The Eternal Debate of Nobody Buys Music Anymore

Over the weekend, NPR's All Songs Considered summer intern Emily White, a college senior and music lover, blogged about how she has over 11,000 songs in her iTunes library but have only bought 15 CDs ever.

She admitted that some were not exactly legally acquired (ahem, file sharing), but noted that the idea of buying music is foreign to her generation:

As I've grown up, I've come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. I can't support them with concert tickets and T-shirts alone. But I honestly don't think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.

What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded, and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts (hopefully with more money going back to the artist than the present model). All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?

The blog post sparked a spirited discussion about the state of the music industry and the eternal question of how to properly compensate musicians (indeed, this sort of debate has been going on forever, sparked by the rise of Napster and file-sharing, then the advent of iTunes, and now music subscription services like Pandora and Spotify).

David Lowery of The Trichordist, songwriter for the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, and lecturer at the University of Georgia's music business program, wrote a post that captures the anxiety of musicians everywhere about how the Internet is changing music:

What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles to allow the equivalent of looting. Say there is a neighborhood in your local big city. Let’s call it The ‘Net. In this neighborhood there are record stores. Because of some antiquated laws, The ‘Net was never assigned a police force. So in this neighborhood people simply loot all the products from the shelves of the record store. People know it’s wrong, but they do it because they know they will rarely be punished for doing so. What the commercial Free Culture movement (see the “hybrid economy”) is saying is that instead of putting a police force in this neighborhood we should simply change our values and morality to accept this behavior. We should change our morality and ethics to accept looting because it is simply possible to get away with it. And nothing says freedom like getting away with it, right?


Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!

And so, it goes (If you're interested, Robin Hilton of All Songs Considered has a nice recap).

My questions to you, Neatoramanauts: how has technology change the way you listen to music? Do you still buy music?

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The recording industry, that bastion of good taste, honesty, and fair distribution of costs and profits thinks file sharing is a crime!
Well, we saw it with the book industry too.
Once, nobody outside a monastery had the skills to make a book. Then along came that damned Gutenberg, inventing printing presses, and any fool could duplicate books.
Even more worrying. Peasants eventually learned to read and write, putting literally dozens of scribes out of work.
What really worries me though, is libraries, and the growing trend of book owners to lend books to others to read, thus depriving the publishing industry of profits and throwing the families of jobless monks into the street.
A further worry to us is the open availability of pencils and pens. Using these, it is possible for criminals to copy whole sentences, and, with that other item, whose posession we'd like to see controlled, or restricted, paper, these people can pin up illegally copied words, sentences, even whole paragraphs in public places for all to see.

Furthermore, in a recent visit to an academic establishment I was horrified to find students being encouraged to learn and memorise, for instance, whole poems, and songs. I saw plays performed where actors and actresses had memorised the lines, not a single one was carrying, and reading, from an authorised text.
I tell you, unless the perpetrators are given punitive fines and prison sentences, the book publishing industry is doomed.
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Spotify - catalogue could do with some better known names but 10 quid a month to listen to (almost) anything I want and sync it to tablet and phone for the car and hotel, perfect.
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The punks have won. Music is now a thing solely to be done for the passion. Hopefully, home recording will replace studio recording, and free, homemade, passionate music will be the dominant paradigm,as opposed to shitty focus grouped bullshit and groups of former adolescents tailoring their jingle-jangly crap in such a way that it sells the most instead of meaning the most.
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I still buy music, though it is usually in the form of DRM-free MP3s from Amazon instead of actual CDs. It's important to me that the creators get paid.

I do still buy a few CDs a year, but almost as a physical souvenir of the albums I really liked, rather than as the primary listening format.
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