Amanda Palmer And Steve Albini On ‘Piracy’: It Only Helps Musicians

Okay, here’s a bit of a two-fer. With all of the attention that Amanda Palmer has been gettingfor her massively successful Kickstarter campaign, we had some commenters here questioning whether or not she would freak out if people then shared her music. Thankfully, in her latest update about the project she answers that and many other questions from some folks who are still a little confused about what’s going on. But, for this post, let’s focus on the simple question of “piracy” — since it’s one that comes up often enough around here:

i think music should be shared. all the time. by everybody. i think it’s pure insanity to make music filesharing illegal.
and with that said, i have, for years, encouraged my fans to burn, download and share all of my music with each other and with strangers.
and i will never stop doing that. all that sharing eventually comes back to me in all forms of income and goodwill.

This actually reminded me that, a few weeks earlier, famed music producer Steve Albini did an AMA on Reddit, in which he was asked a similar question, to which he responded:

I reject the term “piracy.” It’s people listening to music and sharing it with other people, and it’s good for musicians because it widens the audience for music. The record industry doesn’t like trading music because they see it as lost sales, but that’s nonsense. Sales have declined because physical discs are no longer the distribution medium for mass-appeal pop music, and expecting people to treat files as physical objects to be inventoried and bought individually is absurd.

The downtrend in sales has hurt the recording business, obviously, but not us specifically because we never relied on the mainstream record industry for our clientele. Bands are always going to want to record themselves, and there will always be a market among serious music fans for well-made record albums. I’ll point to the success of the Chicago label Numero Group as an example.

There won’t ever be a mass-market record industry again, and that’s fine with me because that industry didn’t operate for the benefit of the musicians or the audience, the only classes of people I care about.

Free distribution of music has created a huge growth in the audience for live music performance, where most bands spend most of their time and energy anyway. Ticket prices have risen to the point that even club-level touring bands can earn a middle-class income if they keep their shit together, and every band now has access to a world-wide audience at no cost of acquisition. That’s fantastic.

Additionally, places poorly-served by the old-school record business (small or isolate towns, third-world and non-english-speaking countries) now have access to everything instead of a small sampling of music controlled by a hidebound local industry. When my band toured Eastern Europe a couple of years ago we had full houses despite having sold literally no records in most of those countries. Thank you internets.

Considering that Amanda actually linked to Albini’s fantabulous rant about what happens when you sign a major label deal from many years ago (nearly two decades) in her previous blog post about where all the money is going, it doesn’t surprise me to find out that she’s still on the same wavelength as Albini today.

The key point that both Palmer and Albini recognize is that it’s not about the “sharing” or “piracy” or whatever you want to call it. It’s about what you do with it. Both recognize that if you play your cards right, things can be absolutely fantastic for musicians these days, because not only can they have more control over their own destinies by taking charge of their careers, the biggest challenge is obscurity not piracy. And, in fact, file sharing (not “piracy” if it’s supported by the artists themselves) can help alleviate that problem, help them build up larger audiences around the globe — at no cost — and then do something with that fanbase later.

I keep seeing critics complain that Amanda’s Kickstarter campaign only is useful to someone like Amanda because she “had a big fanbase” already. That ignores (completely) how she built up that fanbase. And part of that is making sure as many people as possible could and did hear her music. In that context, fighting against “piracy” seems to be fighting against an artist’s own best interests…

by mike masnick for techdirt.com