Here’s another excellent guest post from Fathomless Regression. Enjoy!
Assuming that you haven’t been living under a rock for the last decade then you know that piracy has become an everyday part of the music industry. Like it or hate it, piracy is now one of the primary channels of distribution in our industry. Record company execs and artists alike are scrambling to try to figure out a way to stop this train and get things back to the days of the early 90’s. Remember paying $20+ per CD down at Sam Goody? Yeah, they want that! Ridiculous markup and the pop industry churning out record after record that sell millions of copies and cost nothing to make.
Albums have been getting cheaper and cheaper to make, as technology gets better and better. Back in the day if you wanted a string sound on your song, you hired a string quartet. 4 people’s wages, airfare, hotels, etc can really add up. Now you just buy software from East West for a few hundred and call it a day. Oh, and you only have to buy it once and can use it on endless tracks. Staff is getting leaner, gear is getting cheaper, and the cost of physically making a CD is going down, yet the industry would still like us to pay the same amount for CD’s. Progress, thankfully, will not be stopped and independent labels and distribution channels have driven the prices down to what I consider a reasonable level. iTunes really set the bar, $1 per track. That seems fair, right? 10 track disc for $10? 24 track double disc for $24? Yeah, I’d gladly pay those prices. Yet, many people still don’t. Many people, regardless of price seemingly, are still pirating music. Why is this? I’ve got some theories.
Music has become disposable. It is fast food, instant, rehydrated, and therefore lacks value to most of America. Obviously the audience who is reading this feels very differently about music because we’ve devoted our lives to creating it rather than consuming it. You have to be aware of the mindset of the consumer, though, and most of America views music as a temporary, somewhat intangible thing. I still get excited about going to the record store, buying an actual CD, tearing it open in the car, looking at the liner notes while still sitting in the parking lot, and then giving it a listen from start to finish when I get home. I do this because I am a true fan, and I consider each album an experience. I assume that the producer/engineer put a lot of time and effort into carefully planning which track went where in the lineup, and created it as a whole, rather then as 10-13 individual parts.
Most of America doesn’t work this way. They will simply download a single song from iTunes, or maybe the whole album if they’re really dedicated, listen to it track by track over time, and may or may not ever view the liner notes. Eventually a few select songs will end up on a “genius” playlist and the rest will be lost in the catacombs of their hard drive. So what does any of this have to do with piracy? Everything! Because they don’t view the ENTIRE album as a labor of love, and something that was truly crafted, they have no appreciation for it. Therefore, they see no real value in it. It’s an amusement, a simple way to pass 3 minutes. It’s the sonic equivalent to Youtube, which is also FREE. What I view as a filet mignon, and am willing to pay a premium price for, they view as a $1 bacon cheeseburger at wendy’s. Sure it’s filling, but it’s not something they savor, so when they see it available for free they snatch it up, digest it, and…well, you know the digestive tract. 🙂
There are three genres; however, that seem immune to this plague of piracy: Christian, Country, and Rap. I previously wrote an article outlining some pretty glaring similarities between Country and Rap, but this is one that I left out. I think it’s easy enough to see why piracy doesn’t seem to be such an issue for Christian music. WWJD? I think pirating Christian music would be the most obvious form of hypocrisy out there and it doesn’t seem to happen much. Country and Rap are a different scenario. With Rap especially it would seem that stealing the music would be right in line with the values of many of its artists who claim to have lived a life of crime. 🙂
So why do these two genres, which seem to be perfect examples of the disposable fast food music I mentioned above, not have the problems of the pop industry? I actually think it’s because they are the EXTREME examples of disposable, track by track, in-cohesive album, music that exists. These genres, for the most part, produce singles. Songs that can be played in clubs, or easily danced to, and that’s about it. They don’t try to create cohesive albums with a singular vision, but rather as many catchy singles as can be crammed on to a single disc. usually there are 1-3 hit singles per disc and the rest of the album is filler so that they can charge $13 at a music store. Since no one is going to care about the filler, many fans of these genres simply buy one or two songs and are done with it. Thanks to the convenience of services like iTunes it’s extremely easy for them to get their singles here and there downloaded straight to their iPod, and the convenience of this is worth the $1 to them. There’s no significant investment at one time, so they don’t bat an eye.
I realize my two theories seem to be contradictory to one another, but I believe it’s a combination of these two that has led to the decline of the music industry. I believe the solution is found in creating real value in albums again. When I buy a CD and the liner notes are 2 panels, I feel cheated. Where are the lyrics? Where are the photos? Where are the inside jokes hidden in the notes? On the other hand, when I buy a CD, such as the reissue of Weezer’s Blue album, and find a limited edition t-shirt in the packaging, I feel completely justified in spending more money on an album that I already spent money on years ago. Give them real value! Package live discs in there, DVD’s, spend some time on the liner notes, really put effort into producing albums and not just singles surrounded by insulation. That is how you can survive and maintain album sales. Give your fans a reason to be a fan again. Don’t just assume that they’ll buy your next album because they bought your last. It may even get to the point where they don’t even consider your music worth stealing! Just ask Metallica about that.