The Music Industry

a message to the RIAA, record labels, and all other people in fine italian suits making money off of other people’s music: you’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times, they are a-changin’.

for those of you not keeping up to date on the topic:

a minnesota woman just lost a suit for $220,000 for “making available 24 songs on the internet.” she didn’t copy them, she just left them on her computer for people to access and copy. a kwik-fit was sued  200,000 pounds for playing a copyrighted music on a radio that “could be heard by colleagues and customers.”apple CEO steve jobs recently announced that the thought digital rights management (DRM) is lousy. radiohead just released an album online for any cost seen fit by the customer, and nine inch nail’s trent reznor has followed suit, officially declaring independence from record labels. there are rumors circulating that oasis is soon to jump on as well.

i’ve gone over this debate in my head time and time again ever since the tenth grade, when i was appalled that john gillilan bought a 5GB first generation iPod. ‘how can you listen to music in a way not intended by the artist?’ i thought. ‘don’t you miss holding the CD, looking at the album art, and dealing with that one track you don’t like, though it makes the other nine that much better?’

now, years later, i have an 80GB iPod video, an 8GB iPhone, and a digital music library of nearly 13324 songs. enough music to last, without repeats, 39 days. i still miss holding the CD, looking at the album art, and dealing with that one track i don’t like. but you simply can’t beat having all the music you can want to hear on one little device that fits in your back pocket.

a couple of years ago, though the technology was far less developed, a couple of smart college guys realized the convenience of having music stored as digital files. they created napster, using a now-primitive-seeming concept of peer-to-peer, or p2p, to share these digital files among the masses. i never used napster, because at the time i was still obsessed with the idea of going to a record store and walking out with a physical object in my hands, though i’m not sure if i wouldn’t have if the technology was created now. what a brilliant idea: if your buddy tells you about a band you may like, you don’t need to risk $15 to see if you like it (or, more likely, forget he mentioned anything because $15 is too much); you can simply search for it on a vast network of computers, listen to it, and possibly fall in love with the band.

until very recently, i believed p2p music sharing was very positive, especially for smaller bands. it spreads the word of the band into a network any PR agent couldn’t dream of, the groupies and band-worshippers still buy the records, and suddenly more people show up to every concert they play.

example: suppose we are living in the RIAA’s dream world, where no one copies music illegally, no one shares music, and all copies of music cost a ton of money. in this world, some hipster band is popular among some 1,000 people, each who have their record and see them every time they come to town. outside of those 1,000, maybe 200 know of the band and don’t care for them. slowly, the numbers grow, and hopefully they become huge and everyone in the world knows them. now flashback to reality: people share music all the time. people copy music for their friends, whether it be on a mix tape, a CD, or in huge amounts of data every few weeks. the band is popular among 10,000 people, each who go see them every time they come to town. of those, a few hundred own their CDs. but the numbers grow far quicker. the smaller bands’ dream.

i have 1344 albums on my computer. i own roughly 900 CDs. the RIAA would claim that they lost whatever money they would have received for 444 albums. but do you really think i’d own all of those albums if i had to pay $20 for each one? would i have purchased every single joanna newsom album (which i have), and seen her twice (which i have), if i had never heard of her? or if i had heard one song and gotten turned off and never wanted to spend $20 to “give it a chance” when my friend mentioned i may like her? come on. i only have so much money. 

paul made an interesting point. i can only spend so much money on music per unit time. years ago, i bought, on average, 2 CDs a week. that’s maybe $30 every week. now, instead of spending $30/week on CDs, i spend $350 on an  iPod every time steve jobs tells me there’s a new one. i spend a few hundred on mass digital storage space every time my data exceeds the capacity of my existing hardware. i buy tickets to see the bands i love, and often go to great lengths to see them (last year i spent three days and several hundred dollars to see radiohead in canada). it’s the same output, just different sources. and the RIAA’s pissed because it’s no longer going to them.

so, at long last, my point. the music industry is changing. and we, the listeners, have far more control over which direction it goes in than we seem to realize. we can choose where to send our money, whether it’s to the band directly (eg radiohead), iTunes music store, the local record store, best buy, etc. i’m not saying music should be free— i’m merely saying that the music industry is changing and that we can guide it. i feel rather strongly about not stealing music (it is stealing. and either way, who wants to risk a virus?). in terms of DRM protection, i think that music should be shareable, but not _steal_able. as i said before, spreading the word can often help a band far more than it could ever hurt it.

if we want to buy MP3s rather than CDs, then the CD industry is dying. and the RIAA can keep trying to stay afloat, but as long as we follow the rules and are careful about it, then the RIAA will sink like a stone.

#music #riaa

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