Facing the music of finding it for free first
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 23:10
There’s really nothing better than a new album. It’s thrilling to have in your hands or on your mp3 player a plethora of new songs from a beloved band that has the potential to be almost anything. But let’s be honest - there aren’t many people lining up outside record stores to buy albums. Instead, more and more people are turning to the Internet to download new tunes and cuts. It’s often argued that this is unethical and unfair, but in fact, it’s just an after-effect of the industry having trouble catching up with technology.
In an attempt to keep music pirates at bay, alternative band Yeasayer set up an online scavenger hunt a few weeks prior to the release of their album Fragrant World. Interactive art pieces designed in part by punk artist Yoshi Sodeoka were filled with clues as to the online location of new songs and users had until Aug. 3 to find the pieces of the album. In an online statement, Yeasayer explained, “We have received a message that we are on the verge of embargoed information being leaked through the cracks of the digital universe. Once again an attempt to tell the story before our mouths can spit.”
Fair enough; an album leak is a bit of an anticlimax if you’re a fan of heavily-hyped release dates. However, if your record’s finished being recorded, it seems as if you’ve already spit. The sentiment is valid, if mildly pretentious, but it must also be tempered by a clear understanding of the digital world and its users.
The anonymous creator of a site called hasitleaked.com worded it most succinctly when she said that she believes that “the music industry has failed to understand its own market when it comes to release dates and promotion.” Clearly, the industry has a lot to catch up on. Sites like Mediafire and Rapidshare distribute albums quickly and easily, and there are always hundreds, if not thousands, of music fans and technology enthusiasts who are posting albums as soon as they’re released.
It’s similar to the crisis happening in the field of journalism - there’s a difficulty in collecting money from the product because the technology has caught up with the art faster than capitalism. But debating the moral aspect of illegal downloads is a moot point. It’s going to happen, regardless and the digital age has taken over. Musicians are feeling the economic downturn just like the rest of us and they aren’t making money from what they’re producing anymore.
Programs like Spotify and Deezer allow users to stream songs for free, and they do give a payout to the artists, but it’s a negligible amount of money. According to online magazine Geek, Spotify pays .004 cents per song, and Deezer pays .009 cents. That evens out, in all, to less than a penny per album. And iTunes isn’t much better – it splits the profits 70/30, but most people don’t even download via iTunes these days. Why do that when albums are available for free via anonymous .zip or .rar files?
To make money, members of bands like the alternative ‘90s group The Posies have turned to producing, recording and doing backup instrumentals on the side. The bassist, Ken Stringfellow, still rakes in about $100,000 per year, regardless of album sales and says that expecting a whole lot of profit from album releases is unrealistic.
When John Darnielle, frontman of The Mountain Goats, experienced album leakage firsthand just before the release of his album The Life of the World to Come, he admitted to music magazine Jambase that it’s nearly impossible to prevent leaks. “There aren’t many people who wait until release date to find out what an album’s all about,” he said and his words ring true to musicians and fans alike.
The fact of the matter is that people who like music will stumble upon albums post-release, this stumbling upon requiring a bit more than clumsiness and more tech savvy. People who love music are going to do everything they can to procure copies of upcoming albums, hard-to-find EPs and unreleased material. Some artists, like Darnielle, are flattered by the intense search and morally ambiguous downloading. Others, like old hat Bob Dylan, are angered. Either way, though, new music will find its way onto the digital black market and the industry had better find a way to either catch up or cut its losses and find other sources of revenue.
Kate Dillon is a senior journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.