Should Music Be Free?

No one ever had to pay for recorded music—it was always "free" on the radio—and the home taping of LPs, the copying of cassettes, and, later, burning CDs made buying music optional. Then Napster and other file-sharing sites kicked it up a notch and made it very easy to assemble a 10,000-song collection without spending a dime. Now, Spotify, BitTorrent, SoundCloud, MOG, and YouTube make music instantly accessible on demand. It raises the question: Will music lovers continue to buy music? Paying for recorded music is now, more than ever, a voluntary act.

A generation gap is part of this story: Today's music fans of high school and college age grew up with music files. I don't blame them for not feeling an obligation to support their favorite bands by paying for their music—they never had a physical connection to it. If you can't touch or see or covet the medium through which it's delivered, music might seem worthless. Older folks, like me, had to work a couple of minimum-wage hours to buy an album. That's not sour grapes—I still listen to some of those records, and music is the only thing from that long ago that's still valuable to me.

The ecosystem of record companies, record stores, and record buyers is fading fast, replaced by a model based on free or nearly free music. Streaming quality is improving, and high-resolution streaming is inevitable—even die-hard audiophiles will soon no longer need to buy music to hear it at its best. I have no doubt that Spotify, Google Music, Rhapsody, MOG, and Pandora will eventually "win," and the number of people actually paying for music will drop to the point where it's no longer feasible to make physical copies and sell them at affordable prices. Yes, the streaming companies pay royalties to the labels, but those fees are a tiny fraction of what the labels received from sales of downloads, CDs, or LPs. The streamers will grow rich as their subscriber bases swell, but the bands (remember them?) will make less and less money from their recorded output, make fewer albums, and write fewer songs.

That's already happening, Adele, Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, the National, and Radiohead, even at the peak of their creative powers, barely squeeze out an album every three or four years. Amy Winehouse released just two albums in her tragically short seven-year career. Industry insiders say that recorded music is now just 6% of the music business; the major revenue streams are concerts, licensing, and merchandising.

So if Jimi Hendrix had arrived in 2010 instead of 1967, he would have made one album before dying in 2013. Luckily for us, in his three-year run he made three studio albums, one of them a two-disc set, because back then most artists averaged an album a year, and some put out many more—between 1966 and 1993, the year of his death, Frank Zappa released 62 albums, half of them multi-disc sets.

It's a complicated issue, but the root cause of the blight is that today's fans don't appear to believe that bands have a right to make a living from recordings: Fans support bands by buying concert tickets and "merch." That's great, but when the band breaks up, their only legacy will be their paltry recorded output. Bands no longer record for their fan base; they've come to see recordings as promotional tools, loss leaders—if they're lucky, they might earn some cash if a tune is used in a film or TV soundtrack, video game, commercial, or ring tone. Fans whine that paying $10 for an album on iTunes or CD is way too much, but they don't have a problem with $4.25 Starbucks Frappuccinos, consumed in a matter of minutes—you can't download Starbucks for free. If my friends are any indication, audiophiles still buy a lot of music, but we're a shrinking minority.

A lot of anger is directed toward record labels. Sure, they screwed over countless artists, but with the old system, there was a payday and a record contract. Nowadays, most bands pay out of pocket to make recordings, which rarely make money or break even, so the bands have to stay on the road to make a living.

Perhaps the most hopeful sign for the future of recorded music is something along the lines of what singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer began with crowd funding. Palmer's fans commit to buy her records before they're made—the recordings can't be ripped off, file shared, or streamed, at least not at first. Palmer set out to raise $100,000 to fund a recording as a Kickstarter project in 2012, hit the jackpot, and raised $1,200,000. After that, Palmer's story gets a little murky, but pay-in-advance might be a viable path for bands still wanting to make money from their recordings.

Jazz composer and big-band leader Maria Schneider works with ArtistShare, another fan-funding site. I asked Schneider if she would accept a recording contract from a major label, if offered one, and even before I finished asking the question, she blurted out, "No way!" Her latest album, Winter Morning Walks required two orchestras and features Dawn Upshaw—a $200,000 project that no label would finance. All of Schneider's recordings have been profitable, possibly because she, a tireless advocate for changing the copyright laws to better protect artists, is adamant about keeping her music off streaming services and file-sharing sites. "For a pittance, you can listen to the entire worldwide collection of music. That's insanity."

Musicians will continue to make recordings, but the professional community of recording studios and of producers and engineers who have devoted their lives to making great-sounding recordings is contracting at an alarming rate. Some musicians will always make art for art's sake, but while once there was a glimmer of hope that their recordings might sell, that now seems far less likely.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Talk shows have done it for years: house bands.  Websites wanting to drive traffic could pay new artists to produce music for them.  They'd stream or make this music available free for site visitors.

Speaking of which, when will Jimmy Fallon dedicate an entire show to The Roots?  

volvic's picture

Anyone under 30 is no longer interested in physical music.  In fact I have a friend who is older, who has a Spotify subscription on his phone and claims he will never buy another CD, yet he goes to a lot of concerts. The old business model is over for better or worse.   I believe there will always be people who will want to own the physical product but that will be an ever shrinking demographic and through smaller labels.  The glory days for record companies are over as the article says and  a lot of people think it is well deserved; we all remember going to the CD aisle and having to pay 19.99 for a CD when the same release on cassette was 11.99.  Not to mention the record companies penchant for suing prospective customers for alleged downloading, some say their demise is Karma,  But the decline of the record store and artist and mega record company started declining in my opinion, long before the advent of Napster and downloading.  I recall in the early 80's many record companies in my hometown of Montreal going under for numerous reasons, one reason  I believe is that people had more options on which to spend their discretionary income and that left less $$$ of the pie for records.  

I don't think the end is that dire though, I am always surprised to see young kids coming to buy jazz records or classical cd's at Academy Records or at Princeton Record Exchange.  I think out of this digital paradigm shift there will always be outliers that will end up in our fold and continue the demand albeit limited, for physical media.  But it will be through smaller independent record companies or through the musicians themselves.  Not such a bad thing.  Good article.   

madbrayniak's picture

At 25 years old I can tell you that I have not bought a single peice of digital music in 3+ years.

However, I do like to buy records to sping on a turntable.

For me, I see no point in owning digital music. Sure I have some for when i am traveling and the likes but I dont really care to keep buying it. 

With Slacker Radio, Pandora, and Spotify why should you buy any?

That said, I am  excited to buy my favorite artists on vinyl records. I personally would much rather own a smaller amount of very well recorded music than to spend tons of money on some crappy music that is horribly compressed through itunes or Amazon's MP3 distrobution service.

Besides, the digital music that I have experienced has all been lacking compared to that of analog....granted I have never heard any of the newer "HD" mp3 files to my knowledge.

There is also the fact that when I sit down to listen to music on a turntable I have to go through the actions of getting the music to play. This makes me forget about my terrible day at work and relax just a little bit more.

And I am not using anything high end by any means...old JBL monitors, Yamaha receiver, Adcom amp...nothing fancy. Yet it is much more enjoyable than any other form of music to me.

I think times shifted away from free music(radio) went to owning music with the MP3 revolution and now I think it is going back to the free (internet radio) type of broadcasting with what looks like analog coming for music enjoyment at home.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

We don't care about stuff that's free and easy.  Vinyl costs money and takes effort to play.  So you don't skip out mid-tune.  You listen to the whole side.  You read the liner notes.  You Wikapedia the artist.  Of course, this all presumes the artist has earned your attention.  

You'll eat fast food while walking or driving, but you'll sit down for a meal you or a loved one made.

himynameisjuan's picture

You listen to these modern records, they’re atrocious, they have sound all over them. There’s no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like — static. Even these songs probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded ‘em. CDs are small. There’s no stature to it. I remember when that Napster guy came up across, it was like, ‘Everybody’s gettin’ music for free.’ I was like, “Well, why not? It ain’t worth nothing anyway. – Bob Dylan

As a 21-year-old, I notice different trends in my peers. There are the self-proclaimed music lovers that go to concerts, but listen to Spotify and rip songs off YouTube. There are the casual music listeners that listen to Pandora, but do buy individual tracks off iTunes. Then there's a small minority of other people like myself, that do use the aforementioned services, but still visit record stores to get our fixes.

I also think artists (popular ones anyway) are releasing subpar albums, and most folks are content with just the singles. Why would anyone drop $0.99 on a track when they could just stream it off Spotify or YouTube when they feel like it? I think popular musicians will get by on their popularity, and independent musicians will (hopefully) get by on the more die-hard music fans.

My reasoning for having a physical music collection is that anyone can have a harddrive full of music, or a Rdio subscription with a vast "collection", but my records and CDs took a lot of time and money to amass, and it shows.

drblank's picture

Yeah, the days when the entire album was worth listening to are over for MOST artists.

I wish these artists would do more of the concept albums that were famous back in the 60's and 70's, but unfortunately we also have a lot of artists that use sequenced tracks, pitch correction and slap an album together from start to finish too quickly.

Most jazz and classical artists tend to complete their albums in a manner of days, but they are more capturing a performance rather than hodge podging a demo and calling it sellable product.  To me, being a musician, if I hear a drum machine or sequenced track, that indicates to me that it's more of a demo than anything serious. Only a small handful of musicians could get away with that, but otherwise, that's demo music and since it's cheaply made, I think a lot of people don't want to pay for it and I can almost understand. Since most of it is fad music where it's hot for a few weeks or months, and then it's out of fad.

The true artists create masterpieces that will last a lifetime and STILL be worth listening to 50 years later.  Those are the artists I try to listen to.

It's a shame the music industry isn't trying to get old school production back into vogue.  That has to do with the record label and producers and then the artists.


jaxwired's picture

Why own a physical copy if the entire worlds music catalog is instantly accessible on spotify.  It's a no brainier.  BUT, we aren't there yet!  And that's because the streaming services stream lossy compressed music.   I continue to buy all my music on CD unless I can download FLAC files.  But the minute spotify starts streaming lossless files, I'm done with my own music library.  And that day is coming. No doubt about that.  

As for the guy that thinks most modern releases have weak content, I would suggest he stop buying such mainstream music. Thank God for the Internet that I can find many gems released every month that are superb all the way through.  When people are exposed to my music collection I get the same reaction "who sings this!!  Oh, I love this!!!  What artists is this, it's great!!!"   Why?  Because I don't buy the mainstream crap.  Rarely do I ever find anything great in amazons top 100 seller list.  And that's what people are buying.  They just don't know any better.  Anyone using that list to assess the state of today's music industry would come away depressed and confident that music has grossly deteriorated in the last 40 years. Not true. I buy current music and there's lots of high quality content being produced.  

torturegarden's picture

I am in the minority amongst my friends as I still like to buy LPs and lossless or high-res downloads of music. All tyhe streaming swevices have mediocre quality and I still like to have a physical LP. As far as the generational/age thing goes, I am 40 and most people my age are doing Mog, Spotify, Pandora or whatever and don'y buy any music. I average about 4-5 new LPs per week and purchase most at actual record stores. The people shopping at these stores are mostly younger than me, usually in their early 20s. I have no desire to stop purchasing vinyl, and get downloads when vinyl is not available. I buy maybe 5 CDs per year and the odd box set or two. They just don't do it for me, never have. I'll stop purchasing music when streaming is the only option, but don't think that will ever happen.

masco's picture

The chief reason for purchasing a copy (physical or otherwise) is that it's yours (at least until the courts change their minds). Is it not true that if you terminate your relationship with Spotify or another streaming service, you no longer have access to those tunes? The only meaningful solution would then be to jump to another streaming service. I'm concerned that the instability among record lables and streaming services will result in inconsistent access to music. For instance, if a label gets pissed at Rhapsody and pulls their catalog, listeners miss out.

Further, haven't bands been paying for their own recording for decades? I thought the deal was that with a record contract, a band received an advance against earnings which paid for the recording plus a stipend. 

I think streaming services are really fun for music discovery and sharing, but I'm not ready to loose more control over my cherished library.

drblank's picture

What USUALLY happens from the people that I know that actually have worked with the large record labels is this.


They get signed, they get an advancement to product the album, paying for producers, etc.  Then the record label pays for advertising the CD/album, etc.  Once they recoup the money they advanced, THEN they start paying the artists money.  If a musician is part of the "band", then they just work off the advancement and they have to start touring to promote the album/CD, make money touring and they usually can make a decent amount of money from selling T shirts, and things like that because the label doesn't get that money.  It's certainly much more profitable selling a T-shirt that costs $8 to make and they sell it for $20 to $25.

A lot of bands can even go broke until after they sell a million units, which is a lot of record sales.  I read about No Doubt and how they didn't make a dime from their first platinum album because their earlier ones lost money.

The people that make serious money are the songwriters if they didn't sell the song outright to someone else. That's where the REAL money is made.

I know someone that wrote a stupid theme song to a very popular TV show, he STILL gets royalty checks as the TV show is STILL in syndication and reruns are played all of the time.  Took him literally 5 minutes to write the thing, yet he's made probably by now, several million dollars from the royalties every time it's played, which is twice per show, per airing around the world.  Those pennies add up.  I don't know what he makes yearly from it, but a friend of his thought he might make as much as $100 to $200K a year from the royalties of that 30 second theme song.  I won't tell you the name of the show, but trust me, it's a VERY popular TV show.

Bottom line, the songwriting is where the money is made, they are supposed to get royalties every time it's played over the radio AND these streaming radios.  I think the musicians are also trying to get paid for their performances as well.

So, who pays for that?  Well, it's the advertisers on these radio stations or if the radio streaming service charges a monthly/yearly subscription, that helps pay the royalties for what is actually listened to.

I don't know the break down, but a popularly played song on the radio can get the songwriter a LOT of money.  That's where the REAL money is made.

Mark Fleischmann's picture

For classical listeners these are good times. The labels are issuing huge box sets for three bucks a disc. Much of it's the same stuff we used to pay fifteen bucks for at the dawn of the CD era (and that's not factoring in inflation). You can rip it in whatever format you want and rerip it later in a different format if you change your mind because you have the disc. I can hardly keep up with all the stuff I'm buying. I'm grabbing it while I can because I imagine this situation will not go on forever.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Like you, I'm mostly a classical music listener.  We're lucky.  There's more good music, a longer history of recordings, better performers, better engineering and no popularity expiry date.  All the vinyl and CD's I buy are from thrift stores at $0.50 to $2.00.  I have few competitors for what's available, it's generally in better condition (not too many drinkers or stoners collected classical vinyl) and there's many different recordings of each composition.  It's a golden age for classical vinyl thrift shopping as long as old farts keep dying and kids keep hauling dad's vinyl collection into thrift shops.

And if you really want spectacular, plentiful, old recordings, develop a taste for opera!  

drblank's picture

Well, the performers/orchestras/concert halls have to rely on public donations to keep them going.  WIthout that, then there is no one to produce the content.

The only way I will buy used is because the recording is out of print and unobtainable otherwise.

If a recording can be purchased through a store or some sort, then I buy full price.  I hope that the records I buy are that where the musicians are getting paid for their work and they sell enough to continue to put more quality music on the market.  But I RARELy buy commerical music, most of what I listent to is either Jazz, classical, or world music produced in other countries with a relatively small audience.  That's where I find the gems.  Every once in a while something is produced by a well known artist that's worth my time

Unfortunately, the music industry is so ever changing, it's a shame when you hear your favorite musician not getting paid much for your favorite recording and a lot has to do with record sales and not being able to break even on all of the costs associated with it.

If we bought more of the good content, then the artists wouldn't have to put out some commerical crap just to pay the bills.  I've seen that happen to well trained musicians.  They start out putting out good quality music, but because of the harsh realities of life, they have to get involved with commercial crap just to pay their bills and their time isn't focused on quality anymore.

RobbieB's picture

It is funny how in just a generation the way we consume music changed so drastically. But the thing to remember is that things tend to change in this industry. It's sort of one of those gotta roll with the punches sort of things. I like music enought hat I still buy some, but not like I used to. For the most part I stream with Pandora and Torch music, and promote the bands I like by seeing them live.

Devil Doc's picture

I like things you can touch, gold, silver, vinly, even CDs, and I would never steal from an artist. Bad Karma all around.


drblank's picture

I agree. I do prefer buying the CD. That way I have to liner notes to read, which is important for me.  I also have the uncompressed version to rip anyway I feel like, which is what I end up doing so I have that master I can always drag out when needed.


I just wish the content was better.  It's almost like people are getting lazy with their song writing.   The albums I used to buy back in the 60's and 70's  I would listen to over and over and I STILL get just as much enjoyment listening to them.  To me, that's something of high enough quality to pay for.  It's just a shame that they can't get better transfers from analog tape to digital format due to tape degredation or just bad mastering techniques.

DougM's picture

This is more evidence of a spoiled generation that thinks the world owes them everything.

They want gov't services, but don't want to pay taxes. They want an education, but don't want to pay for school, etc., etc.

They want a career where all they have to do is post a couple of lines on the web everyday, and get paid a king's ransom for it.

I know many who illegaly download new CDs and movies and see nothing criminal at all about it.

Chalk it up to parenting and a society that teaches no values.

sgraham60's picture

This may not be a popular view but it's accurate. I don't believe for a second that people think downloading off torrent sites isn't illegal. Of course they know it's stealing but nobody cares and the practice is so widespread among kids and adults that it's become accepted. But let's face reality. Eventually the poop will hit the fan.

Traditionally artists made a living by selling records, earning royalties off radio and other artists covering their songs and live performances. Now touring and live performance is becoming the dominant source of income as record sales have fallen off a cliff. iTunes and streaming sites pay very little to artists. If artists can't make a proper living from the material they produce, how long is it going to be before they stop producing it?

drblank's picture

Actually iTunes, Amazon don't charge $.99 anymore, it's now $1.29, so more money goes to the record label/artists, but in reality, most records barely break even due to the production costs and advertising costs they have to recoup. 

For the larger record labels, they make money on the aritsts that sell millions of units so they can afford to spend money for developing other artists that don't.

It's a very wierd business, but that's why a lot of jazz artists that have become famous enough and have a strong enough following can do their own production, and they can many times at least break even or make a little money, and they save money in pressing CDs because that's a large investment they have to make.

Personally, if I were a relatively famous artist that had a decent following, I'd just put the content on-line and have one person managing it and bypassing every other download site since they'll get more money that way. What they lose is the ability to attract new people just cruising iTunes or Amazon as they suggest similar artists when you buy something, which is how some product is sold because you can see what others have purchased that have similar tastes.  It's a way to get more exposure just by being on those systems.  But I would definitely have my own site, which most artists have and offer to sell the product direct.

James.Seeds's picture

Sounds like the Music Industry as whole is near or at the end of it's life cycle for hard copies, the music has evolved through electronics why shouldn't the delivery of it? I'm sure the record industry didn't like the fact that I taped friends records/CDs because I didn't have the $20 but could afford $2.00 for a blank tape and appreciate the music and support the artist by seeing them live if possible instead of just consuming it and moving onto the next.

Louis Motek's picture

The deep changes in consumer relations to the products they buy encompass far more than merely relations to music. A few scores of decades ago, it was inconceivable to exchange a matress "just because the old one was sagging". One usually used one one's entire life. One mended one's clothing. Shoes were repaired countless times before being replaced.  J.S. Bach held a neat log of all of his clothes. I believe he had 12 suits throughout his entire life.

In today's 3D printer and spray-on clothes world, it is indeed interesting how our relations to products are changing.

Especially with regards to ownership, it is interesting to see how the monetary relations to musical creation have changed over the years. Copyright ownership is actually a very modern concept. In Bach's day, a composer was commissioned to write music for an occasion. After that, the music was not much needed, but new occasions abounded, and this called for a steady stream of new music. The creative action was paid for during the course of creation, as an ongoing process. Not, as is popular today, indefinitely upon usage of the once made creation.

Imagine if architects had the same benefits as composers today. You walk into a building and you have to pay the architect a royalty because you have entered and appreciated his created space. Never mind that the space was created 6 years ago. It's still his/her brainchild, and everyone is forever monetarily indebted to him/her.

Someone as creative as Frank Zappa (62 albums?) could have easily survived in a time like Bach's. Getting money for being creative is different from getting money forever for having been once creative. There are composers today who rely on ring tone download royalties for their daily bread and butter. Is the system as a whole really influencing creativity? In over-exaggerated, broad terms:

The reason for creation used to be the occasion.

Then the reason became popularity. (Sitting for as long as possible at the top of the charts. Now it seems to be to get on as many smart phones as possible.) 

The whole thing started with the contraction of the world through mass production. It is not an issue related to music per se. More likely, it is an issue related to what Marshall McLuhan dubbed The Global Village which started through Guttenberg's press. As a result, we now have 7 billion manufacturers and 7 billion consumers, all in the same village. Anyone with a mic and a laptop is now a composer/news commentator/political expert/online sex shop. This type of dynamic has never before been seen, and the fallout is unexpectedly and suddenly all around us in every conceivable field.

Just a random example, take the production line: today they are making robots that need not be programmed by specialists. An uneducated assembly line worker can simply show the robot what to do, and when it eventually gets the idea, it takes over the poor sucker's job!

But with regards to music speciifcally, there is an excellent article in the New Yorker about this very issue. She was unexpectedly tinkering with Communism.

The irony of the "spoiled brats" argument is that it itself was willingly posted to this magazine free of any authorship royalties, thus providing the magazine with crowd-sourced, free content, which in turn fuels the public's feeling of entitlement to be the recipient of free media. The entire notion that music can even be a commodity is just as abstract as Amanda Palmer's line in that song "You gave it away and now you can't have it back."

I imagine a Madison Avenue wet dream where songs in future will be free. If only possible, they would contain embedded advertisements. Subliminal ones. Then, the large industries would become extremely interested in music and the whole structure of the industry would change. The ad agencies simply need to crack the code. Imagine all those earbuds. The proximity to the decision making neurons of the public. It would be irresistible and everyone would want shares.

No, music is still a muse. Thank god it is (still) protected in these weird ways from your typical mass production world of commerce and consumption. Remember the saying "Software wants to be free?" I think it applies to music, too. Or maybe I'm just listening to the wrong music.  :) 

Louis Motek

dalethorn's picture

Nobody ever realized what Napster really was, or admitted to it. Think of a song and artist you like, search for it, see which users have it across the globe. Now bring up each of those users' personal lists and sample their tracks. This is the one and only great way to discover new music, and no streaming service can ever provide that.

But Napster was more than just the ideal way to find new music - when certain politically-charged tracks appeared, be it MLK Jr. and Vietnam raging against American corporations, Bill Hicks or Richard Belzer and JFK, etc. - those spread like wildfire, and like women, blacks, and gays dominating disco (in the words of one author via Rhino Records) - the genre and its delivery mechanisms had to go.

Stephen Mejias's picture

I agree with everything—everything—Fred von Lohmann says in his counterpoint.  There is more music being composed, recorded, and distributed today, by more musicians, than ever before, and this is a great thing for musicians and fans alike. Much of that music is truly adventurous and exciting, thanks in large part to the access provided by the Internet.

I also wonder if there's a much simpler answer to the question of music as a sellable good/service. It seems to me that music is and has always been free, in that anyone can sing a song or play a beat, just as anyone can draw a picture, write a story, or even plant a seed for food.

We choose to pay for other things, however. Like in every other area of life, we choose to pay for those things we don't want to do, or can't do, on our own. We pay for someone else to perform music, or we pay to own the (often prettily and conveniently packaged) music that someone else has created. And I think it's right that we should pay for that music. Unless, of course, the artist decides to give it away, or share it, for free, as is often seen on the Internet, through sites such as Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Facebook.

On the other hand, the Internet has also made it easier (for some) to illegally download and distribute music. Regarding that, I agree with electronic composer Leyland Kirby, who says about supporting his work:

I rely totally on the support of you buying my works as I receive no external funding and look for no support elsewhere as I remain independent.

In purchasing released works in any format you are helping me continue to survive financially and make more of my works available.

Illegally sharing releases is part of the digital landscape we must survive in and always I have come to the conclusion that this helps me find an audience who realise that works should be paid for when possible and when interest is piqued.

A number of limited editions will be available digitally over time which hopefully will help aid my survival and enable me to update the equipment I am using right now.

jimtavegia's picture

To me it comes down to the attitude or someone being compensated for their work.  It they want to offer it for free then I might accept the offer.

It comes down to the idea of found money...A dollar or a dime is found on the floor...insignificant amounts in 2013.  Do you pick it up or not?  What if it was a $20 bill?  Or a $100.  Do you find yourself in a dilema now, or not?  Candid camera or a conscience?  

Do you fear getting caught or would rather just do the right thing and see if the owner is close by? Oh, guilt is an awful thing, is it not?  

Napster pretty much defined how way too many felt that music should be free and anyone allowed to take what they wanted without any compensation do to the offers of said music. I do think locking up grandmothers was  alittle off base forf stuff downloaded by their grand chileren. 

I do think it is not much different that what some music labels did to their artists as there was and is today too many people between the creation and the product taking a piece of the artists $$pie. No one likes middle men who bring little value-added to anything. 

drblank's picture

Listening to music over the radio is free because they have sponsors PAYING to have it pumped out for free.  Without having ads or public donations, then the radio station can't exist.


Now, if people want free music, then the quality will suffer.  Who is going to pay for the studio equipment, engineers, producers, musicians, etc. so they can pay their bills, eat, buy more instruments, travel, etc.?   They don't live without money.

so for those that think that music should be free, then maybe you are one of those people that shouldn't get paid to do what YOU do.  

If no one gets paid, then society goes to a level where we can't live.


I think there is too much garbage recordings on the market and less attention to quality has been running rampant since the introduction of digital technology.  While the mfg costs have gone down to nothing, to get a REALLY good quality recording, one must have good equipment, recording environment, producers, etc. and that STILL costs money.  In some ways a lot of major advances have been taking place, but things STILL cost money.  I think the only that has really changed is more people can spit out recordings due to home studios, but because it takes a certain level to break even, most recording projects don't make a profit.  So we have to rely on rich people funding the recordings and hope that it sells enough to warrant doing it again and again.


I don't know how many units reference quality recordings actually sell, but I'm sure they aren't in the hundreds of thousands or even in the high tens of thousands.    To make a decent recording and pay people a REASONABLE amount for their time involved, they need to sell hundreds of thousands of units to recoup all of the costs (including marketing/advertising).  


So, anyone that wants FREE, just hit them over the head with a Krell or suitable weight power amp and maybe knock some sense into them.

drblank's picture

What's worse to hear is someone spending a bloody fortune on a stereo system, or some expensive cable and then wanting their music for free.  That kind of ignorance is just not tolerated.


Anyone that can afford high quality audio systems can afford to pay for the recordings and the only reason to buy bargain basement is that it isn't available through traditional channels.

I don't mind a reseller making a living, nor anyone else in the food chain.

I've worked a music store back before digital recordings and that's a low profit margin business to begin with.  But I always enjoyed going to a store and looking through the CD trying to find that one new CD from an artist you've never heard before.

Now we do it from our homes digitally and that takes part of the fun out going to a record store.

Advantages and disadvantages of doing it with on-line stores vs the traditional brick and mortar record store.   Sometimes I miss the Good Ol Days being able to go to a record store, knowing the people that work there, listening to someone new and having some degree of interaction with people.  Now it's on line.  It's fast and easy, but the human element is taken away.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Music will be less and less a financially self supporting an endeavor. There might be more opportunity for some indie to get some sales and some revenue than under the mega label system of the past, but that's it. The super acts will continue to do okay from music sales, but will continue to make the bulk of their money from touring.

As with reporting, there might be some amount funded by the wealthy, a little by public revenues, some participants willing to do it for relatively low wages out of love, but both (news) journalism and making and selling music will continue to reflect the ongoing attrition of jobs outside the service industry. With the attendant system of a few highly visible, highly compensated brand winners, who are exceptions proving the trend.

Largely because music and news are so trivially easy to get for free.

gogogirl23's picture

Ive been a gogo dancer for about 7 years and obviously music is my life, besides the gogo dancer clothes and gogo dancer boots, I would say the music are the top 3 things. Its sad when the DJ has to keep playing the same damn songs over over and over again because in most cases for small venues they cant afford to buy new songs for every show. Of course the big DJ's have sponsors and get most stuff for free but sometimes I dance in small venues too.

GeorgeHolland's picture

Honestly it is worthy of the hall of fame of posting. [edit by JA]

pvh1987's picture

I am 26 years old and from Denmark. Some 6-7 years ago, I got interested in high fidelity. I have always had an interest in music and used to play the guitar and listening to rock music since I was very young. I now own about 200 CD's and about 1000 LP's. I have used a lot of money buying my current setup which include a Rega P9 turntable and a CODA CSi amplifier, which I feel is very expensive. I have probably spent the same amount (or even more?) on records. I still go to my local record store quite often, sometimes more than once a month, and I very rarely come home with fewer than 5 albums, brand new or second hand.

My interest in high fidelity and music have caught the attention of at least two of my friends who started buying stereo setups themselves, including external DAC's that works with S/PDIF and USB. One of them even bought some CD's (50 or more). That might sound strange, but nowadays every youngster in Denmark do not use compact discs or records any more -- they are all on Spotify. Now he is on Spotify as well and the CD's are put away somewhere in a closet.

How can one appreciate the nasty streaming quality and random playing order, incomplete music catalogs etc. so much, that one wants to pay for it? I guess this question has crossed most music/hifi enthusiats minds more than once and the answer is: Because it is cheap. In fact, everyone I know around my age use Spotify and pays for it. Most are paying for their music for the first time in their life.

So I think it is one step forward and several steps back. The step forward is, that a lot of people are finally paying for music through Spotify or iTunes instead of just downloading illegally. The several steps back is:

1. They don't buy the whole album

3. They only pay a fraction compared to the cost of an CD or LP (how can the artist survive?)

4. Even if they bought the whole album, they don't listen to all of the songs -- and if they do, probably in random order

5. They don't own a physical copy (I think this is very important to connect with the music and the artist behind)

6. The quality is bad (horribly compressed mp3 compared to lossless CD, hi-res digital or analog)

I attended a party with some of my friends some time ago and the discussion went on about buying music versus downloading illegally for free. I told a lot about the feeling of owning a record and putting it on a turntable and so on. Then I told them that I buy all of my music and on LP if it is available - if not, then I buy the CD. The response from one of them was "Well, that's fine - but I'd like to keep my money for things that matters" or something like that with a smirk on his face. I was VERY offended and find this response extremly arrogant and... well, I have no words for this. That made me realize for real, that most young people simply don't care. On the other hand, they love to go to big rock concert even if the ticket costs a fortune, like ten brand new records.

The problem is even broader and applies to movies and books as well. If it can be downloaded for free (illegal or not), then "save the money for something that can't be downloaded". A couple of days ago, two of my teachers at the university said that "This is book is horribly expensive to buy, so If you can find a PDF or something like it on the Internet, you will probably go with that". I was shocked to hear that. This is "everyone does it, so it's OK" taken to the maximum level.

Sorry for the long post. I do not know a solution for this problem. I think that lowering the price of records, books and movies considerably and at the same making it impossible not to buy a whole album at time would help a lot. By lowering the price, I mean like 1/4 of the current price for a brand new music album or movie. The Internet is not going way anytime soon so the big companies ought to do something about this to make a living for themselves AND the musician.

James.Seeds's picture

I spent my teenage years growing up in the late 80's with the onslaught of Grunge music and the death of hair bands, even though this was happening there were always music afficiandos to point you in the right direction like must own records/CD's 
Pink Flyod - The Wall
Eagles etc, music that can be listened to over and over again unique in sound and usually conjured up some distant memory and if your lucky you hear something that you missed and never heard before giving you a "Oh" moment.
I've tried to do this with my nephew as much as possible to the point of being anal and managed to at least broaden his listening tastes, he lives in the suburbs but thinks he's a gangster if you get my point. The difference between my nephew and myself is that he consumes music, doesn't matter where he gets it, most likely a Torrent site, resides on his Pod for a while then is deleted when hard drive space becomes a premium, there's no connection between him and the musician it's just sound and I hate to sound like my parents but it sounds the same to me, same thumping beat same lyrics I wouldn't pay for it either if I had a choice but I think it's up to the previous generation to enlighten the next generation, sure the genie is out of the bottle but if they won't pay for it at least download classic albums that are listenable 

Louis Motek's picture

WIth regards to the downfall of musical taste, I believe it is more complicated than just a feeling of disconnectedness of today's youth from the music they 'consume' and quickly delete from their personal mobile devices. 

I was working as a musician and later as a technician in a recording studio in the late 80's / early 90's. This was the time when everything in the recording studio was in upheaval:

- instead of to tape, people started recording to hard drive.

- instead of "take two", they saved valuable time in the studio by just re-recording the few notes which were off. Even if it was one note. They just plugged it in. If it was a repeated section, often times they would literally copy and paste it. Thus, the feeling of musical form was a dying art except on stage. In the recording studio, we were left with just "pure intonation" instead of interpretation. 

-  Myriad computer plugins for the digital audio workstations were being developed. Everything from pitch shift to speed control, EQ, emulation of voices for harmonies, instrument emulators, etc. All this, you would think, would lead to better and better sounding recordings. What it in fact did do is simply take away the time spent by the artists preparing for the recording session. Now, they could rely on the "magic" of the studio to fix any errors. Because this is an economical incentive (they need not spend so much valuable time in front of the mic), everyone embraced it. 

- The whole re-mix fad of the 90's was based entirely on computer audio technology. It was easier to re-mix something that was a hit before and make a few bucks while it was on the charts for a few weeks than groping about in the dark with "new ideas" which were not tested on the market. 

- The advent of midi sequencers and Gigasampler technology (which effectively, for the untrained ear, completely replaced any need for any symphony orchestra) abolished any need for hiring studio musicians. Today, most movie scores are written, performed, and recorded by no more than one or two people with the aid of a thousand plugins on a computer. This artificial type of symphonic sound is what most people who today are <25 years old have ever heard. 

- When even symphonic type music is synthetically generated, and Musak everywhere is generated by computer (see Band-In-A-Box if you don't know what that is, your hair on the back of your neck might stand), and then you throw in the ease of downloading without paying, then you see more of the whole picture which leads to a global degradation of musical taste and appreciation. 

- There is an operation in San Francisco called American Brandstand which monitors how often corporate brand names are mentioned in all Billboard Top 20 songs. Music is seen more and more in a corporate light of profits and less and less as an expressive venue of emotion or a festive occasion. See the upsurge in the regional symphonies to play concerts based on movie themes like Star Wars, Pixar festivals, and such. This is because of the commercial value of the brand names, and for no other reason. They say it is to draw the youth toward the orchestra but in fact it is to satisfy today's desparate need to sell tickets.

If you look at all of these factors together, you will see the underlying thread: everyone has unwittingly conspired to save money and effort in the creation of music, so everyone is unwittingly conspiring to save money and effort in the use of music as well. 


Louis Motek

KevinHestner's picture

I most definitely think that artists should sell their music. It's not easy to make great music and not earning a bit by it. On the other hand giving your music away for free on the internet could lead to more fans for the artists. So it really depend.