With our ever growing immersion into the digitised era of technology, it is undeniable that music pervades our student experience; it comforts us during those lonely days of revision in Hallward, accompanies our gruelling trek back to Lenton and strongly dictates which room we squeeze ourselves into at Oceana. However, if you fail to resist the penny saving temptation of illegal downloading in pursuit of such a lifestyle you may be causing more damage to our beloved music industry than you realise.
For many artists the greatest reward gained from their work is having people listen to, appreciate and respect their creative talents. Unfortunately, there still remains a vital prerequisite to this outcome – money. Without financial backing artists cannot write or record their own music and certainly cannot even contemplate the complex marketing and promotional strategies needed to bring it to our attention. Recent critics, posting their thoughts on the Pirate Party International forum, undermine the negative effects of illegal file sharing by merely claiming that the rapid decline of record sales is ‘an indication of saturation in a market where innovation is lacking’. Such a response appears somewhat short sighted; in reality there is a mass of new and innovative talent waiting to reach our ears yet it remains undiscovered precisely because illegal downloading has drained the industry of its financial resources with a reported £200 million loss set to hit the major record labels this year.
After great controversy followed the proposed government legislation to disconnect illegal file sharers, with spats between Lily Allen and the FAC (Featured Artists Coalition) reaching headline news, a compromise and hopeful solution to the problem has finally been agreed in the form of a three strike plan. Renowned musicians from all genres of music including Jools Holland, Tom Jones, KT Tunstall, George Michael and Annie Lennox pledged their support for persistent file sharers to receive an initial letter of warning, followed by a second and stronger letter of caution and finally on the third criminal offence the infringer’s bandwidth will be restricted to a level that would render file-sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic email and web access functional. John Knowles, a noted and highly experienced music manager, also wholly supports this proposal as he views illegal downloading as “outright theft of an artist’s hard earned livelihood” but is realistic about its dominance and growth within the industry and has therefore been forced to adapt his own managerial strategies:
“It is important these days to give the product more value so as to entice the consumer to buy it as opposed to illegally obtaining it. For example, with Chris Rea we have developed a series of audio books containing a collection of eleven CDs, a DVD and a collection of his paintings.”
Once again though, we are presented with a catch 22 situation since more advanced promotional campaigns require additional revenue.
The up and coming North West band Sgt. Wolfbanger know only too well the struggles that new artists face when trying to create a career for themselves within the music industry. After a year of writing and practising music 3 days a week, 6 hours a day whilst working full time they finally managed to attract the attention of a successful music manager. With this initial financial backing they have produced their debut album ‘Think inside the box’ but even this relatively new and largely unknown band are not immune from the rife crime of piracy. Nathan Lundie, the drummer from Sgt. Wolfbanger, explained that “within a week of our album being available for purchase from iTunes it was also available for download from an illegal site for free. After all our hard work it is disappointing yet inevitable. I have begun to question what it means to be a fan as it used to mean being supportive and enthusiastic about something you love. Nowadays though, people abuse the luxury of the internet and quite ironically destroy the prospects and artistic potential of the very bands they are breaking the law to listen to.”
In my opinion it is the psychology of illegal downloading that needs to change. One third of young people in Europe regularly file-share on peer-to-peer networks, which equates to three times more than the proportion of those using legitimate sites (Jupiter Research 2008). To add to this communal law-breaking the fact that music files are not concrete, tangible objects that we can physically touch or literally possess and because the environment we illegally obtain these products in tends to be our own, safe, unmonitored home I can understand why it is so tempting and fear free. However, just because so many people commit this offence with, up until now, little repercussions it should not be justified or treated any differently than an irrepressible mob consistently stealing and selling on the clothes of Topshop for example. Music is highly loved and makes for a hugely popular industry and without out, let’s face it, life would be a lot more dull. Steps are being taken to highlight the threat that illegal downloading poses to the cultivation of new talent and to the sustainability of the music sector in general with educational resources being provided by charities such as Childnet International. Their particular aim is to teach parents about the music downloading habits of their children and to ensure that they remain safe, secure and legal when using the internet.
Furthermore, new and more inventive business models need to be implemented in order to encourage the public to legally enjoy music. The scare-mongering legislation promoted by the government is positive in terms of targeting the extreme and persistent file sharers but will it permanently change the attitude of everyday, moderate, usually law abiding citizens who have become accustomed to this era of ‘free’? Spotify has certainly succeeded to some extent in revolutionising the way we can listen to music at no cost but it is obviously limiting in terms of where and when this can occur. Internet service providers, such as BskyB, are also working to prevent file sharing by announcing plans to launch bundled broadband and music packages which again is an example of inclusive and constructive change.
It is understandable that as students little luxuries like purchasing new music aren’t always prioritised but we should think carefully before illegally downloading. And after all as Helen Smith, Executive Chair of the IMPALA (Independent Music Publisher and Labels Association) says, “if nobody pays for today, who will make the music of tomorrow?”.