So, does the ‘massive downloader’ scenario I outlined in the previous post account for all download traffic? Of course not.
My own torrenting experience has been almost exclusively to get digital copies of music I own physical hard copies of. For me, torrenting wasn’t a replacement for buying music, rather it was a replacement for buying a USB turntable to legally convert my vinyl collection to MP3… or actually, borrowing one – I hope the BPI wouldn’t be in favour of people buying unnecessary hardware for limited use.
I’ve no idea if that would stand up in court, were I sent threatening letters for downloading music that I could produce the hard copy of. Perhaps it would be impossible for them to prove that they weren’t, in fact, mistaken and that I’d ripped it from my collection. Either way, it’s certainly not music I was about to buy again – I’m just recovering music that was lost to me thanks to obsolete tech.
The big record industry has relied for 25 years on producing new formats to get people to buy the same legacy product again and again. CDs worked for them for a time – sheer portability made them more useful than vinyl, and they were much higher fidelity than cassette, but the volume of back catalogue sold had precious little impact on new music. I’d love to see a sales curve for new vs back catalogue CD sales from 1986-2010… I’m guessing the fall off in back catalogue sales probably maps pretty well to the arc of the decline in overall CD sales, if not accounting for all of it… It certainly wasn’t compensated for by Minidisc, DCC or SACD…
And what of people who download music instead of buying it? All the research suggests that a pretty large percentage of youngsters just don’t see music as being worth paying for any more. So they download it. But what are they spending their money on instead? A fair chunk of it goes on computer games – all of which contain music, all of which is licensed and paid for and all of which generate income for musicians via the collection agencies, who bafflingly also supported the Digital Economy Bill.
As I’ve said before, spending on physical entertainment media is up, it’s just now shared between music, DVD/blueray and games. I’m a fairly big music buyer, but I’ve spent even more on DVD boxed sets in the last year than I have on music.
I have a friend who was/is a composer at RockStar games. That wasn’t a career that existed 20 years ago. Guitar Hero didn’t exist 6 years ago – and for its first few years, the Guitar Hero/Rock Band franchise was yet another locked-in major label ruse to squeeze more cash out of dinosaur rock hits. Now there’s a whole load of other music ending up on there, that’ll be paid for by the people buying those choonz.
So some kids copy music for free, brand themselves with it, and eventually that branding leads to them spending some money on product that contains licensed music…
Hasn’t it ever been thus? Back in the 80s when I was at school, it was common place for one person to buy an album and for it to go round a LOT of people being copied and shared. We also did compilation albums for each other – highly illegal, but which led to me buying a LOT of music – and there were certain albums I never bought because I heard them enough at friends’ houses to never have to buy them – entirely legal, but ultimately damaging the sales of the artists… Home taping, we eventually realised, did no more to kill music than ‘inviting people over to listen to records’ did.
So where’s this leading us?
- All this is not to say that I think Torrenting is the future of music.
- I don’t think ‘feels like free’ is the future of music, and
- I have no truck with people who unlawfully repurpose other people’s work to make money (using free downloads of someone else’s music to drive traffic to your ad-supported site is pretty shitty…)
What I DO think is that the impact of illegal downloading on music across the board is absolutely nothing like the BPI figures that underpinned the desperate ‘need’ to get the Digital Economy Bill passed into law, particularly the ludicrous notion that file sharing ‘disadvantages new and emerging artists’ (who are the very people who benefit from it most, as a free alternative to the insane waste of money that passes for ‘promotion and marketing’ in the recording industry).
As lovers of music, we need to be aware of the influence and power the internet gives us as creators AND consumers. We can make music sustainable both by paying for it, AND by sharing it with others. We can be links in the chain of discovery that mean our favourite artists need to be neither hopelessly obscure nor debt-burdened thanks to wasteful promo.
The as-yet-unknown future will emerge out of the relationship between artists an listeners, as we seek to build web environments that are better than torrent sites, that give people a reason to come to us first, and find out what we’re about, and how and why we make music.
There’s lots more to be said, feel free to bat these ideas around in the comments below…
And here’s some amazing progressive jazz for you to have a listen to – Neil Alexander is an insane talent, not ‘famous’ by any stretch, but immensely gifted, imaginative and dedicated to his art.
If you like it, please head over to his site and pay what you think it’s worth – he’ll thank you for it, I’m sure!by