Talking about music piracy has become an exercise in self deprecation, an emotional argument that never seems to end. I understand that music piracy was a real issue, it hurt a lot of people, and it still exists, but we're now at the point where it's been talked to death, and then some. Aimed at musicians, this advice is good for consumers to hear as well.
The music industry isn't a goldmine, it isn't a lucrative industry to somehow find yourself in, but artists should no longer be the victims of piracy. They shouldn't cite stolen music as the reason they didn't make it or the reason they can't continue their career. If music piracy is still nipping at your heels, still causing problems, then you need take a step back because you're doing something wrong.
This isn't a '4 steps to beating piracy guide', but we might as well start at the beginning. Prepare a game plan for your music. Figure out what path you want to take with your music and then stick to it. Do you want to get your music out in the world trying to get the most people to hear it, or do you need to make a monetary return on your recording investment? If you need to make a return, don't give away your music for free, expecting some people to pay or donate. If your goal is awareness and popularity, then giving away a bunch of songs or the entire album may be the way to go.
By giving away your music, you're not devaluing your band or your future music, but you are signaling that making money is not the most important thing to your band at this time. The signals tend to get confusing when you give away your album every other week on a different site. There's not much incentive to pay for that music when people start to see it as promotional. People don't see anything wrong with pirating an album that has been given away at different time. So before you release new music, pick a plan and stick to it.
Don't be afraid to monetize your music. If the traditional '$10 for 10 songs' model isn't fulfilling enough or isn't producing the results your looking for, look somewhere else. Andy Zipf recently started a new campaign that raises money for each new song by selling the previous one. He starts out selling through Twitter using Chripify and then releases the song on iTunes and other stores later. Create a sustainable model that works for you.
If you have enough fan momentum, you may be able to monetize your music on YouTube using the site's overlay ads. If people can stream your song(s) for free and you can still make some money, this method may be more up your alley. To make this a viable option you do need a big fan base, viral video, or some other magic sauce. Then there's always the more typical method of just selling your music through Bandcamp or iTunes. One suggestion I might make is to sell digital music for a cheaper amount ($5/album) and lure a bigger volume of sales with a “discounted” price.
There's no better way to combat piracy than allowing access to your music at a perceived fair price.
Music leaking out before its release still happens, but it can be controlled. As an independent band, or management, you need to protect your music before it gets released to the public. Know who you're sending the music to for reviews. Know who will have access throughout the music making process. And know that the people you do share the music with ahead of time are people you can trust.
Being an independent band, you sometimes have to take risks you don't necessarily want to, but don't be afraid to say “no” when you need to. Trust has always been a big part of the music industry, but it has become even more important in the age of small management teams or do-it-yourself bands. That's also to say, if you're making every effort to control piracy on your end and it's still hurting you, hire different and surround yourself with new people who value your music the same way you do.
The take away from all this is to be open and closed with your music. Be transparent with your fans and make your music available. If you've chosen to make your music free then put it everywhere. If you've chosen to charge for your music, then put it in as many stores as possible. Take away people's excuse not to pay for your music. On the flip side, be closed and private with your music before it comes out. Don't let your music leak out before it's available to buy. If you want to stream your music before the actual release, that cool, but also make it available to buy digitally.
Though a plague on the music industry, music piracy shouldn't be a plague on individual artists and bands.
[Pirate pic courtesy Kate Haskell.]