Most of the working musicians I know have been paying close attention to the real-life drama unfolding in the file-sharing world lately. That's not to say all of said working musician friends agree with what I am about to say here, but the majority of them do (whether they will publicly admit it or not). Between the outcry around proposed government anti-piracy initiatives, the recent Megaupload arrests, and multiple file-sharing sites shutting down or drastically (and rapidly) adjusting their policies in the days since, there is a full-blown, game-changing spectacle underway.
The music industry has been ravaged by the digital age, the primary culprit being illegal file sharing on websites with practically zero regulation. The past two decades have been something of a Wild West on ye olde Interwebs. No rules, no accountability. By the time the music industry reacted to what was happening, it was too late.
While performing at and attending the CMJ music conference in New York City in fall 2009, I learned that at that time, 91 percent of all new music was downloaded illegally over the Internet instead of purchased. Since then, things have only gotten worse. Record stores are closing, music rags are shutting down, and the glory days of rock and roll are over... which I actually don't give even half a shit about. In fact, I'm glad the music industry got destroyed. It was fucked-up anyway, so who cares? Poor (filthy rich) record executives making hundreds of millions of dollars on the backs of artists. Boo-hoo. I'm crying for you. Really. I am.
My beef is not that I feel bad for record labels or the talentless hacks who run them. I think it's good that the overall priorities in the entertainment industry have been forced to change and that the powers that be have had to reexamine what it means to be of value to their consumer base. What pisses me off is having over 91 percent of my personal intellectual property stolen, often before it even has the chance to be finished and released to the world. As a professional musician, a lot of time, hard work, and money goes into making a record. As an independent musician, that money comes directly out of my own pocket. Being a starving artist honestly isn't all it's cracked up to be anymore, people, and getting ripped-off has always sucked.
Even when I was on a major label, I got totally screwed because so much money was put into the recording, printing, PR, and distribution side that trying to recoup from consumer sales based on that 9 percent of people obtaining the album legally was almost impossible. Everyone had the record months before it came out anyway, because of file sharing. The week before it was released, one site that posted download counts on files reported over 18,000 illegal downloads of my record before my lawyer had them take the file down. That alone comes out to $180,000 -- for my songs -- of which I saw $0. My record deal was a 90/10 split at the time, but guess what 90 percent of $0 is? You guessed it! Still $0.
Think of it this way: if you were a painter and were putting the finishing touches on your pieces for a show, wouldn't you be upset if someone broke into your studio, took your unfinished paintings, and hung them in their public gallery without your permission? Let's say you had some finished work hanging for sale in your own space, but every time someone saw something they liked, they removed it from the wall, tucked it under their arm, and left without paying for it? What if 100 people came to your show opening and 91 of them decided to steal one of your paintings off the wall? Then what? Paint faster to keep up with the demand? Really focus in and cater to those remaining nine do-gooders so you can pay your bills and eat? Is it really up to those few people who still believe stealing is wrong to support the entire industry? It surprises me that honest, everyday people who tip servers well and are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of jeans think it's perfectly fine to steal music -- and not just a little music, but tons of it. Something's off here. Way off.
I know this is the part where all the kids and hipsters start to roll their eyes and say things like, "You just don't get it, grandpa," and, "It's freedom of speech," but I don't actually believe that stealing my intellectual property is your constitutional right. Sorry, everybody. I get that you are used to consuming music like it's chewing gum, but those days are numbered. I'm glad that file sharing companies are getting shut down, and I'm happy that the people who have been stealing from me and my fellow record-makers all these years are going to pay for their crimes (or at least stop doing illegal piracy facilitation business as usual). Organizing a $180,000 heist would get you sent to prison in real life, so what's the difference?
Next time you hear a song you like, I encourage you to purchase it instead of stealing it. Supporting independent musicians just feels better than robbing us of our livelihood. I promise! Hell, you could even go to your favorite local record store, buy a CD, and look at the cover art for hours. You know, for old times' sake.
Fingers crossed that your favorite record store is still around...
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