Okay, so I know this makes, what, three or four entries in a row that I’ve mentioned the CD Baby DIY Musician Podcast? But I just listened to episode 50 and happened to get a chance to read an article they discuss by a woman named Kate Taylor in which the writer discusses the importance of artists being paid for their work. The forum on this article lit up with many people weighing in on the idea of artist being paid, and whether or not downloading and/or free music constitutes stealing and the ruination of musicians. It was actually a super heated debate and a lot of it ended up centering around one particular artist’s response that illegal downloading was not really the hot button issue that indie artists should focus on. In the actual episode, host Kevin Breuner (who actually took the time to comment on my last post…Thanks Kevin!) makes a similar point in the defense of the commenter on the string. He and the podcast panel put forth on numerous occasions the idea of the product and the work put in as being the important piece.
Now, I would be the last person to ever say that an artist should not be paid as any other worker out there. Music is art; it is intellectual property and getting that music for free instead of purchasing it from the artist is a form of stealing. I look at performing artists as entertainers and even shake my head when I think of the discrepancy between athletes, who are also entertainers, and artists. I realize athletes are in a more in-demand field in many cases, but the gap is astonishing even at the top. Artists are hard working people who deserve adequate compensation for their talent and their craft. But I find myself mostly in agreement with the brave commenter and the guys on the cast for a few other reasons. I was so much in agreement with what was being said that I wasn’t even really going to comment at all because I felt I had nothing really new to add, but I read a few comments that really burned me. There were too many comments for me to feel like posting there would have been adequate, so I obviously jumped over here.
Here’s what gets me: in the comment string several people made comparisons between the downloading of music as stealing, and various other forms of stealing. They were all similar examples, so I’m going to point out the couple that stuck out to me the most and use them in place of dissecting them all. The best ones were the examples of the bread baker and the cupcake shop. The comment stated that stealing music was akin to stealing from a baker..that it’s ridiculous to say that a person shouldn’t have to be paid for baking bread simply because they enjoy it, with the fun being the compensation basically. Not too much wrong there. They then went on to say that it was the same as walking into a bakery and taking a loaf of bread without paying for it. Here’s where it goes wrong, and it links to the cupcake example. The cupcake example was to say that just because a portion of your audience pays for the product doesn’t make it not wrong. It went like this: if you bake 10 cupcakes and 10 people come into your shop, but only 2 of them pay for it, then 8 of them were stolen. If you work hard and get more popular and get 100 customers, but only 40 of them pay, you still had 60 stolen from you and it’s an outrage.
Here’s my problem with these examples in relation to music sharing/downloading and I think it’s indicative of a poor attitude in general from the artistic community in relation to this: if I bake 10 cupcakes and 8 of them get stolen, I have lost the money that it took to make those physical cupcakes. I paid directly for the flour, the sugar, the eggs, etc… The same goes with loaves of bread, or with stealing any other tangible object you compare stealing music to. There is an initial investment that goes completely out the window when they literally get taken from me. If I make an album, that includes a physical product as well if I choose to make one. The place where the sharing and downloading of music comes in is that it is a conceptual loss to the artist rather than a direct capital loss. You didn’t pay for the burnable CD that the person gets. You didn’t have to pay anything directly for those copies of the mp3’s to be made. But that person who got them, who may or may not have been willing to pay for it in the first place, now does not have to go buy that album in order to get your music. The loss is generated out of the idea that the person would have paid the money if they hadn’t gotten it for free. This is more akin to the idea that if you had a cupcake shop and one person bought your cupcakes, figured out the recipe, and then made cupcakes for their friends, those friends wouldn’t have to go to your shop to get your style of cupcakes unless they wanted to support you. It doesn’t literally cost you money for those cupcakes (standing in for burned CDs or downloaded mp3’s) to be made and distributed to the small number of people who have access to the person who figured out the recipe. If anything it may cost the passer a couple of bucks to get eggs, milk, flour, and burnable CDs. I’m not condoning illegal downloading, I’m just agreeing that I don’t think it’s the black and white stealing issue that everyone is up in arms about it being, and that there are more important issues for musicians to worry about. People don’t have to pay money every time your song comes on the radio. The station paid it’s license, but there are people getting to listen for free! That seems to me to be a similar situation as music sharing. Person A (station/fan) pays for music. Person B (listener/friend) gets to hear for free. Yes, a radio station doesn’t play songs on demand, but is that what a person pays for when they pay for a CD or an mp3? The right to listen on demand? Or are we upset because they’ve stolen intellectual property? You can’t have it both ways.
In my humble opinon, I think this represents a real issue at the heart of the art world in general, and that is where exactly is the value in art? What are you paying for when you pay for art? I can see a photo of a Van Gogh in a book and I don’t have to pay to look. I can hear a song on the radio and I don’t have to pay to listen. But to have access to the real thing when I want it, now I have to think of a capital value. All art has capital value that the artist deserves to be compensated for intrensic in the effort and beauty of the work, but there comes a point when trying to squeeze the art for capital value and trying to control all avenues that the art may travel turns you into…well…Metalica (at least in spirit; see the Napster thing). I don’t want to sound like I believe this to be a black and white, “I’m right and they’re wrong issue,” because it’s not. And so few things ever really are. But I don’t think it’s as easy as saying that it’s all the same as stealing, or that artists should be happy with what they get because they’re living their dream or having fun or whatever. I think there are many shades of gray, and the issue will remain amorphus until we all figure out and agree upon what it is that we’re paying for when we pay for our art, cause we’re paying for it on both sides right now even if no money changes hands.