How much music did you steal last year?
A month or so ago I found it convenient to illegally download a track from Soundcloud. The track wasn’t my own, so I stole it. I know the people I stole it from, and I didn’t tell them I’d done it.
Afterwards I found myself thinking up excuses for my larceny. The track hadn’t been released, and in all likelihood, never would be. It was poor quality (128 kbps). It was only one track by the band, so they wouldn’t really miss the revenue. I’m a musician myself, so I’m constantly being stolen from, I deserve something back.
The moral debate at the centre of illegal downloading has, for the most part, gone quiet. People are doing it everyday, usually while doing ten other things, as freely as they would set a TV reminder.
It’d be fatuous to suggest that illegal downloads are the equivalent of a stolen flat-screen during the riots; many rioters when interviewed said that, from their point of view, anything they could take was fair game. Download morality works in the same way – the music is there, so why not take it?
(Some people even claim that stealing music helps bands; ‘I would never buy an album by them, this way I might actually choose to go see them live!’. So you take a year’s worth of work from them for nothing, then buy them a gift-wrapped scented candle in return? You generous bastard!)
Of course, for the music industry the effects are very tangible. For every band ‘broken’ by a whirlwind online viral campaign, there are ten labels who couldn’t cope with the catastrophic loss in revenue. The outcry after the PIAS warehouse fire was equally loud from people who thought nothing about immediately logging on and downloading everything released by a hundred labels who lost their entire physical stock, for free.
I’ve had this argument in the pub many times with friends. Most of them fall on the side of practicality; you can’t stop people stealing music, you may as well learn new ways of making a living from it. Ironically, the grand result of all of this will almost certainly prove to be a shift in the moral compass of musicians.
With record labels marginalised, and unable to offer large signing-on fees to 99% of the acts they take on, musicians are increasingly turning to publishers for their income. This normally means licensing music to TV and radio for advertising or syncing over other mediums (that bit at the start of Hollyoaks where everyone argues over the top of some random indie-dance track you’ve never heard of, that’s a sync).
Musicians are, therefore, increasingly being drawn towards incorporating their art for use by private companies to advertise their wears. This often grinds on purists who claim that musicians who allow McDonalds to use their art to soundtrack their latest act of eco-terrorism are ‘selling out’. Problem is, when music fans become thieves, musicians become businessmen.