Saturday, March 28, 2009

Piracy: Pushing Music Forward

I came across this and it got me thinking about piracy and digital distribution in general.

With so many established artists out there that listeners know they are going to enjoy, why would they necessarily take a risk spending their money on some new or unknown artist who is ultimately a musical gamble?

The digital revolution has certainly pulled the rug out from under the music industry as it existed, but I believe that it is now laying the groundwork for something far more exciting. Artists, I’ve noticed, are accepting this more and more (it’s always been the labels that were resistant), but too few artists are wholeheartedly embracing it, truly making their music available to anyone who wants it for little more than an email address in return.

I simply see the concept of free high quality music as something that as yet to be fully capitalized on.

Here’s what I wrote in response to the posted video:

From the unsigned musicians’ standpoint, I think piracy has done wonderful things. All of a sudden, the giants are on the same level as the garage band. Because of the ability to download music (whether you pay for it or not), the band next door is just as available as the artists in the top 40.

Also, considering that there are so many musicians out there that simply want to get their music out to the world, with only the faintest dreams of ever surviving solely on the money that it will bring in, “piracy” gets it quickly and efficiently out to anyone who wants it.

To be completely honest, I’m genuinely shocked that more artists have yet to simply give their music away digitally (like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails) in order to develop an even greater fan base who will opt to spend money on other merchandise that can’t be downloaded, such as live performances or apparel. In the end, that’s where the artists are making the money anyway. With the statutory rate at $.091, and the record labels taking half of that to begin with for owning the masters, the albums barely bring in any real money for the artists after they’ve paid off their expenses. Then split any of that leftover cash between X number of band members, managers, and booking agents and the artists may as well be giving it away in the first place.

But on top of everything else, this will force the musicians to be even more creative and innovative. In a world where, quite literally, any music is available at the listeners fingertips for free, the artists need to make their music standout more than ever before.


Gary Hawkins said...

In response to John, record labels do not take 1/2 of the statutory rate (unless you let them). Often, publishing is the only real money an artist sees, and that comes from physical sales (mechanicals), print and performance...all of which is lost when it's pirated. Sure, some artists want to give away their music; some don't. Shouldn't that be up to the artist rather than the consumer? But nobody pirates unknown artists anyway; there is no value in that.

Almost every pirate thinks they're Robin Hood. But if record companies were so big and profitable, there would be lots of them rolling in cash. The fact is, the margins are slim and success is unlikely. Piracy serves one useful purpose -- it proves that music is still popular and viable enough to be stolen. If nobody loved music, no one would steal it.


John said in reply to Gary Hawkins...

Great points, Gary. I absolutely agree that it should be up to the artist whether or not they are making money off of their art. Piracy is illegal and for good reason. But while inherently wrong, I think that it can really have some positive effects on music, though not necessarily the music business.

You're right. There is no value in pirating unknown artists, and I think that the unknowns need to recognize that. If someone isn't going to pay for the new U2 album, why in the world would they pay for some new no-name's EP? It should force them to question previously tried and true business models.

Certainly, record companies are not raking in the money, but I can't help but question whether or not that is entirely a bad thing. With technology at a point now (and only moving forward) where records can be written, recorded, produced, and released for relatively low-cost and at high quality, are the record companies still necessary? With the same DIY mentality of the pirates, can tours be arranged and the attention of the press can be grabbed without major label backing? Again, the old ways need to be reexamined.

What I'm trying to suggest is that the value for music is going down, while the demand for it seems only to have risen. We want more, and we want it cheaper. It's the mentality of many to question, “Why should I get in the car and pay $15 bucks for the physical release when I can download it for free?” or “If I'm not going to get a physical copy in the first place, why should I pay $10 for it from iTunes?” While it isn't right, this is a reality that musicians and labels alike need to face and adapt to.

I'm not saying that piracy is not a battle worth fighting, but I am suggesting that the business as a whole try to use it as a positive to spur some more innovation to generate some more lucrative ventures. “We can't sell music the way we used to, so how can we get these artists the money that they deserve while giving their fans what they want?” I recently heard about No Doubt giving away their entire catalog in digital format to those who bought a ticket to a show. It's new ideas like that that I believe will ultimately benefit both parties.

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