Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Downloading Music

As I’ve mentioned a few times over the past few months, I’ve been working on this music criticism capstone project to complete my music degree. It’s now less than a month a way and I’m hard at work. Yesterday, I interviewed Jeff Leizawitz, an adjunct PLU faculty member who used to be a rock music critic. We talked at the Kelley CafĂ© here on campus at PLU and the conversation was absolutely fascinating. We covered a lot of ground in about an hour but what stuck with me most was what he had to say about illegal downloading. He didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know, but it’s had me reconsidering the way I acquire music.

I’ve personally never illegally downloaded music but I’ve gotten A LOT of albums from friends, which is really no different when it comes down to it. It’s getting recorded music for free, plain and simple. As an active recording artist, Jeff told me that he has been screwed over by the system big time. He told me that for every one hundred albums acquired by music consumers, only five are legitimately paid for. I have no idea how well-founded that is, but if the numbers aren’t that stark yet, I’m sure they will be soon. So basically, musicians are spending hours crafting something very valuable in their recorded music, and are getting one twentieth of what they would get in a perfect world.

Like I said, this isn’t really anything new to me. It’s been fairly clear that ever since music became transferrable as computer files, the money-making days for recorded music were all but over. But does that make it okay to perpetuate the trend? Because the majority is acting one way, is it not worth it to hold your ground?

When I first started collecting music in middle school, I burned CDs. Then I stopped and tried to replace them all with the actual albums. Then I started acquiring music for free again in late high school. It may seem strange that someone as obsessed as I am would be so wishy washy about this, but that’s the truth.

Until Monday, I hadn’t really thought twice about acquiring music illegally in quite some time. Music is my lifeblood and if it’s available, I’ll find a way to get it. But can one really deny the fact that downloading a song is like stealing an apple from a fruit seller? It’s just that no one’s watching when you steal a song, and there aren’t a limited amount of downloads available. Still, our basic economic system has people paying for things that other people produce for a living. As a believer in the power of the arts, it seems that I would not be one to shortchange these artists.

But the problem is, I’m not exactly a rich man. In the past I’ve justified it by saying I must have music and must have food and shelter, but I can only afford food and shelter, so sacrifices must be made, selfishly at the expense of the musician. But that’s no good. I may change my mind again in a week, but right now, I’m going to do what I can to keep the recording industry alive. I just proposed a weekly column with SSGMusic where I feature one album a month. I’d get it for free, but with permission of the artists and with the potential to raise their income through my words. Who knows if it will work, but this is my current solution.

So I don’t want to be like that annoying vegetarian friend who tells you you’re a murderer every time you eat a hamburger; I'm probably more guilty than most people reading this. But I do think it's important to realize that music isn’t a charity. Artists are real people, as hard as that may be to believe. If you don't want to stop downloading, find another way to support the arts. Music will always exist but unless we’re careful, recorded music as we know it could drastically change in a short amount of time.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Gold Medal: A Piece of Strange by CunninLynguists

Don’t judge a book by its cover. And for that matter, don’t judge an album by its cover. And for the matter, don’t judge an artist by its name. Lo and behold, a Christian themed hip-hop album by a group with a blatant sexual innuendo as a moniker is probably my favorite rap album ever made. A Piece of Strange is the story of a man, just out of jail, trying to get back on his feet. He finds himself tempted (see apple on cover) by women, crime and drugs and ends up sucked in to this world of sin and finds himself in Hell, only to eventually see The Light. The story is powerful but what really sets this record apart are the beats. Kno is truly a master producer.

Silver Medal: The Long March EP by Blue Scholars

Yes, this is an EP. Yes, I may be biased because I met the two members of the Blue Scholars. Yes, much of this is inspired by the Chinese communism of Mao Zedong. Nonetheless, I hardly had to think twice about including this incredible record at number two. Each song is an eye-opening anthem for the struggling middle class. Each song makes you want to get up and do something about the problems of the world. Each song keeps you listening to every passionate word from the mouth of MC Geologic and grooving to every beat courtesy DJ Sabzi. “I heard a few heads say that hip hop is dead. No it’s not. It’s just malnourished and underfed.”

Bronze Medal: Illinois by Sufjan Stevens

I used to be annoyed with how long this album is but because there is so much variety here, it's quite alright. Illinois has since become an indie classic and it has to do with the fact that he's possibly the most unique, cutting-edge pop musician alive. This album is all about the state of Illinois, and uses baroque pop, tender acoustica and minimalist vignettes to paint a complete picture of Sufjan's magnificent vision that was just coming into focus on Michigan and then was distorted into something completely different on Age of Adz. A master craftsman, Sufjan Stevens' work will undoubtedly stand the test of time.