Musicians aren’t making money from album sales anymore, people say. They make their money on tour. They’ve been giving their music away themselves since Myspace. CDs are as dead as cassettes. Listen to anything you want on Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, YouTube. Bit Torrent it and rip it as you please.
It’s damn tempting to do so. I spent my adolescent and teenage years lurking in music stores, flipping through my favourite artists’ tapes, wishing I had the money to buy as many as I wanted. Now it’s “free.” In unlimited amounts. Naturally there’s the impulse to pick as much as you want off of this great, abundant tree.
But besides the good reasons shown in the graphic to the left, currently making the rounds on facebook, there are altruistic reasons not to do this
- Musicians need to eat. And (apart from the big stars) most are just getting by. Or starving. And contrary to common wisdom, a touring band (apart from the big stars) makes basically nothing on the road.Even an album made on the cheap costs upwards of $10,000 to produce, if not more, considering studio time, musicians’ wages, production services, graphic design, printing, shipping, etc. Are the musicians expected to pony up for this themselves, and swallow the cost?Taking music removes you from the eco-system. The musician and/or label doesn’t know you’ve chosen that album. The vote cast by your choice doesn’t happen. There’s less motivation for them to pay to put out new material.
Music is cheaper than it was 25 years ago. How many things can you say that about? A digital download from the iTunes Store is 10 bucks. I would have been thrilled to find a CD that cheap in 1990. Downloads of older albums are often cheaper. As are downloads from indie labels’ websites.
Ten bucks really isn’t much. Ed Droste from the band Grizzly Bear pointed out that that’s the price of an appetizer, or a bag of popcorn at the movies. For something it took them two years to make. That, as the graphic says, you get to keep forever.
But the best reason to pay for music, I’ve found, is an utterly selfish one: You get more out of it.
Music appreciation takes time. You don’t get all the nuances on a single listen. There are details. There are layers. There are shades of meaning in the lyrics. There are subtle accents in the playing.
Even with something from one of my favourite artists, it’s always more than 10 listens before I get a sense of the shape of the album. Before I develop favourite songs. Before I start hearing those songs when the album isn’t on. Before I crave them and look forward to playing them again.
Not every album takes. But if I’ve laid money down for it, I’m more likely to give it a fair shot. I don’t want to have blown 10 bucks, after all.
It’s a particularly delicious experience to be seduced by an album. For a work to reveal itself bit by bit. For the landscape to come into greater definition as you pay closer attention to it, repeatedly. Until one day you realize it’s entwined itself right into your DNA.
I’m glad music is more available than ever before. The major labels and the big radio stations used to be the gatekeepers. The field is wide open now. Many more voices are getting through. We live in a time of exploding creativity. Maybe it’ll continue. I hope so.
Over-saturation is a big danger. Too much music is exhausting to look at, sitting in a never ending list on your computer. It feels like a chore to get through, like homework. It inevitably gathers digital dust, all lonely and ignored.
We dishonour the work of artists when we skim over their creation. And we rob ourselves of something that could stay with us our entire lives.
For a mere 10 bucks.