So I started seeing this post by David Lowery (I know what you're thinking, and yes, THAT David Lowery of the bands "Cracker" and "Camper Van Beethoven") taking to task a young intern at NPR's "All Songs Considered", for her blog post (which was in reply to ANOTHER blog post about someone embracing the digital cloud, and deleting all his music and living entirely in the cloud), explaining how she has only bought 15 albums in her life, and yet has an Itunes full of music numbering 11,000 and change.
Now, clearly this was probably not the smartest thing to do on young Emily's part. I mean, I know if I just got an internship at a radio station, the first thing on my list wouldn't be to go online and brag about how I've never paid for more than 15 albums and I begged, borrowed and stole the rest. I'd be too busy ripping the shit out of the NPR Music Library. Are you kidding me? That's like my wet dream in there.
But I digress.
MORE AFTER THE BREAK
So Emily wrote that she thought there should be a different system in place to deliver music for a good price while also getting the payments to the artists. Nice goals, nice suggestions, all around good times, right?
Now there's a lot to what he wrote, there's numbers, and stats, and all that, and I encourage everyone to go and read what he wrote. It's a nice piece. I disagree with some of what he said, but I don't think he's pulling a Skip Bayless and not believing a damn word of what he says, only saying it for attention. I think he really honestly feels that way.
However there is one part of his piece that really ...to be blunt, pissed me off. And that was when he tried to imply a connection between the suicides of two of his musician friends, and those who download music for free online.
Here's a snippet of his much longer piece:
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.
After reading that, I went on twitter and promptly told David to go fuck himself. I meant it then and I mean it now (albeit a slightly less harsh "go fuck yourself") but all the same....yeah.
I have no doubts that David Lowery was hurt by those two people taking their lives. That is a horrible thing to go through, and having it happen twice in such a short period of time I can only try to understand the pain and anguish that causes. And I pray for the families of Mr Linkous and Mr. Chesnutt. And I mourn for the loss that David feels.
That said, what an outrageous thing to do, to try to draw a link between illegal downloading and the suicides of two musicians? The Music Industry is down because the industry doesn't know what the fuck it's doing! They've been late to virtually every chance to monetize their products, and instead relied on outdated models and refused to adapt to emerging technology. How long after the internet came around was it that the labels wised up and started using the internet to sell their music?
Has downloading hurt the industry? I don't know, to be honest. Because for every stat and quote that Lowery throws out as a professor, there are other sources that show that it's possible the industry has lied or misled on the numbers they throw out, and that the impact of piracy is not at the levels that are being touted by the RIAA.
In fact, as per a link at "ThinkQuest", here's an example of how free downloading did not hurt an album's sales, but actually helped:
When Radiohead released their new album on Oct. 3, 2000, it debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, an album with heavy electronic, ambient, and experimental jazz influence, nothing like any album that had ever been #1. And all this was done without music videos, interviews, radio play, or touring (the main sources of publicity for most big artists). The publicity it gained before its release was through free online downloads, particularly Napster. The record company decided to give out the entire album online to radio stations and selected sites, and as a result, 3 months before the release date, all of Kid A was available for free for all to download on Napster, where massive amounts people downloaded the album for free. This is why the RIAA worked so hard to shut down Napster, because if people have already downloaded an album, who would want to buy it? But despite the heavy downloading, the album still sold 210,000 copies in its first week, which suggests that downloading created enough publicity, and gave people a chance to become accustomed to a type of music they had never before heard, to make the album hugely successful, more then anyone could have possibly imagined. For Radiohead, mass downloading took the place of mass radio play, and made it a prime example of how free music actually increases sales.
Or this post at TorrentFreak which explains how Piracy is NOT killing the Music Industry
For nearly a decade the U.S. music industry has seen a decline in sales of physical CDs and all this time it has put the blame on digital piracy. By doing so, the labels conveniently ignore the most drastic format shift music has ever seen – the digital revolution.
With the growing popularity of the Internet, computers and most importantly MP3-players, music fans have started to trade in their CDs for MP3s and other digital files. Initially, the public had to convert CDs themselves, but in 2003 the iTunes store opened, selling over a million tracks in the first week.
With this shift from physical to digital, another important change hit the industry, one that may in part explain why the labels’ revenues in the U.S. continued to decline. With the introduction of paid downloads, consumers no longer had to buy a full album if they were only interested in two or three songs. This new freedom for consumers has dramatically changed the music sales landscape.
According to statistics taken from the RIAA shipment database, between 2004 and 2008 the number of single tracks sold in the U.S. increased by 669 percent while the number of album sales dropped 42 percent. Consequently, the income of the big labels suffered since single track sales are less profitable than full albums.
File-sharing is obviously a by-product of the digital revolution in music, but its effect on revenues has been much overstated. In every annual report that comes out, the music industry blames piracy for its troubles, even though digital sales are booming and even though these are directly competing with piracy.
We believe that the format shift from physical to digital music, and the change in buying habits that came along with it, may explain the decline in revenue more than piracy can.
So which side is right, and which side is wrong? Who knows? I'm sure you can find credible numbers that'll say anything you want them to say if you stay at it long enough. I just know that trying to connect kids downloading music for free, to the suicides of your friends is one of the most classless moves I've ever seen.
And I'm sure, David, that those kids who are in their basement downloading Cracker albums off of Rapidshare are also inadvertently funding the Taliban's next attack, right? Piss off, with that nonsense.
Confession time! Prior to about three or four years ago I flat out refused to buy music. I didn't do it out of a sense of "sticking it to the man", because much like my views on voting, my X amount of dollars is not going to make or break the system. I get the argument of "what if EVERYONE who felt that way did this", so don't feel the need to enlighten me on that.
The reason I did it, I think fell into a variety of reasons, but really encompassing about three, which I think are the reasons a lot of people download music illegally.
I'll list those reasons, and then explain my thoughts on each.
3. Perception of Artist as Rich.
First off is the price. Growing up the price of CDS were more than they were now, as the cost of a new release was routinely $17.99 and up, sometimes topping $20 for ONE album. Or you could buy a SINGLE (or Maxi Single with remixes or b-sides) for anywhere from $2 to sometimes $6 or $7. There were sales and whatnot, but on average the prices were up there.
Does that sound even remotely reasonable? I realize there are costs involved and a lot of people have their hands out when it comes time to get paid. Having said that, I found little ability to sympathize when you'd shell out twenty bucks after tax for a cd and many times there'd be three or four songs you actually liked.
Things were not exactly as they were today where you can easily sample an album before buying it. The occasional mall shop would have the ability to listen to any album right there in the store, but that was few and far between, and if you were in some small town, that definitely was not an option.
So if you have the option of paying, what is in your eyes, a grossly over inflated price for an often underwhelming product, or clicking a link and getting the entire thing for free in a matter of minutes, well...that's not really a choice, is it?
Musical taste is subjective, and what one will view as trash, another will view as a gem well worth the price of admission. Albums were, in many cases, constructed in a way that flows and tells a story. It's not meant to be listened to in piecemeal, so when you have some artists that are pushing back against the idea of selling singles of their albums, and insist on you buying the whole album, there are going to be those who say "fuck your sense of pride over your super intelligent concept album, I'll go and find the single online for free".
Now is that right? That's subjective as well. At one point I felt it was perfectly justified. I don't necessarily feel that way anymore, however I am at least able to see both sides of the argument and realize the arguments for each carry their own merits.
Or you have some artists that despise the digital medium, and refused to release their music to Amazon's MP3 service or Itunes, forcing people to either go out and find it in the stores, or just spend a few minutes looking online. Once again, not really a choice when you have artists that, in the view of some, are alienating a subsection of their audience.
Now all that being said, there are those who will never pay for music no matter what. Whether it's a "stick it to the man" or "they have enough money" or whatever their justification for their actions, they just won't buy what they can get for free. Those people will either eventually come around, as I did, or they will just continue to download what they can get for free. All the sales will never make a difference. You could drop your prices to $1 an album and they'd still choose to get it for free, and spend that dollar on something else.
But I think that given a good price point, there CAN be converts. The problem is that most people seem to think that the only way to download music legally is via Itunes, which tends to overprice their albums in my opinion. At least in the sense that you can get them cheaper via Amazon's MP3 Service.
I only buy via Amazon, unless there is a specific edition of an album that is only available on Itunes. Case in point: When the John Legend & The Roots album "Wake Up!" came out, it was on sale on Amazon's MP3 service for $3.99 on Day 1. So I bought it.
Then a few months later I saw the same edition on Itunes for $11.99 or something, but it also included a 20 minute video interview with John Legend and Questlove, the Roots' drummer. So I bought it again, because A. I really wanted that interview, and B. The Roots are always going to get my money no matter what. They have a proven track record and I know that when I get a Roots album I'm going to get real music and not watered down manufactured garbage.
There's other examples of special editions with videos that I'll pick up via Itunes, but that is very rare, as their prices are ridiculous when you factor in that you can get a virtually identical copy of the album on Amazon's service for much less. And DRM free, as well!
I wrote a blog post a few years back comparing the two services and the Top 10 Albums on that day, and compared the prices, and the total price paid was about $20 difference, with Itunes being the higher priced.
You can read that blog post here, but I'll quote a piece of it here explaining what I am talking about:
As a comparison below I will list the top 10 selling digital albums (according to Billboard.com), and you can see what the current prices on Amazon and Itunes are.
Top 10 Digital Albums (AMZ vs. ITUNES)
01. Adele - 21 $10.99 (AMZ) vs. $10.99 (Itunes)
02. Glee The Music Presents: The Warblers $9.99 (AMZ) vs. $9.99 (Itunes)
03. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light $9.99 (AMZ) vs. $9.99 (Itunes)
04. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More $5.00 (AMZ) vs.$9.99 (Itunes)
05. Lemonade Mouth Soundtrack $5.00 (AMZ) vs. $9.99 (Itunes)
06. Gorillaz - The Fall $7.99 (AMZ) vs. $9.99 (Itunes)
07. Britney Spears - Femme Fatale $10.99 (AMZ) vs.$10.99 (Itunes)
08. Rihanna - Loud $6.99 (AMZ) vs. $9.99 (Itunes)
09. Wiz Khalifa - Rolling Papers $5.00 (AMZ) vs. $9.99 (Itunes)
10. Various Artists - Songs for Japan $7.99 (AMZ) vs. $9.99 (Itunes)
As you can see above, four titles were identically priced, while SIX titles were cheaper, including three that had Itunes charging TWICE AS MUCH as what Amazon is. None of them included an Itunes release being cheaper to buy than on Amazon.
Yet, Itunes still has a large percentage of the purchasing public. That makes no sense to me. Maybe the majority of the people don't care. They figure, what's a few extra dollars. I can afford it. And that might be true.
But if you look at the top 10 digital albums I listed above, the total bill if you were to buy all those right now at Amazon would be $79.83, or an average of $7.99.
Buying all those from Itunes, would run you $101.99 or an average of $10.19.
So looking at it that way, those "couple of dollars" really add up. You'd be paying over twenty dollars more for the very same albums.
So maybe people don't realize that Itunes isn't the only game in town, and think "I'm not paying that much for an album." Or they simply don't care. They just won't pay. I don't think $10 or $12 is too much for an album, considering the work that goes into it, and everything. I have artist friends and I realize how much they pour their blood, sweat and tears into their work, often coming up with creative little bundles of media to package together to provide a value to their fans.
But I do wish that more people realized that Amazon has some killer deals, including one every day that has a new album for $3.99 or so. I can't tell you how many great albums I've gotten for $4 or less on there due to their one day sales.
Here's a big one. Do you want to go out and spend a lot of money on gas and deal with traffic and worst of all, people, and go out and hope that whatever store you're going to go to has the album in stock and you don't have to waste more gas and drive to another store, or just get it from some forum you go to?
Now the advent of Itunes and Amazon has made that an irrelevant argument, so the Convenience factors in only as much as people not wanting to perhaps give their personal information over to Amazon or Apple. Growing up I didn't have the digital option to legally buy it, so I'd either go out and spend 20 bucks on an album or I'd go without.
The Industry really screwed the pooch on the whole digital thing, because they were SO late to the party. The Recording Industry has always kinda been late when it comes to technology and taking advantage of new revenue streams. I wrote a piece a few years back about how the Recording Industry sued Ellen DeGeneres (Really, folks? You're suing Ellen, who is one of the most liked people in the world? The only thing worse is suing Betty White who it is literally impossible not to love) because she would play a song on the air, and dance through the aisles. It was her schtick and it was great. And she'd post up the name of the artist and song title for anyone interested in what it was, and because she didn't get permission and licensed those songs, the Man came crashing down on Ellen. There's a bad joke there somewhere, but I'm above all that.
Now you might think, "well, rules are rules, and she should have licensed the songs!" That makes sense, except for the fact that at that point, and I don't know if anything has changed, but the industry did not license ANY MUSIC for Daytime TV. So even if Ellen's show had asked, would they have agreed? And DID they ask?
Eventually they came to some type of agreement, but it shows the lack of foresight, or the presence of mind, to realize "hey, we could make money this way! Think of those people in the audience who might go home and buy that single because they saw Ellen dancing to it and realized how happy they felt?"
Instead, their decision is to file a lawsuit. Something that would become a pattern for them. Which is another shining example of brilliant logic. Someone had to think it up and say, "why don't we go after those we want to buy our music, and sue them and bankrupt them?" That'll do it! THEN they will...um...not be able to afford the music.
So you're still back at square one, and not getting money from a potential customer.
Now the industry's lack of any sort of business acumen is not a justification for people illegally downloading music. However it DOES at least lend some sort of insight into how it could get to the point where they are claiming (suspectly) that they are losing oodles and oodles of money every years.
Because they're late to the show every single time. How long did it take them to start monetizing Ring Tones? How long before they started setting up deals with Itunes? How long after shutting down Napster was it before someone, ANYONE, thought "Maye if we offer it for a good price digitally, people will pay for it?"
And don't get me started on DRM.
PERCEPTION OF ARTISTS AS RICH FAT CATS
Okay this is one that perhaps doesn't fit with a lot of genres of music, but one in particular: Hip Hop.
Hip Hop is a genre that seems to involve the artists bragging about how rich they are. They're out there hustling and making that money, and they got all the bling to prove it. Fancy cars, blinding jewelry, expansive mansions, I mean they're just rolling in money Scrooge McDuck style.
So when you see these pictures of rappers posing with stacks and stacks of money, numbering in the thousands and tens of thousands (and sometimes more), are you going to give a shit if they miss out on some album purchases? I mean, does it look like they are hurting for money? They are CLEARLY in the money, and hey, they're not even going to MISS the money from this album I'm downloading.
Now clearly that is all smoke and mirrors, and it's done for effects and image and whatnot. However that hurts the credibility when those artists then complain when their fans get their shit for free online. How are you going to complain about missing out on some revenue, when you're in the club throwing money around like it's nothing? When you got your fans are living in a recession and you're in the club making it rain? HELL no.
I saw a brilliant picture recently that was pointed out by my friend Miami Kaos (who did the banner to my blog ... pause while you scroll up and look at that beautiful banner ...) and it perfectly encapsulates the mindset of I'd be willing to bet 100% of the fans who are downloading hip hop music without paying for it.
I will put it to you, today, that MTV Cribs has done more to ignite the apathy that many downloaders have about music piracy and the effect that it may or may not have on the artists, than anything else in the history of mankind.
Seriously...watch this video and tell me if you'd feel bad downloading some shit and the artist perhaps missing your $10.
Do you feel sorry for them missing out on sales? Now as I said, that's all smoke and mirrors a lot of times, and in the case of 50 Cent, he's invested and made a boat load of money. So he can afford to do all that nonsense. However with the majority of these rappers out there with all this jewelry and throwing money around (often fake money) it's all advances and stuff that they'll never really make back.
But that's not the image that is put out there, so when people see them acting a fool throwing money around, then are they expecting some of their fans who are struggling college kids or high school kids to give a shit if they miss out on a potential sale? Probably not. They'll think "well, they clearly are balling, so ...on to the next one." Click. Click. Click.
As I said near the beginning, I buy all my music now via Amazon since they have good deals. I'm not the dirty suicide inducing downloader that I used to be, but I do understand the complex nature of it and realize that it's not a simple solution.
There will always be those who refuse to pay, but I think the majority will pay, if you just give them the convenience and the price point that they can feel that they are supporting the artist, but are not wasting their money so some label exec can get richer. And as this article points out, it's kind of a murky situation trying to figure out just how much the artists are being paid via the legal streaming/downloading sites.
So in closing, what is my longest piece I've ever done on this blog I believe, David Lowery may have some good points, some iffy point, and some bat shit crazy points, but I do agree with him that the artists should be compensated for what they do. I have artist friends of mine who are not living it up and jet setting around the world and drinking champagne and wearing a school's worth of annual teacher salaries on their wrists.
They are honest hard working musicians who's goals in life are to get better at their craft, and to connect to their fans with their music. And they deserve to be paid for that.
But shaming and trying to implicate Emily White in the deaths of two musicians (no matter how indirectly) is way way over the line, and diminishes any point you were trying to make.