Friday, March 17, 2006
home taping is killing music...

As you've probably already read, the Feds have decided to unleash a fury (read: indictment) on two men who made Ryan Adams' 2nd record of 2005, Jacksonville City Nights available via the internet, ahead of its scheduled release date. Now, I'm not here to argue that the government isn't within its right, as clearly what Robert Thomas and Jared Bowser did was illegal. But, the fact that the RIAA has applauded the move sheds even more light on the major labels' failure to understand changing technology; an understanding they'll never reach as long as they continue to view music as a commodity.

That brings us to the first interesting thing about the Thomas/Bowser case. They weren't posting it on torrentspy or putting it up on limewire. The album was leaked via the messageboard on the fansite they (used to) run, (named for the proper first track on Ryan's solo debut). If anyone was putting in (free) legwork to promote the purchase of Ryan's music, it was these two. Also, chances are that the people clamouring to hear JCN so much that they spent hours frequently visiting the site just to get a listen a mere few weeks ahead of schedule are the same people who own copies of the "Answering Bell" single (both versions... and the import). Now, I don't want to give the impression that I believe fandom entitles anyone to something. And, though I'm guilty of it myself on occassion, I hate it when people complain that something "hasn't leaked yet." That being said, I question the wisdom of actively supporting litigation against your most loyal customers, especially when they're doing something that might create new customers.

Which brings me to my second point. And, that point is: Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Jenny Lewis. If you're putting out a quality product, you've got nothing to fear from file sharing. JLew's record label still has her entire record (minus the one song Warner owns the rights to) up for free download. Both the Arcade Fire and CYHSY inarguably made huge gains from the prerelease .mp3 driven buzz around their respective records. Arts & Crafts streams (at least) the latest record from every one of their artists from their official site. And, in perhaps the biggest internet coup d'etat, Arctic Monkeys (who, let's be real, are only decent, and not superspectacularOMG!!) actively encouraged the sharing of their demos and EPs via the internet, and were rewarded with the fastest selling debut in UK history. So, what exactly, are the major labels so terrified of?

I can still remember being in Jr. High and saving my $10 allowance for two weeks straight, hitching a ride with someone's mother or older sibling to the mall, and gleefully blowing all of that $20 on a new release. And, I can still remember getting home, throwing it into my cd player, and, more often than not, being painfully disappointed upon hearing two or three quality tracks (one of which was the oversaturated radio single) and eight or ten tracks of filler. Now, I'm a complete sucker, so I kept buying those records - even more of them once I got my first part-time job - hoping every one would be the one out of five CDs that was an actual album. Most of my friends gave up. Do you ever notice how every teenager goes through a phase where they listen to nothing but the Beatles, Queen, and Zeppelin? It's not, despite what my uncle will sometimes say, that music has gone downhill as a whole since then, but rather that Abbey Road, II, and A Night At the Opera, have already been filtered out from the rest of the crap albums (and there were a lot of them - just check out the dollar bin at any record store) of the era. With new music you often didn't have that benefit... until now.

Why is file sharing so threatening to the major labels? Well, for one, they obviously don't understand the potential benefits to artists making quality albums. But, more importantly, they don't have an interest in pushing quality albums (although they sometimes stumble upon one). Let me clarify that this isn't some kind of tirade against mainstream pop. A Kelly Clarkson record full of potential "Since U Been Gone's" and "Behind These Hazel Eyes'" would, from the perspective of this argument, be just as "quality" as the latest Shins, Ariel Pink, or Ghostface record - conceivably, if you enjoy one or two tracks, you'll enjoy the majority of the rest. Thing is, that's not what's happening, and file sharing is a threat, not to quality records, but to records full of filler. In short, they can't rip you off anymore. File sharing goes a step beyond the 10-minute preview you get from an HMV listening station. You don't get a glimpse, you get to live with an album. And, when you live with an album you aren't going to get suckered into buying a shitty one. Major labels have made a habit out of pushing albums that are mostly disposable, and they're reaping exactly what they've sowed. At long last, those records that once cluttered up bedroom floors and used CD bins are going exactly where they belong: the recycle bin.

I've taken a lot of shots at the majors, but let me clarify that, yes, there is no doubt that there are a lot of independent releases that I would consider pretty shitty... unlistenable even. But there's a difference. By in large an independent label wants to be financially viable, but more importantly they want to put out records they believe in. Will the newest Ex-Models record resonate with everyone? Certainly not. But, their label isn't promoting it like it should. You are never gong to find an absolute consensus on a piece of art (take the diverging views about this month's Animal Collective show as the perfect example). But, there is art and there is commodity, and to most indie labels it's the former first and the latter second, and ultimately that's the difference. And that's why you see Nettwerk helping to defend RIAA lawsuits, and why you don't see Matador Records cheering, much less launching, their own similar legal battles.

Since file sharing exploded I have downloaded a ton of records. A lot of them have been deleted, but there is no question that I've discovered dozens of bands that I never would have taken a chance on otherwise, and I've bought dozens (maybe even hundreds) more records and concert tickets than I would have if it weren't for file sharing. Maybe I'm alone on this one, but I like to think I'm not, since it's part of the reason I started this site... at any rate, I like to think I'm on the right track.

Field Music - You're So Pretty...



i agree with your many points, and i especially agree with the fact that downloading music MAKES PEOPLE BUY MORE MUSIC. at least the intelligent people. seriously.

By Blogger fenny, at 2:15 a.m.  

Great post - a very thoughtful take on the situation. I agree with you fully - people who love music will still get music legitimately (either buying cds or digitally through itunes etc). While I think that by posting leaked albums people are taking a risk but 11 years in prison? Please. there are much more heinous crimes that have less jailtime than that. I would like to see Ryan Adams comeout publically (which to my knowledge he hasn't yet), one way or the other, on this. I know it isn't necessarily his call but you hit the nail on the head - it is the fans, the real ones who buy the albums and spread the gospel to anyone who will listen - that are being punished in this case.
The independents, as you illustrate, have successfully milked the mp3 market to build hype and sell records. Since I have been using mp3 blogs over the past 2 years or so, I have either went to shows or bought albums of something like 100 bands who i would never even heard of or considered giving my money if I hadn't had the previous exposure to their music. The majors need to get their head out of their asses and give their money to the artists to produce great songs & albums that people will buy rather than line the pockets of their lawyers.

By Anonymous rgsc, at 7:39 a.m.  

Great insight Quinn. That's a great point about the pathetic practice of calling a couple of singles and a bunch of lame filler an album being particularly threatened by file sharing. And I could go on for pages about how much money I have ended up spending on shows, albums and t-shirts (multiplied by the amount of people I've got into bands I get excited about) as a result of downloading. Several bands that have come to play in Nanaimo, who were otherwise unknown in this town, have recieved a warm welcome of a few people actually familiar with their work and a bunch of people there to check them out because I was able to download their stuff and tell people about it. In other words, yeah, exactly.

By Blogger erin, at 12:51 p.m.  

bravo... (unrealistic) greed is what's driving the majors' crusade against filesharing... they'll look at the jenny lewis record and say, "gee, it debuted in the 80s on the billboard chart because of filesharing. maybe if it weren't readily available on bt or soulseek, it'll climb as high as the 20s."

they'll never look at that and say it made the charts /only because/ everyone has heard how great it is, i.e. if it weren't downloadable, it wouldn't even make the top 200. if it weren't for downloading, the recent explosion of "indie" music wouldn't even have happened, o.c. or not.

By Blogger Hanson, at 1:41 p.m.  

Well said (as always) Quinn. Like everyone else, I know I have spent far more money on shows, albums (cds and vinyl), shirts, etc due to downloading some songs online.

It's just so surprising that this comes from the Ryan Adams camp seeing as he allows friggin fans to record every show through the soundboard.

By Anonymous Sean, at 5:11 p.m.  

thanks for the kind words...

I'm actually wondering how much involvement Universal has directly, since its criminal charges... but yeah, I'm surprised Ryan hasn't said anything one way or the other yet.

By Blogger Quinn, at 10:55 a.m.  

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