A Different View on Music Piracy

While it's not right to "steal" anything, maybe "stealing content" has changed its meaning if now most of that content is freely accessible.

Ultimate Guitar

This column is dedicated to our beloved Scott Ian, who I couldn't see on a gig on Orlando because he suffered from food poisoning that night; I hope everything turned out OK.

Times are changing way too fast for everyone to keep up. Drones are an issue now, privacy has a whole new approach, the media and social networks overwhelm us in every way possible. There are several courses of action that we can take, but it all boils down to whether we accept these changes or not; and what are we going to do about it.

Actually, it's way simpler than you think. It doesn't matter if we accept it or not, the cold fact is that these changes are occurring and they will keep on evolving and growing, and therefore, becoming part of our lives. It's what we do in response that counts.

What's important is to take a reasonable stance, which will help you and others around you grow and progress through this messed-up world we live in. You can't just say that "The Internet is garbage and should be banned because banana." What. The Internet is huge, free knowledge is huge; setting yourself against all of this might not be the best stance to take in this present time. The whole Internet phenomenon has made knowledge and education more accessible than ever; you can now learn whatever you want if you have the dedication and an iPhone (now who takes the time to do it actively instead of playing "Clash of Clans"?). 

And as knowledge is easier than ever to access, so is content. You can now find any movie, music or whatever by typing its name on a search bar. Artists can use this medium to publish their works so anyone can access them, but it also can be a way of getting that artist's work for free. Let's focus on music, for now.

Musicians work their a-ses off to produce an album, to play gig after gig, to keep learning and growing, because if they don't, they fall back and fail. It is only logical that a piece of work which took many hours and moneys to produce, should be paid for so the artist gets rewarded for doing it, and so he keeps producing even more content. But now, thanks to the Internet, it is easier than ever to get this content without paying.

The idea is that, it can (and should) be said that piracy hurts the musician because you're taking his or her sweat and blood for free. But that's just one side of the matter.

On the other side, there's the ones who download the music. Kids on their computers getting stuff for free; that's a not-so-new thing that's happening.

But it's not just some thing. It's music.

Why do they do that? Do they want to "steal and download a car" just like those silly ads? No! They want to hear the goodness because perhaps they do not have access to it otherwise. Not every record store sells technical death metal albums; and now record stores have starting to disappear (at least in my country, Venezuela) because people simply do not buy CD's anymore; they get their music either from YouTube, Peer-to-Peer programs or any other method that, sadly, is taking for free something that should be paid for. 

But it's also not just some thing they steal. It's music!

Wouldn't you do anything to get that thing that makes your heart beat faster and your life have some sort of meaning? If it was all that it took, wouldn't you just click a button to hear prophetic riffs from Metallica and then learn them on your guitar, because you praise those guys so much you would just do anything to get near them? I'm not trying to justify "stealing" music, I'm trying to bring some light into understanding the causes within, and not just bashing the Internet and its users because they get things for free whenever they can.

Another part of this is the argument that "smaller bands can't get big anymore/rock is dead." What are you talking about, man? Hey Mr. Famous, what's the last time you went to a small-name venue to hear a no-name-band play? They do grow and fight against the industry that saturates the media with its so-called "pop" music; you're just way up there in Rock Heaven where you can't see all of us building our own Stairway (either a stairway upwards or a highway downstairs). Big-name rock stars's stance on this whole matter is completely understandable though; but wow, it would be glorious if they came back down here. It's the exact same thing just like when they where long-haired teen bums, with jean jackets and whiplash on their necks; but technology is way different now and media gets around in a more massive way. Let's do this together. 

Help those around and below you, learn from the guys above, and you will never go wrong.

Piracy cannot be stopped. Plain and simple. One of the main pillars of computer science nowadays is that knowledge is unstoppable and it will continue to evolve whether we like it or not. There can be ACTA, or whatever law to try and stop the Internet from spreading free content; but that's something those suit-and-tie guys do not understand, if it gets contained, it will find a way to spread itself in some way or another. Well, instead of SAYING things about it, DO something about it. And we're not law-lobbyists or computer-scientists over here, we're musicians. While most of us, Ultimate-guitarists use the Internet every day, and some of us even as our main work source, a bunch of the guys we praise like gods simply do not want to understand why are things the way they are like now, that the music that's released to the general public is more "mainstream" than ever; and in the same way, the music on the backstage of media is still strong, just like the old days. They seem to have forgotten about giving away mix-tapes, playing just for the sake of playing (which must always be the case), and the sheer joy of finding a new band that makes you suddenly love all of its music.

So we must not choose if we're in favor or against the media phenomenon; we have to take advantage of it, tame it like a wild horse, and then teach it who's boss, because the Internet is here to stay.

As a treat, here is one of my favorite bands, which I found on YouTube a couple of months ago. They're from Ukraine.

YouTube preview picture

35 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Not saying this is true for everyone, but a lot of my own piracy was from not having much disposable income. Once I cemented myself as sustainably middle class, I stopped pirating music, and started paying the full asking price. I've even tried to offer a sort of amends to the music community. I've handed the lead singer of The Toasters a crisp $100 bill just to play Talk Is Cheap-- not bad for a few minutes work. I've payed punk bands to come play house shows. I guess once a pirate doesn't mean always a pirate. Music means so much to me, that when I didn't have the means, I borrowed and (let's face it) stole. But once I was able to afford without breaking the bank, I stopped pirating. Great article. Thanks for taking the time to write it.
    That's exactly it for me. It all boils down on how much disposable income I have, which these days, is nearly none. Paying it forward is so important though in any way. What you did was awesome and I applaud you for it. Unfortunately, there are too many kids out there living in giant houses with everything paid for who expect to have everything for free regardless. Thus is the new generation as a whole.
    Nicely put. Few years ago I made a conscious decision not to pirate. In result, I'm way more excited when I get a new album or go to record store. I have even bought some of the albums that I pirated when I was younger as physical copy.
    Praise to you my Latin brother. greetings from brazil. hang in there. we've been hearing terrible things that are happening in venezuela. also, good point on the article.
    Thanks friend. Things are REALLY messed up right now. Let's hope it all solves out peacefully. Because sadly it won't.
    Completely agree, music is not a 1 off deal that many successful rockstars or greedy companies like to make it out to be. Music is not just "I release an album, you buy/pirate it, the end". No, it's "I release an album, you buy/pirate it, you become a fan, you buy my older/newer stuff, you watch us live, you spread the word, you enjoy our music". Even if some kid pirates your music, he may become your biggest fan and make you more money than if he couldn't afford the album and never listened to you in the first place. It was only after listening to a large chunk of Behemoth's "The Satanist" on Youtube, that I decided to buy it, and it's probably the best metal album of 2014. And if it weren't for Youtube, I would have never discovered my all time favourite band.
    If I hadn't heard that album online, I wouldn't have bought it, bought their merch, pre ordered their album and helped fund their pledge campaign. Great article.
    1:35 All interest lost. 1:40 Interest marginally restored 1:50 Shrugging my shoulders, I pause the video and forget about the band. Too bad for me, I really thought it'd be good based upon the opening music.
    Is piracy a big problem when we have things like Spotify? Is there a need to pirate music any more?
    ads are annoying, but that's where the bands make the money. sponsored music is pretty disgusting though to be quite honest.
    Piracy doesn't seem to be a problem when compared to Spotify, a low quality music service with pesky ads, DRM protection etc. Not saying that it makes the significant profit only for a few already popular bands.
    I like the tone of your article. I have some issues with the idea of '[doing] anything to get that thing that makes your heart beat faster and your life have some sort of meaning' though. The very same sentiment applies to drug addicts, right? The idea that you'll do anything to 'get your fix', whatever your fix may be, is dangerous because we KNOW what lengths people will go to to get their fix (all income goes to drugs first and food second for example). Not being able to afford something to a lot of people simply should mean (in the normative sense, not a descriptive one) not having access to it. This is the idea of capitalism, this is the idea of the record companies. There are a lot of considerations to be taken into account beyond this of course. I too download music simply because of unavailability. It's just that the idea of the 'fix' that music provides itself does [i]not necessarily legitimize all ways to come about said fix. The thing to go for as far as young and starting bands are considered right now is digital distribution, getting your name out there as much as possible, and gigging for your life. There are two sides to the coin of the declining industry. Yes bands put a ton of money and time into their products, be it writing material, recording stuff, or gigging all over the place. But on the other hand it takes less and less money to get your name out there, less and less to record decent sounding material without the help of a professional studio and thus at less than 10% of their costs (this is my personal experience though, the actual cost-efficiency of home studios vs. pro studios I wouldn't really dare to comment on). So it's a two-way street in that regard. The thing to watch out for is market saturation. The enormous amount of new bands, material and what else have you will undoubtedly lead to crappy artists getting recognition and amazing musicians being buried deep inside a formless heap of grey goo. But THIS is where the actual established industry should step in and help out, and THIS is where I see most potential for growth and change regarding file-sharing and piracy I guess. True answers or solutions I do not have, these are just my two cents. I wonder what others think of this. Once again, your article makes some great points!
    I'm old enough to have briefly had a cassette collection. I had a stereo that featured 2 cassette decks and "high speed dubbing." My friends frequently copied whole albums or created mixtapes to share music. When CD burners became affordable we did the same on disc. Nowadays we might pass a USB drive back and forth to share cool new music. Is that piracy? Because I remember it mostly introducing me to new bands and music, on which I spent quite a lot of money.
    I know right? I never had a cassette collection, but if it weren't for the person I took guitar lessons with letting me borrow a couple CDs to put on my mp3 player I wouldn't know about Ad di Meola or Return to Forever! That's some great stuff by the way!
    I agree with your points--the bands i listen to are only available in FYE for an overpriced $12 in-store-made copy; apps (I won't give the name of) made it possible for me to pursue my prog metal dreams!
    12$ Overprice? That's the price with 10-20% off in Finland... My CD collection usually doesn't have much new music in it because I wait for a couple of years and find them for 5-10€.
    Second Rate
    12 dollars isn't too bad. I've seen some bands peddling crappy homemade CD-R demos for as much as 20 dollars. And people say the labels are greedy.
    When you sell a few cd's a month, it's not greed. It's hunger.
    Great article! I couldn't agree more with everything that was stated. I've never really been a fan of downloading music. I still support my favorite bands by purchasing their CD's, LP's, merch, etc. I've always loved the artwork and everything else that comes with an album. You learn more about the artist and can truly appreciate the amount of effort that was put into the production.
    Have you ever taken a mix tape someone made you and listened to it? As soon as you do that you're a music pirate. One way we can ensure there are still bands writing and playing music is to support them. I buy music not because I have to, but because I support the artists and others who contribute to the hard work of making it happen - my choice. I don't have to do it, and I don't judge anyone who doesn't. Some people eat Vegan. I choose to pay for music. Wanna make a bet? I bet enough people like myself are out there to keep the music business alive and well, and in fact this way might be even better. Why? I INVEST MY MONEY WISELY and only purchase music I am confident is worth buying. When a band like Borknagar releases an album I buy it because I respect that band and I am a fan of what they do, and I know I am one of the important people out there opening my pocket to help them do what they do. Why do I do this? My friend gave me a copy of a Borknagar album, YES FOR FREE!!, and I liked the Hell out of it, and I have purchased everything the band has ever made since I heard it. That's what I do. Someone dumps some MP3's on my iPod and I listen to them. If I like them I buy the band's stuff.
    The other argument I've heard is that creativity won't be damaged by piracy and that musicians will continue to make innovative music for the sake of music and not money. This again isn't true. The way that creativity evolved over the past several decades has been incredibly quick in comparison to that of say centuries ago. Why? Because we created an industry around the entertainment. We created celebrities that acted as role models for the youth. It became attractive and accessible through marketing and distribution. Any band that is big now will refer to a bunch of older bands that influenced them. Those bands then refer to even older bands that influenced them. They all had the common aspect of being invested in for marketing to make them a known brand. The only reason they knew of these bands was because they had money splashed into their marketing! Music evolves off of what is in the world today, not out of clouds. Blues, turns to Rock, Rock turns to punk and metal, etc. The internet allows you exposure, it DOESN'T give you branding. You can't stand out and become role models or progress creativity. If no new, innovative bands are getting marketed, they WONT be known enough for music to evolve off of their works. If it does, it will happen incredibly slowly (back to centuries ago). If no new bands are being marketed, and no new celebrities appearing, there are no more role models for our youth, music becomes less attractive. What is actually happening is the opposite. Creativity in music and musical innovation is slowing down.
    "The way that creativity evolved over the past several decades has been incredibly quick in comparison to that of say centuries ago. Why?" Well, I'm glad you asked. Though I'm not 100% sure, I'd guess it's because we don't have the plague, measles, polio, 80-hour workweeks, 30-year wars in front of your door, as much corruption etc etc. Although your industry probably helped a bit too.
    People who download music usually do it because of a lack of disposable income, or they simply don't respect the artist / industry. That being said, when I was younger and piracy hadn't really became a thing for the internet, I would save my money up until I could buy the thing I wanted. So the argument of 'lack of disposable income' isn't true either, it's a lack of respect for the artist and the industry. I do understand that as a consumer, you want something, you want it now. The internet has taken away the forced self-restraint that we once had. Then there is the argument that piracy gets the artist exposure and increases their revenue through ticket sales and merch sales. What you fail to realise is that in order for a band to go on tour, they need a revenue to begin with in which to invest. That revenue traditionally came from music sales. Bands now struggle to tour as many places as they would have done many years back. Then you also have to wonder why bands are having to resort to pledgemusic and kickstarter campaigns. What you are actually seeing happening to the music industry is it becoming elitist again. In the pop industry, most of the Artists that make it big come from wealthy backgrounds where their family has connections to the music industry professionals. The ones that don't are usually short lived internet viral sensations. (Be aware that some of the artists are marketed as underdogs gone rich, eg Justin Bieber). That or they are already well known from other past works such as film. It's also why the industry focuses on same handful of bands for festivals and magazines. They already have branding power invested in many years ago. New bands just can't get this anymore aside from a very VERY lucky few. It's why all the european festivals seem to share pretty much the same lineups almost. It's why Kerrang magazine has the same bands over and over each month. New bands are getting exposure for sure. What they're not getting is branding power. Their brand remains at the level of a struggling band on the internet and so that's what people think of them. Would you pay £20 to see an relatively unknown garage band play in your city, even if you liked them? Well, if that band had money invested in them for marketing, they would be the same band except known. Worth £20 now? If that was the case then why aren't companies investing in these bands to get them branded and making a return? They're not because the amount of money needed investing is huge, the return is incredibly risky, companies would go bankrupt. That my friends is why it's the death of the industry. Have fun listening to rich kids sing auto-tuned on bland, commercially safe pop music the rest of your life.
    i've always thought of "piracy" as advertisement and one of the most basic forms of sharing music. there is so much stuff i'd never hear without the internet. all of the old splits and EPs that were printed in quantities of 500 are now all over the place. plus i can give away my music for free anywhere in the world i want; that's ****ing amazing.
    YouTube is fantastic. Lets you try before you buy. Downloading songs for free? That doesn't help the artist at all, it doesn't help spread your musical wings, because you can get it on YouTube. Can't get CD's? iTunes, Amazon all sell digital music. Machine Heads latest release is a good example - streaming the album on YouTube, you've then got no excuse for pirating it. I don't like getting free music, it's cheating the very people you're trying to support.
    What I like to do is view on YouTube/Spotify to garner an opinion, then buy the physical CD
    What I like to do is view on YouTube/Spotify to garner an opinion, then buy the physical CD
    i'm not in a economic position to buy ten albums a year, although i do buy albums from underground bands i meet in gigs. they trully need it.
    The whole "piracy" argument leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I know how much it costs to make a compact disc. I know how much of the retail price goes to the artist (it's roughly 50 cents per album, whether it's via DL or CD). When CD's first came out you paid nearly $20 for a new release. As the medium aged, that fell to as low as $12, but now has climbed back up towards the $20 mark. The recording industry has been ripping us off for decades, while crying "wolf" about how much money it's costing the artist if you "pirate" their work. Don't misunderstand me, I think the artist should get paid for their intellectual property, for their creativity, and for all the time and effort that has gone into honing their craft. That being said, they're never going to get a fair shake from the corporate pigs in the industry. I had a deal with a friend some time back, we would burn a disc for one another of the really good stuff we'd stumbled across over the years. Discs went back and forth, but the deal was that if you didn't like the disc, you removed any music from it from your hard drive and destroyed the disc. If you liked it, on the other hand, you were required to go out and pick up your own copy. I can tell you that I supported a lot of artists I otherwise wouldn't have heard, and I probably only destroyed about 25% of the discs I received, the rest I replaced, as agreed upon. These days, I won't even deal with anyone but the artist when I buy music. I won't download anything from Amazon, Apple, et al. I either buy the CD's directly from the artist at a show, or else I go to the artist's website and buy it there. And all this "digital protection" that they are cramming onto every download/CD/DVD? The only person that usually ends up inconveniencing is me, the end line consumer. As fast as they can come up with and include the latest anti-"piracy" crap on their discs/downloads, just as fast the folks who really want to steal the music have come up with a work around. The entire "You wouldn't steal a car...." argument falls on deaf ears, the ones who would, laugh during the PSA's and the rest of us are just annoyed. The only pirates and thieves that I'm aware of are the David Geffen/Phil Spector clones. (In Spector's case, allegedly a murderer too)
    When it's music made by a band where all the members are dead, does it really hurt the band or just the million dollar record label?
    How about the unsung heroes in the record label that get these bands heard? Or the families who inherit the royalties?
    Another argument is that finding content on internet expose its author in the eyes of everyone who takes the time to look/listen to it. I don't know for you, but I wouldn't know half the bands I like without internet. i.e: Tesseract, Protest The Hero, Animals As Leaders,etc...