It started on Saturday, when Emily White, a 20-year-old NPR intern, admitted that she's really only ever paid for about 15 CDs in her life, but she has over 11,000 songs in her iTunes. She collected the songs from mix CDs, her college radio station's music library (which she worked at), other people's iTunes, and, yes, some illegal downloading, and she (apparently) doesn't feel too bad about not paying these artists any money for the music she enjoys every day.
And boy did the shit fly.
Really, White didn't say anything that isn't already true for a whole bunch of other people. She was just given a platform in which to say it. But, even if I initially wanted to roll my eyes and walk away from it, her post has spurred a discussion that should've happened years ago. A number of musicians have come out to defend paying for music, music fans are coming clean about their downloading habits and discussing when it's okay, when it's not okay, and thinking about what it means to share music without artist compensation.
The funniest response is from Yo La Tengo. She named them in her post as a band whose music she got for free and yesterday they Tweeted this:
My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you. I believe you are already on the side of musicians and artists and you are just grappling with how to do the right thing. I applaud your courage in admitting you do not pay for music, and that you do not want to but you are grappling with the moral implications. I just think that you have been presented with some false choices by what sounds a lot like what we hear from the “Free Culture” adherents.
I must disagree with the underlying premise of what you have written. Fairly compensating musicians is not a problem that is up to governments and large corporations to solve. It is not up to them to make it “convenient” so you don’t behave unethically. (Besides–is it really that inconvenient to download a song from iTunes into your iPhone? Is it that hard to type in your password? I think millions would disagree.)
It's very long and unfortunately Lowery, who is rightfully very passionate about the subject, seems to take a lot of bottled up emotion and direct it at White. But, by way of his experience as a musician for over over two decades, he makes a number of very valid, interesting points. You can read it here.
Morrison's band, the Dismemberment Plan, has actually benefited from file-sharing. After the band broke up in 2003, their music wasn't always readily available on store shelves, yet when they reunited several years later they sold out two nights at Webster Hall in NYC. I interviewed him last year, before the band made their way to Seattle, and he recognized that one reason anyone still knew who the the D-Plan was was because of the internet making music so easily accessible:
Am I wrong in believing that you are having more success and bigger audiences for this reunion tour than you've ever had in the past?
That is absolutely true. Obviously, the way that people take in information has changed 100 percent in the last seven years—it's one of the craziest cultural shifts I'll probably ever see in my lifetime. So is it par for the course, with the emphasis on live shows now? Back in the day, it took a year to get your hands on a Minutemen record. Now, it's almost like the band still exists in this weird digital way—it's all there for people to discover. The bottom line is yes, absolutely, but I don't know if other bands have gotten crazy bumps, too. I figure there's a rising tide that's lifting all boats, especially the old crappy boats that were on the beach.
I agree with Lowery’s basic thesis that artists deserve to be paid for their art, and certainly hope they’re paid more than they currently are. I’ve grappled with the issue of Spotify’s low payments and all of the music I have on my hard drive and iPod was obtained legally. I’m opposed to illegal file-sharing and haven’t engaged in it for many, many years. It’s unfortunate, of course, that artists are making less money than they were in years past, but it’s hardly like no one saw that coming. Nor can it be blamed on this poor intern or her generation, which he calls the “Free Culture.” It’s kind of like how the 1980’s were dubbed the “Me Decade.” Camper Van Beethoven put out its first album in 1985.
I think it's awesome that so many thoughtful posts are being written about this.
My opinion on the matter hasn't changed. To assume that the music exists for the taking, so long as you have a nifty device to download it with, is much like walking into a restaurant with a basket of food and demanding a talented chef prepare your dinner, the way you want it, without having to compensate them for it. You brought the food, the restaurant is supplying the kitchen, what's there to pay for? In this case, of course, you have the laptop, and the songs are just floating out there in the internet, so why not just grab it and enjoy? The answer: BECAUSE SOMEONE MADE THAT. Someone took the time to create that song. Not only did they use their talent and time, but they procured the instruments and the recording device and it didn't cost nothing. Even if someone wrote a song on a found guitar in the middle of a park on a tape recorder they borrowed from a neighbor, their time and skill is still worth something and as a fan of that song, as someone who consumes that song, you're obligated to recognize that.
But even if White doesn't agree, we shouldn't crucify her for it (although, Yo La Tengo, I'm totally cool with you stealing her bike). She's saying what so many other twenty-somethings (and other-somethings) would say, and her saying it has spurred the crucial next step: Talking about the problem and figuring out a solution.