I don’t download music off the internet. Ever. Well, once. And one other time I would have if I would’ve had time to find the song I was looking for. I also don’t upload music to the internet. Ever. And I’m not part of a peer-to-peer sharing network. For a while I stored ripped music in a shared drive at work, but that’s no more. I’ll admit to ripping CDs that I’ve checked out from the library or borrowed from friends, but I’ll also point out that I’ve purchased many of those same albums afterwards if I’ve enjoyed the music enough to listen repeatedly. I do not think that people should download pirated music off the internet, and I don’t think they should copy CDs for more than personal use.
In a nutshell, I think that it’s Just Not Right.
There remains one little problem, though. The music companies are basically capitalism at its worst (and for a very good thing it can really go very, very bad when it wants to) and I don’t know a single soul on the planet who has one little inkling of sympathy for them.
I bring this up because Napster (in name, at least) is back from the dead in a trial version of a fee-based downloading system. The only problem is that it’s a fee-based system. As I noted in July, the success of Napster was its free content. (I have a real knack for stating the obvious, don’t I?) We’ll have to see how it performs when you have to give up something besides hard drive space to get music.
If the recording industry was producing decent music and selling it at a reasonable price then there would be no slump. But the fact is that much of the music released on the major labels is just plain bad. A $17 CD may only have 1 or 2 good songs. Not many people are going to shell out that kind of money for so little return. The very price of the CD (even a good one) is too high as well. It only costs $1-2 to produce an entire CD — liner notes, jewel case and all. The mark-up that is necessary for the record companies to make money is what is driving business away. People just aren’t willing to pay for dreck.
I’ve seen numbers that suggest the cost per CD is higher than $1-$2 when you factor in marketing, distribution, and other overhead, but it’s still well short of the retail asking price. I don’t begrudge the artists and record companies their profit, but the point about “drek” is right on the, um, money.
First off, I think nearly everyone in America honestly believes that the music that was popular when they were in high school is the Best Ever. Still, as one who has Springsteen, The Beatles, Sting, and Billy Joel at the top of my list, followed closely by Prince, Def Leppard, The Jayhawks, Van Halen (preferably the Sammy years), and Andrew Lloyd Webber, I feel that I’m not at least a narrow-minded listener. But I don’t really hear much on the radio these days that impresses me. I’d rather go twenty years back in time from my high-school days than twenty years ahead. There just isn’t much out there. It’s not an accident that classic albums (often remastered), greatest hits compilations, and concert performances by aging rock stars are always among the top sellers. Piracy aside, the music industry needs to change. Demand is down, and since prices haven’t dropped much, purchasing has.
That being said, I still can’t condone the illegal downloading or sharing of music, especially over the internet. It won’t ever stop, of course, especially as those that are most likely to do it don’t have the financial means to purchase loads of music legally. I am quick to point out that I don’t download music, but I must admit that if I was fifteen again, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d have my bandwidth tied up with music coming downstream. This is an issue that won’t go away.
As a last note, I think that total bans on downloads (for what they’re worth) support the status quo. That goes for both the artists and the industry. And that is a bad thing. New bands desperately trying to break in probably have it tougher than ever due to the megabucks being paid to the top few percent of musicians, and free downloads are one way that they can generate some interest. Many groups already do offer free music, and I think that’s a great thing. In fact, maybe I’ll check some out. Maybe I’ll find something I’ll like. Maybe.