By Alexandra Bellink
In June, Emily White, an intern at NPR’s “All Songs Considered”, wrote a blog post for the show, entitled “I Never Owned Any Music to Begin With”. Within days of publishing, it reignited argument over the purchasing (or lack there) of music. Publications from Billboard to Forbes Magazine, felt the need to chime in on the conversation. Bloggers in particular, including a now famous response from Camper Van Beethoven founder and music professor at the University of Georgia, David Lowery, voiced their opinions on Ms. White’s post quite loudly, encouraging readers to share what their thoughts on the issue were.
Reading these responses created an angry fire in my belly and made me feel ashamed of my generation. Millennials have the great fortune of experiencing such advances in technology. We have all of the information, entertainment, and tools to network at our fingertips, just a click away. Nearly every single one of us owns both a computer and smartphone, enabling us to find any information we need wherever there is Wi-Fi or cellphone service.
Photo by Skyvixen.
Just as easily as we can find out the entire history of our favorite artists, tour dates, and their favorite color, we can listen to their music for free. While this is a great convenience, especially for those of us still in college with little money to spare on music, there is an issue with not just the legality of this, but the simple morality of it.
It is quite ironic that we are willing to spend thousands of dollars on a new computer, software for it, and phone bills in just a few years, but not a couple hundred on the music we listen to — if that. Especially considering that there are Amazon users who sell full albums at discounted prices anywhere from a penny to $10.
I have been using the internet since the age of nine and purchased my first personal computer at 14. I did go through a stage in high school where I downloaded music through torrents and music sharing sites, but I never stopped buying physical copies of CDs. In fact, a few of my favorite memories of my adolescent years include walking down to FYE to buy a copy of Green Day’s 2000 release, Warning, and Pop ‘til You Drop, the second album by the Swedish pop band, A*Teens.
Eleven years of musical maturity later, I still get the same excitement when I first get my hands on a physical album. In June, two of my favorite artists, The Rocket Summer and Jukebox the Ghost, released new albums seven days apart. The Rocket Summer’s fifth full-length album, Life Will Write the Words, came out on June 5th. Jukebox the Ghost’s third album, Safe Travels, was due out a week later on June 12th, but was released digitally on June 5th also. After I bought my physical copy of Life Will Write the Words I spent the next nine hours listening to it, but I just did not feel the same excitement of Safe Travels until a week later.
At the same time, there might not be that same excitement over the ba-ding! of your iTunes alerting you that your album is now imported into your library ready for you to listen, there is, however, no concern over sound quality. Plus, you have the added bonus of being able to read the lyrics straight from the liner notes of the album. A visual artist spends a great deal of time on the album artwork as well, and buying a physical copy is the only real way to view it.
While Emily White may have her own opinions, the fact that she confidently claimed, “I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience” infuriated me. While file sharing has become a popular trend since the early 2000s, there are still listeners out there who share my passion for physical products. According to a survey done by Nielsen SoundScan, 36% of teens have bought a CD in the past year and 51% have purchased music downloads. Of course, CDs are not the only format in which music is sold physically– vinyl records and, more recently, cassettes tapes have slowly but surely made their comeback.
In turn, technology has kept pace by making these ‘outdated’ mediums easier to interface with the latest devices and digital services. Through an app called Scrobbyl, vinyl lovers can track the songs they listen to on their record players to musical social networking sites like Last.fm. Personally, I obsess over making sure that every single song I listen to scrobbles to my Last.fm whether it is coming from my iPod, laptop or Spotify. With an app that enables record plays to Scrobble, I would be less hesitant about listening to records. Interestingly enough, it seems that the revival of vinyl actually is a direct effect of the digital era. As one high school student told Time Magazine, “bad sound on an iPod has had an impact on a lot of people going back to vinyl.”
Emily wrote in her essay that her senior prom date “took my iPod home once and returned it to me with 15 gigs of Big Star, The Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo.” This brings up a significant risk involved in relying solely on the digital format—the potential loss of all of your music. Sure, it is convenient to have all of your music for free at the click of a button, but imagine if your entire 11,000 song library of (likely pirated) music magically disappears after your hard drive or laptop is damaged or stolen. It would take months of your time to get back that music. And once again, probably at the expense of the artists.
Which another reason I still love CDs: You can simply import every song you have lost back into your library. Even if you buy an album on iTunes, it is quick and convenient to burn a physical copy of your purchased files right then and there.
Yet an even more important question is the morality of pirating music. Emily claimed that Spotify is a wonderful idea because “performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts”. Unfortunately, publishers and songwriters — or, in non-legalese, the artists — earn nine cents for every 99 cent song they sell on iTunes. Even better, in order to earn a salary of a minimum wage job (based upon album royalties), listeners must stream the artists’ music over 4 millions times on Spotify each month. Because so many people refuse to pay for their music, artists now make the majority of their money from touring.
Though I myself may also be short on money, I know how important the sale of merchandise is for the artists. I would much rather buy my favorite artists’ CD at the show when I know that a larger percentage of the sale goes directly to them. In fact, I have even bought multiple copies of the same CD to give to my friends, who easily could have illegally downloaded the album in order to support the artist. So if you are going to see an artist live, why not spend the extra $10 to pick up a copy of their CD so they can make it to the next show for your entertainment?
Hey Emily, I buy my music and I am proud of that.