The Universe Does Not Owe You Free Music

Here’s how the last three days have gone down in the world of musical discourse:

  1. Emily White writes on the NPR All Songs Considered Blog that she has over 11,000 tracks in her music library, of which possibly 200 were acquired by paying any money whatsoever to anybody. Summary: I love, love, love music and refuse to pay for it because my generation thinks that’s lame.
  2. David Lowery turned in the most thoughtful and insightful piece on acquiring music illegally and the effect it has on artists that maybe anybody has written to date. Summary: Please stop stealing (yes, stealing) our music; you are literally killing us.
  3. An indie label owner (also) named Emily White wrote a defense of EW2, as she referred to the previously identified intern. Summary: Emily, you seem nice, don’t let the internet wishing you a horrible fate get you down. 

In between each of these were hundreds and hundreds of reader comments, rebuttals, new blog posts, etc. But David Lowery’s post is the top of the mountain, here. I don’t know how he managed to take such a stunningly high road and stick to it, but he did (my initial, internal monologue response to Emily’s post had way more swear-words), so just read his post. It’s long, but just read it. I’ll wait…

Here’s what I’d like to talk about, which I hope is a little different. There are two lines from Emily’s initial post that leap out at me:

“I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.”

and

“All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it.”

To these stunning expressions of entitlement I say: Enough. Enough now. The universe does not owe you this. Please let’s not act like it does. As a matter of fact, the universe doesn’t owe you anything.

See, everything has a cost. Somebody’s going to absorb it. We are not entitled to the work of other people’s hands simply because it exists in the world and we also exist in the world. I’m not trying to be flippant, this doesn’t just apply to music, or piracy, or any specific thing, this is a universal truth that we are increasingly trying to ignore as a way to justify our own poor decisions from runaway obesity to the eroding political discourse.

Me, I made a record. Yay for me! But I’m not entitled to listeners. I sent my CD to NPR (maybe Emily opened it…in which case, Emily, you really *do* seem nice…), but they don’t owe it to me to listen to it. If I want potential fans to know my name, I have to introduce myself. They will not come to me, and introducing myself takes time and, often, money. That’s just part of it. It’s my choice to play this game, and I understand that I don’t get to make the rules.

Every choice is a decision point where we have to weigh a cost against a benefit. In the case of pirated music, it’s a lot like Stanley Milgram’s electroshock experiments, where it’s relatively easy to deliver an electric shock to somebody if you can’t see them, but harder when you can. In this case, people who profess to love you or your music are shocking you from their comfort of their bedrooms. It kinda sucks.

All I wanted to say, really, was that there’s a larger point here that’s also part of the discussion. Let’s please be a little more honest about the decisions we make, because they have consequences. And from Rush Limbaugh assassinating the character of a college student with an opinion he doesn’t share, to people calling for a 21-year-old girl at NPR this summer to lose her job or worse, to seemingly every single person who’s ever posted a comment on YouTube, let’s try to remember there’s another human being at the other end of that transaction.

(Suffice to say that, as an independent musician, I would really prefer you buy all of your music. And if you want to explore and preview new stuff to find out if you like it, go with Spotify (for all its ills) or Pandora, don’t just download the thing from the Pirate Bay or wherever. We all know you’re not going to circle back and buy it legitimately if you fall in love with it. Let’s be honest.)

God, I feel so grumpy now…Sorry, everybody.

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