Mixed Feelings on Piracy Issue


Even though I’m not a professional songwriter, I’m a serious hobbyist and I still like to try and keep up with what’s happening around the world regarding piracy and downloading music files. You could say I’m guilty of standing on both sides of the fence.

Growing up in the nineties I was guilty even then of ‘piracy’, but I was completely unaware of it. I’d taped copies of many cool bands from my friend’s sister who had an admirable vinyl collection. But back then it was a little different -I only copied off friends and family, not off some internet file-sharing site where you and the hosts are anonymous.

But one important point -if it wasn’t for those tapes I’d copied, I wouldn’t have become a fan and subsequently bought the CD’s, the posters etc. I can clearly demonstrate with my many ‘not-copied, official’ CDs of The Cure, The Clash and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds that I’d paid my dues as a fan to these artists since it was my friend’s sister who turned me on to these bands in the first place.

Back then you couldn’t illegally download stuff as conveniently as you can now -but the upside is since an artist’s music is so easy to obtain, then it can spread word-of-mouth a lot easier. It doesn’t need the radio play if it can be spread across the world on the internet. And now, as they say, the biggest ‘enemy’ is not piracy, but obscurity.

The mindset, from what I’ve been reading, is about the search for new models, whether it’s such cheap downloads people will stick with legitimate websites like iTunes, or the subscription model where music is like cable or a utility and you pay per month.

But while revenue from these methods may increase, the problem seems to be it’s not increasing as fast as the old model of selling CDs in shops is decreasing. And so the new model will need to incorporate live gigging, merchandising and sponsorship. So where previously the band toured to promote the album, now it records an album to promote a tour.

And I almost forgot the other piece in the puzzle -the niche market which the internet is allowing to flourish -where you can sell a wide catalogue of different products in a particular field. So maybe you focus on selling your album, your ‘unplugged’ version, your T-shirt, your mug and your journal of touring to your hardcore fans, rather than focusing on only getting your album in the top-ten billbaord charts.

Now I know the successful bands and artists of the ‘old model’ probably had it too easy, and probably made way too much money in comparison to the majority of hard-working musicians out there, and it seems to be these guys who are feeling the pinch the most. U2, for instance. But Radiohead and Prince have had a more open attitude to the new climate.

The big question I’m wondering is, are the changes affecting all those ‘mid range’ bands who paid their dues in the 90’s but never quite made it into ‘household name’ status. At the bottom of the blog is an interview with the singer of a band I was into back in the 90’s -The Damned (another band I got into because of my friend’s sister). The Damned started back in the 70’s as a punk outfit playing along side the Pistols and the clash. The interview is 2007, but he discusses the bands direction in light of the changes in the industry.

I can also see the point of view of musicians hating the current piracy situation. Making an album -a good professional album from scratch, is a really hard thing. I never really new how hard it was until I started making demos of my music and played around with recording and mixing.

But as a listener I never appreciated that. You hear a tune and think ‘aw yeah, that’s cool. but it’s just guitar, drums, base and vocals etc…’ You don’t appreciate that it’s not only the band, but the skill of a sound engineer and producer, and the expensive equipment that goes into making a great album.

And there’s an online culture that’s a bit blasé or apethetic towards musical content, like it doesn’t matter. Kids take the music for granted forgeting that if musicians aren’t paid for their efforts, you can have all the convenient technology you like, you won’t have good music to listen to.

Often I notice on Youtube people create their own videos of whatever content, and slap professional music on it without giving credit to the musicians. They like to have top-notch professional music accompanying their amateur home-recording. Actually, in this case I don’t think the musicians should be paid, but they should be given credit, otherwise they’re taken for granted.

I think it’s possible that the ‘golden age of the album’ is over. We’ll still get albums and singles, but they won’t be masterpieces like we’ve seen from the 60’s to the 90’s, because the mindset will  be ‘the album is the adverstisement for the tour’, where the real money is.


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