You, a thief?
Didn’t think so…
Hang on, we’re going for a ride.
I’m about to rant loudly on a hot topic in the music world. To many of you this is last week’s news. But if you’re new to Valslist or just stepping back into the music scene, here’s a quick update. The controversial topic: To pay ~ or not to pay for music.
Before I get started, read this short article, then come back to me.
I assume you have an opinion. If you’re interested in others’ opinions, click here for an
Told ya, it’s a circus out there.
* * *
So here’s a hypothetical. Your son is a musician. He saved up his money to buy a guitar and sound equipment. He joined a band, they’re really good, and spent their life savings on recording an album. Published it on iTunes. And waited for the sales to roll in.
They have an old van to get around in. Their summer tour consists of 30 cities in a month. They’re opening for bigger bands at small venues. They are psyched for the exposure and had more CDs and t-shirts made up – merchandise to sell. They get to the first gig around 4pm, do soundcheck, go on at 8pm, and go to their merch table and wait for the sales to roll in. Oh yeah, they got paid a few hundred dollars for the gig. Show ends at midnight, they pack up and hit the road for city #2. They might sleep in the van – or cram into one motel room to save money. Gas is expensive, food on the road is crummy. They sold 10 CDs last night. Money is tight.
They’re happy, however, living the life of a musician, writing songs along the way, their heart and souls are in this. Gig #2 is a rowdy bar and everyone talks through their set. No one buys merch, they didn’t really hear the band. Pack up, repeat.
They check their iTunes sales. Low. People aren’t really buying CDs anymore. A lot of people are file-sharing and stealing music – not paying for it. Kids & young adults are the main demographic doing this – they’re tech savvy and know where to get the music for free. Parents don’t have a say – or an opinion – because they’re so out of the music loop and hardly understand the breadth of the problem in the first place, much less what their kids are doing on line.
Suffice it to say, artists are working for practically nothing. If your son is still in that band, he needs money, counting on gigs for ticket sales and CD purchases. His fans are not always buying his music – but they’re still downloading it. Stealing his heart and soul. So how long can the artists go on like this, working their tails off to create music - that enhances our lives – for no compensation??
You can be sure the music industry is trying to fix this. Everyone’s looking for the holy grail of fair compensation for artist, label, promoter. Until they do, we as a society need to have a conversation.
Call me Pollyanna, but hear me out. First, I think it’s a generational thing. Boomers grew up paying for their music. There weren’t many ways to get around it – well, they weren’t as easy as today. Our kids, however, have grown up with easy ways to get free music. The platforms are there and all their friends are doing it. The scary part is, they don’t feel bad about it. They have excuses like it’s convenient, it’s quicker, everyone does it, what’s the big deal, I’m just sharing with friends, and so on. They don’t think of it as stealing. They arrived on the music scene during the digital changeover; they don’t know it any other way.
I just wish we could back up a sec.
There’s a social contract when you live in a society – so that anarchy doesn’t occur. It’s not a signed document. It’s the basics that parents hand down to their kids. At the risk of sounding like a boyscout, it’s a basic concoction of integrity, honesty, empathy, honor, and trustworthiness. I mean, why do you stop at a red light, even out in the country when no one’s around? Why do we park between the lines in a parking lot? Why do we sit quietly on the train? Why do get in line? Why? Why? Why? You wouldn’t just take the musician’s CD off the merch table and walk away with it, so why do you download it for free on the internet?
It’s time to have a conversation. We’re hurting our artists. They have a job and need a paycheck just like you and me. I’m not suggesting you buy music you don’t like. Of course not. But if you love an artist and you want his music, pay him for it. Just because we can, doesn’t mean it’s okay to take their songs for free. One of the sweetest gifts to us is our music. And we just take it? If your favorite artist invited you backstage could you look him in the eye and say you have all of his music – if you’ve stolen it all?
If there’s an artist whose music makes you feel good, makes you dance, makes sense to your senses, why not thank him for it and pay? If his music impacts your life, motivates you when you’re tired, calms your nerves, why not honor the artist and pay? If his music has changed your perspective, made you happy again, helped you fall in love, why not give back to the artist who did that for you? If this artist was your son, you’d beg people to pay.
I had a conversation yesterday with some 20 year olds. I had them read all of the articles above. Their comments shocked me. They said even if they pay for music, no one else is, so it wouldn’t change things. They said as long as stuff is free, people will take it for free. I held my breath. I thought what is going on?! When they really thought about the artists they did feel sorry for them. They do believe it’s a big dilemma – and it’s the music industry’s dilemma. I held my breath, thinking of kids their age in the 60′s fighting for a cause… But these kids never knew the world of paying for music, so they don’t understand how to fix this. They do believe that Spotify – or a subscription service where you pay monthly for ALL the music you want – is the most promising platform. They want one platform that everyone has to use. They’re students, they’re poor, and $1.29 for a song in iTunes is too expensive for them especially when they can’t hear the entire song first. They love the mixtapes that rappers send out for free download. They say that those create a huge buzz that all the kids talk about. They wish they could hear full albums on iTunes – maybe for one week – just to decide if they like the album or at least pick their favorite tracks. Maybe some day technology will be able to fingerprint every album during production where it’s free for one week, then has a kill date whereby the album doesn’t play anymore. If you like the album, then you buy it. Not a bad idea.
It’s time to have a conversation. I know you’re skeptical. How can we reverse a trend? But that’s what we said about cigarettes, seatbelts, helmets, sunscreen (and a brand new one, women grunting on the tennis court.) Who would have thought we could change those trends? Social awareness is a start.
The musicians above are real people, I know and interview many of them. They work tirelessly with little pay, to directly impact and improve our lives. If their music isn’t good, they won’t survive. That’s not our fault. But if their music is something fans want, then they deserve to be paid for their art. You can say it’s the industry’s problem. You can assume that someone else is paying the artists. Not so.
Until the music industry invents the perfect solution, why not pitch in and love your artists back? They may not speak up, but I will.
This holiday weekend:
Have 1 conversation.
Buy 1 song.
You’ll make a difference.