Facing the (Free) Music

Friday, October 23, 2009


For 10 years, music execs have waged a war against digital file sharing -- and software like Napster and websites like The Pirate Bay -- which have decimated the industry’s profits. But recently, there are signs from Europe that the battle over free music may be changing.

Comments [27]

Karol Franco from Southeast Raleigh High - Raleigh, North Carolina

Investing in music artists makes sense to me. People pay five or six dollars at McDonald's easily for dinner. But if you give it away most people would eat there every day. Is it that much to ask that you spend just as much to buy an album that often reflects a year's worth of an artist's work?

Dec. 09 2010 11:54 PM
Manuel Crespin

Copyright is not stealing. These website downloads offered to us such as limewire and napster are free. This downloading of free music should also put looked as such. All artists should claims their rights to sales though store purchases and not online. It's hard to even download free music now because it's not free anymore. Limewire was completely cancelled of its services because it is now labeled illegal.
A girl in Westcliffe, Colorado was tracked and fined 25,000 thousand dollars for all the downloads she used on limewire. This is not fair because it is offered to us totally free. In general, we need cheaper downloading and websites that can provide this. Like MadJo had said, the infringement can be used to help market the artists acts. Prices can go down, as well as fans being able to become more connected to fan bases and such. The fans need more of a reason to buy music and apparel. Cheaper downloading can provide this new widespread marketing.

Nov. 26 2010 12:40 AM

Copyright infringement is not stealing, in fact the two illegal acts are in 2 completely separate lawbooks. Please not to be confusing the two, @Mac.
Yes, ripping a cd and uploading it to the web is an illegal act, at least if you don't own the rights to said CD.

@KC, I do try and support artists that embrace the new business models that are appearing left and right.
One idea is to offer cheap downloads on your website (possibly through your own bittorrent tracker to offset the bandwidth bill) You sell a digital copy to someone, and offer as download link a personalized .torrent file to the buyer, he then can use that torrent file to grab the copy off your own bittorrent tracker.
Yes, copyright infringement will not be combatted with it, but you can use the cheap distribution methods yourself to distribute your own stuff.
And instead of viewing it as "stealing", you could view the infringement as marketing for your acts. Place a comment next to the torrent saying "If you like this album, please buy it here:/you can find more about the artist here: [website of said artist]".

Make it easy for people to find your artists and the legal way of getting the files.
As that is also often the problem, it's hard to find the legal ways to buy.

Also make the digital copies unencumbered (no DRM, as that is a very big limiting factor where I can play the music, my mp3-player is not an ipod so itunes doesn't work for me for instance) and high quality, and keep in mind simple economics: if supply is infinite the price goes down. (On the internet you are selling infinite goods)

And have artists connect with their fans. And give those fans a reason to buy your stuff. As that will grow their fanbase over time, and fans are more likely to buy as they want to support the artist they are fan off.

Nov. 09 2009 10:02 AM
KC from nyc

I run a small record label. We release music by artists who sell at best 5000 copies of a release and rarely that. Myself and the artists I work with squeak by. And I'm talking about real artists who've studied their craft and put in the time. We aren't the pigs at the major labels taking meetings at the Four Seasons. We're lucky to make 40 or 50K a year driving around the country in a van, hauling equipment in out and of clubs, sleeping on floors, and pushing onward because its our passion. This is a complicated subject, but I do know that it's really quite demoralizing to sink 7 to 10K into a new album between recording, promotion and all the miscellaneous costs involved to wind up finding free links to download the album all over the web the day after it's released. Most people will spend $7 to $10 per drink at a bar in NYC. Is it that much to ask that you spend just as much to buy an album that often reflects a year's worth of an artist's work? I know some of you will say 'save the oh woe is me' crap, and that's fine. But I'm just saying there's a lot of gray area in this conversation that's not just some pompous dude at the RIAA defending profit motives. There's a lot of indie labels and pure artists trying to do the right thing that also need to be considered.

Nov. 05 2009 05:52 PM
mac from brooklyn

i think it's funny how all of these posts like to take up the cause of hating the major labels. it just makes easier for people to justify in their own minds that stealing is okay. BUT IT'S NOT. We need to have some sort of moral compass here. Just because technology makes it easy to take something without paying for it, doesn't make it right. The end result of stealing music harms artists all the time. Its not just the major labels who are suffering. It's one thing if an artist decides to give away a recording for free. It's their art, they own it, it's their decision to make it free. But if you take it upon yourself to rip off a copyrighted recording that an artist has made the decision to sell from a torrent, p2p, rapidshare, etc. you're stealing no matter how you try to justify it.

Nov. 05 2009 05:31 PM
Bill S. from North Carolina

Really enjoyed the show. If you like this, I also recommend the Fresh Air interview with Steve Knopper on his book "Appetite for Self-Destruction":

There are some things that bother me about the last segment. For all of this talk of trying to develop stats of who is buying music, from exactly which venues are they getting their data? Without knowing, I strongly suspect that they are pulling only from corporate record stores or radio -- which (as they admit in the show) tends to become a "self-fulfilling prophecy". Have you ever been in an independent record store scanning to tally which albums are being bought? Independent/college radio stations reporting to record labels? Non-corporate sponsored or non-arena concert tours? I don't know, maybe some do -- but none that I'm aware of. And that's a huge market. I strongly suspect that NONE of the albums I've purchased in the last ten years have ever shown up in any tally just because of where I've bought them. This is exactly how the recording industry was broad-sided by the alternative rock explosion in the early-90s, looking in the wrong direction. And as online downloads force more of these corporate music chains go out of business, the stats will only become even more inaccurate.

I have to agree with the view expressed by some in the show and in these responses that the problem comes from too much focus in trying to turn access to
an art form into another investment opportunity. Money always has followed artistic innovation, not the other way around.

Nov. 03 2009 07:31 PM
Kol from Washington, DC

OTM, Awesome show, as usual. Nice to see specialty investigate pieces like this one on OTM and This American Life.

Rick, the storytelling and storytellers gave it a quick pace. From piracy and copyright and filesharing, to chart-metrics, to monetizing the brand instead of relying on conventional products (CDs and shows), you covered the big points.

I listened to the whole thing twice, and will encourage others to do the same.

Oct. 30 2009 04:42 PM
Patrick A.

Anyone make a playlist of this entire show?

Oct. 30 2009 12:08 PM
David Rowe from United States

Wonderful show. OTM at it's very best - telling a story about the media that one cannot hear anywhere else, that explained quite well an ever more complex market reality. Thank-you, and more, please.

Oct. 30 2009 11:13 AM
Francisco from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

In Britain the industry and persuaded the Government to propose a law that would mean that people caught downloading copyrighted material would be cut off by their ISPs:

Contrary to natural justice there is a presumption of guilt (see wireless link below).

Policing would be based on the IP address of the offender (sorry for lack of link) but, as has been shown on this programme, it's not hard to give a false address:

Furthermore, if you're using wireless (as more people are), it's easy for a technically minded person to use your internet connection:

ISPs don't like it.

Oct. 29 2009 05:30 AM
Philip Shade from Arlingtono, VA

Hilary Rosen's portrayal of record execs being broken hearted music fans is laughable. She headed of the RIAA when they were at their most vicious in attacking fans rather than coming up with anew business model.

Matter of fact she was head of the RIAA when they were found guilty of price fixing. Yes "poor" Mz. Rosen oversaw 4 years of stealing money from fans and businesses.

I think proof of this is that she was hired by Live Nation Entertainment to push through the merger of Live Nation and TicketMaster, two business who have been nothing but detrimental to the fan.

She may like music but she doesn't care about those who make it or buy it.

I really recommend everyone listen to the Amanda Palmer section of this episode:

Oct. 28 2009 06:43 PM
Lee from Houston, Texas

Excellent program. It is nice to see a complicated topic given a full hour.

Oct. 27 2009 02:14 PM
Jim from Westbury, NY

Great show!

Oct. 26 2009 10:50 PM
Marcel de Jong from The Netherlands

And here is an academic paper on the RIAA 'educational material':

(sorry for the ugly link)

Oct. 26 2009 11:48 AM
Marcel de Jong from The Netherlands

The RIAA spokesperson says that they would end the program of litigating against the so-called 'music piracy' as of December 2008, despite evidence to the contrary:
In March 2009:

And then again in May 2009: http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com/2009_05_01_archive.html#557287253887000754

What do you mean with "ending"?

And the education efforts that the RIAA has undertaken involves giving half-truths and do not seem to be based in a reality the rest of the world lives in:
For one thing, apparently "Fair use" doesn't exist.

For more examples and a point-by-point rebuttal I refer to this blogpost over at Techdirt.com:

Oct. 26 2009 11:33 AM
Jim Dawson from Los Angeles

What your story forgot was that the Music Monopoly's own greed set it up for MP3 pirating. Even though it was no more expensive to manufacture CDs than vinyl LPs, the industry took the opportunity to gouch its consumers by raising album prices a couple of dollars when it made the changeover to digital in the early 1980s. Then the industry killed off the single because the introduction of SoundScan in 1992 showed that single sales cut into CD album sales. At that point the industry smugly sat back, believing that consumers would pay full price for an album worth of crap just to get one song. And that's when two Germans showed up with their new invention, the MP3 single, and the music industry has deservedly been eating sh*t ever since.

Oct. 26 2009 12:05 AM

Brilliant show. ... and Listener@MIT, brilliant comment.

The music business can't die too quickly for me. With some luck and some technology, we might get a replacement that fosters artistic innovation.

If you haven't seen it yet, you might check out the essay from Courtney Love:

Oct. 25 2009 11:25 PM

Awesome show. Covered every angle. Evangelized it among my music freaks posse.

Quick story. About a year and a half ago I had an opportunity to meet with one of the music industry execs (at one of the biggest labels) and I came away with the understanding that they just don't have any understanding. He was just bitter and talking about the good old days. Had absolutely no idea how to monetize today's reality and was angered by it.

The train has left the station, but they're still trying to reel it in with a fish rod.

Oct. 25 2009 04:46 PM
Listener @ MIT from Cambridge, MA

Good programme.
One observation:
- How is it that the fellow who -- no understatement -- revolutionised the Internet and music landscapes from his dorm room is (dismissively) referred to as a "college kid in Boston." His name is Shawn Fanning and he went to Northeastern University. Any one who's ever gotten music for free over the Internet (ie. the whole free world) should know his name.
If this guy had gone to an elite university -- Berkeley, or Harvard or Cambridge -- or better yet, had dropped out, I can bet that the host would have mentioned it, along with a mini-bio of his life before and at said fancy school...

I'm at MIT and I see this happen all the time: successful person from famous school (praise them, praise school); successful person from unexceptional school (silence).

Oct. 25 2009 03:26 PM
Kevin Brunkhorst

As usual, the artist is last in line to be paid.
The RIAA meets at the Four Seasons. The artists, unless they are platinum sellers, do not.
Spotify's payment to artists amounts to pennies per song.
'Major labels still hate MTV, because they feel it has built an industry on their backs'. The 'music industry' was built on the backs of artists, who are paid least.

Oct. 25 2009 12:34 PM
Laurie Spiegel from New York City

Finally! It's been nearly 30 years since I wrote this article:

Music and Media

How long it has taken for these momentus change in music distribution to be discussed fairly in the media, including by "music industry pros", with open-mindedness and appreciation that digital distribution can be good for music and for people who love it, not just bad for business.

There is still plenty of room for brainstorming new economic models, but a new vision appears to be replacing the old one at last after all of these years of oversimplified non-thinking hidebound reactivity and accusations of criminality when music is now fuller of new potential than in a century.

Good work, bringing this out OTM!

Oct. 25 2009 10:01 AM
kanshefle from Austin

Excellent show! Revealed many unknown moments (to me) in the transformation of the music industry, particularly the desire and attempts of music executives to work WITH Napster, which could have led to a completely different industry today. (Actually I would have liked a more in-depth explanation of why that didn't work out).

Oct. 24 2009 08:22 PM
Colin Purrington from Swarthmore, PA

Just listened via podcast. Wonderful show.

Oct. 24 2009 04:24 PM
Linda from Oswego NY

GREAT SHOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I can't post enough exclamation points to say how much! :-)

Oct. 24 2009 02:59 PM
Jerry from Austin, TX

When Hilary Rosen starts of her narrative discussing how they were meeting at the Four Seasons in LA she perfectly encapsulates why the average person could care less about record industry flacks complaining about piracy. There is nothing in economics that says that major label execs are guaranteed million-dollar lifestyles and junkets to luxury hotels. If you can't manage to figure out that people are sick of playing by your rules in order to subsidize your lifestyle then you will get what you deserve. Figure out a way to add value by giving consumers what *they* want, not what *you* want them to have, or go into the tarpits like the rest of the dinosaurs.

Oct. 24 2009 11:30 AM
Larry from Detroit

Great Show. Nice summary of what's been going on for the last decade.

It is amazing to me to hear the old industry insiders still saying things like "If they aren't willing to pay they don't' really like the band", when the truth is that fans are always willing to pay, they just need to be given a reason to pay.

The music industry needs to stop trying to invent a time machine and start living in today's world. The autoworkers have come to grips with the fact that they can't make $75K working on the line anymore. Why does the music industry think that they are entitled to make $20 for a CD equivalent?

Oct. 24 2009 08:26 AM
L. Gard from Brooklyn, NY, USA

I am listening to this snooty Brit attempt to parody public radio by affecting a stuffy voice (no need, really, he's already got one), so that he can air his views...on public radio! Next comes a hip-hop "song" about radio announcers who "Talk loud but have nothing to say". ...Sounds like a perfect description of most rappers to me. Next we hear how unfair it is that hip-hop "artists" are having legal trouble sampling other people's music. If these "artists" are so artistic, creative and hip, why can't they come up with they own sh__?

Oct. 24 2009 07:49 AM

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