Thanks for your article on music downloading, whatever name you give it. I agree with a lot of the points that you’ve made, and I have some ambivalence toward others. I feel as though I straddle the divide somewhat between those that you view as making righteous decisions regarding the support of artists, labels, and record stores through the purchase of music, and those who unlawfully suck up hours and hours of songs on the internet without paying for it. I am sure that I download more music than, say, most of my friends, I also buy more records than most of them. I am not suggesting that by buying a record this entitles me to three free ones, certainly it does not, but I do feel that by supporting artists, labels, and shops, I sleep a little easier at night, though this does little to assuage my thirst for more and more music. It works the other way, too. I have, countless times, downloaded something more or less indiscriminately, listened, fell in love with it, and gone on to buy the record. There is another point here, and that is the distinction between a record as a physical object and the songs contained in that record as a group of files that can’t be held in the hand. Sure I’ve got days of songs on my computer that came over the wires and only exist as MP3s, but I’m far too much of a fetishist to be satisfied with only that way of experiencing music. I love records. I love the ritual of playing them, I love the artwork, the liner notes and inserts, the singularity of that particular piece of vinyl, and for that matter CDs, though less distinctive and more dispensable, there is a house for that music to live in and I will usually come out of listening to an album with more of an impact if I have something more than track names on my iTunes to reference to the sound coming through the speakers.
This is a different argument, I guess, but it seems related. Growing up in a succession of redneck towns as I did with very little easy access to all of the fantastic music I was certain existed somewhere out there forced me to look harder, appreciate more fully, and in many cases spend more money than those fortunate enough to live down the street from a great record store. During my fledgling time on the fledgling internet, I was able to find resources on this magical music, but in those days it meant reading a lot of hyperbole and appraising thumbnails of album art before going to the one record store in town and cross-referencing titles in their phonebook-style catalogue and ordering $20 UK import Cds, sound unheard.
Much has changed since then. I am glad of having had to struggle to find those formative experiences, it seems a mixed blessing for kids who have unlimited access to anything under the sun. Listening obsessively to tapes I had squirreled away money for a week in order to buy has left a more indelible impression than finding a torrent on my computer I had forgotten was there, even if in retrospect the tape was awful.
As I type this, I’m listening to a record, a record I bought from an independent record store, but as is often the case, I bought it used, so in a sense I am supporting the retailer, but not the artist or the label.
The county library where I live is one of the best in the country and a sizable chunk of the music I own digitally came from CDs I checked out for free, on the one hand, and from a library funded through the taxes I pay, on the other.
These would serve as pretty dubious arguments on the inconsistency of persecuting those that “share files,” certainly it wouldn’t hold up in court, these are just things I think of when the arguments over piracy are de-saturated to grayscale.
This is all pretty unfocused, so thanks for your patience sifting through it. Finally, I feel like it is relevant to say that although I can’t call myself a musician, I am an artist and a writer, and one who is rarely paid for the things I make. I send books that I’ve made or pieces of writing out unsolicited and rarely hear word back. I have always paid postage and printing through the sort of numbing retail work most all of us have had to endure here and there. As an artist, I would like to be acknowledged for the things that I make, and maybe even be paid once in a while. By that same token, I want to support other artists, particularly the ones that depend on the sale of that record to keep them from having to work in a kitchen or a record store selling someone else’s music. I would rather that the musicians I like be making more music for me to hear.
But no matter how much money I spend I will never be able to find all those magical unheard albums out there, certainly I couldn’t find them all in torrents either, but I feel like certain concessions need to be made for the bottomless availability of music and a curiosity to match it.