Share and Share Alike

05/05/2007 § Leave a comment

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination”
– Oscar Wilde

Few purchasing options are open to you as a 13 year old. I remember as the hormonally-fuelled germ-stack that I was in my early teens, one thing that I didn’t have a great deal of was money. Of course there was a lot of everything else – libido, frustration, attitude, irritability – but I starkly remember never having enough cash to do what I wanted. It changes when you’re older though, much older, when you’ve nothing to do with the money you’ve hoarded away as a pensioner apart from divvy it out to family members who strain at the thought of spending five minutes on the phone with you. You have to be nice to your elders after all. You’re told you have to be. And I know that when my younger relatives call me in thirty, forty years’ time it won’t be out of genuine interest for talking to me, to finding out how the eight hundredth day of my senility is going, but to appease some nagging parent telling them that they have to call me at this time of year and only then they can go back to their Play Station XII. It’s all I’ll be able to do to move over to the phone, thankful that someone has called me, knowing too well that the youthful imp at the other end can’t wait to be rid of me within seconds of hearing the elderly croak of my larynx as I, locked in some kind of self-absorbed aged loop, revel and drag on my only single conversation of the week.

Having no cash meant it was hard to get things that you wanted. Impress people. Buy records or tapes, it was difficult. But once you’d managed to get hold of your album – your only listen of the month – the poor thing would be played to death. Because you’d never have any idea of what it sounded like in its entirety before you bought it, if you didn’t like it when you took it home, then bad luck. I would listen to the weaker tracks intently, praying that I’d be able to prise some hook or relatable cadence out of them so my purchase didn‘t seem like a waste. I’d never take anything back though. I was still intent on maintaining a collection, partly because of my fascination with amassing these kinds of things and, partly because I’d imagine random people coming into my house, poring over the racks of popular and slightly obscure plastic oblongs and reeling at the informed and musically enlightened soul I was. Possibly wanting to have sex with me. Anything seems to lead back to that at some point.

Opportunities changed in a big way at the end of the 90s. People started maintaining Hotmail accounts, email was a fascinating novelty and no-one dreamed of criticising Windows 98’s instability or its failure to handle new hardware natively. With the added popularity of Windows 95 and 98 came Napster and the avaricious, decentralised peer to peer generation. It became less necessary to go and buy records when you could pinch the music instantly off someone else’s PC. The one or two album a month principle became jettisoned in favour of the one of two hundred album a month principle, losing the music industry thousands of pounds per month for one listener, those brought up in the early 90s having little to no cognisance of how the corporate mechanisms of the decades before operated.

Have I been guilty of this? Of course. I’m sure most kids with a passing interest in music have succumbed, and the situation is made worse by how easy it is to do. Downloading and installing programs is insultingly easy and any half-witted child can find similar artists to bulk up their collection and decide in one spin whether they like them or not. We live in a dissuasive age where people want microwave quick actions, reactions and reviews and there seems to be little time taken to enjoy the music. The effects on the bands are demeaning. People think that’s it’s easy to get acquainted with the sound of an entire subgenre through very little research or knowledge, so artists have to find increasingly innovative ways of getting through to people and being original. I get sick when I see people seeding discographies, posting links to albums on forums and websites. There seems to be no respect for the bands themselves, only an interest in poaching a product as quickly as possible. Ironically, at a time when it’s been easier than ever to have direct contact with bands, with sites like MySpace and Last FM going a long way to remove the barrier of elitism and untouchableness between artist and fan base, people still see musicians as little else but factories churning out produce which they have a right to seize without paying for.

Femme metal suffers as much as any small genre does. There’s not a huge amount of money being passed around especially at the lower end of the tree, with some bands not having a label at all and having to self finance and distribute their records themselves. Some of the bands are victims of circumstance, with some of the larger groups, especially in Holland, seeing little to no cash at all from the sales of the records – the money goes into to the industry, rather than to the artists directly. The anarchists’ reaction to this is that their downloading and seeding of such material is therefore justified. If the artists who make the music aren’t getting paid for it, then why pump your money into the rest of the industry. But those who are committing any kind of misdemeanour will generally find ways to validate what it is they’re doing. The truth is that most bands in the scene don’t get a lot of money for what they do, it’s only when you get to the level of Nightwish, Within Temptation and Lacuna Coil that things definitely start changing Any other band is still getting peanuts for playing headline slots, and even less than that in support.

It’s hard to do anything to stop the onslaught of the downloaders. Music producers have thought of various ways to stop people ripping CDs and promos to their computers, ranging from anti copy software to splitting tracks up. In the end it’s just a deterrent, there’s little you can really do to stop these things from leaking. A few months ago Nuclear Blast announced that it was going to be watermarking each track on its promos, so that if they leaked onto the internet prior to the album’s release they would be able to see who the leak came from. Of course Dimmu Borgir’s album and the latest After Forever both managed to leak before their release date. I imagine – I hope – that someone at Nuclear Blast is feeling ridiculed by this, purely because it was a preposterous idea to think it could work in the first place. If you give out CDs, they will end up on the internet, there is an unstoppable flow of bytes out there and it just takes one person to crack the software and everyone has the album.

Psychonaut, The Gathering’s own label, thought of a different alternative to this, letting the album be streamed from the press area of their website while saying that they wouldn’t be sending out any physical copies. However, physical copies were sent out and soon enough Home ended up on the internet too. Promo CDs are integral to promotion of any new album – reviews need to be written and songs have to be aired in order for people to get some kind of idea of what it is they’re going to part with their money for. That is, if they part with their money at all for it. A lot of bands and labels have no real idea of how many people are listening to their records, they only have a clue through sales figures. Exactly who is playing the stuff at home is something that no-one can be definite about.

This doesn’t mean that everyone knows file-sharing is wrong. In 2003 reporters burst into the home of Brianna LaHara, a 12 year old girl from Los Angeles as she was helping her brother with her homework. She was told that the Recording Industry Association of America was going to file a lawsuit against her for copyright infringement through sharing music on the p2p network KaZaa. Threatened with having to pay $150,000 per song, she eventually settled at $2 per song, paying a grand total of $2,000 in fees for her wrongdoings. “We’re trying to send a strong message that you are not anonymous when you participate in peer-to-peer file-sharing and that the illegal distribution of copyrighted music has consequences” said the RIAA in a sanctimonious statement.. Brianna, possibly like thousands of other people, had little idea that what they were doing was immoral, let alone illegal. However, the law loves strict liability. Didn’t know what you were doing was criminal? Doesn’t matter, you’re culpable anyway, though the RIAA made an infamously poor call with this one. The difficultly being that if so many people don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong – or don’t believe it – it becomes more difficult to do anything about it.

If there’s one positive thing that downloading albums can do though, it’s spreading the news of bands and their music to gain wider audiences and appreciation. And if those that hear it like it, then it will be spread further. This, in a sense, is free promotion and to a far greater number of people that could be consciously engineered from inside the industry. Now a lot of people are turning to the internet to try products before they get hold of the hard copy – something they could never do before. Trying to close down the networks, suing 12 year olds, Grokster and Limewire may get money back into the industry but it’s the people who are using the programs who are to blame. The enthusiasts and those who love and care about the bands will buy the CDs regardless, in fact, people will buy the CDs who would never have come across the artists otherwise. In a way it’s a shame that we have to resort to stealing music in order that people can hear it worldwide, but it’s a relentless juggernaut that few in the industry can do anything about. Sharing music gains bands a wider audience and a worldwide fan base, it‘s an indisputable fact. No one would care about the scene half as much otherwise.

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