Are illegal download killing the music industry? Lily Allen and Muse seem to think so. In fact, Ms. Allen is quoted as saying that she has no intention of making a new record. As the Grauniad aptly describes in that article, I also expect it’s posturing. She started a blog about it, but you can’t read it because she took it down after a couple of days because “the abuse was getting too much”. Hardly surprising when you stir up a wasp’s nest like the filesharing debate on the Internet and start plastering it all over Twitter. There are people with some extreme opinions and they don’t feel the need to be restrained. Without picking on her, I find it a little ironic that Lily Allen has so much to say against filesharing, when it was arguably the free availability of her early singles through media such as MySpace etc. and then subsequently peer-to-peer networks, that got her all of the exposure in the first place. The Arctic Monkeys are another good example of this, their first album was almost entirely in the Public Domain in free downloads before it was ever released. In fact, intentionally so. Ms. Allen’s argument was that filesharing and peer-to-peer was hurting new artists. It goes to show how short-sighted and self-serving she is. I just have to go on Myspace or Facebook or Soundcloud and I’m presented with millions of artists, all clamouring for my ears. Fair enough, 99.999% of these artists are unsigned and will probably never make any money from music (or perhaps deserve to). What she’s talking about are the emerging artists that have been discovered and are starting to make their career. OK fair enough, they need all the help they can get to sustain their careers. Whether they are worth it or not is subjective. However, are they likely to make any money whatsoever out of record sales any more? Probably not. Were they ever likely to? Probably not. In fact, almost certainly not.
Here is a great article from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame. What he’s saying is, make your records and give them away. It’s a good point. If no-one has ever heard of you, why on Earth should they be prepared to give you money for potentially awful album/EP? In this day and age of cheap electronics and software, the ability for anyone to make professional or near-professional recordings in our bedrooms is readily achievable. Go and download Ubuntu Studio, short of a few cables and a microphone, you’re set to do anything you want, for free. Software like Ableton Live has even made it accessible to people who have ideas but no technical knowledge with its innovative approach to recording and producing. It’s cheap as well (relatively). If you’re sensible you’ll make your money by doing what musicians and artists should be doing. Working. Going out to the people and performing. I think what’s happened over the years is that popular music has become less an art form and more a money-magnet. Fair enough, your Lady Gagas, your Sugababes, your Beyonces and Shakiras are some of the world’s richest people, but is that what you’re doing it for? Are you doing it for the fame and money? Or are you doing it because you’re an artist and your medium is music? Are you doing it because you want people to hear your work and be moved? If you’re after fame and fortune, you’re a narcissistic fool. The chances are, you aren’t going to make any money, your career will be short and difficult and at the end, no-one will remember you. And of course, there are a million degrees in between. You may be lucky, never say never, but also, try and stay sensible.
So let’s say we take Trent’s advice. Let’s say we give our music away for free initially. What advantage does that give us, we aren’t making any money! So what? You aren’t doing this to be rich remember, you’re doing this to exhibit your art. Let’s say you make your EP and you put it on iTunes for 79p a track. What incentive have I got to buy it? None. If you stick it on a streaming website like Soundcloud and link it from every forum you frequent, every Twitter account you have, Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, whatever. I still might not fancy listening to it. Maybe that’s my loss, maybe not. But let’s say I did, I might link it myself, I might send it to my friends. They might hear it and think it’s good and do the same, they might not. This only has to happen a few times and you’ve reached a potential audience of thousands, maybe millions if you’re lucky. Make it downloadable for free and suddenly, they might whack it on their iPod, MP3 player, PC music library of whatever description. You might get scrobbled to Last.fm and, if you’ve uploaded tracks there, you’ll start getting radio plays. Suddenly you’ve inadvertently got people listening to your track all over the world. I personally would be chuffed to bits if I’d heard people had been hosting my music on peer-to-peer networks. Why? I’m getting nothing out of it. So what! People like my art enough to offer it to others to hear!
So is peer-to-peer and filesharing killing the music industry? No, it’s just making it harder for the lazy elite to make loads of money out of it. Is that a problem? I don’t think so. I personally buy any music I like now. Every time. I used to download music illegally, I confess. I’d do it to tell whether I liked a band, before buying the CD. If I thought they were worth it, I’d buy it. If not, I wouldn’t listen to it. Nowadays, there’s no need with stuff like Myspace and Spotify and Last.fm and eMusic, I can preview almost anything. Plenty to gauge whether I like an artist before spending my hard earned cash on their art. Is it really killing the music industry or just giving the little man (or woman, or collective, or indeed none of the above) more opportunity to be heard by a wider audience. Those that really like music spend it on gigs, or club nights, or merchandise. All filesharing is doing that I can see, is making it more difficult to get rich from music. It’s definitely making it all more interesting =]