An introductory word…
I've been thinking about this topic for a while now. I'd already written what you'll read below when I read Gene Simmons' thoughts (Rock is Finally Dead). Some of what he said resonated with how I felt (although I don't agree with it all). Dee Snider weighed in with his own opinion, and I tend more towards his views (except where he claims downloading is just sticking it to the man—I've much less faith in humanity). I recommend you read both articles, though. I reckon there's some validity in each.
My own disjointed thoughts follow.
Have you ever downloaded pirated music?
I have. I'm probably not what you'd call a super-pirate or anything, but I've downloaded stuff from shady sites.
I've stopped, though.
The Tired Analogy
Yes, yes, everyone knows that it's a pretty unoriginal argument to say, "Well, I don't expect to work for nothing, why should I expect someone else to?"
The truth is, though, even if it's unoriginal, it's right. I take pride in what I do and I work hard to do a good job. I'm pretty sure I provide something of value to people and I'm certainly not willing to do that for free. It rankles my sense of fairness to expect that I shouldn't compensate an artist for producing something that I value.
You might argue that's just my self-preservation instinct kicking in. After all, the people who pay me to do my job are musicians.
But that's not it.
The truth is, I've felt less and less comfortable downloading free stuff. My brain just ran out of ways to justify it and, as I pride myself on being a rational and fair guy, I can't just say, "Screw it, I'm doing it just because I want to!"
The Red Herring
"Oh, but the music industry is all corrupt and greedy and why should I pay to support that system?"
This is the boiled-down, red herring from almost any discussion of this topic. And, let's face it, it's easy to be cynical.
Years ago, when Napster was getting chased by Metallica, it was easy to be cynical—mega-rich Metallica bellyaching about a few free downloads. The same happens when the industry goes on one of its ill-advised lawsuit sprees. Engage cynicism.
Not really the point, though, is it?
While we can (perhaps justifiably) begrudge Richie McRich, Senior Vice-President of Rich Stuff at Sony, from getting a few extra bucks, the reality is that he's not really the one we're hurting when we pirate music. It's the boys and girls with the guitars, drum kits, and mics that bear the brunt. For every crass arsehole on Cribs, bragging that he wears his sneakers once and then throws them away, there are thousands of great musicians scraping by.
The corrupt-music-industry argument is just an easy way to minimise the cognitive dissonance we feel when we download music without paying—we're fighting back against the fat cats. Why, we're practically Robin Hood.
It's a funny thing that, as a society, we have come to the conclusion that we don't need to pay for art. And, it's fair to lump pretty much all art in here—writers get seriously and continually kicked in the groin for free-work, and I'm sure you can include photographers, actors, painters, topiary sculptors, etc.
It would be interesting to investigate the reasons for this but that sounds like a job for someone working on a doctoral thesis to handle. Reasons aside, the evidence is pretty clear, especially for anyone with a job requiring payment for some art-form. Working for exposure has always been something that artists have done from time to time (and, let's face it, I'm giving away an ebook on this site) but, as a society, we seem to have moved from where a few would take advantage of that artist's free work to one where we, almost universally, expect that all her work be free.
The bottom line
I have some (vague) idea of how much it costs to make an album—studio time, producers, engineers, equipment, cocaine-burgers, etc. I have an idea but, let's face it, I don't really care. That's not really what sways me, or anybody else, when we're about to click that download link.
Some sense of fair exchange niggles though. I have albums that I've listened to hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times. Obviously, I enjoy that experience and it would be massively mean-spirited of me to suggest that I shouldn't have paid ten or fifteen bucks for that album.
If we value art or music, we need to find a way to reimburse the artist—both for that experience and so he or she can continue to make that art.
I value it. And I'll try to show that in the future.
We might not be killing music but it's wounded and we're not helping. Now to work in a Band Aid joke…
I'm quite open to comments and discussion on this. Of course it's ok if you disagree but, if you do, please consider whether your argument against paying for music can be legitimately summed up as 'I just don't want to'.