Pro-Piracy's Backward Logic

Digital technology suddenly allowed for online piracy, and the practice rapidly spread amongst young, internet savvy consumers. People loved the thrill and excitement of being able to find anything they were looking for, for free. This was really too good to believe. What wasn’t to like about it? We had been told everyday of our lives by advertisers and marketers that we could have anything we wanted, that our infinite human desires could be satisfied. But piracy took that insatiable demand for More and made it amplified and limitless. This felt pure, revolutionary, and real. Then artists and producers began to take notice. To them, the problem was obviously illegal and unjust on many levels, and started their fight against the practice. Rather than simply “doing it,” now any exuberant “Pirate” had to come up with an argument of their own. But rather than seriously and honestly try to evaluate the original practice of taking artists’ works without their permission and its likely effects, their argument started with the assumption that Piracy had to be okay. It had to be a good thing, because they wanted to believe it so badly. Then they worked backwards, searching anywhere possible for splinters of justification. That’s what we continue to see today.


When I wrote the DIY article, I was unaware of the pro-piracy movement’s idealistic, theoretically-based, and shockingly incoherent arguments. I’ve seen versions of the following repeated again and again.

-Recorded music has no inherent value.
-It’s free and there’s no reason to expect someone to choose to pay when it’s free.
-The music is free because there’s no demand for it.
-Musicians should be making music because they love it and should never expect to be paid, no matter how great they may be. A musician’s labor has no value. The only value is in paying for distribution costs, which no longer need to exist. Therefore it’s free.


The logic runs backward while the arguments run in circles. They say the music is free, because it can be had for free. No regard is given for the elemental fact that if no permission is granted by the producer, if they’re explicitly offering the product and asking you to pay for it, then one is both taking and stealing. “Sharing” is not going on here. It is “sharing” if the artist gives it up for free, granting their permission. The argument that because it CAN be had for free, it IS free, is the justification of the schoolyard bully, the plundering Empire, and yes, the Pirate.

Sensitive to the likelihood that what they’re doing is in fact stealing, the Pirate resorts to another, seemingly high-minded argument, that recorded music is just an idea and that no idea or recording has an intrinsic value. It’s like water, everywhere. It’s everyone’s. No artists’ labor has an intrinsic “monetary” value and we all need to just get over the dirty concept.

Unfortunately for this argument, it must also conclude that NOTHING else has an intrinsic value. No one’s labor or work has a determined value, except for whatever value someone else, aka “We,” put(s) on it. A world without humans setting value would be a world without money, a hopelessly utopian illusion the pro-piracy movement for some reason allows itself. Of course, this will never happen, so we must return to the idea of value as a social construction.

The pro-piracy movement holds fantasies of objectivity. That art (all art is based in an idea and the ability to execute it, after all) has no value. Period.

But listen...It is those who take without permission, who refuse to pay, who decide as individuals that art has no value. No one else. We determine value by the level of support we’re willing to give. It bears the question, if these things really have no value, then why is the Pirate at their computer so rapt with whatever content they search for? If what the consumer/person “loves” actually has no value, it begins to look as if the person believes they also have no value, that no one has value - either their lives or their work. It’s a contagion of negativity, uselessness, meaninglessness. That is the true philosophy of piracy, one its conscientious practitioners try so hard to flee, ignore, or drape in pathetically phony idealism. Of course, there are others who simply have an underdeveloped value system, one which can’t hear the debate at all. I’ve been getting to know them a bit.

Also, the “no demand” argument...if there’s truly no demand, then why do you want any of the things you’re downloading for free? Demand is a fundamental element of market theory, but it relies on the assumption that people AREN’T STEALING! This is so simple, I almost feel stupid pointing it out. Also, if there were truly no demand, then no one would be paying for these items at all because no one would want them. Those enamored with Piracy seem reluctant to reckon with the simple realities and implications of their own choices and personal responsibilities.

One "DIY" Regret

In meeting some increasingly intense criticism to my DIY article this week, I decided to give it another look and make sure I still agreed with the soundness of my argument as the wider debate develops.

I stand by everything...except for one point.

In one paragraph I bring up consumers “burning albums for others” and I clumsily lump it in with the piracy issue. It’s a brief mention, but I regret it. They’re two different issues and placing them together confuses my argument. This debate really doesn’t need any additional or unnecessary confusion. I see burning CDs, while sharing some strong similarities with online piracy, as in the tradition of making tape copies and such. It’s faster, easier, cheaper than it used to be - sure - but to equate the unbelievable efficiency of Torrents with the time, effort, and social inconvenience inherent in trading physical reproductions ignores the truly revolutionary nature of the internet, where millions around the world can simultaneously obtain any movie, any song, any album in a matter of a few minutes and at zero direct cost. That’s a fundamental difference from trading tapes and CDs, an old controversy made increasingly obsolete by the iPod. While my essay certainly holds some implications for that other controversy, I wasn’t seeking to address it in the article. They’re two different debates, if linked by history, and I see the online piracy debate as the exponentially more urgent of the two.


Rebuttal to Rebuttal

Also found this rebuttal posted on "dx_xb's" last.fm account. This person, it seems, simply doesn't buy my argument, doesn't see piracy as much of an issue. In fact, they claim that teenagers are pirating less, not more. Also, they say if Led Zepplin could succeed even with extensive touring early in their career, then bands today have very little to complain about. For the record, I have no ideas or mistaken illusions as to the "Glory Days" of music. I don't know what that would mean, even. However, if such "Glory Days" were to exist for bands, it would probably sound a little bit like this:

Grant also secured for the new band an advance deal of $200,000 from Atlantic Records in November 1968, then the biggest deal of its kind for a new band. Under the terms of the contract secured by Grant, the band alone would decide when they would release albums and tour, and had final say over the contents and design of each album. They also would decide how to promote each release and which (if any) tracks to release as singles,[27] and formed their own company, Superhype, to handle all publishing rights. Atlantic was a label known for a catalogue of blues, soul and jazz artists, but in the late 1960s it began to take an interest in progressive British rock acts, and signed Led Zeppelin without having ever seen them, largely on the recommendation of singerDusty Springfield.

That's also from the wikipedia post on Led Zepplin, for the record. I don't believe I need to point out how many ways Led Zepplin is a poor example when trying to dissect the current situation for music and musicians.

The rebuttal also hinges heavily on a quote from the Melvins' King Buzzo. He says the internet isn't destroying music and people should just enjoy what's going on and not worry. But he doesn't say anything on piracy. In fact, in a casual visit to the band's website, the first thing they do is lead you to BUY their record from Amazon. They're on just the kind of small, struggling, artistically exciting record label I'm thinking of in my argument (Ipecac). They're not giving their music away for free. Also, do you like the idea of the Melvins having to sell ringtones to make ends meet? Is that how the music industry ought to save itself?

Hit Nerves and Bullet Points

In my daily "Myth Of DIY" tracking, I've found two message board threads well worth checking out. One is from Hipinion and the other from a Phish-related board called Phantasy Tour. Both originate from the conceit that my article is worthless on nearly every imaginable level. Now, to the bullet points...

-David Denby: “At a higher level, attack-without-reason works by separating distaste from argument. Nothing needs to be demonstrated or argued. Just attack."

-Both threads are actually started by the same internet entity, “gravalax.” He/she thinks I’m annoying, which is for them (or anyone else) to decide. And I’m a really, really terrible writer. I already knew that, actually. But my article seems to have touched gravalax, angered them, on a deeper level than they’d like to admit. I know, it’s righteous of me. On the other hand, I think I’m reasonably correct regarding my very simple and, yes, obvious argument. In the Phish message board, “gravalax” quickly states that they agree with supporting artists, labels, and shops. Then says they disagree with my arguments, when they’ve already agreed with what I’m arguing for. I don’t see a major problem. They go on to tell someone who “likes” the article to “kys” - kill yourself. Interesting.

-The Hipinion thread is highly recommended. Entertaining and substantial. It takes a few serious turns and, I assume, achieves the direct opposite of gravalax’ original intent.

-Certainly, the pricing of music looks to go through some radical changes. Ones that will take time. This is the inevitable, “digital” effect on the market. But it doesn’t justify leaving artists and labels, or whomever YOU value in the music culture, out in the cold. Whatever slightly new model emerges certainly will lead to lower prices for new music, and perhaps higher prices for vinyl. But stealing is not a sustainable model. It looks to remain a part of the industry, but its proper place is a marginalized one. Putting it there, as a community of consumers and fans, is the first step in the industry evolving into something that actually is made more fair to everyone - at least the DIY crowd I speak of. That’s why I don’t suggest people ought to stop pirating completely, only because it seems an unreasonable demand on my part. On the other hand, I think it’s completely reasonable to ask people to pay for at least some of the music by the artists they love and enjoy. Yeah, it’s obvious.

-Beginning my own path as a musician inspired much of my thinking on this issue, but I have zero immediate possibility of making money from it. I’m not even close to there yet. I write words far more than I write or perform music. I’m primarily approaching this as a concerned consumer, fan, and friend of music. Artists or labels hands’ are tied a bit in this argument, because someone can so easily turn and accuse them of greed or of whining. It’s easy to be condescending and tell someone they deserve their hardship, that they chose it for themselves. It’s much harder (and more humane) to identify with and understand where they’re coming from and put it in the context of your own relationship with art. More voices from artists and label owners are needed on this issue, but readers have to allow them some room to make their points without resorting to attacks and name calling. That is plainly evidenced on the Hipinion thread.

-I am making zero cash from any of this. I could be pitching or writing stories that might minimally profit my bank account, instead I’ve been staying on top of this article and its aftermath every day because I think it’s important. Also, I feel I may have tapped into something significant, if obvious, here and am trying to expand on it, turn it into a bigger project. But whether or not that will be at all successful is another matter. The chances of gaining any profit remain slim to none.

-Someone on Hipinion touches on Jeff Tweedy reportedly taking home somewhere around 100,000 dollars a year over the course of his career. Considering that the band has always had a reasonably wide audience and major label support, you can extrapolate quite a bit from that number. It's not a very big figure, really, considering just how successful his band has been. If I'm not mistaken, they even played a sold out New Year's show at Madison Square Garden a couple of years back. Imagine for a moment what the average artist on Thrill Jockey makes. On this same point, here's a quote from a New York Times Magazine article about another very successful artist in the Indie realm, Neko Case:

Case courts surprises in her music but not in the commerce behind it. She was cast on — and then cast herself on — her own devices for so long that when it comes to business, she has insisted on complete independence. She has recently turned down major-label overtures (“And I’m so glad that Elektra, for example, didn’t come to me early on with an offer,” she says), retains all the rights to her songs and has never made a publishing deal. She does share revenues with Rigby, the guitarist. “Paul really helps me compose my music,” she says, “he always knows which chords to use when.” Otherwise she retains artistic and financial control of her productions. What are those revenues? Well, in her best year, 2006, when “Fox Confessor” was released and she had an extensive tour to go along with it, she had gross revenues of about $360,000. Of that figure, she says, about $320,000 went for professional expenses — equipment, transportation, the band’s pay and so forth.


DIY: When Blogs React

Over at popmatters.com, the Crazed by the Music blog written by Jason Gross commented on my article. He seems to understand the essence of my argument:

Right now, my favorite two articles are Chris Ruen’s "The Myth of DIY" (Tiny Mixtapes) and Glenn Peoples’ "Analysis: Everything Is Wrong With Free Moby MP3 Story" (Billboard). It’s probably no coincidence since both deal with the same subject- challenging the idea that free music is the best thing for the industry now.

In Ruen’s article, he questions fan’s commitment to artists that they supposedly love when they download their music for free.

“If you find meaning and beauty from a musician’s work and you want them to continue creating it — then you are obliged to support them. If you like the idea of record stores, the people they employ, the values and spirit they promote — then you also are obliged to support them. If you’re consistently doing one without the other, then on some level you, not Metallica, are the asshole.”

You could easily laugh off Ruen as a fogey who’s impossibly trying to turn the tide of the online revolution since we’re obviously only going to support bands by NOT buying their music, right? But he does have a point. Even if millions of people aren’t paying for it, why shouldn’t you still support bands and performers you love? It’s OK to buy tickets to their shows or their merchandise but it’s not OK to buy any of their music just because other people aren’t? I like paying out for albums by bands that I like and I don’t feel like a sucker for doing it (though I’m not thrilled that artists still get only a tiny bit of my money if they happen to be on a major).

Thanks Jason. Over at Well Respected, they have a more critical take, and one that partially misunderstands my argument. In my view, their post is an example of how easy it is to get caught up in, as they say, the macroeconomic issues. When this is the case, the discussion becomes very abstract and usually ends with people throwing their hands up in confusion. My point is simple, but not so simple as "Don't Pirate." What I hope Well Respected takes from the debate is that we all, as individuals, have a say in what this music culture ends up looking like. And as much as pirating will never go away, it doesn't mean we can't support those artists and institutions we value. And I disagree entirely with the fatalistic, "Genie out of the bottle" non-argument. All one needs to do is take a look at some of the letters in earlier posts to see that minds are being changed. It turns out that our personal actions are meaningful, and we can change things if we first recognize a value in doing so. Support the music you love, respect the artists who made it for you. What Well Respected said:

The ethics suggested by the author of this article regarding music piracy is essentially: don’t. It isn’t helping anyone - the artists, the local record stores, and most likely you, too, because you’ve probably become more flippant and noncommital in your acquisitional habits.

It’s a well reasoned and impassioned piece, but also very anecdotal and it largely glosses over and/or ignores several macroeconomic implications of buying records versus illegally downloading (who actually profits from the sale, what’s the role/significance of record labels these days, what’s the monetary value of an mp3 file and who “owns” it, is there a financially viable alternative to the current model of selling music, etc.). Considering the source of this article, Tiny Mix Tapes, those seem to be major omissions — and I only say that because TMT generally does a great job keeping abreast of important business and copyright developments surrounding the music industry, but they also do more than almost any other site to demonize and lampoon the RIAA and big, bad record industry execs.

The myth the author is disspelling, I think, is the notion that by not paying for music we’ve become righteous bandits who are sticking it to The Man and finding our own way of supporting indie bands directly on the road, when in actuality we’re just cheap, selfish geeks who are making it next to impossible for the musicians we love to make a living making more music we might possibly love. Fair enough. But what’s the solution? Only buy new music and only buy it direct from the band or your favorite local record shop? It’s a nice goal, and something like that may have worked 20 years ago (although I suppose it’s debatable how many indie artists made a comfortable living + retirement savings on their DIY releases in the pre-Napster era), but the proverbial genie is already out of the bottle and simply arguing “Piracy: Don’t Do It” isn’t going to change much when everyone and their brother is already music blogger who think they’re entitled to the internet’s neverending supply of “promotional” downloads. But maybe it’ll help us to think twice before right-clicking in the future?


DIY: Musician Speaks

Great article, Chris. I've been toiling away as an artist here in NYC for more years than I'm eager to admit. I release my own music and all funds come directly from my pocket.

The most frustrating thing, of course, is that barely anyone pays attention to my music aside from a devoted bunch of fans i have developed over the years. I mean my email list is about 100 people.

Generally I perform in the dive bars up and down ninth ave. here is Hell's Kitchen. My turf. Those gigs bring in very little cash.

Nowadays I spend time promoting myself and my cd's online. I did pay for promotion a couple of times but it's a much better idea to just hold on to the money and spend it on guitars and strings.

Thanks for the article. It's always good to learn that one is not alone.

DIY: More Mentions/Letters

Thanks go out to The Daily Swarm, Ecstatic Peace for linking to the article.

Trying to edit the crux of the article down to an easily repeatable phrase.
"Support the music you love. Respect the artists who created it for you."
Something along those lines. Any ideas?

Also, here are a couple more responses. One positive, one negative.

"That was a good read. In the end, to me, it's all about balance. I have no problem admitting that I download music. I could care less if I'm short changing the Metallicas of the world, or the suits that continue to feed off of long dead talent. But I also know when to fork out the cash to show my support.

I helped support my friends band *ahem shameless plug* (http://www.myspace.com/1nodice ) by purchasing t-shirts, a CD and even buying $100 worth of tickets so I could round up 10 friends to show support. I've given money to street musicians, and I love buying direct from an artist knowing 100% of that cash goes to them.

When Trent Reznor decided to buck the major labels and go independent he got my support. I bought, Ghost I-IV just on principle. It was the first time I had spent money on a NIN release since the Downward Spiral. All his commercial label music imo had been consistently getting worse and I didn't like any of it. Ghosts on the other hand I found very enjoyable precisely because it was creative and bucked commercial trends.

File sharing and supporting your local musicians can peacefully co-exist I think. Anyone who holds an entitlement attitude that they should never have to pay is just as greedy and unethical as the suits of the RIAA."


Hi Chris. I saw your article clanging around the Facebook echo chamber, lobbed up there from a record store clerk who is likely feeling the recession harder than most. I sympathize because he's my friend, but not because he's a cog in antique machine pedaling obsolete, wasted-carbon technologies at grossly, obscenely, egregiously bloated prices. If it's not obvious: I think your lament on digital music (and the way it's shared) is way off base.

I think digital "piracy" is an appropriate (even overdue) revolution against the tyranny of an antique industry where prices haven't reflected the value of the product for decades.

It's somehow easy to overlook the real message of the In_Rainbows model, which proved that *people value music differently*. Most paid way less than iTunes would suggest is the "right" price, and even the average was 20% less than iTunes (though there's varying reports of what the avg was; and the median is probably a more relevant number, anyway). A dollar for a song seems just as arbitrary to me as the $18 Virgin and Tower Records would charge back in the day, where so many people unrelated to the actual art get paid (instead of the artist!).

The dissemination of free digital music is not causing the people that make music to starve (note: the people that make music don't buy it, either. They can't afford it!). It's causing more people that want to experience music on a personal level to do so. Sharing music ("piracy" is a dirty word created by the RIAA) lets more essential art appear, because more people willing to discover and appreciate such art suddenly exist.

Would all these people rather not pay anything? Hell no. Some would, for sure, but that should be allowed and embraced because of the net benefits to the culture as a whole. Radiohead's first week on the Billboard charts was a satirical performance piece reflecting the irony of the modern music distro machine: they sold music to a tiny fraction of the people that wanted to hear and have it. If their album was a dollar, or two dollars, or five dollars, way more people would have got it. The price of music (and this totally relevant to the next generation of musicians who are "starving" in your coffee shop) is forcing the noble audiences to find other means of enjoying noble art.

In the big picture, and I do think it's a bummer that said picture might not involve mom and pop record stores or boutique labels, the most valuable thing an artist can have is an audience that bothers to care. The most valuable thing an audience can have is art it really values.



A Request

I'm very happy with the discussion below on the issues presented in and tethered to the "Myth Of DIY" article I published last week on Tiny Mix Tapes. I hope it will continue. Please feel free to comment on the posts below or email me any extended feedback. And if you agreed (somewhat) with the article, please forward it to any friends you think would be interested. And if you (somewhat) despised the article, please forward it to all your friends so they can understand how very little I know of the world and its ever so confounding ways.


Musicians Speak (Anonymously): Myth Of DIY

Great article. Its weird to think that only 0.1% of music purchased is vinyl.... the market is all fucked up.... It's weird how much the market has changed in the past 15 years, I think bands like ours would've done much better with royalties from cds back then... I think we sold something like 10,000 hard copies of cds/vinyl in the states of the LP which i suppose is pretty good for these days when probably 30K plus people have it for free... it really does make a difference in royalties because that fraction of downloads basically is the cheddar that we would have had.... at the same time if people like it enough they'll buy vinyl and go to the shows.... anyway...

Hey Chris,
I was very moved by your article, it was one of the most insightful and level headed things I've read in awhile. I'm an artist who's income is dependent on tip jars and cd/mp3 sales. If I didn't love making the art so much I would have had to quit long ago.
Just wanted to thank ya for it.
'Do It Together' would be more apt wouldn't it?

(More) Letters: The Myth Of DIY

The most obvious thing to say here... is that MUSIC won't die, hah. Even if every record label and distributor on the planet shut down, we would still have lifetimes of music being made every year. But obviously so much is changing in how music gets from one place to another.

I "work" for a record label... and I put work in quotes because I barely ever get paid, even though I put in a substantial of time. The owner of the label puts in tons of money to press CDs and digipacks, spends even more to ship out promos, print t-shirts, and do everything else small labels do. The other day I was talking to him and the owner of Fake Four records about their financial situations, and if we could all really afford to keep doing what we were doing. I essentially asked why they kept it up, and their answers were both that they just loved music and the bands they were invested in. "What else are we gonna do with our money?" So we all will keep our day jobs.

In my mind, the jury is still out on how much downloading is hurting the record industry. But lets just assume it's devastating it. The main thing that will die is the commodification of music, which might make people question why this became such a massive industry in the first place. I'm sorry to people like Michael Gira or the dude from Deerhunter or Gang Gang Dance that they can't bank anymore. Maybe the time of record labels in general is coming to an end. Artists keeping 50 percent? They can record and upload their stuff to the internet, or do short run.

I think the truth is that this is already over, for the most part. Its the people downloading Mariah Carey and Taylor Swift that will be the deciding factor in shaping the larger music industry. It seems like they are willing to do whatever is most convenient, which a lot of the time is buying from itunes. But like health care... why be distraught over middle men being cut out? Even if they are good people, I think the broader change in music that this drought signifies is more exciting than anything. And to look back and wish that people would buy more to keep an industry afloat seems awkward. That is not what art is about to me, and it doesnt need the backing of companies or labels to thrive.
Before I begin, let me just say that Chris Ruen's piece is brilliantly written, and it bears out a lot of the rhetoric that represents a fa├žade of a lot of the ideological arguments in place by the pro-piracy community.

That said, Ruen seems to miss a huge mark in his argument, and that may be what weakens it as a whole. And that is the arguments of the copyleft. I sent this article over to Boing Boing, see if Cory Doctorow (one of the few mouthpieces of the copyleft) will respond to it, but it's basically this: The whole system is broken. For artists (and labels) to continue making ends meet, they have to go about it in a completely different (and perhaps, morally unreasonable) way. If they are to survive, they need to build a new system to do so, one that takes into account the internet and the reality that people aren't going to give a shit if they don't have to pay.

I guess I'm one of them. For starters, my times with piracy predate Napster: I was partially involved in the Golden Age of Emulation (1996 to 2000). In fact, I can pretty much say that much of my thoughts on piracy date from that, since I didn't really put my head into music until 2002 or so. Back then, by about 1998, the SNES and Genesis were done with, and both consoles were at a primitive stage of emulation development (50-70% of all games emulated, though it accelerated quickly at that point). Yet it didn't stop either Nintendo or Sega from attacking ROM sites left and right (it makes you wish Sega had that much energy concerning the Dreamcast) on the impractical "1 download=1 lost sale" argument (in fact, they were losing more money because they weren't selling the games in the first place). So of course I felt something was wrong with that.

Another thing I've felt have much to do with this mess was the lack of tech innovation backed by the labels in the 1990's. They had a pretty open window of opportunity, and some degree of foresight (with the emergence of the computer and the internet by 1997), to figure out some way to transition into this digital era with minimal losses. They instead squandered that opportunity, clinging onto that cash cow that is the compact disc. And look what happened.

Labels and artists are slowly figuring this out. But I feel like there is going to be a massive depression in the music industry for the next 5-10 years (don't be surprised if one of the Big 4 collapses and declares bankruptcy, and several more indies go down the path of Touch & Go) because everyone dropped the ball on this one. Not to say it was entirely deserved, but they failed to see what was in front them.
I loved the piece by Chris Ruen on downloading, and how DIY goes both ways. Such a well-composed, straightforward argument (thought the theory-ish subtitle belied the soundness of the writing, though). Can't say I am in complete agreeance, but certainly the pro-downloading argument often relies more on fashionable rhetoric (looking at those Pirate Bay guys) than ethical reasoning.

There is a pretty shocking chasm between the internet presentation of independent bands and the reality of their situation. When I met Gang Gang Dance, a band who's last two albums high in TMT's year end list, they looked threadbare enough that my broke ass felt obligated to pay for their beers.

My question is, though, did indie bands ever really make it on record sales? My impression always was that, excepting superstars like Pixies or Pavement, everyday successful indie bands made it on the road, or by working record stores etc.
As another music writer and a native of Canarsie I'd like to commend you on raising some important points on music. However, I feel that there are some perspectives you've left out of your piece.

The older DIY you speak of relied on a close knit network of independent labels, art spaces, publications, and radio (usually college or freeform). In 2009 these separate pieces of one consortium has been starved and/or bought out by a the larger music industry.

I don't advocate piracy of any sort but it is an unavoidable part of where a lot of music must go in the future with the breakdown of this network.

The online sphere may not be the fairest place in the world vis a vie intellectual property but it's almost undeniable that it represents the best means to evade stylistic restrictions. It's forced bands to become their own corporations in some sense; offering vinyl releases, bonus tracks, advanced exposure to records, and even merchandise with releases. These encompass the very essence of DIY.

Without degrading you and your friends, people get hurt during paradigm shifts in music distribution; especially those just coming up. And I'm convinced that the same shift that's produced crass bittorrent downloads has already started to facilitate wonderful results for independent artists who never had a prayer of breaking into music during the 80's and 90's through the same means.

I do my best to support local music stores, art spaces, and basement shows but I realize that they occupy an odd and somewhat disjointed place in their primary role as retailers of music. I wholeheartedly believe they will still go on, but not with the same widespread and interconnected strength as they have in the past. Piracy is to blame for part of it, but also socio-political circumstances. My current home of Washington D.C. Was once impoverish and flooded with art spaces, indie record stores, and basement shows.

Gentrification has facilitated a bar culture that has replaced the coherence and beauty of a bohemian life and as someone who was born in Brooklyn during a period a great poverty for the city, I can say it's likely effected your current home too. Many of the hotbeds for hip hop and punk I grew up with have been shooed aside aside to accommodate the wide spread influx of professional people who've moved into the urban sphere. Again this isn't judgment, as this changes everything from in the way music is sold and scene becomes effected.

Still, this is your work on the line and not mine and I'm glad to see a musician willing to put up an intellectual fight for the opportunities of himself and his friends.


Mentions: Eugene Weekly

Thanks to Molly Templeton at the Eugene Weekly blog, EW! A BLOG, for writing about the DIY article for Tiny Mix Tapes. She calls it a "treatise." I'm a big fan of that. Molly, you're tops and you teach me new things every day.


Letters: Myth Of DIY

Some interesting responses to today's article.


“Hey! I just read your article, "The Myth of DIY" and it kind of blew my mind. I, a 17-yr.-old kid in the suburbs of Texas surviving on a small allowance and the occasional babysitting check, have always pirated music in the spirit of "hey, there's no way I could afford all the music I love, so I'm sure the bands would want me to listen somehow." I also justify this by buying the occasional record and pirating the rest, but with over 8000 songs on my ipod and a vinyl collection that won't even fill up a bookshelf, I have to realize that I could have bought more and supported more of my favorite artists, but due to the convenience and free-ness of the internet, simply didn't.

“As someone who tries to support independent businesses over the Wal-Marts and Starbucks that cost less and are easier to find, this hipster "share-the-music" ideology really just comes down to being load of hypocritical bullshit. SO, thanks for the article, it was a big wake-up call, and I'll definitely show it to a few friends.”


“Yea, everything you said especially: ‘If you find meaning and beauty from a musician’s work and you want them to continue creating it — then you are obliged to support them. If you like the idea of record stores, the people they employ, the values and spirit they promote — then you also are obliged to support them. If you’re consistently doing one without the other, then on some level you, not Metallica, are the asshole. Out of basic politeness, I (probably) won’t say any of this to your face and neither will your friends, your record store clerk, or your favorite band.’ Is bullshit. Bands get shit for money from record sales. The best way to support a band is by seeing them live. Good day sir.”


“Thank you for writing this. I started downloading music this year and quickly realized that it was irresponsible. My policy now is to only pirate music that is out of print or music by dead people. I'm not sure whether the latter is sensible or not.”

Big Ups Granted, Accepted

Many thanks to Lazy Brow over at Friends Of Friends.

Tiny Mix Tapes: The Myth Of DIY

I have a new article up on tinymixtapes.com today. You can read it here.

It's a complicated technological transition with many gray areas. My goal is to nudge people, notably compulsive downloaders, to just pause for a minute to think about what kind of music culture is being created if very few people are paying artists for their work.

The positive of greater exposure is a notable and meaningful one, but I'm trying to present the other side and balance the argument somewhat. More than anything, I hope some greater discussion in the music community can begin to happen over these very sticky issues.