How The Music Industry Is Finally Getting It Right…
So you’re okay with downloading copyrighted music for free…well…why? I mean honestly, why? Ten years ago, I would agree that Napster really came in handy providing music in my electronics lab in college at 2 AM. It was music on demand, and it was great…well until Napster was shut down and lawsuits quickly followed. MP3’s were a dirty word in the music industry (and audiophiles) but to the rest of the internet, it was just the beginning…what followed was a music revolution…
I never felt comfortable downloading songs or even whole albums for free. Maybe it was because I felt like I was stealing from the artist. Maybe I was just a nice guy, and felt it was wrong (stupid Catholic guilt). Either way, I didn’t really download a lot of music illegally…mainly just long live trance sets from Europe (hey, it was the late 90’s).
Did I mention we didn’t have fast internet back in the day, so it took forever to download just one song. Kids these days have it soo easy…
I was never out to “wreck the industry” or “stick it to the man”, really I just thought it was a service issue. Why couldn’t the music industry provide me with a cheap, efficient, high-quality, mobile way to listen to music when and where ever I want? Well, in my mind, common ground has been achieved. Music today can be consumed in a number of different formats: Vinyl, CD, MP3, Streaming, Satellite, Over The Air (OTA) Radio, etc, etc, etc…and all of it is relatively cheap or even free. So let’s take a look at three different platforms that seem to be stamping out the majority of piracy in the music world.
Online Music Stores – For Purchase
On April 28, 2003, Apple’s iTunes Store opened with over 200,000 songs. It now has over 20,000,000 songs and is the #1 retailer for online music. It literally changed the game on how music could be consumed. Since it’s inception it has increased the quality of the downloads, gone to a tiered pricing structure, and gone DRM-free. iTunes recently surpassed 16 billion downloads…that’s just crazy.
Amazon MP3 is an online music store owned and operated by Amazon.com. Launched in on September 25, 2007, it became the first music store to sell music without digital rights management (DRM) from the four major music labels (EMI, Universal, Warner Music, and Sony BMG), as well as many independents. It’s a good competitor for iTunes, and I can only seeing it growing larger.
Hot on their trail: Google Music. Google Music is an online music streaming service and online music store that was announced on 10 May 2011 at the Google I/O conference. I haven’t looked very deeply into Google Music, but I’m sure I’ll dig into it sooner or later.
These online stores provide a plethora of music for a decent price, certainly less than CD’s used to cost back in the mid-to-late 90’s. Songs usually run around $0.99 (US) and albums are going to usually cost around $9.99 (US). Pricing may vary, but most of the albums I buy hover around the ~$10 mark. About $5 cheaper than CD’s back when I was younger.
Spotify is a Swedish DRM-based music streaming service offering streaming of selected music from a range of major and independent record labels, including Sony, EMI, Warner Music Group, and Universal. Spotify has more than ten million users, where a quarter of them are paying members.
Users can register either for free accounts supported by advertising or for paid subscriptions without ads and with a range of extra features such as higher bitrate streams and offline access to music. A paid “Premium” subscription is required to use Spotify on mobile devices. A Facebook account has been mandatory for all new users since 22 September 2011…which sucks…but hey, it’s free music. Spotify has a user interface much like iTunes, where you can search for bands/songs/albums and listen to your hearts content. I really haven’t had any problems searching for albums that I want to listen to. They didn’t seem to have a few Sigur Rós songs (boo), and no King Crimson (bigger boo).
Pandora Radio is an automated music recommendation service and custodian of the Music Genome Project available only in the United States. The service plays musical selections similar to song suggestions entered by a user. The user provides positive or negative feedback for songs chosen by the service, which are taken into account for future selections. It’s actually pretty slick, you can set up different stations based on bands. My favorite station is “Koop”…definitely check it out.
Both Spotify and Pandora provide you with free options to listen to music from your computer and mobile device (although I think Spotify doesn’t allow that with their free version). Spotify offers different tiers to their service: Free version with ads, $4.99 (US) a month without ads, and $9.99 (US) a month gives you offline and mobile options. Currently, I have the free version, it gives me a chance to preview and listen to an album to determine if I’m going to buy it. It’s a great service, and I definitely recommend you download it.
Pandora is just awesome. Having multiple stations based on jazz, rock, hip-hop and able to tweak them is quite amazing. Some of the songs that they predict for your station is almost magical at times. It’s a great way to keep the music fresh during the day. The one good thing about Pandora is that they offer a mobile version, which makes long car rides even more fun. Pandora does offer a premium version for $36 (US) a year. It features no ads, higher quality audio, and fewer interruptions.
Both of these services are a must for music lovers.
Vinyl + Digital Download
So, this is my favorite combo that is becoming more and more common. Bands are releasing their music on vinyl again, which is just awesome. What makes it even more awesome, is that they are including a coupon with the LP for a free digital download of the full album. Why the music industry didn’t do this 10 years ago is beyond me. I get the large album, inserts, and beautiful vinyl recording for the audiophile version of me, plus the digital copy for the mobile version of me. It’s the best of both worlds…and I think it would have stamped out piracy before it even got started.
In my experiences so far, Matador, Sub Pop, and ROIR all have digital download coupons in their albums. ROIR was even awesome enough to send me a digital copy of a Television live album that I bought because they forgot to include the coupon. They didn’t have to respond or believe my request, I already had the vinyl (which is more important to me), but it goes to show that they really care about their fans. Looks like I’ll have to hit up the ROIR store for some more albums soon.
Now, I’m not arguing for the content providers or for copyright restrictions, I honestly think the copyright laws are broken and being leveraged in a way it wasn’t intended. I think it needs to be rewritten in a way that benefits everyone…not just the content providers. I’ve seen studies that show piracy leads to more sales, and I think that’s true…once again, I feel that this is a service issue and not a cost issue. There have been some great strides in the last few years to close the door on piracy, and there are some really good legal options out there, mentioned above.
If someone is freeloading off an artist or even the industry, then I think they’re in the wrong…no matter how corrupt the system is. There are free/cheap legal ways to consume music content, and if the free/cheap legal ways aren’t being used, then I’m afraid of what will become of the music industry…harsher rules? harsher penalties? DRM? more lawsuits? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. So why not start using the services they are providing. They aren’t perfect, yet, but they are a step in the right direction…and honestly, their libraries are pretty thorough and having that much music at your fingertips is just a blast.