Paying For Music: The Controversy

The Internet is ablaze with comments on a recent post made by an intern at NPR. We’ve decided to weigh in with our considerably biased point of view, which emanates both from our decades-long collecting of vinyl and CDs, as well as our concern with the threatened livelihood of musicians. Oh, and perhaps we should mention that our passion for old-school recording techniques does not preclude a love affair with new technologies.

Firstly, here is a recap of this week’s events, as summarized by The Trichordist:

…Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered and GM of what appears to be her college radio station, wrote a post on the NPR blog in which she acknowledged that while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, she’s only paid for 15 CDs in her life. Our intention is not to embarrass or shame her. We believe young people like Emily White who are fully engaged in the music scene are the artist’s biggest allies. We also believe–for reasons we’ll get into–that she has been been badly misinformed by the Free Culture movement. We only ask the opportunity to present a countervailing viewpoint.”

The Trichordist response, written by songwriter, musician (Cracker) and noted musicologist David Lowery has generated hundreds of comments as well as a scathing rebuttal on Huffington Post by musician Travis Morrison, formerly of the band Dismemberment Plan. All emotion aside, Lowery quotes the following shocking statistics:

Recorded music revenue is down 64% since 1999.

Per capita spending on music is 47% lower than it was in 1973!!

The number of professional musicians has fallen 25% since 2000.

Of the 75,000 albums released in 2010 only 2,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. Only 1,000 sold more than 10,000 copies. Without going into details, 10,000 albums is about the point where independent artists begin to go into the black on professional album production, marketing and promotion.”

Here is our own position: if you care about music and if you care about supporting the work of creative artists, you’ll want to think again about participating in any illegal downloading or sharing of files. You’re not only ripping off legitimate record companies with your activities; you’re ripping off the artists whose work you supposedly love. And most of those artists come from, and stay in, the lower middle class, with incomes that are disturbingly low. If they decide to post their work for free, you’re welcome to it. But if you blatantly steal their copyrighted work from a site such as megauploads.com, or if you support sites such as Spotify who pay artists a pittance, you’re part of the problem.

We admit that Vivascene frequently gains access to review copies of albums; it’s important to note that in almost all cases these are temporary downloads granted to us by record companies who have sought us out for review purposes. The access disappears within a week or two. If and when we decide that we want permanent ownership of the music, we pay for it, either through the purchase of vinyl (and yes, we buy a lot of vinyl) or on our iTunes account.

We welcome any and all responses to this controversy: tell us your policy, your real-life practice and your reasons for same.