Time Square Piracy Billboard Effectively Leverages A Polarized Debate
Piracy is an understandably difficult topic for musicians to address. There do seem to be some beneficial returns in terms of marketing but the fact remains that some people just get a kick out of sharing bootlegs and others will always check first to see if they can download music for free. However the recent uproar over Ghost Beach's Times Square piracy billboard revealed that one can profit from the discord if approached intelligently.
I was starting to gather material for a post on using music piracy to one's advantage when the uproar broke out over a video billboard in Times Square debating piracy. As Ben Sisario describes it:
"For the last week a mysterious ad has flashed on the LED billboard above the American Eagle Outfitters store at Broadway and 46th Street…Variably positing piracy as 'criminal,' 'progress' and 'the future,' it asks the observer to 'pick a side' on Twitter, as #artistsforpiracy or #artistsagainstpiracy."
"The display runs for just 30 seconds, four times an hour, alternating with images of tourists and scantily clad models…The party behind the billboard…Ghost Beach was approached by American Eagle, which wanted to license the band’s song 'Miracle' for an online ad. As it has done with a few other bands the retailer offered a fee as well as access to the billboard."
"TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, one of the world’s leading advertising agencies, took the account as a pro bono project and devised a stark, text-heavy design in black, red and white."
"We are #artistsagainstpiracy. We believe in using new music sharing platforms to combat illegal downloading by offering the modern music consumer convenient choices when it comes to discovering and downloading new music."
"By giving music listeners the choice to buy, stream or download free from the artist, everybody wins and music is shared in a way that is convenient for listeners and respects the artists intellectual property."
The musicians told Ben Sisario:
“When we were offered the space on the billboard, we were perplexed about what to do with it…Since we started we’ve given away all our music for free, so just telling people to purchase our music somewhere didn’t seem natural for us. So we said, ‘What if we take advantage of this and open up a discussion about the new music industry?'”
The campaign website, Artists vs Artists, presents opposing message regarding piracy, name checks Ghost Beach and makes the dialogue a matter of black and white. However, they then offer the option of buying or downloading their music for free, illustrating that they aren't truly choosing between the sides presented in this campaign.
Given the polarized nature of this topic, there is actually no dialogue that I can see on the site or on the larger web. Ghost Beach may be sincere in their aims but they are basically using polarization to market themselves while taking a stance regarding their own work that is an intelligent compromise.
They've gotten lots of media from the NY Times article linked above to MTV.com which benefits from the typical press stance of "there's this side and there's this other side." They've also provoked some amusingly hubris-filled claims from David Lowery with the expected tag team coverage at MusicTechPolicy.
But the clearest evidence that there is no dialogue comes from the Artists vs Artists website itself in which hashtag streams remind us that most supposed discussion on the web is simply one person after another stating their opinion.
Anyone who follows web discourse regarding illegal file sharing and music piracy knows that this topic is highly polarized and that even academic and pseudo-academic researchers disagree. While I believe there are ways to turn piracy to one's advantage, they are always going to be somewhat of a mixed bag, a choice of cutting one's losses that is never fully satisfying. Like so much else in life, one ultimately has to accept the bitter while gathering as much of the sweet as one can manage.
Inasmuch as Ghost Beach benefits from a higher profile, that is the sweet spot that they've leveraged by inserting themselves in a polarizing debate, one which they've bypassed for themselves by taking what I believe is the rare third path of compromise.
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at All World Dance: Videos and maintains Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.