Before joining Soundcheck, I played in a band called Secret Cities. Actually, I still play in a band called Secret Cities. It’s complicated, since we all live in different towns, but that’s also our normal arrangement, and it’s also not really the point of this post. Piracy is.
Our experience with internet piracy started three years ago. That’s when, to the shock of the three of us, we were signed to an awesome label all of us knew and respected. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and sacrifices happened as a result. We quit jobs, delayed school and stalled careers, all to tour and record with the band full-time. It lasted a year and a half, and none of us regret it even one iota. Here’s why:
Throughout this period, it seemed like the same conversation happened dozens of times in dozens of states and countries, in rock clubs that maintained an eerily similar volume setting.
Attendee: “I really enjoyed the show!”
Attendee (now screaming): “I REALLY ENJOYED THE SHOW!!!”
Me: “Oh! Thanks! I’m glad you had good time! It was really fun!” (It almost always was).
Attendee: “I downloaded [insert Secret Cities album name here] illegally! Hope you don’t mind!”
I wasn’t lying. I didn’t really mind. We didn’t really mind. The reason is absurdly simple: This person heard our music, and enjoyed it enough to come to a show. Most times, they brought friends along. As a little-known band on the road, what more can you really ask for?
According to the internet discussion machine this past week, there is apparently one more thing to ask for: Money.
By now you may know the story, but here’s a quick recap in case you don’t. All Songs Considered intern Emily White posted a blog this past weekend, wherein she details that of the 11,000 songs in her music library, she has paid for maybe 200 of them. The rest were acquired through an array of other free (and sometimes illegal) means.
The post has spawned its own ecosystem of responses. And like any good ecosystem, they were fruitful and multiplied, delving into a web of issues that the music industry has been simultaneously attempting to solve and sweep under the rug for 13+ years. Every treatise asked some version of the same questions: How are artists supposed to make money these days? And how much money do they deserve?
University of Georgia economics professor David Lowery’s lengthy response has gotten the most attention, and with good reason. It’s a comprehensive, understandable breakdown of an incredibly complex issue. It’s hard to read through it and think anything other than “man, piracy is evil.”
Then you have The Huffington Post’s Travis Morrison, reminding you that piracy was around long before Metallica enraged scores of music fans fighting it. You read through it and think “Yeah, screw that econ guy! Piracy is the way of the true music fan.” Then you presumably continue writing down various things about “the man” in your green steno pad.
Neither writer is wrong. It’s worth noting the points made in both articles. However, it’s also worth noting the context. Lowery led Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. Morrison led The Dismemberment Plan. All three bands had achieved an enviable level of success by the time piracy hit the internet, and that invariably colors their perception of the issue at hand.
I don’t mean to imply that these guys have oodles of money and, by extension, no perspective (their bands were successful, but not mega-successful). But I do think their position causes both authors to miss one incredibly key demographic that my band belongs to: little-known acts that love nothing more than to play their music together, in front of real, live people. Bands new enough and young enough to care more about being heard than being solvent.
I can’t speak for the hundreds of other bands that share that category with us, but our view is simply this: We freaking love internet piracy.
We love it because of the countless conversations like the one I recounted above. We love it because of the stadium’s worth of people that have listened to our songs on YouTube that might never have heard us otherwise. We love it because of that time in Atlanta on our first tour, when kids in the front row were mouthing along with our songs before our first record was even released.
We can’t put a dollar sign on those things. Why would we even want to? Getting our music into the hands of people like Emily White is exactly why we sacrificed so much personally to make a real go of it as a band. In fact, if Emily really did rip her entire college station’s library, one or both of our albums might be in there.
And if they are, I really just hope she enjoyed them.