Recently, it was brought to my attention that the all the links for the Seamus Ennis album recently posted were dead. This is troubling, because for the first time, there has been a complaint to the file-hosting servers, and they have removed the file. Now, I have a lot of goodies to give to you folks, but it really doesn’t make sense for me to upload an album if it will just be deleted by someone else — it’s a waste of my time and theirs.
So, it seems as though a discussion is necessary before we can move on. I fully invite community participation in this: the more viewpoints we can have on this matter the better, and I’m certainly open to other opinions that I may not have considered. So please leave your thoughts in the comments section, but keep it civil, folks.
It seems the first point to be discussed here is one of ethics. Specifically, what is the morality of me distributing albums to which I do not own the copyright, if my stated intention is to support the artists?
I remember a story about how in 1969, Rolling Stone magazine offered to send a copy of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s album I Do Not Play No Rock and Roll for free to anyone who wrote to them and asked. And this single act probably caused more rock and roll fans to discover the blues (and subsequently purchase more blues albums, attend concerts, etc.) than any other act of marketing. [i may have some of the details wrong on this account, but you get the point]
Now ultimately, my goal is to support living musicians and to enhance people’s enjoyment of life through the discovery of music. In my own small way, of course. So I consider a lot of factors before I make a post.
Firstly, there is the question of quality. There’s a hell of a lot of music out there, and life is precious, so I don’t waste time on second-rate music just for the purpose of fulfilling a collection.
Secondly, there is the issue of exposure. I ask myself, is this artist/album familiar to the sort of people who would enjoy it? Because it makes no sense for me to be promoting and reviewing artists/albums that are already promoted by other means. I love the Beatles and Frank Zappa, but there are whole blogs dedicated to them.
Thirdly, there is the question of availability. I ask myself: Is this album still in print? Is this album offered anywhere else in the blogosphere, or is this artist well-represented by other albums on other blogs? Because it’s senseless to double-up and distribute things that are easily available in other channels. I do sometimes post albums that are still in print, but most of them you’d be hard-pressed to find in your local store, in whatever part of the world you live.
Lastly, there is the question, who will benefit from my post, and who will be harmed? And this is where it gets into speculation, a rather fuzzy science at best. If the artist is dead, I feel this is mostly a no-brainer; while it’s nice to support widdows & descendents, it’s ridiculous to be giving money to dead musicians while there’s living, working ones that need that money to go on making music. The exception to this rule comes when there’s a non-profit organization taking the money that would go to the deceased, and doing something useful with it.
If the artist is alive, it’s more tricky; the deciding factor is, will the publicity generated by my blog offset the potential loss of sales for the musician? I consider this question quite a lot, and I only post albums when I think my post will help people to get excited about an artist they’ve never encountered before, and perhaps even seek out and purchase other albums by that artist. Now, whether people do this is up to them, and I support free will in this matter, assuming people have the intelligence to realize that if they don’t support the musicians they love, then those musicians won’t be able to make the music we all love. But I also make sure that if I’m posting an album by a working musician, an inspired listener won’t be able to find all their other albums on other blogs; this is the counterpoint to the second issue: availability.
I’m also aware that record companies need to survive if they’re going to support artists and distribute their music. Now, some record companies are huge monsters that give a pittance of the sales to the artists, and some are genuinely supportive, operating from the same love of music that drives my blogging. So, to that end, I try not to distribute albums from small, cool independent labels, and I try not to distribute too many albums from any one of the larger cool labels. And, generally, I don’t care about the huge labels, or those who used to be independent and now have been bought out.
Personally, I have become a much more conscious and avid consumer of music thanks to “music piracy”. You see, because of music sharing, my interest in and exposure to music has grown 100-fold. If I had to pay $15 every time I saw something interesting and wanted to give it a listen, my musical horizons would have stayed pretty limited. By indulging and supporting my curiosity, the pirates of the inter-seas have made of me a musical connisseur, where once there was just passing interest. Forums and ‘sharity’ blogs have particularly helped to rouse my interest in unknown artists and forgotten genres. And, since the big-names are readily available for piracy, the obvious choice is to support the lesser-known and local artists.
In fact, I feel that by distributing the music of Son House and Blind Willie Johnson, I may be helping to open up a whole new world of experience for someone who is used to more polished music, and they may begin to appreciate the raw emotions of flamenco music or Greek rebetica. By posting Harry Partch and Tom Cora, I may turn a few people on to a world of improvisational and microtonal avantgarde music. Growth comes through exposure and experience.
Another story, more recent. Radiohead, one of the most intelligent contemporary bands, released their most recent album for download from their website before it was released in physical form. Radiohead allowed users to pay however much they liked. They made £10 Million or so, on an average of £7.00 or so per user. And none of that money got taken by a middle-man in the form of a retail store or a record company. Now, Radiohead is a big-name band with millions of fans. But the principle works the same for small-name artists. And it shows that people who download can be generous, especially if the artist is generous first.
You see, Radiohead realized that even if you issue an album conventionally, even with copy-protection embedded in the CD, it still gets posted on the internet within a week of release. So why not embrace the new system of music-distribution that is evolving, and experiment to see if it has an equal or greater capacity to support the artists than the (outdated?) distribution system of record labels and retail shops.
Remember, the music industry tried to sue radio on the same grounds of copywright infringement. Eventually, it learned to work with radio’s inherent marketing capabilities. And the existence of recorded music itself almost destroyed the profession of composer (the music industry now has to give money to a fund that supports living composers).
Now, those are all issues of rights, morality, and money. I don’t pretend to have definitive answers to them, but I’ve tried to demonstrate my thoughts around them. I invite responses that confirm or contradict what I’ve said.
Another question, which I think is even larger, is: how does all this downloading of music affect my life? I’ve talked about why I post. But I am really interested to know why you read this blog, and why you download the albums. Is it just a fulfillment of desire, a kind of instant gratification responding to my description of how tasty the music is? Is it filling a hole in you’re life? Personally, I think it has something to do with me being afraid of really sitting with myself in silence and feeling. But that’s my own issue. It may be different for you.
It’s interesting to note that 100 years ago, 90% of Americans played an instrument. Now only 10% do. Most of us just play the CD player now, or the computer. Is this acquisition of music really enhancing your life, or just satisfying an urge to collect? The feeling that it’s free, and you’re ‘saving’ money, or that it won’t be around forever so you’d better get it now? Or, is this music genuinely helping you to learn, feel, and grow?
Take a moment to really consider this.
Your answers to these questions will determine if and how I continue this blog, so please leave a comment. I’d love to post more music, but I feel we need to all be on the same page, before we can move on.
And to whomever complained about copywrite infringement to the filehosting servers: please, in the future, offer your complaint directly to me. It doesn’t do any good to beat around the bush: if there’s something I’m doing that you feel is wrong, I should know about it. It really does no good to try to shut down activity like this without appealing to the intelligence and innate sense of ethics of bloggers; if you get rid of public channels, pirates will move to private ones.