Are we really killing music?
TURN THE clock back to the last great recession to hit these shores, around 1984, and you’ll find that a big treat for yours truly was a family day out on the train to the big smoke of Dublin.
It was on one such trip that the younger brother, sister, and I had the notion of clubbing together with the few quid we’d managed to somehow scrounge, to go to Golden Discs in the Ilac Centre and buy what would be our first ‘proper’ album - a rite of passage in many people’s lives. Being a committee affair though, we made more of a camel than a horse of it. I wanted ‘Born in the USA’ by Bruce Springsteen, but I ended up being outvoted by the two younger siblings, and so we ended up with Michael Jackson’s ‘ Thriller’ instead.
Still, the novelty of having a ‘ proper’ album proved too difficult to resist, and so every note of the album was listened to over and over, while every word on the inlay card was scrutinised. And I still remember being mystified by a notice printed at one corner, where underneath a logo of a skull and crossbones were the words ‘Home taping is killing music - and it’s illegal’.
What could be wrong with taping a few songs off the radio, I wondered. Didn’t everybody do it? And wasn’t the fact that the other two had ‘Billie Jean’ recorded from the Larry Gogan Show onto a blank C60 a key factor in them wanting to splash out money on the full album in the first place? So was ‘home taping’ not actually helping sales?
A quarter of a century later, and technology has moved on, but the record companies still take the same dim view of people getting their tunes for free, as last week’s agreement with eircom shows (anybody caught downloading music files from the internet will have their broadband cut off on a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ basis).
The music chiefs say that such illegal downloading is costing them €14 million a year here. But there’s a fundamental flaw in their logic, as they’ve come up with that figure on the basis that every single free download of an album would instead have been a sale at a price of up to €20 each. Ask around though, and downloaders will tell you that the vast majority of what they take for free is something they wouldn’t be buying in the normal way - it’s more of a ‘tester’ run to see what they think of a particular band or artist. If it turns out they like them, well then they’re much more likely in the long run to actually buy the CD itself or a concert ticket to go see them play. If they don’t, at least they’re not 20 quid out of pocket, and they can just delete the files from their PC.
There’s an episode of ‘South Park’ that deals with the same topic, as top musicians go on strike as luxuries have to be put on hold since they’re missing out on a few dollars through internet downloads (Lars Ullrich of Metallica has to postpone an order for a gold-plated shark tank, and Britney Spears has to settle for a Gulfstream III private jet instead of a Gulfstream IV). The boys try to convince them that the satisfaction of knowing people are listening to their music and then coming out in greater numbers to live concerts should be enough for them, but the stars stay on strike, saying ‘we don’t care about that - we’re just in it for the money’.
Money is what it all comes down to, and of course it’s the desire of the record companies to protect their income that has led to last week’s agreement. But here’s another flaw - surely eircom want to protect their income too, so why would they cut off subscribers who are paying them up to €50 per month?
They say it’ll be three strikes and you’re out, but on the grounds that eircom won’t cut off their nose to spite their face, we’ll believe it when we see it.
The boys on ‘South Park’ had their own ideas about what internet file-sharing is doing to the music industry.