Throwaway Culture: When the MP3 Hits the Desktop Recycle Bin

Kyle Bylin, Associate Editortip01

Often times in our discussions, it’s argued that a majority of the population still wants to buy music and own it.  On the other hand, there’s the increasingly popular notion of those whom feel its okay to steal or “share” that same music, wherein the old adage, “possession is nine-tenths of the law” sort of applies.

However, almost everyone in their early twenties that I associate with seems to think of music in a way that flies directly in the face of this conventional wisdom.  They don’t really want to own any music, not if they don’t have to.  But, at the same time, they’re still very afraid of getting caught for stealing it.

For instance, the other day a friend of mine asked me in a rather polite, yet blunt tone, “How do I get music for free?”  And I sat there, puzzled for a moment, because, surely, she must know how to use Limewire or at the very least, one of the other dozen programs that’s been floating around lately.

After a bit of chitchat, she then responded that she did know how to use it, but didn’t feel like that was a safe option anymore.  And, I sat there, puzzled for a moment, because, surely, she must realize that file-sharing was never a safe option and there have always been some risks.

Finally, I asked, “Why do you download music in the first place?”  To which, she responded, that she shouldn’t have to pay for every single song she wants to hear on her iPod.  Explaining further that there’s been too many times where she bought a song in its popularity and then five listens later grew tired of it.

Let alone, she protested that her iPod couldn’t really store very much music and what she actually wanted was the ability to frequently change out her collection for new songs.  To that, I inquired if she had ever familiarized herself with any subscription style services, asking if that might work for her.

Having heard how much the services cost, she then replied, “Are you nuts?  I couldn’t use $14.95 worth of music a month.”  Gauging by her collection and how often she must use her iPod, running and such, I finally had to conclude that she was probably right.  Something like Zune Pass would do her no good.

So, there we were, back to talking about piracy, which is when it occurred to me that values of our throwaway culture had permeated down to our music too.  Some of these songs are great but it seems that as their popularity grows, their impermanence grows with it.  Then, two clicks and the songs are deleted forever.

Being that there are still those who strive to have the newest songs on their devices, some of the old must be cleared away, and if an artist’s music has no lasting impression on the user, then, it appears as though many people are okay with just deleting and replacing old songs with the next new, hot singles.

It is, no surprise to me that the songs that are popular on the music charts also happen to be popular on the file-sharing networks.  For the average music fan, most of the people I know, they just aren’t hitting up iLike and Hype Machine, on the lookout for what’s actually popular at the moment.

To them, the music they come across on the radio is nothing but throwaway culture.  Songs that fill the space on their iPod until the next singles pop up on their radar, then, like an old cell phone or a Starbucks Cup, they just want to throw the songs away.  And, that’s when the MP3 hits the desktop recycle bin.

What songs, if any, have you throwaway?

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  1. This is the real problem with music. The DIY culture operates on the assumption that bands can build careers based on fan loyalty. But what if there isn’t any fan loyalty anymore? The whole concept of tribes or “1000 fans” or giving away music so that your fans will buy something else from you presupposes that there are fans who care enough about you to follow you. But maybe no one cares enough anymore. And even if you are good, maybe they won’t have the interest to see what you will come up with every year.

  2. That and I think that many of us Hypebot readers have a tough time understanding the perspective that Kyle is talking about. Because we are such huge music fans (and many of us DIYers to boot), we suffer from the delusion that everybody feels like we do…the truth is that we are but a very small percentage of “music listeners” as a whole; for a vast majority of listeners, music is a much more subtle element in their everyday lives. Its of interest to them, but not a passion. The industry runs on the economy of the average listener; the one who will hop from chart hit to chart hit, not the hardcore fan. This is why CDs were so lucrative; that casual fan had to buy the goods over and over again to keep up with the latest and greatest chart topper. A portion of that revenue was then used to sign acts that could appeal to the much smaller secondary market. Well, as Kyle has found the average listener doesn’t want to pay anymore…this creates a problem for the traditional industry. If the prevailing attitude amongst the primary market is that the music they are offered isn’t worth paying for anymore (which extends to ALL music by consequence), then naturally it is OVER for us. We simply have to think smaller now.

  3. Well put Jason, also, its really hard to determine just what “average music fan” even means anymore. Its almost too broad of a stroke. Another important note is that where I’m from in the upper Midwest, there just isn’t a thriving music market nor predominate indie culture. The general sampling around me is college kids without much money, though I have found some completely willing to pay too.

  4. Another trend that probably doesn’t bode well are short sets at live shows. It used to be at neighborhood clubs one band would come in and play three to four hours. These are not necessarily cover bands. The good ones have written a lot of solid original material.
    Now you have bands that only have a CD’s worth of original material at best so they play a 45-minute set on the bill with three other bands. And if you ask their fans if they would like to hear more, many will say bands don’t have that much good material to play all evening and they’d get bored anyway.
    So even with live shows the expectations have changed from spending a full evening with your favorite artists to catching a lot of bands playing a few songs each. I suppose that’s why festivals work now. But on the other hand, do these fans want to buy any artist’s entire catalog anymore? Probably not.
    So again, where are the core fans who will buy the $200 limited edition box sets? I guess if Arcade Fire can sell expensive packages, there fans who will buy high end products from relatively new bands. And I was just talking to a young touring band who said they sold more vinyl at shows than CDs, so the collectible market is there in some cases.

  5. The question I might have asked is “Why do you feel you shouldn’t have to pay for an artist’s work?”. Perhaps it’s more a question of ethics than anything. Who does she think supports us? Mom? Dad? In some handful of cases probably “yes”. But not in most. The artist lives a tough life for many reasons so why not give him a hand in his endeavors? It will only benefit you (your friend and others like her)in the end.
    If artists are not supported we will not continue to exist and unless people such as your friend would be happy to live in a dark world full of strip malls they ought to think about exchanging with the artist for his (or her) work. Unless one is an absolute introvert and does his work for himself only (and I think any artist is lying to himself when he resorts to that),consider that we create for others too. Applause, admiration, popularity-all these other aspects to putting yourself out there are great but the fact remains we have bills to pay, food to put on the table and funds needed to invest in our efforts to give you/them more.
    Also- if one wants to buy music based on popularity then they have already lost the game and are just being a pawn in this world. Just because someone’s music is popular does not mean it is any good. That can all come down to marketing etc…
    Your friend should dig a bit deeper into her soul and a bit further into her pockets and do what is right and not what is most convenient for her and she shouldn’t be helped in figuring out how to get something for nothing.
    Just my 99 cents.
    Michele Ari

  6. Michele, a very-well put assertion.
    “Perhaps it’s more a question of ethics than anything.”
    Perhaps, it’s not that simple. I highly doubt we’re just a few philosophy classes away from understanding this matter. I’m not trying to protest the right or wrong of piracy, there’s already enough of that.
    “If artists are not supported we will not continue to exist”
    Clearly, that’s not the case. No one has ever promised poets or painters anything, yet there are still poems and paintings being made. Therefore, there will continue to be artists and music. It’s too easy to assume that the future looks too much like the present.
    “she shouldn’t be helped in figuring out how to get something for nothing.”
    No, however, the information is out there. Rather than boiling this issue down to ethics, I wanted to try and challenge if we’ve made too many generalizations about music fans. Why aren’t there different systems for different types of music fans? We’ve sort of drawn the line in the sand and I think there may be a certain amount of people that have been ignored to some extent.

  7. Thanks for replying to what I wrote. What I said was not at all meant to be an “attack ” on you for content nor for not having asked her what I suggested.
    I hear what you say and probably agree with you on some points. For instance I agree there can be too many generalizations. I also think there can be too many justifications.
    I stand by what I said and you certainly don’t have to agree with me.
    You are right that it is a philosophical point that I made, but doing the right thing does not require years of study. It’s far more simple to do that and the bottom line is that in this time and place it requires resources to get the job done. That set-up was not my design. It is just the way it is. Even for the painter- he has to buy paints,canvasses, brushes etc… A poet, paper and pens. And, no, some never quit. It can remain a personal endeavor one does to bring himself joy or an outlet or what have you. But I am talking about a professional pursuit.
    I pose this: Other than volunteer work I know of no other type of job where one does not get money as part of his exchange for producing a product. One could easily say “Well, an engineer does not owe it to anyone to build a bridge that won’t fall down or to build one at all”. He’s not a martyr tho he can choose not to build bridges. We don’t expect him to build it for no exchange because it is “owed” to us so we can drive to work or what have you. I just think the idea an artist should give it away, unless he chooses to, is bunk. For some reason this has become accepted and not only do I not agree, I don’t even understand how it ever came to be this way.
    I know too many who have quit their art ,or have lessened their goals with it, due to economic factors. I know of many who got tired of starving to death and gave up. Probably you do too.
    What do you mean by “Why aren’t there different systems for different types of music fans?”. It’s not entirely clear to me. What would you propose then?
    By the way, it is an assertion. I feel very strongly about what I said which is why I said it.

  8. Michele—understood…
    “For instance I agree there can be too many generalizations. I also think there can be too many justifications.”
    Now we’re thinking… I agree as well, that often times we over justify for ourselves and others. I patiently await more in-depth sociological and psychological analysis of file-sharing, because I feel as though there is more to the attitudes towards intellectual property rights than you or I know.
    “Doing the right thing does not require years of study.”
    It’s not quite clear yet, what the right thing actually is. Time could in fact change that. While it may be wrong to download someone’s life work and to think they shouldn’t be compensated. It’s still obscure that after a decade, it’s within the best interest of those whom get paid for technological innovations to not even try to fix that problem.
    “Other than volunteer work I know of no other type of job where one does not get money as part of his exchange for producing a product.”
    It’s not the exchange of money that’s being challenged. It’s the aspect of any kind of guarantee or entitlement to money in the first place. Long before technology there were warnings and short comings related to “starving artists.” Therefore, I don’t feel like that correlation can be made, because the twentieth century is the first time in the history of human culture where it has become professionalized.
    What do you mean by “Why aren’t there different systems for different types of music fans?” It’s not entirely clear to me. What would you propose then?
    Its challenge against our current platonic notions of what categories music fans fall under and what they ought to pay for things. If Netflix has four different price points, why can’t Microsoft with the Zune Pass?
    I believe the Malcolm Gladwell point goes to say something like, “There are no perfect kinds of spaghetti sauce. Only different kinds of spaghetti sauce for different types of people.”
    Thanks for reading,

  9. I understand your point of view Michelle as I’ve been thinking about this stuff too. Times certainly seem crazy right now. What makes matters worse is to read some of the venom thats out there towards artists; its pretty soul crushing.
    I’m starting my blog today and I think this topic is going to be post #1…I have a ton more to say!

  10. Kyle,
    I am pretty sure I was “thinking” to begin with .:)
    By “justifications” I was really referring to justifying why it’s ok to take music without paying, which it isn’t unless it’s a “gift”. Maybe that was understood. For example if one thinks that,as you said, ” No one has ever promised poets or painters anything” then it makes it ok to take right? I am sure there are oodles of other justifications. By the way, I am not even sure this is correct historically speaking. Maybe Michelangelo was given a dozen eggs and a harem for painting The Sistine Chapel. Perhaps a caveman was given a handful of berries and twigs for depicting a story on a cave wall.
    I agree. Sometimes the right thing is hard to decide but not always. This is pretty black and white not to mention unlawful which pretty much seals the deal on this one.
    And this is vital to the problem. “it’s within the best interest of those whom get paid for technological innovations to not even try to fix that problem”. I don’t know of anything that sucks that didn’t have some vested interest behind it. While it would be great to tackle the problem head on I personally don’t have the time, resources or “stature” to do a whole lot about that. What I can do tho is insist people pay for me work and maybe do what I can to get other artists that I know to do the same.
    If you take a band like Radiohead that did the whole “pay what you like” thing-well, they can afford to do that and it was a personal choice. In some ways it might make it harder for us working stiffs since more free stuff may equal less chance of selling mine. Still, with all the factors against us I prefer not to pay too much attention to it. My fanbase is loyal. They would not dream of stealing my work. They are happy to pay for it. They know what it means to me and how it helps and that if they want to hear and see more from me it’s the only way. Or one of the only ways.
    People just need to be educated. Most would follow suit. Some will always take what they feel like taking.
    Ok so I don’t have much to say about the “entitlement” to money being the point of challenge because I am not sure why that would even be an issue when it is so obvious. I can’t walk into a movie theatre for free. I can’t go to an art show and take paintings. Why music? Hell if I know but if we as artists accept this then it will be that way. If we demand compensation it will be that way.
    As far as the “starving artist” idea goes- well, that has a long history and it does have an origin but my post is already too long so I won’t get into it. But it had nothing to do with wanting to starve. No one wants that.
    Thanks for clearing up what you meant about different levels. I don’t have enough judgement in the area, or knowledge about it, to comment.
    My last comment on your response-someone may well do a sociological or psychological study of this subject. Good thing you are patient then. It will take them 20 years of “research” and probably pose more questions than answers as those types of studies often do. Or a pill will be prescribed for it. That is my opinion,experience and sense of humor. Take it for what it’s worth.

  11. Hi Jason,
    Thank you. I feel acknowledged! Times are a bit crazy. There is a lot of confusion in the music industry. I think in time it will find it’s way tho and ,hopefully, these are just growing pains. too bad we happen to be experiencing it.
    Agreed on the venom. I realize it’s a bold statement to say the “soul crushing” is done with intent and I don’t think I am too far off is saying so. Artists are easy and terrific targets and I think anyone who does attack artists attacks all of us. Again I say do we want a world of strip malls? Perhaps someone does. It’s my personal belief that the artist plays an ultra-important role in creating the future and ideally we as a culture would all agree that we should be supported and assisted in our endeavors and not beaten down.
    I am glad you are starting your blog. I look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for replying to my post.

  12. I’ve always supported arts and artists/musicians in some fashion. But because of the economy, I’ve cut back. I’ve never illegally downloaded music, so I’m not “stealing” but I am spending less, so the net result is still less money from me going to the arts/magazines/newspapers/concerts, etc.
    What I am looking for are ways for musicians and their fans to interact for less. Perhaps less touring and more emphasis on affordable local shows. Also, more community participation. Music is also about having friends over to jam. Or playing together in public gathering places. There are many people who want to create music who don’t necessarily expect to make a living from it. It’s a way to bond with friends, family, and fans rather than something they charge for.

  13. Yeah, for sure. The things I am saying are directed at a specific thing and not someone such as yourself. I have the same scene as far as buying music etc… so I understand that.
    Your ideas may work whatever they may be and it’s probably WELL worth looking into . For me I need to do more touring, but that is something 1) I have to do and 2) enjoy thoroughly. It’s one of the best ways, if not THE best, to reach people.
    Of course it’s a community thing too. I have played plenty of shows for free or for little money. I have lent my voice and time to other people’s projects. I have also played many charity shows.My personal and ultimate goal is to work solely as a musician and I think that is perfectly ok to want and work towards. Others may have other goals and that is cool just not what I want but, yes, there are other ways to bring art to people and to access it.

  14. I read an interesting quote from Jack White in SPIN that made me think of this talk. I am paraphrasing but he said something to the effect of how there is,or could potentially be, a decrease in appreciation for music because of it’s current disposable quality/format etc… He used your word Kyle. I don’t have much more to say on that. It was just interesting to me that he brought it up as a topic and concern and got me thinking about the “appreciation” factor and wondered if part of the solution would include increasing people’s love for music. Or recovering it.

  15. Free music will be ending sooner than you think.
    Look towards the film industry to sort out content id and methods of dealing with piracy.
    Also, watch artists start to stand up for themselves and not break albums down and see what happens: Jay Z, Kid Rock, etc.
    They are selling a lot of albums and standing doing so with integrity.

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