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To a Mother Concerned About File Sharing

Posted in A Day in the Life, Articles, Carla and Goliath, DIY Diva, Indie Music, Music Blogosphere | 3 Comments »

Today’s post is inspired by a letter received from the Musician Wages website. A few music bloggers, including myself, are chiming in today for a group blogging event.

I have a teenage son who tells me his pirating music is no big deal. Since he is a musician himself, I point out to him that someday that’s going to be his money people are stealing. But he remains unphased.

He tells me the record sales make money for the record label, not the artist. He says that the artists make all their money from touring and live concerts. He thinks the pirated music promotes the concerts and therefore helps the artist make more money. I still don’t allow pirating in my house.

But tell me what you think – as artists out there having your work “shared,” are you just glad to have it being enjoyed, or does it bother you? Admittedly, he is stealing music that is recorded by major record labels, so maybe its different than the independent musician working for his living. But I’d still like to hear what you think.

Thanks,
Valerie

Hi Valerie-

First of all, let me commend you for supporting your son’s desire to be a musician, in addition to expressing your concern about the potential consequences of file sharing. Supportive parents for musicians are not a dime a dozen – thank you!

As Dave Hahn and Cameron Mizell from Musician Wages have mentioned, listening to lots of music is quite important for musicians. As a Studio Music & Jazz (and Music Industry) major at University of Miami, I had the benefit of a large music library where the students were required to listen to well-known, more established musicians in order to learn from them. Some of my favorite memories were from times spent at a library table with headphones, sharing vinyl albums with other students. But I also know that this musical education experience is not the norm for most aspiring musicians. And for the price I’ve paid (and continue to pay 😉 ) for my education, I probably could have purchased that music at the store. If file sharing had existed then, I probably would have participated.

The music industry is currently in a state of transition and confusion. The “old school” music business model provided that a record label would pay recording artists an advance to live on, and pay for marketing, distribution, and other promotion costs. The artist was then expected to sell enough “product” to recoup those expenses back before the label would give the artist more money. With this enormous overhead, only a small percentage of artists could actually recoup those expenses, so most labels would have a handful of Superstars (such as a Whitney Houston or Celine Dion), a few up & coming “baby bands” that were poised to break through the Billboard charts “with a bullet”, and a number of indie bands that most people have never heard of, but are big in their hometown or region. Many of those indie bands were unable to break through on a major scale. Furthermore, those indie bands were often dropped, disillusioned, and in debt.

Today’s “new school” music business model actually came to power because of digital file sharing. Previously, record labels had the advantage because they could control the distribution of their artists’ albums through stores, record clubs, etc. Today’s technology now enables music to be shared online with one person (or many) with a single click. While this is very convenient for the music consumer, this new way of distributing music enables those indie bands to actually make a living from selling music – without a record label. What a concept!! The downside is that these indie bands are not receiving an advance, so they’re on their own to raise money to record and go on tour. The upside is that the overhead for indie bands is now much lower, so they can actually make a profit from their music, or at least break even. Amazing!

As an indie musician, I also understand the importance of file sharing as a promotional tool. Without a traditional record label promotion machine behind me, one of my indie music promotion tools is giving away lots of free mp3s. An advantage that indie artists have is that recording costs are lower, thanks to home recording studios. We can offer alternate versions of tunes as free mp3s, and build our fanbase. Before we can sell our mp3s, people have to know that our music exists in the first place.

So in my mind, after creating good music, music marketing is Job #1. As CD Baby’s founder Derek Sivers warns musicians, “Obscurity is your real enemy. Fight obscurity until you’re a household name, then piracy will be more of a problem than obscurity.” There will always be piracy in the music industry, but I couldn’t honestly say that I’ve been a victim of thousands of people stealing my mp3s. But even if that were the case, I could live with that because that would also mean that a number of people are buying those mp3s as well. When you’re hot, you’re hot, and I don’t think you can have one side without the other.

Having said all that, I hope that recording and touring is something that your son may try himself one day. I heartily recommend it actually, because as an indie artist myself, there’s nothing like reviewing your sales stats, and knowing that you’ve made money from your music. And there’s no better way to understand and appreciate the business of music than to do it yourself. I wish you and your son the best.

Thank you for reading.

Carla Lynne Hall aka “The DIY Diva”

CLH, Cameron Mizell, and David Hahn
Me with Cameron Mizell and Dave Hahn from MusicianWages.com