I have a teenage son who tells me his pirating music is no big deal. Since he is a musician himself, I point out to him that someday that’s going to be his money people are stealing. But he remains unphased.
He tells me the record sales make money for the record label, not the artist. He says that the artists make all their money from touring and live concerts. He thinks the pirated music promotes the concerts and therefore helps the artist make more money. I still don’t allow pirating in my house.
But tell me what you think – as artists out there having your work “shared,” are you just glad to have it being enjoyed, or does it bother you? Admittedly, he is stealing music that is recorded by major record labels, so maybe its different than the independent musician working for his living. But I’d still like to hear what you think.
Hi Valerie -
Thank you for your question. I absolutely understand your concern – the whole world is concerned about piracy and file-sharing right now. I remember first talking about this issue over 10 years ago – and we still haven’t figured out what to do about it!
First, though, we should make the distinction between piracy and file-sharing. Andrew Dubber does a great job of this in his article Should I be worried about piracy? Piracy is making illegal copies and selling them for a profit. What I think you’re describing (I assume your son isn’t selling anything) is file-sharing – also known as unauthorized copying. A small distinction, maybe, considering that they are both usually illegal, but it’s worth pointing out.
My perspective on file-sharing is probably different that you would expect. I think that your son should download every track he can find. I mean it. Download every song out there and sift through them one by one. And not just the genre’s he likes – but everything – Creole bandeon playing, French rap, hymns, metal, classical, South African jazz, samba – whatever he can find.
I say this for 3 reasons. First, if your son is really going to be a musician – I mean make a real, professional try at it – he’s going to need to know every one of those genres.
One of the things that I’ve been successful at recently is musical theatre. I’ve worked as a conductor, pianist, keyboardist – whatever was needed. Without exception the first thing I do when I’m hired for a new show is go find the cast recording and listen to it. I’ll buy it if I absolutely must, but more likely I’ll find it at a library or by more iniquitous means.
In fact, by the time I come to my first rehearsal with a new show, I fully expect that my actors will have already done the same. Modern arts budgets don’t allow enough rehearsal time to teach songs from scratch, so performers must have some idea of songs before rehearsals begin.
And this isn’t just musical theatre. Jazz musicians are expected to know a whole reservoir of standard tunes and their famous recordings. How are we going to play “Maiden Voyage” if we haven’t heard the original Herbie Hancock recording? Do I know the version of “Down By the Riverside” that Bennie Green played on his live album? Do I know the difference between Ed Thigpen’s style and Elvin Jones’?
We’re not going to learn that stuff by reading about it, we have to listen to it. I don’t mean to say that its right, or legal, or moral, but if a musician doesn’t take advantage of the avenues for acquiring this knowledge that technology has given us – then they are at a severe disadvantage to the rest of us. Because I do know the difference between Thigpen and Elvin, I know French rap (blech), I know hymns, bandeon playing and metal bands. I also know the cast recordings of famous and obscure Broadway shows backwards and forwards.
Secondly, I just personally feel like people should have access to music. When I think back to the mid-90s and before I’m struck by how narrow the choices were for music. We could listen to what was on the radio, what we heard at celebrations/church/school or what we bought in record stores (which – at least at the big chains – was often the same as was played on the radio).
I’m very, very glad that that system of music distribution has gone the way of the dodo. Good riddance. Music should not be controlled by an oligarchy of record label executives and corporate disc jockeys. Music is a privilege that is unique among our species, and it shouldn’t be kept from people like flowers in a locked greenhouse.
Thirdly, we’re all concerned about how musicians are going to make a living with all this music flying around for free, and it’s definitely a legitimate concern.
But consider this – “professional musician” wasn’t a career created by the phonograph. The musician industry has been around as long as humans have, but recorded music is, relatively, a very new invention. Mozart never sold a record. Beethoven never released an album. Yet they made careers as musicians.
What if we’re just coming out of a prolonged, 100-year tech bubble for the music industry? What if the easy money of the record-selling days is gone, and we’re back to selling live performance and commissioned compositions just like things were before the bubble?
Certainly we’re in a different cultural and economical landscape than we were in the 1800s and it’s hard to make a clear comparison, but my point is that the musician industry is more resilient and adaptable that we often think. Piracy will not be the end of our careers.
What will happen to the music industry? Will the new music industry make enough money to sustain all of our careers? I don’t know. But one thing is certain – resisting file-sharing hasn’t helped anything.