Monday, February 16, 2015

Starving Artists in the Digital Age

Since the rise of the digital download, internet users have searched for, found, and taken advantage of free sources of music. Sources such as Napster, Limewire, and file sharing services, which were once extraordinarily popular, served as user friendly alternatives to the iTunes store and other pesky digital download services that force users to pay for songs.

The only issue with using these sources, one that, for most users, was not at all difficult to get over, was that they were illegal. Because users paid nothing for the music they wanted, record companies and artists were paid no royalties. The sites were nothing more than middlemen in a massive heist resulting in 12.5 billion dollars in economic losses every year.

But who cares if some big time record executives don't get their bonuses, right? People in the music business make plenty of money, do they really need yours?

Unfortunately, 12.5 billion dollars is a lot of dough, even for music moguls. As a result of illegal downloads, over 70,000 music industry jobs were lost and artists, who usually receive less than 10% of royalties produced by music sales, suffered as much as anyone.

Enter Spotify. Riding in from the horizon on a glowing white horse, the online streaming service offered free music to the masses without the risk of computer viruses that was so prevalent with illegal downloads and with just enough paying users that the company could pay royalties to the record companies.

Despite the fact that a single Spotify play generates only $.006 according to Time magazine, artists with many plays are able to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars on song plays. So it's a win win.

But what about small-time, independent artists who are just getting their start? How do acts like the ones you see in South Bend, who haven't already struck gold with a new single or sold 500,000 copies of an album fair in this new musical economy?

Where it was once hard to make a career as a new artist, it is now almost entirely impossible. The overarching sense that everyone is entitled to free music has forced new artists to distribute through services like Spotify, which essentially give their art away.

This creates an enormous problem when you consider that the cost of recording in a professional studio is often in the range of 300-600 dollars per song and paid gigs are few and far between.

Ultimately, the belief that people have a right to free music, which led to the rise of illegal downloading and streaming services like Spotify, discourages new artists from putting in the work that is necessary to distribute music on a broad scale, as they must fund their work with a guarantee that there will be no return.

So what can you do to help encourage artists to continue producing?

If you're feeling a little guilty about that hard drive full of illegally downloaded music, let me just say, it's ok. I don't blame you. The temptation to access music you love cheaply and easily is one that almost everyone gives into and unless you did it with the intention of destroying the livelihood of independent artists, it doesn't make you a bad person.

Now that you know the effect illegal downloads have on the music industry, consider not using illegal free sources for music anymore. Go to shows, talk to local artists, and buy their CDs, buy a t-shirt or donate some for gas so that they can make it to their next show, download albums legally, or, if you insist on illegally downloading music, consider supporting artists in some of the ways mentioned by Amanda Palmer in this Ted Talk.


  1. I do agree with your statements. It is so sad that many talented musicians are losing their earned rewards and are being discouraged to produce new music because of it. While this is an important argument, I would like to address that I see artists still making a lot of money in other ways, such as band merch, shows, and other advertising/publicity. Really, will people ever stop downloading free music?

    1. Rachael, thanks for your comment. It's true that artists can make money in other ways, but independent artists must fully fund their work. All of the merchandise that can be sold must first be purchased and it is also very pricey. As for advertising, I know very few independent artists who are paid to advertise a product and most rely on endorsements and record deals to simply afford the cost of producing music. The truth is that many artists never make a living playing music. That being said, you're right that people will certainly never stop illegally downloading music, so alternative means of producing an income must be found.

  2. Ditto, Seth. A few of things you've mentioned in your post are some of the reasons I quit pursuing music so much. It's hard to get noticed, and those that do via the internet, even in a small way, tend to think of themselves as famous. And downloading music? yeah, that seems to be the way of things from now on...

    1. David, it certainly does seem that digital downloads will be the future of music sales. Hopefully, people will either download honestly, or find alternative ways to support upcoming artists.

  3. Hello, on a note of money (in a way I suppose) check out my blog to read more about where people's money goes.