According to the record labels, every track downloaded for free amounts to a lost sale. If we carry on greedily obtaining our music without paying for it then musicians will eventually stop making it. Even when people download music legally, through iTunes for example, they still only buy the tracks they like for a measly sum instead of shelling out for a whole album. Perhaps the day that technology made downloading music possible was the day the music died.
But while CD sales are undeniably falling, is it really true that if people were unable to download music they would buy it all in the traditional way from a record store? Nowadays, our music collections on our iTunes libraries, iPods and MP3 players amount to weeks of listening time; which would amount to rooms stacked to the ceiling with CDs! If downloading were stopped who could afford to go out and buy that amount of music?
Whether downloading is right or wrong, the truth is that the way we discover and listen to music is changing and the music business is put out because it was too slow to take advantage of it. Major record labels have been responsible for stifling creativity by promoting the work of and buying radio play time for manufactured bands and mainstream artists. But now people have switched off their radios and are listening to bands and artists for the first time on sites like MySpace and Spotify or through file-sharing. This has given musicians making alternative, non-radio friendly music the chance to get heard and to acquire legions of fans.
But musicians, mainstream or alternative, rich or poor, don’t seem to be making money from recording music anymore. Many of them are even giving it away. In 2007, Radiohead drove another nail into the record industry’s coffin by announcing that their latest album In Rainbows would be available to download legally for as little as 1p. That year, Prince provoked outcry by giving away his album free on the cover of The Mail on Sunday. Over a thousand albums from an eclectic range of musicians are available free to download perfectly legally on the blog Free Albums Galore. The man behind it, Marvin, claims he is simply doing it out of a love of music and a desire to enlighten others about all the independent music out there that might be otherwise overlooked.
But what about the artists themselves? How are they supposed to earn a living? Fans may not be willing to pay for music now that they can download it for free but they are prepared to fork out to see their favourite musicians live. So instead of record sales, artists are making their money from touring and performing. In fact, some people may even be spending more on music these days, but on concert and festival tickets rather than on CDs. Isn’t this how music should really be experienced? Standing in a field or concert hall in the midst of thousands of kindred spirits, sharing your passion, all getting utterly lost in the moment?
Downloading and file-sharing may have spelt the demise of the recording industry, but the music is still alive and well.