Musical Piracy



The difficult decision of wanting songs with limited resources.

Digital media is in an age of streaming. From Spotify to Netflix, entertainment has become not something you buy and own, but rather, a limitless collection for you to pay and subscribe. With services that offer free-with-ads or paid ad-free streaming, digital entertainment has evolved into downloads in the cloud, allowing users and fans to ignore storage space in order to connect to their favorite artists, shows, and games whenever and wherever Internet exists.
But even with this advancement of having the world at your fingertips, Internet piracy is still a prevalent issue. In fact, there is a high possibility that you have Googled a certain film title with “watch online” tagged at the end at some point. Others in the same category include album titles with “.rar” or “.zip” and book titles with “pdf.” The trick is finding the right tag, and you’re more likely than not to end up with what you wanted, free except for the cost of time. The more you do this, the better you get at it. Internet piracy, like almost anything else, can be an improvable skill. For instance, you might’ve heard that Harvard doesn’t like Internet piracy, so you are afraid to torrent on campus. Maybe you get around that by having friends elsewhere email you what you want. In any case, there always seems to be a workaround. As college students without stable incomes, we love the idea of getting things conveniently and for free. So we utilize the Internet in order to get what we want, and we may find ourselves in zones of questionable legality.

In terms of Internet piracy, music is the most common. This can be due to a number of factors. One is that music is so portable. Though you can watch films and shows on the go, music is something you can take with you as you walk, study, work out, or even sleep without being too distracted. This versatility of music then encourages each individual to have an abundance of it. Sure, you may have a top played list of your favorite tracks, but it is arguably much easier to add more music to your library than it is to commit to another TV show or another whole movie. Because of this, music is easily exchanged between users by sending and receiving mp3 files.

But music streaming is also taking a turn for corporate control. YouTube’s upcoming streaming service has already blocked indie artists who don’t agree to its contract terms, which reportedly already favor large, established record labels. The controversy lies in that Google has the power the decrease independent label royalty rates if major record labels demand the same. Artists also lack the ability to choose which songs they want to put out on this streaming service. In essence, it is opt in your entire discography at the will of major record labels or opt out and lose your presence on YouTube entirely.

As a consequence of this, music piracy becomes a complicated issue. Some people deter from purchasing songs because they are anti-corporate and believe profits from digital music find itself in the hands of the distributors instead of the artists. The rest often just don’t want to spend the money. Though buying all your music can be expensive, ripping files from the internet or someone else also doesn’t contribute to the artists’ hard work. Meanwhile, some do a mix of the two, buying only their favorites and downloading the rest, while others turn to legal streaming methods such as Spotify or Pandora to satisfy their varied tastes.

For those whose music libraries range upwards to the thousands, an argument can be made for why buying music is absurd. With songs costing over a dollar these days, that budget is simply not feasible, especially for audiophiles and DJs whose music collection grows ever larger. The easy solution is to subscribe to something like Spotify for around ten bucks a month. Yet, there is still something unique about “having” and “owning” a song rather than being subscribed to it. On the technical level, owning a song means you can add it to a mix-tape and generally don’t have to rely on an application or website for it to work. Subscription depends on the availability of a connection, and sometimes, more often than you realize, it is just more convenient to have the file than not.

On the other hand, the benefit for illegal downloaders of music is that these individuals are actually exposed to more music, willing to spend hours perusing the web for artists similar to their favorites and downloading their music as test trials. Sure, everyone would be better off if these people eventually paid for their downloads, but exposure and recommendation can go a long way to furthering someone’s artistic career as well. There are those who revel in huge folders of downloaded mp3 files, and there are those who feel a sense of guilt but cannot afford to buy all their songs. For this, there is an alternative: go to concerts. While concerts are not everlasting experiences that you can take and play whenever you’d like, they are events that in fact pay off more to the artist than album sales. Even in the digital age, artists still earn more from going on tour than they do releasing albums due to the cuts production companies and labels take. Royalty checks from record labels don’t pay as much as they used to, but touring profits have risen steadily in the past decade. Moreover, the money from merchandise sold at concerts goes directly to the artists, pulling in substantial revenue for each and every t-shirt sold.

The downfall to this is that you usually can’t go to a concert for every artist in your library, but selecting a few and going to those is still an honorable way of expressing your fandom and gratitude. Even if you don’t see the value of buying albums through iTunes, purchasing tickets and attending concerts can at least ensure you that you are contributing to the artist’s monetary success.

So whether you prefer the ability to accumulate free music or the morality of buying everything legally, going to concerts still remains the best way to demonstrate how much you appreciate an artist’s talent and dedication. No one is sure how the music industry will transform in the next decade, and maybe free is the way to go, but for now, striking a balance between budget and accessibility can be tough. It would certainly be fantastic if everyone could purchase all the tracks they enjoyed, yet isn’t sharing music how and why artists rise to fame in the first place? In any case, the choice to spend money on music is in the hands of the fan, but saving up enough cash to attend a memorable concert is mutually beneficial for your idols and yourself. The experience is more intimate, even if you’re stuck in the nosebleed seats. Also for many artists, performing onstage is a major motivation for why they are musicians. This is always a win-win, so when that next weekend crops up with nothing to do, consider going to a concert to enjoy yourself or to revel with friends while supporting someone you admire. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Michael Luo ’16 (michaelluo@college) is excited to see Stevie Wonder in November!