Thursday, April 6, 2006

Music blogs are killing music?

About a month ago a representative of the (excellent) Numero Group label left a comment on this blog asking to take down links to their album, and I gladly obliged. I appreciate what they are doing for all of us music heads by finding, compiling, and releasing great and obscure music, and besides they are legally the copyright owners, i.e. the last word on the matter.

However, along with the request to take down the links, the poster wrote the following: you are doing an absolute disservice to the artists and compilers by allowing others to steal this music. I doubt the truth of this statement, but I did not feel like arguing then.
Today I came across another flame war on the subject of piracy, and again people accuse us music bloggers of hurting (or even killing) the musicians and their work. As usual, the accusations come not from the musicians, but from well-meaning bystanders. But what do the musicians themselves have to say on this matter?

I admit that the feedback from the musicians is very limited, but whatever I saw suggests the opposite. I can point to three examples. One is a comment by Monty Stark, the virtuoso avant-vibist and bandleader of a jazz-rock group Stark Reality. He left a comment on my post sharing his album, and he did not ask to take it down, but used it as an opportunity to promote his current work via his website,

Another is a comment on my Sam Cooke post by Eric Greene, Sam Cooke's nephew and the author of "Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family's Perspective". Although Eric is not a musician, he is definitely an interested party. Curiously, he did not ask to take down the links, either, but used it as an opportunity to promote his book and website,

Finally, a comment at LostInTyme's post sharing three BLO albums (excellent 70s Nigerian Afro-rock/psych):
Thanks so much for doing this! You're awesome. I'm going to bring this to my dad's attention. dad is the L in BLO.

So, apparently the people closer to the music makers than to the music distribution do not necessarily view music blogs as evil.
Admittedly, there are situations where sharing the music would do more harm than good to the band - like with recently released albums that are still riding the wave of label's promotion, that are being sold at the shows etc.etc. I personally try to limit sharing the records of bands that are currently active. But I believe that in other cases musicians don't mind the exposure.
And for recordings like Cult Cargo, - Belizean music from the early 70s, - are the musicians even alive yet? I know that Numero's comps are properly licensed, but who exactly gets the profits? Is it the artists or just some random folk who happen to own the copyright at this point? I have no answer...

To sum it up: music blogs might be bad for the labels, although that is not so clear-cut, either; but I believe that musicians in general don't mind their work being promoted and shared through blogs.

P.S. I would also like to point you to several insightful articles by a SF writer Cory Doctorow on the subject of releasing his works for free:
  • An SF writer's biggest problem is obscurity, not piracy.
  • David Blackburn, a Harvard PhD candidate in economics, published a paper in 2004 in which he calculated that, for music, "piracy" results in a net increase in sales for all titles in the 75th percentile and lower; negligible change in sales for the "middle class" of titles between the 75th percentile and the 97th percentile; and a small drag on the "super-rich" in the 97th percentile and higher. Publisher Tim O'Reilly describes this as "piracy's progressive taxation," apportioning a small wealth-redistribution to the vast majority of works, no net change to the middle, and a small cost on the richest few.
  • ...and one article on copyright.

    P.P.S. Artists and songwriters of every style and genre are speaking out against illegal copying, including Madonna, Elton John, Eminem, Sheryl Crow, Jay Z, Lenny Kravitz and more.

    Also, here's the Blackburn paper referenced above: