In this article, I am going to argue for the rise of illegal downloads. To many this idea is abhorrent and the people who do it are merely selfish. However, I hope those read the article with an open mind, and try and understand what I am arguing.

I noticed an interesting thing recently while browsing Wikipedia. I understand that the site is not a definite, wholly trustworthy source of information but I believe what the stats I am about to show you are relatively correct (particularly the ratios). According to Wikipedia, the number of albums released in 2007, in which illegal downloading is nearly ubiquitous, was nearly 4,000. The amount of albums released in 1975? Not even 700. Clearly, there is far more music available and being made now than ever before. It has been argued that illegal downloads discourage people from creating music (albeit it was Gene Simmons’ who argued this) and further that illegal downloads is depriving money from the “starving artists.” However, this could not be further from the truth.

To further show the impact that illegal downloading has had consider this: in 1999 (before widespread popularity of Napster, torrents, etc.) the number of albums produced was nearly 2800. In 2003, after the peak of Napster and after downloading had become extensive, the number was 3700—a 37% increase. Now, while overall album sales may have declined during this time frame, more artists were releasing music than before. Indeed, it is hard to argue that is the internet that hasn’t led to the explosion of the underground music scene recently (many kids no longer rely on the radio for hearing new music). A local band has a better chance of being signed to a label than ever before, owing in part to the fact that there are more indie labels and also because music can easily diffuse across the globe. There are cases where bands have been signed almost purely on how many MySpace or PureVolume plays they have (Daphne Loves Derby and OneRepublic come to mind).

Furthermore, because anyone can listen to a band at anytime because of downloading artists can get global audiences. Indeed, a friend of mine’s band recently did a European tour, opening for Emperor, with much success and his album would NEVER be found in any local record store. And while he was opening for a well-known band he was surprised at how many people there knew his songs, and he attributes that to fact that his album was downloading by people all over.

I’ll give my own anecdotal support for downloading. Personally, I never really buy albums. I began illegally downloading, as most did, during the early 2000’s. Since then my tastes have grown tremendously and I listen to everything for extremely underground to very mainstream artists. Just a few days ago I attended a Converge concert. I found Converge like most kids find mildly underground artists: illegally downloading. I may never have bought a CD by them, but I’ve contributed money by attending the concerts. Without the internet, I would never have found them or and they would never have gotten any support for me. And this case is just a mere example out of thousands that happen at every concert every day. Now, my support seems only to be with downloaders who end up contributing to bands in other means, be it concerts, merchandise, etc. Surely, there are those out there who download frequently and never do any of these. Are they truly hurting the music industry? Not as much as you may think.

As a generalization, and I stress this since there are plenty of exceptions to every generalization, many people who download music and never attend concerts or buy merchandise usually listen to more mainstream music. My friends will pirate every new Justin Timberlake or Disturbed album that comes out. However, mainstream artists are far from hurting. Any artist that gets hits on the radio sells plenty of albums. Not all are platinum, but suffice it to say most sell over 100k which is nothing to scoff at. The money they lose, does not hurt them as artists because they already achieve success. It may hurt their egos; illegal downloads may prevent them from becoming millionaires. However this does not harm the music industry. The industry has long been dominated by the superbands, the Led Zeppelins, the Pink Floyds, the Nirvanas of the music scene who are larger than life and achieve monstrous album sales. Those days are nearing an end, in part due to downloads. Alas, it is harder to sell 15 million albums when kids can download them for free. But I ask, is this a bad thing for the music industry? Is it bad that, due to downloading, music and success is spread across thousands of bands instead of concentrated on a few giant ones? Not for the aspiring musician, not for the fans, not for really anyone… except, you guessed it, the giant record labels.

They remain stuck in their greedy ways, lamenting that dollars are leaving their pockets are entering the pockets of smaller indie label and artists across the world. They have found a temporary solution, paid downloads via iTunes, eMusic, and other sources. Now paid downloads I will not argue are a bad thing; they help all artists, underground and mainstream alike. However, there are better ways on the horizons. Recently, Nine Inch Nails (specifically Trent Reznor) devised an ingenious way of releasing his album Ghosts that allowed people to download it for free. However, in the first week it was estimated he made a whopping $1.6 million! The day is coming when downloading songs for free will no longer be illegal, and will be allowed by the artists. And the music industry will be stronger when it comes.
great article, i always use the points you brought up whenever I talk about downloading music
i like it very much. very much. oh yeah if it wasn't for places like myspace or ursession, i wouldn't have known about bans like Emery, Apocolyptica, The Explosion, Falling UP, The Finalist and other people. yeah downloading rocks.
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