When I was in high school and college, I used Limewire for all of my music. I’m not proud of that, but I justified it to myself by saying that if I really liked the music, I would buy it on CD anyway. These days, I use Spotify for the stuff I kinda like and pay actual money for the stuff that I really like, which seemed reasonable until I discovered that Spotify pays the musicians whose work they stream almost nothing, which I really should have suspected, as the whole thing seemed too good to be true. The worst part is, now I’m agreeing with Taylor Swift on something. What is the world coming to?
In all seriousness, I can understand the conundrum that up-and-coming artists face when dealing with something like this. If you’re an international superstar like The Beatles, you can afford to say no to making your work available on Spotify (or iTunes, which they also refused to do at one point). But if you’re a nobody, you have to ask yourself whether it’s worth allowing your stuff to be licensed by a service that will pay you $0.0005 for every time somebody streams one of your songs on the off-chance that that the increased exposure will lead to more lucrative deals down the line. In that position, I would probably say yes to Spotify. But I’m not a musician, so what the fuck do I know?
The inescapable reality is that if we want our artists to keep producing, we are going to have to pay them at some point. You can justify torrenting to yourself in any way you like, and it’s not like my hands are completely clean either, so I’ll withhold judgment for the time being. My father said once that after paying for something on vinyl and cassette, he really didn’t feel like buying it a third time, but then again, he has the disposable income to buy whatever the hell he wants, as long as it’s not a sports car. I don’t think downloading movies/TV/music/books/whatever on the internet is a crime in the same way that stealing a wallet or a car is. It exists in a sort of weird gray area. The ethics of ownership as they extend to electronic media are still being hammered out. It’s illegal to share one’s HBO GO password, although HBO doesn’t seem to mind. I use my cousin’s boss’s Hulu Plus password and feel no shame about it. Because at that point, you might as well just tell people they can’t lend books to one another.
HBO isn’t really helping matters by saying no to any streaming deals with Netflix, for that matter. I guarantee that if the network offered a limited subscription package, wherein one could pay for one HBO show and not the whole thing, they would make a fuckton of money. There is one HBO show that basically everyone watches. You’re already humming the theme song, aren’t you?
I’m lucky enough to live about a half hour away from a Barnes & Noble. I preferred Borders back when it existed, but it folded, and these days, I’m glad just to have an actual brick-and-mortar store that sells books, even if they also have toys, puzzles, DVDs, and other random shit. I can wander down there and browse when the howler monkeys in my head get especially noisy, and once or twice, I have stopped in and read a book cover to cover that I didn’t want to buy and couldn’t or was too lazy to get from the library. I’m not hurting anyone, am I? I have issues with Amazon, but I don’t begrudge them their success. There is definitely something to be said for being able to order something online that you can’t get from the store. Even then, a lot of good stores can order stuff for you anyway. I did that at another bookstore and got it in two days for less than I would have paid at Amazon. Yippee!
I wouldn’t mind paying to use Spotify. I already pay a monthly fee for Netflix, and their selection is sadly lacking when it comes to more artsy-fartsy stuff. (Of course, Spotify Premium already exists, but I’m still too cheap for that. I’ll start paying for my music when they make me pay for my music. I’m not perfect.) As is often the case, technology might be making things more convenient for some people, but don’t expect the old ways to go away entirely. Some people still have landlines. Some people still listen to the radio. The military still uses the Morse code for some messages, doesn’t it?
I need a conclusion now, and the best I’ve got is that when it comes to the stuff you consume, you get what you pay for. Usually. It’s not necessarily wrong to take advantage of an opportunity to get it for free, but whether it’s legal or illegal, it can’t last forever. I knew a guy once who justified torrenting by saying that he didn’t believe in intellectual property. Well, I don’t believe in property, so I’ll just come into your house and take your stuff. How would that make you feel? If it’s an inconvenience for you to shell out some of your hard-earned money for something or leave your house to go buy it, that’s because it should be an inconvenience. It’s an inconvenience to sell and market the thing, so why should the consumer get off the hook? I see a lot of entitlement in people who say that artists should be grateful to just to have their work seen or heard. Those same people will often criticize musicians for letting their music be played in commercials. Look, not everybody can be an artiste, okay? Not everyone wants to be. There has to be a give-and-take, that’s all I’m saying.
By the way, I like the new Weezer album. It could be their best since Pinkerton.