Is Music Piracy The Problem… Or The Solution?
Yesterday in a comment left on one of Hypebot's Best of 2011 articles, one reader expressed a viewpoint that ending piracy is the #1 route to a professional career in the music industry. They went on to say:
“You can't have jobs where there's no money. People who aspire to professional careers need to learn who is robbing them of those opportunities.”
While it’s clear by now that piracy has caused the music industry as a whole to lose a substantial amount of its revenue, it’s important to examine the root of the behavior in order to fully understand piracy and the people who choose to participate.
Why Pirate in the First Place?
The word “piracy” can mean different things to different of people – both consumers and content creators alike. To some, piracy is and always has been an immoral behavior that must be dealt with in order to restore the balance to an ailing music industry. Yet to others, piracy is a welcomed distribution method that allows for music to be heard and shared across the world by millions of people.
Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, it's safe to argue that pirating music seems to be in response to both 1) a shift in consumer behavior and 2) an embrace of today's digital era.
In today’s downturned economy, people are no longer as willing to pay for the things that they can just as easily get on their own. We are dining out less and cooking more, investing in maintenance and care items that allow our goods to last longer, dramatically cutting our spending budgets, opting more for public education, and so on.
As valuable as music is on a transcendental and emotional level, for our purposes here in this industry, music is a commodity. And in the end, digital music files are just that – data. Therefore it would seem counterintuitive for consumers to have to fork over their hard earned money when the methods of consuming and storing the product are equally the same had they paid for it or not. Imagine owning an orchard in your backyard, and then going down to the produce store to purchase apples. Doesn’t quite make sense, does it?
This idea here is the same between, say, an iTunes purchase and a Pirate Bay download. The "barriers to consumption" are virtually the same:
Type –> Search –> Select –> DOWNLOAD –> Consume –> Store –> Repeat
To Embrace or Not to Embrace?
However, many artists are embracing the chaos of piracy and are no longer frowning upon their fans for doing so – in fact many are encouraging it. Take a look at the recent campaign that electronic musician Pretty Lights did with BitTorrent, or how Dubstep sensation Skrillex encouraged his fans to pirate his music if they couldn’t afford to purchase it.
What makes it “OK” for these artists to encourage the piracy of their music is that they’re both heavily touring musicians. Not only are these guys on the road hundreds of days per year (Skrillex is slated to perform 300+ shows going into 2012), but they also bring with them amazing live spectacles showcasing incredible lighting and visual displays – memorable experiences that simply cannot be replicated at home nor can they be pirated.
Now, I’m not saying that you should begin giving your music away for free and then add a fancy light show to your live performances. The takeaway from these examples is that both Pretty Lights and Skrillex make it easy for their fans to have access to, and eventually fall in love with their music. They then “reel in” their fans with memorable live performances that captivate them, and in turn, keep them loyal. These artists showed love first by giving away their music to anyone who would listen to it, and the audience returned the favor by spreading the word, attending the concerts, and buying the merchandise.
Today’s performing music artist needs to come to terms with the fact that their job requires them to be on the road quite a bit if they plan to build a sustainable career for themselves over the long haul. Nowadays, music sales and downloads are a means to an end. The point shouldn’t be anymore to sell as much music as possible. The point should be to build an audience that respects, loves, and appreciates you to the point where there is a clear demand for you and the product… to reach critical mass.
With this in mind, piracy can play a huge role in acting as a catalyst for organic and valuable word-of-mouth promotion for the artist, while catering to the mass consumers' economic position on the consumption and storage of their digital music files.
Author's Note: While the discussion of piracy extends far beyond the points made in the article, this piece was meant to examine how piracy has worked its way into the business models of a few touring musicians.
This post is by regular Hypebot contributor, musician, and music business professional - Hisham Dahud (@HishamDahud)