On the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine, U2 manager Paul McGuiness did a lengthily piece arguing about the state of the music industry and how major labels were asleep at the wheel when they went against illegal downloading instead of offering a competitive alternative to fans at once, and how the whole idea that music ought to be free is destroying the record industry – especially young, struggling artists – in general.
When music downloading began over a decade ago, I never paid much attention to it. After all, I am one of those guys who love to grasp the record in my hands, read the liner notes and enjoy the art on the cover. I also enjoy seeing my living room ‘s shelves filled with CDs – but the reality is that few people today think like I do – most prefer to have everything filed in their iPods (or equivalent), and I can’t blame them.
I don’t need explain how much having a portable music player is convenient, especially when it comes to my line of work (I am a music critic in addition to being a teacher). Today, many labels and publicists send me a download link to the music they are promoting, and within minutes I have it in my player, and am also able to take the music wherever I go – could you imagine carrying 10-15 CDs in my luggage every time I travel? In today’s limited air travel world when one has to pay for checking their bags, where would my laptop, clothes and other basic necessities go?
However, I never really downloaded illegally or done any real file-sharing except for a brief period when I used Kazaa, one of the many file-sharing programs out there (I stopped because it was such a nuisance, especially when major labels began to share bum files). Sure, I have burned assorted CDs like I did in back in the cassette tape days (there, I’m showing how old I am) and have sent tracks for musicians in my band to learn, but that was that. I buy most music I don’t get from labels, and I still order physical CDs every now and then, simply because I’d rather have the stuff safely kept on my shelves instead of on a hard drive that might crash at any given minute.
I know, however, that I am a minority in this case, and that the industry is suffering, and that there are no easy solutions. Sure, artists and labels have relented and begun offering free content (singles and such) to help push their sales (once one gets a taste, it’s hard to resist the urge to buy the whole album – drug dealers have done that for years), but in spite of efforts from Amazon and iTunes, far too many people are still downloading for free. As McGuiness stated, subscription services might be the answer for this – unlimited music for a fixed monthly fee. But how can you beat free without losing your fan base?