Damn right you’d steal a handbag – if you could download it.

Tell me if any of the following statements sound familiar:

  1. Piracy is harming creative artists
  2. Legitimately purchased music costs too much
  3. Most of the music out there is shit
  4. If you download MP3s illegally you’re a pirate
  5. The fat cat record labels are killing the industry
Hard to argue with any of them, right? Each of the sides in this EPIC STRUGGLE has made their case time and time again, right? Right. No argument there. Like most people with a shred of grey matter I’m more interested in creative solutions than bitching about problems, at least when it suits me to be. On one of my many dives through the front page of Reddit, I found this , the latest in a long line of attempts to save the music industry for the fans and artists while letting the HyperGlobalCorpoOnePercentFatCatScum labels become as irrelevant as tits on a fish. Simply put, the fan pays an artist a subscription fee of 1 dollar/euro/Drachma (face it lads, it’s a matter of months). The artist in turn send the fan all of their creative output as long as their dues are paid. The basic idea is simple – with even a small fan base, artists can make a living and for a small cost, fans can enjoy new music legally without breaking the bank. After all, assuming an artist records even an albums worth of tracks in a year 12 quid is a steal, right? Sure! No distribution / marketing costs, users can share links to subscription, DRM working for the good guys. Break out the champagne, audiophiles! The war is over! We’ve beaten the labels!
Wait, wait, hold the celebrations. Can someone please tell the dancing girls to squeeze the bucky-flavoured champagne out of their hair and back into the bottles? Yes, yes, i need everyone’s ecstasy back, LADS AT THE BACK CAN YOU HALT THE ORGY IMMEDIATELY PLEASE THANKYOUVERYMUCH. Put down your flags and everyone get their togs back on. It won’t work. I know we’d all love to think that this simple idea would allow for great music to triumph while niche stuff plods along semi-profitably, but it’s simply not going to work. There are two inalienable (though unpleasant) reasons for this.
1. WHY WE STEAL – Is it the lack of choice available from music stores? Not at this point, no. Digital distribution – which is probably Mr Jobs greatest accomplishment from both a “pervasive innovation” and “commercial juggernaut” point of view when you REALLY think about it – has catalogues that span the last 60 years. No, you won’t find that demo of Method Man covering the Ink Spots on iTunes, but then again you probably won’t find it on any of YOUR P2P programs either </smugsoulseekuser>. The range is simply staggering. The choice is there. I defy you to prove otherwise. Hell , they even have the Beatles (WOW!). Do we pay? No. We steal. “But Blumpkine!” they’ll not shout, as it’s not my real name, “what about Spotify? What about Grooveshark? What about subscription streaming services?” Well, like most of you I’ve used them. And, like significantly fewer of you, I’ve paid subscription for the extras (grooveshark mobile client). I don’t want to alarm you or start a panic or anything, but the vast majority of this revenue goes back to the guys paying for the streaming servers and keeping the software updated. What little does go back to the “rightful owners” of the music goes to – you guessed it – the record labels.
In both online music stores and fee-paying streaming services, whatever anyone wants to say from their supposed moral high ground, what we’re paying for isn’t the artistic effort that went into creation of the music itself – it’s the convenience. Yes, I’ve bought albums from iTunes. Know why? Because I wasn’t in front of my laptop. Yes, I’ve paid for grooveshark mobile. Know why? Because I wasn’t in front of my laptop. No, I’m not paying for the music i’m downloading right now. Know why? I’m in front of my laptop. For all the bitching and moaning about cutting out the middle man, most of it is done by people that also want to cut out any small profitability for the artist themselves. You all know it, I know it, it’s nice to get something for free and this is a free-for-all on an unprecedented scale. It may even be more morally questionable than downloading movies. Yes, I know, hollywood celebs are already far more well-paid than anyone other than festival-headline scale musicians, but do you watch a great movie as many times as you listen to a great album? Taking aside Fight Club, probably not. And for those who think that allowing a small amount of money to be paid for a constant stream of new music from artists of their choice….
2. WHAT WE GET IF WE PAY – 12 bucks a year, right? So if there’s an album it pays for itself, right? Here’s the catch though. Music isn’t like sandwiches. You can’t expect any artist to regularly produce top-quality output. There’s a reason for all those gaps between albums. I’m pretty sure it was Guy Garvey of Elbow who said something along the lines of
Your first album comes out, and it’s fine, because you might have been writing those songs for ten years, gigging in pubs, waiting for your big break. And then it comes and it’s wonderful. You get your contract and your tour and away you go. Then suddenly there’s all this pressure to produce the second album in much less time. The quality of the music is usually what suffers most, after the quality of life for the band.
Want proof? Go and grab the second album by any number of bands and compare it to the first. Now, imagine artists working on a 30-day deadline to produce for fear of losing their precious subscriptions, which might I add are being paid by people with a limited amount of disposable income and are unbelievably fickle with their precious dollars. How many up-and-coming artists suddenly have to fight the temptation to just fire one out before the xth of the month to keep their numbers up? Aren’t we a lot better off letting our artists mature at their own pace, maybe take the time to come to our hometowns or explore side projects, maybe even live their fucking lives rather than the inevitable flamefest on artist’s comment pages when they go 6 weeks without releasing a track that “I’m Fuccking well paying $$$$ for you fagit, where’s my CHOONS?” I know this one’s a new idea and i’ll be watching to see how it plays out but there are times when having a structure in things like scheduling, cohesive albums, and even long stretches of recording absence are favourable.
Solution? Maybe not, but here’s a suggestion. If you like an album, go and buy a physical copy. There’s still something wonderful about taking home a CD, even if they’re becoming fewer and further between. If you like an artist, go and hear them play. There’s slightly more chance that they’ll make some money out of it and you’ll be gaining a totally different, more organic and certainly more intimate experience than a shitty 128kbps download. And then go back to ignoring everything everyone says about the industry and doing whatever you like until you get caught by the copyright police, just don’t pretend that you’re somehow helping artists make a living by not paying for things.
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Damn right you’d steal a handbag – if you could download it.

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