On downloads and “piracy”

As a songwriter and performer who would love to be able to quit his day job and make a living playing music, I thought I’d give my opinions on the downloading and “piracy” issue.

First thing I’d like to say is, regardless of how you feel on the issue, it’s a losing battle. It’s like illegal drugs and illegal immigration. You can’t stop it. That’s just a simple fact you have to face. People are going to obtain music without paying for it. You can condemn it, rage against it, but you can’t stop it.

As a songwriter, I know how hard it is to write a good song. I know how much time goes into it; the self-doubt, the frustration. So I understand that songwriters would like to get paid for their efforts.

However, I would also like to point out the advantages that performers often ignore in their rants against “piracy”. I’m a songwriter and performer, but I’m also a fan; a music consumer. I don’t know how many times a friend has burned a cd for me, or emailed a song by people that I had never heard of before. As a result, I’ve gone to see them when they come to town. I never would have gone if my friend hadn’t engaged in download “piracy” and turned me on to them. That was one less ticket they would have sold. And I’ve then gone and purchased cd’s by the band.

That brings up another point. There have been times where a friend has burned a cd for me so I can check out a band. I liked it so much, I went out and bought the cd. Why? Because I wanted the booklet; I wanted the lyrics, I wanted to see who played what instruments, etc.

So “piracy” has advantages and disadvantages for the performer: on the one hand, cd sales are lowered by people who download songs. On the other hand, cd sales and live performance ticket sales can be increased, due to the increased exposure of the artist.

The recording industry is less than 100 years old. I think it was in the 1920’s that the Victrola was invented. What did performers do before that? There were no records, no cd’s, and no mp3’s. The only way for performers to get paid was by… performing. So, in the extreme case that nobody ever again pays for recorded music, performers have simply come full circle. (Although, unlike performers before 1920, they now sell t-shirts, caps, g-strings…).

Of course there’s the question of songwriters who don’t perform, but write songs for others. Again, I ask, what happened before the recording industry was established? The “professional songwriter” is a creature of the recording industry. Of course, classical music composers were paid for their compositions. But in popular, or folk music, I don’t think songwriters were paid. And their songs weren’t copyrighted; nobody knew who wrote the old Irish or English or American folk songs. That’s why the author of these songs is always listed as “traditional”.

The recording industry is worried about downloading. Screw ’em. These are the people who kept a lot of creative people out, and controlled what got recorded, and who got on the radio, and who got to tour and play live. We still hear the remnants of the “music industry” on corporate radio today; radio that plays the same 10 crappy songs all day everyday. They dominate the airwaves–but not the internet.

Now, thanks to digital technology, a “nobody” like me doesn’t have to beg for a recording contract. I can record music at home of reasonably good quality, and make it available to whoever wants it. So, if the music industry, as we know it, dies, I say, good riddance.

So download my songs, pass ’em around to friends, I won’t ask how you got it or if you paid for it. I’m honored that you like my music and want to tell other people about my songs. Come see me play live. Buy a Rob Roper t-shirt or g-string. Then, if you really like my music and would like to help me quit my day job and devote myself to music fulltime, pay for a cd or downloads. That makes you a “platinum” fan. 🙂

So pardon my rambling, I’m still sorting out my views on this subject. I’d love to hear what others think about the issue and my views, both from a music consumer standpoint, and a performer and songwriter standpoint.

-Rob Roper

2 thoughts on “On downloads and “piracy”

  1. I like your idea that loaning a song via MP3 or burned CD can generate interest, sales, whatever.

    But you’re talking about friend-to-friend stuff, piracy “lite” if you will.

    Most industry folks and “artists” are ranting against putting that same MP3 on an anonymous server and “sharing” with 1,000,000 “friends” on the same network.

    That’s just plain theft. Some like to pretend one is the other, and the scale is vastly different.

    It would just be nice if folks maintain their integrity – you like an artist, buy the CD physically or download it or whatever. If you got a burned CD you dig that much, go buy a legit (how about a cheap used?) copy.

  2. Second thought – you mention the Victrola (of course Edison’s Talking Machine – invented in the late 1800s) which was the first “record sales”.

    But before that – the big money (and don’t kid yourself – it was big money) was in sheet music sales. Many songwriters got paid from sheet music sales – some songs sold well into the millions.

    And they had trouble with folks illegally printing and selling sheet music too.

    Of course – the one upside was that to hear a song then, it had to be performed, by you or a friend. Sheet music at least encourages personal musicianship; you gotta sit at the piano or pick up the ukelele and play the song you like.

    MP3 doesn’t encourage anything but listening and consuming (a whole other topic re: music and musical education).

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