Do music pirates say "Arrrgh?"

Do music pirates say, "Arrrgh?"

Many music-related blogs today are examining music piracy and, more specifically, if piracy actually hurts or helps independent artists. The genesis of this was an alleged reader comment left on, and while I’m not positive that this was an actual comment or simply a creative way to inspire writers to participate in this blogging event, I do think that it is a topic worth examining, especially for the readers of MusicIsMyDayJob.

Is Music Piracy Wrong?

I will let Billboard, the RIAA and NARM worry about the specific numbers and the alleged loss that Piracy may or may not be causing the music industry and musicians. Why the ambivalent wording? Because, despite their arguments to the contrary, it really is all just speculation.

Here are the facts:

  • Physical music sales are down significantly from previous years
  • There are significantly fewer music retail outlets than there were last year, let alone 5, 10 or 15 years ago. Much of this is due to lower overall physical music sales.
  • Digital music sales, while up significantly over previous years, are not compensating for the severe declines in the sales of physical music goods
  • Many music files are traded each day via computers
  • Some of the files are traded via semi-legal peer-2-peer technologies/communities
  • Music files are also traded via perfectly legal peer-2-peer technologies (IM services, etc)
  • Many music files are also traded via third party file hosting and transfer companies. Rapidshare, for example, is not an illegal service, though some users choose to share copyrighted music files there.

Here is the speculation:

  • Those who illegally download music would have purchased the albums/music in the first place
  • Music sales are down directly because of piracy
  • Musicians are making less money now than in previous eras specifically because of piracy

Don’t Misunderstand

Musicians should be compensated for their art, and I believe that stealing music that you have a legal and convenient way to purchase is wrong (music that is no longer available is another story).  However, there is simply no way to prove that every illegal download is a lost sale, and that those same people, if they were not illegally downloading music, would not be content with just listening to the radio, streaming music online, or borrowing music from a friend (like they would have in the times of cassettes).

Maybe people simply decided that an $18.98 list price was absurd? (It is!) Maybe people got tired of Top-40 Radio and TRL claiming a given album is excellent in order to keep shady independent music promoters and major labels happy? (They did!) Maybe all of this and so much more is why sales are down? I’m not saying that these are the reasons, and I’m not saying that piracy is not to blame for decreased sales, but I am saying that there is not necessarily a direct relationship between increased piracy and decreased sales, despite what many would have you believe.

The Question We Should Be Discussing

Rather than continuing to re-hash ethics-related piracy debates from the late 90s and running around in philosophical circles, what we should all really be discussing is how musicians can earn a living making music, despite the rampant music piracy, as it’s not going away, regardless of what the RIAA and others may believe that lawsuits can accomplish.  Why not spend our time determining how best to thrive in spite of music piracy?

For some musicians, beating the pirates at their own game and giving away your music may be the best option.  For others, packages that contain more than music are an excellent way to generate music sales.  Still, some others may find that piracy actually helps their ticket sales and increases revenue via live shows.

You Have the Solution

As each musician’s situation and fan base is unique, there is not one universal solution to the challenges that music piracy presents.  However, one thing I think that we can all agree on is that spending your days bemoaning the fact that people download copyrighted content without paying for it accomplishes nothing.  Rather than dwelling on the ethics of piracy, why not spend your time determining how you are going to create real fans who will eagerly pay for your music?  Rather than sulking about the current state of the music industry, why not prove to everyone there is still money to be made as a musician? You’ve got the tools, and you’ve got the talent–now go create your solution.

Comments? Thoughts? Angry rebuttals? Share in the comments below or via Twitter.

Over the next few weeks here at at MusicIsMyDayJob, we will be featuring interviews and Case Studies with musicians who are finding unique ways to thrive in today’s challenging market, so don’t forget to check back for those articles as well as other useful goodness for independent musicians.

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