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 Café 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.


  1. Yes, we shall have a discussion about this in a few days.


  2. Great essay, Ben. And I agree. At this point, lack of skill prevents me from downloading music. I always search for bargains on CD's, usher to see shows, get free passes from tj to see movies - do what I have to to feed my passion. Needless to say, as your dad, I hope you work hard to maintain your integrity and get the music you need to feed your soul.

  3. I take it that you won't be wanting to get Blood Bank from me.