I don’t know if you’ve been following the story, but there have been various musicians speaking out recently both for and against the Featured Artists Coalition, a group set up to represent the interests of recording artists.
Nick Mason (Pink Floyd drummer, just in case you don’t know), who is on the FAC’s Board of Directors, has publicly criticised the UK government for suggesting that those who illegally share music should have their internet accounts suspended (albeit temporarily, as a last resort).
The record companies have been lobbying government for tough action on music piracy for some time, calling for increased penalties.
The FAC, backed by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, as well as the Music Producers’ Guild, want commercial and private file-sharing to be treated separately.
That’s not to say that Nick Mason, or any FAC member, condones illicit file-sharing. Far from it. The FAC (David is also a member), believe that artists should be paid for their craft by way of royalties.
People might well, but shouldn’t, forget that the creative process is often a painstakingly long one. It takes time to a write a song, to record it, mix and produce it, to manufacture it, distribute it and promote it. A lot of people are employed in the process along the way and they all need to be paid.
So, the FAC wants the industry to focus on making money from file-sharing, rather than on criminalising the file-sharers.
The response, from Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry: “We could hardly have more legal download services than we already do, and they have not eliminated piracy.”
Enter Lily Allen, a young and often outspoken singer/song writer: “These guys from huge bands said file-sharing music is fine. It probably is fine for them. They do sell-out arena tours and have the biggest Ferrari collections in the world.”
The crux of her argument, which seems perfectly reasonable to me, is that file-sharing is disastrous for upcoming talent, because there simply isn’t the funding available to support them because so much money is lost to file-sharing.
It’s been said that more than six and a half million people in the UK illegally access and distribute music. How can that not damage those that make music?
But is peer-to-peer downloading exclusively holding back such investment?
Many more questions arise from this issue, of course, not least concerns for the state of British music. Frankly, is it worth buying any more? Are CDs and downloads too expensive? Of this, more later.
The FAC agrees that file-sharing affects sales, yet maintains that it also encourages people to buy concert tickets and merchandise, which accounts for much of a musician’s income. (Their record labels get rich from record sales.)
The tremendous success, some might say overload, of music festivals in recent years can be seen as proof of this: the new generation of music fans find what they like online and support the music-makers financially in other ways.
Nick himself said that “File sharing means a new generation of fans for us.”
What do you think? Do you feel bad for, presumably, having acquired music at some point without paying for it? I’m thinking particularly of all those bootlegs from David’s 2006 tour that I often notice. Or is that completely different, inasmuch as live concerts are one-off events that should be recorded for posterity (and probably wouldn’t be secretly recorded in the first place if a professional recording were guaranteed)? Plus, the cost of a ticket with all its fees is astronomical…
And didn’t we always record music? We taped the charts off the radio on a Sunday evening, we’d hold a microphone to the television set when The Old Grey Whistle Test was on. We’d lend tapes to our friends and we’d borrow theirs in return. We’ve always been able to listen to music for free, in shops, on the radio, on MTV.
Another question is, how can anyone possibly justify charging more for downloading an entire album than purchasing the plastic-heavy CD? I’m all for being green and shunning unnecessary packaging, but why shouldn’t the price of downloads be considerably less than the physical product?
Are there not legitimate ways for people to discover music online, not including taking it without asking or paying – which is, by definition, theft? There are plenty of sites streaming music on demand, where you look (well, mostly listen), but don’t touch. You can’t go into a music shop and leave with a handful of CDs. You’d be stopped and prosecuted. How is downloading torrents any different?
Look at MySpace, if you dare, and you’ll notice a gaggle of songs that people have gathered together and offered to others, as though they’re theirs to offer. (I think Stewie Griffin said it best when he spoke of MySpace as being a place for things that other people have created but are used to express one’s individualism.)
Yes, you find something that you like online, as you would on the TV or radio, and may be inclined to buy a CD, concert ticket or T-shirt, but the potential for stealing hundreds, if not thousands, of songs is currently far too great online. You’d have to make an awful lot of trips to a music store to equal that vast digital stash.
It’s not about the ease of accessing music, either. If it’s convenience you’re after, now that nobody has time to visit shops or even friends, you can pick up your CDs at the supermarket. Or order them online and have them delivered to your door. No time to wait? Then download them. Legally. It’s very easy.
It’s purely about the cost and this avaricious desire for more, more, more.
Are the record companies not the real problem here? Do they and the other often exploitative forces surrounding musicians make too much money off the backs of the act and its talent? Are they the ones complaining now because they’re not enriching themselves quite as fully as they once did?
When they should have been embracing the internet, they were trying to fight it, and now they are seeing their profits shrinking.
They have given us one manufactured band after another, each with a shorter shelf-life than the last. They’ve been heavy on the merchandise (everything from lunch boxes to duvet covers), milked the moment like their lives depended on it (forgetful of the fact that there’ll always be a new line of pretty boys and girls willing to replace the current flavour of the month, so they’ll get to do it all again ad infinitum) and they had the bare-faced cheek to for so long charge £15 for a rushed-out CD with two or three good tunes and half a dozen examples of bland, instantly forgettable (if you’re lucky… or maybe not) filler.
Then there are the Best of and Greatest Hits compilations. Are they not something of a record label rip off? It’s true that nobody makes you buy them, but an awful lot of money appears to be spent advertising them. Money that record companies perhaps ought to be pumping into new talent, as per Lily’s wishes.
CDs have never cost much to manufacture. Now they’re finally about half the price and, crucially, musicians have other means of getting noticed: digitally, via the internet. People can write and record songs at home, get them online and cut out the middlemen. Their path to fame is suddenly clearer, if not much longer.
Would Lily Allen have so successfully traversed hers were it not for the wonders of the internet (or, forgive me, a celebrity father, for that matter)?
Indeed, if more artists chose to go it alone, this would mean more competition for the manufactured acts and their inventors. It would mean fewer executive chancers. It would mean more money and power – and headaches – for the artist.
Things are certainly different in these technological times, and I know that the age of those reading this is likely to vary considerably, but how did you discover Pink Floyd? Courtesy of John Peel playing them on the radio, or were you intrigued by those fantastic gatefold LPs and curious to find out what they housed? Did you borrow a friend’s copy, audio or video, or did you find all the audio and video that’s ever been produced lined up and waiting for your mouse clicks at YouTube?
How did you discover On an Island?
Have record sales dropped because the music is generally of poorer quality these days, or because more people are helping themselves to it? Bear in mind that Radiohead made a profit in 2007 when they chose to allow fans to pay whatever they wanted – yes, even nothing at all – to download their In Rainbows album.
They also, at the same time, invited pre-orders for an exclusive deluxe edition costing £40. They received some 70,000, which were then manufactured to order.
Nine Inch Nails did something similar in 2008: offered an album, The Slip, as a free, permanent download and followed it with a limited-edition CD/DVD version, which sold enough copies to cover the whole project’s cost.
The Arctic Monkeys burned their own CDs and gave them away at their early concerts so that fans would know the words to their songs at their gigs, plus it was a good way of increasing exposure. File-sharing is, after all, free publicity.
So, will the industry collapse if the product is given away freely? Maybe not.
Would people pay to legally download if the price was more reasonable – whatever that means – and DRM abolished, do you think?
Consider also, if you will, the Pirate Bay. The founders of this notorious Swedish file-sharing site, reported to have had an estimated 22 million users, were jailed for a year earlier this year for breaching copyright and ordered to compensate representatives of the movie, music and video game industries. Unrepentant, they remain confident that others will continue without them. Certainly, illicit music downloads did not stop when Napster was forced to change.
Can the internet ever be policed and those who indiscriminately and unlawfully share music be criminalised without creating a backlash against the music itself?
And do you even accept that unauthorised downloading is a form of theft?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this and more, but no links to file-sharing sites and no need to brag about your huge collections of RoIOs, please.