I have put off writing this post for a long time. While this is a difficult and touchy subject, it is also one which I am very passionate about. I believe that most people want to do the right thing when it comes to sharing music, and would not willingly do things that might cause harm to an artist whose music they enjoy. I know this to be true about my fans and the fans of my peers.
I have the best fans any artist could ask for. Some of them travel hundreds of miles just to see me perform. They help me set up for gigs, sell CDs at shows, carry my gear, pack up my gear, and share my music with their friends and family by buying copies of my CDs as gifts for them.
In today’s world, however, it is easy to spread the word about one’s favorite artist, yet hurt them at the same time. Not everyone realizes the consequences regarding some types of sharing, and if no one tells them which types help and which hurt, how would they know? That is what this post is about. That spreading the word and sharing is great, but how a listener shares is as important too.
Music has always been a social glue. Wherever and whenever people gather to celebrate or commemorate an event, there is music. You hear music at events like parties, weddings, funerals, graduations, as well as in social locations like restaurants, night clubs, bars, concert halls, and jams on the beach.
Music gives people a sense of “Identity”, and people want to turn their friends and family on to their music, both to share their love of it, as well as to say something about themselves and their tastes.
Friends bond over music and music becomes part of the glue that can define a friendship. A group of friends think that the music they listen to is “cool”, while other styles of music, and by extension the people that like that style, are not cool.
Beyond a small circle of friends each generation identifies itself with the music of its era. The 20’s had jazz, the 30’s and 40’s big band and swing, the 50’s early rock-n-roll and singers like Sinatra and Martin, the 60’s had the British invasion and folk and then later the psychedelic styles of music which helped fuel the cultural revolution. It would be almost impossible to think of the 60’s without thinking about the music that accompanied that decade.
Every style of music immediately brings to mind the time and culture in which it was popular and bonds those people that lived through each era.
It used to be that people could only share music while experiencing it performed live. That alone helped to create the strong social bonds that are tied to music. In the last hundred years of music, the experience no longer has to be tied to a live performance. Friends began to gather around a radio, a record player, a CD player, a computer, or share music over the internet without even being in the same location.
Today, with new technologies at our disposal, sharing is wandering into areas that were never possible before, and people might not be aware of how their sharing is really affecting the artists whose music they love.
Many people have told me with some pride, “I’m helping your career. I made copies of all your CDs for my friends!” They think that I’ll be happy and thankful about this, that they are helping spread the word about my music. Am I happy? Well, yes...but really no. There is a difference sharing music and making copies of it.
I am always extremely happy when people tell their friends about me and play some of my music for them. However, when they burn a copy for their friend I’m not thrilled at all. Why? Well, who in their right mind would purchase something they already possess? No one! Not once have I ever had any customer tell me, “My friend made me a CD copy of your music, and I like it so much I want to buy a (real) copy of it from you”. It is just never going to happen.
The same is true for music that I have chosen to post on sites like YouTube or Vimeo. Those same songs are available for purchase on my website, but when compared with the number of plays the videos get, the amount of purchases only comes to 0.12%. Again, why would I expect it to be any other way? If it is available for viewing on the internet, for free, no one is going to bother buying it. The difference is that when I decide to upload a song to one of these sites, I’m doing so as the owner of the copyright. I, and my label, are the only entities that are legally allow to do so.
It’s even possible nowadays to share (a euphemism if there ever was one) music with the world. Through social sites and some internet streaming sites listeners can, illegally, post their favorite tracks online for the world to hear. Not only does this cause the artist to lose sales, but it also costs artist time, effort, and sometimes money in the form of lawyer fees, to track down these illegal posts and have them removed. The problem is so extensive that companies like Muso.com have sprung up to help artists and labels deal with the problem...for a fee of course. (We’ll take a closer look at this particular problem in a later post.)
It is how you share that matters.
While it is always great when people turn their friends on to the music they like, making copies stops those friends from being potential customers of the artist. Compared to a CD that might have been purchased directly from me, at a concert or festival for example, every copy someone makes for one of their friend takes $15.00 out of my pocket. If that copy prevented your friend from going to my website, to purchase that CD they were turned on to, then that copy just took $14.99 out of my pocket. And this is true not just for me, but all artists!
Consider for a moment how you would feel if every time you made a copy of a CD for someone the artist, or artists, got to take $15.00 out of your bank account? Sound absurd? Well that’s exactly what you are doing to the artists whose music you love if you make copies of CDs for someone other than yourself. Instead of helping the artist earn a living, allowing them to make the music you like, you are taking that money away from them. You are instead preventing them from making the music you enjoy.
Then there are those folks who knowingly, and willfully, make copies of music so they don’t have to pay for it. More than once I’ve had someone purchase a CD from me at a concert and, in the middle of the transaction, tell their friend standing next to them, “You don’t need to buy one, I’ll make you a copy.” If you think it is just young people that do this, you’d be surprised, or at least I was when once an elderly woman, while buying a CD from me, told her friend not to buy a copy, she'd burn a copy from her's for the friend. When I protested that she was taking money away from me she replied, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that in front of you." As if saying it behind my back and making the copy without my knowledge was okay...
Taking something without paying for it, is theft. Plain and simple.
Other artists have told me that people have asked the them when they are going to post their songs to a BitTorent site so they can be downloaded for free! Again, if you think this is just something young people do, it is not. I’ve had people in their 70s admit to me that they have illegally downloaded music from pirate sites. Pirate sites are taking a huge toll on the entertainment industry, causing huge losses in revenue and throwing thousands of people out of work. A recent study from the UK found that 76% of all music downloads in the UK in 2010 were illegal. 1 Not only does the artist lose, but so do all the people that help get the music to the marketplace. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a small independent music store? They're all gone.
Pirates are in it for the money. They are counterfeiting criminals and have no emotional connection to what they steal. But even though fans make copies of music for the completely opposite reason, the net result is the same. A major loss of income for artists. And fans are the very people who have an emotional stake in the career of those artists.
You may not realize it, but many artists I know, including myself at times, have considered not making recordings any more. Artists are frustrated by the huge amount of illegal copies being made by not just pirates, but by music fans. Some people justify stealing music because they would never buy it under any circumstances anyway. (The next time they steal something from a store, I am sure the judge will go easy on them when their defense is, "It is not theft because I would never have bought it anyway.") Artists are frustrated by watching our incomes drop by 20% year after year. During the last five years, along with the entire music industry, our incomes have dropped more than 50%, while the cost of making recordings and earning a living have gone up. Most people would howl bloody murder if their employers cut their salaries by 20% year after year, but they seem to have no problem doing the same to the people that make the music that fills and fulfills their lives.
Here are some of the basic things that an artist has to buy with the money they make from selling their music, stuff that we all need:
- Kitchen supplies
- Gas for heating and cooking
- Car insurance
- Car maintenance
- Internet hookup
- Medical expenses
Here is a partial list of some of the things an artist needs to buy to make music with.
- Musical instruments
- Equipment repairs
- Computer repairs
- Recording software
- External drives
- Sound library software
- Web hosting
- Equipment insurance
- Manufacturing CDs
- Digital distribution fees
- Travel expenses for getting to performances
- Lodging while on tour
I don’t know if this is true for all musicians, but the amount of money needed to produce recordings and tour is more than we spend on living expenses, except for perhaps rent or a mortgage. All musicians are small companies and, like any company, they need capital/money to stay in business. What seems to be lost in most of the discussions about earning a living through music, music news articles, and advice from "new music" gurus, that I come across is that without the artists there would be no music industry. All artists, from the biggest acts to the smallest, are job creators! That's right, just like Exxon, Apple, Amazon, Wal Mart, Target, we create jobs.
To make and sell a DIY CD generates money not only for the artist, but the clerks that sell the sound recording gear, the company that makes that gear and the instruments used, the people that make and package the CDs, the graphic artist who does the cover, the sound engineer who helps with the recording or mastering, the the people that work for the distributors, the clerks in the store where the album is sold, the owner(s) of the store, any sales tax revenue from the sale... The list goes on and on. Even if an album never sells a single unit, and remember most do not, a lot of money is put out into the economy to make that album.
So please, share your passion for the music you love. Tell your friends, family and co workers. Let them listen to some songs. But please do not make them copies. You are only making it harder for that artist to produce that new album you are waiting for us to make.
1. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/12/16/bpi_digital_music_survey/ Luckily most people don’t download music, in any way, at all, a fact which makes some people try to spin the study as saying that 2/3 to 3/4 of the UK population doesn’t engage in illegal downloads. However that would be like comparing the percentage of plane crashes caused by pilot error to the entire population of the UK, not just the number of pilots in that country...