21 June 2012

If it's broke, why ain't we fixing it?

Gatherer-12The argument against downloading music from the internet gets thrown back and forth ad nauseum these days, with most people forming an opinion on one side of the debate or the other. Usually it's musicians and those associated with the music industry, and not necessarily the major labels, arguing against it, while people without any real connection to music (those people who don't want to go out and pay to see a band live, and generally don't offer any material support to musicians) arguing for it, with some exceptions on both sides.
The debate has taken on new life in the last week, following a post from an intern at American radio network NPR, in which she made the claim that she had 11,000 songs in her music collection and had only paid for 15 albums in her life. You can read her post here.

That post might have gone largely unnoticed were it not for a response from musician David Lowry arguing for the right of musicians to choose whether they give away their music or not, and generally pointing out the harm that illegal downloads directly cause to musicians. His post is here.

I'm not going to go too much into what they cover - I'm assuming if you're reading this you're able to follow those links and read them for yourselves (and I'll probably make a hash of trying to paraphrase what both sides have said anyway).

Now I'm not perfect. I'll admit I've downloaded music that I probably shouldn't have. But these days that's usually after spending a long time (literally hours in some cases) searching for a legitimate way to purchase it that a)doesn't involve having to install iTunes, and b)doesn't involve purchasing a CD from overseas that I'll then have to wait four-six weeks to actually get. So those downloads are few and far between, because generally these days musicians are making it as easy as possible to get hold of their music, through sites like Bandcamp and their own websites.

And when I do download I do feel guilty. Being involved in the music industry I know how hard musicians have to work to get anywhere, and how hard it is for them (and most people connected to the industry) to make a living doing what they love. It's the same as a music photographer and writer - if musicians aren't getting money, there's definitely nothing for those around them. And we face some of the same problems they do - I've lost track of the number of times I've seen my photos used without permission on band's websites, often with the watermark cropped out so no one can even see that they were my photos (just ask people - photographers are usually happy to grant permission for free, or in return for a CD). But I digress.

Musicians, like other artists, are producing a commodity, and at the end of the day that commodity should help them support themselves. Making music for the love of it doesn't pay the bills. We wouldn't even get into this argument if we were talking about painters, or sculptors, or pretty much any other profession, in or outside the arts. So why music then? And why isn't there a better way (yet).

New means of distribution, like Spotify and Pandora, help a little, as they make it easier for listeners to get hold of music and return revenue to musicians, but it's a pittance really, while the people who create the software (and who would have no product without the musicians and labels) become wealthier than most musicians could ever dream of.

So I guess the point here, and in both the posts that kicked this all off, is that the system isn't working in favour of musicians and it should be. So what's the solution? Without musicians making noise (no pun intended), like David Lowery did, then there's really no impetus from companies that support illegal sharing, and from the downloaders to stop and actually support bands. We need alternatives, that both make it quick and convenient to purchase music legally, and give artists more control over the financial side of it - why should someone who created the software (or more likely just thought up the idea) be making such a disproportionate amount compared to musicians?

Some sort of cross between Spotify and Bandcamp would work well I think, but we also need to get out and support bands playing live, without whingeing about having to spend $5 or $10 on door charges - we're happy to spend 10 times that at the bar once we're in after all. And while you're there, why not pay another $10 to buy the bands CD? 

What do you think? It's not black or white, but which side of the argument are you on? What solutions do you see? How do we fix things so musicians can make a living entertaining us? Throw a comment in the comment box below. And if you've got a Google account (if you've ever signed up for Gmail or Google+ or Youtube, you'll have one) sign in and hit the follow button.

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