My take on illegal downloads and piracy in general.
Lately, I have seen a growing tendency, especially from new/young bands, to just post their work and give it for free or, at the most, putting a donation button. Some justify this by saying it is a way to protest against the state of affairs in the music industry. Others say that they are doing music for artistic or personal realization and they don’t do it for the money.
Had I ever formed part of a musical endeavor with some sort of commercial potential, I would not have the moral authority to say what I’m about to say, but luckily it is not the case. In all my years writing classical music, and now through Kotebel for quite some time, the driver has been the same as these younger or novel bands: to create art.
The problem of piracy has to be examined from many angles and I do not attempt to cover them all here. I would like to concentrate on two:
- The intrinsic value of a work of art
- Sustainability of an artistic project
If we were to add the cost of all the materials and the hours plus all related expenses that Picasso incurred when painting “Garçon à la Pipe – Boy with a Pipe”, and compare it to the selling price it has today ($120 million), what would be the margin of this “commercial” transaction? Would anyone in his right mind be willing to pay millions when the cost, even assuming outrageous hourly rates for Mr. Picasso, would probably not even reach $ 10.000?
If you believe there is value in the work that you have created, why give it away for free?
People that listen illegally to music don’t seem to be aware of how much it costs to launch an album on the street. If you start to count from the moment you sit down in front of a blank piece of paper, and start adding hours and expenses related to composition, arrangements, rehearsals, recordings, mastering, manufacturing, distribution and promotion (yes, we do all this ourselves in Kotebel) the price tag goes up to several thousand euros. After 10 years, Kotebel is still not able to produce enough to cover its costs. However, in only 1 illegal site alone, the number of downloads of “Ouroboros”, had they paid 5 euros, would have allowed us not only to cover the cost of releasing “Ouroboros”, but also we would now have the resources required to cover the studio expenses for our next album.
Here are classical reasons that people use to justify why they do illegal downloads:
If I like the stuff, I will probably buy the album and recommend it to others
Imagine that you go to the supermarket, go to the winery section, pick up a nice bottle of red wine, and go to the cashier. And you say: “I’m taking this bottle of wine and I’m not going to pay for it but don’t worry because if I like it, I will recommend it to my friends and I will come back for more – and next time I will pay, I promise”. We know what would be the reaction of the cashier, but more than that: what would the others in the cue think? Do you think they would say “Hmm, interesting… he does have a point” or “This moron wants the wine for free and here I am willing to pay for my shopping basket!”.
Why should I pay for something I don’t know if I am going to like?
I could easily go back to the same example as before and argue that we buy many things without knowing beforehand if we are going to like it or not. But in our case, it is even more ridiculous: most sites (certainly in our site you can) have a wide range of long samples so the listener can get a pretty good idea of the type of music that you are going to have. It would be like having in the winery section a small bottle for free, so you can try the wine before you buy it.
The price of CDs and downloads is too high
People tend to apply the same rationale for commercial music – that sells in the order of millions and hundreds of thousands – with Art Music that is sold usually in hundreds or few thousands in the best of cases (yes, some exceptionally reach tens or hundreds of thousands but they represent and insignificant percentage). In order to get some significant revenue from sales, Art Music should be sold three or four times more expensive than commercial music. The arithmetic is simple. Yet, you find that many artists (like Kotebel) sell their music at prices even lower than your average commercial release. Going back to the question of intrinsic value of the work of art, if a fan is not willing to pay 10 euros for a CD (excluding shipping) or 5 euros to download a complete album, then I wonder if it is a fan that we really want to have.
We still need to go a long way in this Copernican shift that the music industry is undergoing, but eventually, whatever new model these changes eventually lead us to, it will, without a doubt, end up finding a way to make sure people pay for what they listen to. And, hopefully, this new model will allow artists to get the major portion of what is paid instead of the ridiculous percentages that artists have been receiving for the last 60 years.
So here you go. My take on piracy. I welcome supporters of illegal downloads to challenge my arguments. And I’m not being cynical; I would really like to know if someone can give me a convincing argument as to why piracy is good for the artist, the listeners, and the industry et al (as some claim).