February 19, 2010

Since the days of Napster, and the first realisation that the internet, and digital music formats, allowed people to download music for free, I  bought the argument, that music piracy is theft. Believing that, hasn’t always stopped me from downloading music.

Recently, I have reconsidered. I have friends, who own record labels like this one. My boyfriend, is a DJ, and has been for as long as I have known him. The internet has allowed him, and his friends, to build a steady following, get their music out there, and linked them to musicians all over the world. Facebook, twitter, soundcloud, youtube, blogs, podomatic legal, and illegal downloads , are all integral to getting their music heard. Worldwide distribution is no longer in the hands of a few people.

This wasn’t possible before. Their ability to get their music heard, depended on having lots of money, or the holy grail, of a link up with a major label. The system I have grown up with, is a system where a few large companies, maintained a stranglehold on the music industry. They decided who was heard, who was marketed, how much we paid.

Success in the music industry almost guaranteed wealth on an obscene scale, for a few people. It appeared perfectly acceptable for a few people to gain the kind of wealth, not seen by small countries, and a powerful voice across the globe, because they made music. I bought the idea that downloading their stuff, was essentially theft.

Actually. I was wrong. The internet, downloads, digital media- have placed the tools to make, share, and market music, into everyonese hands. It has democratised music.

The people who are using these new tools, to download, and make music- are the market, and the arguments that major labels use to defend their pursual of ‘copyright theft’, are basic free market arguments. We are stealing a product, that they have made. Well here it is. We, the downloaders, the new small record labels, the musicians using these new tools- we are the market.

THe market has tools, which challenge the stranglehold long held by major labels. If you are in the business of getting music heard, making music- then the internet is a boon for you. If you are in the business of music, as a means to making a few people, obscenely wealthy- then it probably isn’t. Basic free market economics. You adapt to the market, or die.

I buy as much music, as I ever did, legally. If I am buying a song, and it is reasonably priced, and I like it, I will pay for it. It seems that I am not the only one.  Sell music at a reasonable price, say goodbye to the days when people like Bono could use the fact that singing songs, has given them a fortune comparable to a small african nation, and use the platform it gives him, to lecture the world, while wearing his $400 dollar shades.

As far as I am concerned, these people may find the shift, to the new music market uncomfortable. For me, a wider variety of record labels, who are motivated by musical integrity, and not obscene profits- can only be a good thing. It can only be a good thing for most of the musicians I know.



  1. You could argue that what’s happening to music has left thousands of people as unable to work as those in your home-town. The major label system was poorly run and didn’t encourage merit (neither incidently, does the internet) but it employed thousands of people, most of whom are no longer employed and some, simply unable to find work elsewhere.

    I think the internet is a great tool for music, but making music still costs money and so does putting food on the table. It’s no saviour and in many respects, despite myself personally benefiting from its nature (I ended up touring in Asia thanks to the internet), elites exist online as they did before and the bloggers are, if anything, more susceptible to payola and interference from interested parties than traditional media.

    I’ve seen first hand the nepotism and sometimes idiocy of an industry that refused to read the writing on the wall (and still resists what is plain to see) so you’d think I’d be happy. The sad thing is all I’ve seen is a lot of talented people lose their jobs.

    • I agree to a large extent. When any industry suffers that way- it is not those at the top who suffer.
      But I have to say, and maybe its a location thing- but the paid jobs round here, were adverts, jingles, and studio work for other people. And those kind of jobs don’t appear to have dissapeared, and aren’t really affected by the downloads market.

      I buy as much music, as I ever did. I listen to much more than I ever did- am much more able to listen to new music(outside what is in the playlist on Radio1) than I ever was,and that results in me spending money.

      Before downloading, it would cost me thirteen quid, to hear a new bands CD-and that meant I wouldn’t ever listen to that bands CD. Sorry, but when music can be stored, in digital, and shared(by the manufacturer-not necessarily illegally)-then that is an unreasonable cost. THe money from my CD, wasn’t going to musicians, it was going through a vast array of people, who were making a great deal of money- before any was trickling down to musicians. I much prefer legal downloads, because of the quality, and the virus risk-and now they are reasonably priced(mostly) will pay-and do-when I hear something I like. Research shows that I am no different to anyone else, and this is a common pattern.

      BUt on the subject of getting your own music made, and distributed, I don’t see how the internet has been anything but a good thing. People can obtain sophisticated production tools, very very easily, and cheaply now. And that has enabled more people to make music. Without needing to hope that a major label will pick them up. I have friiends who are making a living, out of music, solely because they were able to use the internet to share, and market their own music. Friends who had waited and worked, but been frozen out of the major label system- now the major label don’t decide.

      Its not just about blogs(which of course are open to interence, in the way any media is). Its about the democratisation of it all. THe relationship that has existed between the mainstream media, publicists, PR’s, and record companies- has meant that getting any exposure for smaller, independent labels, was difficult. But there are so many blogs, online magazines- that record companies can’t dictate to people in the same way, who they should listen to-there are just too many avenues to look at.

      Soundcloud, the ability to send files through the internet, youtube, facebook, twitter, and the million and one other sites- allow musicians to collaborate. A small label doing a specific type of music, can come across a musician they would never in a million years have met= and end up collaborating, sharing music, sharing knowledge, in a way that does allow them to make money. Jobs that are not just about supporting other(artists-sometimes that description is v loose-and support may involve masking inadequacies in talent)-who record companies have deemed, worthy.

      Beatport, Juno, Itunes, all of them= mean that distribution to a worldwide market is open to most people. And because the tunes are reasonably priced- people are still buying and parting with cash.

      For most musicians making a living out of music is enough, but a teeny percentage of ‘musicians’, were making absolutely obscene amounts of money. Not just a good living. NOt even a great living, but wealth, status and power, which is out of all proportion, with what they do.

      Music will always make money- because people are willing to pay for good music. People are willing to go to gigs, people want to follow bands, and musicians.

      THe market is shifting, and there will always be work for musicians, and people will always pay for it. But I am not going to lament the effect on major labels- this is an adjustment they have to make. I stand by my point, for people who are interested in making music, and getting it heard, and making a fair living, the internet is a boom. But the days of music being a ticket to obscene wealth(and in more recent years, musical ability having little do with it) are going, and I am glad.

      Music Industry isn’t dying, its just changing.

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