In 1999 it was Napster, 2000 brought us Limewire, and by 2003 we had The Pirate Bay. For the past 15 years, we have had music readily available at our fingertips without ever having to spend a cent. Some may think this is no different than listening to music for free on the radio or many of the streaming services out there, but that’s not quite correct. Radio stations pay for the rights to play the music, and streaming services, despite how little, also pay the artists and their teams.
How is today’s listening ways any different than recording songs off the radio onto mix tapes like the hype of the 90’s? The answer is simple: Quantity and Accessibility. People are no longer recording static-y versions of their favorite single off the radio, they are mass downloading and sharing entire albums by multiple artists across all platforms (some of which never even make it to the radio stations).
So let’s break this down in the most basic way. When albums are illegally downloaded, rather than paid for, this, at the very heart of things, affects record sales. Record sales are taken into consideration for award nominations, for contract renewal’s, and for chart placement.
Although many recording artists make money outside of album sales, through touring, merchandise, and advertisements, there are those involved who don’t have those other avenues of cash flow. If you’ve ever read the credits of an album you’ve purchased, you’ll see all the names included. Producers, engineers, multiple song writers, instrumentalists, backup vocalists, all the way down to the person who designed the cover art. When you download music without paying for it, those people are the ones bearing loss of earnings.
To add insult to injury, leaked music not only suffers the same consequences when illegally downloaded, but the hype of the release is gone. Months worth of planning goes into the strategy behind when and how new music is released, and leaks affect the overall sales, the media attention and promotion of the music, and the accurate number of plays the song has garnered.
Many consumers justify the action of illegally downloading music in multiple ways. The excuses range anywhere from “Well I’ll still purchase the music when it’s available/when I have the money” to “I can’t afford the song” and even “I don’t like the artist and don’t want to give them my money.” I know that this is an unpopular truth, but I would like to take the time to remind these people, that illegally downloading music, is, in fact, ILLEGAL. It is stealing. It is taking goods which you have not paid for. If you would not steal a sweater from the mall – and justify it by promising to leave an envelope of money when you next get paid – just don’t steal music.
We cannot discuss the value of music, without bringing up this decades new feature of streaming music. Whether is is Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, or any other form of on-demand music, it has revolutionized the way we listen and are exposed to music. While streaming services have been key in decreasing the amount of illegally downloaded songs, there is much controversy surrounding the amount of pay the artists receive. While exact payment is dependent on each artists’ individual royalties contract, we have heard from multiple voices in the industry that the people at the bottom (those obscure names on end credits) are the ones who are most effected by this. Again, the question may arise as to how this is any different than a radio playing songs for free. Radio stations however, usually only play singles, where streaming services allow the consumer full access to entire albums without ever having to purchase a thing.
It is here that I would like to encourage you to consider paid subscriptions. For the cost of less than one album a month, you have full access to multiple albums from nearly any artists you can think of. I know it’s hard to justify paying for something that you can “get” for free, but look at the long term effects on those who put these albums together. Imagine a world where every album had elementary lyrics, garage quality production, and was released on Soundcloud – we would all go nuts. Music is a commodity and needs to go back to being treated as such.