It is a century-old paradox: people believe others should get paid for their trade, but everyone wants a piece of it for free.
On a hot May afternoon here in New York, Hunter Stuart and I set out to Union Square to learn where people are getting there music from these days. Unfortunately, the general response was just as I anticipated. For the most part, New Yorkers have not set foot inside a music store in the last five years. So long High Fidelity.
To delve one layer further, what was fascinating about the entire public survey was how the majority (and when I say majority, I mean closer to 75 or 80 per cent) of the people feel that “musicians should be paid for their art,” and yet hardly anyone is paying for the music themselves. Lenny (not his real name) was hesitant at first, but eventually admitted, “uuhhhh, I don’t know whether I should be honest with this but, ya know, I do torrents all day. So that’s where I get my music from, and I got a lot of music.” When asked the follow-up question as to whether or not musicians should be paid, Lenny was brazen: “I say, the way the world is going and the way the industry is going, the actual sale of their music is not going to support them for much longer anyhow and they’re gonna go to touring and stuff like that, and that is what is really gonna give them money in their pocket.”
Lenny’s opinion, as brash as it may have sounded, was not unique. It was honest, and from what I could gather it was representative of how a lot of people feel about the music industry today. Offering a final condescending remark, Lenny advised musicians to “do their research into how the music industry actually works, and then you might find that it doesn’t really matter anyway.”
This was the general consensus of the public survey. Anne (again, not her real name) removed her sunglasses and iPod, looked into the camera and then turned away with a smile, “well, I don’t want to be on camera for this. I feel bad. I take it from all of my friend’s computers, and a lot of them use Limewire.” Don’t feel bad Anne; everyone else is doing it too.
But does that make it okay? One of the major problems with file-share software and torrent streaming is how accessible they are. The more each person is getting their music for free, the more those who are paying for it will be tempted to follow in the mass-criminal frame of mind. It’s a collective way of thinking, and no one is being punished, so the guilt is more easily washed away. If only an elite few were able to “steal” music and our systems were doing a better job of prosecuting the thieves, our ‘groupthink’ would be different. But while it remains easy to access and exists without punishment, it is hard to change the minds of the masses.
What was not surprising was the response from the few musicians whom we got to speak with. Andrew (ibid) told us he was a musician himself, and while admitting to formerly downloading everything, he refuses to any longer, going to iTunes as his main musical source: “I’m a musician, and I just don’t feel like it’s right to rip off other artists at this point. I would want people to hear my music but I would want to get recognition for it.” However, when I asked Andrew if he has any problem burning albums for his friends, he sucked back and realized he was caught, “hssssss (a big smile), I’ll burn it for them.”
The contrast between Andrew, who I am guessing to be in his late twenties, and a much younger female musician we spoke with (I am guessing mid to late teens) was typical of idealized youth. “I get copies from my friends and I get it from Web sites online…. If I can’t find it for free, I buy it. But I think that music should be free. I’m not in it to make money.”
I guess the main question is, what is the cost of exposure? The philosophy of many musicians is the more their music gets out there, the greater the chance of building a fan base, and once that grows, then big labels will come after you and money will no longer be an issue. When laid out on that level, the music should be free. Yet, the guilt of stealing music is not erased.
Tanya (sic), the last person we interviewed, summed up the general feeling of most people: “I’m not gonna lie, it makes it convenient that it’s free. But it’s someone’s livelihood.” Tanya switches into a solemn tone, “And I’m not proud of myself.”
She then laughs, and looks into the eye of the camera, “am I gonna get arrested for this?”
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– Kory French