Pay To Play – Tyrants, Thieves and The Bands They Rob

If there’s one topic that every music site, blog, magazine and opinionist in the world has to voice their view on at one time or another,  it’s illegal downloading. Ever since the whole Metallica Vs. Napster fall out in 2000, the music world has become strongly divided on the subject of illegal downloading and file sharing. Bands and fans alike have split right down the middle with some artists strongly supporting moderate file sharing while others bitterly oppose illegal downloading of their music, their work and their art. Tickets There strongly supports the latter and since UPC won their case yesterday, we decided it was the perfect time to tell you why.

Anti-Capitalism – Viva La Revolution!

Is anyone else getting sick of people constantly heralding the advantages of illegal downloading? The constant punk rehash drivel we’re subjected to every time an outspoken unemployed college student or post grad jumps to defend illegal downloading and the D.I.Y. environment that’s rising from the ashes of the once mighty music industry? The whole anti-capitalist, anti-system propaganda they drill you with to justify their positions and the slew of examples of tyranny and control the record companies yield and the travesty that befalls good bands. Sorry my friends, you’re not hurting anyone….aside from the bands you claim to love and support that is.

Funnily enough, you rarely hear any of these struggling artists come out and support the outspoken contingent that drives these messages. I’ve yet to hear one of the hundreds of independent Irish bands who are actively looking to make a living from the music industry and their art come out publicly and say yes, ‘we want people to illegally download our music and share it with the world forever’. They may give a free single here and there, offer free streaming of new albums but that doesn’t mean they want you to ignore the physical copy when you see it in Tower, or click next when it pops up on ITunes. They’re offering you these free streaming sources because that’s practically the only thing new bands can do these days to make themselves known and make a name for themselves. It might be easier if they had a record company behind them, you know pushing their name, getting them airplay, managing them properly and what not  but no, the ‘champions of the illegal file sharing’ have made certain that there’s no money to be made from real bands anymore. Round of applause, you’ve done a good job killing hopes for new bands around the world.

While these ‘champions’ make their speeches, write their articles and blogs, fill their IPhones, IPods and MP3 players with terabyte’s of stolen music, all the while feeling smug that they’re fighting the enemy, bands and artists are feeling more pressure than they’ve been subjected to in decades. It’s no secret that many, many bands and artists have/are and always will be given the shaft by the industry that feeds of their work but now, thanks to the lack of revenue from real bands (aside from the handful of lucky ones), record labels are no longer interested in even pretending to sign new acts and why would they be?

Record Companies = Tyrants?

Record labels are in the music business to make money, same reason as every other company out there. If they don’t make money, they can’t compete or give their artists a decent financial or competitive platform. These days, X-Factor, American Idol, Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Jedward, Take That, Justin Bieber and Cheryl Cole make money for the record companies so who do you think will benefit from that? I doubt anyone could believe that Justin Bieber’s success will land Ham Sandwich a recording contract. More than likely a Justin Bieber replica will reap the benefits.

Unfortunately, the industry isn’t hurting. But Jobs are being lost, less and less bands are getting signed, A&R men have become virtually non-existent, Promotion is becoming more focused on the guaranteed buck earners with little or nothing left for new and upcoming artists yet the machine keeps rolling. Major record labels like Sony BMG, Warner Music Group, EMI and the Universal Music Group continue their acquisition of smaller, independent labels because real bands aren’t selling albums anymore, which is creating an excellent little niche monopoly in the music industry. Without record sales, most independent labels haven’t a hope of surviving long and without these independent labels even fewer ‘real’ bands and artists will get signed in the future. The fewer ‘real’ bands on the scene decreases competition and stops people from being distracted from the main sales pitch and products. Welcome to a world laying the foundation for 24 hour, manufactured, conveyer belt music monopoly with no dangerous originality, no un-controllable elements and a marketing strategy that’s been perfected over decades and is now ready to come into full fruition.

But, But…..

There are arguments of course, the best being the claim that music is now returning it’s original state. Before the 1930’s, bands almost exclusively played live and that’s how they earned their reputation. Live performances were the be all and end all and now, more than any time over the past few decade’s bands are relying on live performances to make an income and afford to stay together. This is a fair point but next time you’re going to see your favorite Irish band and they’re playing to 30/50 people despite having (in your opinion) the greatest song repertoire in the country, ask yourself something, would you keep going? Would you be happy in your 5th year together playing to crowds of 10,20, 100+ max? Receiving rave reviews from the few major sources with readership, working hard to appear on any radio station, magazine, TV show or event that’ll have you and still end up with a better reputation than your bank account and ticket sales would lead you to believe?

It isn’t all about the money, but as a wise musician once told me, “if you’re gonna be in a band you need a lot of free time and a lot of money”. That is what it takes to make a real go of things in the industry but if you aren’t selling albums, aren’t filling venues but you’re still paying for studios, rehearsal spaces, travel costs for tours, management, booking agents, equipment rental, equipment purchases, tour hands, rent, food, bills..etc, etc then the money comes into play and bands need it to survive and compete. They need it to make a name for themselves. Thanks to illegal downloading, even some of the best bands are being left to rot and defend for themselves.

They Don’t Need the Money, they have enough!!

Some like to point out that they’re really only out to hurt money made bands and they still buy music from smaller unknown acts. Very decent of you, but please explain to me why those ‘smaller unknown bands’ aren’t appearing in the charts if that’s where your money is going. Record labels still aren’t signing these small bands because they don’t believe there’s a market for them. Why? Because older bands that sound like them aren’t selling anymore. Illegally downloading music from the likes of U2 and Metallica won’t hurt them financially in the same way it will a smaller act but if you step back a moment and see the big picture, you’ll notice any illegal downloading affects all of these bands, big and small. If bands like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and The Smashing Pumpkins want to give away their music for free then great. These guys all have studios, money and can do what ever they like. If a band doesn’t want you to download their music for free then have some respect and don’t do it. There’s no justification because it’s illegal and despite some peoples claims, it isn’t a victimless crime. It’s hurting the bands you love and only making the record company’s control of our beloved music world more dominant and powerful. Dead weight is cut, profits increase.

Couldn’t Care Less – Long Live Downloading!

As for the whole ‘you can’t respect something you didn’t earn’ theory. Well, that might explain why even semi-big independent album releases generate hype for about 2/3 weeks before disappearing off the face of the earth. People can’t focus or devote themselves to albums or bands anymore. It’s trendy to be eclectic and all knowing about everything but you know what, sometimes it’s a lot more enjoyable to find one good album and immerse yourself in it rather than finding 200 poor albums with various hooks and going through them like socks. Quality will always be king in the world, everything else is fleeting and that’s why the quality bands deserve the attention because they’re the ones you’ll re-buy on new formats. They’re the ones you won’t take for granted. They’re the ones you’ll dream of taking your kids to see, just so you can pass on the same joy you feel every time you think of their music and they’re the ones that you’ll bore your friends to tears taking about every chance you get because you just can’t thank them enough for giving you something very special and you want to spread that message as far as you can reach (Def Leppard RULE!!)

Don’t download, don’t file share and don’t rip off bands money. They need it to survive and the more money they make, the more likely it is the recording industry will come back and help these bands out again. There’s a lot more money to be made from bands who can tour and release albums for decades on end than there is from overnight success stories who manage to keep it together for a quick 3/5 year period before the press attention and drug problems send them spiraling out of control, Rock bands can hold their drugs and they know how to moon photographers when the occasion rises. Pay for music like you would anything else and support your local bands, your independent labels, your local Record Stores (who sadly didn’t get a proper mention here – we’ll make it up to them) and the recording industry. Things are only going to get harder and harder for these bands so let’s try to show them we do care and we’re not just in it for the freebies.


4 Responses to “Pay To Play – Tyrants, Thieves and The Bands They Rob”

  1. Johnny McGee Says:

    I understand where you’re coming from but I disagree with you on some key points. First of all, you use the example of artists like Justin Bieber and the goons off X Factor to describe how the record industry is this amoral entity, motivated purely by profit (which I believe it is, just like any other business) but your solution to this problem is that we the consumer should be moral? As though this will somehow turn the tide? Industries don’t work that way, even if all the Ham Sandwich fans in the whole world went back to buying CDs and bought their new album, the sales figures would still pale in comparison to Justin Bieber’s latest opus. A record company executive would take one look at the sales figures and say “I’ll take the cute Canadian kid with the platinum albums please.” Record companies do indeed like to take a punt on safe bets and if you can get that from an X Factor sweat shop then why take risks on a bunch of rock star divas who like throwing TVs out of hotel windows? Sadly, I think X Factor will be around for quite some time in this regard.

    This brings us to the issue of the charts. You asked “why those ‘smaller unknown bands’ aren’t appearing in the charts if that’s where your money is going.” Well, the fact of the matter is alternative music has struggled in the mainstream charts from as far back as I can remember. Ten years ago you were lucky if the Verve had one single buried in amongst the Venga Boys, Madonna, and the Backstreet Boys in the Irish charts; even if we all went back to buying CDs this would likely not change one iota. You say “quality will always be king in the world,” and this may be true in terms of the listener but it is quite obviously not the view of the record companies you regard so highly, otherwise Ham Sandwich’s new album would be top of their agenda in terms of promotion and publicity. Cash is king in the record industry and ultimately how it is generated and who generates it is largely irrelevant.

    You make the point that “if a band doesn’t want you to download their music for free then have some respect and don’t do it.” And that’s a fair point, I agree with you on this, but these bands should be prepared to accept that many people will just ignore their work where previously they may have downloaded it and been won over. I can think of several bands that I have taken a casual interest in and having downloaded their albums I’ve paid to see them play live on their tour and spent anything up to €60 on merchandise on the night. So without file sharing they get nothing off me, whereas with downloading they get up to around €100. Stamping out file sharing will not make me go into Tower Records and buy their album, it’s more likely to make me ignore the band entirely. The fight no longer consists of getting casual listeners to buy your music, the fight is now simply to get casual listeners to bother downloading your music and listening to it at all… as the Cast of Cheers would say “music so excellent I just bothered to download it.”

    The hard reality is that you can’t un-invent the wheel. There were opponents to radio when it first became popular, then it was cassette recording, then it was recordable CDs, now it’s file-sharing. Shall we ban all of these things? If you ban file sharing do you think people will stop ripping CDs? The landscape of the industry always changes in accordance with technology and you have to adapt or perish. If you want to make money selling music you have to make it worthwhile for the consumer, you have to incentivise the purchase. The likes of Beasty Boys and Nine Inch Nails have figured this out. Some people will always take the easy option and download the free, poor quality version but real fans will happily pay for a bit of quality… “Quality is king after all.”

    • Excellent comment Johnny and thank you very much for taking the time to post it.

      I agree that no matter how many CD’s are purchased, the companies will favor the pop brands over alternative music as they always have but remember at the same time Abba were storming up the charts in Europe, Black Sabbath and Zeppelin were starting off with recording contracts and getting deals thrown at them. Pop music will always be the bread winner for the recording industry, that’s just the way it is but so long as people buy music from the alternative groups, they have far more of a chance of getting a deal and getting money put behind them than they do without sales. Zeppelin didn’t start of as Zepplin, they were in other bands with deals and were afforded the chance to work at a music career which lead to Zepp’s formation. Without cash, this may not have happened.

      I’m no champion for the recording industry, a lot of this damage is their own fault and they could have adapted sooner but they are who they are and at the end of the day, most bands need them, especially in their early years. Who else is going to front the cash? A lot of people don’t buy the merchandise, the ticket sales or anything else and it’s not always for the bands quality, sometimes it’s just down to too much selection.

      I grew up in the tape days and I did it, but I never remember someone coming to school with 25,000 albums for me to choose from and everything I ever had on tape, I re-bought on CD over the years. Also don’t forget (who gave out about The Radio?) in the tape days, there wasn’t a Youtube or MySpace to check out if you wanted to hear a band, you simply had to sit and wait for them to appear on the radio, which could mean a long wait for an alternative band or borrow their album from someone who had it. Format changing is one thing and legal downloading is grand (although personally I have no time for that either). Its illegal downloading that is sadly causing damage. People are leaking albums, cutting bands sales and destroying the buzz of a release. If they want to check out a band, visit the bands MySpace or Bandcamp or Youtube and stream their music, don’t steal it from under them. There are hundreds of ways to check a band out without stealing from them.

      If file sharing goes, the list of active bands may tighten but for the price of a few less undeserving home recorded demos forcing themselves on the net, the quality artists may get a little more breathing room and have the chance to flourish

  2. Any musician who doesn’t want people to listen to their music should not be making music in the first place.

    That said, Ominous Black has a new release:
    You can download for free, or Pay as much as you want at our bandcamp site.

    Or if you’re into torrents

    • I’m allowing this, despite the plug. It’s never been a question about bands not wanting people to listen to their music, it’s about some bands having a problem with their music being stolen. Radio’s, streaming sites, BANDCAMP, Youtube..etc,etc are for listening to music.

      Anyone that likes it should pay for the ownership. Otherwise why not apply the same mentality to any job? Police want to protect people, they should do it for free.

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