 Clause 8 of the United States Constituion is commonly known as the “Copyright Clause.” This section enumerates the powers of Congress. On of their enumerated powers is to create a system for protecting the creations of scientists and artists. The language used in the constituion is “writings and discoveries” but, of course, the Supreme Court has held the word “writings” to apply to all sorts of things that didn’t exist yet in the late 18th century. Congress promptly acted on this enumerated power by creating our first Copyright Law during the second-ever session of Congress in 1790. The Statute of Anne, on which are copyright law was originally based, was created to give writers economic control of their own creations waaaay back in 1710.

      4. The printing press was actually invented in the 1400s and was in widespread use within less than 100 years. By the time the Constitution was written, printing presses were ubiquitous, and it was common for written works (including sheet music) to be reproduced by the tens or even hundreds of thousands within the author’s lifetime. So copyright has actually been a significant issue for more than 500 years.

  3. David,
    as a fairly well known Music Producer (inc. The Smiths, Blur, The Cranberries, Kaiser Chiefs) I would like to than you for so succinctly expressing the views I have held on this matter. I have appeared on TV, written blogs on my site (stephenstreet.net) and twittered my arguments about the destructive nature of illegal downloading only to be shouted down by ‘free-tards’ who tell me that the ‘business model is finished and to get over it’! To read a piece like yours has made me feel like I’m not alone in my views. Well done sir!

    Stephen Street

    1. Stephen,

      I actually wanted to say that I love your work. The Cranberries ‘Dreams’ is one of my all time favorite records.

      And to David, bravo for a thorough and well-written post. Thanks for summarizing our collective angst.


      Christopher Tin
      (2x Grammy-winning Composer)

      1. Yep, great to see people like Stephen Street commenting.
        Makes me feel like I’m not alone too.

    2. Artists also need to be paid fairly so they can afford the services of great producers like Stephen Street, and professional engineers and recording studios that have good gear and all the things that most people take for granted but are often necessary for producing great music….

  4. David, that is all very agreeable yet as a part of the concert photographers community I would like to read your position about one of the contracts that as photographers we are often handled at gigs. Those where the band asks us to sign a form that states the band will keep all the rights of any image taken for any use they want in change of no payment whatsoever in perpetuity in the Universe (I swear these are the words used).
    You may read plenty of examples here:

    As it is unfair to download music illegally (and I have a collection of about 2000 original CDs on my shelves with not a single illegal download to not feel guilty at all) it is as unfair the musician pretend something to happen on their behalf when then act the opposite way when it is in their interest. I.e. Asking us to give all of our work for free.
    What do you think?

    You may be interested to reading this exchange of opinions I had with a band promoter some time ago.

    keep the good writing on and thanks for your time


    1. I can’t speak for other bands. but we have always paid our photographers for our band commissioned promo photos. And allowed them to keep the rights to the photos. I believe record companies pay photographers but then keep the photos as a work for hire. But i have no details of these arrangements. I suggest not signing anything that forces you to give up rights without compensation.

      1. Thank you for your answer David,
        indeed I never signed and will never sign one of those.
        Yet they exist and are quite common by the same bands suffering from illegal download.

      2. I don’t think Valerio was referring to being the photographer hired by the band. That is a completely different situation and a different type of contract. I believe he was referring to photographers working a show in “the pit” independently, for publications, or wire services. Unfortunately it is becoming more and more common for bands to ask for rights grabs in exchange for *allowing* us to photograph the first 3 songs of a live show. Choosing to not sign a release that relinquishes my copyright means I don’t work.

        Speaking to your article, photographers of all genres are also subjected to a similar mindset – that it is “just” a digital image. There is definitely a “why pay for it when I can just download it and print it myself” mentality or “it’s on the internet, so it’s public domain” (yes, I have honestly heard that one!). There is often no consideration given to the preparation, knowledge, and equipment that actually went in to creating the image.

      3. Working in video, most of “my” images are created as a “work for hire” and all rights reserved by those that hire me. Nothing like music piracy, in my opinion, as I know this up front and have a choice…

    2. Hi Valerio, I’m a musician and I’ve actually had to stop allowing photographers (or even amateur photo or video) at my shows when one photographer repeatedly kept making money from my image without my permission. The most egregious offense is when they sold (imo) an unflattering photo to a magazine for an editorial piece without my permission and told them I said it was okay to use instead of the approved promo photos I provided (and paid for). There is another side to this coin and that is photography law does not side with the subject, whose privacy and rights to how they are portrayed, are often overlooked in favor of someone snapping a random picture–which you even have to admit cannot be considered “art” all the time (think paparazzi). Claiming ownership of someone’s image when their professional life is intrinsically tied to that image, in a live setting like a concert as opposed to a staged photo shoot where your lighting, angles, etc could be construed as your “art” and then expecting payment for random photos without limitations on its disbursement or exploitation of it, is in my opinion another form of entitlement.

    3. I don’t know about other bands, but we’ve always seen photographers as allies. The more photos you guys take at our gigs, the more publicity for us. Make as much money as you can – we hope you make bags of money! It means our name gets out there more. As for promo shots, we’ve been lucky in that our photographers have been personal friends of ours & we’re all aware of each other’s situations. Sometimes bartering has occurred – but we do always compensate the best we can.

      1. If only that was true and understoof by all bands… check what is happening around Stone Roses gig this weekend and photographers boycotting them

  5. Excellent article. As a record store employee for the last ten years, I have to ask: Where does buying used CDs and records fit into this? It’s certainly not stealing, but the artist doesn’t receive any money from used sales. Any thoughts?

    1. If we assume that the seller of the CD does not retain a copy after handing over to the buyer, then there is no problem. In economic terms, it does not destroy the supply and demand of the CD – unlike streaming where the supply becomes infinite – effectively making the price point equilibrium zero. (Of course, if you remove the assumption of the seller violating the legal terms by retaining a digital copy, then it effectively is the same as digital downloading).

    2. Buying a used CD at a yard sale or even from a used CD/record store is not at issue here. Second-hand sales do not steal from musicians or recording companies, any more than selling your used car should mean sending a percentage to Ford or Subaru. But if you could pop out an exact replica of a Ford or Subaru to sell while still keeping your original, then you DO owe them.
      What’s at issue here is the fact that we can so easily create or stream an exact duplicate of the original work, and thereby deprive the creator or owner of a work. This means you can “own” the results of someone’s hard work and creativity for no cost.
      As an independent singer/songwriter with music for sale on my website (billpfleging.com), as well as a writer and author (geekgap.com) I am painfully aware of just how broken copyright is in this country. Companies like Google are not just making music available for people without compensating the owners/creators, but books as well (books.google.com). Organizations like the American Society of Journalists and Authors (asja.org) have been fighting against Google’s assumption that they can simply scan every book that exists and offering them for free without compensating the owners for several years now. That fight is nowhere near over, and is still in the courts.
      This is an excellent piece, and states the case quite clearly. I can only hope that people read it with an open mind, an open heart, and take it as not an accusation, but as a recommendation for change. I will be passing it along to both my musician friends as well as publishing colleagues.
      Thanks you, Mr. Lowery.

      1. I have bought quite a few used CD’s and LP’s over the years (much of it out of print anyway), but I think the morality of it is questionable. When I buy a CD, the medium is irrelevant. I’m buying the right to listen to the song whenever, wherever, and however I want. I’m paying the retailer, distributor, label, artist, etc. for the privilege. If I buy a used CD, I’m only paying the retailer and previous owner. As far as the artist is concerned, I may as well have just copied the disc from the original owner.

        Look at the software industry. It is generally illegal to sell used software these days. You aren’t buying a disc. You are buying a personal license to use e software. When you buy a song, you are really just licensing it.

      2. If you could pop out infinite near zero-cost copies of a Ford or Subaru, you’d be living in a post-industrial post-scarcity utopia, and musicians would be too busy enjoying infinite access to replicators, holodecks, and AI doctors who can fix any break and cure any disease, to care how many records you’d copied.

  6. Dear David,
    I am an artist/band member for 25 years. I will say the name only to 1 show that we have put out 7 cds on our own label (The Zambonis) Have another band that signed and released a record with Reprise/Warner Bros (The LeeVees) and another (The Macaroons) who put out 1 cd in 2009 on the now defunct Indie J-Dub Records. I’ve been on all sides. Your response and your words here are so spot on it hurts. I tear up thinking how the bands that moved me to be who who I am and do what I do can no longer give me that joy because of the sad state of the FREE MUSIC GENERATION. I sort of came to terms with all of this but, with this post by you, I am enraged and saddened again.
    Meanwhile, creating new music is the coal for our souls.
    May you and all of us get a song in the next TRANSFORMERS movie.
    Love what you do and have done,
    Dave (Zamboni/LeeVee/Macaroon) Schneider

    1. This is why I love the Internet. Read a spot-on article on artists rights, stumble upon a comment from a local band you loved nearly two decades ago when you lived back in the Northeast.

      Dave, songs from 100% Hockey are on my iPhone as I type this, while my (legitimately purchased) CD is in a box in the attic.

      Keep fighting the good fight, folks!

  7. I’m not trying to earn a living with my music, but it still frustrates me that friends & family won’t throw down $5 for an EP or something… this is my heart! My self! This is important to me! Listen? No? Okay…

    This essay has inspired a passionate response in me. I’m so frustrated that so many of my friends, especially the younger ones, don’t even think twice, and repeat crap about bands making money on the road or whatever. Calling yourself a fan of a band but won’t pay for it. Spending $5 on a latte or $10 on one bar cocktail daily but won’t drop the same on music you get to keep permanently. Hell, $7 on overpriced stale movie popcorn, but music is worth less to you than that…

    I don’t know. I wish it wasn’t so pathetic. I wish people didn’t so easily subscribe to the ‘it can be done so it’s okay’ theory about computer stealing. It’s disheartening. And I have no idea how any of it will change for the better. The internet isn’t going away. The next generation don’t even remember life before high-speed. Music will never go away but I feel like the quality artists are going to vanish due to complete inability to support themselves. We’ll be left with giant corporate garbage acts (the shittiest acts are the best selling in the world), and the stragglers who keep on despite all odds. I dearly hope something changes that allows musician to decide when, where and how to monetize their artistic creation again, but I’m pessimistic.

    I loved this article. It fills me with pride, but also causes me despair because it’s a losing battle. =(

    1. I got told by a friend “JayZ’s album is only £6” in response to me saying that our CD (released by ourselves and artwork produced paid for ourselves but to a very pro standard) was £7.50

      HELLO?!! A) JayZ will sell a s**tload more albums than us therefore he can afford to sell at a lower price B) We’ve produced everything OURSELVES down to the mastering C) Support a friend why don’t you…

      Why is it friends and family are the least interested in this stuff? It offends me.

      Some guy in Germany who I don’t know from adam gives more of a toss that I went out and made an album from scratch than a friend of more than 15 years.

    2. I am happy someone wrote about this. People spend money on fancy phones, and all the things people feel they need today, and yet steal music — they let musicians face eviction and be unable to afford proper healthcare.

  8. Perhaps one of the most coherent, comprehensive, accessible responses possible. Thanks, very much – with your permission, I’ll be using this with my 10th grade Intro to Media / 21st Century Literacies course (along with the original piece to which it responds) in the coming year.

  9. Thank you sir – as technology insidiously embeds the inconvenience of fairness I’m glad it also provides the means for you and others to so eloquently point out the fact that it does.

  10. Awesome open letter. Thank you for articulating things so well.

    Another organization that helps artists through fiscal sponsorship is Fractured Atlas (www.fracturedatlas.org). I’m currently using it to help fund my next album.

    There are folks out there who generously support the music that they love. I know a lot of them and thank them at every opportunity. I guess I just find it to be a shame that they are having to pick up the slack left by so many others.

  11. Excellent piece, David. I tried to address this issue a few months ago with particular reference to the way the Spotify model discourages users from involved relationships with the artists whose music they consume. Some responses to my post were encouraging, but many seemed to suggest that I was “on the wrong side of progress”. I think many musicians are conflicted about the distribution model that streaming sites promote: they are excited about the global reach they can achieve, but frustrated about the reluctance of listeners to explore avenues for reimbursing artists. Sites like Bandcamp make paying artists extremely easy! Many (all?) artists on Spotify also have albums and songs for sale on iTunes or Bandcamp, but there is almost no traffic from the former to the latter. As an artist on an independent record label, I am pessimistic about the future of music and musicians. We aren’t going to be able to do this for nothing forever.

  12. Thanks David for this.
    Mark, and Vic, are greatly missed by me, and I did buy their music, and the Sweet Relief, CD’s.
    All five of my kids, are musicians, and the older ones realized the damage done, by getting free music. I am going to share some of your blogs with them, as they can pass the ideas to some peers. I’ll start explaining to the younger ones, how , just buying a CD, at a show helps. It feels good to hand the cash directly to the artist. Stealing music, is like taking a photo, of a painting, making a print, and hanging it on the wall. That just dosen’t feel right. If we can promote the idea, of just having a conscience, that’s a start.
    I believe, that anyone who pirates music, knows it’s not right. Musicians are gonna stop making music, and start looking for work in other fields.
    I’m sure some have stopped already.
    See you on Cape Cod. Just Two boat rides, from whet I live.

  13. An emotional response to a powerful post. David, I am consistently inspired by your gift for communication and proud to call you an ally in this movement.

    I was particularly taken by your kindness and generosity in responding to this young lady and your brilliance as a researcher and writer on your New Boss, Old Boss post which can be found on this blog.

    As we wade through the misinformation and distorted truth that has dominated this conversation, for too long, those of us who support artists are far better off with you on the court. The game my friends is about the future of music, film and literature.

    The stakes could not be higher.

    Sincerely, Will Buckley, founder, FarePlay

  14. This really is quite a fascinating read… I struggled with this growing up and long ago came to a conclusion I felt would solve my moral dilemma with music in general:

    I didn’t pirate it; I just didn’t listen to music.

    This kept me out of so many interactions growing up, but it also kept me legal and satisfied morally. Friends couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard the latest song XYZ, but it didn’t really bother me. I even went so far as to turn off the radio whenever I got in the car to go anywhere after getting my driver’s license. Easier to concentrate on the road when you’re not letting your mind wander through every chord.

    It’s only been here lately I’ve begun listening to music again, but still not wanting to pirate it, I decided to buy straight from the artist’s web site. I bought a single album from IAmSleepless. I then stumbled on the Game Music Bundles and participated in them all. The end result is a bunch of legally bought and paid for music. Nothing you’ll hear on the radio, granted, but all quite absorbing to listen to.

    I also tried a single album through Amazon’s music service. I have personal moral issues with Apple and all things “i”, so Amazon/Google will do just fine.

    I guess what I’m getting at is, music is nice to have, but not a necessity by far. I did without when I couldn’t afford it, and bought direct the one time I was looking for specific music. I currently have a small but paid-for collection that I listen to, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not pirating / buying music constantly.

  15. David,
    As a 19 year-old college student who does use file-sharing sites frequently, I found this article incredibly eye-opening. Most arguments against the pirate bay, etc. fail to persuade me due to their framing of the issue as one of theft. Your article touches upon this, but I find your emphasis on voting with your dollar, for artists and against corporations, much more persuasive. I am now considering canceling my spotify subscription and redirecting that money towards buying albums directly from artists. There is one point, w/r/t “convenience,” that I would like to address, however. I think Emily White’s choice of the word “convenience” was a poor one, but she does have a point, in that any decision for someone like me or her to purchase all our music legally would inevitably result in us listening to less music. The fact is, I do spend more than $17.82 on music a month; unlike White, I routinely buy CDs and LPs. In addition to this, I illegally download albums I’m curious about and rip CDs/hard drives from friends. This form of music transfer has resulted in a generation more open to new and strange forms of musical expression than any before. I might not have spent my money on a freaky krautrock album that had the potential to thrill or repel me when safer buying choices were available, but I was able to obtain the Can discography through illicit means, resulting in future purchases of more experimental albums. So, if I were to cease all illegal downloading, this would necessarily restrict my listening habits. For this reason, Spotify seemed heaven sent, and after the service launched I went months without torrenting, as I was able to sample everything I might want to buy. When I found out about the paltry sums it pays to artists, however, I became far more conflicted, and failed to come up with any ethical way I could listen to the same volume of music that I do now. I recognize that this line of thinking skirts dangerously close to the changing-morality-to-fit-technological-climate argument, but that’s not the idea I want to advance. I recognize that the ethical good may outweigh the musical-quantity bad side of the issue, but that’s an incredibly hard surrender to make for young people who define their identities at least in part through an active and vigorous engagement with music, especially when few reliable guideposts are available when it comes to spending money on music in a fashion that produces value for the listener and income for the artist. Basically, I think listening to music ethically is a more complex and difficult issue than those on both sides of the piracy debate realize (another issue: if you buy directly from the artists, how do you support independent record stores?), and I think a lot more work is needed on the subject. This article is the best I have read so far, and if you have any suggestions of further places to look, I’d love to check them out.

    1. Will- I think this is a great reply. I think it’s great when people learn, process information, and then actually change their habits because of intellectual growth. I thought I’d throw one more idea at you. Your one remaining argument for illegally downloading music sounds like a pretty good one on the surface. You download, you listen, you like, you become a fan. That’s great! Your world has been expanded and the artist has gained a new fan. Sounds like everyone wins, right? Some artists even advocate for this by giving their music away on their own website. And if that’s what they want to do, then I think that’s great as well. They own their music, and they can certainly do with it what they want. Here’s the problem, though – I’ll use an analogy similar David’s looting of ‘Net City. Let’s say you are a HUGE fan of Pepsi cola. You just think it’s the best thing in the world. You come up with this great marketing campaign for them, simply because you want to help them! You think that if everyone you knew would just try it, well, they’d be hooked as well. Which would be good for the company, right? They’d have new fans, and your friends would all have broadened their cola drinking spectrum. The plan is for you to run into the local Circle K and grab a case, head for the door as fast as you can without paying, then hand them out to your friends. You’re doing this for the benefit of Pepsi, right? So It’s all good. And maybe it’ll work, maybe all your friends will want to drink Pepsi now. The problem is, even if it does benefit them, you don’t have the right to make the decision to give it away. You don’t own it – the Circle K does. Or Pepsi does. It just doesn’t matter who it benefits, you can’t make decisions about what to do with someones else’s property. Make sense? Plus, now all the new fans think the best way to feed their Pepsi thirst is to run into a Circle K and grab some. Pepsi won’t make it very long like that, no matter how devoted the fans are.

      Hope that helps a little. I think you’re on the right track.


      1. Doug, your analogy is a good one, but only to a point.

        A more accurate analogy would be one in which your theoretical Pepsi enthusiast had some magical means of duplicating cases of Pepsi. In this case he could walk into the Circle K, fabricate a case of Pepsi identical to the ones for sale, and then go out and spread the word about Pepsi. The vendor and producer of the product get no compensation, but they still have their original stock of Pepsi which they can still sell.

        I’m not sure if or how this changes the moral calculus of the situation, but to characterize an act as stealing when the original item remains intact seems at least like an imprecise use of language.

      2. Doug – I agree with your stance, but I wish people would stop making faulty analogies to physical products. Pirating music digitally is different from stealing physical cans of Pepsi (or whatever), which instantly reduces the available supply. However, digital piracy is still theft.

      3. thegertz – The thing to remember about the physical product analogy is that it depends on supply AND demand. Without demand, a can of soda is worthless. While supply (or lack thereof) can have an effect for sure, it is demand that really makes something valuable.

        So while the supply line may have changed, music is not suddenly worthless because it is somewhat intangible. (Back to David’s reminders about the devices everyone is hot to buy for their “free” music – without them serving as a delivery medium, all that freely snatched data is unusable.)

        Bottom line: If there is demand for music, then it has value. So there is no question that you are helping yourself to something of value created by someone else.

        How that fits into one’s morality, well…that’s up to them to work out.

    2. Your post brings up a whole other aspect of the music distribution business that is being changed by technology. You want to hear a variety of music to broaden your horizons, and you want to be able to sort of graze in the field before making a purchase. So you figure, well I’ll just get some for free and, if I like it I’ll pay for more.

      Once upon a time there was this great place for hearing a wide variety of music for free. It was called “radio.” College radio in particular used to be the place where you’d here the widest variety. Radios came built into cars and tuners were a default part of home amplifiers.

      Now most college students don’t even have radios in their dorm rooms and a lot of them don’t own cars. If they do own cars they don’t listen to the radio because they are all owned by massive corporations and play an incredibly narrow range of music.

      It is sad to think that people of Mr. Noah’s generation are listening to music alone all the time. When we listen to the radio, we are listening together. It was a whole different way of living. A whole different relationship with music. And with each other.

    3. you know, there has been a way to hear new music for almost a century. the radio. i understand that in a capitalist system, the radio isn’t good for experimental stuff or weird stuff or underground stuff. but the internet could just make radio shows easier to access/less financially based, and you could still hear music before you buy it. you can listen to records your friends own and hear music before you buy it. it’s not like we were all going into record stores and deafly purchasing music with no idea whether we’d like it. and now you can buy just that one song on a record you like!

    4. Will, thank you for your enlightened, well written and ethically admirable words. You have given this recording artist a much needed restoration of faith in your generation. Bravo.

    1. The problem with the ‘You pay for X and Y so why not music?’ argument is that the answer is usually fairly simple – people don’t pay for music because they don’t have to.

      If people could download mp3 players and laptops, they’d do that too.

      1. You are looking the other way at moral deficiency.

      2. The problem with that argument is that it’s pretty feeble. Justification for benefitting from other people’s work is “I like getting free stuff”? Internet technology has legitimised behaviour which, in all other areas of society, is frowned upon.

        I have a colleague who bangs on about “alternatives” like crowd funding – he sees these as exciting forms of investment without seeing that if he paid for his music,m he’d be investing in the same way.

        I think this is part of a larger trend – and hate to use the phrase dumbing down – but is this part of the current dislike for anything that involves experts or knowledge? This idea that anyone can do it – as espoused by TV talent shows where the contestant’s backstory is more important than their talent – goes wider than just the music industry. For all that I’m sure Emily White is a nice person who loves music, she’s 22 years old and has 11,000 songs on her MP3? Has she actually listened to them? All of them? Can she appreciate the craft that went into creating them or has she just downloaded them to say that she’s got the latest single by… whoever? Music is a commodity to many but it can be so much more. I don’t have any answers to this but information in this post about the wider implications and ethical issues surrounding “free” download sites and music should be better known. Then people can start exercising more choice and supporting musicians better. Many of us couldn’t manage to get through the day without them – so let’s celebrate and renumerate them.

      3. @floating pencil is right. It’s the ease with which it can be obtained (for free) that actually encourages all this.

  16. This article – or something like it – should be required reading for anyone using the internet. There are so many misconceptions out there about piracy – misconceptions I held right alongside my peers for many years. The fact is, if you buy a house with an orange tree in the back yard, you will go to the orange tree before you hit the greengrocer. Now that I’m older, and now that I have a little spending money to my name, I’m more than happy to buy albums and subscriptions rather than pirating them, especially, say, if there’s something unique in the liner notes. Unfortunately, many people my age disagree.

    1. I don’t get the orange tree metaphor? If I become self sufficient by growing my own food, somehow I’m a bad person because this hurts people who sell food? Or that I would only eat oranges and not spend the money I would have spent on oranges on some other fruit?

      If I’m spending my time making my own music, I’m somehow hurting other musicians because I’m not paying them for theirs instead?

      I used to live in florida and did have an orange tree in my backyard. I still bought oranges because they were better quality and I didn’t have to climb a tree to pick them. Either way, I wasn’t hurting anybody by having the orange tree around when I just wanted an orange.

  17. I’m confused – do we hire a police force in the ‘Net, or do citizens of the ‘Net simply have to will themselves to be ethical and good? Is looting the result of deregulation or a result of moral failure?

    1. People shouldn’t have to will themselves to make positive, productive choices. We believe the real problem is miscommunication and distortion by business men who have decided to profit from other people’s work with no regard for fair and reasonable compensation.

      We believe that if more people understood the consequences of their choices that many more musicians would be dealt with fairly.

      What “deregulation” are you referring to?

      Will Buckley, founder, FarePlay

  18. I feel that I’m a little more “moderate” than Emily in her “never buy” philosophy, but I think there are a few things to remember.

    Currently, media companies barely sell products and instead are selling access to media (which has it’s own set of issues). Since we are listening to music digitally,we listen to more music than ever before. Yet, the price points have remained relatively constant (about $10 or more per album). I no longer buy about…an album a month. Instead I listen to bits and pieces of dozens or more. Which would be a lot more money than $17.82 a month, and is impractical for any average person to buy. Today, supply is infinite, demand is high, which makes prices lower. It’s outright silly to base an argument, which acts as if we live in the 90’s, where we consume less content and buy CD’s.

    And to the people who complain about Spotify not being good enough, I think they miss the point. As an example, there was a story about a year ago from Mike Skinner of The Streets complaining about Spotify. I remembered a few songs, but was never into him enough to buy an album. The article kind of reminded me of the band though, and I thought, “Maybe I should give this a listen again”. Guess what? As much as I may have enjoyed listening to his music that evening, that “measly money” he got from me on Spotify, is more than he would have ever have gotten from me otherwise. And that’s the whole point of Spotify, it’s to aggregate money from a mass of non-buyers, for a lot more artists, to give content creators money they would otherwise NEVER SEE. Which doesn’t even get into whether or not those listens would make me a “new fan”, who would then see him in concert and buy future releases.

    1. Your post reminds me of some issues that I’ve had with the culture of copying, and it’s something I went through myself in the early part of the last decade. What I mean is the idea of having to have everything, or listen to everything. But how much are we really enjoying, or getting attached to? Why do we think that more volume, more quantity is necessarily what we need? I suppose the logic goes something like this: I need to have lots and lots of songs, but I cannot afford all of them, therefore I should not have to pay for them. But if you don’t value them, then why take them at all?

      We all have to make choices based on “costs” (monetary, or otherwise) all the time. But we give value to things that way. You wouldn’t argue that you need to taste more and more foods, but wouldn’t want to buy the whole items… you’ll just take what you feel like and therefore the food producers should feel lucky if they get a couple cents out of you.

      Try having some discretion and think about valuing and appreciating what you consume. It might even be more enjoyable and you won’t have to work so hard to make up moral rationalizations for yourself.

      1. Dear Fluxkit,

        What are you talking about? I am not addressing myself, I am talking about reality.

        If you are a business, it is up to your to create a business model that actually works and produces money.

        Here in the real world, if you have a lousy model, with price points that are impractical, based on outdated models that are no longer a relevant to reality, (ie physical media versus digital), then the result is poor sales, and piracy. I’m not saying piracy is good, or piracy should happen, but that’s how the music industry is.

        They’re willing to fight making accommodations, they resist making a better way to sell music, they resist actually competing in the marketplace.

        Let me tell you about economics 101. You have supply and demand. Supply is now infinite thanks to digital media. Demand is also way up because of the increased consumption of music. Yet, the price has remained relative. That’s what you call a bad business model if you want to remain competitive.

        This time, can you please address these points?

    2. I think the Spotify model changes this conversation completely — and I\’d love someone to address these points. Once you get into Spotify, every other way of accessing music seems so old-fashioned. The convenience gap is huge here — for the reasons noted above and others …. It can\’t be dismissed so flippantly as just enter your iTunes password (which is a strange argument, on another level, for many of us who have resisted buying into the Apple distribution monopoly — and have love had to discover an easy-to-use non-iTunes program and negotiate other parts of the paid mp3 universe — which have varying interfaces).

      And from what I understand, no one really knows the full compensation to artists from Spotify — as contracts are negotiated separately — and the number of total \”plays\” a song gets is also kept under wraps. I\’ve read in many places how Spotify has been a welcome revenue stream.

      That\’s not to say that putting all our eggs in the Spotify basket is a good thing — or the lack of transparency over compensation isn\’t a huge problem. But it seems like where action needs to take place is getting the all-inclusive streaming industry to agree to some basic standards for compensation.

  19. I admit I’ve downloaded some things — movies that were out of print and looked to be permanently so. Movies that were not available in my region. But if it’s for sale, I pay for it. Every single time.

    I’m an amateur musician and composer looking to put my own stuff out there. Happily I have a separate career that supports me more than adequately, with benefits. But I swear to you, every single time I think about this, I am endlessly grateful that I do NOT make music that appeals to kids. As a classically-flavored pianist who writes her own stuff, no club kiddos will EVER be lining up to pirate my stuff, and I intend to keep it that way. For the moment, at least the somewhat more middle-aged and classically oriented audience that is more likely to appreciate what I do is also more likely to pay for a CD. That will not be the case in the future, though.

    At bottom, the attitude is “gimme.” These are children who still can’t fathom just how hard their parents have to work to make things happen; they still think that the laundry fairies magically turn dirty clothes in the hamper into clean clothes folded in their dresser. It’s the same with music — the effort needed to master an instrument and compose is invisible to them, and they are just acting like an infant at the breast, consumption-only.

  20. I wonder how Emily would feel if she went to work every day and her employer told her “ya know, since other people sometimes don’t get paid for working at a radio station, we’re not going to pay you either…but we still need you to do what you’ve been doing”.

    GREAT article. As a musician (www.sosaveme.com) I appreciate you having our backs!


  21. Speaking as someone who has downloaded music for nearly ten years, now – it’s not so much about convenience as it is cost. Yes, my macbook was expensive, and so was/is my iphone; but both my laptop and my phone are two items necessary to my life. My macbook contains all my notes, essays, presentations, contact information, scans of medical records, appointments, etc, and my iphone is an even more portable extension of this information, with the added bonus of being my tool for arranging job interviews, study groups, giving me important reminders, and keeping up with my family.

    Add on top of this, car insurance, medical insurance, groceries, clothing, bills, rent, GAS (which in Southern California is murderously high; couple that with having to drive everywhere, and you’re looking at about $150 a month IF you fill up every other week; that averages out to some $1800 a year), and materials needed for class, including textbooks (which usually wind up being about $300 – $400 a semester if I’m lucky) and tuition, and monthly student loan payments… Basically, being a currently jobless twentysomething college student is freaking expensive. As someone who values music highly, and uses it to escape and de-stress, and religiously keeps up with the current output of their fifteen or so favourite musicians, the idea of paying $15-$30 an album is appalling (especially if you end up not liking the album; one of the safeguards of downloading music illegally is not having to pay for something you don’t like, and I can guarantee you that (as with movies) if we fans like the album enough, we’ll go out and purchase a hard copy; I do this when I purchase vinyl versions of albums, which I treasure). Occasionally you get a good deal on iTunes, where an album can be $5-$10 dollars, which is ultimately more swingable if I’ve got enough extra cash, but this doesn’t always happen.

    Would I like to pay artists for their amazing work? Of COURSE. They make dealing with my life a whole lot easier; but shelling out the cash for this kind of catharsis is just not always feasible, not for me. If I download music I try to balance it out by going to concerts and buying merchandise, but most of the acts I see (they tend to be indie, and thus cheaper) are in the $20-$40 ticket range; I lucked out in May and got a free ticket to a Coldplay show at the Hollywood Bowl, but out of pocket it would have been almost $100 to sit my butt down in nosebleed seats for a few hours. If I had to pay for it myself, I probably wouldn’t have attended, and I certainly didn’t purchase one of the $40 t-shirts. I love my artists, and want to help them, but record companies make it extremely difficult for their largely young fanbase, in the middle of tuition hikes and an overhanging recession and substantial unemployment, to support them financially.

    I would like, however, to point out Amanda Palmer’s kickstarter project, which was able to raise slightly more than ten times the original amount asked for ($100,000) in order to produce Amanda’s new album. There are 24, 883 backers for this project, and according to the numbers, about 3/4 of the contributors individually donated around 25$ or less; at least half of these contributors donated around $5 or less. Fans will scrape together what they can in order to help, especially if they know, for sure, that the proceeds are going to fund what they are supposed to fund: the artist themselves and the other musicians, producers, sound engineers, etc etc, that make music albums even possible, and not a corporation that largely screws its hardworking employees out of a lot of money.

    I don’t know, I’m rambling now. Ultimately I just think there is a lot more to the psychology of downloading music illegally than “oh it’s convenient”; it’s a constant inner struggle for many young (poor) music nerds, including myself.

    1. So it’s not a necessity like your macbook which you’re willing to pay for, but it’s a necessity as a catharsis that keeps you sane? Dude, it’s a couple clicks to find a band’s website and buy their stuff straight from them nowdays. Back in my college days, you HAD to pay a label for a copy of “Escape” or “Kilroy.” You had no choice.

      Nowdays, I’m reading Jeff Schmidt’s blog anyhow — why not ask him what avenue to buy his album pays him the most money, and then buy it through that means? $15-$30 an album” Come on. I spent $10 on Schmidt and $12 on Keating. These are simply not impossible amounts to put out.

    2. So since dessert isn’t “necessary to your life,” it’s OK to shoplift it?

      Seriously, I understand the appeal of things like Kickstarter campaigns, which allow you to push the cost of the services you use onto someone else’s back with impunity. I’ve operated a donation-supported Internet service for over twenty years. Let me tell you this: the successful campaign is a rarity. Were we fee-based, we would be able to offer a much higher level of service than we do scrimping to operate on donations. But there’s a big difference: we support non-profit projects that can’t afford to buy even the lowest-cost Internet services, and you support… your own entertainment.

    3. Three of the author’s band collaborators have recently had successful Kickstarter projects – one of them raising twice as much as was originally asked for. But aside from the occasional lottery winner, most Kickstarter projects help pay for some of the fixed costs involved in production. Or as Jonathan Segel put it, it’s a great way to start a project but not necessarily a good way for finishing it. Anyhow, Kickstarter is a great way to support artists, though I doubt that it will result in a way for artists to maintain sustainable life with family and bills.

    4. As for costs, a good part of getting an education is confronting the economic realities of supply and demand – allocating one’s limited resources to that which one needs and/or desires. When I was in college, there were days when the choice was between music and some other goods and services… And sometimes I chose music… and sometimes I didn’t. But those days I chose music, it was because it mattered much more than the alternatives. And that is that music that has stuck with me through the years. Oh well, lawn, etc…

    5. Bomba, you just sound defensive and I doubt you really absorbed much of Mr. Lowery’s post before working yourself into a defensive huff.

    6. Dear Bomba – may I paraphrase your above?
      “Speaking as someone who has written/performed music for nearly ten years, now – it’s not so much about convenience as it is cost. Yes, my macbook was expensive, and so was/is my iphone; but both my laptop and my phone are two items necessary to my life. My macbook contains all my notes, song ideas, presentations, contact information, scans of medical records, appointments, etc, and my iphone is an even more portable extension of this information, with the added bonus of being my tool for arranging gigs, rehearsals, giving me important reminders, and keeping up with my family.

      Add on top of this, car insurance, medical insurance, groceries, clothing, bills, rent, GAS (which in Southern California is murderously high; couple that with having to drive everywhere, and you’re looking at about $150 a month IF you fill up every other week; that averages out to some $1800 a year), and materials needed for my kids’ educations, including textbooks (which usually wind up being about $300 – $400 a semester if I’m lucky) and tuition, and monthly student loan payments… Basically, being a professional musician is freaking expensive.”

      How do you think the artists you supposedly admire pay all of THEIR bills? Music is their job, their livelihood. By not paying fairly for their music, you are, quite literally, depriving them of income to care for themselves and their families, regardless of whether they are on a major label or a private one.

      I assume you listen to your music on your iphone, thereby making it a part of your de-stressing routine. Would you go into the iphone store and say, “Would I like to pay you for this iphone? OF COURSE! It makes dealing with my life a whole lot easier; but shelling out the cash for this kind of catharsis is just not always feasible, not for me.” Would you feel entitled to walk out of a store without paying for an iphone or laptop or whatever just because you “couldn’t afford it”?

      You say it’s a “constant inner struggle.” Sorry, but it doesn’t sound like you are struggling very hard with the idea of stealing your favorite artists’ valuable commodities. I live in SoCal, and was a single mom raising 2 kids. Talk about freakin’ expensive. You find ways to cut costs to get the things you really want. I’m curious as to how much of your grocery bill includes Starbucks or beer. Do you go to Starbucks? How about getting coffee at McDonald’s (which is as good as if not better than Starbucks) and using the money you save to PAY for your music? Don’t eat out all the time. Just a couple of ideas. If you really wanted to, you could find ways. Or go without new music for a while, until you can save up for a new album. You WILL survive listening to the same old stuff for a bit, honest.

      I know of currently jobless twentysomething college students who think nothing of dropping small change on the ground and not bothering to pick it up. Drop 4 quarters, and that’s a song on Amazon. How much small change is in the cushions of your couch? You’d be surprised how much you can come up with if you try. Be creative. But be fair to your artists.

    7. Throughout the course of my life there have been things I wanted, but could not always afford. Strangely, my reaction was not to steal them. Instead I saved money and purchased them when I could afford it. If you can’t afford something, wait until you can, and then purchase it legitimately. You’re not entitled to an artists music because they’re one of your “favorite musicians”.

    8. Guess what, dude? Those artists who help you so much have to buy laptops and phones, car insurance, groceries, and everything else you spend your money on. Then they also have to buy instruments & supplies, promo material, web space…and maybe work a second job as well, because they need to keep regular money flowing like anyone else.

      So basically, you both have something in common. And they play & sing to help you make it through another day, another week. What are you doing in return?

    9. bomba. I was a struggling college student once as well, with many of the same expenses that you listed (though before the age of laptops and cell phones). My friends and I didn’t have much money for music. We bought less, but listened closely, repeatedly. Often wearing the vinyl (and needle) out. Albums were $6-$11. It meant a lot to us because it was a lot of money! We would listen together. Many a night was spent in a dorm room just listening and talking about music. There may have also been beer, I can’t say for sure. 😉 Some of those albums didn’t initially interest me; but many would later become my favorite albums. I think that if I would have had file sharing, I would have missed out on a lot of my favorite music.

      College is challenging. And I wouldn’t argue that it may be more challenging now than when I went. And it think you are absolutely right, that it is more about cost than convenience. I also think your are pretty insightful, and bring an honest viewpoint to Mr. Lowery’s reply. But I think that maybe it would ultimately benefit you more to consider quality over quantity when it comes to music.

      Just one opinon.

    10. Your Macbook? Unless you’re going to school for graphic design or video editing, you don’t need a Macbook to surf the net and write essays. You can save about $1,000 and still get a decent PC. The grand you saved could have bought you around 100 albums on Amazon, or bought a premium Pandora account for almost a year.

      Also, I’m in my late 20s and I worked through undergrad waiting tables. No sympathy here for my peers that have the luxury of not working through college. But, I had no choice—I come from working-class parents.

    11. I feel you – life is very expensive. And you seem like a thoughtful and motivated person, looking to build a future. I commend you for finding a healthy way to deal with stress (music), as opposed to so many negative options that are out there.

      I also see that you probably are completely unaware of the tone of your response – privileged.

      My husband and I have our own business and a family to raise – and in this economy things like going to a concert, or eating out or even a night at the movies are very very rare luxuries for us (a few times a year right now). When you state that you are an out of work college student, then I wonder how you are surviving – who is paying for the insurance (which so many cannot afford), etc.?

      As I said, I suspect you are unaware that you sound, well, spoiled… You are not poor. You may be struggling, but not poor.

      When I read your response, I couldn’t help but juxtapose it with this paragraph from Mr. Lowery’s post:

      “On a personal level, I have witnessed the impoverishment of many critically acclaimed but marginally commercial artists. In particular, two dear friends: Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Vic Chestnutt. Both of these artists, despite growing global popularity, saw their incomes collapse in the last decade. There is no other explanation except for the fact that “fans” made the unethical choice to take their music without compensating these artists.

      Shortly before Christmas 2009, Vic took his life. He was my neighbor, and I was there as they put him in the ambulance. On March 6th, 2010, Mark Linkous shot himself in the heart. Anybody who knew either of these musicians will tell you that the pair suffered from addiction and depression. They will also tell you their situation was worsened by their financial situation. Vic was deeply in debt to hospitals and, at the time, was publicly complaining about losing his home. Mark was living in abject squalor in his remote studio in the Smokey Mountains without adequate access to the mental health care he so desperately needed.”

    12. If you can’t afford something, you don’t get it. That’s part of life, time to grow up. “I can’t afford it but I want it” isn’t a good excuse for stealing.

    13. Bomba: You’re unbelievable. You whine about all the costs you incur for your life, car macbook etc, and how can you possibly pay for a CD – Has it even remotely occured to you that musicians have to somehow make their way through real life too, and pay for things just like you? How would you feel if you couldn’t pay your car insurance because your boss decided not to pay you? I love the way you list your expenses like no-one else has them.

    14. With all due respect… I doubt you *need* an expensive laptop (Macbook) and an expensive phone (iPhone) with an expensive data contract for the things you listed. I get by just fine with a normal non-data-plan non-iOS/non-Android dumb phone and a relatively cheap laptop.

      Saying that your phone and laptop are necessities (probably true) and thus excusing the expensive choices (Macbook and iPhone) does not quite make sense.

      Also, $15-20 for an album? Are they really that much on iTunes?

    15. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND how people who are to the point of higher education can have such infantile, extraordinarily obtuse explanations for their behavior!! Essentially, ‘Waaaaah I want it I need it I don’t want to change my habits or my life so I can pay for it’. The arrogance and sense of entitlement is just incredible.

      Bomba, it’s swell that you are interested in providing charity to musicians, to help the ones you like make new recordings. But maybe if you and others like you just paid for what you use, those artists who provide you the catharsis you need so badly wouldn’t NEED charity projects. You say ‘Fans will scrape together what they can in order to help, especially if they know, for sure, that the proceeds are going to fund what they are supposed to fund: the artist’…..how dare you? You benefit from what you take illicitly because you really don’t want to pay for what you use, but you’d condescend to give money IF you think it’s a good cause? My disgust knows no bounds. It’s common thievery. And whoever is paying for your education is being taken for a ride.

  22. David,


    Both iTunes and Amazon in their listing a copyright notice for downloads give a strong indication to whom they’re paying the 70% (minus modest aggregator commissions) of their gross revenues.

    But I agree that denying a major label these potential revenues is dubious. Let the courts decide the royalty issue “sale or license”.

    When we decided 2 years ago to put 99% of our catalog back in print by means of digital downloads we implemented a 50% payout policy but including controlled composition mechanicals and micropenny income streams. But we also eliminated all unrecouped balances, many dating back 30 years!

    I’d urge you to go back and conform the variant spellings of “principles” and “principals”. The principal owners of Megaupload have no principles. There’s a typo of “hudreds of years of western civilization”.

    Robbie Fields

  23. Hey David,

    While I think that you have written a very good argument to illegal downloading, I think that both you and Emily have suffered from some simple misinterpretations.

    First, the article that Emily wrote was in response to Bob Boilen deleting his music from his hard drive after being uploaded to the cloud. I’m not sure why this inspired her to write about how she never had to transition from physical to digital. Transitioning from physical to digital and transitioning from hard drive to cloud are two completely separate experiences.

    Ripping all of your CD’s to your hard drive is a much more arduous task then uploading your music to a cloud service. And if you take the next step and get rid of your CD’s, and gasp, vinyl LPs, it really is a a scary moment for a hardcore music collector.

    But back to your response.. Emily does not say that she stole 11,000 songs – she says that’s how many she has in her iTunes library. She says that she has only bought 15 CD’s to signify that she has downloaded from ITunes most of her music and has never had a large physical collection.

    She states: “But I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs. A few are, admittedly, from a stint in the 5th grade with the file-sharing program Kazaa. Some are from my family. I’ve swapped hundreds of mix CDs with friends. My senior prom date took my iPod home once and returned it to me with 15 gigs of Big Star, The Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo (I owe him one).”

    She also talks about ripping promos and albums from the radio station she works at – which you can hardly fault her for. Part of her job is to study and learn about music, and bands and labels send their music to these stations so that people can become educated about it.

    So, while I totally understand and mostly agree with your statements in this essay and maybe this was a good opportunity for you to take the time to express your concerns, I don’t think that Emily is necessarily your target audience.


    1. ” Emily does not say that she stole 11,000 songs – she says that’s how many she has in her iTunes library. She says that she has only bought 15 CD’s to signify that she has downloaded from ITunes most of her music and has never had a large physical collection.”

      I actually wrote NPR and asked for a clarification on that exact point and a few others.

      unless I am totally misreading their response then they let my interpretation that she only purchased 15 albums total in any form stand.

      Regardless. let’s look at the authors words. she admittedly trebled her library while working at a college radio station by copying station discs, that’s a significant portion of her library, 66% that she did not purchase. Everything I say about being a ethical fan still stands.

      1. Then maybe I did the misinterpreting, I read it as to say that she had not been a purchaser of physical music but of downloads. But if you took the time to clarify with NPR – bravo to you.

      2. For me, as a non-native speaker, her blog post implies that the main source for her music has been iTunes, and in that way she can not be considered as having “stolen” most of the music she is listening to. Her point seems to be that she is not buying physical albums.

        Thank you for an interesting post and discussion it has generated. Saw a link to it on the Facebook page of a Finnish musician friend. I am Finnish (and Finland is very much a country of effective enforcement of authors’ and performers’ rights), but live in Moscow, Russia, and here in Russia most of my friends are local working musicians and authors of music, promoters and such. Russia, of course, is a different environment than the US or Western Europe, both for the public and the musicians, and the question of piracy is here much more multi-faceted also.

    2. Also this quote from the author:

      As monumental a role as musicians and albums have played in my life, I’ve never invested money in them aside from concert tickets and t-shirts.

      But I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs. A few are, admittedly, from a stint in the 5th grade with the file-sharing program Kazaa. Some are from my family. I’ve swapped hundreds of mix CDs with friends. My senior prom date took my iPod home once and returned it to me with 15 gigs of Big Star, The Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo (I owe him one).

      1. I should complete the quote for her: ““As monumental a role as musicians and albums have played in my life, they could go starve for all I care.”

    3. The scale of the violation is not really that relevant. Surely some of the tracks she got from friends (fair use by itself) were downloaded by her friends from file sharing sites.

  24. I am 21 years old and over the past 5 years I have purchased hundreds of albums on CD or vinyl.It saddens me to think that Emily thinks our whole generation is in her boat, just paying for convenience. I fear though that people are losing the concept of an album. People are obsessed with playlists and buying single songs. And soon it will be near impossible for bands to fund making a whole album. That in the future records that are meant to be listened to as one cohesive piece or work will be gone. Thats what I dislike most.

  25. Yes. I’m all for the correction in our industry- music making should be a regular paying job, not necessarily a lifetime of guaranteed limo rides and excess. I like the new model of buying music directly from artists and investing heavily in the live music experience. But you have to pay for it. If you have the moment of “this *has* to be on my iPod or in my DJ set, then you *have* to cough up a dollar for it. It’s a dollar. And it matters. Every time. To me. Personally. I am a real person who has worked my entire life to be the kind of musician who can walk into a studio or onto a stage and contribute with my cello-y nonsense.

    Pay the dollar.

  26. I’d also like to know how many of these people who think that if you CAN steal something, you SHOULD — and not from labels, but from the artists themselves — actually know how to play an instrument. Back when recording became possible, John Philip Sousa remarked that there would be no more people playing music for their own enjoyment, that listening to and enjoying music would no longer take some investment of thought on anyone’s part. It would separate “until there will be left only the mechanical device and the professional executant,” Sousa griped. “Then what of the national throat? Will it not weaken? What of the national chest? Will it not shrink?”

    I will never manage to fathom people who claim to be “musical” and yet who do nothing but consume it to the point of hoarding — 11,000 songs? Come on! — and make no efforts to producing it themselves. This is another hallmark of these kids — they remind me of people who congratulate themselves on an active and varied sex life because of their vast collection of porn. If you truly love something, be it music or … other activities, you:

    1) put effort into mastering your own “equipment,” as it were, and then
    2) go looking for other people to share the experience with.

    Not doing that, sitting around and expecting music (or anything else) to be passively poured into your brain, weakens the throat, but it also weakens the mind. And the morals.

  27. As a personal preference (and it is a personal preference because I do not necessarily consider having something on your computer of cd shelf to be any different from streaming) I prefer to stream. I prefer to listen to the song as and when. This might fly in the face of all we know and love about music as a physical ‘thing’ that we own but we are where we are with technology and personalised streaming has proven to be popular. We can’t uninvent it.

    That alone is not a decision on morality because I expect the price I am charged to do this to reflect the marginal rate of revenue an artist should receive. Based on, I dunno, the average price of a full download divided by the average amount someone will listen to that download. Very back of cigarette packet but it’s a business model that could work.

    As a result I use Spotify and pay for it. My assumption is that the subscription I pay adequately reflects my usage. I do well out of it because I listen to a variety of songs once or twice which would be unworkable if I were buying each and every one (I just wouldn’t). I treat it like a radio and many music lovers only listen to the radio.

    It now transpires that Spotify aren’t even charging me nearly enough to compensate artists. What do you suggest I do? If Spotify wanted to charge me £30 a month and I knew it’d do the job I would pay it. I am not trying to absolve myself of responsibilty but there are people who like me believe there’s a market for ethical streaming services who simply don’t want to download.

    1. I’d love to hear more replies to this issue as well. A lot of us want something equivalent to radio to listen to music. But radio is a joke in a lot of local markets and is a shell of what it used to be. So, there is the option of internet radio. But how do you know artists are getting ANY money from those stations? At least paying for a subscription service as a means for ‘radio’ you know the artists are getting SOME money. So the bottom line is there is no ethical option out there for those of us wanting a modern alternative to radio? Those of us paying subscription fees thinking we are being legit aren’t?

    2. I respect your preference for streaming, and your original assumption was reasonable–that you were paying enough for the service you use to fairly compensate those who created the music. However, now that you’ve found out otherwise, I can suggest what you should do.

      Whether a company sells clothes for less becuase it doesn’t pay its workers a fair wage; or it sells first-run DVDs for $2 because they’re home-made copies and nobody who worked on the film makes a penny; or it offers a month of streaming for the price of a single album because it pays independent labels and artists about 1% of what other streaming services are paying: Stop doing business with this company, and spend your money with another that is run honestly.

  28. u know what – u r way to kind – the truth of the matter is Emily White is a thief -no excuses – artists deserve to be paid for their music. I can’t believe she is a GM of a college radio show and steals music from artists

    1. So, then I presume that all of your music is legally downloaded? Very few people can point fingers on this matter.

      Her job is unimportant in this scenario. If anything, it should make her more aware of what effects her actions (or lack thereof) cause. Outside of that, it really doesn’t matter. A teacher, a lawyer, a busdriver. It’s still wrong if any of these people pirated or shared music. It’s just that they would be less likely to be aware of their impacts.

  29. This was an excellent read…thanks. I wanted to point out another important shift in the content-creation business that is another big piece of this puzzle. It’s hard for me to lay all the blame at the feet of the younger generation that downloads for free. (This is, after all, a very consumer-friendly proposition.) The music business itself, specifically the labels, are complicit (whether they like it or not) in the now-established “standard” of doing business when it comes to music. Like all dinosaurs at a time of profound change, the dinosaurs cling to their tried-and-true methods with white knuckles. They only know what the spreadsheets from previous quarters tell them. This is why they did not go out there with MP3 compilations when the format appeared. This is why they did not open up their own digital storefronts. This is why they did not reduce prices when physical media began to fade. Instead, they hemmed and hawed and ended up shifting their control of the music (and by extension, the artists) to technology companies in California who could see which way the wind was blowing. It is unfortunate that what has resulted is that the entities that actually sell music today have very little motivation to represent the interests of the actual artists. And the record companies are left fighting over scraps.

    1. They aren’t hanging onto the old way anymore, though — they created Spotify, which enabled them to screw artists over as much as or more than the old model. They were perfectly happy to race wholeheartedly onto the net once they found a way to monetize it for their armies of lawyers and STILL pay a pauper’s pittance to the people whose efforts actually created the product.

      And supposedly “revolutionary” kiddies who break their arms patting themselves on the back over how radical and future-oriented they are suck it up like they’re at a trough. These students are also dinosaurs, but there are millions of them. Music pirates, download kiddies, major labels … they’re all screwing over the musicians while claiming to be “fans” or “on the artists’ sides.”

      1. We agree that Spotify is an unsustainable business model for musicians and we encourage artists to remove their music from their service.

        Will Buckley, founder, FarePlay

      2. A point I made above, Will, is that it needn’t be unsustainable for musicians. It suits my listening habits to have a streamable royalty-based service which I and many other people would gladly pay properly.

        When musicians take themselves off Spotify, have you calculated how much additional revenue they then get from people buying their albums as downloads/CDs instead? I would be willing to bet it’s almost nothing.

        Whilst if an artist isn’t adequately compensated through a mechanism you are right to advise they withdraw from it but I honestly don’t think they benefit from not being on Spotify either. If Spotify didn’t exist I’d rather suspect there would be a net loss to the music industry due to the sheer number of casual listeners who don’t want to pay for physical copies or downloads but also don’t want to illegally copy.

        There’s a market there and it’s sustainable if we actually bothered to think about it properly.

      3. That argument doesn’t make sense, though — it’s not a matter of benefiting from Spotify at that point. It’s that you will be totally obscure if you aren’t on it, and financially screwed over if you are. I know that the beauty of capitalism is supposed to be that it gives people “choices,” but I’d really rather have some nicer choices.

        Seriously, I have a day career that pays very well. As an amateur musician, WHY should I even bother putting my stuff out there, no matter if people want to hear it or not? What argument can you make to me as a non-starving musician to put my stuff on Spotify that doesn’t amount to “you’ll get kicked in the face if you don’t let us kick you in the stomach?”

      4. Collectionpoint, first this an argument that unauthorized file sharers have put forth for a decade; free unlimited access drives sales. Perhaps it has, but if you look at the 60% drop in music sales it is a hard point to make.

        If you step back and look at the Spotify/Cloud model closely, it is not good for musicians, nor is it good for the future of music?

        There is no question that the compensation model is not good for musicians.

        There is no question that when fans don’t have to purchase downloads, but can create playlists that they can share for free with their friends it is not good for musicians.

        There is no question that when Spotify rolls out corporate Apps, starting in July at the London Olympics, that enable companies like Reebok, AT&T, etc.

        to stream music on their websites instead of licensing music it from the artist
        it is not good for musicians.

        Is the cloud coming and can we avoid no. Do you musicians need to roll over and take the scraps that are offered them? No.

        When Spotify is willing to pay musicians market value for their work, fine. But it is not up to the artists to underwrite Spotif’s business plan to acquire VC financing and a global brand. Unless Spotify is willing to give musicians an equity stake in the company as they have with the major record labels.

      5. I think you have misunderstood the point. I’m talking about streaming as a business model rather than necessarily Spotify’s current business model. But since you ask:

        Wider recognition; a forum outside your current one. All it takes is to be added to a playlist, or attached to a “similar artist” on one of the apps and you have a much, much wider sphere than your current one. I have heard music by artists on Spotify who I seriously doubt have even physically sold one album in my country. I’m not going to go to your website or your show; I will go on Spotify though. Going on Spotify is as effective as you can get, combined with a blog tip-off. It’s romantic to think anyone gets recognition “organically” but Spotify is a risk-free way for the “consumer” to follow up on a recommendation.

        If you do it properly you only allow a few songs on Spotify. You give people a teaser, like radio and singles used to do. Bam – album sales. Album sales to people who would not know a single thing about you otherwise and would not take the risk otherwise. It’s an incredibly old fashion marketing strategy but totally relevant in the current climate of risk-averse cash-poor consumers.

        Plus if we get Spotify right then there is the appropriate level of royalty. I’ve already said I’d pay a lot more than I do if it meant the artists were getting that. How are they screwed over then?

        Taking music off Spotify individually can only be some sort of self destructive behaviour. I’m pretty sure there’s a more effective way to prove your point and get a compensation structure that works. Collective bargaining, label solidarity, general industry pressure. If you take your little band off Spotify on your own, Spotify won’t miss out. You probably will.

        What bugs me is people conflate the illegal downloading argument with streaming from sites like Spotify. Illegal downloading is a direct competition and threat to legal music purchasing. Streaming is a substitute, it can also be a facilitator for legal purchasing if you do it properly. If you wanted it to be, it could be the thing that kills off illegal downloading. Instead of this romantic notion of an-album-as-an-experience, be realistic; find a way to embrace the casual, non-committal consumer. Rather than deride them, find a way to charge them for the way they want to listen to music or lose them to illegal downloading.

  30. Lucid analysis – right on! As an artist and the operator of an indy label I agree with everything here.

    I’ll add another, wider thought. When I think about how we used to “get into” music (I’m 52), there were limitations on the amount of music we were able to possess and control (as records). Buying a 45 or an LP was a big deal, required saving money and a somewhat considered decision. When you bought one, you listened to it over and over – literally wearing the grooves out of some (well, smoothing the grooves, I suppose). There was a depth of relationship with one particular song/album/artist that I think created a certain kind of perception. Almost every musician of my generation who I know has a story of a very small group or series of albums they listened to like this, played along with, learned, internalized.

    Now, I wonder, with every song ever recorded available for free, are young listeners having the kind of intimate relationships with the actual music that were created by the limitation of access? Is today’s method of dissemination creating more numerous but more shallow feelings for and understanding of particular works? And if this is the case how does that affect the style and character of tomorrow’s musicians and their audiences? Ultimately, how will that affect the quality of music?

    Jes’ wondering….

    1. For context I’m a 23 year old from Seattle. I spent the majority of my childhood moving around in parts of the country that were dead zones as far as culture is concerned. My options for music were whatever country, shitty rock and general top 40 stations Clear Channel was willing to pay for. I bought CDs when I had the money but local music stores had lousy selections at best. My parents were big fans of Meat Loaf and The Beatles.

      While in high school I won a small iPod and decided to start buying iTunes giftcards so that I could purchase music online. In 2005 iTunes had a smaller catalog that it does now but I was exposed to this whole new world of music. I started buying all those albums I had heard about but never gotten to hear. I had a long list of music I would work through every time I collected a paycheck.

      Jump ahead 3 years and I found myself in a strange position. I couldn’t use iTunes since I had taught myself how to use linux and was running a Gentoo install. I could have run iTunes in Wine but I wasn’t interested in supporting either Apple or Microsoft. I still had an iPod but only because I couldn’t find anything on the market that provide comparable storage capacity. I even swapped out the OS on it so I could get it to support FLAC. I learned how to properly rip my CDs and dropped around 200$ on headphones that would come close to doing justice to the music I loved. I would pirate songs from donation supported invitation only private trackers. I downloaded hundreds of albums a year. I’d give each of them a straight listen through. Most I deleted, the ones I liked I’d go out and buy other albums from the artist.

      I started getting into more experimental music, older music and music with hyper limited releases. Around that same time I found myself out of school and buried with loan debt in the middle of a historic recession, something we shouldn’t ignore when griping about those young folks not paying for their music. I already owned my laptop and my iPod, I got my internet access from libraries and friend’s houses. I was dumpster diving and gardening for my food but still paying for shows, buying shirts and donating through paypal/bandcamp/you name it.

      I made less than $5k in 2011 and I spent around $1k on music, all of it went to the artists or to independent labels or to DIY venues. I also pirated a hell of a lot of music. I’ll listen to a track and if I like it I’ll download an album to give it a fair shake. There are albums I’ve listened to enough to wear the grooves out. I only found most of those treasures by digging through histories of genres and reading reviews and finding music that was actually moving. When I could afford it I gave money to those artists. If I loved them enough I gave them money even when I couldn’t really afford it.

      This is way too long for a comment but I think if you ignore the value of allowing a 20 year old to hear out of print jazz or little known turn of the century classical or weird 60s outsider artists or fetishist noise music then are part of the problem of bland mass market corporate garbage.

      Yeah we need to pay artists. No piracy is not theft. It is piracy. It isn’t an easily parsed issue, if you can write a coherent moral proclamation for or against it then you are only taking part of issue into consideration. I live with musicians and I’d like to write. I’m on the road with a documentary film crew right now. Believe that I GET that artists need to get paid. If you are making art right now you have to be willing to accept that people will want to experience your shit for free. Both fans and artists need to work together as a community in order to figure out come up with a model or models that will satisfy the needs of both sides.

    2. While limitation of access might contribute to one’s desire for something, I would argue that the emotional connection to music is as strong as ever for us young people–just not for everything we listen to. There are a select few albums or individual songs that I’ve listened to over and over and over, dissecting the lyrics for possible meanings and relating their messages to my own life. My favorite albums move me to tears. (As an aside, these are the albums that I will continue to purchase physical copies of.) Then again, there are also many, many songs that I own which are emotionally disposable to me. They’re still fun to listen to, but they won’t stick with me through the years. I think we’ve seen an increase in the amount of emotionally disposable music, but I don’t think that necessarily means that the truly moving and exceptional music has gone (or will go) away.

    3. I know of many young artists that allow people to ‘name a price’ or offer freed downloads. I’m not sure how they monetize their work. I’d guess that most of them don’t do it for a living. But the music is wonderful and no one seems too bent out of shape about the money aspect. The community is really great actually.

      Maybe the future will be defined not by a group of professional musicians but by a mass of hobbyists who share their work. At least that’s the kind of music I consume now.

      Maybe that’s where a lot of the tension between the generations comes from. Much of the media I consume and create is shared freely with my peers in a loose mutual exchange. When I want some sort of media from older adults it always comes down to money, so I don’t partake.

  31. Excellent article. I am a sound mixing engineer, and it has gotten very difficult to get gigs, simply because the artists are not making any money.
    It makes me really angry to see my generation and younger kids just taking music and not valuing it.

    1. Are you saying local bans have to record, release albums, etc, BEFORE they can get gigs? I thought you started playing gigs (weeknight shows, open mics, whatever you can scrounge), at clubs that hire good sound guys, before you made the decision to invest in studio time.

  32. Really thoughtfully written and tastefully handled – I’m sharing right now, thanks for this.
    I’ve been thinking (and writing) about this a lot over the past couple of years. (http://earwormreview.blogspot.com/2011/05/how-to-develop-good-music-buying.html)

    I guess I’m smack in the “millenial” camp.
    I use Youtube and the free version of Spotify to “sample” albums. If I like it, then I buy it, in a trickledown pattern of artist first, record store second, and thrift shop/Amazon third, with eBay as a last resort. Ultimately if I can’t afford to buy it new, then I want my money to do the most good elsewhere.
    I don’t do illegal downloads and I only do legal downloads as a last resort, i.e. it’s an exclusive track that’s not available in physical format.
    (This is purely personal – I derive so much enjoyment from my LP & CD collection that I’m willing to pay more to have that. Plus, reading liner notes has connected so many musical dots, I can’t even tell you.)
    I have a good job and no debt, but drive everywhere and live in a high cost-of-living area. I live super-frugally in order to afford physical media and live shows. It’s purely about priorities.

    1. I am in complete agreement with you!
      I often use Spotify to ‘road test’ an ablum and then most of the time I will go on to buy it.
      I am a huge fan of having a hard copy of music, i.e. CD’s and buy them ideally from the bands website or merch stand to cut out the middle man, then and independent record shop as they need all the help they can get too. It feels more satisfying knowing that you’re money isn’t being stuck into the ‘high rollers’ namely iTunes, Amazon and HMV.
      It is definitely about priorities and respect for artists and small labels.

    1. Yes. And the Swiss musicians are contemplating suing their own government for violating human rights treaties/Trade treaties and their own national laws protecting artists. Basically the swiss government study said: ” Look kids are saving money on music and buying VIDEO GAMES instead. So it’s okay.”

      In other words the government forced music artists to subsidize the video gaming industry. Totally not fair. And i’ll be glad to have this argument with you in long form if you like. I’m very well versed in that study.

  33. as the wife of an incredibly hard working, pavement-hitting, blue collar musician, i kind of want to kiss you right on the mouth right now.
    we are VERY lucky to live in austin, tx where my husband’s health insurance is covered through the city thanks to an active musicians political base. but my children and myself, (also an artist, employed outside the home part time as well as self employed full time) are not covered and are ever hustling to cover bases.
    i’m so grateful that my husband gets to do what he loves. but he works his ass off and is on the road nearly 50% of the time, which, with a family, is a challenge when the two of us both need to be working in order to make ends meet.
    part of this argument feels almost as though it stems from some weird depression-era mentality that we should not make money doing what we love. that we perhaps should be require to struggle financially if we choose to do what we love, and we should certainly not expect to be compensated in any way that might lead to a ‘comfortable’ lifestyle.
    albiet that might sound hyperbolic, but aside from our austin-based community who tend to be highly attuned to the rigors of the musicians lifestyle, most folks still seem to believe the mythology that musicians and artists are not doing anything but writing an occasional song and playing an occasional gig. as i’m sure you’re aware, the writing and playing only seem to account for about 10% of the work of executing a sustainable music career. and yet the accepted compensation for the work, all told, often seems to ignore this reality.
    anyway, my husband is happy, and i am happy, and we love our life. our children are fed, we have a nice home and an amazing community. I often fear sounding whiny when i talk to folks about the devaluation of the work of artists thanks to entities like spotify, etc.
    thank you for doing such a beautiful job of clearly and cleanly stating the behind the scenes of this weird disassociation that is taking place in the world of art and music.

    1. I applaud and admire any one who still pushing to play music Full time here in Austin. I live and play here as well and had to break down and get a 9 to 5 cause I just couldn’t afford to play music full time any longer. Good for your husband and your family. Keep pushing!

  34. Damn this is a good – articulates what I’ve been feeling for years. It’s kind of unfashionable to admit to thinking music piracy is wrong. It’s as if you’re a goody two shoes, spoiling the free bonanza. Is that a sign of collective guilt though? And if it is, does that mean the tide is turning? You’re absolutely right that it needs to come from the grassroots.

  35. I agree with what you have said and stand for. It is indeed morally wrong to steal music/anything, HOWEVER, what the hell do you expect to happen in a society where, for the most part, the people, like recent college grad Emily, who are stealing are being told by so many of YOUR peers (as you are a college prof) in “higher education” that “There is no one truth.” and “What is right for me is right for me, and what is right for you is right for you. Just be true to yourself.” Well, of course it is “right” for them to take these songs, and of course it “feels good”, and they sure are being “true to themselves”. Im sorry, but your pissin in the wind with this “logic”.

    You said “What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles…” But dont we “change” our morality all the time? Its not just the “Free Culture movement” that is shooting from the hips in regards to morality, but it’s our entire culture that we currently live in! Some might say premarital sex (regardless of hetero or homo) was formally immoral – but now it is not considered immoral, in fact if you say it is immoral then you are backwards and dogmatic and adhere to archaic ways of thinking… if there is no one truth, if there is no inherent right and wrong, if there is no one cannon of truth, then we should not only be surprised when people do what ever the hell they feel like (because “its right for the” and it feels good”), but we should expect it.

    You cant pick and choose morality and decide what someone else is doing is wrong while in the same breath your telling folks to “just be true to yourself”, because it sure is true that they dont want to spend a 10 bucks on album. Either we need to embrace a source for one truth, or just do whatever the hell we want (our we can legislate the “current” “truth” of the day).

    There is only one truth for this, and all issues, in regards to the life and soul of a human – seek diligently for that truth and you will find it.

  36. While I admit that I don’t agree with your conclusions, please let me congratulate you on an excellently worded, well-thought out and compassionate argument. If we had more people on both sides of the equation willing to dedicate this kind of thought to the problem, we might have reached some kind of workable solution by now.

    I think this is an issue that pretty much everyone in the arts is wrestling with: writers, artists, filmmakers, photographers, publishers, and of course, musicians. As a writer, I’ve seen my career fall off a cliff in just a few years — I definitely have a dog in this fight.

    But it’s hard for me to come down on Emily or her perception of the “Free Culture” too hard. We can’t lumber her with the responsibility for a changing marketplace. We are, all of us, trying to sell buggy whips in the age of the automobile. Progress has come, the business model has changed, and we must figure out a new way of doing business.

    It seems we are returning to the days when an artist enjoyed a small following that funded his or her works, and that artist spent the remainder of their time working a proper job to eke out a living. As much as we would like to be able to follow our muses and work to our talents alone, it’s just not a sustainable option anymore.

    The very technology that has made it so affordable to produce art has led to a glut of artistic output. I don’t think illegal downloading is the reason individual artists can’t make a living from their work. It’s because there are simply too many artists for a population to support. Every other person you know is probably either in a band, making amateur films, trying to sell their images or a print-on-demand book. The mistake we make is that we think the same people who download things for free would otherwise pay for them if there was no other way to get them. I fear that’s wishful thinking. A collection of 15 CDs is about right for an intern (read: not getting paid much, if at all, and possibly carrying college tuition debts) of Emily’s age.

    Finally, the argument against the “downloading generation” might be a bit more effective in a flush economy. At a time when nearly everybody is doing what they can to either find a job (or two) or hold on to the one they have, it’s hard to drum up a reasonable amount of sympathy for the financial plight of the musician alone. I must admit that grossing $35,000 without health insurance actually sounds quite nice to me at the moment. (And for the record, I’ve never illegally downloaded a song. While I’d like to say it’s because of the moral imperative involved, in my heart of hearts I know it’s because I like the bands who make the music I listen to and I want to support them any way that I can.)

    And until some manner of justice is seen to be done to the investment banks that helped to land us in this financial malaise in the first place — thereby making Emily’s chances of landing any sort of gainful employment infinitely smaller — I think we will all have our work cut out for us convincing her that her downloading is any kind of financial menace to society.

    1. You could not be more correct, Aaron. We can’t all be fighter pilots, and we can’t all be full time musicians. Can’t we get back to playing music for the sheer enjoyment of it?

    2. I agree with you that David has presented his case quite well. As someone who has created content as a writer, photographer, record producer, videographer, served as a music publisher, artist manager,

      1. I don’t know why this cut me off in the middle of a reply, but if this can be put together please do so…and just about every other position in the industry outside of artist for over 35 years, I would like to say the entertainment industry is leading the new economic model for civilization. As an artist, I have rarely profited monetarily from my artistic efforts. I have given almost everything away, even though I am currently trying to write a book. The truth is I have a need to create. It is an obsession that would be tainted if I were to make any substantial money from the creation. I haven’t been overly successful, but my work has been widely available, and I am certainly proud of what I have done…including the food delivery, computer technology, tree service, and other jobs that have sustained me and my family while I was creating. It has worked for me. It has made me a better artist. It has earned me a great reputation and numerous friends. The lack of outrageous amounts of money weeds out those not truly dedicated to their art.

  37. My issue with the author’s premise is iTunes itself. I find it objectionable that we’re not dealing with vendors of our choice, but a proprietary software locked to a single marketplace; iTunes. Oh, sure, I can import music from OTHER services INTO iTunes, but it’s not a two way street. The author forgets or chooses to ignore the fact that we spent a better part of the last century dismantling monopolies of this sort.

    Pre-digital, I could buy albums or tapes from any outlet I chose, play them on any device I chose, purchased from any vendor I chose. Of course, back then radio was worth a damn, so I could also listen to great new music – for free – via the airwaves. Now one or two companies own all the stations, and they’re all playing of computer-generated charts to appeal to the broadest demographic possible, so the airwaves are bereft of anything worth listening to anymore.

    The author may not mind the intrusive assimilation our lives by products like iTunes or FaeceBook, but some of us value our freedom more than convenience. We don’t want to sell our soul to Apple, our lives crammed into Facebook, we don’t want to have to choose between Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or even Mac or PC. We want freedom, not virtual enslavement to one proprietary technology or another.

    I fully support paying for the arts you access, but don’t smugly blurt out “just use iTunes” and think you’ve said something worthwhile. It is in fact a part of the problem, not the solution.

  38. This is the reply I sent to Emily:

    “All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?”

    We all want what we want when we want it. Getting older means coming to terms with how to compromise and accommodate all of us simultaneously being in that space. My guess is that the musicians we *all* love want to make the music they’re making and afford to live at the same time. So some advice? Do unto others. Find a way to give something back to the artists who’ve shared their work to you, and when you do, lead by example. Share what you’ve learned with the rest of us so we can follow suit 😉


  39. One issue that has uniquely affected generation i is this: the amount of music available to purchase is exponentially higher than it was 15 years ago and previous. To think that 11,000 songs is roughly 1000 albums is to realize that Emily White owns a significant portion of the inventory of any retail music outlet, with the exception of mega stores only found in large cities. That is to say, Emily White owns the equivalent of every album available at your local chain store/big box/independent retailer. Before this generation, no one could have consumed that much music at such a young age. I’m 29, and I own upwards of 400-500 cds, and I consider myself an avid music fan, not to mention my pursuits in musicianship. What anyone who owns this much music will attest to is that, despite having an extensive library of songs, we all have our old standbys. How many hundred times have I listened to my favorite albums? When people lament the prohibitive cost of buying music, they should really consider the investment they are making. How many people have 2 iphones? That would be absurd–only 1 can be useful at a time. Instead of needing the 100 song/month allowance that Emily White has averaged in her music consumption, why not use more discretion in attaining music such that the commodity itself has more value? I assume people download songs that they listen to once or twice–what person would discard an iphone after 1-2 texts/calls/apps? No one would, yet we have allowed music to be so valueless that nearly every person under 25 thinks of downloading songs not as shoplifting but as free sampling. After all, it’s not stealing if the product is offered for free. Hence, bands from Radiohead all the way down need to decide how important free exposure is. What David Lowery’s figures did not mention were the astronomical increases in amateur bands/musicians. How many million people have songs, original or covers, available on youtube for streaming? It’s as if society has changed from everyone that bought The Velvet Undergound’s debut starting a band to everyone that bought a Beatles album starting a music career. One of the sad ironies of the music industry is this: for decades, the morally responsible have been denied record contracts in favor of the libertine and the morally pliable ingenues. Had record companies pushed for civic responsibility rather than excess as their means of employing artists, perhaps this debate would be moot.

  40. David wrote: “The fundamental shift in principals and morality is about who gets to control and exploit the work of an artist. The accepted norm for hudreds of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time. (Since the works that are are almost invariably the subject of these discussions are popular culture of one type or another, the duration of the copyright term is pretty much irrelevant for an ethical discussion.) By allowing the artist to treat his/her work as actual property, the artist can decide how to monetize his or her work. This system has worked very well for fans and artists.”

    You cannot use this disinformation to support your argument, which I agree has merit. But there is no support at all historically for the notion that for “hundreds of years of Western civilization” there has been “accepted norm” as you have described it. Quite the contrary. From the beginning of music printing around 1508 through about 1750 the process was that you had to apply for a permit to print music from either your city state or the king of the territory where you lived. Then they would determine how much of the compensation you could have, whether you were the printer or the composer, and in those days if the composer wasn’t the printer then that was nothing for them. In the early 18th century you begin to see the first large-scale publishers of music who could operate with some autonomy, such as John Walsh in London or La Cène in Amsterdam, and these folks were out and out pirates, paying orchestra players to make copies of music written by prominent composers and to publish them without even the knowledge of the composer. Breitkopf and Härtel in Germany departed from this trend by actually working with, and paying, composers, but that would be a single-time payment with no residuals.

    Once fully fledged commercial publishing gets underway in the U.S. around 1820, it’s still the same deal, and the compensation was very modest, especially when you consider the wide distribution and popularity of sheet music in that era. It wasn’t until the establishment of performance rights organizations such as ASCAP (1914) that we begin to see profit sharing between commercial publishers and composers/lyricists, at least in the U.S. And in the intervening time through about 1980, it was more often than not that both publishers and record companies found ways to get around compulsory kinds of agreements, or simply not to enter into that kind of an agreement with an artist. Back in the 1930s, artists didn’t look to recording as a major source of compensation, and perhaps they should have pressed for better contracts then. Management would insure the better contracts that came after World War II, when the demand for music far outstripped the supply.

    Is that an excuse for what you call the “free culture movement?” No, of course not. But to say that bad deals for artists seldom happen, even today, is an untruth, and sometimes the deals are bad on the other end as well, such as the business with the Morrises, Mariah Carey and EMI early last decade. The Copyright office never establishing a copyright for sound recordings until 1972 and the elimination of the renewal process are among major contributing factors in this issue in a historical sense.

    If the “free culture movement” is backed by corporations, then it should be the other corporations affected by it that should be leading the charge against them. As far as the public knows, however, they are only going after the 71-year old grandmothers whose progeny pursue illegal downloads; we both know that’s not true, but they did it once, and it proved a poisonous public relations move. They need to address that in a way that sticks in people’s minds. That the very young — the major target audience for major music industries — feel that it is okay to not pay for music at all is certainly not the right thing, however their apathy has been cultivated, however unintentionally, by major interests. But also we really need to find a viable replacement for the 45 rpm single; the inexpensive format that everyone found favorable to buy, and use, to their hearts’ content, while providing enough profit to keep the hits coming. A 99 cent digital download is not quite the same thing.

    Uncle Dave Lewis
    Lebanon, OH

  41. Thank you, David. Following you on FB I know have been working on this concept for a long time. As a studio owner I have watched the changes in how music is made and how it’s distributed by the bands and musicians at the DIY level. Many have songs to share, but are not certain how to get their music out to an audience without simply giving it away.

    I agree that the “Free Culture” movement does need to rethink their personal standards. It is obviously not “free” nor does it promote culture/the arts in a meaningful way. The issue of “free” has become a right rather than giving away something special.

    First, easy access (such as downloading music) just gives us more stuff to collect on our devices. The devices “hold” X amount of songs and we have the choice to decide what we put on our MP3 players, phones or computers. Often we let technology make our decisions “if a machine can do something, it ought to be done.” We simply fill up our devices (it’s free and doesn’t fill up our shelves!) and complain about the musical content later.

    Yet today’s listeners have more access to hearing music before purchasing it. Complain as they may, they can listen to songs prior to downloading them–they have that choice. Back in the olden days, we either purchased the single or the album. We all have our share of disappointments, but were willing to make that financial plunge. That world changed with the technology and we can’t go backwards.

    We shouldn’t give up on technology, trash our computers and break our iPhones. We should approach our consumption of technology instead of “looting” music because someone else is doing it.

    A final point: this free-for-all approach to music and the arts has lessened the quality of what we hear. Folks are willing to obtain a copy of low quality files because it’s free, not because it’s good. But this is a whole other debate . . .

    1. There’s an on-going “trickle-up” disease in the music business. Regardless of whether you blame the current trend on the greed of the recording labels in the ’60’s to 90’s or/and the constant innovation of the tech age, everyone is being cheapened. Music fans become thieves; artists become beggars; but worst of all, the music product has, for the most part, returned to a quality of Edison wax cylinders. Studios, engineers, and producers like those that gave us the White Album, Dark Side of the Moon, Pet Sounds, The Nightfly, and Thriller don’t get a chance to record, improve and mature 99% of the current musicians sourcing to the internet.

      This generation of young people are missing out on so much. Just as reading, dining and traveling broaden other senses, the listening to well produced music – no matter the genre – trains our ears to hear intricacies that deepen the aural experience. It feeds and challenges the mind. Internet music CAN be deep and pleasurable, but instead it’s usually about as textured as talk radio on cheap 60’s car speakers on a long stretch of country road. “Tourette”-like experiments using distorted electronic effects on regurgitations of old sound bytes or true diamonds that remain in the rough.

      Those of us that design for, equip and staff the recording business have suffered too. We miss the innovation and creativity that happened in the studio. We miss the sublime sound of a well-produced album/cd/vinyl. Luckily we still had enough engineers and facilities that knew how to make a vinyl master when this “dinosaur” of audiophile resurfaced. The human brain is designed to hear the difference between crap and superior levels of reproduction. Enough fan demand for professional product would keep the recording industry alive.

      Days of the big labels and studios are pretty much gone. They shot themselves in the foot with $18 cd’s and, like David says, the greedy moved into the down-loading industry. The remaining recording industry is mostly comprised of independently owned and operated facilities and they don’t look to rip off the artists that put dinner on the table.

      Buy your music. Ensure there will be great sound in the future to feed your ears.

      1. I really enjoyed your response until the last line. You point (quite adeptly) point out that almost all areas of the music industry are suffering a cheapening. But then you say, “Buy your music”, even though you’ve just pointed out all the good reasons why people do not buy music. ‘

        “Internet music CAN be deep and pleasurable, but instead it’s usually about as textured as talk radio on cheap 60′s car speakers on a long stretch of country road.” This can’t be argued. But what kind of devices are out there to play music non-digitally for the masses? Nothing. This point is moot because the hardware industry supports mp3 and mp4 formats which inherently supports the digital music industry.

        “Enough fan demand for professional product would keep the recording industry alive.” I agree with this, but then why do you say, “buy your music?” Why should consumers buy music which you’ve already admittedly is of lesser quality with no options of “professional products” to choose from? The industry needs to create professional products before anyone chooses to listen to them.

        “Days of the big labels and studios are pretty much gone. They shot themselves in the foot with $18 cd’s and, like David says, the greedy moved into the down-loading industry.” Again, agreed, and again, why is this a reason to buy music?

  42. Beautifully expressed, David—
    Heck, you can even take the “big corporation” aspect out of it….it’s theft, plain and simple. Couching it as “sharing” is deceptively sinister.

    1. Theft is one way to think of it. Another is that, if there’s already a gang rape in progress, what’s the harm in a random bystander joining in and taking a poke of their own, as long as they have a relatively small penis? The victim won’t even feel it!

  43. I am going back to vinyl. I like having something in my hands with artwork, liner notes, and the occasional poster. I think that the vinyl experience would help regenerate music sales BUT I bought the new Rufus Wainright and it cost damn near $40 and did not include mp3’s. WTF ? It seems like the majors will do damn near anything to screw over the public and the artists. I understand that vinyl costs more but MERGE does it without charging some ridiculous amount of money. You can shame the buyers all you want but the labels have to do their part as well by treating the people who actually DO buy music with some bit of respect.

  44. Someone needs to send Bob Lefsetz this excellent blog entry. Bob is a widely read blogger in the music industry, and he’s constantly claiming that it’s perfectly okay for artists to not expect to get paid for their music. He claims they can make their money by touring and should just give their music away for free or for cheap. Unless an act is the Eagles or the Rolling Stones, there is no way the average artist can make a living touring the country even if they have any kind of following.

    1. I’ll go farther than that, actually: as I point out to my students, some types of music don’t perform particularly well; some take too many people to perform properly – thus making them ideal for local recording, but impossible for touring profitably; others are niche. Whether so-called pundits realize it or not, saying that musicianship’s profitability must shift to live performance narrows significantly the breadth of music which can be MADE profitable. Recorded/studio work is a discrete art form; to insist that it isn’t is no more fair than it would be to insist that the production of all film should shift to theater in order to remain profitable, merely because films can be pirated and downloaded, while live theater cannot be pirated by definition.

  45. As with many of the world’s problems/challenges, until our technologies and market infrastructures link the consumer directly with the producer, EVERYONE will keep looking for ways (likewise via technology and market structure) to hang on to more of their own pennies (or dollars in the case of the multinationals). This because the multiple middlemen cost us all more than the actual value of the product, not to mention more than the producer will ever earn themselves. Everyone is trying to get ahead, or stay afloat, in a cesspool of consumerism and its inherent marketing stench. (in related news from Greece: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/06/2012611102126662269.html)

    35K average musician salary I think is a fair bit high, by the way. At least by Austin musician standards, which is another topic altogether….

    I fault our system far more than I fault this average college student. In fact, I don’t fault her at all. For example, the Canadian, French, and Danish systems of supporting musicians present examples of how a society might not have to ridiculously just hope for the best in terms of the evolution of Spotify (as suggested in this blog) in order to keep food on the table of musician’s families. Yes, those systems are far from perfect, but the American system is far from humane.

    For the record, I do my music listening via youtube, haven’t bought music anywhere other than buying CDs from the stage at concerts for over a decade, and god knows I respect musicians, being a poor one myself. This is the world we live in, technologically speaking, as opposed to ethically speaking, in my view.

  46. I am probably exactly the target of this essay and I agree with most of it. Still, it doesn’t seem fair to castigate Emily for not paying $18 a month for her music collection. I think Emily, I, and most people I know who download music, would love to pay 18, or even significantly more, dollars a month in order to be able to have access to the kind of music libraries that exist outside of the official channels. There just isn’t that kind of service available. Donating to the abovementioned music charities, in the alternative, seems like a great idea.

    I understand that David is arguing for a thoughtful, responsible approach to technology that allows us virtually unlimited free access to music. Still, we know that very few of the songs in Emily’s library would have translated into real sales. Would it better if she never heard any of those songs?

  47. First I want to say that I 100% agree with what you have said and stand for. It is indeed morally wrong to steal music/anything!!!!

    HOWEVER, what do you expect to happen in a society where, for the most part, the people, like recent college grad Emily, who are stealing are being told by so many of YOUR peers (as you are a college prof) in “higher education” that “There is no one truth.” and “What is right for me is right for me, and what is right for you is right for you. Just be true to yourself.” Well, of course it is “right” for them to take these songs, and of course it “feels good”, and they sure are being “true to themselves”.

    You said “What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles…” But dont we “change” our morality all the time? Its not just the “Free Culture movement” that is shooting from the hips in regards to morality, but it’s our entire culture that we currently live in! Some might say premarital sex (regardless of hetero or homo) was formally immoral – but now it is not considered immoral, in fact if you say it is immoral then you are backwards and dogmatic and adhere to archaic ways of thinking… if there is no one truth, if there is no inherent right and wrong, if there is no one cannon of truth, then we should not only be surprised when people do what ever the hell they feel like (because “its right for the” and it feels good”), but we should expect it.

    You cant pick and choose morality and decide what someone else is doing is wrong while in the same breath your telling folks to “just be true to yourself”, because it sure is true that they dont want to spend a 10 bucks on album. Either we need to embrace a source for one truth, or just do whatever the hell we want (our we can legislate the “current” “truth” of the day).

    There is only one truth for this, and all issues, in regards to the life and soul of a human – seek diligently for that truth and you will find it.

    1. Ah, so it’s those dadburned moral-relativist professors at fault again. Do you really think youngsters learn their ethics from educators who tell them to do whatever feels good? I attended a fairly liberal liberal-arts college, and I promise you I’m at least as moral as you. (And I pay for music.)

      P.S. There is no one cannon of truth. There is also no one canon of truth.

  48. I couldn’t read this article and not comment.
    Firstly, this Emily White; whoever she is, wherever she is, I would love to give her a full on slap around the face, for not only being an imbecile and a hypocrite but also for making the rest of our generation look and sound like a bunch of selfish little idiots.

    I am also 21. I was a student for two years and I still only work 4 days a week on a rather low pay. I spend 1/2 of my income on rent to my parents and owning and driving my car. However I still have an iPod stuffed to its 8gb capacity and am the proud owner of almost 140 CD’s and about 30 vinyl.
    I would say that I personally purchased around 110 of those CD’s and have been purchasing them for lets say 5 years. If the average CD in my collection is worth about £7 I would have spent around £150 a year on albums. I would be inclined to say I spend at least a further £100 a year directly on Gig tickets. Although I still feel guilty if I swap a CD with a friend because I cant afford to buy it that month and that I use a spotify free account at home for the albums I have yet to buy!

    Now this Emily may ask ‘why spend that much money on music?’
    Simple- BECAUSE I LOVE MUSIC! And more importantly I respect musicians and I would feel incredibly guilty if I didn’t purchase my favourite bands album! It is just what you do in life!
    Lets say you are a keen swimmer, you either have your own pool or you pay to have lessons/ use public pools. You don’t climb the fence of a garden that has a pool in do you? That would be irresponsible and taking the piss!

    I just find it hard to see why this article wasn’t to ‘shame you or embarrass’ her. I feel like it should be! People like her are exactly why the music industry is taking such a financial beating! If you care enough about it, you have to invest in it instead of watching it burn and complaining about it afterwards!

  49. David,

    Thank you for this very thoughtful and well informed open letter (your words speak the truth as I see it as well) . I am a professional musician and recording engineer in Los Angeles and have seen the industry decimated to the point where it has basically eaten itself due to lack of support. I was fortunate to have my track “Gemini” placed in the Video Game Guitar Hero 2 back in 2006 and thought “well surely record sales from this will finally get me out of the red for all of the expense and investment.” – no dice…

    Funny, all the new fans I gained from the game consistently contact me to ask… “When are you going on the road / where can I see you live??” when I reply “I wish I could afford to tour, but file ‘sharing’ has made that impossible” they usually write back.. “Gee I hope things improve!” like the problem is me and they have no part to play in this…

    Well, the problem is not me and it took a long time for me to realize that. I had all these people becoming fans of my music but I had no way to reach out and really engage them, especially in a live setting. I became cynical, depressed and disenfranchised with music.

    Since, I have realigned my priorities and have come to much happier place with music… But, I doubt that I will ever really pursue it as my sole source of income anymore as unfortunately the price is just too high.

    The saddest part of all of this is that you can take a society’s “Temperature” by it’s artistic and cultural offerings and how well it treats the people who make it. This patient is downing in the kiddie pool.


    Brian Kahanek

  50. I understand that artists want to make money from their music and their frustration at the industry, but why should anyone (including the “horrible, lazy, entitled” gen ys) have to go out of their way to make sure you get your money. It’s not our responsibility to “fix” the music industry or intensely research each and every avenue of music.

    No, it’s not right to use an illegal site to download 11,000 songs, but to preview a song on spotify? Like any other product, I’ll be more likely to buy it if I can get a free sample first or can get a taste of what it would be like to own it. If I like the song on spotify or from listening to my friend’s cd, then I will go out and buy the whole thing. And on top of that, I’ll buy a t-shirt, poster and concert tickets. Why are artists above any other “product”?

    Why is asking for convenience such a horrible thing? Every other industry strives to offer this to their customers, but once again, people who want music have to jump through hoops to spend their money.

    Books, magazines, clothes, movies…all of these things are shared among friends. It’s a natural part of the purchase path and is a great way for artists to gain awareness and new fans. Once again, if I borrow a CD from a friend and like it, I’ll buy the next albums or the previous ones.

    I’m so tired of being lectured on what fans should be doing right to pay their favorite artists. What are artists doing to make things good for their fans besides living out their own dreams and having the career they dreamed of?

  51. Mr. Lowery- I was one of your students at UGA (seminar class) and generally have the same attitude/ situation as Emily White, but I have to say that your article is so well done that I have no choice but to convert and show all music lovers I know this article. You touched on so many different points, that there is no counter argument except the feeling of entitlement that my generation has about creative content (over stimulation to blame? I don’t know, but…) Thank you so much for sharing this- I am moved and completely inspired to change my ways.

  52. I agree with a vast majority of points you made. I’m someone who spends an absurd amount of music per month (about 15% of every paycheck, if I had to guess) spread around albums, merch, concert tickets, etc. One point that I feel most everyone misses (mostly those who are arguing your side of things) is that there is a huge moral disconnect for many people because when they pirate music it feels different than when they steal something tangible–no one is left without that specific object when they do something. It’s like if I borrowed your coffee pot, made an exact copy with no explicit costs to myself, and gave it back to you. I have the item, you have it as well, and the seller lost a sale. A difficult thing for many youngsters to grasp, I think.

    Additionally, the reason people buy their cell phones, internet, computers, web connections, etc. is because they’re not singularly useful. Music is one thing that serves one function (for the most part): to be listened to. It’s not a gateway for other things, it’s the end product. Cell phones, internet, etc. are all gateways and utilities.

    I’m a huge proponent of services like Bandcamp that give entities a large amount of utility in working out pricing models and such that really work for artists and labels. The same model doesn’t work for everyone, and no one should expect that it would.

    In my very humble opinion, I think the most important thing is to figure out how to get the consumers and suppliers in this model to figure out what works the best for each side. Both sides, when speaking about the majority, appear to be unwilling to come to a compromise and it’s really causing a lot of issues.

    As someone working in the music industry, I want to find the solution for everyone, but I have no idea what it could be. I think that something similar to the Spotify model is a great first step, but as you illustrated, is obviously not even close to a permanent solution.

  53. David,
    Couldn’t have said it better myself. I am, however, attempting to cover this topic–and many others–in my book about the history of ASCAP, which is nearly finished. I’d love to use portions of this article in the book, if you’re willing to let me do so. Or perhaps chat with you about it on the phone. If you don’t recall, I once did a story on you and Greg Lisher for GUITAR for the Practicing Musician. You can respond here or email me at bruce.pollock@netzero.com

  54. Why is it assumed that musicians should be able to make a living just by selling their work when other artists sustain themselves through “normal jobs” or commissions. Artists who are able to make a living exclusively selling their work are few and far between.

    I can get copies of any painting online for free, and from my experience you don’t get artists complaining about this or have collection groups suing people for “making available” their work free of charge.

    So first I’d like to hear an argument for the assumption that musicians deserve to make money exclusively through music, then maybe the rest of your argument, which was well thought out and very well argued, would have more weight with me.

    1. no one is making that argument.

      I’m simply suggesting that if an artist is selling something, and you support that artist and like that music buy it.

      1. I scanned though most of the replies looking for Liam’s viewpoint, which seems close to my own.

        I do make a living mostly from music. The amount I make is pitifully small, though growing. I seriously doubt that I will be able to make more money than someone who sweeps floors or stacks shelves or works on an assembly line. As a pure red socialist, this is fine by me.

        I earn money from music entirely by teaching but I take the composing and performing side of my work very seriously. I don’t have any product up for sale at present – I’m happy for people to listen to work in progress or download, for free. When I do release an album I expect the monetary return to be tiny.

        I do not write music so that people will pay money. There is small circle of people for whom my music has a profound meaning and I hope it grows

        I do this because I am wired to do it.

        Elsewhere in these replies people have referred directly or indirectly to consumerism and society where we want and can have everything on demand. There is an opposite pole to this – equally pernicious, that you might call ‘producerism’. It’s the idea that if you produce people will buy – and – that if something is to have any value, people must want to pay for it.

        And don’t we just know it – this creates a vast festering heap of mindless consumer culture spam

        Mankind has a long history of art for art’s sake. This has been a blip on the graph and it’s over.

        Perhaps we are on the verge of a real change – hopefully towards a post economic society. It has been the case for some time that if you want the very best software – you look for the free stuff. Linux is better than anything microsoft produces because it brings together the efforts of people whose only concern is excellence – doing something for its own sake.

        I agree, if an artist puts something up for sale, they should be paid if there is a transaction.

        But, my advice to artists ( I’m fifty four, I can give advice ) is: forget trying to sell it. Go and practice some more.

    2. The argument that you can get a painting online for free is a little odd. Sure, artists post images of their work online all the time, but they’re usually 72 dpi. Not exactly museum quality. And…yes, as a visual artist, I can tell you that I most certainly would not allow unauthorized use of my work if it were a) being broadly distributed without my permission or b) used for profit without my knowledge and agreement. That’s just basic stuff. Illustrators, cartoonists, and designers get into dustups over this kind of thing all the time. Have a look at this recent example of an artist getting annoyed at unauthorized use of his work:


      Now, as to the rest of your argument: artists “deserve” to make a living from their work as much an accountants, trick-ropers, strippers, and politicians do. This country has some bizarre Puritan damage that tells us that if something is enjoyable, it isn’t work. This leads to all kinds of distortions in relationships between creators and clients, and the public. There seems to be a great sense of entitlement in some quarters, a feeling that one is entitled to entertainment, and that because it’s entertainment, it should somehow be “cheap”.

      Now, I’m all for art being accessible to everyone. That’s why I became a cartoonist instead of taking an art-world track. If you want to buy my art, I’ll sell you an original. If you want to buy the mass-produced book that that art went into, or take it out of the library, you also have that option, and my blessing. If you want to print it off the internet, well, go ahead, but it’ll just be a pixelated, shrunken printout, the pictorial equivalent of a 5th-generation cassette (ha ha, remember those?). I realize that the music and publishing worlds are probably very different, but in the end we’re all just trying to keep the roof over our heads.

      I hope this wasn’t too much a digression. Thank you for this very well-written and well-thought-out letter.

  55. Thanks David for your extremely cogent analysis of this persistent problem that music’s most avid fans continue to sow the seeds of destruction of the art, and artists, they presumably hold so dear. We have 13,372 songs in our library and, except for a very small number which were offered free directly by the artists, we have gladly paid for every single one. The well-being of the artists who make the music is essential to our own well-being. It’s just that simple. I hope everyone who is stealing music (or any other intellectual property for that matter) from artists they profess to love will read your article and rethink what they are doing.

  56. Overall a wonderful commentary on the intersection between the music business and digital technology. Many thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts so thoroughly and succinctly.

    There are a few points of disagreement as well. The first is a counterpoint: the revenue model for the music industry is broken, and the music industry itself broke it. Whilst I feel for independent artists and your stories are difficult to read, the music industry developed a highly complex business model to maximise value extracted from artists and consumers. The way in which rights and licensing are structured benefit large corporations at the expense of individuals on either side.

    There is still money in music, however, it’s been atomised into micro-payments. Further, where the industry relied on physical barriers – media – for content management, those barriers do not exist now.

    And that upheaval is not exclusive to music. Photography companies fell to digital electronics companies. Microsoft is stagnating in the face of ‘cloud stuff’. Technological progress consumes business models. Problem being in the music industry is that it wove a web so complex and intricate that it’s now mired in the past and being eaten alive.

    Jurisdictional rights alone are an archaic form of price discrimination that now strangle the industry. Devices and data move fluidly across geographic boundaries, however ‘legal’ content does not. National players are struggling to block content flows. However, the day ThePirateBay.org was blocked in the UK, MalaysiaBay.org – a full mirror – sprung up. And there’s 40 more like it.

    In essence, the music industry as we knew it before iDevices, broadband, and mobile data is over. The music itself was never valuable, it was access to music. Previously that came via radios, CDs, cassettes, CDs, and physical media. Now, copies are costless. Thus music is being priced to its true value. If we reverse the lens, what kept music expensive before was the monopoly of the record companies on production. It was a fake version of exclusivity. They had a good run, and now it’s over.

    And it should be over, because there’s not an extreme amount of differentiation between products. There is a great variety, however much of it serves the same purpose. And I say that as someone who adores (and purchases) volumes of music.

    The way the music industry is acting – and the way your opinion reads – is that there is a definite ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in terms of media and content. The right way is the old way, every copy was priced and musicians could make a living. The wrong way is the new way, where control has been completely lost and everyone is losing money.

    I would posit that the greatest problem with the music industry – and by extension, artists being paid – is the expectation that the way the industry used to exist should be perpetuated. I don’t see any reason why music should escape the same fates that have befallen other industries. There may well be similar stories of depression in typewriter repair-men, blacksmiths, or film lab professionals. It’s difficult when technology moves on, but that does not make technology wrong.

    If anything, there is the larger social issue of privatising gains without requirement those gains be used to support the society that enabled them. I doubt record executives are feeling the pain as much as individual artists. The former are losing luxurious; the latter are losing houses. But, as mentioned, the music industry hung itself when it’s business model became based on labyrinthian contracts and monopolistic distribution platforms. And artists gained for a long, long time from that model. Not as much as they should have – on that we can agree – but it’s uncouth to complain about both sides: “We didn’t have a fair share then, and we don’t have a fair share now. At least we could live on the fair share we had then.” If artists are never being paid enough, artists are overvaluing their work.

    And whilst you mention there are ‘fewer’ musicians today. There may be fewer self-identified musicians in Western markets, however, more music coming out today and that music is more diverse and beautiful that I have ever heard. I am embarrassed at what was considered ‘experimental’ on MTV in the late 90s. As the music industry dies, so does ‘mainstream’. Small artists do not need ‘mainstream’, large corporates do. As the music industry suffocates, it’s being replaced by a most wonderful explosion of creativity at the margins.

    Back to your question of why do we value the devices but not the music itself? We do value the music itself, it’s just not as valuable as some of us want to think it is. And before saying how unfair the world is, it seems to be going quite well for DeadMau5 and many others. If one finds the world unfair, sometimes it is best to revisit one’s expectations.

  57. Hey David-

    Great rebuttal.

    One big gripe I have about iTunes and CDs is CDs are cheaper to produce than previous formats. Delivering an AAC file is even cheaper. Why haven’t the labels passed those savings on to the customer? I think it would have helped reduce a lot of harm that not passing the savings have done. That’s just bad PR and seems like a big motivator to go Free.

    Also the other big motivator for Free…the current label’s ingenious PR stunt of taking advantage of suing nameless people. Fuck you, you stole from us so we’ll abuse your system to right this wrong. Fuck you, you just shat over the people’s legal system, time to make a better mouse.

    1. didn’t they? albums went from $18 (2002 dollars) down to 9.99(2012 dollars)

      Also I can not speak for the record labels actions. I’ve had my legal fights with the industry myself.

      I’m speaking for artists like myself.

      1. Not really. Downloads of new albums are often >$12, and for older ones they’re often more expensive than the CD.

  58. I realize that it is the students and young adults that are downloading the music, but I think it is important to note that perhaps the parents and the generations above those downloading should take some responsibility for creating a culture where downloading music illegally is acceptable. There was one commentator that referenced a “gimme culture.” A culture like that isn’t created in a day or even a decade. It involves growing up in a society that condones that sort of attitude and behavior. I’m not saying that those downloading music shouldn’t be held accountable, but I think that in order to effectively “correct” this trend, the demographic that is viewed as causing the “problem” needs to be greatly expanded. Society raised a generation of arguably unethical and spoiled students/young adults, and now unfortunately, the music industry is paying the price.

    1. Eventually, you need to start taking responsibility for your own actions. There comes a time, when the tiller is in your own hands, that your life is no longer your parents’ doing.


    I am a performing musician and songwriter and recently released my 7th music CD. The music business has been transformed along with the technological revolution. I have been blessed with being able to make a living with my music training full time. I constantly educate myself to be a diversified musician, engineer, and educator. I have no choice, I have to hustle to be a freelancing self-employed artist.

    The ethics of the so-called free culture are a symptom of our society in general. Music inspires us in so many ways. For example, Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” became an anthem for the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Woody Guthrie’s impact is well documented and the song “Amazing Grace” was a story of slave trader becoming an ethical human being. So I think we all agree, music is a valuable art form in our society based upon free expression and free markets.

    In 2004 I attended the Future of Music Coalition Conference in Washington DC at George Washington University. The internet revolution was in full swing and the ethics of P2P file sharing was being debated by the musicians and the technologists. I remember well a Q& A with US Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and I asked him how does US law deal with music theft on-line and how can teachers teach ethical behavior in our schools? His reply was less than inspiring, he couldn’t even control what his son did on-line with his music.

    David Clowery’s article clearly demonstrates how people love music, but do not make the intellectual leap of logic to wonder how an artist earns a living while they (the music lover) gets music or movies for free. In the days of record stores (and I am one of those former record store employees) the only time we were able to get free music was when the label reps gave the staff free copies to play in the store. We were able to catch the shoplifters in those days (a few battles took place, worthy of Hill Street Blues).

    How did all this wonderful technology come in to existence? The digital revolution came into being because the United States government thought it was necessary to launch the space race during the Cold War. Computers, satellite technology, cell phones, fiber optics, micro-processing, robotics, bio-medicine, and the manned landing on the Moon was all made possible by R&D that had its birth in the space program.

    All the technology that allows easy and free access to your favorite song, film, Youtube clip, and on-line news (another casualty of the free culture) was imagined and brought to reality by those engineers and scientists that made NASA great.

    And finally, the real name of The Grammys is NARAS – stands for National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

    When you fire up the laptop or Smart phone, remember Tanstaaffl (There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch)

    Cheers, Mike Dawson

    For Reference:

  60. This article is very interresting and well done, but I still think the music industry just deserve the problem they have. To be honest this is their fault.

    Not because they are not moral enough, nobody really care. We all know that the moral excuse is just that, an excuse.

    This is because of the overall experience.

    It has always been possible to listen to all the music you wanted legally, for free. Just think about the radio. Just think about music TV channels. You don’t have to pay for that. And the radio / TV channel pay for the music. Well not free, but that already a sort of global licence. The radio pay for the music and everybody can listen to it as much as they want they don’t pay for it.

    So music is already free. And that’s not new. And artists are already paid for that. The radio and TV system made very little space for a paid system, and so except from some paid TV channel that was mostly it. Nobody was complaining that the radio was an unethical system and that it would prevent artist to make money. In fact that was the contrary. Being a broadcast device it helped some lucky one to became famous and make more money.

    Ethically we have no problem.

    No, the problem is majors and artists made more money in the past by selling disks and CD. You didn’t have to pay to listen to music, but paying would give you great benefits: like listening with better quality and when you wanted it, without ads. So you paid in the past for the ‘premium’ version. And if the CD broke you had to pay it again. When you upgraded from disk of one size to another or from tape to CD you had to buy the music again. The major weren’t complaining.

    The problem is today, the premium version, you can have it for free. And it is as good or even better than the paid version.

    Yes, we have apple. Apple echosystem works very well. But because it provide an even better experience than the free legal or illegal alternative. You search for your music, you click to have it and it is synched automatically to all your devices.

    But apple is just a small part of the market. If the majors managed to craft the same experience apple users have, but for all devices, they would make even more money than ten years ago.

    Please stop looking for excuse, and try to craft a better user experience! Adapt to modernity. Artist make less money because their representative failed to adapt.

    PS: If you wonder, I own an iPhone, I own a mac… And I pay for my music, thanks.

  61. David, this is such a masterfully written piece. Thank you. I wanted to add an additional perspective.

    I’m competing for jobs with Emily. I’m in mid-career, but I’m a journalist who’s had some freelance work published, and I was a staff writer for a Web site for a time.

    I mention this because in journalism, a very similar and parallel shift to what’s happened in the music industry has taken place.

    Magazines, newspapers and media platforms are expected to produce engaging, factual, well-reported news and feature writing. And yet people do not always pay for that writing.

    This is more a result of industry changes and choices (e.g. to release content without a paywall on the Internet) and not necessarily a choice on the part of readers to simply not pay (they were not asked to initially).

    But I’m drawing this parallel because Emily is, in fact, an INTERN right now. Someone who is, by the definition of the role, likely working in an unpaid capacity.

    I would challenge Emily to go to any job board and look around for jobs in her field, particularly in radio, a job market that has shrunk even more violently and permanently than print journalism.

    She’s likely to see job posting after job posting after job posting for interns to do the work that trained, qualified professionals used to do.

    It’s because the work of journalists has been devalued, or expected to be produced for free, in much the same way as the work of artists and musicians has been.

    And also because those diminishing revenue streams feed a vicious cycle – the less money that comes in, the fewer staff members who can be paid a sustainable wage, the more interns needed to make the hamster wheel run.

    And that leads to a much bigger question for us culturally – how we value work, and how we define it.

    I hope Emily reads this and sees the connection. I wish her the best, but I suspect she’ll soon feel the direct effects of people not valuing the work that you do and the content you create.


  62. FYI, David. I just bought a CD of “Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey” and I’m happy I paid the money for it. To think that I’d have to lose your band(s) because you are all starving to death makes me sad. PLEASE PAY THE ARTISTS FOR THEIR WORK.

  63. Sigh. Lefsetz (who is also a passionate music lover) also seems to think that musicians can make money (to make up for not selling records) by just selling high-value access experiences to fans. (Eg., have a one-hour lunch with Rocky Rockstar at Olive Garden for $250, to make up for 25 copies of his song he is not selling….) To me this is just — crazy. That you should have to be a complete extrovert with very low personal boundaries, in order to make some living in music? Not right.

    I’m 50something, grew up with vinyl, then 8track, cassettes, CDs, back to vinyl, mp3s, ipod, cloud, yada yada. I’ve had a paid Spotify account since last fall but I confess to having really mixed feelings about that now, after learning how poorly artists are compensated. My moral workaround is just: “You can listen to that record once on spotify. But if you are going to listen to it more than that, you … gotta buy it.” The service does have me listening to many artists I’d never have risked money on any other way, and — has resulted in subsequent purchases from them. It’s kind of too bad that there is not some built-in control on Spotify and other streaming services, actually, for there to be a limited number of free listens. I realize of course that this very wish marks me as a neanderthal.

    I do also make it a regular practice to listen at Spotify to albums I have already purchased, ensuring that some further pittance gets paid to the artists. But I think I’m an anomaly. (I write, sing and play music myself, too, not for money but for love — so this mindset no doubt makes me more inclined to put myself in the shoes of the ones who are chasing the dream…) And i agree with the poster above lamenting the probable demise of the album as a cohesive work, vs cherrypicking of single songs. We are losing something.

  64. It’s all about the music here and that’s where it started but it doesn’t END there, folks. I’m a WRITER, not a musician, and although the piracy isn’t as high-profile, perhaps, as somebody admitting to only buying 15 CDs and owning 11 000 songs – it happens in our neck of the woods, too. And the writers also get hit with a lot of sites wanting to “publish” work – sites which can’t pay “At the moment” but which offer heaps of “exposure” (i.e. work for free, writers, and support OUR hobby and/or our passionate desire to wear teh label “editor” by giving us the work which might otherwise go for enough to buy your cat its kibble or you your ramen noodles for a couple of days…)

    The basic thing is, there is no such stuff as “free culture”. All the stuff you know as “Art” comes from someone’s talent, someone’s imagination. And if you aren’t willing to support that talent and that imagination, *you will lose them*. Yes, there will still be songs. But there may be no NEW songs.

  65. This is much too deep and important a topic for me to do it justice in a snap reaction, but what pops into my head is this — a song is not a hack.

    I get the Free Contenters, I really do, all the way back to the phone phreaks. (I’m old enough to have actually grown up in a house with a rotary phone — A phone, singular — black and foreboding in the… R-O-T-A-R-Y…nevermind…)

    But if we want to recapture some working definition of value for music we have to turns to basics, to aesthetics. And aesthetics tells us — in part — that the beautiful, or praiseworthy, or valuable is a difficult thing done well. And not just anything — a coherent whole, something which stands alone and tells us something about ourselves and/or our world.

    Music does this; mere hacks cannot.

  66. This is a terrific piece; cogent, thoughtful and, I think spot-on. I know you come from the music side of it, and it’s a little easier to have sympathy for musicians, but damn, we need a voice like yours on the TV/Movie side too. People thinking that downloading a TV show or movie for free is a perfectly reasonable way to consume entertainment is a sad, sad thing–and even sadder, the big entertainment conglomerates–while caterwauling about piracy–are not helping the artists in this equation much at all (the writers’ union struck for months in part to try to redress some of the wrongs, to little avail, ultimately). Broadcast television might have “felt” free but it never was. And facebook “feels” free too, but of course is not. People–whatever age–need to undertand that artworks and pieces of entertainment do not just magically appear. They are finely wrought, by human beings, who should be fairly compensated.

  67. I’d like to use this in the copyright session I do with first-year music majors, if that is okay with you. I also use the interaction the composer Jason Robert Brown had with a high schooler. My biggest goal – once a student has been told, they can at least no longer claim ignorance.

  68. Pingback: Right On, David Lowery, Right On.
  69. To emphasize on the last point I made a bit more: the idea that downloading music is killing artists’ careers, even when the option of buying is very much alive, is based on the faulty logic that anybody who makes a record must be given money and stardom. Anybody can put together a few songs, call it the greatest album ever made, and demand compensation, but it doesn’t work that way. Good music tends to find an audience who supports it and its creators, and its followers can generally be expected to invest at least some of their money in the artist’s creation, whether it’s the $10-20 it takes to buy a CD these days, or $15-30+ it takes to go to a show.

    I like to believe that the reason the latest Ke$ha or Jessie J album (read: collection of singles) isn’t selling 2.5m copies in first week sales is because people are smart enough to stop wasting their money on fad music, and that the people who still buy CDs are investing their money a bit more wisely by “shopping around” as it were, to discover music that they actually care about.

    Another factor these folks like to ignore is that it no longer costs an artist $50,000 to record an album. It can be done with a computer and a few microphones in a basement. Therefore, artists don’t technically *need* a label to fund them anymore. A side effect of this is that many more niche artists and genres are popping up. It’s daft to expect the latest Earth record to break five million sales in its opening week because there probably aren’t even five million different individuals who listen to Earth.

    The 1980s are over.

      1. A lot of my favorite music is made exactly that way. So, no he’s not.
        Most of that music I downloaded for free, legally.

    1. “Anybody can put together a few songs, call it the greatest album ever made, and demand compensation, but it doesn’t work that way. Good music tends to find an audience who supports it and its creators, and its followers can generally be expected to invest at least some of their money in the artist’s creation, whether it’s the $10-20 it takes to buy a CD these days, or $15-30+ it takes to go to a show.”

      Nobody’s demanding compensation for putting together an album.

      People are demanding compensation for anyone LISTENING TO that album in chunks larger than a fair-use taste of it.

    2. Wow! To be stating/implying that people won’t pirate music if it’s “good” is arrant nonsense. Even Emily White surely considers many of her 11,000 songs “good” and “cares about” them, yet she hasn’t paid for them. And judging from her comments, she’s more moral in this area than most of her millions of peers.

      Yep, the ’80s are over – but copying music for free is just as wrong now as it was when you had to use tapes, and of course it happens in infinitely vaster quantities now.

    3. I don’t know where you get your budget information but (in my experience) $50,000 is about the average budget for a fully produced independent record now a days. It may sound like a lot of money but it isnt. In 5 days of recording you can easily spend 16 grand on session players alone, not including a producer, engineer, assistant engineer, or the $700-$1500 a day for studio time. You can do a recording at home for less money, but if you want a product that can compete in the marketplace it’s usually in your best interest to spend some money and get qualified individuals involved.

      1. Here’s the future of production: “Siri, new track.”

        I don’t doubt your snapshot, sparrow. But I have grave doubts about its shelf life. The same technological forces which busted apart an entrenched distribution system over 20 years are hard at work on the production side. I’d say we are roughly at the Napster stage — alarm and denial.

  70. I’m in a group that just got back from playing NXNE last weekend and I must say that.. the idea of mentioning that you have anything for sale is absolutely pointless. I watched at least 10 bands mention that they had merch or even vinyl for sale and nothing. I didn’t see one person buy anything, of course I saw them give it away though. We don’t even mention we have anything for sale at this point. In the past we’ve given away cds and records at shows to anyone who will talk to us or show an ounce of enthusiasm, only to see them wind up on ebay or half.com. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is an expensive hobby and I have to enjoy it first and that is why I keep doing it. We spent over $10,000 dollars in 2011 making a record and promoting it through a reputable promotional company. Guess what our download / stream returns are to date? $200! Yeah, pretty dumb and we are one of the ones who are doing well.. getting critical success, magazine features, festival invitations..etc. In the end I own the rights to my own songs, I record and control everything about it and the whole point was for people to hear it so until the golden locket is found I’m fine with that. I think people are getting too hung up on the money trail. “You must pay me to do something I love to do and also give me money so I can buy the things to do it”. I believe this mentality is a joke. Many of our most beloved artists died in poverty doing what they loved. I’m not going to make any real money doing music unless I start writing Coldplay knockoffs for music soundtracks or join an 80’s cover band to do weddings. I think some of these musicians who are bitching the most remind me of the republicans who want everything to be 1954 again. Well these guys want everything to be 1994 again. It will never be like that again. We need to evolve mentally and see it all as just an expensive spiritual journey and if your song gets on the twilight soundtrack and everyone cares for 5 minutes enjoy it and realize all things are fleeting. Let’s not attach economics to art anymore and we’ll all be much better for it.

  71. Reblogged this on Happy Artists and commented:
    Here’s an extremely well-written letter to everyone that chooses to not pay for music (or use Spotify.) So well done.
    Author= David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven.)

    1. Wait so you’re lumping together all the Spotify users with pirates? How does that work? Spotify is all ‘above board.’

  72. As a professional musician who entered the national indie scene in 2003 and daily feels the sting of music piracy, I thank you from the deepest depths of my being. As of today, most of my musician friends have taken to pursuing music part time. These are people that write and have written songs that to this day own my soul. They are beautiful, well-crafted, meticulously written pieces of magic. And now, for most of them, they have all but stopped. It’s like being strangulated by someone who loves you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been personally contacted by fans asking where exactly they can download our music via torrent sites. Or that they love our music, and when I ask what albums they own, they respond, oh, I don’t know, I just burned a bunch of songs from my friend. For me, I will make music and put out records even if I’m relegated to living in my van. But frankly, that day doesn’t seem very far off. So, thank you. I hope your blog resonates with people. I will certainly share it with our fans and friends.

    Mike TV
    Get Set Go

  73. I understand and appreciate your thoughts on this, David, but ultimately I think you’re on the losing end of this back and forth.

    Nobody has “the right” to steal music. I used to do it in the past, but I have a paid Rdio subscription now and will buy the albums I like the most on iTunes. As I read through your comments, I was asking myself, “Who gets to decide what an artist’s product is worth? And if it turns out that it’s worth less than a living wage, what then?”

    I don’t think there’s going to be much success in trying to convince people to feel bad about downloading free music, or to paint services like Spotify or Rdio as the next round of baddies. The solution, in part, is to find creative ways to get artists the money they deserve (which may unfortunately be less than their product has deserved in the past). Not all painters or photographers or sculpters make a living on their art — we may enter an era where not many musicians get that privilege any more, either.

    Maybe when the number of excellent artists dwindles, people who want good music will be willing to pay again.

    1. Hi jason.

      I think I am not on the losing end of this argument.

      there are tons of examples where people choose to pay more for something because it’s ethical.

      green products.

      Fair trade products.

      There are also a ton of examples where people could easily steal, cheat and not get caught and people continue to pay.

      I used to be a paperboy in a pretty bad neighborhood. I used to marvel in the fact that no one would ever steal the neighbors newspaper. It happened maybe 2 times in the 4 years I was a paperboy.

      I think it has a lot to do with how people visualize “who” they are stealing from. In my paperboy experience people don’t steal cause they see it as taking from their neighbor.

      when I was older I ended up working at the same paper as the assistant circulation manager. I would sometimes have to fill the newspaper racks with papers. I would often watch people put in a quarter and remove 5 or 6 papers and distribute them to people standing around in front of the liquor store or supermarket. In this case they were stealing from a Company. it made a difference to people.

      If you notice in all my pieces I specifically put the this in terms of what happens to the individual artists when people make unethical choices.

      I believe file sharing has thrived specifically cause people see it as cheating the record company instead of the artists.

      In my “paperboy” terms I believe if people see artists as their “neighbors” and not a “company” they would gladly compensate artists.

      And again i’m not saying spotify is necessarily a bad thing. I’m saying the market is not pricing spotify right because their is a free alternative. very different things.

      I don’t understand why you are so jaded that an appeal to reason, morality and ethics is such an annoying thing. You know artists like me have the law, constitution and international trade agreements on our side. Would you prefer we resort to these solutions first?

      1. Also your threat of “having the Law on your side” and “resorting to it” … go for it! It’s naive to think that musicians haven’t tried everything they can!

        You present this article like “this is what I do first _before_ going to the Law” but actually this article is _all_ you can do, this is it!

      2. I hear you, David, but what about those of us that pay the $10/month premium charge on a service like Spotify and realize — as everyone will inevitably realize very quickly — that there is no reason you need any other way to access/purchase music.

        If I were to go and buy an mp3 file — or a CD at an artist’s concert — I would be doing it purely out of charity. I would then turn to the real/virtual trash can and throw it out. I don’t need it. Spotify and Rdio, or whatever, all of which have their technical issues, are close enough to the perfect music solution (all music anywhere, anytime) that it feels incredibly antiquated to talk about “buying” music in a traditional way.

        I’m not saying you are “losing the argument” — you aren’t — you are the side of justice and the world, I do believe, will always bend that way — but you are risking, I believe, offering an irrelevant solution to the problem.

        I’m one of those people that buys green, fair trade, etc — and I’m ready to pay whatever it takes to having a thriving artistic community (especially in an era when our government, local and national, continues to run away from that responsibility).

        So what about a solution that looks something like this:
        -start making concerted, coordinated efforts to expose and shame next-gen streaming services like Spotify/Spotify users into upping their contributions to artists
        -encourage users of said services to support their favorite bands by adding to at least one of their other revenue streams: seeing them in concert, buying merchandise, etc.

        I know that all sounds a bit pie-in-the-sky, but I think it is much more realistic than expecting people to pay for something they don’t need anymore.

      3. I’m just saying pay for music you like. I don’t really care how. I pointed out the artist gets the most when you buy a physical cd or download directly from the artist. Vinyl is good but has high marginal costs.

      4. David – I think your paperboy analogy is spot on and that it ties in with how our generation’s experience with the music industry has influenced the attitudes toward paying for music that the generation now in their 20s has.

        When CDs arrived in the early ’80s and we were in high school/college, there were two flavors of music (labels): corporate and obscure. After a few years, the marginal cost to major labels of producing CDs plummeted, but their prices remained unjustifiably high. This lack-of-pricing-transparency douchebaggery made us cynical about record companies. (Plus they tended to follow the usual American business model of overpaid executives and disposable underlings.)

        Enter the ’90s. A lot of us read Steve Albini’s “The Problem With Music,” which fed that cynicism some steroids. We heard stories that even renowned indie labels — SST comes to mind — were screwing artists over. Whether these stories were actually true isn’t really the point — the line the indie press was selling us was that not only are big record companies evil, but even owning a modestly successful indie label was likely to turn you into a greedy asshole.

        So take that attitude you cited, that stealing from a Company was a lesser evil — if an evil at all — and combine that with a growing sense that all music labels were Corporate in one sense or another, and you have a pervasive nihilism about the entire music industry. I think this nihilism took an already difficult to eradicate human tendency and magnified it — so once broadband arrived, there was no credible moral barrier to wanton downloading in people’s minds. (Also: Having Lars Ulrich as your spokesperson is never a good idea.)

        I think this attitude still prevails even as the music landscape has changed. There are a lot more opportunities to make sure that money goes directly to the artists. There’s a bit more transparency around the cut that services like iTunes or Amazon take from the artists. (Although i do buy music, i have never bought a single track from iTunes. While it’s convenient, and i have no doubt that it will be a major factor in helping to get people to pay for music, i have no interest in sending my money to Cupertino.)

        Any solution that aims to change people’s minds (instead of just using the legal system) is going to have to rely on educating people out of the old “record company” mindset. Buying recorded music straight from the artists or their homegrown music label puts food on their tables just as directly as buying a concert ticket does.

        Although i have to admit that the pure carrot approach is not likely to make an enormous difference soon enough for the benefit of today’s artists. David, you gave examples like green products and fair trade coffee. The problem with this model is that they’re essentially niche products/services that have a small following even in robust economic times. For many people, ethics is a luxury item; appealing to the better angels of our nature rarely works on its own. That said, the blunt instruments of DRM, 100+-year copyright, and RIAA lawsuits — ill-conceived ideas all — are even less likely to turn the tide.

        Keep beating that drum, and kudos to you and the educational work you’re doing directly with da kidz. You know, they’ll get off your lawn a lot quicker if you drive your car up on it… (Ah, 1986…)

    2. Jason,

      You declare that “convinc[ing] people to feel bad about downloading free music” is a losing proposition, as if morality is a popularity contest, and implying that David is an aggressor out to upend innocent people’s worldviews.

      This line of rhetoric comes along in arguments over many topics: one side calls out the other for inflicting guilt. Generally, this accusation is made when the side making it begins to recognize (at least on a subconscious level) that they have lost the argument and that their beliefs can no longer be reconciled to their personal values. This tactic allows the arguer to discard the troublesome line of reasoning by turning its source into an aggressor with a disruptive agenda.

      It’s basically the rhetorical equivalent of covering one’s ears and singing “I’m not listening to you.”

      You also blithely claim, with zero corroborating evidence, that the creative output of musicians is worth less than in the past, and that perhaps they don’t deserve to make a living at their art.

      And by noting (again, with no evidence) that there are just so many excellent artists out there and that we consumers just have so many choices, you imply that artists should view the opportunity to share themselves with us as a privilege. They should never expect to be compensated when we are providing them with something far more valuable: an audience.

      We can go down that road. We already have, as the staggering statistics David posted bear out. Fewer musicians, fewer bands, and a far smaller pie for them to share. Techno-libertarianism gone amuck.

      We can’t keep up like this if we want to keep our culture strong. Eventually the arts will disappear in the country if artists lose the ability to make a living. All we’ll be left with is whatever the big media conglomerates can sell to the lowest common denominator.

      1. “…we’ll be left with is whatever the big media conglomerates can sell to the lowest common denominator.”

        You mean like how the music industry has operated since at least the 1950’s?

      2. As context: I used to, but no longer do, steal music. Now I simply download most music for free from artists in online communities that I’m a part of.

        I think the creative output of artists may be worth less than in the past. Music is easier to create and share than before, and as such there is a lot of it. I choose to take free music and there’s more of that than I can really listen to.

        The artists I listen to largely do think that simply being heard is a privilege (I know I feel that way about my art). And none of us do ‘expect’ to be compensated for our work. We do it out of passion, after all.

        I’d say that there’s no risk to culture in these communities, either. Rather, they ARE culture. Sure only a handful of us are successful enough to make money at it, but we do it anyway and seem to be doing quite fine, thank you.

  74. To raise awarness of the damage that illegal downloading is causing, I propose The Day The Music Died.” An a TBA date on which for 24 hours musicians everywhere create no music. This means no gigs, tour dates, sessions, lessons, jingles, commercials, soundtracks, scoring, radio, interviews, etc. for one 24 hour period. We should also encourage media outlets, radio stations, iTunes, etc. to also go black for 24 hours.


    1. They won’t even notice — thanks to recorded music. They already get most of their music “fix” from commoditized recordings. If Billy Joel refrains from playing music for one day, people can just listen to the zillions of recorded versions of his music for that long.

    2. That sounds horrible. Why would you want to deprive so many people of creating music? Seriously, imagine Mozart and Beethoven were recording today. Would you want them to _not_ record for a day?

  75. The individual responsibility thing in the face of widespread social phenomena is nonsense. Emily is absolutely not “directly ripping off the artist and songwriters” — she is merely freeloading. This is a prisoner’s dilemma. Any given individual has such a small impact that they will make no change to whether music gets made or not. It is only the cooperation of lots of people that funds production. As long as lots of people are freeloading, someone who chooses to pay is paying more than their fair share. Telling Emily to stop freeloading and instead become one of the suckers who pays while everyone else continues to freeload is simply bad advice. The solution here can only come from a social shift that gets everyone to coordinate somehow in how we fund things. We need to make funding convenient and fair, and this will NOT happen by berating individuals to be “ethical.” You can dismiss collective, governmental or other ways to deal with this socially, but your individual-responsibility solution is D.O.A. Simply put: complain all you want, but there’s no empirical scientific evidence that these issues can be solved on an individualistic basis.

    Oh, and even if you didn’t intend it, the arguments you brought up are in fact straw men. It matters not that some (many even?) people believe them. These aren’t legitimate arguments, they’re ignorant ones. Showing that ignorant arguments are wrong is a straw-man tactic. You aren’t dealing with the legitimate arguments about the social good of being free to share things with friends and neighbors. Sharing is not bad. But doing so while freeloading is bad. Freeloading is the problem, sharing is not.

    Your looting analogy is pure BS. Emily didn’t loot anything. This is just nonsense. Taking records from a record store means the store has less. If you don’t want to just have all of your arguments ignored, then make more effort toward intellectual honesty.

    The concerns about ad-based and other profit models that relate to people accessing media freely are serious issues. That’s what deserves discussion. By including junk ideas and straw-men and lashing out about individuals being unethical, you’re obscuring the important and valid problems.

  76. I’m just not clear why anyone would want the majority of their music library to be stuff they ripped for free online. To have this mindset, it would be difficult to pursue a career in the arts, because to do so, one must love the arts therefore strive to preserve it.

    On this end, because my fan base supported me, I qualified for my home mortgage based on my internet store. That was 2003 and would not be the case today.

    Here are some sobering figures for us indie artists out here flogging the road full time.

    Glory Days: 1000 CDs = $15,000.
    Now in 2012 (Please gasp when the note the pay cut): 1000 downloads of your CD less digital distribution % roughly $6.99 a CD = $6,900.
    A .99 cent download less digital distribution % less % paying royalties if you cover the song = .59 profit per download.
    To make a 12 to 14 song record you are looking at roughly 10 to15 thousand. If you hire radio (to get on NPR and the likes) and publicity for promotion for say, three months, you are looking at 16 thousand dollars. In a demographic like mine, I still need to print a few CDs. After graphics and manufacturing, tack on an additional 1500. Total cost on a lean budget? In the ballpark of 33,000 give or take a few thousand.

    If the CD is illegally ripped? $0 earned for a 33,000 artistic endeavor.

    Dear artists, poets, dreamers, and songwriters, if this is the future of music, we better prepare now.

    1. “To have this mindset, it would be difficult to pursue a career in the arts, because to do so, one must love the arts therefore strive to preserve it.”

      Yes, to pursue a career.

      A career.

      That’s the problem.

      Everyone has careers.

      It’s like Hegel’s quip “there are no more philosophers any more, only philosophy professors.”

      In this case, “there are no more musicians, only music industry careerists”

  77. In general, I agree with your premise, David, but I have to disagree with your assessment of the impact of Spotify. As someone who at one time had a collection of more than 10,000 LPs and 3,000 CD’s, I paid for that music, but had to give it up for reasons of space. I use Spotify to remind me of those great albums I once owned and also to discover new artists that I might not be familiar with. But I no longer feel the need to “own” the music. If I do, I purchase songs on ITunes. To me, the problem you have with the small royalty fees being paid by Spotify is outweighed by the fact that it drives people to discover new music and ultimately purchase it.

  78. Just wondering – why is MOG a more “legitimate” service than Spotify? They have the same business model, same price plans, I can’t see where the significantly higher artists’ royalties could come from.

  79. What about people who are against both pro file-sharing and anti-software patents? And who make a living writing code while also contributing to open source projects (“giving it away for free”, and expecting to get things for free)?

    As a business model it works – the internet (including this blog) runs on free software, the masses of people get to consume and produce information and culture at no cost or negligible cost, yet software developers and sysadmins still make good money doing custom development for people who want to pay for it.

    What about music-making is inherently different?

    Also, I’m totally willing to post a track listing of all 9,500-odd songs I’ve downloaded in my lifetime and send these artists a personal thank you along with a dollar if they get in touch with me. Why can’t we (the quant-musician-software-engineers of the world) design a system to make that as easy as downloading a bunch of mp3’s.

    1. Can’t edit? First sentence makes no sense – should read “What about pepole who are both pro file-sharing and anti-software patents.

    2. @ tomnycga

      The application you seek already exists, it’s called “itunes” and you can go there right now and pay 99 cents for each and every of the 9,500 songs you’ve downloaded illegally. I’m sure all of those artists would appreciate it.

      1. What if I don’t want to enrich Apple in the process? The “Meet the New Boss” essay argues that Apple is part of the problem, doesn’t it?

        What about the bands who aren’t on iTunes? What about the musicians who are long dead – do I still owe their record label?

        Do I still owe the dollar if I downloaded an album, listened to 2 tracks, and decided I didn’t like it? What am I paying for – the experience or the artifact?

        How do I pay more to the bands who really meant something to me but got screwed by their labels and quit the music scene 10 years ago? Do I want to enrich the same companies that exploited them?

        I don’t want to pay $10 up front to try something I may not like – so why isn’t there a system yet where I can pay what I feel to the musicians who mean something to me?

      2. Sorry Tommy, Itunes works just fine. You weren’t arguing about paying for something you might not like. You were asking how to pay $1 each for your 9,500 songs, and itunes is the way to do it.

      3. Just to split hairs — this is the Internet, after all — he was saying he’d be willing to send the artist a dollar for each song. Buying it from iTunes won’t do that; the artist will get 69 cents. Maybe. Now, 69 cents IS better than nothing…

    3. Let’s see… the fact that you insist on turning other people into day-laborers just because you choose to be one?

      Or, less pointedly, the fact that people choose to pay for custom development and let the results into the common because they expect to profit on the results of that development no matter who else gets to use it — a proposition lacking in entertainment, now that we are beyond the age of the royal patron.

      1. Actually the “day laborer” argument is kind of my point. Most people do work, and then get paid for their time.
        Why should people expect to create one thing once and then collect residual income off of that thing forever? Because the hours they put into it were longer than the hours other people put into other kinds of work? You could make the argument that there’s a lifetime of experience that goes into creating a musical recording, but you could say that about the skills that go into any art. A chef doesn’t get residual income from cooking a great meal – they still have to go back into the kitchen and cook every day.

    4. That is a pretty ridiculous claim to post Tomnycga, because 1) nobody wants to read a list of 9500 things you downloaded, and you know that, and 2) why should the artists have to find your list and request payment for their products? If you want to pay them personally, find their addresses online and send them money if that’s how you feel. Or, y’know, buy the stuff legit. Also, arguing that you wish there was a way that artists could be compensated while you would not have to pay them does not change the fact that this system is not in place, and you were aware that there was no such system when you chose to download the aforementioned 9500 tracks.

      1. Actually, tons of lawyers have their minions scouring the internet for playlists of the songs that people have downloaded so they can sue those people for thousands of times more than the retail value of the CD, because the’ve Managed to get laws passed that say that making a CD available for others to make free copies of is the financial equivalent of breaking into somebody else’s property and making off with their cash. They’ll use police state measures to accomplish this – like coercing internet providers into giving up their users records.

        And as far as building a system that would let artists know who’s out there listening to their music, so they could get in touch with their superfans and try to get them some payment – that system already exists in parts. You have Last.fm, which lets people upload and share playlists of the songs they listen to the most, and then you have Bandcamp to direct “pay as you wish” money to the musicians, and people are starting to understand and use the Kickstarter model for all kinds of things. Add something like google alerts to ping a musician when somebody plays 50 of their tracks in a row – “Hey you’ve got a new fan” instead of “Hey, somebody’s stealing your stuff.” You just need somebody to create the next iteration of these systems. (Seriously – pay me for my time and I’ll put together a team and build it – or come up with something better than the thing I came up with after giving it 15 minutes of thought.)

        Maybe 1960 through 1999 was a bubble economy created by artificial scarcity and we’re seeing what people are actually willing to pay when you don’t have to pay just to try something out. Maybe there’s way more musicians getting their product out to smaller groups of fans thru Bandcamp and Youtube and Myspace and Soundcloud who aren’t registering on the metrics that were developed to track album sales.

        And if Ken Griffin reads this, he can get in touch and I’ll send him a check for the full retail price of “Horsedrawn Wishes” since it’s not for sale on iTunes, and since it’s a favorite album of mine, which I discovered years after the band split, from downloading a dozen odd albums from music blogs one weekend in 2007. That one was the only one from that batch which stuck with me, and here I can’t give the guy any support. Usually if I DL something and I like it, I’ll go see the show if the band is on tour, or buy a CD or something. If the band and or record label are long gone, then what? Am I still an unethical music fan for getting into some obscure band long after they’re a functioning business entity? Or for sampling a bunch of stuff that doesn’t interest me? (Hard drive space is cheap – there are thousands of songs on my computer I’ve listened to once. Probably hundreds I’ve never listened to. I don’t see this as any different from checking something out from the library and then never reading it. The band I didn’t like doesn’t lose money because I have a copy of their album sitting on my hard drive I would have never paid for. Is pay for it, like it or not, really an ethical business model?) Maybe I’m the outlier but probably half the music I have is mid-century jazz and classical recordings, and obscure-ish rock from the 70’s thru 90’s.) I still spend hundreds of dollars per year seeing live music (again, mostly musicians I found out about thru file sharing), and usually pick up a CD at the show if it was good.

        If Spotify and iTunes suck, and privacy-violating corporations like Google suck, and the major labels suck, then why are we going after the fans for downloading? Lack of healthcare sucks for musicians, but it sucks for all Americans. Same with the criminalization of addiction. Why not free music and free healthcare? So why not spend your limited time trying to improve things for everyone instead of going after a bunch of broke kids who don’t have the money anyway (recession, you know?) Last year Americans got fed up with how the financial sector has taken over our government and formed communities of mutual aid in opposition to the corporations, and they were crushed by the police state. The same police state tactics (the surveillance, the violation of privacy at least) that are held up as a last resort for musicians who want to get paid. Why support this system at all?

        Ultimately, who has bankrupted more people, the quants or the downloaders?

        I’m spending my limited time going after the quants, and their enablers in Congress, and building free/open/private alternatives to corporate web services. (And seeing my friends’ bands when I have time.) Calling the fans unethical and tapping the loaded gun of legal remedies that you keep in your back pocket seems like divide and conquer, and not a good way to build solidarity between broke musicians and their equally broke fans.

    5. For the record, Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation proposes taxing memory and internet access in order to support content creators.

    6. Agree entirely. I’m a software engineer and would be S-O-L without free software. I feel the same way as a musician. Without access to music I would basically have nothing. The world this author imagines is the world Microsoft imagines but transposed to music instead of software: a world where everything is “owned” and royalties are extracted for use. Explain to me again how ownership works? Isn’t the story of Peter Pan still owned, and like, if I wanted to put on a high school play I have to pay someone (not the author) some royalties?

      1. Incidentally it’s so ironic that this blog is on WordPress but morally opposed (nay, outraged! full on narcissistic supply mode) about the equivalent of WordPress in music. (i.e. free access to music)

        If software developers were not gracious enough to devote their time to something they love for the good of all humanity, and then give it away for free to all humanity, you wouldn’t have this blog –you’d be stuck on some Microsoft piece of crap paying $5 per post or something.

        If only musicians were as gracious as software developers … but of course every musician is de facto a narcissist (though perhaps not all suffer from NPD– but most do!) …. So that probably plays into it. Software developers tend to be masochists and musicians tend to be narcissists. That’s why we have such amazing free software out there but all these narcissistic ego-trippers demanding to make a living instead of being happy that someone even listened to their tune (which is the correct attitude from my viewpoint).

    7. If you’re sincere, sign up for iTunes Match. 25 bucks a year.

      You would also be honoring your favorite artists by listening to generally superior versions of rips you have presently on your devices.

      This begs the question : why is iTunes Match struggling so far to gain traction? Because it costs money and it takes the frisson out of the daring picaresque adventure of file sharing.

    1. Just a note to point out w/r/t streaming services, that as a former Pandora employee I am very aware that they pay immense amounts of money in royalties every month, money that they make by selling advertising or subscriptions. Every song is paid per spin the current $0.0015 to SoundExchange and (here’s the tricky part) a “percentage” of the company’s income is paid to BMI/ASCAP, and while I do not know what that percentage is, nor how much it is every month, it is millions of dollars.
      However, when BMI/ASCAP get this money, they don’t necessarily pay out per spin (though they could have that info exactly if they wanted it), they pay out on a polled average, like they used to do with college radio back in the 80s – take one day’s playlists and extrapolate. I’ve seen this work for an against small acts.
      All that said, because the company wants to stay in business, they do lobby very heavily (remember Tim W in 2006 versus establishing royalty rates in congress?) for lower royalty rates, despite claiming all the while to be pro-artist. Whatever. I guess there is a built-in oxymoron between being a business and being pro-artist.

  80. Nice article! This could be said for any industry: music, book, photography, art. Thank you for explaining this complex problem in not so complex terms. In our world of “something for nothing” many sites make it oh so easy to stiff “the little guys.”

  81. A very good, thought out, albeit biased, article. Thank you.

    Since you appear to not know, and for others that may not, Google is making a foray into the music industry, or at least the distribution channel. Google Play: http://play.google.com

  82. It’s not a matter of being lazy, or not wanting to pay artists – I think the key issue is that the record industry is stubbornly resisting adapting to the changes in technology, with which music is listened to. Rather than innovating to adapt, providing their customers with media in a manner fitting to technological advancements, they’ve resisted the opportunity to grow and change and instead made things more difficult and complicated for their customers. Further, alienating them through their methods of enforcing the “old ways”. There was an opportunity to continue making money, and they turned their noses up at it — and their customers went to those providing what they wanted, unfortunately, they were pirated file sharing sites. It was iTunes that provided a legal, consistent means to acquire music – and finally the ability to pick and choose songs, as there is little worse than buying an album and realizing it’s garbage aside from one or two tracks that you just effectively paid $14-17 for. I suppose it’s our short life span that prevents us from grasping the concept of a dying industry.. unless one considers history and the life & death of industries and corporations.

    There is little to no effort being made by the industry itself to meet customer demands, they’re instead demanding customers either stick with the tried & true money machine that suits the labels — not the customers, or risk a lawsuit.

    I’ve moved to music streaming. I have 5 devices, and a record player (which I do actually buy albums for..) and the most efficient solution for new music, in addition to my existing 300 gigs, mostly paid for — some shared by friends, who also paid for it (and with the silly 5 licenses for each song, legal).. I use Spotify. I pay $10/month to listen to nearly every song I could every possibly want to hear, on all of my devices. My playlists, my song choices when I want to hear them (unlike Pandora) and I don’t have to sync each device nor worry about losing my music collection should a mishap occur. If I don’t have wifi, I have the option to make them available offline. I discover new music, new artists, and share them with my friends. Considering how many I know that actually use YOUTUBE, of all things, to listen to music, at least there is some revenue generated.

    The industry could adapt and capitalize on this, but they won’t.

    An article on streaming and it’s popularity today – http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/15/tech/web/music-streaming/index.html

  83. I logged in just to say how glad I am to have broken my sanity-saving “never read the comments” rule this time. Excellent, civil responses and discussion on a thoughtful, well written article. Thanks to all of you.
    As a 45-year old who used to work in a used record store and sold all the records I collected over that time for smokes and cheap beer and cover cahrges at the Rat, Gunratty’s, etc. back in Boston, I actually feel bad for the kids who won’t be able to feel bad about pissing away their own album collections, the relics of their own personal culture. On the other hand, they’ll never have the joy of shaking their head as they buy “Double Nickels on the Dime” on a *fourth* damn format, loving every minute of it.

  84. Has the music industry historically been built on the wallets of college students? I doubt it. There is a lot of generational rage here, but this is an industry wide problem because the people with money are not buying music, not because the broke people are stealing it. Morally and from a creative professional’s point of view there seems to be little difference, but economically it is huge. The music industry seems to have been at war with the “college kids” for a decade, when the real money walks out the back door.

    It didn’t help that there was no viable legal digital market until what, 2005? And even then it was so poor quality, so DRM locked, and with such a small selection that it was hardly workable. It wasn’t until 2007-8 that things really became easy. That’s a lost decade for the music industry, with two recessions thrown in there as well. Truly brutal, no way around it. And it isn’t like it was a cushy gig to begin with.

    Hopefully direct downloads + kick starter type upfront funding will be part of a new solution. See Amanda Palmer and Louis CK for examples of success in that model. There are flaws to be found easy enough, but at least they are treating their fans as fans and not the enemy.

    Any solution will not involve people listening to less music than they are now. That is the new normal. Get-off-my-lawn blog posts by professors are not going to change that. The question is, how you are going to make money now that anyone can hear your music? I really doubt that music is dead, it has been around too long for that.

  85. The most important detail in the article that seems little recognized is the 25% drop in professional musicians since 2000. This decline will continue. Therefore, perhaps the most ironic musical legacy of Emily’s generation is that theirs will be the first cohort to produce no legendary, enduring artists of its own. First the musicians’ money disappears, then the musicians themselves.

    1. Theirs is the first generation to regard music in an exclusively passive vein. They don’t MAKE it. They honestly think it just drops out of the sky for free, like rain. They’re the musical equivalent of the people in the spaceship in Wall-E.

    2. “no legendary, enduring artists” hahaha that sounds like your fantasy, because then that would mean your taste in music is better than everyone else’s. Oh wait, you don’t believe that all the pop music out there is horrible do you? And that electronic music is a joke? And people stopped making good music years ago?

      List for me 10 enduring legendary artists from 2000-2010 and I will start paying attention. (There are 100s). All too often I hear complaints about “not enough good music” or “decline in quality of music” from people who are unaware of literally hundreds of amazing musicians.

    3. What made these acts “legendary”? Could it have been marketing pushes and PR? Could it have been a lack of other options?

      We love looking back at the so-called legends and tooting the horn of creative apocalypse… but this is not the world we live in anymore. Creativity will not die or even fade just because the next Led Zepplin or the next The Beatles or the next Louie Armstrong didn’t get rich. We as creative humans have a NEED to express ourselves musically, whether we’re being paid for it or not. The fact that some very few people make decent money at it is little more than a flash of luck.

      If you are a musician for any other reason than to make music, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG, and YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

      Sorry for the all caps. 😉

  86. To counter your argument about iTunes convenience: I won’t buy music if I can’t find it @ 320 kbps MP3 (or preferably lossless format) or higher, rendering iTunes and Amazon’s stores useless. So I essentially only purchase music through Beatport (which is obviously limited when it comes to non-electronic music) or through physical mediums… I refuse to pay for an inferior quality file just because it’s convenient.

  87. I was both a bit shocked to read Miss White’s original post at NPR, but pleased. It re-sparks the debate, which most people of Miss White’s generation consider a done-deal.

    The message is: “Content creators, get in line to give your work away for the pleasure of possibly earning a bit of anonymous attention somewhere out over the inter-waves.” Result: “art” will be made solely by the already-wealthy, and/or it will be of increasingly poor, throw-away quality, because none but the already-wealthy will be able to afford to make art that requires time and deep effort to produce.

    Thank you for your response, Mr. Lowery. It is one of the finest I’ve yet read re: the debate. I DO have problems w/current copyright laws in regards to sampling (where I side w/Mr. Lessig and Co., to a certain, qualified extent), but you have gotten to the heart of the matter here in a fashion that applies to any currently working content creator. Kudos.

  88. Thanks for writing this! As a young twenty-something who doesn’t download/stream music (or movies) illegally, I feel like this letter could just as easily be written to the vast majority of my friends who see no problem with it and think I’m strange for feeling a moral reason not to do it.

  89. Thank you for the informative post. I agree that artists deserve to be compensated for their work — the question is how much. $10-15 for a physical copy may still make sense (for collectors at least), but $1/song is surely too expensive for mp3s, which cost very little to copy and redistribute. Production costs have also plummeted. How much are mp3s worth? The most interesting part of this post was the royalty figures — which by my calculation come out to about $0.20 / song ($2139.50/11,000). That seems quite fair, but it’s 5x more than we’re currently being asked to pay. So although I remain unconvinced that we should be paying artists the full asking price of $1/song, this article has convinced me that $0.10-0.20 / song is reasonable. From now on when asked to “Name My Price” on bandcamp or elsewhere, I will go with that rate (rather than $0.00).

  90. I totally agree with the premise that the artists should get paid, but the author has some fundamental flaws in his argument.

    First, by assuming that the ONLY reason you have an iPhone, laptop, or an internet connection is to download music. I’m fairly certain that most people would have each listed item anyway (because iPods and Macbooks are good for a lot more than just downloading/playing music), so you can’t fairly factor in the whole price of the hardware in this equation.

    Second, the biggest audience (the younger generation that downloads the stuff) just doesn’t have the disposable income to buy $1000s worth of CDs. This is no excuse, but a lot of artists would completely go undiscovered without Spotify, Youtube, or whatever other free(ish) service people use. When you’re 16 years old, $20 is a lot of money to gamble on a band you’ve never heard of, or to explore a genre that you don’t typically listen to.

    Lastly, the royalties argument. In my entertainment law class, my professor, that is currently an entertainment lawyer who deals with music contracts daily, has taught the class for more than a paltry 2 years, and used to be a musician himself, painted a much different (and more accurate) picture of how artists are compensated. To say that in the “vast majority of cases” artist do not get ripped off is naive, at best. You BARGAIN for your contract with a recording studio, and if you don’t have a large enough fan base when you go into the meeting, you are not going to have much bargaining power, and will basically be left to take whatever the studio will pay. PLUS, this isn’t even factoring in money they charge the artist for things like CD cases (yeah, the band pays for that out of their share). Sometimes the recording companies also get a percentage of merchandise sold–EVEN IF they have no hand in the production or distribution of the stuff.

    Emily White may not have her facts straight, but neither do you. If you want to convince people to pay for music, make a sound argument. Don’t try to use deceiving statistics to get your point across.

      1. For those who don’t:


        (My apologies, David: I didn’t know. I guess I just have different musical tastes, though I certainly was aware of CvB’s name. 🙂

        FWIW, this 47-yro has always bought music, across the formats.

        I tried LimeWire briefly when it appeared, but quickly felt guilty and as soon as I could, replaced any downloaded tracks with purchased ones. (I make my living writing software, and was aware of similar issues with warez.)

        I’ve since even asked an artist directly on his e-mail list how he’d be best compensated when I buy his band’s music. (Surprising answer: buying a CD directly from his online store in Sweden. Even with shipping to me in the US, that was best for him!)

      2. Brian, that wasn’t a “burn” at all. It was merely David showing his lack of tact. Just because you are a musician that is quasi well-known in some groups (not my age group, I assure you) doesn’t mean you are an expert on entertainment economics. You can work at Wal-Mart for 30 years and still not be an expert in trade goods and commerce. And no, that reply did not make you look cool. You’re over 50 years old. Act like it. Maybe actually respond to the points I made?

        The funny part is that David has yet to approve my follow up comment (I’m not very hopeful of this one getting approved either). Great job playing the gatekeeper David. You’re doing a well following in the footsteps of the big, bad, greedy companies you mention so highly in your letter. Let’s keep approving the comments from people that believe everything they read and block an informed commenter’s opinion.

    1. you really should spend a couple “paltry” years trying to work in the business before you go around thinking you are correctly regurgitating college lessons

    2. I’m not sure theJoey05 knows who he is, yet.

      Hey, Joey! If you have received anything but a F from your esteemed professor, kindly honor him by naming him here. For that matter, go ahead and name your English language instructors, too. It would be terribly ironic if you were to claim class credit for this real world post you’ve made here.

      Of course, Joey, you could be an ignorant fool spoon fed nonsense and half truths by your professors. Here’s a suggestion : spend an afternoon or 2 at Barnes and Noble reading the definitive tome “This Business of Music”.

      If you don’t feel compelled to buy your own copy after reading a chapter or 2, you are definitely wasting your money on college courses.

    3. “You bargain for your contract with a recording studio”???

      You may want to see what other classes are available. Joey.

  91. Great post. I must admit that I have long been guilty of the same thing as Ms White. I’m 19, and for a long time I legitimately had no other option. I had no money and my parents could not afford to give me any for music, so I just downloaded. I still do, I’ll admit, but that’s only because I’m a member of the impatient generation. I can’t bear to wait the time between an album leaking – which is just an inevitability now, really, isn’t it? – and the release proper. That said, I now buy the albums where I can, though I’m far from wealthy so I’ll look for the best deals. One thing, I will note, that will get me to pay any reasonable price? Bundles. CD + a poster? I’ll pay whatever. CD + a t-shirt? I’m in. I’d say that it’s hugely lucrative to exploit those who love to have these bits and pieces of bands they’re fans of. Plus, I’ll always go see a band when they tour (I live in Australia so it’s usually infrequent) and a lot of the time I’ll buy a t-shirt from the merch table too, where possible.

    I have 5000 songs in my iTunes library, but only 2700 of those are on my phone and actually in rotation. A lot of what’s not is albums I’ve downloaded, listened to once or twice to see if I liked them, and never listened to again. I don’t know how much I’m doing wrong there…usually you can stream an album for free beforehand anyway, and if I don’t actually like the album, I shouldn’t really have to pay for the full thing to find out if I do, right? I’m a bit iffy on that one. One thing that I think bands should do more often: kickstarters and stuff like that. If I could give $20 directly to the band after downloading their album, I totally would. It’d be nice if the “Radiohead model” could be streamlined. I know that the UK artist Lone Wolf has recently funded the release of an album thanks to a Kickstarter project. It’s a good method of incentivising people to contribute, interact, and give directly to the artist. It might not work for all of them but it does for some, at least.

    In any case, my point is that I don’t consider my actions right, but I am doing what I can to rectify them.

    1. So that burger you got from McDonald’s didn’t sit well, so you should get your money back? You knew what it was and you still paid for it. Same goes with “bad” music.

  92. David,

    Beautifully stated. Agree completely. And remember that independent filmmakers are in the same sinking boat.

    I’m at the point where I believe something drastic needs to be done about it. I’ve lost all sympathy for those who download illegally. There is no argument in their favor.

    Gorman Bechard

    1. “Who would pirate independent art? That’s not right”, I’ve heard said

  93. After reading both Emily White’s original post, and David Lowery’s response, I had my own response to the issue. First, I’d like to thank David for responding to the original post, and bringing it to greater attention…when I first read Miss White’s post, I had a pretty strong knew jerk reaction, but I wasn’t totally sure how to put it into words because I understand that music consumption in the digital age is a very complex issue with no easy solutions. But after spending a little time on the matter, here’s what I had to say:

    Two days ago, Emily White, intern for NPR’s All Songs Considered wrote this post for the show’s blog.

    Since then, the post has become a little controversial for many, and one of the best responses came from David Lowery here.

    This is my own response to both blogs:

    Let’s face it. There’s a reason Emily White is only an intern, but still, you’d think an American University student would have better writing skills…at 21, she should be about done with her degree…

    The fact of the matter is, her “article” or whatever we want to call it reads like a high school homework assignment written on the bus on the way into school the morning it was due…

    She says she has only ever bought 15 cds in her life, but that she did not illegally acquire “most” of the 11,000 songs in her iTunes library…she needs to explain how that’s possible, because the methods she mentions in her article are, quite literally, illegal according to RIAA standards. She also says that she “understands the gravity of what file sharing means” to musicians, but to the likes of people like me, clearly she doesn’t…more infuriatingly, she makes no attempt to maybe explain the gravity of the situation she claims to have such a great understanding of.

    There are plenty of young people who do actually have a grasp on the situation, and would be far more capable of explaining how file sharing and the internet has changed the music industry forever, far better at explaining the resistance that many from the younger generation tend to have for physical music, and what it is that a younger generation is looking for from a music consumer standpoint. The problem is, Emily White is NOT a CONSUMER of music. She is, as several people have already pointed out, a thief. Though she claims that she didn’t obtain her music illegally, she clearly does feel guilt about her actions. She’s just having a hard time coming to grips with who or what she is (as is the case for many 21 year olds) and saying the words, “I am a thief.” She uses convenience as her excuse, and backs it up with the fact that she doesn’t have a need for PHYSICAL copies of her favorite bands’ music. That’s fine. I have lots of friends who don’t see the need for physical copies of music. The digital age has lead all of us to change our approach to music consumption in some fashion or another. It’s fine to breath a sigh of relief at the amount of space in your apartment you’ll be able to reclaim by getting rid of your record collection and making the switch to digital. But there are a lot of ways to gain access to digital copies of music without having to outright steal it…

    This article could have easily drawn attention to the fact that most record labels have an option for just a digital download of an album, that there are sites like bandcamp where artists have control of their work and pricing that work (including sometimes offering a song or an EP for free with the hopes that you might then buy the album for $10).

    Lowery might not have written a perfect response, and I tend to agree that he glosses over what exactly the Free Culture movement is, or at least what the intentions and real purpose behind the movement are. But the fact remains that people and corporations (which might be repetitive, since corporations ARE people…right?) with questionable moral values are finding ways to manipulate the purpose of the Free Culture movement and distort it for their own self gain.

    The thing is, the world is changing technologically much faster than we can keep up with, too quickly for us to figure out how to deal with all the repercussions and implications at each step before we move ten more steps forward. The internet is probably the most influential “invention” or technological advance since irrigation, and the world is never going to be the same. But we still haven’t figured out what the world is going to be. What people are doing today on the internet is only an extension of a growing mentality in this country. People see the greed and self-interest motivated tactics at the top level of society (if it’s even fair to talk about corporations and corporate greed as some part of society), and this sense of self entitlement to grab at whatever scraps there may be seems to grow and prevail. My favorite part of David’s post was actually a comment from a reader:

    ‘…the US has across the board become a winner-take-all culture, where failure to exploit every available loophole makes you not moral but a sucker. What we see in younger generations is merely the concentrated version of what we have allowed our country to become.’

    Emily White is the epitome of this trend…there ARE plenty of cheap AND convenient ways for this girl to legally access the music she instead chose to illegally access. She was just trying to fling out excuses to make herself feel better about an activity she partakes in that she KNOWS is morally wrong, but she wants to be told that it’s okay because “everyone does it.” But the fact of the matter is, that’s exactly the problem…EVERYONE is doing it.
    I’m disappointed in NPR for not forcing this girl to write a more critical piece about a really controversial topic that probably could benefit from some in depth contributions from someone who doesn’t remember when the internet was not a thing. And if I were her advisor/teacher/person in charge of her internship, I’d let her know just how sub-par everything about it was (meaning with a grade reflecting her poor skills, lack of insight on any level, and seemingly half-assed approach to the task), on top of pointing out that she comes off like a self-entitled little twit, and she better thank her lucky stars that she has an internship now, because she’ll probably never be able to find a job in the music industry if people like her continue to “require…the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it.” Yes, Emily, I’m afraid that IS too much to ask.

    (You can view my original post responding to the issues here: http://petuniafist.tumblr.com/post/25387915283/my-own-response-to-emily-whites-blog-post)

  94. Another USA-centric take on the argument, whoopee. Those three simple steps you talk about? Outside the USA, nearly impossible unless you want to shop with Apple. I don’t. Spotify finally made it here, and while it’s not my preferred method of listening to music, it’s getting my love now. Mind you, I’m from the CD buying generation anyway.

    1. Another argument based on the notion that your right to hear something trumps the creator’s right to control it and to be compensated fairly for it.

      1. Why is it not that way? The constitution makes it clear that copyright exists to incentivize creative production for the benefit of society, not to empower authors and publishers…

    2. Amazon has an mp3 shop in non US territories, as well.

      But why this villification of Apple, Inc?

      I am no fan boy. No Apple hardware, ever. As a producer, they make it tough for me as I need a Mac to upload to the iTunes servers, so I use an aggregator for my marginal releases.

      But dang it, Apple Inc. pays out 70% of gross receipts. I have an album on iTunes and I receive $2.80 net from a $3.99 download. Even accounting for mechanicals, I receive far less for the $17.98 vinyl version, released by a wonderful company who is on a hiding to nothing trying to make a profit from physical product.

      Far from being USA centric, Apple, Inc. pays royalties monthly to anywhere in the world (apart from the “Axis of Evil”!).

      Apple, Inc. is songwriter friendly as they promptly take down songs for which royalties are not being paid. Outside the USA, Apple, Inc. themselves pay those royalties.

  95. I think people really do want to pay for music.. but things still haven’t settled into a place where digital music purchasing fully ‘works’ online.

    In my opinion it should be around 50c per track / $5 per album & count as a discount towards the purchase of a full priced hard copy. This would convert a MASSIVE number of people from pirates into full time purchasers.

    Its sad that people in the music/content industry often feel their interests pitted against the people in the free culture movement – artists & free culture people are similar in type on the whole and should be able to get along (i am in both camps as a start up founder & film maker).

    One thing thats key – we can’t use copyright control as a reason for lessening internet openness and freedom – in this situation society really is the looser.

    People consume more media than ever before, and the means for payment and distribution have never been more accessible – once the content industry stops fighting against the internet and focusses on what works in this environment the money will flow – more so than ever before.

    The part of the music industry that internet threatens most is not the artists but the marketers – marketing on the net can be much more organic & socially driven. This is why the major labels feel threatened because this is where they claim most of their value.

  96. There’s a BIG difference between a DJ / music journalist saving music they’ve received for review / promotion to their computer / iPod, and the average Joe seeking out music and intentionally stealing it. When I send a CD to a journalist or DJ, I expect them to listen to and enjoy the CD, or download the tracks I’ve sent them to their computer / iPod. That’s not stealing. I’m giving them a free sample of my music in exchange (hopefully) for their free services of promoting my music. It’s an in-kind swap. A symbiotic relationship. There’s nothing illegal about it.

  97. ” In the vast majority of cases, this is not true. ”
    I stopped reading at that point — sorry bro, it IS true.
    Over the past 10 years, I know tons of bands that have been dropped by their labels and they were way more successful on their own. I’d rather give money directly to a band — I don’t see a need for labels anymore; bands and producers should get all the money. Labels should just go the fuck away for good – that way it would be perfectly clear who you’re ripping off. I don’t want to give my money to some guy who wears a suit, goes into an office every day driving a BMW and his job is in marketing or management or some bullshit like that. FUCK that. I want to give my money directly to the artists — which is why I refuse to support ANY artists that are on major labels. Indie labels are fine; so long as they’re not dominated by a certain element that cares nothing about music and only about money; and most indie labels are all about the music.

  98. While this is a very well written article, and David makes many strong, valid points, there is one point that is very misleading. David mentions that the number of album sales is down 64% since 1999. The problem is that 1999 was the year with the most records ever sold in history.
    Any valid comparison should note trends over time and not compare static figures from a benchmark high. Any decent statistician would shit all over this misuse of statistics. If you’ll harken back to 1999, you might recall that this was the height of the CD reissue boom, where baby boomers were spending huge boatloads of money replacing vinyl with CD’s. After this process was over, album sales SHOULD have declined. In addition, David is looking at album sales in a total vacuum. What is more relevant is the total amount of money spent on ALL entertainment per year/ per capita. This figure has actually risen, BUT the share of money being spent on music is lower. This is likely due to competition from new forms of entertainment, i.e. video games, etc… What is implied in this article (and explicitly claimed by the recording industry) is that illegal downloading is directly responsible for the entire difference in album sales from the 1999 peak to current levels. This is simply wrong! While I have no doubt that illegal downloading plays a major role, it is not the ONLY reason why album sales have declined. My purpose in bringing this point up is that if you want to talk about these issues honestly and forthrightly, you need to present the correct statistics to back up your arguments!
    While I sympathize heavily with David’s arguments, I think he needs to step back and look at both sides of the issue. CD’s and records are relatively expensive. $15-17 for a piece of plastic that contains music that can be obtained for free presents an easy opportunity to cheat the system. If CD prices were lower, I bet that music piracy would not have become such an issue. After buying many hundreds of CD’s and vinyl records, I don’t feel bad about downloading some music for free. ((And if YLT is reading the comments (they posted this article to their Twitter). I’d like to point out that I own a physical copy every damn song you’ve ever put out: My disposable income is limited, so if I couldn’t have downloaded some music, that would have meant less money to you (and WFMU).)).
    The ultimate solution will likely be that musicians also need to find new sources of revenue such as commercial licensing (which has recently exploded in popularity for indie bands), increased concerts/merch revenue, and album bundles (Matador provides an excellent model here).

  99. A response from a customer (but a good customer, I hope, I’m just another doofus who picked out the chords to “Sweethearts” back when I was 20 years old): I do have to say that compounding all of these issues — incredibly — are the overall conditions of the American Economy,

    I will probably buy Cracker’s next CD. I don’t download free stuff.

    But that’ll be it for the year (seriously, Land of Milk and Honey was my last purchase, no joke), and that’s a little sad, but it’s only because like the hard working musicians described above, I am not so well off myself.

    Basically, if the economy improves, and the value of my job improves to the point where I am paid 20% more per year, then I’ll take 3% of that increase and probably spend it on all the music I’ve been missing for the last 5 years (including Vic’s last CD, that I never bought, regrettably). That 20% would be disposable income.

    Hope that makes sense. I don’t download free stuff. But I don’t buy much either, if anything at all.

    If there’s any industry I can think of that truly can’t function without a robust middle class, it’s the music industry described above. You’re not selling Escalades to the 1%, you’re selling good times to the 95% that — at this time — has no disposable income.

    1. “You’re not selling Escalades to the 1%, you’re selling good times to the 95% that — at this time — has no disposable income.” Good point Kevin 🙂

  100. Thank you, David, for this column. I’ll bookmark it for future discussions with the “intellectual property must be free” fools.

    A couple of questions, though – this is the first I’ve heard of Spotify screwing over musicians. Are there any links where I can read more about this? Does Pandora pay a better royalty rate? Also, I subscribe to eMusic: do they pay fair rates as well? As long as I’m paying money to these various services, I’d like as much as possible to end up in Aimee Mann’s pocket, or James McMurtry’s, or Bob Pollard’s. Hell, I’ll even stream some of your stuff, too!

  101. This is an extremely well written piece and it has clearly hit home with a lot of people, but, as a musician myself and someone who sympathises with musicians trying to earn a living from what they do, I think there is a fundamental flaw in the whole thing.

    Ultimately, it rests on the supposition that there is an inaliable right to exclusivity over making electronic copies of your work. It would be nice to think of that as a ‘natural right’ but why should it be so? Surely the idea of that exclusivity was thought up at the time less than a hundred years ago when mass production made that kind of thing possible for the first time. (I don’t know where your ‘for hundreds of years’ comes from). Enshrining that exclusivity in law was a neat idea, it worked because the means of reproduction were not accessible to the masses, and a pretty good one from artists point of view (notwithstanding that it was record companies that derived the greater benefit). I think that exclusivity was a good thing, for artists and the growth of music as mass entertainment. But is it an inaliable right?

    The fact that so many young (and not so young) people see nothing wrong with making electronic copies, now that it is so easy, and the fact that they DO draw a distinction between copying something and stealing a physical object, actually supports the idea that this exclusivity is somewhat artificial. There is a kind of natural morality at work that stops most people from stealing physical objects but that is absent in the case of file sharing. That gulf is not because people are being morally inconsistent, it’s because they know instinctively that copying is NOT theft. The analogy with looting from a store in the part of town without a police force is completely false.

    They also know that making a copy of a recording does not automatically mean a lost sale. Only the person doing the copying knows for sure whether they would have otherwise paid money for a download or a CD. In many (or most) cases I suspect the answer is no they wouldn’t.

    I know this is a painful thing to swallow but I just think that the era in which the copying of recorded music could be restricted, controlled and policed is absolutely over.

    It’s not pretty. The prospects for a musician aiming to make a living from their own popularity have never been great (although many signed artists have of course made an artificial living for years without recouping advances etc), and those prospects are probably more slim than ever.

    I think it will inevitably mean a massive cultural shift in the way that people make and communicate their music. People will need to do a lot of rethinking about the all the norms of what bands do, and how music is made. I don’t know where that’s going any more than anyone else, but the old ways are gone. Things have already changed irreversibly and haven’t stopped changing yet.

    1. Bob – You lose me with your talk of “inaliable right to exclusivity” (I suppose you mean “inalienable”, but I’m still not clear on what you’re getting at). _Of course_ I have the right to control distribution/reproduction of something I create.

      “There is a kind of natural morality at work that stops most people from stealing physical objects but that is absent in the case of file sharing.” Different degrees of criminal behavior; naturally, more people participate in the latter because it’s easier and they’re less likely to get caught and punished. That doesn’t make it OK.

      Someone who takes the fruits of my labor without paying for it is stealing from me; “whether they would have otherwise paid money” for it is irrelevant.

      1. thegertz – i think what he is saying is that you _DON’T_ have the right to control distribution/reproduction of something you create. Not anymore.
        What i’m interested in is similar to this idea – if i buy a CD, what do i own? What is mine? If i buy an mp3, which i do, through emusic, is it mine? Is ownership even RELEVANT these days?

      2. Actually, you don’t have the right to control distribution of everything you create. If you draw a picture on the sidewalk I can snap a picture of it and put it on Flickr. If you tell a joke at a party, I can “steal” it from you and tell it at my own party. You can invent a super cool game like Scrabble, and I can copy it, (with caveats for trademark protection). Even things that can be copyrighted have varying lengths of protection in varying countries, and even within our own country. Eventually, everything ends up in the public domain. We as a society have arbitrarily decided that certain creative works are eligible for copyright, and others are not. There is no simple “of course” about it.

      3. Re:
        “Of course_ I have the right to control distribution/reproduction of something I create”

        You can claim any right. Without the ability to enforce it, the claim is useless. Music files are small and transmitted very quickly in a large number of convenient, inexpensive, barely-detectable ways. The genie is forever out of the bottle. For better or worse, once you’ve released a piece of music, the whole world can have it, for free. The insanely irresistible ease of freely swapping music has already crushed any ethical considerations, with which most people are not even slightly burdened to begin with.

  102. When I was in my prime music listening years (late teens, early 20s), I was also desperately poor. Like, I could eat for an entire week on the 13-17 dollars it would have cost to buy a CD in the late 90s. I bought maybe a CD a month, and everything else I bought used – mostly cassettes, as they were usually 50 cents a pop. And then later in college I bought a lot of used records.

    The sad conclusion is, if you could magically stop free downloading (and album copying and used CD/tape/record stores), I’d just have to stop listening to as much music, and I’d probably listen to a lesser variety of music, and my tastes would be less adventurous. I’d stick to a couple of artists like I stick to a couple of restaurants I know I like, and maybe buy more old music the culture had already told me was good. So while some artists would be would be able to make a living, I can’t imagine some bands, like Animal Collective, would have gotten as popular as they are if most fans would have had to buy their very noisy early records.

    I notice the NPR crowd was pretty angry on the blog comments for her original post, but your post got me thinking….

    Could this be applied to libraries and used book stores? I use the library for most of my reading, and occasionally buy from bookstores, and rarely buy a new book. Isn’t this just as unethical as downloading music? Sure, I pay some tax money for it, but do the authors see any money from the libraries? Is it unethical to pay for a used book? Were video stores also unethical? I worked at one for a while, and one 20 dollar DVD could be seen by hundreds of people who could have made the filmmakers thousands of dollars had they all bought a DVD to own. But instead, we middlemen made a few hundred bucks.

    I’m not really arguing with you – I actually agree with everything you say. I just know that if I had to pay for all culture, I’d do it – on a much smaller scale that would cut out a lot of artists altogether.

  103. I think it is wise to leave the ethics of illegally downloading out of the equation. Ultimately, the act of buying and selling music is an economic proposition… a scenario in which the commercial rules of engagement don’t always neatly coincide with social codes of conduct.

    People like to think ethics are a cut and dry thing… it’s either RIGHT or it’s WRONG. A problem with this thinking is that it’s a big world with lots of valid points of view and real life experiences, and when it comes to codes of behavior, very little is truly definitive. Trying to frame the issue of illegal downloading as a question of right or wrong guarantees that sufficient grey area is getting put into play, which will give enough people the wiggle room to get out of changing their behavior.

    However, by emphasizing the bond between artist and fan, creator and audience… that one doesn’t exist without the other… this seems to be a more effective way of bridging the divide. By illustrating the fact that artists will not be able to continue to provide the immeasurable enrichment to our quality of life without our financial support, that is addressing the heart of the matter.

    And aren’t we seeing that today in the proliferation of crowd funding sites? The artist says, hey, this is what I want to do and I can’t do it without your (the public’s) help. And people respond. I don’t claim that crowd funding is The New Model, but it does bring artist and public closer together, and it shines the spotlight on the importance each group has to one other, while simultaneously kicking all the obfuscating variables to the curb.

    Artists make our lives better, and by supporting artists, we make their lives better, which means they can continue to create, which makes our lives better, and on and on and on.

    I really enjoyed your open letter, David. The repetition of the praise for it in all the comments is well deserved. Just really well thought out, and I appreciate that your expressions of honesty didn’t sacrifice any of your compassion.


  104. I have made an attempt to create a set of ethical “ground rules” for my own listening in this digital era, and would appreciate any feedback or suggestions that anyone has on it! If you can, please leave a comment at my blog post on the subject here: http://wp.me/pwbPQ-nj
    I think it’s about time to start coming up with concrete steps that consumers can take to fight the cynicism of Free Culture and listen to music ethically. I hope that you chime in with some suggestions.

  105. Major problem with your math though: You say “So to ethically and morally “get right” with the artists you would need to pay $2,139.50.” Well sure, if she were to pay the artists directly. But in actual fact if she bought each song on iTunes at an approximate cost of $2 per song, it would cost her $22,000. That’s more like $180 a month rather than 18. Let’s not fudge the numbers here. I’m sure Emily, like many people in my generation, would be willing to pay 11c per song, if we knew it all went to the artist. It’s paying $2 and knowing that only 5% is going to the person you’re listening to which hurts, especially once all those $2 purchases add up.

    I personally used to be like Emily and now try to buy everything legitimately, but the truth is that it is expensive, there’s no fudging around that fact. As young people and students, we don’t have as much money to spend. We are on lower incomes. As concerts/operas/theatre tickets have a student/youth rush, I’m sure a lower price for those who can prove they’re under 30 for example would be greatly appreciated and taken up. The problem is that this system is never suggested and I imagine would be difficult to administer online. But there is a reason why cheaper tickets for young people and students exist, and I think you’ll find that people naturally start buying more music as they start earning more.

    Basically I don’t believe, from my discussion and observations, that my generation has avoided paying for music as a moral decision, it’s more a financial decision than anything else.

  106. Awesome, totally on point writing by David Lowery.
    David makes it pretty well, damn clear, what part we all play in this mess and how truly easy it can be to put it all back together, better than before. I could write a book on how many ways we could implement the spirit of what he has written here. Our unbelievable technology coupled with open minds and good hearts could restore some sanity to a devastated industry in very short span… I digress from the dream… There will be no love lost for music and music will continue to be made under any conditions, but In the interest of what is right & fair, the good fight needs to continue.

  107. I love Spotify. It’s the best technological improvement in my life since I bought my iPhone. I’d love it if someone could explain just how Spotify is exploiting the artists represented in its catalog. Are these artists being forced to sign licensing agreements at gunpoint?

    I spent some time in the music industry as a songwriter and performer. I had a record deal and released several records. I’ve heard many, many, many artists complain about how their record company was ripping them off; about how their contract was unfair. But in the end, they signed the deal. Their signature was on the contract. When my label was making $5 for every $1 that I made I was tempted to gripe but wasn’t that all spelled out in the deal that I signed? Mr. “fireandair” wisely wrote that we need “to start taking responsibility for [our] own actions.” He couldn’t be more right. If an artist doesn’t like the terms of a record contract then they shouldn’t sign. If they don’t like the terms at Spotify then they should go somewhere else.

    Contrary to popular belief no one has the natural right to earn a living in a particular manner. Many people, for better or for worse, were privileged to have the opportunity to earn a living in the music industry for a time. For many that time seems to be coming to an end. It’s time to find another way to make a living.

    As for the apocalyptic argument that downloading will lead to the end of content, well, I say hooey! Music isn’t going anywhere. Musicians have been around for thousands of years (some might say millions). How long has the music business been around?

  108. I don’t see how this is any different to any other article blaming filesharing for the little guy doing badly.

    It’s just not how it works, regardless of what common sense tells you.

    There’s a lot of false assumptions here. For example asking someone is it really that hard to download from iTunes to your iPhone(notice the product placement, though I’m sure you’ve already have) when a lot of people have a strong dislike for the kind of DRM involved in iTunes, or dislike Apple products in general.

    The falling income artists are seeing is largely due to people spending their money on more things. In the 90s there was simply less to spend your money on. Now everyone needs a video game console, a smart phone, a netbook, a tablet, a laptop, a desktop etc. which is probably a problem in of itself since we’re spending more on physical devices than content. You ask why people spend money on these things but not music, there are a number of reasons but a lot of it’s down to people being made feel like they need these devices. This is the fault of other corporations and consumerism and general, not so much the individuals.

    A lot of people have also lost faith in the music industry in general. Most of what’s given to us is rubbish and most people who have actual taste will be turned off by it. This results in the rather paradoxical situation where those who fileshare the most often also buy the most music, simply because they’re more exposed and involved overall.

    But filesharing isn’t to blame and there’s no real scientific consensus that there is.

    I don’t like people giving “Free Culture” a bad rep because it IS NOT about refusing to pay artists at all. It’s about the ridiculously restrictive nature of copyright. If anything it’s more about sample

    Bandcamp and Soundcloud, which use Creative Commons licenses, a derivative of “Free Culture”, has done far more to help ailing artists than any of this posturing and fingerpointing. It helps people feel like they’re getting involved in music again instead of having it prescribed to them.

    You say the intention isn’t to embarass her, but I just see one big emotional appeal, you even drag in people who end up dying due to lack of money, etc. and use weighted language such as saying that artists are *owed* the money that was spent on other products. This won’t bring anyone around to your side, at least not honestly.

    There are deeper problems at work here that cause artists to suffer. In general if a band is failing, they aren’t going to be prominent enough to be widely shared.

    I struggle as an artist, but never would I blame it on filesharing, because it’s lazy and doesn’t address the real problem. Articles like this might look shiny but ultimately they’re only trying to get us to take a step backwards instead of addressing the problem in a more meaningful way.

    It *is* down to governments, and large corporations to do something about it because they’re the ones who are taking issue with it, and they are in a position to do something about it. The average person really isn’t and it won’t make much difference to the average artist if they end up buying an album they would have downloaded(but this isn’t really a fair representation, again, and it’s pretty sad that there’s still the assumption of a lost sale in here despite everything else that’s said>)

  109. Great article overall. However, this:
    “I’m sorry, but what is inconvenient about iTunes…aside from having to pay?”
    sounds like it was written by someone who has never actually used iTunes.

    1. iTunes is so simple a three year old could use it. Aside from some tracks/artists not being available, it’s super easy to use. Not understanding your comment.

  110. Thank you, Mr. Lowery. I came across this article while taking a break from a Pro Tools session and had to laugh at the timing. I am working on my third full-length for this particular band and I know I won’t see a dime for my work, although we get nothing but rave reviews. I didn’t start making records until the current downloading culture was in place (I was a 14 year old in the Fox balcony watching the Key Lime Pie tour) so I’ve never had any hope of making money through my art. We all just make salads and drone into telemarketer headsets until we have enough money set aside to go to a studio for decent drum and vocal takes, and do the rest in our rooms, direct. Reading your post made me sit a little taller, knowing that someone of your talent is making articulate, heartfelt arguments for a cause I hold dear. Bless you.

  111. Thank you, this was a great post. I can’t tell you how many times over the past 15 years, I have had my illustrations ‘stolen’ and the indignation I received from students, teachers and professors when I tell them to take down my work or pay for it. Every beginner web designer thinks they can just take because the “Internet” is free. I’ve even had some of these people explain to me why I’m wrong… I’ve had the concept of sharing used as an excuse or my favorite: “If you don’t want to share your work, don’t put it on the web…!” Usually, I am acting on behalf of Clients who’ve had my work that they paid for stolen! I spent a week burning my entire cd collection into iTunes and I am happy to say, I have paid for all 1822 songs and 500+ audible books. This probably why I only have 1822 and not 11,000. I also don’t drive a Porsche, because I can’t afford one. I don’t shoplift and that is actually what you are doing. There is no difference between stealing a a digital album from slipping a CD into your pocket and walking out without paying.

  112. I am mid-30s, have played and made music all my life, and I teach music (the *hard* parts of it) at the postsecondary level for a living– at the moment, anyway. I grew up on the music of folks like Mr. Lowery, along with Vic Chesnutt (I purchased Mr. Chesnutt’s last two records on vinyl mere weeks before he took his life). I have great admiration for many of the commenters above, like Stephen Street, whose astounding work has always soundly defeated my own slapdash home-studio creations.

    But the game *has* changed. No matter how much you chide downloaders, they are going to download. They will find justifications for their actions, and some of them *are* sound. The labels *have* made many millions on the backs of artists for years, and there are just as many guilty fly-by-night indies who have royally hosed the artists on their roster as there are major-label tragedies to report.

    There are, luckily, many of us in the middle ground. We want to see artists get paid, and we want to legitimately own their product. But we no longer see the point in financing a middleman, or multiple middlemen. Why am I paying $15-30 (yes, $30– not an uncommon price for reissue vinyl) for a record, knowing full well that if I’m lucky, *maybe* a dollar or two will ever find the artist? Wouldn’t I be better off just pirating their music and sending them $5-10 through Paypal directly, if that option were offered?

    We hold services not just like Spotify, but also iTunes and Amazon, in contempt (and I say this as a guy who pays for Spotify Premium every month). Who knows what kind of royalties will be allocated to the artist? That’s black-box stuff, determined in an agreement between the labels and the service. The accounting appears to be wild-West kinda stuff. People complain not just about how little they make from Spotify, but from these services where folks pay a la carte for content. So what if my conscience is artificially eased by buying a record through iTunes? The core problem alluded to by Mr. Lowery– tech corps get the grab, artists get squat– is seemingly not solved at all by such accounts. I’m usually convinced that when I buy a legit MP3 download through such a site, I’ve wasted my money.

    Artists are increasingly turning to the self-funding services like Kickstarter that so many folks have alluded to above, often with astounding success. But I’m not convinced this tactic will work forever, any more than “pay what you want” works for indie artists without a religiously devoted fanbase (which they probably built up in the days of “the old industry”).

    Thankfully, it is cheaper than ever to record at home. This is something folks like Mr. Street know only too well, and it’s to their chagrin… and to mine too to an extent. But the days of the record-label advance are numbered, if they aren’t already more or less over for every artist that isn’t an “artist” (emphasis quotes).

    Artists need to do it for themselves however they can. They can self-release and self-promote online. Pricing is everything. There are lots of folks who have “done the math” and have come up with a different idea of a fair price for an album than the old industry has historically charged. Put out an album for $5-8 as a download, offer a few tracks for previewing, good-hearted folks won’t balk. Offer it in FLAC for those who want it, with no “quality penalty,” and offer PDF fake “packaging” in every download. This is how you put your $5-8 download on par with a $15 CD and encourage consumers to buy what you have for sale.

    I’m past the point of lamenting record stores or labels. The future is all about the artist.

    And I disagree that the government should be totally uninvolved; I think we *do* need to be thinking about artists moving forward– if music is so important to us, and I think we can all agree that it is, some kind of federal agency should be created to make sure that new music keeps coming under the current circumstances. Several European countries have offered financial assistance to their composers for decades, and their composers are often doing much more interesting things than ours are– because ours have to teach at the college level just to survive.

    It would be a horrible idea to regulate the Internet, but let’s cut out the capitalist middleman altogether– this is the source of the downloader’s “justifications.” Let’s make it possible to make and release interesting music without having to grow up with a trust fund as a prerequisite.

    1. Cap’n :

      I am not going to persuade you to love the labels. In most cases, I have done rather better in my “down the road” dealings with bigger labels than smaller ones.

      However, in both iTunes and Amazon, a copyright notice is given to indicate who owns the rights to the downloads offered and this is generally the same entity receiving gross receipts from the online store.

      But I won’t hold my breath about the masses rushing to iTunes to support their favorite artist selling direct without the middleman.

      Your conclusion is a non sequitor : “Let’s make it possible to make and release interesting music without having to grow up with a trust fund as a prerequisite.” Unless that capitalist is willing to invest in tour support for a “baby” band, there will be nothing but trust fund babies on the road.

      1. It’s not a nonsequitur in context; while I didn’t elaborate much on my idea of a government agency to support artists, I’m suggesting that we need to go to an, ahem, “semi-socialist” model for music, at least for recorded online music. It will likely never happen in my lifetime, in part because of our tendency in the US to keep arts and government separate, in part because of our well-entrenched corporatocracy and all of the established entertainment interests still making big money on their back catalogs and lobbying to keep it that way.

        But in an ideal world, with the Pandora’s box of downloadable music having been opened long ago, we’d abolish record labels, turn over ownership of all masters to the government, and put a federal agency in charge of tracking legal online purchases and playback. With no profit motive at the upper ends of distribution, artists would get paid fairly for once, and probably no less slowly than they currently get paid from online purchases.

        In nearly all cases involving a product released on a label, the copyright holder *is* the label. The services take their cut, the labels go next, and who knows if they will accurately report and pay out sales to the artist. Contracts on back-catalog stuff were often drawn up long before the concept of legal MP3 downloads were a glimmer in S. Jobs’ black-turtleneck-eye, with all manner of royalty loopholes for “non-standard media” (record club sales, promos, etc.) often written directly in, and who knows how– if at all– the label will ultimately opt to pay out such an artist.

        Tim Quirk of the once-major-label outfit Too Much Joy posted a great writeup on his own personal experience with the legal-downloads problem a few years ago, and I consider this a must-read for anyone thinking that a paid iTunes download is better than an illegal one. I can’t imagine the situation has changed all that much based on the various complaints I still hear from artists about iTunes / Amazon payout. http://www.toomuchjoy.com/index.php/2009/12/my-hilarious-warner-bros-royalty-statement/

      2. Not only is it a non sequitor, it is also out of touch. For the first time in history it IS possible to “make and release interesting music without having to grow up with a trust fund as a prerequisite”. That is a fact.

  113. Fantastic argument David. Think I’ll make my grandkids read it. Maybe a bit deep for them, but if it gets them thinking…
    BTW, I enjoy listening to “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart” regularly. Thanks for a lot of good music.

  114. I want to offer one shred of sympathy to Emily White, who I think is really just a product of an entitled, “gimme that now, “i do it because i can” culture:

    I think those who have been railing against stealing music have been too narrowly focused on torrent sites and the likes of Kazaa, Limewire, Napster, etc. You’ll notice that Emily doesn’t use those services — probably because she understands that those are firmly in the camp of stealing music and she gets that doing so is wrong. But I also think this means she probably doesn’t see ripping friends’ CDs or promos sent to the station as stealing music — “how is it any different from giving or getting a mix tape?” she might wonder. If SOMEONE paid for the music, and I KNOW that person, and I’m actually touching the product and not getting it from some server in Russia, isn’t that better?

    For that reason I’m guessing she’s feeling pretty shocked and embarrassed by the reaction to her original post.

    That’s where the whole ethical debate about music thievery has missed the mark because it has failed to make it clear that “stealing music = having music on your device that you didn’t pay for, regardless of how it got there = unethical and wrong and hurting musicians.” That whole middle piece to the equation has been missing for me (and I’m guessing for many) right up until I read this post. Right or wrong, that’s the case.

    As a college student in 1999 I crushed my poor little computer under the weight of the files I blissfully grabbed from Napster and Limewire. When someone (namely, my music-fanatic uncle) shamed me thoroughly for the practice I moved to paying on iTunes for most stuff, and buying CDs of artists I really wanted to support. But I’ll still rip a CD on to my computer and pass it on to a friend in the same way I’ll buy a book read it and pass it on. I get the difference — with the CD I’m still keeping the music — but is the distinction really that great? Isn’t it potentially worthwhile if I pass on a CD that the friend really loves and they go on to buy something in the back catalog (which has happened a number of times)?

    This essay has given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks for writing it.

    1. Emily – Nice thoughtful post. Bear in mind, though, that if you pass on a CD that a friend really loves, while keeping the music yourself, you are promulgating a morality that says to your friend, “Why not just download that band’s back catalog for free?”

  115. I once had a quick, simple conversation with a young woman about her consumption of “free” music. I asked her if she stole paintings from museums and galleries or books from book stores. “Of course not,” she replied quickly. “Well, then why are you stealing music from me and my fellow musicians?” I proffered. She blushed, smiled weakly, and looked down at her shoes. “I’m sorry,” she replied. I can only hope that she had changed her ways, but sadly probably not.

    1. I think this is a poor argument. Metaphysically and, I would argue, ethically, stealing a painting from a gallery is something different than downloading copies of songs on the internet.

      1. You’re arguing semantics – My partner is an artist and we constantly have to guard against people stealing her work off the net in order to make prints for free. Just because somebody doesn’t steal the master tape doesn’t mean they’re not stealing. The internet has created a culture of no responsibility, no accountability , and no ethics.

      2. You are exactly right. I see this from both sides: I have two brothers who are professional musicians (one owns an indie record label as well), and my husband and I license artists for the products our company makes. We constantly find our artists being ripped off on the web, and my brothers are dealing continually with the issues talked about here. It is unconscionable, the outright theft of artistic work that seems to be justified for some by the mere fact of technology. Like, if I don’t pull it off the wall, or break in to their office to take it, it’s not theft. Metaphysically, or on the plane of reality I live on–either way–it’s all theft.

      3. Yep. I think the internet, and its cloak of anonymity, has released the worst of humanity into the world, namely, the ability to steal, insult and pry with impunity. Our morality is in the toilet, and frankly, I don’t see it getting any better.

      4. Luis, I enjoy your comments. But I disagree here … like David, I have always dealt ethically with photographers, often given them their first commissions. So, too, with illustrators. In the new morality, cutting and pasting art is regarded as a “skill” but without the admission that it’s akin in moral terms to the entertaining skills employed by an adept cat burglar.

        Recently I have had to upbraid 2 different college professors who have “lifted” images for their blogs, without their making attempt at attribution, let alone seeking permission. One of the professors hides behind the skirts of the DMCA in posting mp3’s. “Too much work” to seek permission, after all he’s a poet first, an academic second, he explains. If copyright owners object, he’ll take down. What an enlightened individual!

      5. Actually Kev, I’m not arguing about semantics. If I break into a museum and steal a painting I have deprived that museum of some thing. I now have it and they don’t. Downloading a picture from the internet does not deprive anyone else of that same picture. Metaphysically, there is a real difference, not just a semantic difference. I’m not going to argue that the act of copyright infringement isn’t illegal but I will argue that it isn’t clear that it was immoral.

  116. I have to say this is a completely agreeable premise. Piracy, if not a direct theft of product, is an effect on the person’s purchasing habits going forward. As there are stories of where you can easily point out people losing money to this changing culture as there are those who have somehow made it work, it does mean there’s a good and bad thing occurring with this idea. And with any idea it should work out the bad while keeping the good.

    I do also agree that if you reduced the distance between the producer and the consumer, they are more willing to compensate them in person than they would through this weird congregation that is the internet.

    But this is just a reflection of the “habits” of this generation when it comes to media. And I think the solution is going to be something more than telling kids to “buy shit.” I guess there should be a push to get people to “buy shit they like,” because you do seem to see them disconnect between “stuff they like” and “the people who make that stuff,” such as the perception of the industry in between, or there perception of the profession as a whole.

    I personally don’t like solving this problem of piracy by “taking away” though. A person is still better off with piracy, being able to be entertained while maintaining a sustainable budget, and I don’t feel right making one party worse off so another party is better off. Of course this only works is when the consumer here does make the drive to start contributing to the creators of their long loved entertainment, but you do clearly state that is not a guaranteed case. Which makes my previous statement hypocritical.

    So really I got nothing. I don’t work in the field, I don’t know people in the field, I am just a consumer in all this doing what I feel is in my better interest.

    So can I say this? I have my buying “habits.” It would be nice if artists could sell things that matched these “habits.” And it would be great if all this could work out.

  117. Some issues that pop up for me whenever I encounter this debate:

    So I grew up in Malaysia, where piracy is rife. There are a few reasons for this: due to censorship and intensely draconian media laws, a lot of legit productions are unavailable. The prices of those that *are* available often do not correspond to the possible incomes of those that are most likely to purchase it (RM40 for a CD corresponds to about a week’s worth of lunches especially for a young person, the most likely purchaser). Also it wasn’t until very recently that Malaysia (and many other non-Western-world countries) were even allowed access to things like Paypal and iTunes, because of assumptions of high fraud.

    From 2001 to about 2006 (or maybe after), much of the Asian world was blacklisted for tours because of 9/11 and the assumption that being in Asia was a security risk. There were bands cancelling gigs in Malaysia and Singapore (the latter being especially super-safe to the point of paranoia) BECAUSE of 9/11, even though neither country had nothing to do with it! (Never mind all the other assumptions about safety that people make about countries in the region.) This is especially unfortunate given that a lot of bands, even super mainstream ones like Backstreet Boys and NSync in the 90s, were often MUCH MORE POPULAR in Asia long before their home countries ever noticed their presence.

    So you have a bunch of people who really enjoy the music but have *no opportunity* to show that support monetarily. They’re priced out, they’re denied access to gigs or merchandise or even just *buying stuff online*, Internet connections took a while to even be strong enough for downloading. When the easiest most accessible option is a pirated RM5 CD – why not? What else can you do, pay tons for a flight ticket to another country to see a gig? (I’ve done that, and I’m not alone, but it takes a certain kind of financial privilege to pull off.)

    Now I reside in Australia, where yes I do have better access to Internet and only just recently got a regular job so I can afford paying what it costs. There are a couple of artists that I would throw ALL THE MONIES to if I could – but here’s the thing: *they’re not making it possible*. And largely I would posit this as the problem of the recording company, but I wonder how much of a say the artists get in this too.

    Artist 1 had a pretty kick-ass solo album with a major label that is now out of print. I have been searching all over iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, whatever, can’t find her. I ended up having to buy the CD off someone in Korea just so I could get the music again. (Funny thing is that I originally got the CD some years ago winning a radio competition.) She/her band hardly ever tour Australia (they did recently for the first time in a LOOOOOONG time) and they’re not likely to for a while.

    Artist 2 is a little more accessible – his current stuff is on various means and since he is from Australia (though not based here anymore) I have been able to see him live, sometimes paying a few hundred to do so. Note though that these are on pretty low incomes and takes a SIGNIFICANT amount of my budget to do so. He changed labels halfway through his career, and the stuff from the time he was on a major label is *unavailable*. I can’t find it on Spotify or iTunes (though his newer stuff is up), not on his website. If the guy had a crowdfunding campaign for anything I’d probably chip in a huge bunch because I love him that much – but the options aren’t always there. Sometimes I’ve resorted to sneaky illegal downloads of old songs because *that was the only way to access them* – but I’d pay him if he let me.

    And that’s just the artists I adore, the ones that are close to money-is-no-object territory. There are many others whom I’m happy to chip in a bit, but not high on the priority list, and there’s only so much I can do. Sometimes I can’t even chip in because options to pay them are arcane. (And bloody hell Apple and iTunes, talk about Big Corp.)

    Then there’s region-blocking – “this track/video is not available in your country” what is UP with that?! Or requiring a credit card when getting one is a difficult process (though Visa/MC debits are getting more popular thank God). In Australia the culture of philanthropy isn’t strong – I’m an artist myself who doesn’t qualify for a lot of gov grants due to my bridging visa, so I’m a big campaigner for alternative sources of funding, yet I’ve been told that this is a “neoliberal” idea because the Government’s role is to do most of the funding. Yeah sure, let me know when they start looking at people who are already marginalised from media, from representation, from access and give us a fair go.

    TL;DR: Issues are complicated, the non-Western-privilege world often gets left out even though they get a lot of shit for piracy, and I’m not sure we can just pin the blame on one party. There needs to be a cohesive effort at looking at the *structures* that lead to inequality – trickling down to fair compensation for artists, including defeating the notion that art isn’t worth funding.

  118. The reason most people see downloading music as a legitimate activity, I believe, is the record companies’ initial ignorance and subsequent legal action regarding sites like Napster. When the internet was a new entity, and free songs were being offered, your average person did not understand that it was illegal to download them. They paid their monthly fee to AOL, or whomever, and assumed that whatever they found on the internet was legal. (Why would companies give you access to illegal material, right?)

    When mp3 sites began to pop up, they were ignored by the out of touch establishment at the record companies. The heads of these companies had little idea that the internet existed, much less what was actually available on it. The younger, hipper execs who actually tried to use the internet as a legitimate marketing tool were either laughed off or, even worse, rebuked for “giving away music.”

    I worked at Wherehouse Music and Tower Records during the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when the final boom hit. Labels went out of their way to bleed customers of money by jacking the prices of CDs higher and higher, while discontinuing the popular “single” format.
    Customers were being forced to pay $20 for cds that had 2 decent songs by manufactured bands. (There, of course, were a lot of exceptions.) By the end of my tenure, the entire customer base felt abused and disenfranchised. When the mp3 revolution hit, they were ripe for it.

    As I said before, most people initially thought what they were doing was ok. Try as we might, record store employees fought an uphill battle trying to educate customers as to why they should pay so much for something they could get for free. They generally laughed in our faces. Instead of educating the public, and launching their own music services, the labels fought back with lawsuits and “unrippable cds.” (Most of which were unplayable in regular players.) Once mainstream (i.e. rich) bands like Metallica started suing fans of their music, it was all over.

    Steve Jobs was the only person who could either charm or bully music executives into allowing him to sell their music. By then, however, the floodgates were opened and the labels suffered irreparable PR problems.

    The Napster generation fought against the exploitative practices of the record companies by downloading their music and shunning physical product. Most record stores, like Tower, were unable to cope with the decline of record sales and shuttered. This new generation, Generation Facebook, has probably never even seen a record store. To them, even Itunes is an outdated concept. They don’t store music; they stream it. I believe a lot of them don’t know that its wrong because they have never been exposed to another option.

    I’d like to state firmly that I’m not agreeing with, nor excusing, their behavior. I’m just offering my opinion on why it’s happening. The bottom line is that record companies should stop treating music fans as criminals. They should listen to what the fans want, and partner with the software creators to legitimately give it to them. Instead of giving Britney Spears or Lady Gaga millions to make a new album, spread that money to educate and fulfill the music consumer.

    If reports are true, and the major labels stop producing CDs by the end of the year, I believe they will actually put themselves out of business. Recording music doesn’t cost as much as it did even 10 years ago. Almost any band with a decent knowledge of computers can produce a quality disc for a couple of thousand dollars. They can also make their own deals with Itunes and have their discs pressed fairly cheaply. No, bands aren’t going to be handed large advances any longer. They will be forced to struggle to make money off of their product. They will have to play more shows and market themselves in new ways. However, I still believe they will be able to make it. The collapse of the record companies will merely put an end to the extravagances of manufactured pop artists like Katy Perry. It will return the power of the industry to the indie labels and the smaller artists who are quicker to embrace new technologies and adapt.

    I offer that final paragraph not as a seal of approval for illegal downloading, but as a cautiously optimistic view point of where the industry is heading.

  119. This was a good read. Thank you for posting. As a musician I’ve never been gung ho on making music for commercial interests, i make/play music because I love the craft and pursue other work that pays. So spiritually, it’s fullfilling and unrealistic sites of great commercial success aren’t placed… when did people start paying for music anyways? when did people start paying for a painting? Isn’t art only ‘worth’/$$$ what some is willing to pay for it? Just looking from a slightly different angle… YOU are the ones putting a price tag on your art.

  120. I enjoyed reading your article, and I wish I had been as eloquent and persuasive as you years ago when I tried to make my young son see the connection between his activities on Limewire and the fact that daddy wasn’t doing nearly as many record dates as he used to before all this file-sharing started. He’s got the message now, and I hope other young people learn from you.

  121. FWIW, Some artists vehemently disagree with David and don’t think Emily White is necessarily part of the causal chain that leads to artists killing themselves (which was a rhetorically cheap move btw). Here’s an excerpt from and interview with Jeff Tweedy by Wired:

    WN: How do you feel about efforts to control how music flows through the online world with digital rights management technologies?

    Tweedy: A piece of art is not a loaf of bread. When someone steals a loaf of bread from the store, that’s it. The loaf of bread is gone. When someone downloads a piece of music, it’s just data until the listener puts that music back together with their own ears, their mind, their subjective experience. How they perceive your work changes your work.
    Treating your audience like thieves is absurd. Anyone who chooses to listen to our music becomes a collaborator.
    People who look at music as commerce don’t understand that. They are talking about pieces of plastic they want to sell, packages of intellectual property.
    I’m not interested in selling pieces of plastic.


  122. Well think about this – if you had the ability to receive a free iPhone vs paying $500 for it would you take the free iPhone instead of paying? That is the way my generation (18-25) think about all of this. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, (and I agree that people should be supporting their artists so they can continue to make music), but that is the mindset for everyone my age that does download music illegally.

  123. In china, where most things are pirated, or fake CD’s sold by street vendor. You simply must be asking… how do the musicians make $$ there? well, actually, they make money hands over fists.

    The music and game industry has adapted there. The musicians are paid to do ads, tv show title promo videos, department store openings and events. The recording studio become the talent promotion agency. The artists or the studio don’t care about piracy anymore, (some even subtlety encourage it.). They have adapted. I’m not saying it’s a better system, I’m claiming they have found a new business model making money, adapted to new tech, and dealt with the issue this new tech brings, fairly successfully. It’s time for us to evolve too.

    Most games are free for download, but keeping a user accounts and getting new characters / items cost some $$. Their game industry also doesn’t give a damn about piracy.

  124. I love both the attention and intention in this whole conversation. Adding my own voice in: I do not believe that music was never supposed to cost money. If you look at the long history of music and its artists, you’ll see that making money from recording music was little more than a short-lived fad. I believe that good artists will evolve and survive in time, and I’m happy to be able to have an enormous and wildly diverse music collection on my computer, even though I work for minimum wage. Maybe the time has come for musicians to go the way of writers, painters, dancers, sculptors, and other artists who rarely make great wealth or reach notable fame from their efforts…yet, they produce amazing work that resonates with people regardless.

  125. I find it interesting that many people will happily purchase E books for their kindle while not paying for music for their ipod.

    I wonder if the music industry had jumped onto digital sales right back at the beginning, how different the economics would be today….

    1. Exactly Chris. Lack of proactive thought and the overwhelming greed of those who were making far too much money, back in the day, also need to share blame for the current mess.

  126. There’s a fundamental economic dilemma that is left out of this discussion. This post paints this issue way too black and white. It is much less a moral debate. It is simply supply and demand: there is no overhead when it comes reproducing digital files. When you have an infinite supply of a product the demand is null.

  127. David,
    Thank you for being the Wendell Berry of anti-music piracy. We so needed a champion and you are a great one.
    Joan’s brother Leo

  128. These articles tend to gloss over the fact that, while spending for recorded music has fallen, spending for live music has increased. Also, for years music buyers have felt ripped off. They purchased albums for years, but were disappointed by the overall quality of the record.

    Profiting off of recorded music was the fad. How much money did Mozart ever make off of a record? To me, focusing on live music is the way to go.

  129. A great article, and comment thread (so rare!)

    I think that there is another important question that needs to be considered in this debate: what kind of role is the far greater ease of creation and distribution of music (and indeed most forms of creative content) playing in this perceived devaluation?

    A couple of other posters have touched on this, and it doesn’t effect the central premise of David’s response to Emily, but might it be as much a contributing factor (if not more) to the decline in artistic revenue as suspect youth morality?

    In a webosphere teeming with artists clamouring to be noticed, there may be hundreds of bands willing to ‘do the same job for free’ (see also: music synchronization services with databases full of ‘sound-alike’ band who willingly have their music played on television shows etc, for a marginal sum).

    Again, this doesn’t take anything away from David’s argument, and certainly doesn’t imply that if one person is doing it for free, we all should. What it maybe does raise though, are other (perhaps more philosophical) questions around the implications of the democratising effect of the digital era on culture and taste and artistic value.

  130. I don’t think the argument that Emily should consider paying the $2,139.50 that the artists would have received. She probably wouldn’t have been able to ethically acquire 11,000 songs or that price. To be fair to her, she should consider having had to pay something closier to $10,890 (11,000 x $0.99) over 10 years. So, each person should budget approximately $1,089 per year of $100 per month for music. This figure represents a more realistic and fairer estimation of the value of the music she has acquired.

    Secondly, while I appreciate your passion for ethics and artists, I don’t think your proposed solution to this debate will prevail. Unfortunately, for many of the reasons you cited above, it is not likely that people will pay for music as a result of heightened morals or increased policing. The solution to this debate, one that is rooted in technology and allows artists to profit, hasn’t been implemented yet. As soon as I recruit a web-design team to implement my invaluable idea, we will be able to return to enjoying music by artists who remain in control of their careers and profits.

  131. This is an extremely ENTITLED generation whose values include trying to have what they want on demand with no consequence to themselves–zero concern for any but the self, no ability to postpone gratification and so little empathy, appreciation, wonder and love for art–in a word: Narcissism. Unfortunately, the most apt analogy that applies to the situation is that : it takes extremely healthy people to empathize with and to ACT to help the victims of violence, and the premeditated stealing of artists’ work is an act of financial violence–most people do as all dysfunctional people do: look for a reason, any reason at all will do, to blame the victim for the plight that the victim had zero part in creating, then feel justified in walking away without caring at all, let alone acting to help end the violence. The issue is: no one cares AND a lucrative, parasitical system is set up, not unlike the moneymill that divorce court has devolved into, where NON ARTISTS are making a killing at the expense of the victim artists, many of whom can in no way, shape or form afford to have their hard work support OTHER people’s families. No matter that people like Vic Chestnutt are a valuable, precious, irreplaceable contributor to society, art, and wonder and the owners of Spotify are not at all. So, I applaud the beautifully written entreaty by Mr. Lowery–whose every album I have bought, loved, kept and played all my adult life–a lesson I let my kids SEE ME DOING just as they have never seen me download anything I haven’t paid for. I would urge this lesson that I and all the unfortunate victims of physical violence have learned:no one cares, victims are blamed then discarded and the only thing that ends bullying is to bully them back and get them where it hurts. Bullies ONLY understand violence, and while being like them is anathema, letting them teach you how to treat them is a wise lesson to take away. As Mr. Chestnutt’s tragedy so sadly shows: there are VERY REAL CONSEQUENCES to stealing from other human beings even if a narcissistic generation chooses to pretend otherwise.

  132. I don’t think the argument above is fair, that Emily should consider paying the $2,139.50 that the artists would have received. She probably wouldn’t have been able to ethically acquire 11,000 songs or that price. To be fair to her, she should consider having had to pay something closier to $10,890 (11,000 x $0.99) over 10 years. So, each person should budget approximately $1,089 per year of $100 per month for music. This figure represents a more realistic and fairer estimation of the value of the music she has acquired.

    Secondly, while I appreciate your passion for ethics and artists, I don’t think your proposed solution to this debate will prevail. Unfortunately, for many of the reasons you cited above, it is not likely that people will pay for music as a result of heightened morals or increased policing. The solution to this debate, one that is rooted in technology and allows artists to profit, hasn’t been implemented yet. As soon as I recruit a web-design team to implement my invaluable idea, we will be able to return to enjoying music by artists who remain in control of their careers and profits.

  133. used to be anyone that was going to record and release a song had to have a record contract. you had to go to a recording studio and an recording engineer would record your music with the help of a producer all under the control of the record co. now, any one whether you are a musician or not, whether you’ve learned how to play a musical instrument or not, whether you have any musical education or knowledge of music can with the aid of a computer, audio interface, microphone and some software make a recording that be released to the world… via myspace, facebook, cdbaby and all the digital delivery system. it’s a musical oklahoma land rush. with your mules, wagon and tools stake your claim and release you records… the industry is in a panic. technology has made this all possible. how do you stop a snow ball rolling down a hill? face it music is going to be free. how are you going to collect? the only way to make it is to have another occupation. the working musician is a totally different entity though. live music is still “alive”. go out to see a band, a singer songwriter, by cds from them. support their music. although there not much money in live performance.
    the bar has been so lowered now, what used to be rejected by record companies as not commercial or saleable has passed through. how many cds are there out there? how many digital downloads are available? to many to actually listen too in a life time.i wish you all good luck and good music. i play three or four times a week i host an incredible open mic. and have a small recording studio doing exactly waht i want to do and helping real musicians see there future.
    michael lindner alleyonemusic.com

  134. Will,
    You certainly do touch upon many unavoidable and thought provoking points, and I appreciate that and your viewpoints. I think that the problem is that while someone cannot get a new computer, iphone, etc. for free, he/she sees that music is available for free– as well as everything from Windows 7 to Men’s Health– and seizes that opportunity. I agree, that the vast majority of the time a person will abuse something that they realize is immoral, but will continue to do so without any repercussions. It is a very perturbing situation we find our society in, and I think that its clear that it will only get worse unless we as a group of consumers change our antics in some significant way.

  135. While I am for fair compensation to artists the writer’s reasoning is flawed. He assumes that Emily should have paid about $2,500 for her 11,000 tracks. Or the roughly 20 cents per track in Artist royalties. But since iTunes charges 99 cents per track Emily would have actually had to pay nearly $11,000 for those tracks on iTunes. Who is getting the other $8,000 ???? from any RATIONALE business model – even 99 cents for a track on itunes is overpriced.And add the fact that itunes ONLY works with PC’s and Apple mobile devices and YES dear blogger, it IS inconvenient.

    The writer also knocks services like Spotify and Pandora both of which I use and pay for. There are maybe 2,000 tracks I listen to. Amortized over the annual subscription fees I am paying about 50 cents per track- more than twice the 20 cents per track the writer claims I owe the artists in royalties – and that’s just to RENT those tracks. So WHO is getting screwed? Frankly, I think 40 cents per track is fair- that is TWICE as much as the artist is entitled to in Royalties – so let the record labels and the media outlet split the remaining 20 cents.I mean REALLY! when I am RENTING those tracks (or even say BUYING them for 40 cents – if that were actually possible) the record labels and the media distribution outlets have very negligible costs (other than royalties which are taken care of in the ARTISTS’ half of that 40 cents). There are no CD’s to stamp, no advertising costs to promote the tracks on Pandora or Spotify, no cover art to pay for.

    Frankly, if this blogger finds that Spotify and Pandora are “rippng off” artists, what does this blogger think of SiriusXM and good ole FM radio???? Since i listen primarily to SiriusXM and FM in my car (which is where I spend at least half of my music listening time) does that make me a scab also, since I don’t buy the CD’s and play them in my car CD player as well????

    If the artists and thisblogger have a beef it is with the record labels not the listeners.

    As for the bloggers antectdocal stories about his tortured friends’ who killed themselves, by the bloggers own (although muted) admission, these tragic individuals were addicts with siginicant mental illnesses. Kurt Cobain made LOTS of money – actually so did Jim Morrison. Actually so did Amy Whinehouse. No amount of money solved their addiction problems or paid for any help. Why does this blogger assume that his tortured friends could have been somehow “saved” with bigger royalty checks. Hell, from researching the bloggers friends, its unlikely that under ANY scenerio EITHER would have sold enough CD’s to earn any significant income. No, this blogger just throws out a sob story to try to guilt the reader. Well, bullshit.

  136. Funny, but my comment about how downloading a few free songs led me to spend hundreds on music I otherwise wouldn’t have purchased and how that makes the issue a bit more complex didn’t seem to make it through “moderation.” Odd, that.

  137. Great Article. I am a music addict. I do download music more as a forum to discover music. Once I know I want to listen to it I buy it from the artist. I have over 3000 vinyl records , growing daily and will continue to until I can’t afford to buy them anymore. CD’s I don’t buy anymore as I don’t enjoy the sound and the art of it as I do with a vinyl record. If more people can see it as I do and use downloading music as a form of learning what you like before you buy it. I think many artists would benefit and the listener will benefit, both artistically and musically through better sound.

  138. It’s a brilliant read, and I wholeheartedly agree with the need for artists to be recognised and remunerated. However I’ve heard the argument before that downloading a pirate copy of an album is somewhat a way around owning a legally downloaded track which has restricted usage through Digital Rights Management.

    ‘Owning’ a track yet only being able to play it on certain devices causes users to go down an alternative route (sometimes more convenient and quicker) to get their music.

    Downloading music legally and legitimately has become easier over the last few years, but the restrictions caused by downloads are part of the catch.

  139. If there is an independent filmmaker, author, or singer/songwriter that I love? I buy their DVD, book, or CD. I pay full price. For me, it’s like tipping at a restaurant – if you can’t afford to tip 20%, you can’t afford to dine out. If I like a song or movie and can’t afford to buy it? I DON’T SEE IT. If I want to read a book that I can’t afford to buy, I make a request at the library. Same with DVDs or CDs.

    And this kind of thing pissed me off LONG before I became an independent artist. I’m thankful to have a spouse with a nice income, and you’ll never hear me crying poor. But I know artists that do all kinds of stuff to feed their families – things you’d never expect someone who walks down a red carpet to ever have to do.

    It is because of this kind of tragedy that I swore to share every dollar Paradise Recovered earns with the folks who helped us make it. I could never keep it all to myself.

    There’s a myth that published artists are rolling in it and can afford to give it away. The sad thing is that these folks are some of the most generous people you’d ever hope to meet. The fact that people steal their art is tragic.

    By purchasing art from an artist you enjoy, you’re paying for their health insurance. You’re helping them pay back their student loans. You’re sending their kids to college. You’re keeping the lights on. You’re helping them pay their rent so that they can continue to create art and music for you to enjoy.

    Don’t steal. It’s never justifiable. Think of the art and music we could have in this world if people actually paid for it. Maybe art and music careers would be valued, and maybe schools wouldn’t put art and music programs on the chopping block first. Just maybe…

  140. Your breakdown of a typical record contract seems to differ quite a bit from other sources I’ve encountered:

    I think you have good points. Artists should be supported, but not the traditional distribution models that exist. Bandcamp! It’s only mentioned by two other people in the comments, which is crazy. Crazier I feel is that you yourself Mr Lowery don’t mention it. iTunes is awful.

  141. The ability for a very few pop musicians to create careers for themselves out of clever turns of phrase and a couple of strummed chords is an accident of history. Just as I don’t feel the need to shell out $.99 every time I admire the architecture that litters my physical landscape, I don’t feel the need to pay every artist .99 for a three minute aural diversion. I have 62000 tracks on my iTunes library and I have purchased 1500 or so vinyl albums and CDs. Lots of Camper Van in that collection. How much more do I owe the industry? Can you break it down for me? Industries come and industries go. The music industry may not have too much steam left in it. People will still make music and people will still listen to it just as they have done through history.

    1. Also, it is In very poor taste to imply that Vic’s death is a result of people not paying for music. Alt country was a 15 minute fad 20 years ago. That might have more to do with his not making as much money. Every musician I know lives in squalor. Musicians making even a modest 35 grand from their musicis very, very rare. I’ve played in lots of bands for fun and even tried to make money with it when I was younger. When I realized I couldn’t make the type of money I would like I decided to do something else; I didn’t botch about how people aren’t spending enough money to support me

  142. Pingback: | Josh McNeill
  143. David, as a musician of the same age, I have to say there are so many flaws in your argument that I find it kind of shameful, not the very least the smarmy condescension in it.

    First, every download is not a sale. Neither is every listen. File sharing is the radio airplay we couldn’t get on commercial radio because the majors bought the MDs through their “independent promoters.”

    File sharing is the mix tape of the internet age. Out of the 100s of plays on commercial radio, I might have bought a record from 1 out of several hundred plays. So Emily has 11,000 songs on here iPod? Who of us actively LISTENS to 11,000 songs? I bet a REALLY involved fan might listen to an entirety of 100 cd length releases a year – let’s be generous and say 4 a week, 200 a year. That’s about 2000 songs total. How people actually USE music is important. Maybe you could HEAR a 11,000 songs in a year if you just left the thing on all the time, but someone has to be aware of the music to like it enough to buy it. Someone come to a party and brings a play list and I suddenly have another 100 songs on my drive. They’re a bunch of ones and zeros re-arranged on a disc – no one had deprived the cd store of a cd.

    What’s more likely to happen is that on the rare occasion that a tune makes me want to listen to it twice, I’ll go check out the rest of the band. If I like the music, I’ll buy more of it.

    We’re all frustrated with not being able to make some of the money we used to make before the bottom fell out of the market. December 2007 seems to be the line for my band. For years we’d average 100 people and suddenly it was down to 60. Those people didn’t stop buying $20 tickets because they could get my music for free – we’ve been doing that since at least 2004 – they stopped making the shows because a whole lot of people lost their retirements and then their jobs and we all stopped buying luxuries.

    Then the popularity of iTunes took us back to the days of the singles market – you don’t have to buy nine garbage tunes to get one decent one.

    Even so – I’m still making more than I was when I had to depend on the interests of a label to be heard. I’m still collecting more rent on my tunes via download than I was selling in the 80s and early 90s because I could only be heard then via word of mouth or at live performance.

    So your moral quandry is not as black and white as you and other major label industry people want us to believe.

    This has turned into a tome and I’m not halfway through – and I realize what a wast of time it will actually be to write an essay – so let me say this: there are long time working musicians who disagree on your stance. (You and I are the same age – I went and studied music in college.) Most of us are far better off in the “free” culture than in the days of the gatekeepers. More people are hearing MY music than ever before.

  144. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. That is the only true way to get folks to open their minds- by not having a condescending tone, and being respectful.
    In this world of spiteful, vitriolic one-liners, this is refreshing!

    Todd Harper

  145. I found your letter despicable. How can you write an article that claims not to want to shame anyone while linking piracy with the suicides of two artists, deliberately implying that things like Megaupload were to blame for their deaths. Just because you say that is not what you were doing doesn’t change the fact that it was exactly what you were doing.

    Meanwhile, you completely fail to point out that copyright law disputes prevented Dark Night of the Soul (a collaborative album between Danger Mouse, Sparklehorse, and Vic Chestnut among others) from coming out. How did those collaborators get around copyright law? By selling a book with a blank cd and putting the album on services like Megaupload.

    I am sorry but that was wrong of you and you should be ashamed for even mentioning them in your letter.

  146. I am a musician, indie record label owner, and father to a ten-year-old son. I talk with him very often about downloading music and the ethical implications of not paying for it. His meals, clothes and allowance all come from the sale of music, he clearly understands the implications! I think all parents need to discuss this topic with our kids so “the next generation” will respect artists and understand that we deserve to be paid just as ethically and morally as Apple, or Verizon, or Warner Brothers. The difference is that most artists aren’t even breaking even on their art (and most of us are in the 99%). Kids are smart and they know in their heart what is right and wrong. Teach them when they are young before they can believe in the “inconvenience” of doing what is obvious and morally clear. Thanks for writing this David. SamR — Projekt.com

  147. Reblogged this on Oboe_Alli's Blog and commented:
    This is a great take on why NOT to download music (or other things) illegally! I totally agree with this dude and I now purchase, borrow or rent (from a library or netflix) all my movies and music.

  148. Hi David,
    Your bandmate Dave Immergluck is a close friend of mine. I also briefly knew Mark Linkous when he did some work in Asheville, NC at a studio I worked in. All I can say is 70’s Honda Motorcycles 🙂 I still have 2! Most of the people commenting on your post seem to work in the industry. As do I. I won’t bore you with the facts!

    I just want to say thank you and I hope this article spreads like wildfire. It seems it already has. I hope that people who buy and do not buy records will read this. It’s a shame that it’s something that has to be explained. But that’s the sad world we live in. The film industry is next. They still have budgets. It will take longer but it will happen. I’m scared to imagine what the music industry will be like when the film industry starts to tip.

    We just have to all stick together in some way or another. And we must most importantly pay for music and enjoy it. I feel guilty having music for free unless it’s given to me. Because I know all of the hard work that went into making a record. Sure I’ve enjoyed some songs in my car on spotify when I absolutely had to hear a Stones number I didn’t have on my ipod. But I have those records. I’ve bought them. And if something comes out I want I will buy it. But I’m not over Emily’s generation. I am not far behind her though. It seems that a generation to blame is an excuse. I firmly believe it’s a personal choice. Hopefully some of these kids will wise up and make a choice for music.

  149. David,
    I’ve followed your thoughts about the music industry and stealing music. I was enlightend and enjoyed your writings about the new model (tech) vs the old model (record compaines),recently.

    It is appalling that Emily, speaking from a recognized and respected platform (NPR) would say these things. But YOU ARE shaming her by being sarcastic, and using the emotive events of Vic and Mark’s death – who did not die because people stole their music. They died because of mental health issues.

    So let’s call a spade a spade. I actually think Emily should be ashamed of herself and good job too.

    Neville Elder

    1. Completely agree with your point about Vic and Mark’s death. Just because you say “I don’t mean to point fingers” or “I don’t want to create a strawman” doesn’t mean that you can blurt out whatever comments you want without a consequence. I feel bad for Emily because you don’t know the full extent of her actions as a consumer, and she even says she goes to concerts and buys merch (musicians get a huge cut from merch sold at shows). You’re using a quickly written blog post as the source to write a massive diatribe against her and her generation.

      However, the financial aspects of this article are spot-on, and I agree with most of the points, but honestly the attempt at linking Vic and Mark’s death with illegal downloading is almost embarrassing. I know the author probably didn’t mean to seem insensitive, but that was a huge, unfair assertion to make.

      1. The quickly written post? I see no evidence of that. It was post for the day for blog for National Public Radio. Our national radio network! That’s a big ass platform.

    2. The financial world of journeymen musicians is opaque.

      We hear of the superstars falling on hard times. This is about the equally world class musicians who have played on or created your favorite music but who never earned what Nick Lowe called “elephant dollars”.

      Yes, let’s think about Nick Lowe. Where would a guy like him be now without his one unimaginably unlikely bolt of good fortune, having a song on the biggest selling soundtrack album of all time?

      He’s 63. 2 years to go before receiving his UK state pension, assuming he has made contributions during his career. US Social Security? He would have needed a U S company making contributions for him over 40 quarters.

      Nick has a young son. When his son was conceived, the music industry was hurting but artists like Nick still received a lot of song royalties, sufficient for a middle class standard of living. That income has been annihilated, not decimated. Forget about middle class or working class, jobbing “name” musicians are in the underclass now.

      I know a lot of guys lucky to be touring Europe each summer. But they’re just one failed tour from not making rent. Those quarterly checks that used to banish their financial cares can’t even pay for a tank of gas these days.

      Suffice to say there’s a lot of real desperation out there.

  150. Thank you for presenting this in a well thought out manner. I would toss out the thought that so many people have more music than they can really ever associate with, at one point I owned 1100 some odd CD’s and a few hundred cassettes, there were some that I never even got around to really listening to.
    I have my favorites which I listen to all the time, I would think 90% of my selected listening is encompassed by about 2500 songs. I found new bands as I grew up by listening to the radio, discussing music with friends and swapping CD’s along with the occasional mix tape, in that aspect I did acquire a very few songs w/o purchase, though if I liked it I would go out and by a real copy. There was at one time a thriving community that stayed up late to listen to the college stations in hopes of stumbling across something new and fantastic, and then buying it and having a listening party, we went out, paid the 5-10 bucks or sometimes free entry at local venues to listen to small traveling acts, bought their merch. and expounded their virtues. As much as the artists deserve thanks and support, I am also saddened by the fact that the fans of music have for the most part lost the experience of really picking up on and sharing music. Quantity at free and no effort robs not on the artists, but also the listener of the quality found by active pursuit and acquisition of music.

    Nutshell: you might have 25000 songs to my 2500, and they may have cost you nothing but I’ll love and treasure every single one I have far more than the dollars and effort I spent finding and acquiring them.

    Thanks and enjoy the day as it finds you,


  151. Most of you, including David, misunderstood Emily’s blog post.

    >She doesn’t talk about “illegal downloading” at all. Your opinion of those is irrelevant to this case, because she didn’t do it and doesn’t talk about it.

    Her post is about how she does not buy plastic CDs or digital collections of songs. She doesn’t have to. Before, she had to, now she doesn’t. The art for the story shows a broken BURNED CD. Again, whether she “should” is irrelevant.

    >It doesn’t follow that a digital copy you haven’t paid for has “ripped someone off.” I have a digital copy of this blog on my computer right now, and I didn’t ask anybody’s permission before downloading it. After I copied it I discovered that the author appears to be giving it away. OK. So if I then say that out of 11,000 things I’ve read, only 15 were books I bought, does it follow that all the rest represent authors who have been “ripped off”?

    “Now, my students typically justify their own disproportionate choices”
    You can try to explain digital media to the confused, but you don’t have to justify it, any more than you have to justify internal combustion to someone who makes horse-drawn carriages. In fact, you CAN’T justify the ubiquity of digital media because it’s a fact, not a belief that can be rationalized. Emily doesn’t believe in free music any more than she believes in gravity.

    We consumers did not choose the ubiquity of media in our current lives — it was thrust upon us too. We often express regret, sympathy, compassion and guilt over its existence when older musicians complain about dwindling income. We’re sincere. But don’t be fooled by that into thinking we have the power to not need smartphones and broadband and instead have money and desire for plastic CDs again.

    “The accepted norm for hundreds of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time” – not true. The right to swing your arms ends at the tip of my nose. Ask people who own VCRs. Ask people who sell used records. Ask people who play music at a house party, or sing in the shower, or make mashups, or perform as DJs. We err toward the greater good, and exchange of media over the Internet without threat of penalty is what makes even this discussion possible. Do you value this blog?

    But even if your copyright statement were true, it’s irrelevant to this discussion. Emily’s actions were based in traditional legal and moral values (if you believe that her boyfriend’s dump onto her hard drive was intended as a mix tape, which they both did). She didn’t change, the media changed.

    “What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles to allow the equivalent of looting.” DAVID’S opinion is the radical one. He proposes that technology changes morality, that previously moral behavior like making mix tapes is now “the equivalent of looting” only because you can fit more MP3s on a hard drive than singles onto a cassette tape.

    And there is no such thing as “the corporate backed Free Culture movement.” I didn’t need a movement to copy David’s essay onto my computer for free.

    >Emily said she got most of her music ripping copies sent to her college radio station, which is probably 100 percent legal. Our college radio station has an agreement with the powers that be that allows DJs to do so. Yes, that’s right, your labels GAVE HER PERMISSION to “rip them off.”

    Your whole section on math is mostly likely based on a false, ugly assumption.

    I am beyond tired of folks claiming “looting” without spending one second investigating the terms of a situation and whether a right to copy was actually granted. You’re asking us to consider the fine print when you will not do the same. Lead by example. And yes, MPAA and RIAA, this means you too.

    In today’s media world we have permission to get unlimited unpurchased copies without so much as violating an unenforceable civil claim. “But even in the case of corporate record labels, shouldn’t they be rewarded …”? If the copying is legal, then by law, NO. Nobody gets to renegotiate after delivery because they think they got a bad deal. Only Tony Soprano would force that issue with a straight face, which is where the term MAFIAA comes from.

    “The reason they can get away with paying so little to artists is because the alternative is The ‘Net where people have already purchased all the gear they need to loot those songs for free.” Again, what do you want us to do? Not buy smartphones? Buy CDs and let them gather dust? Buy MP3s and immediately delete them for space?

    >Here’s a deep irony – I see several names on this thread I recognize from my collection, and of course I know Mr. Lowery’s work. I first encountered all of your music when I copied it into a device in my home for free, without your permission and against your labels’ wishes. The device is called the radio, and at one time the music industry tried to make that type of copying illegal, just as it is trying to do with many types of file-sharing. The Supreme Court ruled against them in the 1940s. Rest assured, if it wasn’t for free downloading I would not know who any of you were and would never have spent money on Cracker shows, Camper Van shows, the Smiths’ “Strangeways” album (bought used on LP and new on CD), etc. etc.

    Again, if such downloading in 21st century technology should now be considered “the equivalent of looting,” it is not a “Free Culture movement” proposing a change to morality and principles, it is you. Until you at least acknowledge this, you will get nowhere with me.

    >I have to admit that Mr. Lowery’s clean, crisp irrationalities on this subject have made me doubt I’ll ever again pay to see him live. Don’t assume you’re at rock bottom financially, guys. I just spent 6 hours on this post. I’m invested and my chips are on the table.

    We all have to live in these times. You are not immune. We suffer and adapt together or one of us falls behind. Calling a 21-year-old a looter because she listens to 21st century radio and cassettes instead of buying plastic discs is not a show of solidarity with someone who is probably also getting a raw deal from 2012. If you can’t feel that solidarity, what is your worth as a communicator? Who can relate to your work? What universal truth does it express?

    “Over the last 12 years I’ve watched revenue flowing to artists collapse … I present these two stories to you not because I’m pointing fingers or want to shame you. I just want to illustrate that ‘small’ personal decisions have very real consequences, particularly when millions of people make the decision not to compensate artists they supposedly ‘love’.” If David doesn’t understand how much we’ve ALL lost in the past 12 years – if he thinks the music industry crash exists apart from the crash of just about everything else – how can he speak to us as an artist?

    Millions of people lost their homes. Millions of college radio DJs can no longer find reliable work. There is nothing small about the personal decisions these people are forced to make every day to make ends meet. When David used the word “small,” the bell rang and class was over.

    He doesn’t live in our time anymore. He lives in his own parallel world where the Great Recession only happened to middle-aged musicians, and they are just a single cultural shift away from being back to 1995 cash flow again.

    I wish he were right. If I could restore 1995 by buying 10 CDs a month, I’d have a moral obligation to do so. It would be worth it just to run from the airport ticket counter to the gate again.

  152. As a graphic designer working to help promote the artists, I’ve been feeling it as well. There is a trickle-down economy at work. I’ve seen my budgets shrink to a fraction of what they used to be – to the point where I have to work 18 hours a day just to make ends meet. Thankfully, I’m still busy. But more and more I’m being asked to do the same work for less and less. What I do for a living has been completely devalued, thanks to music and video piracy.

    1. I don’t think it is piracy that has devalued graphic design, it is a supply/demand situation – there are far more people who are willing and able to do graphic design nowadays than there used to be, partly because of software advances. You can argue that you will do a better job than many of these people, but that doesn’t mean clients are willing to pay for that ineffable “betterness.” Photography has the same problem – 20 years ago if I wanted a decent portrait of the family, I had to go somewhere and have a pro do it. Now I can do it myself with a consumer grade camera, do basic corrections with free software, and get results that are plenty good enough. Technological progress sometimes eliminates entire professions, like the guys who used to light streetlamps or the riders for the Pony Express.

  153. David, I greatly appreciate the suggestion at the end of your post in regards to donating to charities that support musicians. However, most of the charities appear to American and to mainly support American musicians. As a Canadian, who has download some Canadian music, it would be great to know how I could give back, not only to those artists, but to the regions they hail from as well. If you have any knowledge concerning specifically Canadian charities, or charities that explicitly mention helping Canadian artists, I would appreciate you passing it along.

  154. I like to write music in my free time, and most of my friends also write music. Some of them are really good at it too. All of us freely exchange and upload our music on the internet. In my case, I don’t care about money. If someone is listening to and enjoying my music, that’s more than enough for me.

    I understand it’s different for people who do music for a living. I just wanted to put my thoughts across.

  155. hmm… interesting that you get to publish an article and the world can consume it for free. the author (you) doesn’t get paid, the publishers (wordpress) don’t get paid, i doubt even the person who designed your site got paid. If i were a writer I think I would be a little frustrated that you have devalued my work simply by offering up free articles to anyone who can read.

    I’m a musician and have been making recorded music for about 10 years now. I dream of nothing else then figuring out a way to be a responsible bill paying adult and still get to play music for a living. But i think you have missed the point entirely about what the internet and file sharing have meant for not only musicians but artists of all types. Big entities making money off the back of an artist is as old as time and especially when it come to recorded music. So while its sad and should be fought against its boring. There is a chance to be innovative, creative, and progressive in ways that we couldn’t even think of before. I for one don’t think its wrong at all for Emily to have taken that music… it was hers to take

  156. This, to me, is more of a question of advancing technology than declining morality. When you steal something, it’s not there anymore, and no one else can steal it. when you download music digitally, you are tapping into a virtually infinite pool of information that almost everyone has equal access to. The laws of supply and demand would dictate that if there is an infinite supply of something, it has no value. If CDs rained down from the sky infinitely, would you pay for them?

    I’m a serious musician, and I consider the most important part of my life to be writing songs. However, I believe firmly in the idea that something that doesn’t exist in the physical world doesn’t have monetary value. CD’s, vinyl, T-shirts, live shows, etc, all of these you can feel and touch, all of them require materials and energy to create and coordinate and therefore have monetary value. For example, if I write, record, and print an EP, even in the most minimalist way, I’ll ask people for at least a buck for it. Uploading a song into the digital realm is a completely different story, because it can be duplicated ad infinitum at no cost to me, therefore I absolutely have no reservations about giving my music away for free digitally. Quite simply, I feel that just sinking a lot of time and energy into something doesn’t automatically qualify you for monetary compensation. I’ve spent more than a decade of my life developing my musical ability, and I don’t realistically expect to ever be paid for the hours I spent doing so the way I would be if I had spent them on the clock at some ‘real’ job. And yet here I am, with no regrets and no sense of entitlement.

    I will add to this that I have never illegally downloaded music, simply because I am pretty much computer illiterate, having devoted the time it would have taken me to learn even the most basic internet trickery to things like, go figure, making music. But if I were to dabble in this ‘music piracy’, I would only use it as a means to bypass the risk and disappointment of dropping $15 on a CD and not liking it. If I really dig an artist, I support them, plain and simple, to the best of my ability. I pay for concert tickets, CDs, posters, vinyl and t-shirts. But I flat out refuse to drop money on something than doesn’t exist in a physical sense. All information should be free, call it Free Culture thinking, call it hippie idealist mumbo-jumbo, call it whatever you want. Sharing information, not just music, but all kinds, makes it easier for human beings to understand each other and in turn makes the world a better place, and therefore should never be restricted. That’s what’s so incredible about the internet, the ability to instantly connect with people you never would otherwise. The possibility of people around the globe rocking out to my tunes, and furthermore corresponding with them, is exiting and satisfying enough for me. As far as I’m concerned, the more ears to hear it, the better. Any money made in the process is a welcome bonus, but nothing that I expect. As cliche as it may sound, if I expected money, I’d be doing it for the wrong reasons.

    I’ll end my comment by paraphrasing a quote saying that human beings are the only animals that pay to live here on Earth. Interpret that as you will.

  157. I am disappointed to hear that Spotify is not compensating artists adequately. I have recently (in the past few months) become a huge fan of Spotify because (I thought) while listening, I was helping to support many artists who would have otherwise never been heard or paid. Through Spotify, I have the ability to listen to entire albums and decide which cuts I want added to my library. I have wished for Spotify to add an option to purchase directly via Spotify rather than having to purchase from Amazon.

    I view Spotify much like a radio station online (commercials included). I also, listen to free audio streams on NPR and my community radio station of which I am a supporting member of. What is the difference from listening to Spotify versus NPR and community radio online? I have to ask.

    I conscientiously don’t purchase CD’s (or LP’s) anymore is because of the toxic pollution plastic waste causes. I download MP3’s from Amazon frequently because I feel it is more environmentally responsible. However, I can’t afford to this all of the time. Does this mean I shouldn’t listen to free streaming audio? I REALLY value the ability to listen to streaming audio from NPR, community radio and Spotify and I hope the blessing continues so I can discover more talented artists who would have otherwise gone unheard and unrecognized.

    BTW, In the 1980’s and 1990’s I was a manager of a record stores in Texas and Florida. I witnessed the mass marketing of artists (by corporate executives) that were not musically worthy and also witnessed so many VERY talented artists tossed on back burners because they weren’t pretty or sexy enough. It was so frustrating and sad.

    Until today, I felt like music was flowing freely again into our homes without the censorship of corporate record store executives and commercial radio. I felt like I had a choice again but I also felt like something really good what coming from it all.

    I consider myself a morally conscious individual. You have given me much to think about. However, I am confused and would really appreciate some feedback given my perspective.

    Sincerely, MZ

  158. In the interest of accurate portrayal most of my collection is now ripped, and my own foray into the acquisition of songs without paying the artist was via the slew of Imported live recordings which I purchased of many of my favorite artists, Also I failed to mention the discovery of music via the MTV, because it still hurts to remember the loss of that source of music perusal.


  159. Did you even read her article? Emily White does pay for music– she just pays for it in digital form. Where do you get the message that she pays for none of it?

  160. I feel like there is a massive assumption in this entire piece that needs to be discussed – does everyone who wants to make a living though music have a right to do so? Linking the death of two musicians with the rise of piracy makes those musicians sound hoplessly idealist and/or lazy – most of us have a dream job that we’d love to do, but most of us choose instead to do a job that lets us earn a living. I would like to climb mountains for a living, but I am not good enough for a sponsorship, so I work a 9-5 job and climb at night and on weekends. If Mark or Vic weren’t able to support themselves with music, they could have made the same hard choice the rest of us make every day and gotten a job. It is ridiculous to pin their deaths on piracy.

    I don’t like the way David disingenuously lumps Creative Commons in with pirates. That is like saying the folks making Firefox want you to steal a copy of Microsoft Word. In his “The Net” metaphorical neighborhood, he is implying that the food banks giving away food are as bad as the looters stealing food from the supermarkets. I’m not thrilled by that metaphor anyway, as copyright infringement is fundamentally different than looting, even if neither are ethical. To make the metaphor more accurate we must explain that the stores being looted have an infinite supply of the goods being looted.

    I think the argument that we are paying $2000 for gadgets just to enjoy our music is off the mark. When all I had was a binder full of CD’s, and Napster was just a gleam in Fanning’s eye, I paid money for a computer. A computer and smartphone are a sunk cost, a cost I would be paying regardless of whether my music was on CD’s or in the cloud. The only dollars most people allocate specifically to music hardware is a portable MP3 player. But 15 years ago I had a portable CD player, so I don’t see a real difference there.

    As an aside, I am curious why David doesn’t attack libraries the same way he does all the other companies making money by sharing media. Surely they are depriving musicians and authors of money every time they loan out a book?

    For the record, and since we’re using anecdotes here, I haven’t bought a physical CD in 15 years or so, but I have spent thousands supporting my favorite artists, (many of whom release their music for free) by buying their music in digital format, going to shows, buying merch, etc. I would not have found some of these bands if they hadn’t released their music with a Creative Commons license.

  161. maybe someone could set up a website that artists can have a donate to account, “me, the one who made the music you love and got for free. And for every song we steal we find the artist on this site and donate $0.10-$0.15 per song to the artist. If thats the average of what they get paid anyway. That way the new way of acquiring music for free doesn’t have to change, but those of us that want to be socially responsible have a way to give directly to the artist. And maybe soon that consciousness will spread. I certainly would not have any problem paying $0.15 a song.

    1. You are missing the point. Artists own what they do, and have a right to be paid for it; you have no right to acquire their “product” for free. You act like musicians are asking for charity. What do you do for a living? Is your compensation charity, or rightfully earned from your talent, labor, and value of whatever product you might make?

  162. Kidos, does anyone know how much the artist gets from iTunes?
    i usually purchase albums from that source, for convenience and now we can retrieve any lost songs. Some artists do not release CDs, as the Motels did in 2009 with “This”- I wanted to ask Martha Davis about this but we never touched that subject during her after concert signings in NYC.

  163. Reblogged this on Shelby Live in Australia and commented:
    As some one who is adamant about her responsibility to pay for all music downloads this aweseome post is more than ample vindication of my many ‘soap box’ episodes on this issue. People you need to pay for music – illegal downloading is theft plain and simple. Further more if you don’t support your favourite artists how will they continue to produce the music you love?

  164. The one point that this article fails to address is that most people aren’t willing to pay 10 – 15 dollars per CD anymore. I know there’s the consideration that a lot of people go into making a CD (the audio engineers, producers, talent, guest talent, CD artist, marketers, arrangers, composers, musicians, lyricists, managers, etc. etc.) but consumers can’t be expected to pay a price they don’t believe is fair. Honestly if every CD costed only $5 I would have no problem paying for them, but $15 a CD is just way too much and I like way too much music. Even when I used to pay for music, I would buy them new from amazon or ebay and find them at wholesale prices, never paying more than $7 a CD. What needs to happen is the system needs to be completely reinnovated to pay musicians. We can’t keep trying to back musicians by touring and CD sales alone. Musicians need to stop expecting people to pay a buttload of money for stuff they can get for free. Artists need to ban together, stop signing major label contracts which ain’t gonna do shit for them, and encourage ad companies to sponsor them on some sort of cloud network instead of illegal downloading sites. Then the public can still get their music for free (or paid if they wanna get rid of the ads), companies will still get their name out, and musicians will be finally be paid. Even now, artists can just upload their songs legally on youtube and get ad revenue from the number of hits they get. These are the measures that need to be taken. Either that or reduce the price of their CDs to something people are willing to pay for.

  165. I agree that we, as fans, have a responsibility to support the music we love. That being said, I think there are a few shortcomings with this argument. First, I think you are putting an awful lot of words in Emily’s mouth. She isn’t advocating theft, but rather pointing out a simple fact of life. In the digital age, it is no longer useful to think of music economics in terms of physical product. We also live in an age when Amanda Palmer can directly raise 1/2 million dollars for a record directly from fans, without any creative controls being placed against her. She doesn’t have to worry about distribution, storefront supplies, radio play, etc. This is a new age. As we progress, the system will continue to decentralize. As such, yes, we will see fewer massive mainstream artists. But we’ll also see more artists that would have never been given the opportunity to escape the gatekeepers. Audiences will naturally grow smaller, but there will be more of them. The economics will work itself out.

    The second major question I have here is whether or not we are still in a place where the value of art is purely economical? Does art exist without an equitable exchange of money? If music can only be valued in economic terms, doesn’t it make sense that as it becomes less expensive to move the ‘product’ to the market (technology cutting recording and administrative overhead/dismantling the label system), the expected value of that product would also naturally decrease?

    Here’s what I keep thinking about; If an exchange of money is absolutely necessary for the creation of music, how do we explain Husker Du, Black Flag, Mission of Burma, The Replacements, The Minutemen, and the Dead Kennedys? The art will always survive. With that faith, I have a problem judging someone else for how they choose to express their own support.

  166. This has needed to be articulated for a long time, and you did it brilliantly. I’m going to forward it to every young, misguided person I know.

  167. David

    This is all very fascinating, and thanks. I agree with your fundamental argument but I do think you’ve oversimplified two points.

    (1) A song / music cannot be likened to material sales.

    I spend an embarrassing amount of money on music every month. Like, a lot. 99.99% of that money is spent on vinyl records, more than half of which are new. I also download a shit-ton of music, some legally but mostly illegally. I do not use either of your two justifications for my downloading — I often download music to try before I buy.

    Maybe most of the vitriol directed at the record labels (and thus the justification to steal music) is from the horror stories of bands being chewed up and spit out by the majors (see the oft-pirate-cited Albini’s “The Problem with Music”).

    But not for me. No, I am still furious over the dozens and dozens of CDs I purchased as a teenager after seeing a buzz bin video on MTV and rushing out to Sam Goody, only to come home to realize that I had been conned into spending $15 on a piece of shit.

    Is it totally moral to steal something that I may or may not end up buying? Isn’t that like stealing a pineapple from a grocery store and then only paying for it if it tastes good? According to your analogy, yes. But I really, really don’t think so.

    I’ve taken a cue from my father, the most honest man I’ve known. He used to go record shopping with his friend Jerry (this would be from about 1972-1982) and buy stacks of records. They’d return to one of their homes and listen to all of it, and they’d tape most of it and exchange it. They were stealing music, the same way Emily ripped cds from her friends. But if they liked something, they’d go out and buy it for themselves.

    Have you never taped a friends LP or CD? Or made or received a mixtape?

    Now, with that in mind, Emily’s situation sounds a bit like Ron Livingston’s penny dish argument in Office Space. Taping LPs for friends is a bit different than ripping every CD in a radio station.

    BUT the fact is a song is NOT a pineapple. It is not a piece of merchandise. It exists in a different ecosystem than a pineapple. Free music has been available to consumers for much longer than the internet has existed – available on the radio, on TV, and on homemade cassette tapes.

    I know radio stations and MTV had to pay royalties and we had to suffer through commercials, and that cassettes were lower-fidelity versions of illegal MP3s, but my point is that the system is more complicated than you make it out to be.

    (2) Illegal Downloads caused the downfall of the major label system.

    I’m not going to argue that they didn’t contribute, or weren’t by far the biggest factor. But do you remember what was on the radio when the industry started to crash?? 1999? It was AWFUL. It was arguably the worst era of mainstream music ever. Creed. Korn. Britney. Limp Bizkit. KID FUCKIN’ ROCK. I can’t even force myself to recall any more because it makes me sad. I used to love listening to the radio and for a few years there I just couldn’t turn on the radio without getting nauseous.

    The “bets” the industry was taking in the late 90s were shitty fucking bets.

    Around 2003 I had a long conversation with a guy who made a small fortune marketing back catalog recordings in the 80s and 90s. He retired early because he could see the industry was going to crash. He was well aware of Napster and Kazaa but pinned the blame on his employers: they were marketing songs, not artists or albums.

    You remember what happened in 1998? “Now that’s what I call music”. The stupidest thing the industry agreed to.

    Sometime in the 60s, labels stopped marketing one-off singles and started marketing the acts themselves. The strength of the music industry stemmed from these investments.

    But for some reason, in 1998, “Now” hit US shores. Labels reverted to the pre-Beatles model… get a song out there, hope it strikes a chord, and make as much money off of it as possible, and move on to the next song.

    Again, I can’t argue that illegal downloads weren’t the mortal wound. But there’s more to the story than just “People started stealing”.

    So yeah, great article. Thanks a ton.

    I just noticed that a vinyl copy of Kerosene Hat sells for close to $300 on Discogs. Time for a vinyl reissue? I’d buy that for sure.

    Take care,

  168. I rarely purchase songs. However, I rarely rip songs now. I noticed that someone has to be getting screwed by me getting free music. Instead, I stream music through youtube and others.

    1. @Shay,

      Trust me. We’re getting screwed without lube by Google owned YouTube.

      A recent blog post of mine :

      “Harry Fox YouTube Royalties Arrive …

      We have circa. 500,000 cumulative plays on our song copyrights. We consistently average 2000 paid downloads per month on iTunes and Amazon, say $150 per month in mechanicals. Now to represent years of lost business on YouTube :


      To translate for the non industry types here :

      The Harry Fox Agency represents dozens of our songwriters who have composed and released hundreds of compositions on recordings including one by Yo La Tengo(!), The Offspring, The Vandals and numerous other “name bands”.

      For all the YouTube plays for the last decade, we’re receiving $123.02 (minus $15 wire fee) for everything and everybody.

      For those who received huge checks, please let us know.

  169. There is one thing that occurred to me while reading these comments. It may be somewhat sidebar, because by and large I agree with the bigger topic being discussed. What was interesting to me was that, as sometimes happens, a minor point (to the author) is what created this dialogue, rather than her initially intent behind the blog.

    Her point, by the way, was that physical media is essentially a factor for previous generations, not hers. When she says that she has 11,000 songs and only purchased 15 CDs, it seems like she means exactly that: CDs. When she says that she doesn’t think she or her peers will pay for albums, that she wants convenience, again she is referring to her theme: that digital access is much more convenient (and ingrained in today’s youth) than the packaging. Again, I agree with most of the points the author of this current post stated, but this one I disagree with: I don’t think she saying that is is inconvenient to pay for music. I think she is saying that it is inconvenient to drive to a store and find a copy of the physical album.

    She also says that she did not illegally download the majority of her songs. Based on this non-specific statement, it is possible that she paid for digital copies of the bulk of her collection.

    Do I think this is likely? Probably not, based on what she stated later. But to me, it brings up another interesting point. From the blog post, it seems that she differentiates piracy from the kind of album swapping you might do with your friends. For her, one is unethical and the other is a sort of community building exercise. And, honestly, how many of us have not created a mix tape or CD for a significant other?

    What this boils down to is degrees. Is putting together your fifteen most romantic love songs for your sweetheart technically wrong? Technically yes. Would we look at someone who did so differently than the person who pirated those same fifteen songs from the Internet? Probably.

    My points are these: Let’s not fully vilify her, given that we are basing our judgments on something she hasn’t necessarily said. Second, with so many factors in today’s world that people 20 years ago never even considered, sometimes it can mean that the root cause is something different altogether. In this case, maybe it is the idea that swapping albums with your friends isn’t really any different than downloading them illegally, because either way an artist’s music is being disbursed with no compensation.

  170. We own a destination recording studio. We poured everything in our hearts and pockets into building it, and the musicians loved it and did great work here. But, business slowed and rates dropped and we thought we were going to lose it. In desperation, we advertised the lodging-only as a vacation rental. Now we collect the same day rate for the same building WITH THE STUDIO LOCKED OFF. We are booked all of the time (even into 2014), with folks putting deposits down a year or more in advance. The irony is really painfully sharp when I realize I am renting this place to a person who is a musician, but can afford to vacation here because they are not a PROFESSIONAL musician. Many of them use the money they have made in other professions to rent studio time while they are here. Next summer there is a person coming who’s wife explained that at one time he was one of the top concert pianists in the country, but realized there wasn’t enough money in it. Obviously, he chose a well-paying alternative — in addition to the lodging, he will be renting studio time. The whole thing is surreal sometimes.

    1. As a studio designer, builder and special systems tech I physically understand your situation Corrie. 🙂

  171. I just wanted to post a minor rebuttal, but first, I need to point out that I’m not familiar with the groups Emily mentioned in her original post (which I only just read a few minutes ago after reading your post), and so I’m not familiar with her music collection.

    I’ll also add that my music collection is miniscule compared to most (about 3,000 songs).

    That being said, about 2/3 of my personal music collection was freely downloaded… legally.

    Granted, that legally free music is done by artists you probably have never heard of. But my favorite music site is Jamendo, which only has music that is licensed under the Creative Commons license, which allows for free download and re-distribution (that is simplified a bit, but it is easy to look up the Creative Commons licenses to get the full story). The license is applied to the songs by the artist, and these artists apparently are more interested in getting their music heard than in getting money for it.

    The remaining third of my music collection was paid for, whether through CDs or through online music purchasing sites like AmazonMP3, Rhapsody, Google Play, etc. (I have never had an iTunes account, but I’ve also never had an iPod, iPhone, or iPad, nor do I want one, so I don’t need iTunes).

    (On a side note, I found one artist on Jamendo. They released two albums for free on that site, which I downloaded and thoroughly enjoyed. They then released a third album on Amazon, which I promptly purchased).

    I’m not a “pirate”. If the artist expects to get paid for the right to listen to their music, then I either pay for it or I don’t listen to it. But if an artist is willing to make their music freely available, then I have no qualms about freely obtaining it.

  172. Love the post, David, and have been a fan for a long time. I totally agree that artists need to be compensated more for their work but I have a little problem with your numbers. You say that the minimum amount an artist should receive is 10.35 cents per song. This is totally reasonable but I have never seen a legitimate pay site that has songs that you can download for this price. Even if you took in all the other factors and bumped it up to 20 or 30 cents per song, I think that more people would begin to open their wallets. The regular price for a download is around one dollar. Where does the extra 90 cents go? Itunes is charging over a dollar now per song and entire albums range from 7 to 10 dollars. In the climate that you are describing above, it will be difficult to bring back all of the people who can get it for free with these prices. A CD at a concert usually costs 10 dollars and I get to check out the liner notes in the car on the way home. To charge this amount for a digital download is ridiculous. If I go with the numbers that you quoted above as fair compensation for the artist and even bumped it up some, an entire album of 12 songs should cost no more that 4 dollars. I’d love to see a pay site that has these reasonable prices.

    1. If the download is $0.99 that’s the retail price, the wholesale price would be about $0.70. The sound recording owner gets that wholesale price out of which it has to pay the mechanical royalty $0.091 currently. The artist royalty will vary depending on whether it is calculated on a wholesale, retail or revenue share basis (this is what the “Eminem case” was about in part). David is describing a royalty based artist deal.

  173. Mr. Lowery –

    I was hoping to seek permission to use your letter as a reading in my “introduction to music” class at the high school level. Yea or nay?

    Is it possible that the use of the word “convient” in the original article was to say that today’s consumers would pay for the convience of a monthly charge to access a cloud-like library?


  174. I agree that folks like Emily should pay for works they consume. I completely agree that people should not download copyrighted material without the authors’ permission. I also agree that compensation for artists is a consumer-driven process, as large corporations have for decades merely exploited artists rather than meet their obligations to artists.

    I disagree, though, that the Free Culture Movement is a monolithic entity,nor that the goals of those who support freely shared music and software are all ignoble. I choose to share my music for free, not because I disbelieve in intellectual property (in my day job, I’m even licensed as a patent lawyer), but because I believe that sharing can help advance folks’ ability to use songs creatively in their day to day videos and audio recordings.

    I support your call for people to become artist-centered in terms of paying for works that are for sale. But I think that the “it’s the free culture movement” strawman that is the problem is not the most apt way to describe the problem.

    I think that your indictment overlooks the problems caused by the corporate record industry, and its insistence upon adhesive contracts and unprofessional accounting. I applaud your effort to get folks to realize that the pirate-party-style abolition of copyright is not a solution, I disagree with your us v. them assessment of the situation, which lacks the nuance to address the myriad of problems faced by artists, who do not begin nor end with a “free culture movement”.

    There is some force in your point that the pendulum has swung a bit in favor of corporate device makers, after a generation of MIckey Mouse copyright extensions. But we all remember the old days of payola for shelf space and airplay. The 99% of artists did not thrive in this world, either. The technology creates the opportunity for true artist independence. To overlook the opportunity inherent in the situation is to be nostalgic for a “good old day” that was only good for a few.

    So I agree that people should pay for music that artists sell, or refrain from listening to it.
    I disapprove of unauthorized downloading, and disagree with “pirate party” thinking.
    Yet I never want to go back to the RIAA world, and liberally licensed music will be part of the ticket to a better music culture.

    The problem with the post is that it equates unauthorized downloading with the goals of a more open, legal-sharing rights culture. This is not the lesson Emily should learn–a kind of RIAA fantasy. Emily might learn instead a simpler lesson–don’t use things you did not buy–and leave behind the “free culture” diversion.

  175. I’m so thankful for this post, it lets me know I am not alone. As an independent artist I have casually mentioned a variety of these points to my own fans for years and never felt heard so I am glad the conversation is still out there. I posted an entry on my blog last month titled “Hey Can You Spotify Me Some Cash?” just to inform listeners on the royalty situation. Unfortunately I found myself under scrutiny (of course). “Quit your bitching” “Maybe you should find another job” “I support the band on tour instead” “If you don’t want me to listen on Spotify don’t put it there” were commonplace replies when my entry went a little viral. What bothers me most is that no matter how delicate you approach the issue as someone who’s career and well being hang in the balance, you can still be perceived as the bad guy. There’s little sympathy for the livelihood of musicians. It’s become a dark “Hey, just shut up and be grateful I listen to you at all.”

  176. If you ignore the ever-growing ever-looming white elephant in the room-the radically changing global economy increasingly squeezing the disposable incomes of little guys from every direction-this article does make sense. And the small pink elephant of legal downloads is still another elephant-sized elephant to ignore when agreeing with this article. Why consider that people with increasingly squeezed pockets have chosen en masse to pay $1 for single songs with the same regularity they once paid $16 for an album when you can just ignore it? Never mind that a starving artist can’t get healthcare or that an artist wouldn’t be very fair in hanging his suicide on kids downloading music. But to tell the truth I can’t see it because there are a couple of elephants sitting on top of me and I am beginning to suspect there are some other elephants in the room crushing the sense out of me as well.

  177. It’s not so much her fault as it is the tools used to rip and distribute the music without consent. It’s the same thing as someone holding the door open to let his friends in the theater to go watch the movie – he paid for the ticket, they didn’t. The one who rips the CD into a file and shares it, is basically doing the same thing. But for her to rip CDs from the station’s music library, I’m kind of surprised she’d openly admit to doing it. Is an MP3 or FLAC a “duplication” of content on a CD? But I’m sure we’re just going to see more subscription services pop up as a way to hear a variety of music. But the music industry didn’t take a loss just from file sharing – the 90s had a big boom because people were replacing their vinyl and cassette copies with CDs. Once people were able to turn their music collection into digital files, no more need for replacement copies.

  178. Thanks for the excellent post, David.

    One edit I’d really like to see, though, is a source for this:

    “Per capita spending on music is 47% lower than it was in 1973!!”

    Not that I doubt you, just interested to know where it came from.

      1. A few things are at play that make this revenue decline unsurprising.

        Kids these days mostly buy singles – hence – part of the reason decline in total spending. Suppose “Low” became a radio hit in 2012. How many full albums could you expect to sell – supposing piracy did not exist? Kerosene Hat would have generated just a fraction of the revenue it did in 1993…no matter how many charting singles it had.

        Another major factor is the people who actually buy complete albums – people like (age 40) – buy a small fraction of the music as we used to (I estimate I buy 1/3 of what I used to 10 years ago). We’re square now – we don’t have the time to keep up with the Bonaroo acts because we’re busy raising children, maintaining homes, and trying to keep our jobs.

        Worst of all – change will never occur with the corporations. You’ll never get major corporations to voluntarily share their profits fairly with musicians. Most sad, politicians will never enforce copyright law and force the corporations (Google, Comcast, Silicon Valley as a whole, etc) to share revemue with musicians. It’s naive to think ANY politician cares enought about musicians to buck their donors and cronies.

        Musicians are going to have to go the way Tyler Durden to get fairly compensated by corporations. It’s hopeless.

        Lastly, who could predict that people would be willing to spend a ridiculous amount of their discretionary money for their iphone, smart phone data plans, ipad/ipod/macbook, high-speed internet, gaming systems, online gambling, pervasive government-sponsored gambling (as a form of revenue production), cable television, etc? Discretionary money for music has been siphoned off.

      2. Not to nitpick, but Bain Capital and Bain & Company are not the same thing. The former is a venture capital/private equity financial services company. The latter is a management consulting company. The former was created out of the latter, but they are very different entities with very different functions.

        Excellent post, though. If, hypothetically, I stole Vampire Can Mating Oven, where can I pay you for it?

  179. Excellently written David. As a musician, I ran into this problem over and over… until I created an entirely new financial tool to make it right: http://patronism.com. In a nutshell, it’s a pay-what-you-feel subscription platform that empowers artists to crowdsource a predictable, ongoing revenue stream directly from their audience. It’s like a fan club on steroids. While the artist is empowered by their audience to make new work, it simultaneously empowers the members of that audience to feel powerful about their ability to change the world in one specific, tangible way… and as a bonus they “get” all of the content the artist chooses to share with them – blogs, videos, background info, tracks, b-sides, works in progress, etc.

    It turns out that recorded music is just an artifact, not the real thing. About 1880 we started thinking wax cylinders, vinyl plates, magnetic tapes and tee shirts were actually the valuable part of music. It’s true that those things are the parts you can trade easily for money, but they have no intrinsic worth; No one buys a shirt at my show because they walked in without one.

    So the wrong question these days is, “What will you pay for this stuff?” The answer is always, “As little as I can get away with, while publicly wringing my hands about ethics to make myself feel better.”

    The right question for a musician to ask is, “What can you chip in to make sure I can keep doing this thing you love?” If they’re doing something people value, and they offer that kind of invitation, about 20% of their audience will jump in the fray with them and toe the line, because this is not just the artist’s problem. The audience, including Emily, is asking, “What can I really do to help?” The answer is now as simple as, “pay what you feel, subscribe, and guarantee the continued production of this work.”

    And now that Patronism has grown to over 100 artists, I can say that the average is over $13/mo per patron. And because the subscription is pay-what-you-feel directly to the artist you love, each one has a different average, directly proportional the depth of connection they create with their audience. My personal average is over $18/mo, so even by your math I’m breaking even… and as a result I can afford to continue making new music on behalf of my patrons, for everyone to share.

    And while I can only depend on about 20% of the people who like my music to actually subscribe at some nominal rate of their choosing… everyone is in the 20% for someone or something, and they will fund its success if invited to participate.

    And I think that’s a paradigm shift worth embracing.

  180. Like emily, almost all of my music in my iphone, ipad, ipod and all in my hard disk are downloaded from the internet. I courageously can say and admit that. Some artist may have different views in piracy, free information, free music, free downloads, torrents, etc. but in my opinion, these definitely give knowledge to curious people. I learned quite a lot by listening to a lot of music, lot of movies, lot of books and other source of knowledge. If someone is really a fan of a band or an artist, he will really support and buy their album. Some artists prefer to let them listen the album first and let their audience decide if they want the original copy of their album. That’s what I do, I listen to them first if it’s crap then why would i buy it. Honestly, i really don’t prefer buying cds, it has no value to me except for the effort of the album covers. But I will buy vinyls, it has more value, it’s more emotional and have more meaning to be a fan. Art itself is not about money or economics! it has never been. Be grateful if someone loves your song and your art form, if you gain profits from it, then count it as your blessings.

    1. Agreed. but again. if an artist is offering their work for a price, asking you to support them in this manner, do you just take it and say “be grateful someone loves your art”. Why is it your choice to decide in what form the artist is compensated? especially if the artist has made his/her preference clear. I know you are trying to appeal to a higher ethical and moral principal her by taking the talk our the economic realm. But you actually just ended up highlighting the exact same ethical contradiction.

  181. I noticed Mog was specifically mentioned over Spotify (maybe I’m reading too much into it) but is there a streaming service that’s better in regards to artist payout.

    1. Rhapsody.

      Among the digital radio services, both Sirius and Pandora are in a different league.

      As David says, the Spotify hype does not reflect the paltry payouts so far, outside of Scandinavia. If the hype was indicative of their performance, we’d be seeing low 4 figures monthly.

      We started off in Europe with them for 1 euro the first month. We have not come close to 100 euros monthly, including now the USA. This is for a label!

      1. Above (somewhere in this comments section), I responded to somebody re: Pandora and royalties. They pay, and it’s probably as much as they can do and remain in business. It’s not really enough, IMHO.

      2. We recently received our first pay statements from our digital distributor for two streaming services:

        * Rhapsody: $.0091 per stream
        * Spotify: $.0008 per stream

        I know which one makes me happier.

  182. Appealing to morality isn’t going to get you anywhere; it’s all about the economics. Technology changes the incentives, and morality follows the incentives, so get off your high horse and develop a better business model if you want to keep jamming out. In the meanwhile, the rest of us will keep plugging away at our real jobs.

    And by the way, contrary to your suggestion, there was no golden era for copyright protection. The life of the average musician throughout history has always been one of struggle. Want a life with financial security? Don’t be a professional musician. And PS, you can still be a musician and have a day job.

  183. I am a musician and pay for my music since I recognize the fact that the musicians I like simply won’t be able to keep doing what they are doing without compensation. I also very much agree with the points brought up here, in particular the issue of who is making money off of the file sharing. (Shouldn’t ISPs have to make payments just like restaurants and hotels that use music to increase their value do?)

    Having said that, I think it is unfortunate that some commenters are condemning the younger generation. My experience is that in many ways tastes and interests are far more eclectic than when I was growing up and this probably does have something to do with file sharing (not that this justifies it, I am just pointing it out). I don’t think this attitude is going to help make the case and I also have to wonder what we would have done as a broke 18 year old music lover presented with a near endless supply of new music.

    What make the original essay so good is that it avoids that type of condemnation and may actually be convincing to at least younger people who are thoughtful.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking. Frankly, this is only a generational problem in that earlier generations simply didn’t have the easy access to the tools making music sharing a reality. Intellectual piracy has been a problem for pretty much as long as there has been a concept of intellectual property. It’s distressing to see a repetition of the age-old “these damn kids” argument. The problem isn’t that young people are terrible, it’s that we, as a society, haven’t yet come to terms with the fact that technology is outpacing our moral understanding of the world, and that the lay-person’s understanding of the music world is really skewed. Dismissing young people as a bunch of horrible, self-absorbed narcissists isn’t really an argument. It’s just insulting.

  184. Does David think that the UGA Music Business Certificate program he teaches at is a worthwhile endeavor and not just another big corporation (albeit a non-profit one) bilking the young for money in an otherwise dead end ‘education’? Baby don’t ya go, don’t ya go into Westwood? Right David?

  185. Another issue: I object–and sometimes express my objection to the people in charge–when I go to a dance performance done to recorded music instead of live, or when a Big Organization (like my university) puts on recorded music instead of live as background entertainment. Not so clear-cut an issue, assuming that payment for the recoded music fairly compensates the performers; but coming from a family of performing musicians, I have a strong preference for supporting live performance.

    But perhaps I’m on the wrong side of this myself, when I perform at a wedding in a group which is made of non-union musicians. We’re none of us making our livelihood at performance, and we’re definitely low-end pricing for this service (and maybe that’s all we deserve). Is our group hurting the local career musicians by not being union and underpricing the union groups? Or are we just making it possible for low-end weddings to have something to accompany the walk up the aisle? (I’ve been to an enormous range of weddings, from essentially zero-cost to Huge Productions; I know the difference between those able to put out a reasonable spread and thread-bare productions that don’t spend any dollar unnecessarily.)

    Steve Harris

  186. The argument I find missing from all of this, David, is this: in an economic reality where things are given away for free, how do we adjust the signal-to-noise ratios in favor of the craft of music?

    Where currency is freedom and art is no longer traded as a commodity, people who tend not to know any better and will listen to anything someone tells them to download, will do so willingly & in the act of downloading subliminally accept any and every aspect of the music they receive — regardless of the work that went into it or didn’t — as somehow equal. I would argue that as a false reality, a world where craftsmanship and quality is berated in exchange for the half-finished, odious crap shack, a virtually endless outhouse of free entertainment resting at our fingertips in the same ebullient luxury as what is paid for.

    And then, of course, because taste is so varied and subjective and the concept of “what is good music” is an argument as old as the first note conceived, so who am I to put a price on what I think is fair to ask for my own work? How do I compete with all the mediocre, half-finished odes to fake self awareness borne of someone’s failed attempts at “finding themselves as an artist”? What right do I then have to choose not to mention or compare this type of work to that of someone who eats, sleeps and breathes the process?

    Trey Anastasio of Phish, a band whom I don’t personally care for but certainly respect, said in an interview with Anthony DeCurtis 12 years ago that he feared that music would eventually only support advertisers and no longer support artists.

    Trey said: “I have a very strong opinion about Napster. I think there are probably people that don’t see the big picture, and what’s going to happen is that advertisers are going to start getting paid and the artists aren’t. The way the artist will get paid is to be attached to an advertiser. And I’m strongly against music being attached to the selling of a product.

    “That being said,” Anastasio continues, “I think the Internet is going to open up a lot of possibilities with music, and the shake-up of power is exciting to me. But I think that people should just be aware of the whole picture that when you’re downloading music you’re putting money in the hands of corporations for advertising and taking money away from the performers.”

    Today, the only revenue streams for the artist are, much as he predicted, advertising, revenues (or film/tv/trailer placements), sponsorships, and touring. The sad part is that the same opportunities are open to anyone with the right connections, a strong social media presence and the shameless chutzpah to spit out anything that comes to mind. The signal-to-noise ratios are deafening for people who have devoted themselves to the craft of music. Thank you for a brilliant post & one which I hope opens the discussions on this subject again to a generation in need of more than freebies and filters.

  187. “I also find this all this sort of sad. Many in your generation are willing to pay a little extra to buy “fair trade” coffee that insures the workers that harvested the coffee were paid fairly. Many in your generation will pay a little more to buy clothing and shoes from manufacturers that certify they don’t use sweatshops. Many in your generation pressured Apple to examine working conditions at Foxconn in China. Your generation is largely responsible for the recent cultural changes that has given more equality to same sex couples. On nearly every count your generation is much more ethical and fair than my generation. Except for one thing. Artist rights.”

    The ironic part is that it’s mostly artists who are at the forefront of raising awareness for these causes whether they be fair trade or same sex.

  188. Hi David,

    Thank you for such a cogent and powerful piece. You’ve managed to distill a complex debate into a simple act of consumer choice. Forgive me for oversimplifying but… by downloading music illegally, you cast your vote for technology corporations that exploit artists, and against the artists themselves.

    As a musician, I find this to be the most powerful argument against music piracy.

    But I have an ethical dilemma, and, if you have the time, I would welcome your feedback. I’m a jazz musician and as such I spend a lot of time listening to, studying, and transcribing records. I buy albums by current and living artists, but I download music by deceased jazz artists. Here is my reasoning:

    1) Since the artist is no longer living and producing music, I do not feel that I am cheating the artist. I am shortchanging his/her estate or record label. Not ideal, but not morally reprehensible, either.

    2) Many of the albums I download are for study or transcription as much as “pure listening.” In a sense they are my text. Jazz musicians used fakebooks for 50+ years before Hal Leonard published “The Real Book 6th Edition.” Many still do. If I could afford to purchase every album I wanted to skim or study, I certainly would. But that would cost me $4-500/month on jazz records alone… when I can’t spend more than $50-60 on music in a month.

    3) I purchase the albums I love, often in multiple formats. It’s pretty much impossible for me to walk into a record store without buying an LP. When it comes to jazz, I typically purchase the albums I know deeply.. those which go beyond being a “text to study” and have become an essential part of my emotional and musical life. At that point I purchase them to “cast my vote” in favor of the music I love (Milton Friedman would be proud).

    What do you think? Does this seem like a legitimate artistic justification, or the rationalizations of yet another disenfranchised music pirate?

    Thanks again for your insights… a superb article.



    1. Hi Rami,

      Since we are in the same genre, I feel I can relate to you, but I’m going to have to disagree. Point by point:

      1.) If you are cheating the estate of an artist, in many cases, you are cheating his/her family and dependents. True, they may not have made the music you are listening to, but I am fairly certain they’d want the their descendants to benefit from their labor. Wouldn’t you?

      As for cheating the record label, I get it. They are a big and bad corporation. But by not paying money into that system, you are taking money away from the pool that they can use to sign another artist who is deserving of a spot on their roster, assuming it still has an active jazz label (Blue Note).

      2.) You argument here is a little Jeff Goldbloom-Jurassic Park-ey (the whole “preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should” issue) Entire generations of musicians learned this music one album at a time, during eras where they could not just copy cd’s or files. They may have borrowed from friends or teachers, or just learned on the band-stand. I believe this is why you generally find pockets of high jazz activity to be very localized to small regions around the country, historically (Kansas City, Harlem, etc). In the end, you don’t really NEED every song or album you get your hands on (no matter how much you may think you do), you just WANT them, and that’s a huge difference.

      3.) Your statement here is the bane of every independent artist who produces an album. You only purchase what you love and “know deeply”. If every consumer was like that, then no new and unknown (to the national and international jazz community) artist would ever have a hope of having anyone buy their album unless they had already gotten a huge amount of publicity (which is hard to get). I don’t know where you are located, but how does an artist in NYC or Italy (2 places I live and work), ever sell an album to a consumer like you in a place such as Idaho or Mexico? New artists absolutely need a consumer that will take a chance on things they do not “know deeply”.

      Believe me, I sympathize with your plight. Perhaps my location affords me opportunities you might not have to listen and learn, therefore making my position easier. But in the end, every consumer has a choice, and by making yours I believe your are undercutting the scene as a whole.



    2. Check out the National Jukebox at the library of congress online. TONS of public domain music from the turn of the last century — legally free and clear, no moral grey areas involved in listening. There’s more jazz there than you know what to do with, along with tons of other great niche stuff like old folk, blues, klezmer … and COMPLETELY available, with no moral stains to accompany them.

    1. not condemning creative commons per se. it’s voluntary. that’s different from the free culture movement. that is mandatory. look around the blog. there are other writers who go into great detail on the sleight of hand behind this.

      1. No, Creative Commons comes from “Free Culture”. Most of what you’re saying is completely incorrect and it’s extremely disrespectful to blame a movement who’s done far more to put money back in the pockets of artists for filesharing just because it believes in laxing ridiculous copyright laws.

        Most of your assumptions are incorrect here and I don’t like this unbacked conspiracy theory being pushed to defame people who really do believe in the artist being in control. I would appreciate the mistaken usage of “Free Culture” being corrected as an avid supporter of Creative Commons. People often make this mistake with the “Free Software” movement as well(though that’s a bit more crazy either way), but there’s no excuse for not educating yourself.

    1. actually i’m right there with you on the ISP/distributor front. Just not in this blog. This article was very specific. It was only about ethical fandom. File-sharing between individuals is an ethical issue. I don’t make it a legal issue. Giant corporations making money distributing music without permission on an industrial scale? that is a legal issue.

  189. “Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?”

    Because no risk-free manner of theft has presented itself. I would have thought that was fairly obvious.

  190. While I agree with much in this article, I am disheartened to hear such a negative attitude towards my generation in both the article and the replies I see here. Like Emily, I am a 21 year old student and a college radio DJ. Unlike Emily, I spend a great deal of money on buying my music. I absolutely LOVE the feeling of going to the store- what few that remain who sell music- and buying an album hot off the shelf. Two of my favorite artists, The Rocket Summer and Jukebox the Ghost both came out with new albums two weeks ago and for months I was counting down the days until I was able to go out and hold physical copies of them in my hands. I love being able to read the linear notes, lyrics and view the artwork as a physical print and not digitally. Not only do the musicians put a great deal of time into the songs themselves, but artists put so much into creating cover art. If physical forms of music disappear one day, then visual artists will lose money too. The thought of this makes me cringe and it is something that I hope never happens.

    And in defensive of my generation not all being so bad, might I note that I’ve even pestered my friends in bands to give (or sell) me a physical copy of their album even though I had already bought all of the songs on bandcamp. I have even gotten full albums of music from friends, but still went out and bought my own copy of it. I spend literally over a thousand dollars a year on going to concerts and while much of that money is the dollars I spend on putting gas in my own car to get there- I still spend money on buying their CDs, merchandise, concert tickets and even tip money. I have even bought CDs of bands I wasn’t crazy about and only listened to it once or twice after I bought it, but I have no regrets because I know that I helped a musician.

  191. LBOYI read the article and I’ve seen a lot of replies, counter-replies, rebuttals, etc. Most everyone here is being relatively respectful so I’m going to take a shot…

    1. Mr. Lowery makes a lot of good points, some of which I, the music-lover (and Spotify subscriber) was not aware. Many of these points seem backed by some artists and producers for whom I have a lot of respect (Stephen Street? Holy cow) so I know they’re not solely the opinions of a lone wolf here.
    2. This newer generation’s points about minimizing the role of the middleman corporation in the equation are valid and must not be ignored. The old model of some fat, corporate label-guy putting out all the cash to discover young talent, paying advances and charging ungodly sums to the artists for the investment which they will make up with successive works is neither fair, relevant or necessary anymore. So why are the labels still so prominent?
    3. The points some users have made about the cost of music are ALSO relevant. These are your customers; if they’re broke, they aren’t going to be able to spend money on your product anymore. Charging them pay-per-play, charging the stations in reverse-payola schemes, a-dollar-a-song digital copy costs (come ON, you’re not even printing CDs for that!), $100 a concert ticket for something they don’t even really *own* is not really supporting your fans, either. I’m not accusing anyone of being bourgeois but perhaps some of you don’t actually know or remember what it feels like for that $40 to HURT coming out.

    It seems like the model we have now is disastrous and unfair NOT just in that the artists aren’t being fairly compensated, but also that the end-user is being nickle-and-dimed to death by an industry that refuses to accept change and treats its own customers as the enemy instead of catering to their needs and factoring in both costs AND benefits of a technology that makes distribution so cheap and easy. Let’s examine:

    1. It used to be called “payola” and as I remember, stations were paid to play songs more frequently in effort to “push” them onto the listener. Now that push is free to you and you want to CHARGE per play? Come on.

    2. In the case of the college-kid “whining” about not being able to afford to pay…Um, how cavalier of you to completely disregard that choice between groceries and the newest Pretty Lights piece? Back in the day, this kid could have popped a cassette into a double-player/recorder and copied her boyfriend’s Head On The Door” or “Bona Drag” …or Casey’s entire, freaking Top 40, for that matter. Back in the day, this college kid (your MAIN listener-base, if I’m not mistaken) would have purchased an album or two a month, MAX. The problem isn’t just that we’re consuming more at a faster rate and are unfairly using what we can’t afford to pay for, but that we are *expected* to consume so much. I don’t think, with all the growth you’ve assumed in your figures and the vaster array of artists who dilute the practical amount of money/resources spent by your listener base that you could survive either if the listener stuck to just buying a single album per month.

    3. And in the past, you would have had to provide the music, the medium (cassette, CD, Vinyl, etc), pretty, printed material made for all three mediums, posters and stands and promo materials to hang all over the local Record Town in the mall (that the teen employees invariably took home) and a host of other silliness.

    The changes in the way technology has made the music deliverable and marketable and *consumable* have made the entire industry broader and better, in my opinion. I am no longer limited to the selection at Bleecker St Records, for instance, if I want Acid House or The Pixies or the Cocteaus…or anything outside of Q101 or Z100 or whatever mainstream station is playing the latest garbage by Mariah Carey and Nickleback. YOU, the artist, have a much more effective vehicle to circumvent the “machine” so-to-speak so you don’t have to sit and hope enough college stations play your music that eventually it makes it to Malibu Sue’s “Shriek of the Week.”

    Now, I’ll let you in on a secret: I am not a frequent downloader…I’m just not. I haven’t been since the whole Napster situation left a bad taste in my mouth. What I *am* is a mixtape consumer. I listen to DJ mixes, compilations, etc that others have made. I don’t buy a LOT of music but I hardly steal any, either. I have a Spotify account which, I’m sad to find out isn’t doing their job. I’ll cancel it. I have a Netflix account too. I don’t need to steal movies because I’ve got plenty to keep me entertained. If I want something not on one of the two services, I’ll rent or buy. Every once in awhile, I’ll snag a song illegally that I just can’t find on iTunes or Spotify (most recently, that song was “Boy” by Book of Love. LOL) My point is: I would be more than happy to spend, say $15 a month on a service that lets me access music the way Spotify does but with good quality, constantly growing and TIMELY selection/availability and a fair usage model that doesn’t allow music to just “expire” from my collection (or be stolen from it). My point here is: I AM YOUR PAYING CUSTOMER. And you are alienating me!

    Let’s sit down together and design a service that offers the most value and convenience for the consumer with the highest compensation for those who directly had a hand in producing the work…and let’s leave Geffen, Capitol, Island, Maverick and whoever else has historically small personal investment to BIG profit ratios at the children’s table, okay?

  192. To follow up on my earlier point: the copyright interest in a work of expression is not the same thing as a property interest in a tangible object. The fundamental difference, of course, is that the work of expression is a non-rival good; one person’s use of the work does not by definition preclude the possibility of another person’s simultaneous use of the work. Obviously, this is different than, say, the finite tract of land.

    The law attempts to treat copyright in a fashion akin to our traditional notions of property by imposing this exclusivity (i.e., this thing is mine and therefore I can exclude you from using it) in order to promote intellectual productivity; and NOT because the creator of the work of expression has some moral or natural right in preventing others from using it. And unlike traditional property, where self-help is available for defense of the property, protection of copyrighted material necessarily involves the invocation of government monopoly and availment of government protection.

    To this extent, arguments that sound in an artist’s moral entitlement to profit from her work of expression appear inconsistent with the legal basis for that entitlement. And perhaps this is reflected in our cultural sentiments — that we don’t care so much about the artist as we do the art. And I don’t think this is unreasonable, given that the whole point of the copyright system is to produce more art.

    To be sure, there are many other ways to create incentives for the production of popular art besides the current system of copyright (William Fisher, in his book, “Promises to Keep”, has some interesting suggestions.)

  193. I just had an idea….. to start a site called ADD – Artist Direct Download. It would be like myspace merged with Pandora and would be open to Artists of all types and would cut out all middlemen. I don’t believe that paying media conglomerates for culture is a good idea either. Who’s with me.

  194. Reblogged this on Soli Deo Gloria and commented:
    This was a very eye-opening piece for me regarding the music industry, artists’ rights, etc. If you like music and have any appreciation for musicians at all I hope you give it a read too, it’s a little long but very important. Support the musicians you listen to!

  195. As nice as this is, I think this is completely unrealistic and I think you are trying to hold back the tide with a small wall. Technology changes everything – it always has. Wasn’t that what the Industrial Revolution was about? And, for example, I don’t think people who sold horses were happy about cars. And, there have been a lot of changes going on around us. I worked with print companies who used to make tons of money. We would come and look at our ads on beautiful four color proofs and they would send film to all the magazines (cost an arm and a leg, was time consuming) and I personally know two that went belly-up. Talk about depressed, the owner of one of those companies had invested a lot in machinery right before his business crashed and burned. He didn’t commit suicide but he had a serious heart attack from the situation.

    I realize art is different (BTW, I buy all my music not least because it’s simpler for me) and I want to protect the artist as much as the next person but….you’ve got to be realistic as to what’s going on. It is also much cheaper to put out a song, almost anyone can do it and the structure there used to be to introduce artists to their (potential) fans is very different. I worked at a record label in the 80’s into the 90’s and I saw sad changes there, too. Instead of letting artists build their fanbase, they were expected to bring their fanbase in and/or, if it didn’t hit right away, it was over. But, I digress…

    I think you need to be looking at a changing business model. (1) I think there should be a protection on the digital track where, if it isn’t unlocked correctly by a legitimate buy, a virus is loaded onto the device that takes that song and also, any other music it finds on the device that is unpurchased – or maybe all their music. Most people will not download from a site if they think they are going to get a virus. Also, I think there should be a tracking label embedded in songs so you can find where it comes from and how many times it’s downloaded so you can charge them from #3. (2) There should be a baseline price and if a company goes below that (like Spotify) there is a tax to balance it out – a tax that is supported by the ISP provider who will have to pay the tax themselves if they don’t collect it. And, that tax funding could go into an Artists Fund…(3) Maybe any device that plays music has to put x% into a royalties kitty when it’s purchased (sliding scale for this one…?)- an advance/assumption of how much music is going to be played. (4) Maybe companies like Pandora build a playlist of everything you’ve “liked” and then presents you with it at the end of your listening session and you can purchase it at a lower price for all the songs or more for one at a time….

    I’m not sure – I’m just winging it here but, I think expecting people to just do the right thing is naive, truthfully.

  196. This may have been stated in a previous comment, but I would say that the number of unpurchased songs that this woman has on her computer is irrelevant. What is relevant is how much she’s played them. Maybe, in the end, this doesn’t amount to any more than someone from my generation might have played cassette dubs of albums that others had bought or might have been listening to records or tapes purchased USED (transactions where the artists involved received no compensation).

  197. As a working musician, and occasional recording musician, I largely agree with what the author has to offer. But, I feel he should be careful when he throws out statements like the following as evidence:

    “The accepted norm for hudreds of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time.”

    This is ludicrous. The idea of artists “owning” their work didn’t even come into play in a financial sense until the advent of “sheet music” in the 19th Century and then, especially, sound recording in the 20th Century. With few exceptions — Stephen Foster (composer of “Camptown Races” and other classic 19th Century American tunes) comes to mind as one exception — it was very rare for composers to make much of a living off of printed music; the mechanical reproduction of the day.

    Beyond that, because the author here does state multiple hundreds of years, most successful artists, indeed all of the classical artists from the Renaissance through Enlightenment — you know, the ones we learn about in Art/Music History Classes as the greatest artists in history? — they remained viable because they had patrons and commissions. Bach didn’t “own” the Goldberg Variations when he was finished with them; Goldberg commissioned the piece and as such owned it. Likewise, a patron provided the means of survival, and a comfortable lifestyle for an artist they were especially drawn to. An artist in this situation was a show-piece the patron could trot out to impress friends and colleagues. Any art that the artist created under this patron belonged, not to the artist, rather to the patron. Very not different from a record label I would suggest.

    For me, this oversight withing the body of this piece really diminishes the power of your other arguments, despite their common-sense — or at least common-felt — nature. As an artist, I would love for everything else you say here to be 100% right on, but there are so many reasons why it’s simply not that cut and dried.

    Music has only been “property” in a modern sense for about 200 years. Our copyright laws are utterly pre-historic when it comes to protecting artists in a digital age. The whole idea of “ownership” or “theft” is terribly fluid in this day and age.

    For example, as a teenager I never felt the least bit of guilt or even had an inkling that I was violating any laws when I would sit with my boom-box, listening to the radio, waiting for my new favorite song to be played and instantly hitting “record” on the cassette deck as soon as it began. This is clearly the pre-cursor to file-sharing. And, VERY few people at the time, or even now, would have much problem with such behavior.

    These days, the direct analog would be for me to go to YouTube and use my pro-grade audio suite to record the audio signal and then convert to mp3. The quality – depending on which YouTube format the uploader used – might approach that of a file I download from a P2P site. But, because I went to the effort of finding a stream, recording it myself, it is quite a bit different than if I just went and got it off of Pirate’s Bay.

    So, there’s two competing things here: 1) How is personally recording a song off of the internet any different than personally recording a song off of the radio? And, if it is the same, why wasn’t there an outcry 20 and 30 years ago when teenagers across the globe were doing just that?! and 2) If it is the same, and the quality isn’t much different than what one would get off of a P2P site, why not just go the P2P route?

    Then there is the issue of “theft”. If I break into your home and steal your CD collection, you no longer have the CD’s. If I take photos off of your walls and dresser, those are gone too. But, if I make a copy of a file you have in the cloud or on your hard drive, you still have the file. I haven’t taken *anything* from you. AND, now I have a version too. This sort of exchange is unprecedented in human history (outside of ideas or theories), and our laws have come nowhere near close to handling this paradox: I stole it from you AND you still have it. That simply isn’t “theft” in the traditional sense.

    I know its sacrilege to suggest these things. I want to get paid for my art too. But, if people love my work enough to share it with everyone they know, who am I to put a halt to my music spreading around the world??

    Maybe the root problem is our obsession with money and profit? Until my grandparents’ lifetimes music was very predominantly a communal process. Even the greatest artists didn’t do it so they’d be able to buy food and shelter themselves; they did it because they were called to, and because their lives were better when they were creating and society benefited from having music all around them.


  198. The truth is the real argument is “it’s ok to download music because the sale of recorded music business is doomed anyway, and my buying music will have a minimally incremental effect on the music industry while having a massively detrimental effect to my own financial well being. While it is perhaps unethical to steal music it is probably less unethical texting while driving, speaking badly about a friend, eating meat, giving less than 40% of your net wealth to starving people in Africa. The difference is, it is more illegal than those other means however we are living in a situation where the legal risk is virtually nothing. The question is not whether it is unethical. The question is does the value of unlimited access to universal music outweigh the negative value of a potential lost sale of a virtual product.” The truth is people generally want to be ethical sure, but most people are willing to be a little unethical in exchange for something they desperately want, unlimited access to digital music. The fact that the music industry spends so much time trying to fight copyright infringement, a doomed battle to begin with, as opposed to creating altenative revenue streams (AFFILIATE MARKETING AND LEAD GEN) is a big reason why it’s doomed. There are very few email lists as poorly monotized as that of musicians. Why not instead of selling an album, give it away with a free trial of netflix. Netflix pays 20 dollars for each person they sign up! Artists would make way more that way then they ever would from selling albums.

    If you had a machine that could make illegal pirated copies of any car/jewlery/house in the world, and you knew everyone else was doing it and you knew you couldn’t get caught, would you do it? Keep in mind the question is a free house that no one is losing. Sure it will hurt the housing market but no one is losing their car or house and you get a free massive house and sports car. This is the example people use when they say “You wouldn’t steal a car”. But if you said “would you make an illegal copy of a car if you knew there was no way you could get caught and all your friends were doing it?” I think you’d find a lot more people living in massive houses and driving corvettes.

  199. Don’t you think this kind of thing is inevitable in trying to create a neutral and open information structure? Every person has a moral obligation to make their own choice ethically, this is true, but do you support enforcement of a moral code?

  200. Want to listen to music for free? It’s actually pretty simple: listen to a good radio station. What? There are no good radio stations where you live? Start one. It takes a lot of time and money, but it’s addictive.

    Meanwhile, about music being expensive…A couple of years ago, for a class I was teaching on the history of recording, I priced out how much a song typically cost in various eras, using the Inflation Calculator to put it all into constant dollars. The result? A downloaded song from iTunes a $0.99 is the cheapest recorded music has ever been. Some prices from the past, rendered into 2006 dollars::

    Caruso and others – Sextet from “Lucia” $146.07/song (the highest)
    Acoustical record on budget Oriole label, 1914 – $2.46/song
    Standard-price record, 1934 – $5.65/song
    Premium-price record, 1934 – $7.53/song
    Elvis LP w. 14 songs on it, 1955 – $2.06/song
    Beatles LP w. 12 songs on it, stereo, 1966 – $2.05/song
    CD w. 16 songs on it, 1983 (year CD introduced) – $1.89/song
    CD w. 16 songs on it, 2006 – $1.00/song
    Digital download – $0.99/song

    Never been cheaper.

  201. I also don’t pay for all my music. I’m not proud of it,but let me tell you why i don’t.
    I really wish that i could buy all my music.

    I listen to most of my favourite songs on youtube. Because it’s free!!!
    I buy the albums i love.I have all of Linkin Park’s albums.
    In my country(Romania,the land of shit) the minimum wage is 600 lei ( 180$ more or less)
    Let’s say i get paid 1000 lei (Lei being the currency in romania) ~ almost 300 bucks.
    From 300 bucks i have to pay rent,eat for a month,bla bla bla.Public transportation,Cell phone bill,gas bill,electric bill and all other sorts of bills. Clothes and gas for my car.

    Don’t get me started on Gas.I don’t know what the price for gasoline is in the US but here it’s like 0.9 $ per litre. And to make you understand, 6.5 $ per american Gallon. How much do you pay for a gallon of gasoline,or diesel?(They’re at the same price)

  202. when my first husband introduced me to your band, he copied big dipper onto a mixed tape for me. the next day, i went out and bought the album. now, i have an ipod, and i always purchase my music. to me it’s like going to the record store and browsing. if i hear a song i like somewhere, i always try to buy it. thank you for writing this. it’s a debate that i’ve been having with other people for a few years now. and thank you for all the years of wonderful music you’ve created that has made up the soundtrack of my life.

  203. “Looters on Radio” : a reply to David Lowery’s ‘Letter to Emily White at NPR’

    Musicians aren’t entitled to a certain level of profit, which is somewhat arbitrarily determined by the state of our technology at a given time, any more than buggy-repairers were entitled to their same profits once cars got invented. Time was, it was the sheet music that sold – not the recordings. Should guitar tablature websites be outlawed too, since they take compensation away from the producers of guitar tablature books? Lowery’s historical naiveté here is profound, as he yarns idyllic fairy-tales: “The accepted norm for hudreds [sic] of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time. … By allowing the artist to treat his/her work as actual property, the artist can decide how to monetize his or her work. This system has worked very well for fans and artists.” Leaving aside the question of whether artists have been fairly compensated throughout all of Western history until this moment, what of that Pandora’s box called RADIO which once promised to forever destroy the lives of working musicians? After all, why on earth would anyone buy the record if they could hear it on the radio for free, right? Yet can one imagine the history of Rock ‘n Roll or Jazz without it? And might how we reacted (and over-reacted) to that invention give us a clue as to how to treat this new invention, the Internet? Because amidst all the Ayn Randian focus on the individual creator, what’s most lacking in Lowery’s perspectives and those who share it may be a recognition of the commons – the community of listeners (“the looters”) which makes artistic creation worthwhile and our shared cultural context from which individual artists arise.

    Yes, the golden era of CD sales is over. This isn’t a “social injustice” and 14-year-olds aren’t to blame for it. It was a technological innovation, and thanks to it, more people today are better able to listen to more music than ever before. For those of us interested in spreading music first and profiting from it second, that’s an unqualified societal good. The guilt-tripping of music consumers into limiting their appetites to protect some out-dated business model, to me, puts one squarely on the wrong side of history (…not to mention the wrong side of tact. Sparklehorse committed suicide because his fans “unethically” chose to enjoy his music? That’s truly shameless.)

    Look, if someone were to loot a record shop, they’d be depriving anyone else of having access to those records. That’s theft and/or destruction of private property. However, when someone copies a file, they do not similarly deprive anyone else of having access to that file. It’s the difference between stealing a sheep and cloning one. The above article misses this basic conceptual distinction in labeling us all “looters”.

    Tell me, in Lowery’s utopia, am I still allowed to hum a tune in my head, or should the musician be compensated for that duplication of their copyrighted material as well? Can I sing along in my room, or should ASCAP shut me down for that, as they attempted to do with karaoke bars? Can I lend a record to a friend, or does that abuse the artist by not making my friend buy their own copy?

    For someone so concerned with rights, Mr. Lowery, you sure don’t seem to appreciate these *freedoms*. Had a buddy not linked me to Napster in 1998(?), I still might be listening to only classical music and Billy Joel. The diversity of music I was exposed to on that site blew my doors open. As a teenager, I would’ve never been able to afford all the life-changing sounds I heard by browsing people’s libraries from all over the world. I’m now a musician and a radio DJ and I am morally certain that I would be neither had it not been for my swashbuckling lawlessness. And I certainly haven’t stopped. From Napster, I went straight to Soulseek and have never needed another file-sharing program. [Soulseek, incidentally, seems ever on the verge of failing to cover its operating expenses and funds itself by user donations – not exactly the “powerful commercial interests” Lowery conspiratorializing.] I typically purchase my top three or four albums of the year (from San Antonio’s lone local record store, Hogwild Records), but only after I’ve listened to them all year long at no charge. When money is tight, it doesn’t do to gamble. The last CDs I bought were St. Vincent’s ‘Strange Mercy’ and Radiohead’s ‘King Of Limbs’, but I’ve likely listened to 100 or more albums since, from beginning to end. I do probably convince others to buy albums due to my DJ-ing gig, but I’m not hiding behind that. I also attend at least one concert a month, and am seeing Here We Go Magic tomorrow at my favorite venue in Austin, The Parish.

    That’s me. So when anyone starts treating listeners as criminals, I get upset. When anyone starts reducing something I consider sacred to a mere commodity, I get upset. A song is not just a sellable good; it’s a bit of magic that, when let out into the world, belongs to everyone. Music is not just entertainment; it’s an integral part of culture. A 14-year-old in Texas, via a file-sharer in California, listening to Blackalicious for the first time when they wouldn’t be likely to otherwise – shouldn’t that precise moment be the non-negotiable part of this whole equation? Yet somehow the pricelessness of music appears to get lost in the numbers, especially when one presumes, by some holy writ I’ve yet to see, that 11 tracks deserve no less than $19.99 plus tax (from this point forward until eternity, and adjusted for inflation). That’s why when someone says they’ve got a superior compensation model, they first need to demonstrate that there will be no loss in our exposure to as much music as is humanly possible. For me, that’s goal takes primacy. No one should have to put a quarter in their car radio to hear something new, and as implied above, perhaps it’s best to think of the internet as one giant car radio.

    So, Mr. and Ms. Musician, yesterday you made a good living selling a thing that today not as many people want to buy – or, more often than not, *can afford to buy*. Why did you ever feel you were entitled to that standard of living? Why did you not prepare for the eventuality that it was a fluke or a fad? The vast majority of musicians have never gotten the big bucks, and this didn’t start with the mass migration away from cassettes and CDs. Why does every musician at every awards ceremony say, ‘It’s all about the fans’ or ‘It’s all about the music’, if they’re so willing to exclude people from hearing their music in order to drive its price up. Since the tone of ‘lecturing the young’ resonated throughout Lowery’s piece, maybe it’s the younger generation who need to reply sternly to the old guard: ‘life doesn’t owe you anything’; ‘nothing was promised to you’; ‘get a day job’; ‘life isn’t fair’.

    The truly disheartening aspect to this whole debate is the presumed absence of a people’s movement and the attendant de-politicization of music advocacy. It may seem like arguing for the plight of the starving artist is as a-political as it gets, but we settle for crumbs when musicians and other artists ought to be protesting in the streets for a guaranteed income and for national endowments for the arts. Why does Lowery not spend his time advocating for these solutions when faced with broke artists, instead of asking Ramen-nourished, in-debt-up-to-their-eyeballs college students to pay and instead of assuming that the previous way of marketing music is the only game in town? He writes that this ordeal is not the fault of corporations, it’s our generation’s fault, but what of musicians’ ethical obligation to resist a world ruled by corporations? Isn’t defending that industry a dereliction of our duty? We ought to be using technology together to make the dominant players in the music industry obsolete, not cozying up to them as they try to squeeze the last drops of capital from a declining market share. A crucial confusion in Lowery’s argument is his appropriation of anti-corporate rhetoric at the same time as he writes “in the case of corporate record labels, shouldn’t they be rewarded for the bets they make that provides you with recordings you enjoy?”. To present oneself as struggling for “the artists” against “powerful commercial interests” is laughable when it really masks a conflict between two sets of commercial interests, with us musicians and listeners caught in the crossfire. Of course it’s difficult to make a living as a musician, which is why we could use more public and community monies from the Baby Boomers – whether through municipalities or kickstarters – and less derision directed at Generation Ys, the very people who actively sustain the culture of music through their appreciation and participation. And what if someone is even more broke than the artists they can’t afford to repay Should there be no music for the poors? How is THAT an anti-corporate stance?

    in sum: *we ought to make the pie bigger instead of pettily fighting over increasingly smaller slices of it*. That means letting as many people as possible into this big concert called the Internet. Because once music loses its higher aims, it becomes just another industry – which is why, even for those who don’t like to think about it, the tasks of art and politics are inextricably tied. …perhaps a point of agreement.

  204. As an economist and a radio producer at the same time I couldn’t agree more.I felt somehow relieved since most of the people were calling me capitalist b**** just because I was telling them to buy their music and not freely downloading it. I am in love with music and that’s why I prefer to buy all the songs that I play in my radio show. If we are not supporting the artists then they will not create music (simple demand and supply law of economics) and thus we will be held responsible for the musical poverty of the future generations.Just think our parents (because they were buying their music) left us the inheritance of great bands and artists (i.e. Beatles, Rolling Stones, Ramones, Buzzcocks, Jacques Dutronc etc), my sister’s generation (80’s and 90’s) left us with other great banks like the Cure and the Depeche Mode. Why my generation shouldn’t be able to leave as a cultural inheritane great bands too?

  205. With approximately 30,000 albums being released each year, how do you propose people buy every album? Surely the market is too saturated for every download to equate to a lost sale?

  206. Emily most likely had the labels’ permission to rip the CDs at her radio station. At the college radio station where I work, the station has secured that right in an agreement with the rightsholders. It allows the DJs to copy music onto their laptops for review as well as playback over the air.

    So David, you made a really stupid assumption that undercuts this entire article and blows your math right out of the water.

    You want listeners to fuss over the contract terms of a LEGAL service like Spotify, but you’re entitled to just assume that every music file not from a “purchased CD” is “stolen” without investigating or even a second’s thought? Given how much legit free music there is around us, that’s embarrassing.

    And how could you assume that the artists didn’t approve her copies? What if the files were by the likes of Amanda Palmer or Drake or Skrillex or Frank Ocean or the hood Internet or Girl Talk. Who told you you spoke for those people? You obviously don’t, and I think it’s more likely a 21-year-old owns their files than old Cracker records. You didn’t even ask. Nobody on this board or on the NPR board has even considered this … which is not a good sign that you’re an educated group. We can’t even begin a dialogue from this position.

    The sad fact that so many people are linking from the NPR article to this one – and worse, that so many people are lustily repeating your mistake of assuming Emily’s copies were illegal because she didn’t purchase them – shows how much of an education gap there is on electronic media issues, even among Internet users. It’s like evolution vs. creationism, facts vs. “morality.” I won’t convince you, because you are preaching belief as the rejection of fact, but what do you hope to gain? Or these commenters? Theft is not always theft but a zealot is always a zealot.

    If nothing else – lead by example. You want morality, try being moral.

  207. Reblogged this on A.S.M.O. and commented:
    If you’re a musician share this.
    If you download music for free read it.
    Thank you.

  208. There needs to be some service that musicians can use so people can pay for the music and then download the tracks, and it goes directly into their music player. There needs to be a gold standard service so people can pay the artists directly – with the download service getting a small fee – and everything works seamlessly. was way too much profit made by the giant music companies that was viewed as unearned by the music buyers in the 80s and 90s, where you pay 10 to 20 bucks and the artist sees very little of it. Also, the price of a CD never went down as technology advanced, making people feel the music business that was apart from the artists was greedy – which much of it was. I loathe piracy, and am weary of Spotify and other services like it, but I also loathe the music industry that still set prices of digital albums at 10 bucks on iTunes or Amazon (though Amazon does have much better deals quite often, and the best option for everyone would to pay the artists directly. You can do this now, but it’s not as simple as ITunes or Spotify, and I do believe the consumer is stil worried that they won’t get their product if they buy it from the artists directly as downloads sometimes fail and it becomes a big mess.

    This has been meandering, but my point is that I think the artists can benefit and their business greatly helped if there was a universal, known reliable way to download the music directly from them and it all went onto a great music player instantly and seamlessly.

  209. Thanks David for your letter. I am tired of people who have nothing at stake, telling me that my 10 albums on Spotify is “the way of the future man”, and it’s the way it is so get over it.

    You are exactly right, people (corporations, the dudes at Spotify, Download sites) are making millions of dollars from me and my fellow musicians, so let’s not pretend we are all having to give up our rights. Just the people that laid the golden eggs.

    And yes, record companies, on the whole, would honor their contracts, regardless of what Steve Albini said. I guess they threw in the towel.

  210. Colin Meloy sent this link out, and I’m glad he did. A great article, with a sound message, but I believe there is one issue not addressed, that of the value of music. The record companies have created (or at least marketed and made acceptable) a product with no inherent value. If you download an mp3 you don’t own it, you own the rights to store it. You can’t sell it on, lend it to a friend or return it for a refund; it comes with no lyrics, liner notes or packaging; They costs the record companies nothing to reproduce (an argument that they created themselves with the CD pricing debates in the late 80s); the quality is only really acceptable for listening on portable devices. Yet the record companies expect people to treat an mp3 as if it were a CD when it comes to the issue of ownership.

    When I was young I used to borrow and lend LPs and tapes with friends – it was how I found out about Bowie, and Zappa, and Eno and goodness knows what else. It was part of the publicity process, the word of mouth that money cannot buy. And some of those tapes were copies, every bit as illegal as a rogue mp3. But here’s the difference: we all knew that the copy was just a copy. A dodgy C90 with handwritten song titles (or no titles at all) is no alternative to a lovely 12″ vinyl record with a lyric sheet or a fold out sleeve, or a great piece of art on the cover. Even CDs have been able to maintain a little of that magic since sleeve designers realised that 5″ and 12″ needed to be treated differently. But herein lies the problem with an mp3: the copy is the same as the original, no matter how much you pay for it. And sharing is as much a part of the pleasure of discovering music as it was in the 70s, so people will always copy.

    I don’t download music and I never have, even though most of what I listen to now is on my iPod. I buy CDs, occasionally vinyl, and – with a young family and a mortgage – if I can’t afford a new CD I wait until I can or I don’t buy it (I can’t accept the idea that downloading for free is justified by lack of funds.) But if, in 1980, the tapes you could buy in the shops had been identical to the copies my friends had given me – poor quality, no picture sleeve, no lyrics – then would I have rushed out to the shops to buy an original copy as soon as I’d saved up my pocket money? I believe the answer is no, and that is the choice that the mp3 generation is faced with.

    1. Unlike Chris, I’d suggest that “owning” an mp3 has SOME minimal inherent value, even if that value is approaching zero as we become a society with 24/7 wifi. But this is a meaningless statement without some sort of comparison – as in “inherent value compared to what?” And it is also meaningless unless we have a line beyond which “value” crosses into “expected monetization”, as long as we’re also assuming that artists should be able to devote themselves to art full-time, in order to ensure that the “best” art can be made.

      And so Chris leads us towards something that I’ve been contemplating for a while: a hierarchy of value, which would at least streamline and clarify the sorts of conversations we’re all having here (and which the original NPR blogpost author is involved in, too, whether she realizes it or not.). Having such a hierarchy, which was ratified by artists and law, would go a long way towards making this discussion of “what is an X version of a song worth”? no longer a discussion of opinion, but a discussion with clear touchstones of law and ethics, and allow us to stop having the peripheral and distracting “reduce to zero” conversations like several here, which (falsely) say that since it’s so haaaaaard to justify buying and reproduction of digital media is infinite, as long as I only copy from the radio station, it’s okay not to pay.

      Such a hierarchy would probably run from “most value” to “least value”. For music, it might range from “degraded/partial free samples” (lowest value/ too low to monetize) to “organically-produced, intimately-presented, one-of-a-kind physical media” (highest value). It would have to be grounded in technology as-it-is, so it might have to change regularly; it might include value-adder things like scarcity and proximity to the original (a painting is worth more than a reproduction of the original), size/scale/depth, aggregate and companion information (liner notes, physical storage media), the ability to reproduce and time-shift (time-shifting being the primary argument for owning an Mp3 as at least somewhat “value-laden”). It would take a while to hash out, and there would certainly be various related discussions about who pays FOR the value in each case, but it would need to include the following: if there is value above a certain line, the artist should get compensated (if and when she chooses) whether that is through promotion which clearly and undeniably LEADS to monetization, or through sheer monetization.

      I don’t believe this is an impossible task; I do believe it is a necessary precursor to “settling” this matter, even as technology shifts. If we’re not interested in doing this, of course, then these conversations can’t actually go anywhere, because our terms aren’t defined. In that case – and ONLY In that case, since I’m a partial free-marketist who nonetheless believes that society has an obligation to ensure that art is and can be produced, and that the art that IS produced can occur broadly, rather than being limited in type and scope by the market itself – then I’d switch to advocating for the mechanism that many other countries use – higher taxes, and a guaranteed subsidy for artists at a minimal lifestyle, after which they can survive on art at or just above the poverty level w/ health care until they figure out how to commercialize – that is, until they can get enough fans, patrons, or product placement to get them into the true middle class or beyond.

  211. > Recorded music revenue is down 64% since 1999.

    It is unfair to compare today’s level to the highest level ever. Please take an average for 1950s-2010s and we will see that we are well above it. Music sells much better it did in the great 70s or 80s.

    > Per capita spending on music is 47% lower than it was in 1973!!

    1. But it is much higher in total.
    2. So what? Who says “spending on music” is a value? Consumption of music is a value and music has never been so consumed in the whole human history as it is now.

    > The number of professional musicians has fallen 25% since 2000.

    But the number of all musicians is higher than even in the whole human history. And the number of music albums released every years is astonishing. And this is great. And this is important, not how many of them make money. There are so many other ways to make money.

  212. I have come up with an odd form of penance. I am now trying to directly give artists $10. If I go to a live show, I walk up to the merch table and lay down my cash. The amount of space both physical and in MB format that downloading or buying physical albums takes up is not functional. Yet I do want to support independent artists. I also listen to plenty of corporate music that I do not feel the same debt to. I wish there was a website set-up for this kind of artist support.

    When Louis CK put out his latest live video, he did it via individual purchases. In his statement he acknowledged that he was making it in an easily reproducible format and taking a risk distributing this way. But in his follow-up email, he reported it to be a huge success. I was all to happy to pay him directly for his work.

  213. David- great piece in defence of musicians, and our need for revenues.

    Unfortunately, I think you misread Emily’s original piece. It’s not about pirating, it’s about preferring to buy (not pirate) digital to physical media. She makes it clear that she expects to pay. She does not rely on the the “big music is evil” arguments.

    All she is doing is reflecting the growing preference for buying tracks digitally over whole physical albums. We musicians can embrace this by realizing that what we lose in a $15 CD sale, we can and need to make up in volume by the sale of individual tracks.

    No one cool enough to read your letter, including Emily, supports illegal file sharing.

  214. Firstly, I’ve read most of the comments here (and skimmed a few) to make sure I’m not repeating what’s already been said as I don’t think I can say anything in agreement that hasn’t been written with far more eloquence or feeling in response to this extremely well-argued open letter.

    But I’d like to offer a thought on what may go some way towards being a part-solution – much of the difficulty in getting through to the ‘free music’ generation is in the choice of language bieng used in the area and debate. It swings from ‘free’ to ‘theft’ most of the time, with ‘sharing’ being used as a morally positive term and a neutral term such as ‘downloading’ being used to describe the action of acquiring music without paying for it. Who will voluntarily listen to an argument when their actions are being described as theft? Who will view it as theft when it’s described as a ‘download’? I know I certainly wouldn’t listen for very long if I knew I didn’t ‘take’ anything belonging to another person. That’s why the action needs to be personalised, describe it as ‘borrowing’ – utilise a ‘Borrow’ and ‘Buy’ button side-by-side on iTunes, Amazon etc and/ or the artists’ websites, with the ‘Borrow’ option being a seven or fourteen day trial version of the full song or album that cannot be replicated and that won’t play after the expiration of the trial, not described as a ‘free’ trial for that lends itself to the notion that music can be ‘free’. Remove the concept of ‘theft’ from the debate when trying to connect with the ‘free music’ generation, let them come up with the ‘theft’ response themselves when they know they didn’t return or pay for something they ‘borrowed’. Those who will take what doesn’t belong to them and keep it will always do so – some people cannot be civilised – but reminding the greater majority of people that it does belong to another person, i.e. the artist, may do so.

  215. I would be really interested to hear whether the author has seen different patterns of downloading in different countries? Certainly in the US and UK it is rife – (I am a hard working touring musician who makes nothing after two albums released). However in countries like Germany, kids there are crazy about buying merchandise, they even still love vinyl there!

  216. If we eliminate money, we’d solve all of these problems in one swoop, right?

    Why does everything have to be monetized? Because that’s the way it is and the way it’s always been so it’s the way it always has to be?

    I give away my music for free. I just want people to listen.

  217. Reblogged this on Pagans, Saints, and Potatoes and commented:
    Regarding “free” music, file-sharing, and artists rights…

    “I would suggest to you that, like so many other policies in our society, it is up to us individually to put pressure on our governments and private corporations to act ethically and fairly when it comes to artists rights. Not the other way around.”

  218. Sure, and I think I’ll wander around to Emily White’s apartment and steal some stuff while I’m there?

    This cheap little sow makes her living by playing music recorded by other people – whom she refuses to pay for their work.

    She’s even proud of having stolen their work.

    DJ? What kind of ‘profession’ is that?

    It’s something that TALENTLESS CROOKS LIKE EMILY WHITE do, apparently.

    Hope the Police find ya, “Emily”.

    Best regards from a working musician.

  219. One thing I think you’re missing is the assumption that had the music not been available for free, that Emily would have bought it. I don’t think that’s true. I have gotten some CD’s from the library to put on my Zune, but frankly, I wouldn’t have bought them otherwise. That’s not because I don’t want to, I just don’t have the money. And this brings up another point: libraries and used record stores also share some of the blame, because they offer music and other media either for free (in the case of libraries) or cheaper and without royalties (in the case of used record stores).

    But other things must change in order for artists to see their incomes return. Primarily, CD’s must be worth buying. Why do we give greeting cards, rather than just writing “Happy Birthday” on a Post-it note? The Post-it delivers the same message for far less money. We buy greeting cards because they have added value. They have artwork, and a funny or touching message that expresses our feelings for the recipient. CD’s should offer similar added value. I bought LP’s in the ’70s partly because I knew they’d have lyrics, photos and other extras inside. Now I feel lucky if a CD I buy even lists the musicians. If CD’s were worth the $15 they charge for them, I think they’d sell many more.

  220. David, There is probably little I can add to the multitude of comments you’ve received, but I just wanted to say you’ve showcased the problem brilliantly. As a musician and songwriter, it will come as no surprise to you that I agree with every word! Well done, Sir.

  221. yeah i don’t know mate. Radiohead seems to earn serious money and their customers can pay what they want. I support artists by going to concerts and buying merchandise, hell most of the stuff i listen too is shit that you can’t find on itunes, or a record store, and if i’m lucky i can import it at the added price of import, but the artist still only get a fraction of that price. you tell me if i’m ethical or not if i am downloading an album of someone (be it a free album or not), telling all my friends to listen to it while simultaneously buying tickets to all concerts and buying all the merchandise at said concerts that i can afford. which hurts the artist most?

    me downloading the album, or me buying tickets, promoting said artist to all my friends and people that i meet, and me buying merchandise?

    see, the problem with filesharing and illegal music is that the big corporations puts restrictions on your digital copies when bought (that is, they put restrictions on your 1’s and 0’s), such as making sure that you can’t listen to your bought and paid for album anywhere but the device you bought it with. they also tell you what to listen to. the big labels will fight piracy with all their hearts because with piracy the consumer decides what/when/how to listen to things, instead of the labels. loose control of the supply, you loose control over the market, simple as that.

    buying albums won’t save musicians. it will save the big labels, who is consistently ripping off musicians. going to concerts and buying merchandise, and hell, even donating to musicians, that will save the declining income of the music “industry”. making sure the money goes where they belong: to the artists.

    and yes, you can make an entire album in your basement with just one mic. take a look at dizzee rascal, for example. or soulya boy. or just about any electronic dance producer out there (deadmau5 anyone? i was in the same electronic music community as him and when he was the first artist to be rpomoted by the label this community started, suddenly he became famous. he was sitting in his bedroom, mind you).

  222. fantastic article! i just wanted to point out a couple of things: 1. you mention ads on filesharing sites. this is how beemp3.com is making money, yes? here is a crazy idea (but it just might work): what if instead of beemp3.com, it was warner bros? meaning, what if the record companies found a way to get paid via ads? isn’t that how most sites make money on the web? ads? (this is not an accusatory question or suggestion. i really would like to know). and 2. “yo la tengo” is awesome — “you la tengo” is a typo)


  223. You’ve talked in detail about how the industry has changed as a result of piracy. However, question I still have after reading your article: why is there any responsibility on consumers to change their behaviour? While there may be a sense of ethical obligation there’s definitely no risk in relation to getting caught by the law.

    Consumers hold the purchasing power and if the industry cannot find an efficient way to remunerate artist then another industry structure will take it’s place, surely? Because music is always going to exist, irrespective of whether it’s profitable to produce. If an artist is talented and willing, they will make good music irrespective of whether there is a profitable music industry to support them – and if they are not willing, there will be a musician who is.

    Cheers and thanks for the great article!

  224. David, I’m with you on most of this, but as another person mentioned above, you seem to be a bit off base with Creative Commons. You say:

    “These technological and commercial interests have largely exerted this pressure through the Free Culture movement, which is funded by a handful of large tech corporations and their foundations in the US, Canada, Europe and other countries.”

    The words “their foundations” links to a funding document for Creative Commons. You’ve essentially equated the free culture movement as a whole with creative commons licensing individually, which is just plain not accurate.

    One of the main arguments that moves me in favor of Creative Commons is that it is a great way for a novice to license their creative work in order to encourage a flourishing public commons. I am not, personally, going to try to make money off my creative works that I make when I dabble in web design or other pursuits. So I am happy to license my content to make sharing easy, in the hope that I can both give and take from this public commons as I need it. I could likewise imagine encouraging an unknown artist to selectively release a few tracks using a Creative Commons license in order to try to build an audience. Once building an audience, an artist can then, of course, choose different licensing to monetize their subsequent work.

    I personally buy all the music that I own. Many of these purchases are inspired by listening to a free Pandora stream. For me, they are complementary acts. I also use and create Creative Commons content. I do not feel that I am at war with myself, despite your simplistic argument that these are opposing forces.

    1. I’d like to potentially challenge the validity or ask for clarification on the concept of the music industry business model being the same for ‘hundreds of years’. That seems hyperbolic at best, misleading at worst.

      1. Trust me, he’s right. It’s “hundreds of years.” Music predates audio recordings, and many of the same issues that surround audio recordings surrounded published notation, which for centuries was the only way music could be recorded and re-experienced.

  225. David,

    You also make the statement that

    “Since the works that are are almost invariably the subject of these discussions are popular culture of one type or another, the duration of the copyright term is pretty much irrelevant for an ethical discussion”.

    Because you are discussing popular culture, I’ll grant you this exception. But I do think that the growing length of copyrights, funded and lobbied for by major corporations, are absolutely an ethical topic. Creative content can be locked away for the life of the author plus 70 years. For corporate-owned works, it is 120 years after creation (or 95 years after publication). We’re no longer talking fair compensation to the artist, who is long dead, but the continuation of a content monopoly that directly harms the public good.

    This starts to get a bit murky with respect to popular culture, when one realizes that with our original copyright terms, Star Wars would have entered the public domain some time ago. By now we could have seen a flourishing creative period as this work, and many others, were re-imagined. It’s a shame that we have let our legal system be bent to the purpose of corporations rather than the public good.

    1. again my point is not to quibble about length of a copyright term. there are legitimate arguments to be made about the term of copyright. That’s a dumboff when we are agreeing but you’re still arguing with me.

  226. Thank you, Mr. Lowery. This article does deserve all the praise it has received. However, I do believe there is an underlying problem that some responses in the comments seem to have touched on, but not fully stated (if I missed one, I apologize).

    Typically, when this issue comes up, the stress is put on the misuse of technology (in this case Spotify, “download” sites, etc) on the consumer (read: demand) side. But not as often is the stress put on the artist (read: supply) side. In short, if we can blame consumers misusing technology for the sake of convenience, then we have to understand how this same technological convenience (vis a vis the ability to record, produce, and distribute digital recordings) has played a role in causing the formation of the current attitudes in the music-consumer marketplace.

    In full disclosure, I’m a “professional” musician (someone who makes their entire livelihood, however small, off performing, composing, and teaching it) in a rather niche genre (“straight ahead” jazz). Being an avid record collector myself (and a person who hates to download simply because I like having a physical collection), I’m sure anyone who is a fan of my preferred genre would agree that in the last 10 years we have seen an EXPLOSION in the release of recordings produced by smaller, boutique labels as well as independent artists producing albums entirely on their own (often today with the help of Kickstarter). In the 90’s, when Jazz labels were having a small resurgence due to the post-Wynton Marsalis “young lions” movement and the desire to celebrate some older artists who now were “legends”, you had a few major labels…Blue Note (EMI), Novus/RCA, Verve and Impulse (both owned by Polygram/UMG), Warner Bros, and Sony/Columbia. I am purposefully omitting some labels that produced “smooth” or other types of Jazz. Yes, you have some smaller labels (Concord and Criss Cross come to mind) but for all intents and purposes, there were very few options for the burgeoning scene of musicians to record. It is not uncommon to find that many of today’s most respected Jazz artists only ever had 1 (one) major-label recording to their name. While there were of course artists who had long careers on major labels (Kenny Garrett [Warner], Branford and Wynton Marsalis [Sony/Columbia], Brad Meldhau [Warner], and Joe Lovano [Blue Note] to name a few), there was mostly a steadfast roster that rarely changed, and when it did you usually found that it was for MAJOR talent (apart from some of the choices of Sony/Columbia, you’ll find most major-label 1-offs went to now-highly-respected artists).

    In the late 90’s you had a convergence of events the led to today’s situation:

    1.) Due to the changing economy in music and the dwindling of interest in this type of Jazz, major imprints either folded entirely (Impulse) or dramatically cut their rosters (Verve, Warner Bros.).

    2.) There was an explosion on the supply side due to 2 generations that had by then benefited by the introduction of Jazz into formal education. The amount of jazz education programs around the country multiplied immensely during the 70’s and 80’s (and still is), making “jazz” and music overall a career-option for kids who didn’t want to be CPA’s. This resulted in a supply-base of often-highly skilled workers who now had money (via student loans) invested into this career path with a very poor return rate.

    3.) Prices for the technology that enables the production of recordings experience deflation and the technology itself evolves to the point that anyone with the right computer set-up can operate a fully functioning recording studio and the artist can self-release those recordings with little to no physical packaging required, cutting the cost of production dramatically.

    Due to these factors, boutique jazz labels started springing up everywhere (Sharp 9, Fresh Sound, Palmetto, etc). As the years of this new century have passed, we have seen more and more labels of this sort pop up, to the point that some of the smaller labels of years past are now considered as close to “major” as you can get (Criss Cross). In addition, it is common for many artists to entirely self-produce albums either with the hope of getting it on one of these labels or just releasing it for themselves on Amazon or iTunes.

    Today, I would contend that due to the (relative) ease and low cost of recording and distribution, there are MANY more artists and new releases today than there were just 15 years ago. I did read the stat about there being 25% fewer musicians today. I call BS on that figure. The only real way anyone could find that out is by taking that stat from IRS filings and how people classify their “work”. That number could easily be misconstrued to people not claiming what is often under-the-table income (illegal, obviously) or perhaps they are making the majority of their income in a non-music field, and thus wouldn’t be classified as a “musician”. In general, that number is too perfect to trust.

    Now, however much we like to calls those labels “evil”, the fact of the matter is that they acted as gate-keepers for the consumer, assurances of quality and a name you can trust. In today’s market place, the independent recording faces 2 challenges:

    1.) People have to understand how the “label” process often works. The artist many times has already recorded this album on their own, and paid out of pocket. What the label does in those cases is merely buy the recording (and often times demanding the rights to the songs) from the artist. This allows the artist to recoup the money spent and get some advertising for themselves. In cases where the label is paying before production, you will receive a small sum for the full production (in many cases, to my knowledge, about $5,000), giving up the same rights. What the artist is really getting out of this is recognition by association and having the distribution issues handled, including publicity.

    2.) If truly independent, and I would dare say this is the vast majority of modern Jazz recordings, the artist obviously retains full rights, but the out-of-pocket expense goes up dramatically. Having many friends who have had successful Kick Starter projects, I can tell you that they usually are not recouping all the money spent on the production, distribution, and publicity for their recording. In these cases, it the publicity that the truly independent recording struggles with.
    And that brings us back to this article. The fact of the matter is that the modern consumer just has TOO MANY CHOICES. In other words, there is too much supply. An artist today, when selling their album on iTunes or Amazon, is not just going up against new and recent releases and some of the more popular offerings from legendary artists (as your average “shopping mall”-music retailer might have), they are competing against EVERYTHING EVER RECORDED!!! (A little hyperbole, but not too far from the truth). If you are the average music consumer (let’s assume that most people who are truly die-hards about music care enough to not “steal” it), why would I EVER pay full price for anything beyond what I’ve heard of or been told that’s good. If I go to a store like Amoeba, where I can actually find new and unknown artists, how do I pick between any of 100’s of new albums that I’ve never heard of? More often than not, that consumer makes the choice (if not by recommendation of the record store employee, which I used to be) based on something as insignificant as the album cover. In the digital world, those factors apply much less. Ergo, the consumer really has no reason to purchase anything. In that world, services like Spotify (that pay meagerly) or even YouTube (which do not pay at all, in most cases) are the only hope an emerging artist has of ever being heard by anyone not in their zipcode.

    I’ve rambled, and I apologize, but my point is that fair pay will never be achieved until supply and demand equalize. If we can categorize the morals of consumers as greedy for downloading music they don’t pay for, then you can just as easily categorize the morals of artists flooding a marketplaces with music no one wants to pay for as equally greedy and self-serving.

      1. No, but it does partially explain why the attitude towards the arts is what it is, therefore creating the conditions which you write about. There is a huge difference between music “mavens” (as Malcolm Gladwell would describe them) and the casual consumer base. In the end, any real economic change is going to be caused by a shift in the attitudes of the general consumer, not the maven (who I assume is the “fan of the arts”). Supply definitely affects the general base, and also makes it harder on the maven to gather enough information in order to form opinions that spread out to the general population.

        It’s the white-noise created by excess supply that partially leads to the the attitude of the type that says “there is so much of this stuff just lying around, why should I ever buy it?”.

      2. I would argue the number of releases has nothing to do with it. of 75,0000 releases 2010. 60,000 sold less than 100 copies. The consumer doesn’t really interact with “the long tail” of releases at all. these songs sit unknown and unsearched on the virtual shelves of itunes. And when you look at what is most popular on file sharing sites (pirate bay has a top 100 chart) you see it’s almost all mainstream major label recordings.

      3. I’ll respond to the last comment here since the “reply” button doesn’t seem to work….

        Yes, I would agree with your point on that, but I would say the more niche your genre becomes, the more there tends to be equal footing in terms of publicity for new releases. Miles Davis and the Beatles will always sell more than Unknown Artist X, but Unknown Artist X may sell more than U.A. Y. The economics for the new independent artist very much exist in that “long tail” and the longer that tail becomes the less money there is to spread along the entire thing.

        One more thing, you state in your piece that people are more willing to pay for fair-trade and green products. This is just a question, no argument here, but do you believe that this reflects the position that music holds in people’s lives, more than the intrinsic value of music itself? I would suspect that people place food (even coffee) higher on their list of necessities for living than music, which for most is a periphery luxury. Is the fair-trade/arts comparison a fair one overall?

  227. Could someone please direct me to the part of iTunes where the songs are just 20 cents each?

    I know you were ignoring things in your monetary analysis but you lose some cred for doing so. Since the purchase price for most songs is more like $1 to $1.50 each it would cost Emily closer to $100 to $150 a month, not the paltry $20 you ascribe her to. So to say it is just the cost of a case of beer or whatever simply isn’t true.

    To tell her she is ignoring facts and then do so yourself makes you almost as bad as her.

    1. did you read the article? I subtracted the part of the sale that goes to the record company and itunes or amazon mp3. the whole article is about what she shows the artist. very clearly explained. next.

      1. You’re not allowed to subtract the part that goes to the record company, amazon, etc. Beacause we have to pay that when we purchase a song. If i could only pay the $0.20 per song directly to the artist, I would.

        What about the remaining $0.80 that the song costs? Is she off the hook with the record companies, amazon, itunes? Why is she morally obgliated to pay the artist but not the supporting infrastructure?

  228. This is a really good piece, but it makes the classic error of all anti-downloaders in assuming that every illegal download is a lost sale. That is not true.

    While Emily White is clearly in the wrong, I doubt even if she had paid for all the music she could afford, she would have paid for all the records she downloaded illegally.

    And if she had not had the option of downloading, that would mean she would not have had the opportunity to hear and and enjoy all that music. That’s a real benefit of the opportunities the internet has opened up.

    People should of course pay for music when they can, but for music lovers the situation isn’t quite as black and white as that.

    1. well then she would owe even less to the artist and then then she really has even less of an excuse for not paying the artists she loves.

    2. She could listen to (over-the-air or Internet) radio and experience music when it is programmed and when royalties are paid by the broadcaster for one-time broadcast — then if she likes it she can buy it. Or she can listen to 30 to 90 second tasters of songs. This is not a new issue — just a new notion of entitlement.

      1. Not sure how others feel about 30-90 second samples – and David and other musicians, I’d be very interested in your take here – but I never understood them, honestly.
        Would you commit to buying a poster if you were only allowed to look at it for 90 seconds before making the decision to buy? How about if you could only see 25% of that poster? Would that be an effective way to make a purchasing or patronage decision? Should it be?

        In the case of music, if we accept that songs are art, then to break apart that art and allow exposure to only part of it should lessen the power, and in some cases should/could corrupt or undermine the artists’ intent. And the net effect seems to me a methodology that favors only a certain type of song – the repetitive hook-laden song – over the narrative and sonic journey…and whether the market should determine and narrow so significantly what TYPE of art is viable in this way is an exercise to the reader, here, though I allow that previous technologies – most notably the 45 and the LP, plus the economic advertising model of radio – favor certain song lengths, as well.

        Would MUCH prefer to see someone figure out an IP-locked (or device-locked) method of hearing a whole song a small and finite number of times before a user is “locked out” until they are willing to buy – the equivalent to both NPR’s short-term streaming model for new and pending releases (which I like very much) and to “you can browse all you like, but eventually, the store will close and if you want to keep looking at this poster, you’ll have to buy it.”

      2. get your point but there is radio, pandora, music blogs, spotify, and shit virtually every song is on youtube.

        I’m clocking out now. back to my real job.

    3. That’s right, it’s not true. People download far more for free than they wou