If you are my friend (or even if you’re not), please read this.

This is one of the better discussions, in my opinion, of the new trend of downloading music illegally.

I am just as guilty as anyone else.  I’m poor and I love music.  I hopped aboard the Napster train a decade ago and it was my first exposure to a ton of awesome music that I now adore.  I downloaded a lot of music then, and still have some of those mp3s.

But nowadays it’s not just about downloading mp3s.  We all know that we can hear any song we want by just going to YouTube and searching for it.  We can usually find things we want on Grooveshark and Spotify as well.  I realized that OSI’s Fire Make Thunder was the only new album I’ve actually purchased this year.

Now I admit I don’t listen to much new music at all really, but I still listen to quite a bit of Spotify and YouTube songs all the time.

So I need to re-commit myself to responsible media consumption.  I like iTunes and can buy a ton of awesome music on there, so from now on, if I want to listen to music, I will let myself sample it on YouTube but I want to purchase it.  As much as possible, I will purchase it.  Wish me luck on this; in fact, join me.

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12 thoughts on “If you are my friend (or even if you’re not), please read this.”

  1. You are right, thanks Jim. I fixed it. Also, the “comeback” of cassette tapes would be ridiculous. That was the takeaway from that article.

  2. I disagree wholeheartedly with pretty much everything in the David Lowery response article to Emily White:

    1) The idea that it’s unethical to use legal music/sharing sites is preposterous. Obviously, illegal and unauthorized downloading or sharing is unethical. But why is legal and/or authorized sharing unethical? An example: Tonight I saw the band Walk the Moon in concert. They have an official YouTube channel with 10 music videos on it (http://www.youtube.com/user/WalkTheMoonVEVO), including a music video for their hit single “Anna Sun”. I have to watch an ad before watching the “Anna Sun” video. But, according to David Lowery, I’m unethical for watching the music video on YouTube when I want to hear the song instead of paying $0.99 on iTunes. How does that make any sense? Is it unethical for me to eat the free samples at Costco? Or, more accurately, is it unethical for me to eat 5 free samples at Costco without buying a box of whatever it is I’m sampling? What about eating 20 samples? 100? 1000? As long as the artist is giving it away for free (or, charging me my time by making me watch an ad), what is unethical in accepting?

    2) On a related point, why am I unethical for using legal and authorized sharing sites like Spotify? If the artist is unhappy with their share of the revenue from Spotify, it can just pull it’s music from the site. Music doesn’t have to be on Spotify; in fact, hundreds of labels have pulled their music from that site because they haven’t been making enough money off it. Since the artist (or label, which according to Lowery is legally obligated to take care of the artist) chose to allow Spotify to play their music, why am I unethical for listening to it?

    3) My biggest problem, however, is that this article is just sour grapes from an old man. Lowery misses a fundamental point about this shift in music consumption: that it has already happened. He’s arguing for a continuation of the status quo from an era that has passed already. Why is he yelling at the consumers for changing their consumption tastes? Instead of advocating for everyone to go back to a broken business model, we should all be looking forward to figure out a business model that works for both the producer and consumer in this digital age. People will pay for music, just not in the same way that they had in the past. Lowery says that Emily White could’ve paid $17.82 per month to purchase all the music she owns. I’d gladly pay $17.82 monthly to a Spotify-like service that allowed me to listen to whatever I want, whenever I want, on whatever device I want, like I can do with my mixture of legally and illegally derived mp3s.

    4) Using Vic Chestnutt and Mark Linkous the way he did to prove his point is a cheap and insulting rhetorical tactic. I’m sure they would have lived long, perfect, and healthy lives if it wasn’t for those damn kids that illegally downloaded their music or listened to it on Spotify.

  3. 1) Because there’s a difference between what is ethical and what is legal. The way our current society works is that there is a social contract between people that we’re going to use currency to reward those who contribute to society, allowing them to make enough money to live. I think Lowery’s point is that the way most people consume music these days is not sufficiently rewarding those who are making the music – never mind what the laws actually say. So on this view it is not unethical to eat a few Costco samples, but there is a social contract that should take place between the consumer and the sample-giver that says that the point of the samples is to encourage people to buy a product if they like it. If they get full off the samples and don’t feel the need to buy the product, then you have violated the social contract (not the legal contract). If he wanted to change the laws he’d be lobbying in Washington – but the author of the article is trying to change the culture to recognize these social contracts.

    2) The problem is that sites like YouTube and Spotify are a necessary evil for musicians. There’s no realistic way to police YouTube and really make sure people aren’t uploading your music for free (and as soon as you suppress one, somebody else just uploads it). The only option you have is to upload it on your own channel and try to get a measly few bucks a month, hoping that people honor their social contract and buy the music if they like it. But they’re not doing that. So yes, while those sites are “legally” sharing your music, there’s still a difference between legality and ethics. It’s legal for an American company to outsource its jobs to a sweat shop in Indonesia where people work 12 hours a day with one break and sometimes sleep at their machines. Is it ethical?

    3) I see your point with this and do largely think that it is futile to change media consumption, but I don’t think it’s “sour grapes” to lament the current state of the system. I think if anything it might encourage people to set up a less broken system where musicians might actually be able to do what they love for a living.

    4) I agree that this was dumb. That having been said, the current state of the music industry is ruining the lives of musicians. It really is, I’ve seen it firsthand. Not the huge musicians like P. Diddy or Sarah McLaughlan, but it is squeezing out all the “village musicians” and studio instrumentalists who devoted their lives to getting really good at what they do. I’m not saying that we can change the system just for them (lots of jobs are being obsoleted right now) but if all we have to do is spend a little more money each month on iTunes or buy an album instead of just listening to it for free on YouTube or Spotify then we should.

  4. I think you missed my main argument from my first two points: If the artist/label is giving the music away for free or making me watch an ad, why is it unethical for me to accept? For the sake of argument, I’ll agree that listening to any music shared by someone other than the artist is unethical. But what about the official YouTube channels, or streams on an artist/label website? You say it’s a necessary evil, but it isn’t. Artists can pull music from Spotify, not post it on YouTube, not sell it on iTunes (or put on DRM restrictions), only sell CDs that can’t play on computers. The artist/label has made the conscious and willing choice to market and sell their music in a given way. But I’m unethical for accepting their offer? Your line of reasoning does not work in any other context. As you know, I love Coke products. If Coke gave me the choice of paying $0.99 for every can of Coke Zero, or watching a 15 second ad before getting a free Coke, I would always choose the latter. Why is that unethical behavior? You say I’m violating the social contract by filling up on the samples, but why don’t they stop me? I’m sure YouTube could put viewing limits on certain videos, just like the sample lady at Costco can tell me I’ve had enough. While an artist can’t police YouTube for everything, they are responsible for their own output, and blaming me for accepting what they’re giving is just excusing the laziness of the artist.

    I also disagree with the argument that is implicit in all of this: that music is worth the same now that it was 10 or 20 years ago. With the rise of technology, lots of things (including at-home movies, books, and television shows) are becoming cheaper than they were in the past and those industries are also having to adapt and lower prices. Why should music be able to stay the same?

  5. They don’t stop you because the samples don’t generate enough income/resources to give artist the means to put limits on the consumption. Coke is a bad example because they have the resources to strong-arm vendors into doing whatever they want and can make lots of money on tiny margins. Ads on YouTube make a tiny, tiny amount of money. If you write Chocolate Rain that might generate enough money to live off of, but people aren’t paying rent off YouTube ads. The artists don’t set the terms with YouTube, they just know YouTube isn’t going to do jack to protect their music from being uploaded anyway, so they just accept that they’re going to be violated by YouTube and put their music up. That’s why I say it’s a necessary evil. You say that YouTube could put viewing limits on videos. I’m sure they could, but they have no incentive to do that. They are the ultimate winners when people watch videos. And they set the terms of the consumption. The artists don’t have much of a choice otherwise. If they had a team of hackers and lawyers to protect their music online, they’d do it, but where are they supposed to get the money to do that? If they were as large as Coca-Cola then maybe they could, but they’re just guys making music. And even if they did that, the current culture is such that when artists do try to protect their music they’re painted as arrogant douchebags (*cough*Metallica*cough*) who just want everyone’s money.

    So if I filled up on samples at Costco, I would feel that I am doing something unethical. The fact that they don’t hire a security guard to slap samples out of my hands after I eat a certain limit doesn’t mean that I should just keep eating. They are relying on the social contract when they put the music on YouTube, and the social contract isn’t paying them back.

    I’m not saying music is special and shouldn’t change with the times. But right now people are making choices about whether to continue consuming the samples or to pay for the songs, and the author is simply saying that the responsible choice is to buy the song if you like it rather than fill up on the samples. I think that’s completely reasonable. And I do think a good song is worth a dollar.

  6. While I disagree somewhat, you’ve made valid arguments that I cannot refute.

    Moving on, I agree that a good song is worth a dollar. A great song is worth much more than that. But I, personally, don’t think an average song is worth $1. I have 32,000+ songs in my iTunes, and I’ve been listening to all my music alphabetically to find the good songs. I’m at Phish right now, and I’ve made a playlist of 1,969 songs that I would qualify as “good”. I’d pay a dollar (or more) for each one of those songs, but I think the average I would pay for the rest would be $0.33 per. For a lot of them, I wouldn’t even pay a nickel. Renting movies and buying books have become cheaper over the past decade for those who consume digitally, but music hasn’t.

    Further, why do I have to buy music when I don’t have to buy other forms of art? Most of the time when I hear a song I like, I want to listen to that song and that band a couple of times in a short window, then I move on to something new. If that happens with books I can go to the library, with movies I can Netflix or Redbox, and then choose to buy it if I like it after I’m sure I enjoyed it and want to enjoy it again. I consume a lot of movies and books, but I buy less than 10 of each per year and no one accuses me of being unethical towards the artists who make that art. Why can’t I just rent songs?

  7. To clarify, I realize that I cannot “rent” music in the current system because it isn’t profitable for the artist and that’s what this whole hullabaloo is about. I’m more just airing a grievance/explaining a reason why I don’t feel comfortable investing $10 in an album I’m probably going to listen to 4 times in a week and forget about.

  8. I remember year’s ago when Preston Pugmire dedicated himself to that goal. If my memory serves me correctly, he deleted all illegal songs on his iPod/computer and only kept music he himself had purchased. He saved up money to purchase music he wanted rather than to simply download it illegally. Truly, those artists work hard to create. Just like we wouldn’t still a work of art, we shouldn’t steal songs. I am just as guilty as anyone else, but I do try to actually BUY music when I want to have something!

  9. I just now noticed this, Art. I’m confused why you’d choose iTunes over Spotify, considering Spotify covers the licensing fees and everything, so please explain.

    Thank you.

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