Okay, just this title has probably led to a number of assumptions about what will follow, or more to the point, about the person writing what will follow… hippy, bleeding heart, stuck in the past, probably doesn’t know how to work an mp3 player let alone find music on Soulseek… Well, possibly. Still, the good news is that you don’t have to agree with me, you don’t even have to read me. But the bad news is, I may be right.
Somehow, over the last ten years or so, everyone has got to feeling very entitled about music. Although personal and cultural differences do exist (for example, music piracy seems much more socially acceptable in Spain than the UK) the global trend seems to be that it’s okay to copy and download music without paying for it. I mean, sure, we all copy the odd track or album for a friend or two and received copies in return. Often that’s how we get hooked on new bands and artists. I’ve got no real problem with that and besides, those of us who remember the 70s and 80s can recall those LP inner sleeves with the emblazoned slogan, “Home taping is killing music.” Well, we still taped those albums – remember blank C90 tapes – just room for one album per side? Ah, nostalgia! Well, guess what, neither music nor the music industry died. But that was small-scale stuff by comparison with today’s frenzied file-sharing culture.
And the ‘acceptable’ alternative of streaming isn’t much better. All Spotify, Last.fm and other sites of that ilk do is ensure that the music business gets a slice of the new pie. The artists themselves? Forget it. For them it’s lower royalties, a lack of transparency, plummeting sales and the nagging feeling that the major label companies are just looking out for number one.
So, why do I avoid downloading or streaming music?
First, the obvious reason: if this goes on long enough then we’ll lose the musicians. If it becomes impossible for all but the most corporately-sponsored to earn a living playing, singing or tap-dancing (wait, what?) then they’ll have to do something else to earn a few shekels. Even rock stars need to eat and shelter from the rain. And while they’re working in telesales or slinging donuts to pay the rent, they’re not experimenting with new instrumental combinations for that ground breaking third album. In fact, lovely as the myth of the struggling artist is, it’s enjoyed mostly by the artist’s audience and it is not a scenario that makes for long (or artistic) careers.
So what, you may ask? Well, taken to its logical extreme, we’ll all have to start making our own entertainment. You know, the sort of thing grandparents go on about as if it were a good thing. That alone is sufficient to strike a chilly terror into my heart. There is nobody musical in my family. Not even at kazoo-level proficiency. The thought of home-grown musical soirees is enough to make me start watching X-Factor. That bad.
But what about YouTube, you ask. What about all these insanely enthusiastic people making their own audio art and putting it out there to be heard by the non-musical, tone-deaf masses of which I am a card-carrying member? It’s free. It’s egalitarian. It’s self-sufficient. Yes, and it’s also largely crap. I know, I know, there are an awful lot of talented people out there but there’s a difference between being able to play or sing and being able to get that playing and singing down on tape/memory stick/wax cylinder/whatever in a form that’s pleasant to listen to. (Hmmm… maybe ‘they’ were right; maybe home taping is killing music – hah!) In other words, all this home recording studio stuff tends to produce a watered-down inferior experience. Someone who’s spent years honing their inherent musical talents probably hasn’t had time to polish their sound engineer and mixing/editing skills… and it shows. Now would be a really apposite moment to link to a couple or three YouTube disasters but hey, I’m not that mean.
But enough of this liberal nonsense about looking after and appreciating the poor artists. The real reason I don’t download music? The packaging! Come on, admit it, it’s nice to hold that CD or record in your hands, isn’t it? It’s a material world, we’re all materialists, and there’s no better way to feel we’ve got value for our money than to have something tangible – something we can hold, sniff, lick, etc. And that’s before we get to the liner notes, the pictures, the ‘thank yous’ from the band, the lyrics sheet (and don’t tell me to go to Google – most of those song lyrics sites are written by people with severe hearing and/or linguistic impediments of some sort). No, if I’m completely honest, although I do have a lot of sympathy for musicians getting nothing in return for their sweat and toil, the real and selfish reason for not downloading music is that I like to touch things, pure and simple. Maybe I’m not such a hippy after all.