The title says it all! Opinions expressed here are those of the authors. Personal tastes may vary, and we are cool with that.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On Downloading Music

I'm as guilty of downloading as the next person; I don't do tons of it and I still buy a fair number of CDs as I am able to afford to, but yes, I download.

My main reason for downloading is this: I don't have a lot of discretionary income and if I want to keep discovering & enjoying music & my favourite bands, I simply cannot afford to purchase every CD I want to. Especially because I like stuff that isn't always readily available in North America. I do what I can, though; I enjoy purchasing CDs and when I have the money in my budget to do so, I do buy CDs. In the case of really small bands I like to support, I make the extra effort and purchase the CD right from the band itself, as I did with Australian Gothic outfit Temujin and Canadian power metalers Borealis. I also like hearing a whole album before I commit to purchasing it; that's not always possible on MySpace or with every band.

I enjoy sitting down with a CD cover and listening to a CD as I read along with the lyrics, and I enjoy looking at album art, and I even enjoy reading the credits. However, I have priorities: I have a home, bills, debts, a cat, and many of the usual trappings of adulthood.

I believe artists deserve to be paid for what they produce and release, too. But if you take the example of the legal downloads available off of iTunes and sites like that where you pay a small fee, I seriously wonder how much of that small fee actually gets back to the artist. For instance, I bought Akoma's 3-track EP off of iTunes for $2.97CAD a few months ago. I am truly curious about how much of that $2.97 went to the band, though. Usually, iTunes sells single songs for 99¢; what percentage of that 99¢ goes to the artist? I don't know; I'm just asking. If it's the principle you're interested in, then that's one thing, but if iTunes is taking the majority of the cut, then that's not really helping anyone but iTunes, in my opinion.

What ticks me off sometimes is the attitude of some of the big acts out there who seem to think that downloading is the root of all evil. I was really irritated with Chester Bennington's recent comments about Linkin Park's latest CD sales numbers, found on Blabbermouth. The article says:

LINKIN PARK frontman Chester Bennington told MTV News last October that the
days of the band selling 10 million copies of an album, like its 2000 debut "Hybrid Theory", are long gone.

Bennington explained, "Trying to compare anything to 'Hybrid Theory' in terms of sales is an exercise in futility: It's not gonna happen. That's the reality of the situation. (Second album 'Meteora') did huge numbers the first week, it was like 800,000. 'Minutes To Midnight' was in the 600,000 mark, and this one's at the 240,000 mark; that's a sign of the times . . . people get their music in different ways now."

"Meteora" sold 810,000 copies in its first week of release, while 2007's "Minutes To
Midnight" moved 623,000.

Thanks to downloading and file sharing, Bennington said, "There's probably 10 million people out there who have the record that we don't know about."

Well, I am one of those 10 million people that downloaded A Thousand Suns, and let me tell you, I feel no guilt about this whatsoever. That's because I thought the album sucked and I wouldn't have spent a penny on it anyway. What Chester is perhaps failing to realize here is that LPs most recent CD might not be the quality of their Meteora or Hybrid Theory days, which might also account for poor sales. I don't know; I'm just theorizing here.

Slipknot's Cory Taylor has a bit of a different view, according to this article. He says:

"Seriously, who the fuck wants to risk hard-earned money on music that's maybe 98 percent crap? I'm not going to. And I still buy new albums. People ask what my favorite new album is and nine times out of 10, I don't fucking have one. Music is garbage."

He goes on to say,

"People wanna blame the decline of album sales on downloading, I think it's actually the record companies' fault," he added. "I think it's the quality of the product. If record companies would stop giving any fucking mook on the street with a fringe a record deal or their own record label, maybe you would sell more fucking albums, dipshits."

Fair enough, Corey.

There is a lot of shit music out there for sure, but there is also a hell of a lot of great music out there, too, but you just have to take the time to look for it. That's why I love sites like And this is where illegal downloading can be great for smaller, more obscure bands that could use some exposure. If I didn't have access to downloading, I would never have gotten into fantastic bands like Dawn of Destiny (I own their first 2 CDs incidentally; their 3rd I can't seem to find anywhere and ordering from Europe is way too expensive), Almora (I also purchased a few of their albums), and Atargatis (I purchased two of their CDs). And that's just a few! I might never even have gotten into metal at all if it hadn't been for downloading.

Another example: Nightwish. I found Nightwish after listening to Within Temptation on a radio station on iTunes. I downloaded everything NW I could get my hands on. I now own all NW albums, official DVDs, a fucking expensive NW t-shirt, and some other merch. Similarly, because of downloading I have purchased the special editions, EPs, and concert DVDs of other bands whose material I've downloaded, too. That cannot be a bad thing at all.

It always seems to be the big bands that complain about downloading, like Linkin Park and Bono/U2, etc. Those bands are not hurting. But the smaller bands, like Dawn of Destiny and Atargatis - two of my favourites - have actually benefitted from my downloading.

So, I don't know. I'm just saying. It's not a black & white issue.

I don't believe, however, that art of any kind should be so exclusive that it's completely inaccessible to those who might not be able to afford to enjoy it. That's just my 2 cents.


Almagest said...

As far as Tuomas Seppälä has told me (on Facebook, BTW), he gets maybe 50 cent out of every 99 cent for every track sold on iTunes. I think that's pretty decent, and much better than other distribution channels, of course.

I find myself agreeing with Taylor. There are lots of bands out there with a - let's say - not very professional attitude. Derivative bands that get signed just because of some hype. Bands that aren't in it for the music, but believe they can get rich and famous quickly. In some scenes the (especially technical) standard is higher than in others, but face it: The number of new bands is overwhelming. Even keeping up with a narrow genre such as "soprano metal" is impossible for most people.

It's definitely not the fault of the customers that the industry is struggling; it's the industry that has screwed up, thanks to the greed of the execs, and now they're getting the bill.

Anonymous said...

Next LP album will sell 100,000 if they keep playing shit. Chester will cut himself coz of that(?) or think for a minute about music he plays.

Natalia said...

I really feel identified with every single thing you said here so I got nothing more to add!

Eric James said...

Man, this is such a tough issue! Because honestly, the Internet has been both a blessing and a curse to the music industry. For many struggling and unknown bands, they can now finally be heard throughout the world and this has opened up a wide variety of genres and sub-genres that no one ever knew about. But of course, everything pretty much has a double-edged sword.

See this is what I don't get, why do big named bands/artists complain about downloading when they make a shit full of money from their gigs? Actually, what some people do not realize is that a majority of an artist's income comes from touring and gigging, not so much album sales. I did a research project on music piracy in college so I know the details about what goes on with this. A HUGE percentage of that money from album sales goes to the record label and I think that it really is robbery to the artists who make the money. Unfortuneatly, if an artist wants any kind of REAL exposure, that artist has to either sign with a major label or get radio airplay if they want to see any kind of fame or real income. Because let's face it, unless you are like Metallica, The Rolling Stones, Iron Maiden, or some big named metal or rock band, money doesn't really come that easily for musicians for the most part.

Now I have heard of some artists and bands not having a ton of popularity that make a decent living (mostly like professional concert musicians in an orchestra for example), but it is very rare and so many have tried to get big but so many have failed. Plus, os many musicians struggle to make ends meet, even some semi-popular ones too! There is just so much competition, and I agree that downloading has actually helped a lot of smaller bands and artists see more exposure, but I do like to support bands I like, so I try to spend the money where it is needed no question.

Almagest, I agree, it is the music industry who really screwed up on this! In general, the greed of the industry has elevated this sort of idea of mass downloading as well as their inability to promote good and honest music anymore. I am mainly talking about the major labels that promote most of the radio rock and pop that dominates the charts. Of course, that is another issue and I am not about to go into that.. :p

CanuckFan said...

Eric, check out this article Almagest posted on FB:

It has some excellent points, some of which you touched on. Particularly the live gigs.

Like I said to Almagest on FB, I'd love to support bands by seeing them live, but look where I live! Ugh!

Eric James said...

Holy crap! That is a great article Canunk and Almagest! And this is what is happening. So true.. unfortuneatly. :/

Almagest said...

I hear conflicting opinions about touring. Perhaps it depends on how big an artist is, but as that article says, for many artists, even semi-popular ones, touring is a zero-sum game - if they're lucky. Your best bet is indeed selling tons of merch. Although I do contemplate just giving bands I go to watch a euro bill ... ;-)

Eric, how about writing a blog entry of your own on this issue? You could explain there why you think that criticising artists for making overly mainstream, safe stuff can't necessarily be brushed off as elitism in every case ...

And indeed, the fact that apart from the very biggest stars, artists get ripped off by their labels and performance rights organisations and that copyright doesn't actually benefit the creative people anymore (because otherwise, there would be little point in having copyright extend 70 years beyond the creator's death) is what gets me the most.

The Internet is not what is causing this problem, it's simply highlighting existing problems (involving copyright abuse by the industry)! When people were recording songs from radio on tape back in the day, the industry was complaining about piracy just the same! In fact, even radio was originally rejected by the industry as it meant that people could simply listen to songs without paying for them (just like YouTube now)!

And in fact, blaming downloaders is short-sighted and stupid because it has been proved that "pirates" actually buy MORE music than those who don't download!

I do wonder if copyright, thanks to the increasing difficulty of enforcing it, will eventually be abolished and replaced by something like a culture flatrate, tax or similar things. As it is becoming ever clearer that the free market does not promote quality, but instead causes junk to prevail and crowd out high-quality material, everywhere, and as traditional capitalism becomes ever harder to maintain in the face of a radically changing world thanks to new technologies, I do suspect that we are heading for a society that is much more "communist", perhaps a mix of communism (basic provisions for everyone, regardless of whether they work or not) and capitalist elements such as the possibility to earn additional money (performance-based) through extra work.

But capitalism simply bases itself on highly questionable assumptions that are not borne out in practice - work performance is hard (if not impossible) to measure objectively; people exercise intense and high-quality efforts in functions that are unpaid, such as hobbies and honorary offices, which capitalist theory does not account for; intrinsic motivation is a much more powerful stimulus for productive work (that actually benefits society) than money in many cases; people find all kinds of ways to circumvent, undermine, game and subvert the system; monetary incentives often reward goals and behaviours clearly adverse to the interests of society, etc. - so I wouldn't be surprised if capitalism eventually ends up superseded as people realise it's simply not the optimal economic system at all, and eventually unworkable.

In the end, Marx may well get redeemed, as the "revolution" he predicted will come about naturally, thanks to society's development, rather than an artificial revolution incited by elites, as in Russia. I think that was a grave misunderstanding of his theory.