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The Cost of Free Downloads

Downloading (or file sharing or whatever) is a hot topic among music fans these days. I know a lot of people that use Torrents to grab tracks and even whole albums, but I am just really against illegal downloads.

I won't lie: the thought of downloading leaked tracks for free and before an official release is downright intoxicating. I didn't illegally download Motley Crue's Saints of Los Angeles even though it's been on the Internet for about a month. I think there is something truly special about waiting until the day of a big release, going to the store, buying the physical album and then letting the music blast all the way home. I know many of you can attest to my honesty here: a lot of you have sent me download links or asked my opinion of the album and my response was always "wait until the day of the release." I'll review Motley Crue's new one right here tomorrow, after listening to my advance copy (and yeah, I pre-ordered a copy too, so Motley got my money).

I know kids like to download because 1) it's free and 2) it's quick. The problem is, Torrents and the like are basically stealing. No, you're not throwing a brick through a big glass window at the bank and robbing the safe, but you're still hurting the artist and everyone else who worked on producing an album.

There is no way in HELL that I would work without getting paid, so how can I rob someone else of their salary? Yes, bands like Motley Crue, Aerosmith, Guns n' Roses, Metallica, The Rolling Stones...are filthy rich, but that doesn't make file sharing acceptable. Producers, sound engineers, publicists, managers, writers, gear techs - not to mention distributors and and your local music store - all get a piece of the pie when a band records an album. When sales fall off - sometimes due to downloads or a million other reasons - everyone involved suffers. Problem is, that lost revenue comes right back to you and me. Promoters set ticket prices for tours, but with the sky high cost of just about everything, bands need a surefire way to guarantee money. It's a vicious cycle because kids think they'll download an album, then spend their money on the concert. The only problem is, if not enough people buy an album, it's kind of hard to generate hype and that can hurt shows, too.

The music industry is fatally flawed, there's no doubt about that. I'm also not judging people for downloading songs without payment, but I felt it was important for you to know my stance on the issue. I've always been "choosy" when it comes to purchasing albums. When I was in high school, I bought nearly all my own CDs, so I couldn't go to the mall and pick up five or ten discs at a time. My rule was one CD a week, so I made sure I really wanted the album before I plunked down my 15 bucks. Now, I have more money but I'm still the same way: I think about my music purchases and I buy used if I can meaning I can get more in one trip. I can't say what position I'd take on downloading if I was 16 again. Like I said, the thought of immediate, free music is very intoxicating.

What is your opinion on the matter?

Reader Comments (49)

My thoughts

1 - I would download a CD if it's OOP
2 - I would download a CD to hear it before release
3 - I would buy a CD on ebay or reissue if I had downloaded it and found I could buy it.
4 - I buy all my CDs. I see no point in buying mp3s, and I do not download to avoid buying

Theft is theft. Of course, I have the money to buy all the CD's I want, I know I take the moral high ground when as a kid I taped albums from friends, etc. But, what's really happening here is that music is devalued. And, apart from hurting the people involved in the industry, that hurts the fans

I also make a point of buying CDs from independant stores who struggle to survive. It costs me more, but they also treat me better, know me and my tastes, point me to new music, etc.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristian
i download to see if i want the cd. in motley's case the answer is no. it's not worth my money. back in the day i bought so many tapes based on the strength of a bands first single and then found out that the album sucked and the single was the only good song on it. like christian i will also download if it's out of print. honestly, downloading seems unstoppable. forget about the rhetoric of whether it's right or wrong. that simply doesn't matter because it is happening on a massive scale and calling a person a thief is having little to no effect. bands need to find a way to make this work for them because all the major labels are doing is trying to sue people or make it so that i can't play the cd that i bought on my computer. oh yeah, they are trying to make internet providers make everyone who has internet access pay a surcharge for downloading but i don't see how that will ever make it out of a courtroom.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdon
Joe Elliott put it so eloquently in an interview earlier this year:

"We saved our pocket money to buy one record, which is why I think the value of music has gone down. Now, a kid can download 200 songs a night for free. I used to have to save 2 or 3 weeks worth of pocket money to buy one 7" single. That's why this music means so much to me. I can't ever imagine in 20 years' time somebody interviewing anybody with the enthusiasm that I have towards other people's music, because I had to suffer for mine... Nowadays, kids are given a computer. They just steal all the music for free, and they listen to it and they love it, but they don't value it."

That thing about 'suffering for' and 'valuing' music really hit home. Very few of my friends know what this really is, to really cherish music. It's so disposable for them. Mind you, if it wasn't for the option to download, I wouldn't have even heard - and purchased - many of the bands I listen to today. Def Leppard included :)
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlesh
Also... my friends will say "Well, I can't afford to buy CDs."

June 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlesh
Question about buying used much of that money goes to the artist and others who worked on the music? None. All of the profit goes to the store owner.

Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's ethical.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBTP
@BTP: I guess shop owners have no right to earn money too? 0_0 When you give money to a shop owner you give money to someone who tries to make a living. When you download illegaly you are part of the reason shops go out of business. Shame on you.

@Allyson: I never download, I always buy my CDs. I think it's a cheap excuse to say that you download a CD first to check out if it's worthy to buy. Amazon has almost all songs as samples. You can check the songs out there for free. If you don't like a song after hearing a sample, you won't like it after listening to the whole song.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterXandra73
BTP - you are right. I only buy 2nd hand for stuff that's OOP for that reason. However, it still makes sense - someone didn't like the CD enough to keep it. If the CD had been better, it would not have been sold to the store.

June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristian
There are other reasons too. How about CDs you have twice (happens when you move in with your boyfriend)? I've sold a couple of those on ebay. Or because I got the Special Edition of something and needed to get rid of the regular one. Other people simply need money and have to sell their stuff. Or got it as a present. Sometimes music tastes are just different. Used CDs don't automatically mean bad music.

There are enough people out there who are also against illegal downloading but can't afford new CDs with full price.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterXandra73
I actually keep the single editions when I buy the special ones. I still have the first Ozzy albums with the original bass and drums, the original mix of Hysteria, etc.

'There are enough people out there who are also against illegal downloading but can't afford new CDs with full price. '

It's interesting, b/c on the one hand, they are buying the CD, on the other, the artist gets no money out of it, so it's not really that different. I see your point, and I would buy a 2nd hand CD but I'd never download, so I am not taking the high moral ground. It's just an interesting point of discussion. If the artist is not paid, what's the difference ? I guess the difference is, you need to want to save that money enough to look until you find that 2nd hand CD, downloading is instant and there are no barriers.

I bought several new CDs in Portland, for only $8 each. Can't do better than that.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristian
Here's another thought. How many other people have listened to a CD many times b.c they paid for it, and found in time it became a favourite ? I sure have. How often can you listen to mp3s before you should feel you need to buy or delete ?
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristian
It's just amazing how the internet changed peoples views. Before the internet I went to the flea market to buy old albums on vinyl. It would have never even crossed my mind to steal them, just because the artist won't earn any money from it anyway. ;)
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterXandra73
I agree with you on this one Allyson. I have to actually get the physical album too.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenteraXe mAn
I am not a fan of illegal downloads either. Like you, I am often out on the release date to pick up the latest music by my favorite bands. I did so with Judas Priest's Nostradamus, and I will do so this week with Motley Crue's Saints of Los Angeles (Best Buy has a great deal on this one, this week.)

I think bands deserve the right to make a profit off of their music. I wouldn't steal a CD from a store, why would I steal it online?
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRob Rockitt
I agree with you Allyson..I love going to the store..asking for the new release..opening it up and cranking it loud on the way home =)...LONG LIVE ROCK N ROLL!!!!!!!...Can't wait till Tuesday =)
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
As much as I worship the Crue and can't wait for this album, I have avoided donloading it or even listening to the stream they advertised on Except for SOLA, and Mutherfucker of the Year.
I need the bombast of the album blasting thru my stereo, not the pencilneck, pinhead, neutered sound of mp3's whispering out of computer speakers.
I support my favorite bands, and will not steal from them. It makes no sense to me to kill the careers of the bands I love by not supporting them. I don't want to be left in a world of fall out fags, and panic at the gaybar, or nickleback, ashley simpson, or countless Hollywood whores who are only famous because they spread their legs and hire a publicist, so somebody gives them a record deal (you know, the Britneys).
In fact, the only downloads I have are of songs or albums that are no longer available. I check everywhere first including ebay and import companies. In the rare occasion when I find the album I downloaded, I delete the download. I don't surf the net on my stereo, and I don't listen to music on my computer.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRandy
Of course that was supposed to be "downloading," in the first sentence.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRandy
hey randy, there's this thing called burning a cd of the music that was downloaded so that you CAN listen to it on your stereo.
i think it's pretty sanctimonious to insult people and call them names to prove your point as many people are doing on this thread. funny how downloading is so huge and nobody on here does or at least admits to it.
and the idea that it's not ethical to sell used cds because the band gets nothing out of it is pretty ridiculous. here's how it works, you buy the cd it is now your property to do with as you wish. if you play it so much it no longer works (used to happen with cassettes) then you would have to buy a new one. if you choose to sell it you can because it's your property. there is nothing un-ethical about that nor a shop buying and selling them as well.
i think a lot of people need to get off their holier than thou high horses and stop judging others and their thoughts. but of course that's just my opinion and clearly i am in the minority on this subject.
if you're old enough to remember copying a tape or album for a friend it's the same concept just taken to an extremely higher level. the question to ask and answer honestly is if this technology was available in the 80s when you were a poor student barely getting by, would you have downloaded then? i think it would be the same as it is now. again just my opinion.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlosdude
@losdude: You can come by and have a look on my computer. I have never downloaded a single album. Making a copy for one friend is not okay, but it's still just one friend. We are talking about millions of people here that download and don't buy. I'm not sure if you can compare the losses the band makes by comparing those things.

Back then illegal copying wasn't such a huge topic, so I guess just coping for a friend didn't hurt the bands and the industry as much as downloading does.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterXandra73
Over the years I've spent plenty of money on CDs, which is still a preferred way for me to get music since I don't have an mp3 enabled CD player in my car (although I'd like to have a couple hundred songs on one CD).

I stopped into Gem City Records today and it is sad to think that eventually more businesses will suffer because of downloading. While there are plenty of CDs I have not bought, the neat thing about being inside a store is seeing the various album covers.

What is more iconic than Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper's, or the prism of The Dark Side of the Moon, Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream and Other Delights, Nirvana's Nevermind, Guns N Roses Appetite for Destruction and Def Leppard's Hyteria? The album cover is becoming less of a priority. Why spend time dealing with album art when most people will never really look at it while browsing through a record store? People are just downloading sometimes for the sake of downloading.

I will admit, however, that there are some artists that I have "borrowed" from friends to see if I liked a certain artist or group, but the funny thing is that I don't really listen to those songs. If I did, I probably would have bought the CD when it was released. You'll appreciate the songs more if you sacrifice your own cash to buy it.

And yes, I used the name Herb Alpert on a glam board. I rock!
i stopped buy cds years ago. when the bands can put out quality music , other than 2-3 songs and the rest is filler, i ll have no problem buying them.
June 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterstealmusic

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