Perhaps I too am what Nate Thompson less than affectionately described himself to be in the preface of his Allston Pudding channel post, “Music Pirate vs. David Lowery.” For virgin ears or those who haven’t read it, that would be, in nicer words, not a very good person. Hey, I’ve been told as much. Because, like him, I download music – illegally – quite often.
There’s no easy answer to the moral quandary that exists in illegally downloading music and I don’t intend to address the situation as thoroughly as Thompson did in response to Mr. Lowery’s response to Emily White’s candid stream of thought on the subject for NPR. But to sum, Thompson is for downloading, Lowery is not and White is confused.
I would, however, like to focus on a point Lowery raised with regards to the plight of musicians:
The average income of a musician that files taxes is something like 35k a year w/o benefits. The vast majority of artists do not make significant money on the road. Until recently, most touring activity was a money losing operation. The idea was the artists would make up the loss through recorded music sales. This has been reversed by the financial logic of file-sharing and streaming. You now tour to support making albums if you are very, very lucky. Otherwise, you pay for making albums out of your own pocket. Only the very top tier of musicians make ANY money on the road. And only the 1% of the 1% makes significant money on the road.
The point I wish to raise is that many of these artists, particularly those trying to kick down the door to the industry, can’t give their music away fast enough.
On Bandcamp, a site dedicated to bands who wish to share and sell their music, there’s a whole section dedicated to albums tagged as free to download. If only 1% of the 1% makes significant money on the road and thus rely on compensation for recorded music, then there are a whole bunch of others out there who want only to get their music into your playlists by any means necessary.
There are mammoth artists, too, who give their music away. Remember Radiohead released “In Rainbows” with a price tag of “It’s up to you. No really.”?
Said a producer to Time Magazine at the time:
“Radiohead is the best band in the world; if you can pay whatever you want for music by the best band in the world, why would you pay $13 dollars or $.99 cents for music by somebody less talented? Once you open that door and start giving music away legally, I’m not sure there’s any going back.”
And, as evidenced by the abundance of free music on Bandcamp, many artists have caught on.
To Lowery’s point of saying that so few musicians make significant money on the road, he’s spot on. Ian Bergeson of local pop punk outfit, The Offseason, confirmed a much, particularly with regards to the house show circuit.
“It’s not like there’s a ton of money involved,” he wrote in an email to BostInno. ” People will sometimes pay the 5 bucks to get in, but a lot of people sneak in regardless and don’t realize that the money is for the band(s) that travel a good distance just to play at that house.”
This should only support Lowery’s argument. But still, bands like The Offseason offer at least some of their music for free.
Too often, the piracy issue is painted in a way that depicts fans as unknowingly hurting their favorite artists. It’s seldom noted that many musicians just want to be heard.