Saturday, October 20, 2007

Free Speech, Free Beer, Free Music

The word “free” has different contexts. Free beer is different from free speech and free music was never really free. In the late 1990s I was a casual music pirate. I used Internet Relay Chat to navigate the really geeky text based chat service that had become a file sharing service. I used IRC to grab many of the tracks I put on my Women That Rock and Women That Rock Too mix CDs. As file sharing became more and more prevalent, I began looking for newer things.

At first, peoples’ shared libraries were just mish-mashes of random tracks. Then they got bigger and bigger and more organized. With the right commands on IRC, you could download peoples’ entire playlists and browse through them like a checklist. I would be stunned to find some with over a thousand songs with capacities in the gigabytes. In 1999 that was a lot of storage.

File sharing soon changed from being a treasure hunt to tidal wave. There was more music out there than any single person could ever listen to. I made it a sort of game. I would go looking for a particular artist or genre, the more obscure the better.

While not particularly obscure, I had a passing interest in the Beastie Boys but wasn’t about to buy multiple albums just to get a few tracks. I got some of my younger hipper coworkers to come up with a list of their favorite tracks and I went hunting. Soon I had a seventeen song playlist that I got from a couple of sources. Shortly afterwards, the Beasties put out a 2-disc 42 track compilation. I like my more selective list better. The only song I have missing from The Sounds of Science is “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”, a pretty serious omission on their part. Besides, eighty minutes of Beasties is plenty.

I can date exactly when I became jaded with file swapping. I knew Midnite Vultures a new Beck album was coming out. I decided to see how long it took for the entire album to show up on IRC to measure just how fast the piracy system was working. The official release date was November 16, 1999. Even I was stunned with how efficient the pirates were. There was a full rip of the advance promotional copy available two weeks early. How was a record company supposed to compete when their product is available on the internet before it’s in the stores? That is a rhetorical question they still haven’t figured out.

That is when I realized that pirating music was just shooting fish in a barrel. I quit downloading full albums. If I wanted to listen to an entire album I should want to be willing to spend something on it. When everything is free, nothing has a value.

I leave you with two Beastie songs to keep your body movin'. Just don’t steal the tunes.

Beastie Boys-Three MC's And One DJBeastie Boys-Alive

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Where do you get your music?


Anonymous said...

Wait, the Beastie Boys greatest hits collection didn't have No Sleep Till Brooklyn? Seriously?


PS Your two songs are labelled in reverse (i.e. clicking on "Alive" brings up the totally awesome answering machine message intro to "3 MCs and 1 DJ"

yellojkt said...

Thanks for the heads up.

"No Sleep Till Brooklyn" is on the single disc 2005 Solid Gold Hits (which is missing "Three MC's and One DJ"), but not The Sounds of Science. My compilation overlaps by 11 songs with Solid Gold Hits, so I did pretty good on winnowing down the 42 tunes from Science.

2fs said...

There is, I would argue and agree, a difference between downloading the occasional track - or stuff that's wildly out of print, say - and downloading entire albums willy-nilly. On the other hand, most figures I've seen show that it's the best-selling artists who are also the most downloaded. I'm not worried about their ability to buy lunch. And I'd worry more about the money that isn't going to them if the whole system weren't massively stacked against the artist in the first place: of everyone involved in the production of a CD, the artist typically gets paid last - even though nearly everyone who buys the CD is buying it because of the music the artist has made. So, go ahead: download the whole album - but go to the band's website and buy a t-shirt. They'll get more money from that than from a legitimately sold CD.

The better argument, though, is that song-based downloading (rather than whole albums) essentially is a more efficient form of marketing. The radio doesn't play it, critics might not review it...but it's online for you to hear. And the most persuasive method of getting anyone to purchase a CD is to hear and enjoy the actual music. It's why artists nowadays generally have a couple-few tracks sent out to critics and bloggers - expressly so they can be posted and heard by interested parties. (Okay, I'll shut up: I could write a book on this stuff...)

yellojkt said...

Exactly the feedback I like, 2fs. And I agree with it. That is why I don't feel bad about linking to the occasional mp3 when it's relevant to the post. Any artist that doesn't have mp3s on their site isn't working it right.

trusty getto said...

I pretty much exclusively get my music from iTunes these days, since my way-too-mobile lifestyle causes me to rely heavily on my iPod for the vast majority of my listening.

Though I don't steal music, I feel rather strongly that labels distribute profits inequitably, and labels massively overstate their "losses" from purported "theft" (much of the music is "taken" by people who wouldn't have bought it anyway, so I question whether that can be described as a loss). Consequently, I'm kind of happy to see the label-based business model dying on the vine. If more artists distribute their music directly to listeners as time goes by, they will keep a much larger cut and eliminate the middlemen who provide little more than an inefficient distribution and promotion network that costs too much and focuses too little on what consumers of music want.

Read/Think/Live said...

I have never knowingly heard a Radiohead song. But I am downloading their latest because I can, because it's "free" and they want me to listen to it and I like their attitude.