Paying for Music

I had a long discussion with my friends Heather and Mike a month ago, sparked by these articles. If you don’t want to read them, they’re about how insane it is to steal music from artists you respect. Our discussion was about why I was still stealing. Up until a month ago, here were my justifications for stealing music.

  1. Certain bands/artists I will always buy physical albums from, because they are my favorites (TMBG, Ted Leo, Andrew Bird, Jens Lekman), and I don’t care that I’ll never use the CD, other than to rip it to my computer.
  2. The theft of a band’s albums is justified if I go to see them in concert.
  3. The theft of a band’s albums is justified if I get friends into them and make them new fans.
  4. Bands from before 1980 already have plenty of money (used to justify jacking the extensive back catalog of major artists).

Justifications 1 and 2 fall under the category of “See? I’m putting money into the music industry and supporting bands!” although at a greatly reduced rate. 3 apparently gives me credit if other people spend the money I wasn’t willing to part with. 4 is basically, “I’m not paying for an album my parents own.” This covered most of the music I downloaded from an assortment of file sharing programs over the last decade or so. And I didn’t feel too guilty about it, in part because everyone I know has probably made a justification similar to mine at some point in their lives.

But, unbelievably, I’m an adult now. I pay legitimately for expensive software (Logic Pro being the most recent purchase), I’ve always bought tons of books, I pay to go see movies in the theater, and I shell out monthly for a Netflix subscription. So why was I still not paying for music?

The answer, I think, was habit. I was used to not paying, and it seemed silly to start paying for something I could easily get for free. I viewed music as a free thing. But this is a weak argument. It’s at least as easy, if not easier, to pay for music than to steal it. I’d be getting the same files, except now the artist would actually see a few dollars. In some cases, I’d be able to buy music directly from an artist’s website and give them more than a few.

Which, after my discussion, was what I’ve decided to do from now on. The very first album I bought was Jonathan Coulton’s Artificial Heart. It seemed fitting considering Coulton himself posted a well-reasoned response to those articles above, where he makes a case both for paying artists and also having an open internet where we can share things. I’ve seen JoCo five times, all at events where I did not directly pay to see him (PAX East mainly), but ones where he assumedly he made some money. But it felt good to support him directly, for an album I’d definitely call his best.

As an artist myself, who hopes to someday be supported by fans buying things I help create, it seems deeply, deeply hypocritical to pay for all these other entertainments in my life, and not be paying for music. If I can afford a few beers with friends each week, I can afford to stop buying one of those beers and pay instead for the music I enjoy. If we continue to have the free, open Internet we have, we also need to decide to use it in a responsible way. Compensating artists is one of the easiest ways we can do that.

I’m going to see Ted Leo, Mission of Burma and Wild Flag tonight at Prospect Park. I’ve never heard Wild Flag’s album, but I’m in luck – it’s only $5 on Amazon. Sold.