Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Skint Musician Speaks on Filesharing

Ah, yes. The eternal debate. The one that rages through that business that is show like a dose of gonorrhea through an isolated public school.

What the fuck is with Phil Spector's hair? (Honestly, nutjob or no, he'd have grounds for a mistrial if he simply flagged up the fact that not one of those jurors put him away for murder. It was for weird hair. Really fucking weird hair.)

But seriously, folks. We're here to discuss filesharing.

Now, I could simplisticly summarise the opposing arguments on the issue - turning back and forth from Radiohead to Lily Allen with an MTV microphone and a vacant expression, but I shan't.

Because as with just about everything that warrants debate, it isn't as black and white as everyone would like to make out.

I quote a seven-year-old product of my loins, who in her time has watched many DVDs, and has therefore endured the cringeworthy "You wouldn't steal a ferret/handbag/Map of Bolivia" ads on many occasions:

"That's not piracy, Daddy. They don't even have hats."

But I digress.

Look, here's the cold, hard truth at one end. I'm a musician, I make records. Records cost money to make, to release, to promote, to tour. Making music is my job. It's the career I chose at the same time as you decided to become a bricklayer/lawyer/doctor/erotic cake manufacturer. I really don't think it's asking an awful lot to get paid for going to work and doing my job. (I'm also looking at promoters and venues here with a steely Canadian eye. Many of you are bastards, and ought to stop being.)

I require food, drink, housing, shoes, shirts, a bi-yearly haircut and all manner of other necessities. I have children who require and desire many things of their very own.

So, yes, if you like our records, I would very much appreciate it if you'd buy them, please.

On the other hand, I'd rather you hear them than not. Considering how insular and panicky the entire music, publishing and radio industry seems to be at the moment - new music (that is to say, music which does not fall into the category of one or more of its makers have a) been busted for drugs, b) shagged a celebrity or c) been overhyped within an inch of their value) is the most likely to fall by the wayside.

Getting songs on the radio, an album reviewed, a gig attended, a name and fanbase built is increasingly difficult. Because everyone's afraid of making a mistake and losing their jobs, so very few risks are taken. They've actually reached the point where they don't even know if they LIKE something or not. That is, if you can find the time, energy and help to poke them with a sharp stick long enough to get them to even listen.

So, when they (Radio, Labels, Magazines, Journalists, et al) have ceased to do their jobs properly, we musicians will take any route necessary to get you to listen. And if that means you'll take a shot at an illegal download to decide if you like it, so be it. It shouldn't be that way, and we just hope that if you DO like it, you pay to see a show, or eventually repent and pay your money down.

Thankfully, services like Spotify, etc, are making it slightly easier for us to direct people to a handy place to listen before you buy. It's certainly not lucrative, not for artists, but it is at least, for now, mostly respectable and handy. And half-pennies do add up, if you're prepared to put in the effort.

I certainly wouldn't SUE someone who I found had downloaded our album illegally. I'd ask them to review the bloody thing and tell a friend. I might go round their house and lick them till they at least bought me a pint, but I do that a lot anyway.

Ms. Allen's point seems to be that it's file-sharing that is hurting the emergence of up and coming artists. I have to say, from personal experience, that just isn't the case. It's the reluctance of the industry, on all sides, to take new artists seriously, to spend the time promoting them, or least giving them a shot - that is causing a cycle of dumbass. The industry AND filesharing are BOTH cause and effect.

Demonising downloaders does no good. You not buying OUR album, or anyone else's album does no good. A supposed war between the BIG GUYS and the LITTLE GUYS accomplishes nothing but too many words sung to the converted on either side.

What we need is a real change in attitude from both those who listen to music and those who promote it. You might actually find that if you stopped concentrating on the money, and started concentrating on the music, the money would take care of itself.

Just a thought.

In fact, in the face of such frustrating lunacy, I'm tempted to take a lateral approach and start breaking into people's homes and leaving our album there for them to listen to. Let's see how that spins in the media.

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Blogger John Eje Thelin said...

You may want to reconsider the "making records" part.

You make music (as do I, incidentally). Records are increasingly a thing of the past. My CDs have been languishing in their cases for close to five years now. I may bring a few of the out now to rip them to FLAC instead of MP3 as storage is getting cheaper, but that's about the last time I figure on even dealing with a silver disc in a plastic case.

And you're on the right track in the rest of what you write, even if you don't seem to be aware that it's been proven over and over that file sharing does not impact negatively on artists as a whole, especially not small and (as yet) unknown artists.

Any artist who can muster up a few thousand fans can leverage that into a reasonable living without resorting to suing or hounding those who do not pay for every single copy.

And I like your lateral thinking. It's certainly more constructive than anything the "let's just dismantle the internet" brigade have come up with.

29 September 2009 at 10:03  
Blogger Kentonist said...

I agree with what you're saying, although I wish I'd been clearer in my view that I don't think file-sharing has a negative impact on most artists, other than that caused by industry panic potentially causing lesser investment. Then again, that's often just an excuse for not taking risks.

I still believe strongly, at least from an aesthetic point of view, in physical formats - and there are still those amongst our fanbase who prefer it. But there is no ignoring that downloads are now the prevalent form of distributing music. I very much like the tack that Elvis Costello and other artists have taken, of releasing excellent vinyl versions, with free download included. Best of both worlds!

It's also why I prefer to take a middle ground on the issue. Obviously, I'd prefer you to buy a record (download or otherwise), but if it means you'll listen, get a hold of it anyway you can.

Thanks for the comment!

29 September 2009 at 10:17  

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