Ever since the invention of the player piano, there has been moral panics about the consumption of music, about who stands to gain from it, and who is losing out. Myles Ni Gangstaleen take a look at the ethics of downloading.
Sure even back in the 1870’s when it was invented, towns across America were covered in black and white posters emblazoned with a skull and crossbones, and the words ‘Player Pianos Are Killing Music’. That last sentence was a load of lies. But so was the hysteria about the creation of many new formats. The Cassette Tape and the Recordable Compact Disc will destroy the music industry, we were told. The factual inaccuracies of these claims became fairly clear soon enough. Yeah, changes happened but we and ‘the industry’ adapted and moved forward.
Then the Internet came along, and pretty soon it was clear that unlike previous modes of music consumption, the impact of this one was not gonna be so clear cut. To this day debate about downloading rages on.
One of the biggest differences between then and now, is it’s not just a case of “you either illegally download or you don’t.”
We chatted to two Dublin DJs about morality and music downloading. PCP has been rinsing out the raves since the mid 90s and told us “Yea, I download lots but I buy lots also. Tens of thousands worth, now and over the years when I only bought vinyl, but then that was cos I had no choice. I download now cos I can. It’s freely available, it’s supply and demand. I don’t exercise my moral choices via shopping.”
Olan, who some of you know as the dude behind the All City Records counter and more know for his sharp eye on the next critical beat melting pot says its a mixed bag.
“The pros are full and instant access to any point in musical history whatsoever. It’s incredible to think you can just grab the whole of Fela Kuti’s discography in a second. I guess the main con is you don’t appreciate it in the same way as if you had to go seek it out and pay for it. A con is if artists / labels were suffering a huge financial loss because of it but I’m not sure people will pay for it if you remove the free/illegal download option. Another con is the sheer amount of poor quality music out there as the bar is so low now. It costs nothing to stick it out so people whack it out there.“
PCP on the other hand sees a lot fewer cons. “Mainly it’s great. One can listen and educate oneself about music in a way that was impossible previously unless you were rich. It also decentralises music and takes some of the power away from the cities with the media and technical infrastructure. There are no cons. Just big differences around the way we attend to music. The cycle is so quick now. Music dates quickly. It’s harder to make it matter or feel it matters. But this is just a difference really. Stuff changes.”
Olan goes on to tell us about the theft side of downloading. “I don’t feel like I’m stealing if I’m downloading The Beatles. If I were downloading the latest bass 12s and going out DJing and making money I would feel differently. Most people have probably stuffed a 7 inch down their trousers at some stage in their lives. Stealing is an inherent part of the human condition. In the past given the choice between buying the music and owning it, or not owning it, most people choose the latter. These days theres a third way. Owning it and not paying, and that is always going to be the most popular choice.”
Finally we asked PCP about whether he can suggest any solutions or alternatives to the current state of downloading. “Something along the lines of IMRO but levied on the bandwidth providers and done via youtube, soundcloud, etc. plays. And a special high tax on rich musicians to be redistributed to poor ones which is almost all of them (only half joking). I think of music as a community thing. It’s about being involved, learning an instrument / skill, organizing gigs / festivals, blogging , doing radio, buying / stealing music, whatever, as long as it’s an active passionate thing.”
We also asked rabble readers how and why YOU download. In an online poll the vast majority of you were keen to emphasise the extra value you give to a physical release as opposed to digital. You also have no qualms about downloading the work of someone rich and famous, and that you are very willing to pay to support local and upcoming acts. Yet a large bunch said they “always pay for music”.
Gotta go now. 97% of Metallica Discography downloaded, 98%, 99%, download complete. Right-click. Delete. Are you sure you want to move this to Recycle Bin? YES.
Empty Recycle Bin.