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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?

They're trying to make it a 'morality' issue, when it's just a money issue.
Because they figure if they cannot win you over with the money issue (because, frankly, many of us KNOW that the big corporations are making the money and the artist aren't), they try an emotional plea to 'morality'.

YES, of course morals have changed. Morals are never static from generation to generation, or even decade to decade.
The morality of today is no longer that of the 1500s, the 1950s, (thank goodness), or even of 1980.
If we kept morals the way they were, women would still be tied to the stove, black people would be in shackles, and humans wouldn't have inalienable rights.
Morality is judged by the culture of the time.

Morals need to shift with new cultural dynamics. This is what I see happening with the music industry. Except the industry is in the stone age and hasn't caught up with the reality on the ground NOW. Instead, they cling to old ways, and use their power and control to outlaw things, overcharge, and label 'immoral' that which they feel impinges on them.

I'm sure in time, and given the freedom, actual artists and the listening public can create a system of equity and reason so that the artist gets the money, the public gets the music, and NONE OF US faces jailtime for doing so.
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The idea is not to alter the morality regarding looting. The idea is to provide a more attractive alternative. Piracy has three big pitfalls that the commercial market could easily surpass if it wanted to:

1. Not everyone knows how to pirate music. You have to learn how to do this, and learn how not to get caught.

2. You have to figure out where to find stuff, and then hope you can find what you're looking for at all. There are literally hundreds of albums I would love to have in my collection that are not available through either legal nor illicit means as far as I can tell.

3. When you do find what you're looking for, the quality is often lacking. 128kbps mp3s are a sacrifice at best.

The music industry can make itself more appealing than piracy based on these three simple points. Make it easier than piracy, deepen the catalogs, and offer high-quality files, including lossless formats. I would pay for that, and so would a lot of people. Not to mention, bandwidth and server space are a heck of a lot cheaper than thousands of plastic discs in plastic boxes sitting in warehouses taking up shelf space.

But... you can't buy as much cocaine with that model, so the music industry is unlikely to follow.
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I still buy music, but I tend to buy my CDs directly from the bands at shows. I like having the CDs in my library, so that I can always re-rip the CD should anything happen to the digital file on my computer.

When Amanda Palmer did her most recent Kickstarter for her new album, I bought into that and ordered one of her CDs.

I still buy and I have a preference for having a physical copy of my music. I just do not buy very often these days.
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Also, this:
"Make buying music easier than pirating music and the money will follow."
Go check out The Oatmeal's "Games Of Thrones" comic. It's the same situation.
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Why am I, a musician, disagreeing with this guy David Lowery so much? It's not about accepting "thievery", and the "Free Culture" isn't corporate. It's a physical development of technology changing. Anyone can make music, and that music is a better quality than ever before. Everyone can share it. How can you commercially charge for something like this? It's not unvalued by this generation because we're all thieves, it's unvalued because there's so damn much of it everywhere.

There will never stop being people who want to make music for nothing. How can you charge for something an ever-increasing number of people want to make for zero, zilch? Musicians SHOULD be paid handsomely but the universal streaming service is the closest to a model we can get in this situation without winding the clocks back on technology.

If anything, this is reason to celebrate, because if you can't money from music, we might see the end of the profiteering corporate music industry. I never made money from 12 years of the standard model; not making any money in the future doesn't scare me, and doesn't stop me wanting to make music. The future may not be that much better this way, but it sure as hell can't be much worse.
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Well i agree with Emily White, that's why i subscribe to Spotify. Its the closest to that ideal model (i use Spotify as a generic name, and it could apply to any subscription based service), the always in sync accessible everywhere service, instead of physical media.

To go further, i feel CD or any physical media is a dead thing, it lacks the the dynamic nature of big databases.

I don't feel like owning anything now, i prefer instant access to everything.
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For the longest time the big labels resisted going online because the traditional music retail biz was raking in huge profits. Label execs were driving big cars and getting big fat bonuses every year. A music CD costs only $0.60 to produce & distribute.
The rest - recording/artist promotions/A&P, are billed back to the artist. This is also deducted from the "advance" the label gives the artist when they sign on dotted line.
The artist will get royalty payments but this is where the tricky part comes in; 0.01% of 5.0% of actual unit sale. The rest are shared by writers, musicians and label.
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Technology has changed the hardware, and that hardware can hold a good deal of my music collection that I have digitized or digitally obtained (CD or download), and play it basically randomly, where analog media was practically linear, or I had to work to listen to a particular track.

I still listen to the radio quite a bit though, but also have music channels from my TV provider, and online streaming.

I haven't bought music for quite some time, just listen to what I already have, or listen to radio/streams.
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Most of the music I listen to is diy stuff and these bands put out their music for free. They want to be heard and they know kids like me don't always have the money to buy every album that they like. These kids also have 9 to 5 jobs and do what they do as a hobby. They don't expect a lot out of it, but do it for fun and most of the time, make their money back buy selling some cds, records, or other merch. It's like, why don't publishing companies track who rightfully owns a books? Wouldn't you consider it stealing if you "borrowed" a book from someone and didn't pay the $10.75 and buy it yourself? There isn't a police officer knocking on my door when I let my friend borrow a book that they never paid the publishing company for. People have been stealing books for all these years and there isn't anything people can do about it. If I bought a cd of some really cool band, I will let my friend borrow it and I know for a fact that they will upload it. I wouldn't tell them about it and then not let them listen to the cd.
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anonymous coward... The music has to be licensed to spotify. It doesn't just get put on there because the music exists. Sometimes, those licensed rights can change. A recent one that I'm aware of is Ted Leo and the pharmacists. Most of his past albums were on Touch N' Go Records. That label folded a few months ago so all of his old music, as well as the music from all of the other artists that have ever been on that label, was removed from Spotify. No the only one on there is his newest album and his very first self released.
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K Lawrence... You are assuming that every musician has the time and ability to manage all the business aspects. Tell that to any musician that is having to drive themselves across the country. Successful musicians need support. A good record label can offer that to them. Musicians can also appreciate that.
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Make buying music easier than pirating music and the money will follow.

iTunes does not run on my computer. Fail. Make a website, too.

Google Play's catalog is damned thin. Fail.

Amazon's DRM-free music is compelling, but their album downloader does not run on my computer. Fail. Make it easy to download albums in simple archives.

Spotify runs great on my computer but my most favorite music just evaporated the other day -- 30 songs from the band down to 3. Fail. Don't arbitrarily remove access to music. Also I'm sick of the Esurance advertising. Get more advertisers. Also, Facebook _sucks_. Get Zuckerberg to kick in some money, I brought my damned FB account out of hibernation specifically for Spotify. He owes you guys.

Pandora's catalog is way too thin. Repeats after ten or so songs? Fail.

Spotify's $10/mo is most tempting but the deletion of content seriously dented my enjoyment of the free service -- so I got cold feet and didn't sign up.

Back in the heyday of piracy, the selection was awesome, the content never went away because some lawyers got a bug up their butt, and the filesharing applications were easy to use.
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What this guy is missing, is that the Internet is removing the middleman. removing the record industry.

Within a short time, musicians will be able to put their music straight into a Spotify, or some other service and get all of the profits.

The profits from the music service will be more than the pittance they get from each record or song sold.

Even still, Since so little money actually goes to the musician for each record sold, how is sharing music hurting the musician. It would most likely increase concert sales. In addition, most of the music shared, would never have been purchased. So again, how would sharing a song with someone who would never have actually purchased the album hurt the musician?

The old way, with Record companies controlling the industry is dying. Musicians, eventually, will be on the winning side of this, if they quickly take control of how their music is distributed. If they let the music industry control the new era, they will still be poorly paid while the music execs get rich.
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I still buy most songs, except a shared song here or there. And if I really love a band, I still buy the CD for my collection. I think an artist should be able to profit from their sales, though I do think mp3 music should be a whole lot cheaper than they are since nothing physical is produced.
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@ InsaniD

making "reasonable copies" is one thing.

not paying a dime for any/most/a lot of the music you enjoy at home is something else entirely.
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I agree with Lowery, it is looting.

I was one of the first Napster users, now I buy music via iTunes, and occasionally other places. Haven't stolen anything in years.

That said, Napster had great stuff that didn't make it to iTunes - strange covers, novelty songs, etc. The fact that that stuff is gone kind of sucks.
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"Why did we do this? Because we didn’t have the money to buy that many records/cassettes/CDs in the first place. Believe me, we all just as soon would have gone out and bought originals of everything rather than listen to low-quality copies.

Was any of this illegal or immoral? Possibly."

Actually, back in the day, we had the legal right to make "Reasonable Copies" of our purchases - even into the beginning of the home PC age, one could make "backup" copies of software, movies and music.

THEY changed the rules on US, any then complain that we don't think it fair...
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There has to be a balance. Okay, your older brother has a great collection of tunes, and you borrow his library. That is one thing, but to file share everything you have with the rest of the world is pushing it.

If you hear a new tune you really like, buy it. 99 cents is not going to break you. If no one does it, then expect to pay more for music. It is really cheap now compared to the days of records and CD’s. Don't blow this!!

I know words are wasted, but at least I had my say.
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People are confusing the model (and profits) made by larger labels with those of mid-size, small, DIY and independent labels.

There is not an independent artist out there who is making "enormous profits" from digital music.
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I think I was a teenager when the music industry first began complaining about piracy. Metallica was complaining about profits, and it was around that time that my friends stopped listening to Metallica. I still enjoy two of their albums and actually have two copies of both albums on CD. I think the additional copies were my friend's that he didn't want anymore.

When Napster first came online I started downloading music like Johnny 5 from the Short-Circuit movies read books. I had maybe 20,000 random tracks that included good recordings of songs I liked, multiple bad recordings of the same songs, thousands of comedy sketches, and music that I wouldn't otherwise waste my time on. Sifting through all the crap to find the songs I liked and spending hours upon hours generating Winamp playlists eventually burnt me out.

Now, I pretty much stick to a small youtube playlist of music, but because youtube frequently crashes the computer I'm considering ripping the songs from my CDs instead. I have most of the CDs for the music I like and generally buy CDs to support the bands. I like to check out small bands with little to no fan-base and make a point to buy their CDs if I find myself listening to them regularly.
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I use spotify, but I also have a subscription to emusic. While I like spotify, the streaming sound quality isn't the best. I will use it to find something new or to save playlists to use while at work. If at home, I will listen to my downloaded music. Am I alone in preferring quality of the recording over convenience?
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Back in my generation, we used to record off music from LPs onto reel-to-reel tapes. We would borrow records from others and loan ours in return so they could be copied onto tape. When cassette tapes came out, we used stereos with dual cassette decks to easily duplicate the purchased tapes. When CDs first came out I even made tapes of borrowed CDs.

Why did we do this? Because we didn't have the money to buy that many records/cassettes/CDs in the first place. Believe me, we all just as soon would have gone out and bought originals of everything rather than listen to low-quality copies.

Was any of this illegal or immoral? Possibly. We all figured if you could listen to it on the radio for free, why was it such a crime to record a copy of it? It's not like we were selling the copies to make a profit.

There are a couple of factors that make it seem different today. The first is that in the old days the copies were always inferior to the original. Artists and record companies knew there would always be a market for audiophiles who wanted to buy originals to enjoy the best possible sound quality. In today's digital age, each copy is precisely the same as the original. (We'll skip the discussions of compression -- I am meaning that music can be copied precisely bit for bit.) People who share music don't have the incentive to buy music just to get a clean copy.

The second factor is that years ago the media had a relatively short life. Records and tapes wore out as you played them, and even CDs became worn or scratched as they were used. A percentage of people who bought originals would even buy a second or third copy over time to replace damaged copies of their music media.

The third factor is that there was no practical means of tracking such music sharing in the pre-internet era. Since digital music sharing today is almost exclusively done over the internet, file sharing is easily tracked and documented. It is also now very profitable to pursue people who illegally share music. When a company can be awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars from a person who has illegally downloading a couple of dozen songs, it is no wonder artists, record companies and attorneys are so eager to go after those who illegally download music.

The music industry needs to change the price structure of digital music downloads if it wants to change the way people think about file sharing of songs. Individual songs go for $0.99. If you download all the songs from a given album, you wind up spending at least as much as you would for the physical CD at your local Walmart. The cost of manufacturing the CD includes material and handling costs that music producers don't put into digitally-delivered music. Consumers who understand this simple point are incensed at this pricing scheme.

Maybe the music industry would reduce the piracy of music if they stopped trying to make such enormous profits from digital music?

Food for thought...
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Yes, Mr David Lowery, that is exactly what we're asking you to do, mostly for your own benefit. You can't fight piracy with a flamethrower. You have to accept it as a natural law of economics, and adjust your model to reward paying customers. Sure, it sucks that music is so easy to pirate that grandmas are doing it, but it just means you need to think smarter. iTunes managed. It needs a little competition I think, but iTunes shows that people ARE willing to pay for music, if they feel that the service is worth their investment.

As for me personally, I haven't bought music in years, but I also don't have huge piles of pirated music (I think I only have a couple cds by some obscure Scottish metal band). I'm the kind of person where, if I really like something, and I have the money, I'll certainly buy it, but for music, I mostly just stream from youtube whenever I fancy listening to something. It's just easier. Someone gets paid for that, through youtube. Could be you. Oh wait, it's piracy so it's bad. Sorry. I guess I'll give Gozo95969 my view/like/favorite.

I'm being glib, but I'm serious. My favorite music on youtube, generally speaking, are the Bathroom Recordings by Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies. He just picked up his guitar, and started playing his own songs in front of a camera and put them on youtube (Why not, everyone else covers his songs), and they're amazing, both in their execution, and what they represent.

This is an insanely long neatorama comment.
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Seriously, though, doesn't anyone remember the past?

Most of us didn't have massive record or tape collections. We listened to the radio for free, and shared bootleg tapes. We bought an album or two every so often, and had modest collections.

And what about now? We listen for free online, we share a few digital bootlegs, and we still pay for an album or two every now and then. Ever heard of iTunes??

Nothing has changed. They just want to convince us it has, because they see every free listen as escaped profit--now more so, because each digital copy costs them practically nothing.
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If the person is on a large label and makes more than enough money to live on, that is one thing.

However a vast majority of musicians out there, including many of the ones with stuff in your library right now, do not.

It is up to them whether their albums cost money, not you.

If you don't want to pay for it, listen to something else.
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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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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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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 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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