(Grant Skelton provided these confessions.)
(Author’s Note: This article is not intended to be persuasive. It was written neither in support of filesharing nor against it. Instead, it recalls my experiences with filesharing and how those experiences shaped my consumption of music as both an art and a product.)
My family bought our first computer in 1998. I was 13. We had AOL 3.0 (You’ve got mail!). I spent most of my time on the PC playing games that a person my age probably had no business playing. Educational games like Postal, Doom, Blood, and Duke Nukem 3D kept me from completing many a homework assignment. Chat rooms were another productive and beneficial investment of one’s time.
I was still a burgeoning music fan in those days. My CD collection was sparse, and my ears were still very conditioned to ’90s grunge rock provided by local radio stations. I genuinely liked grunge, and I still do. But I always wanted something… more from my music. I wanted something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I wanted the grunge to be angrier, faster, meaner. I wanted music with more aggression. Something with fire and venom.
By 1999, my family moved. We also upgraded to a cable modem (holla!), which meant faster Internet. No more waiting 3 hours for AOL to load a page (and Heaven help you if you had to download something!). That summer, a friend played me an album by a band I had never heard of before. It featured 9 guys in masks and orange jumpsuits. At the time, I thought it was the most abrasive, violent, vicious music I had ever heard. But I still wanted to see what else was out there.
I used my new cable modem and my Yahoo search engine to search for “heavy metal websites.” I found 3 search results that would eventually become my favorites. Only one of them is still active, and that is theprp.com. The other 2 were shoutweb.com and megakungfu.com. On Friday and Saturday nights, I spent untold hours perusing Megakungfu’s review archives. It was littered with unsigned bands, regional and local bands, bands whose names were in languages I couldn’t even recognize (let alone pronounce!).
I read review after review, scouring band photos and listening to samples. Samples were all you could get. And if you found a sample that didn’t sound like it had been recorded inside a tin can, you were lucky. No going to YouTube and typing in “band name song title.” iTunes wouldn’t launch for another 2 years. Amazon MP3 didn’t see light until 2007. Bandcamp would make the scene even later in 2008.
Fortunately, Megakungfu brought me to an internet radio station. WSOU 89.5 FM, The station broadcast from Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. It gave me my first introductions to bands like Living Sacrifice, Zao, Hatebreed, Sepultura, Black Flag, Killswitch Engage, Down, Extol, Corrosion of Conformity, and many others. It shaped my definition of what metal was. I found out that metal could be fast, mid-tempo, or slow and still be “heavy.” I discovered classic albums released when I was still in diapers (and before) that rivalled anything modern I had heard. I also found current gems that went unnoticed by even the mainstream metal media. Thus began my transition from a steady diet of nu-metal to genres I never even knew existed (Sludge? Hm. Sounds interesting. Let’s check it out!).
Back then, you might have to browse the Internet for days to find a website that hosted .mp3 downloads of full songs. If I found a song on WSOU I liked, I’d look around for it, or perhaps more by the same band. Every now and then I’d stumble on a band that put a full song up on their fledgling Angelfire or Geocities page. But that was the exception, not the rule. I was still new to the Internet as a fan and consumer. So were the bands that were making this music that I was addicted to. If you wanted social media, you had to find a message board. Or sign a band’s guestbook.
In the late summer of 1999, a friend told me that if I wanted to find a good place to download music, I needed to go to Napster.com. He said it was a program that would allow you to search for any band, song, or album and then download it for free. Since my family’s computer was equipped with this fancy new gizmo called a “burner,” I decided to give it a go. I found Napster and began downloading songs.
I burned album after album, eventually filling an entire bulking CD binder. I found rarities, demos, bootlegs, B-sides, covers, remixes, and all points in between. If I searched long enough, I even found songs that hadn’t yet been released. I burned CDs for family and friends, and never thought anything about it. Why spend $15-$20 for 1 CD when I could get 15-20 CDs for the same amount?
After Napster collapsed in July of 2001, a myriad of other P2P filesharing clients became available. Kazaa, LimeWire, and Audiogalaxy were just a few. Everyone had their preference, and some people even used multiple clients. My downloading and burning trend continued through the end of high school and into college.
Downloading took on something of an addictive property when I discovered bittorrents. I would download music and then listen to perhaps a fraction of it. I’d listen to one song, and then usually forget the album completely. Whole gigabytes of files gathered digital dust on my hard drive. Much of it I never got around to listening to even once. I downloaded it just to download it. I might even score a band’s entire discography and then listen to a minute of one song. I wasn’t acquiring the music for the benefit of the artist. If I were to be completely honest, I was amassing music for the purpose of just having it on my hard drive. Having it just to have it.
If I saw a new or upcoming release appear on one of my favorite torrent websites, I would download it because it was something new. I wasn’t enjoying the music. I was enjoying the process of downloading the music. Those are 2 very different things. The morality of piracy wasn’t the point. The point was that if there had been an episode of “Hoarders” that covered music downloads, it would have featured me.. Worse still, I hadn’t even paid for any of the music I was hoarding. That trend continued for the next several years.
This habit was something that needed to go. Like kicking any habit, it was long and painstaking. And there were relapses. Several relapses, in fact. But when I reflected on my 10+ years of filesharing (or piracy, if you want to call it that. I’m not offended by that label.), I learned a few things. As I mentioned in the Author’s Note, the point of this article is not whether filesharing is right or wrong. I’m not trying to incite a debate. Like social media, filesharing has its pros and cons. But the particular way I went about it was negative and unhealthy. Below are a few reasons why I no longer seek to download music for free.
My conscience changed. I felt like I was stealing.
Again, the matter at hand is not whether filesharing is/is not stealing. I’m not making an absolute statement that applies to everyone. This is my conviction and it applies to me. As I got older, I felt like I had been a thief. I felt like I had taken something that did not belong to me. I had procured a good for which I did not return something of equal value.
If you don’t want to spend money on clothes, with some skill and know-how you can make your own. Likewise, if you don’t want to buy a new car, you can assemble the pieces yourself if you have the time and money. You can purchase a product from a professional, or make it yourself. Not so with media. Sure, I can join a band and we can make our own music. But I can’t make an Agalloch song. Or a Sylosis one. Or Saint Vitus, or whomever. That artist wrote that song, arranged the instrumental sections, tuned the instruments, booked the studio time, hired an audio engineer, rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed that song to perfection. With my frivolous downloading, I never took any of that into account.
You have to spend money to make money. And the bands that were putting their money into equipment, gas for touring, and studio time weren’t getting a dime from me. Without revenue, no business can survive. And in my mind there is something wrong with that.
I cheapened my appreciation for the music.
People listen to music for a variety of reasons. Different musical genres produce different emotional experiences for different people. In my opinion, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue is the greatest jazz album of all time. I love jazz. Some think otherwise because jazz is improvised and sometimes chaotic. But they still value and appreciate other kinds of music.
I didn’t value music monetarily, so my emotional value also depleted. I hadn’t invested in the purchase of the music and therefore the success of the band that released it. I didn’t cough up money that I earned to put toward it. So it cost me nothing. As a result, it gave me nothing. No satisfaction, no euphoria when I heard a particular riff, or chorus, or drum fill, or solo, or noodly bass rumble. I just heard noise. I didn’t feel any connection to what I was listening to. I wasn’t moved. But that wasn’t the music’s fault. It was mine. Basic business principle. No investment, no return. That principle is true outside of business as well. It’s true in relationships, in life, and in art.
I wasn’t helping artists who I really liked make more music.
We’ve all heard the saying that every dollar is a vote. Nobody has infinite currency. We all have necessities. We have bills to pay. What do we do with the discretionary income left over? I wasn’t spending mine on music. The artists whose music I downloaded had no incentive to provide me with future albums. They had no motive from me as a fan to continue recording music. Because my fiat currency did not fund their recorded product. Because I found a way to provide myself with their music for free. My discretionary income went elsewhere, but I still had my album. And the artist had nothing from me.
Unpaid downloads don’t mean anything in the music industry. Furthermore, it’s no secret that metal doesn’t exactly produce Billboard chart-toppers. Even Slipknot were not immune to the recent anomaly of Americans buying less music. Sure, they sold over 132,000 copies the first week. That’s nothing to thumb one’s nose at. Some bands would kill just to get a fraction of that in album sales. But relative to the Iowa boys’ previous album sales, The Gray Chapter didn’t fare so well. I submit that I, as a recovering non-consumer of music, was part of that problem. I wasn’t voting with my wallet like I should have been.
Music fans have traded tapes and bootlegs since the advent of recording technology. In the ’90s it was not at all uncommon to play a CD on your stereo while recording it on a blank cassette for a friend. “Sharing” is nothing new. Technology helped sharing evolve into what it is today.
I’m not the person who can provide a definitive answer on the ethics of filesharing and piracy. Napster and other P2P clients made the music business pay attention to the demand for digital music. If not for these “free” clients, we likely would not have iTunes, Bandcamp, Google Play, Amazon MP3, and so on. Those companies saw a demand for a product in a new form. They saw that consumers wanted digital copies of music instead of hard copies. They met that demand with a supply. A supply that does not need to be reproduced again and again the way that hard copies do. No CDs to print means less money expended by the artist and the record label. There was a need for a new medium, and the industry stood up and answered.
What do you think about filesharing/piracy? What have been your experiences with it? What did you learn?
I think its wrong, and had my own similar watershed moment of deciding not to do it any longer a few years back. Granted, I’m in a more cushy position since I get early promos, so I’m not in most peoples position.
I do also know of countless bands though that are actually okay with it because at least someone is hearing it and spreading the word. Now that is not a defense of it, just a counterpoint to make to show that the opinion among bands is skewed towards it being wrong, but not every band feels that way.
Also, something very important to discuss: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/illegal-downloaders-spend-the-most-on-music-says-poll-1812776.html
That article does provide a different perspective. If filesharing allows you to hear an album in its entirety prior to buying it, that’s definitely a win. In that way, it has a direct link to revenue for a band. That’s proof that this isn’t an issue with only 2 sides!
If I hadn’t downloaded music as a teen in a quest to find as many bands as possible, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in of knowing so many bands that are unheard of to write about. Another nugget of food for thought.
I have never been much into internet filesharing, using torrents and so forth, but ripping and burning CDs for friends and visa-versa is what helped get me into metal, and what put me on the highway to the underground. I told myself at the time (when I was in high school with no disposable income) that I would eventually buy the music I liked. I rationalized that if piracy didn’t change my spending habits for the worse, then there’s absolutely no harm. I still stand by that, although I find little need for filesharing today with YouTube, bandcamp, Spotify, etc. Fast forward to now, and I own probably 500+ albums, including “real” copies of a vast majority of the albums that I pirated from friends back in high school.
“Quest” is a great word for it. I felt the same way. And you’re right when you said that had it not been for downloading, you wouldn’t have the knowledge of the band you have today. Metal has always flown under the rader, so you have to be motivated to find bands. Radio and TV sure aren’t going to provide it for you, so you have to work to ind it. The Internet makes that a bit easier.
Like most millenials, I also had my filesharing phase, and I can honestly say that I don’t listen to most of what I downloaded, since, as you said, I had no investment into it.
I don’t think this is a black and white issue that you can simply have an opinion on. It’s multifaceted and has to be examined from different perspectives. But, in my role as a music consumer, I do feel invested (and I have invested, financially) in a band when I buy their album. That’s a personal conviction, but it sounds like one that you and I share! Thanks for commenting.
I still pirate music – I’ve been pirating music for over a decade now – and I feel no remorse for doing so, mainly because copying data is not theft. I also know that obscurity is a far bigger problem than piracy. Even if people were buying music for $10,000 each, if no one has heard of you, then you’re not gonna be making any money. However, if someone pirates your music and they like it, they’ll tell their friends that your music is awesome and they’ll be more likely to buy your music or attend your shows or whatever.
I’m not sure that last bit really follows..
If someone pirates your music, and they like it, and they tell your friends that your music is awesome… why wouldn’t their friends ALSO just pirate it?
Well, Austin Weber provided this link above:
It links to a UK study which indicates that people who download illegally actually do buy more music than people who don’t. I see your point about piracy, however. It’s build on networking, so if I get an album for free and tell you about it, then what incentive does that give you to buy it? I didn’t buy it so why should you?
I remember the days when my friends downloaded for the sake of downloading. The obsession was simply to consume the download quota your parents paid for. I insisted on buying everything and pirating nothing. My friends gave me crap for it, but I loved the music I had and they listened to about 5% of what they downloaded and actually appreciated even less (they were all on R&D and rap). It was the same with video games. They played 10 games in a week, but finished none of them. Whereas, I bought Final Fantasy 7 and played it twice through and loved the hell out of it before I bought another one.
In my mind, you can’t pirate with a clean conscience. You are stealing one way or another, because even if you are copying something (and not physically ‘taking’ anything), you are still getting something for nothing and there is a loser (musicians and labels). It is not a trade, and to say that “well, more people will listen to their music” is more often than not just trying to rationalize the theft away (even if it may be true to some extent). Similarly, file sharing and old school tape trading are not the same. The scale, culture and intent is different. Tape trading back then had a face attached t it (because you actually physically gave it to someone when it was done) and required distinct effort to do it. You were invested in the music to want to do it, but filesharing requires no such behaviour really.
I’m still of the view that Metallica were right back in the day, but it was an argument that no one wanted or was ready to hear (especially from Lars). Being technically correct loses out to being ‘uncool’ which is what happened really.
I definitely reached a point where I was unable to pirate with a clean conscience. I like what you said in your second paragraph about stealing even without physically taking anything. That was how I grew to feel about this matter. Piracy definitely shaped the way that people consume music. You were also correct about tape trading. That was ultimately done for the success of the band and promoting a local/regional scene. The Internet in some ways has made the world smaller, so promoting a local/regional scene in that immediate area isn’t the same as it used to be. Thanks for the comments!
i think filesharing gets bands fans that otherwise might have never given them a chance because they didn’t want to gamble with their money, kind of a try-before-you-buy system. that doesn’t mean i think it’s ok to download hundreds of albums without ever giving the bands money in some form. if you really like a band i think you should help them out in some way such as purchasing the album, merchandise or concert tickets.
Filesharing certainly can work that way. And that’s probably how it’s supposed to work. When I was doing it, I always justified it by saying that I was “trying before buying.” Some people probably do it that way. I didn’t, in my mind the way I used it was the wrong way.
WSOU. /end thread.
Thats how I got into more extreme metal, and at the time, more importantly, hardcore.
Growing up, I was a Motley Crue fan. Posion, Ratt, Skid Row… you name it. I loved it.
By middle school I had begun listening to Metallica and Megadeath and Slayer. It was towards the end of middle school that I came across WSOU. And that changed my life. The show I was interested in was on late. So I would cue up a tape and dub the whole thing while I slept.
It would flip and dub the other side too so I could let it do both sides without worry (Thanks for the boomin system Grandpa!).
Next morning, I would hop on the bus to school, making sure to bring my new dubbed radio show and I would discover what I could on the ride in. So many things were uncovered… From Obituary to Overkill, to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, and, as stated above, Hardcore. Sick of it All and Biohazard to be exact.
At time Sick of it All had only two records and Biohazard had only one, with Urban Discipline on the way.
Man… MAN! that really changed a lot for me. I went almost full hardcore at that point, but being a metal kid I always yearned for the heavier forms of hardcore. Which in turn, led me back to metal in the form of death metal. (Carcass and Sepultura being the torchbearers for me).
The two genres, metal and hardcore, have ever since been feeding my brain. And I owe it all to WSOU Pirate Radio. 89.7 FM.
I stayed up until the wee hours many Fridays and Saturdays listening to that station. If memory serves, the first Obituary tune I heard on it was “Chopped In Half.” Still one of my favorites! I remember wishing that I could pick it up on an actual radio. My local stations had Top 40, alt rock, country, and rap. The idea of a metal only radio station was a dream come true for me as a young fan. It exposed me to bands like the ones I mentioned. If it hadn’t been for WSOU, my musical discoveries would have been fewer and further between.
Man, this article has really hit the nail on its head for me. I have been going through the same pangs of guilt for downloading (still doing it) music from my favourite artists. But godammit, you’re right, I might have listened to maybe 10% of the stuff that I have downloaded and each day, the backlog keeps getting bigger.
These days, listening to music has become a sort of chore and I feel guilty for not investing time in the music that I knew wanted to listen (hence, downloaded). Though I do only download stuff that people rave about or something that I personally want to listen. I know I am doing wrong by the artists……always try to assuage myself by promising to buy their merch and stuff.
I did the same thing. I told myself that I was “test-driving” the album. Nothing wrong with that, right? I have a wife and son, so I don’t have the time (or money!) to spend boatloads on music. But between subscription streaming services and Bamdcamp, it’s almost impossible not to find metal for cheap.
Bandcamp and waning free time are what kicked my downloading addiction; And it certainly was an addiction.
My rationalization was always that I wanted to listen to the album before I bought it. Anyone who bought albums or cds back before the internet became the main source of distribution knows the feeling of spending $10, $12, $15, or more and finding out the radio single was the only song worth a damn. The problem was I kept all that I downloaded and conveniently forgot to buy what I liked. Buying merch the rare instances a band came to town was my way to try and make amends.
Bandcamp, most of the time, has the entire album available to stream, then reasonable prices and the option for FLAC downloads. I am a headphone, Amp, and DAC user… MP3 downloads have been ruined for me. So perhaps you can also say Sennheiser helped me kick the pirate trade as well
I know exactly the feeling that you mean. You hear about an upcoming release, or a friend plays you X song by Y band. You save up your $17 and trek to the local record store. You pop the CD in the player and…it’s a dud. You like the 1, 2, maybe 3 songs but the rest of it just doesn’t grab you. And that’s what gave birth to things like iTunes. Bandcamp is amazing. It’s like my new favorite thing. A good number of bands even use the “Pay What You Want’ option. So if you want to legally download the album for free, you can. It’s a fantastic tool for discovering new music.
I’d like to also agree that bandcamp is one of the major things that keeps me from fliesharing.
I used to run a blog and posted a lot of hardcore and punk and metal. I often kept myself feeling guilt free by convincing myself most of the stuff was out of print, or, at the very least, hard to find. But as I went along I posted some stuff because it was new and super. I did avoid posting albums pre-release and always did my best to promote buying the album, for that is what I did and continue to do. I love buying records.
Alas, my record collection exceeds the space I have for it, and more and more I just listen to music at work, on the subway or in the car.
I remember reading long ago that iTunes was saving music and giving back to the artists. And then later read another series of article, mostly from bands, complaining that iTunes was just as bad as the music industry.
This same thing happened with Spotify, although I had tons of non musicians telling me that “its the greatest thing ever for musicians!!”. But it wasnt. And the bands spoke.
Bandcamp, on the other hand, is leagues beyond all these services. As stated by someone above, you can preview a full album. Thats pretty much all most of us music lovers wanted. I used to buy blind, because thats all you could do, and I paid for a LOT of crap. I was lucky to sell some of it back, but regardless, I purchased many duds. Now a days.. I dont have to do that. And even better, I can pay the band directly, or the label directly.
Arguably the two best ways to get your money into the hands of the people that really matter. Well, lets not forget merch and ticket sales. But from the comfort of your home, you can give to the people who deserve it most. And that is the biggest difference Bandcamp has.
I agree. This is sourced from bandcamp’s blog, so take it as you will, but it backs up a lot of what you’re saying. http://blog.bandcamp.com/2012/01/03/cheaper-than-free/
Great article and even greater news. Thanks for sharing!
Soundcloud should do the same and offer album sales as well.
Im always bummed when a band has stuff on Soundcloud and not Bandcamp.
I LOVE Bandcamp. Listen to the entire album (legally) before you buy it. You were right when you said that was what fans wanted most. It’s the best thing to happen for fans and musicians in a long time. Especially since many metal bands will put their albums up and let you pay what you want. So of you want to download the album for free, you can do so.
I try to buy music directly from the band or their label. And in return, I’ve been surprised with hand written ‘thank you’ notes, free CDs, posters, stickers, etc. that get sent my way. Maybe it’s silly, but getting a handful of stickers somehow always makes my day.
Ha. Me too. I never use them, but I do give them to people who might.
And a handwritten note is always awesome.
That’s why I support crowdfunding. In other articles, I mentioned Broken Flesh and Slechtvalk. Now, I’m not a millionaire. And I didn’t throw grandiose amounts of cash at these campaigns. But I did chip in. That kind of thing to me has a reward. When the album is released, you know you had a small part in bringing it to fruition.
Yeah this personal touch is awesome. Hell, even without a note, just seeing that the singer/guitarist, whatever has hand-written your name and address on the envelope is like ‘wow, I bought this from a person‘, and they’ve made this music.
I guess I was spared having to make a decision on this to some extent – living in shithole New Zealand, broadband/ADSL didn’t really arrive here until the late 2000s, so there was no way you could pirate music on a dial up connection.
That said, there were times when a friend or flatmate would turn up with a hard drive full of music and I would take a peruse… but like others have mentioned, it was largely for the sake of ‘having’ the music, rather than enjoying it… and given my tastes weren’t like most peoples, it was usually just for the sake of copying some pop/dance or similar music in case someone wanted to play it at a party.
In all honesty, I still ‘tape trade’… old school styles! Okay, so not cassettes, but I’ve got a mate who’s into metal and we still send each other a bunch of CDs a few times a year, to say ‘hey, check this out you might like it’. We’ve been doing it since we’ve known each other pretty much. Technically, it’s pirating, but I don’t feel guilty about it I guess because of the place tape trading had in the metal scene, and I know we’ve both gone on to purchase music from bands that we clicked with. Also, since it’s a one-to-one copy, it’s really a different league from uploading music which could be downloaded by thousands.
As a result of money disappearing from the industry, I quit playing music altogether. The spark died, it had no choice. Silly dreams of fame and fortune or food on the table. Boy turned to man sooner than planned.. Anyways: A friend of mine asked me what it would take to make me start all over: I honestly don’t know. But I have been playing around with the idea of not recording ANYTHING, not a demo, not a rehearsal tape. Nada. Dick. Nothing for anyone to steal. A little REVENGE, if you will. To hear my band, you have to come to the gigs. All music that would do the internetrounds would be just concert bootlegs, then MAYBE somewhere down the line release a recording. But only after the biggest underground following ever haha. That’s my little evil plan.