I just began a series of posts involving the concept of “free” in the world of music. This was sparked by a discussion I’ve been watching on Facebook. This discussion began innocuously enough, by my co-host Anna who was talking about an article called All music should be free (incidentally, it’s no longer online).
Now granted, Morris Lamont has some interesting points to make about the industry, not all of which are inaccurate. However, taking a closer look, the article is held together by loosely conceived arguments that are unlikely to hold up to closer scrutiny.
Argument #1 – Teens aging 15 to 18 see no problem with downloading music illegally, because their world is different from yours (huh?).
No, they inhabit exactly the same world as we do. They may be the first native online generation (in other words, they grew up with the internet and are more comfortable with digital mediums of communication), but the only people who are still reeling at the rate of change are those who have not embraced technological advancement and innovation.
Argument #2 – The music is not the product, the brand is the product.
Apparently the 15 to 18 demographic is more willing to spend money on concerts or merchandise (CDs are merchandise, are they not?) than they are on digital downloads, because they enjoy the tangible. In other words, they are still supporters of music. However, they have not wrapped their minds around the idea that it takes time, effort, and money (not to mention blood, sweat, and tears) to write and record songs.
For the moment, it is illegal to pirate music, until the laws change. Period. It doesn’t matter what sort of comfort level one has with file sharing software. It’s not difficult to master the operation of aforementioned software. It doesn’t take a 15 to 18 year old to do it.
The intrinsic irony is when the issue of the iPod is brought up (it takes $20,000 to fill it up). People will still pay for music players, but they won’t pay for music. Does that make any sense to you?
My point here is not that people should not download music; my point here is that, if we are moving towards free, we need to find other ways to compensate bands and artists for their work.
Argument #3 – The web is where you go to get discovered, not where you go to sell your wares.
Oh, really? Then why is online music a multi-billion dollar industry? Why does every band have a merch page on their website (you just said that teens ranging from 15 to 18 want something more tangible)?
Lamont goes on to explain that Rebecca Black has earned a six figure income on YouTube ads alone. I am not saying that musicians should not consider alternative sources of income. However, this example is also absurd in that Black’s song spread like wildfire due to how bad it was, as opposed to its intrinsic merit (zero to none).
This is also a very relative thing. A six-figure income would amount to success for an independent artist, but would probably amount to financial disaster for the major label artist. How did Black bring in another big chunk of the pie? Through music sales, you idiot!
Finally, this point cannot be overstated: I am not clinging to the previous model of the industry. CD sales may not be what they used to be and is a moving target. This does not mean that an artist should not be paid for their work. If people are going to be downloading music illegally, great, but let’s make it legal first before we begin arguing the semantics.
Author: David Andrew Wiebe
David Andrew Wiebe has built an extensive career in songwriting, live performance, recording, session playing, production work, investing, and music instruction. In addition to helping musicians unlock their full potential, he also continues to maintain a touring schedule with multiple bands.