Thursday, April 16, 2009

3 Thoughts for a Mother Concerned About File-Sharing, Music Careers at and have organized a group blogging event for all music and musician bloggers in response to a comment from a reader concerned about her teenage son's file-sharing.

Here are three thoughts I would share with that reader:

Her son has told her "the record sales make money for the record label, not the artist" and "the artists make all their money from touring and live concerts."

This is a common rationale, fueled by major label hate. It conveniently ignores the songwriter. If the recording artist also wrote and owns the song, then they would make money directly as the writer. If they did not write the song, then another songwriting musician, who may have no direct relationship with the record label at all, would earn from the sale. That songwriter may not be a touring or performing musician. Don't they deserve to be paid?

She also writes, "Admittedly, he is stealing music that is recorded by major record labels, so maybe its different than the independent musician working for his living."

The RIAA has done a horrendous public relations job and major labels have engaged in the unbelievable business practice of suing fans. It's easy to dislike and disregard companies that would do something like that. And it's no wonder that many online, in mob-like fashion, express disdain for their "fat-cat greed" and celebrate the failure of anything with which the majors are involved.

However distinguishing between major and independent owners of a recording is simply another justification. Returning to the song and songwriter, if the independent musician does a cover version of the Beatles classic "Hey Jude" would you buy everything else from her, but refuse to pay for that track because Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a major label related publisher owns the song?

The ownership rights for a recording are often complicated. Neither you nor your son can know what the rights are behind every recording he has downloaded and who is actually getting paid from it-whether it is sold as a file, on a CD or used in a television show. But there is a value to those rights, which is how the recording got produced in the first place, whether it was funded by a major label, an independent label or an individual musician.

Since he is a musician himself, I point out to him that someday that's going to be his money people are stealing.

There has been plenty of debate on whether downloading is "stealing" or "sharing." For your own moral peace of mind, you and your son could reach a compromise by using one of the free, licensed sites for listening to music like or imeem. The musician will get the benefit of promotion from having his music heard and you can have a clear conscience. Amassing a massive collection of downloaded tracks, most of which isn't even listened to, is so yesterday. Streaming anytime and from anywhere is the future.

Finally tell your son that with all this unfettered access he has had to virtually every song ever recorded, his own music better be really good. That is, of course, if he actually expects someone, somewhere to pay him to perform it.


  1. Hey Brenda, nice post. I love how you highlighted the points in smaller pieces.

  2. Thanks Bryan. Give my best to all of the Zurbians.

  3. Just came across this great article via Jason Feinberg's article on MediaShift. Interesting parallels to some anecdotal research I've been doing. I don't think hoarding song files is quite over yet - there are large segments of the market in any industry who "squirrel" products they will never use, and they'll continue to do so as long as there are good salespeople with clever methods pushing those products.

    Instead, I think streaming services supplement rather than replace song hoarding, though I suppose file hoarding could eventually give way to hoarding streaming sources instead - as long as there is something to hoard!

    A trend I see among tweens and teens is pirating from those "who don't need it" (i.e the ones on TV and commercial radio) and then using the iTunes gift card from Grandma to purchase the music closer to their hearts made by the artists they think could use the help. Not sayin' that's the way it should be, just sayin'...

  4. Greg, I agree with you that we seem to have a built in drive to collect things. I actually think that the industry could use that drive to focus consumers on products for which they will be willing to pay.

    On a related note, I question whether most fans distinguish the artist's need for their financial support from their drive to show their devotion with a purchase. In the end I think the decision on what to spend that iTunes gift card on may be more emotional than rational.

  5. And Greg, thank you very much for your comment. I appreciate your participation.