Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Piracy and restraint

Huh. Call me naive, but there's a whole subculture of classical music fans on the Internet of whom I was wholly unaware until today. It all started innocently enough, with RonanM's blog Ceol na Sidhe, on which he provides links to downloads of performances mostly recorded from the radio. Well, I know about "private recordings", all right, which are the same as rock bootlegs but sound posher. But when I followed a link from RonanM's site, one thing led to another, and the scales suddenly fell from my eyes. There's Problembar's Classical Vault, Soap and Plum Preserves, Blogger Musical, In My Room, Music Is The Key, Classical for everyone, Alio modo, Fauteuil d'Oreille, and presumably many more. What are they? They're just... they're just... it was kind of flabbergasting actually. They're just blogs where you can download whole albums for free. Obviously I don't think classical music fans are somehow above file sharing. But these blogs are so... enthusiastic. They write about the music, they provide reviews, they provide track lists and cover art - so much effort goes in that it just doesn't seem like music piracy. You know - music piracy is a sordid affair, nothing but anonymous zip files hosted on seedy servers. Pirates don't put so much love and hard work into their piracy. And here's what Music Is The Key says: "This blog does not promote piracy, on the contrary, it supports the artists by making their works available to the major possible number of people. If you liked any of the albums buy the original CD. SAY NO TO PIRACY. Thanks".

Well, sorry guys, but it is piracy. You're letting people you don't know obtain high-quality (sometimes lossless) copies of CDs they didn't pay for. A person could happily create a large and impressive collection of music just by relying on these blogs, without giving a cent to the artists that the bloggers claim to support.

But Nereffid! Surely you're exacerbating the problem by giving us links to all these blogs? Well, quite. (I'm reminded of a front-page article in the Danbury News-Times during the summer, which reported in horrified tones that one could buy all manner of drugs paraphenalia in various shops throughout Connecticut, and then helpfully listed which items could be bought in which places). The thing is, I'm not sure how much of a "problem" it is. Sure, a person could use these blogs to avoid ever paying for music, but how many classical fans are really like that? I suspect we generally understand that ultimately it's a bad idea. I should point out, too, that RonanM, for example, offers radio recordings which wouldn't be for sale anyway, and other sites resurrect items that have been unavailable for years.

Also, there's only so much music we can listen to. I've certainly reached the point where free music is close to being a burden: oh great, more stuff to add to the pile of things I'm not going to listen to for months. Restraint is the key - get something because you really want it, not just because you can get it.

It's worth noting, too, that all of these classical blogs link to each other, and each one provides music from its creator's own collection, so if anything what we're looking at is a network of mutually supportive CD buyers. This is the other key point, one I mentioned recently in relation to overpriced downloads: there's only so many things we can buy. If I download a particular album for free, it's not necessarily a sale lost. If I'm an inveterate collector - and that's what these bloggers are - then I'm going to be buying X number of CDs or legal downloads per month, regardless. The chances are I was never going to buy that CD anyway. Yes, perhaps I'll definitely choose not to buy the CD now that I've got the pirated copy, but the money I would have spent on that CD will go on another CD instead. Or perhaps now that I've heard the pirated copy and loved it, the CD becomes a mandatory purchase.

Or maybe this is all wishful thinking, and these blogs are just hastening the death of the classical recording industry. But I can't be the only one with a conscience, can I?

1 comment:

RonanM said...

If it were only that simple! Do recordings from radio kill the classical music industry?

At one of the scale are the people who make available commercial recordings, often within days of their release. Clearly these people are bad for business. Why do they do it? I don't know. And why do people buy music instead of downloading it from these sites? Perhaps because people are better than we think they are.

Micros¢ft have extensive problems with piracy, and they hamstring their software with endless security, designed to make piracy more difficult.

Apple, on the other hand, have no security at all. You can install Mac OS X on as many computers as you want to. You just buy a single-user disk. And yet, 20% of their sales are to people buying family installation disks, which allow you to install on up to 5 computers.

Why do people not cheat Apple? Somehow, I think the answer is to do with the way Apple treats them. By leaving it up to people to be honest, people rise to the occasion.

And I admire the people who patiently edit, clean up and make available the recordings from radio and from old LPs and 78s. From my own experience, posting music by composers or performers that people haven't generally heard of has stimulated interest in them. And my friendship with some people who lovingly and carefully restore old recordings has led to many a happy discovery.

And you have a point about opportunity cost. I spent the price of a CD on Amie Street this week downloading 10 CDs worth of music. But if I had had to buy the music on CD, I wouldn't have bought ten - indeed, I might not have bought even one of the discs, which were all by composers I had never heard of. Perhaps the music industry should remember that they are chasing a fixed amount of money, and that people will respond to value. You may not get a lot from eMusic every time people download Eliane Radigue, but you will get many more people downloading her music than would ever shell out for a CD.

Dunno. But I suspect that part of the problem lies in the current paranoid and adversarial relationship between the music giants and the ants on whom they rely for a living.