Just try for a minute to imagine what the world would have been like before the advent of recorded music. I’m talking about a world pre-phonograph. How often would you hear a given song throughout the course of a lifetime, and how did musicians make any sort of money at all?
There were no records (much less mp3’s or streamable playlists on YouTube), and it seems unlikely to me that any musician pre-20th century was making any sort of return by selling specially branded t-shirts and/or gumball machines and the like…my point being that to whatever degree artists feel they struggle to monetize their craft nowadays, the world in the age of the internet is better suited for artists than it has ever been — musicians especially.
And what’s more — consumers have a mucher higher level of agency over what media they consume. And while the copyright trolls will insist that they are protecting artists intellectual property rights, you have to ask these trolls: “which artists are you actually protecting, and which artists are you hindering?”
And while it makes obvious sense that smaller bands rely on the internet as a promotional vehicle and get exposure through the internet, what we’re finding too is that established bands not only don’t lose sales because of illegal downloading, but they also stand to benefit from illegal downloading, especially if they harness the internet as a promotional tool for attracting the attention of listeners who wouldn’t be listening to them otherwise.
And what’s more: sources are saying that people who download music are likely to make complementary purchases (concert tickets, t-shirts, gumball machines, et cetera). The legendary heavy metal band Iron Maiden has caught on. Maiden is now working with MusicMetric, (a company who handles musics analytics) to determine where the albums are being downloaded the most, so that they can organize free concerts in those areas.
So the answer is that the trolls are hurting everyone — they’re hurting artists at every end of the spectrum, and they’re also hurting consumers.
And, not to “flog a dead whatever,” but let’s meditate for a moment on the absurdity of Metallica taking Napster to court back in 2000. Metallica themselves had first achieved notoriety in the early eighties because their demo tape was circulating amongst the right crowd.
People who had never heard of them, and would, in all likelihood, not have paid money to see them perform or listen to them, had a means of hearing the band for free. Enough people who heard it liked it. The band established a loyal fan base in California and began to receive invitations to play at venues like Whiskey a Go Go, and the rest of course, is history.
The music industry is like any other industry in that consumers will always want to shop before they buy. With as much music as there already is in the world, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to give money to a smaller band with no stature who they have never heard of. Up-and-coming bands often struggle to get anyone to listen to their music for free — forget about selling anything!
But let’s not forget that the ones who stand to lose out big time are the people who live in rural/culturally removed communities, where they would simply not have access to certain media if not for the internet and bittorrenting. For instance, if you are a heavy metal fan in Saudi Arabia, or maybe a vintage hip hop fan in the Appalachians, you know all too well that in order to listen to the music you love, you likely are forced to rely on sites like Pirate’s Bay, and Hughesnet in your area for internet coverage.
One of the great things about the internet is that it has, in many ways, democratized the art world for both makers and consumers in a way that traditional mass media outlets — TV, radio, whatever — never would have been able to. Companies need to figure out how to roll with the punches, and make money using these new tools and systems, and the media consumers need to thank high heaven that they are alive now, and have nearly limitless access to media 24/7.
Elizabeth Eckhart is a Chicago born writer who has interests that vary from internet to energy efficiency. She believes technology truly is the future, and is excited to watch it unfold. She can also be followed on Twitter at @elizeckhart.