(Andy Synn’s band Beyond Grace released their debut album, Seekers, one week ago, and almost immediately it became available for download on pirate music sites. In this post, Andy shares some reactions to those events and questions what to do about it.)
As some of you may be aware, my band recently released our debut album (I’ll stop going on about it eventually, I promise).
What you might not be aware of is that fact that the album leaked online for illegal download the same day it was released… something which, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence these days.
The thing is, I’m really not sure how to respond to this unfortunate turn of events. There’s several options available to me/us right now, but I’m just not certain what the right move is.
On the surface it might seem simple – these sites are hosting our material, which we worked very hard to write, practice, and record, and into which we’ve invested a hell of a lot of time, money, and effort, all without permission.
Some of them seem to think that they’re acting to “support the scene” by doing so – and may well be sincere in that belief – while the worst offenders are those actively seeking to profit from our work, and the work of others, whether through ad revenue or by actually charging people to download music to which they have no rights.
But either way, this is an open and shut case of theft, right?
Maybe so. And maybe not. I think there’s a little more to it than that.
After all, there’s an argument that these sorts of sites are contributing to our reach and giving us more exposure – Bandcamp itself has a feature which tells you where your “hits” are coming from, and some of these illegal download sites are definitely leading people to find our music – so are we actually gaining more than we might be losing by allowing our music to appear there?
Or are we simply leaving money on the table by allowing these sites to continue to host (and, in some cases, profit off) our music without permission?
There are further considerations to bear in mind too.
We’re a small band, and increased awareness of our music is definitely a good thing for us. Although the argument that “you should do it just for the exposure” is a pretty shitty one in my view, and one which is pretty much always used to try and normalise piracy and decrease the overall value of music (thereby further justifying illegal downloading).
BUT… we definitely don’t want to give the impression that we’re in this just for the money (we’re not, FYI), and kicking up a fuss over this issue has the potential to backfire on us if it’s not handled with the utmost care and discretion.
After all, we want people to hear our music – we may write it for ourselves, without aiming to please or pander to anyone else, but if we didn’t want people to listen to it and (hopefully) enjoy it, we wouldn’t have put it out there.
I suppose, in the end, it comes down to a question of control.
While we want our music to be heard and disseminated as widely as possible, we’d like to (in an ideal world) at least have some say in how that happens, and it’s particularly galling seeing other people attempting to profit off the hard work of ourselves and others.
We’re aware, of course, that not everyone actually can afford to purchase the music they love – that’s just the cold hard truth. That’s one reason why we made sure the whole album is streamable for free on Bandcamp.
If people want to hear it, it’s there, and if/when they can contribute something towards us… they’re free to do so.
But while we don’t want music to be something that’s ONLY for those who can afford it, at the same time, we don’t want to contribute to its ongoing devaluation. We still think it’s important, it’s worth something, and – for better or for worse – it has a monetary value.
So it’s tricky… and I don’t have an answer myself. If there even is one.
All I can say is that I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter, and look forward to some lively discussion in the comments below (please try and be respectful of each other’s opinions though).
Anyway, let me close by saying thanks to everyone who’s purchased Seekers so far – whether digitally or physically – as well as an extra thank you to both my NCS comrades and the brave men of the Toilet Ov Hell for contributing their own ideas and opinions on this matter.
You have it exactly right. It’s not about the money -although recouping expenditure is certainly a nice thing to at least hope for- It’s all about control of your own creative property, and for that to be taken and used without consent is what is the most galling thing in these circumstances. By all means share the link from the artist’s chosen means of free stream or what have you, but PLEASE don’t take that creative work to spread as you like, usually in a lesser quality format than the artist intended.
I do think that a lot of the time you need to be the ‘victim’ of something like this before you realise how affecting it can be…. from an emotional level. I really don’t think it truly effects artists in obscure genres in a fiscal manner, for those that are really passionate about the music they listen to -and in our musical netherworld this is pretty much the case- they will purchase or stream from official sources.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I’m not down with the kids. Perhaps…
We had a big band discussion about this on Friday night (a slightly beer-fuelled discussion) and our main conclusion (apart from “never drive in Russia”) was that our best option now (and for the future) is just to try and make our music as available as possible by our own channels, and to try and stay on top of all the different options, in the hope that people will prefer to use our “official” channels since they’re just as accessible as the illegal ones.
I totally understand that bands get pissed when their music immediately becomes available for download for free. I can see how it must feel like your work is becoming devalued. Totally get it. And illegal download sites profiting off your work is vile and lecherous.
I’ll be totally honest though: I download music all the time, mostly from two sites that shall not be named that are ad-free, provide (mostly) non-spammy links and specialize (mostly) in underground metal. To me, and I suspect to some others, downloading mp3s so I can listen to them on the go is just an extension of free streams. I don’t care so much about owning the files, I just want to sample the music in the way that is most convenient to me. If I’m not into it I’ll delete it. An illegal download does not equal (as the lawyered-up mainstream music industry wants us to believe) a lost sale. If I do like your band, there is a likelihood bordering on certainty that I will buy something from you (especially on vinyl or tape) and come out to see you play.
I also do believe that, as you pointed out, these sites do give you exposure to a greater audience. I can’t even tell you how many new bands I’ve discovered (and subsequently ordered physical releases from) because of them. If someone doesn’t want to pay for music or just can’t afford it, they’ll always find a way to get digital files, for better or worse. But hopefully true fans will always be willing to put their money where their mouth is and support their favorite bands.
“An illegal download does not equal (as the lawyered-up mainstream music industry wants us to believe) a lost sale.”
See, this isn’t just a “mainstream media” thing though. It’s something I hear directly from bands a LOT.
BUT – the question is whether these lost sales (and it does happen, though I’d agree that a lot of them probably wouldn’t have paid anyway) are worth it and compensated for by the potential increased sales from those who discover it that way, and DO decide to contribute to the band.
Like I said, it’s a complicated issue, and I don’t think there’s any perfect option that I’ve seen that wouldn’t upset and alienate SOMEONE.
yeah, same mixed feeling here. Two album released and everytime leaked on the torrent network the very same day. Even the first EP that was available for 1$ has been leaked…
This made me think that was not a money question but more a trust issue here. Bandcamp is big and to be that fast to have music leaked, some people in this company might be compromised.
This is one of the reason we made physical copy as well, so people with a real taste for music and physical stuff will have more than 0 and 1 on their hard drive.
And by the way, your music sounds good !
And the physical copies are definitely becoming more of a “prestige” item these days. But there’s definitely a large contingent of fans who still enjoy the physical product, so I think it’s something worth investing in. You’ve just got to be careful how you go about it!
I really don’t want to be “that guy”, but you are backing your “the worst offenders are those actively seeking to profit from our work, and the work of others” statement with youtube vids that are from exactly such channels…
Gotta agree there. Noticed that myself.
That’s a very good point actually. Working on fixing that now.
I mean, I love Hypocrisy the band, but otherwise…
It’s a frustrating issue. Your concerns as the artist are valid, obviously; it’s your work, and you should have control over how it is distributed.
From my perspective as a consumer, I also get frustrated seeing others who are so cavalier about downloading music, or listening exclusively on streaming services that pay artists fractions of pennies. I make an effort to pay, and pay fairly, for all the music I listen to. I feel that it enhances the value of the music TO ME, in the sense that I’ve made that investment of my hard-earned money on the artist’s work. But then, I know that everything is available for free. Sometimes, out of frustration over an album not being readily available in a legal format, I pirate it. The ease of illegal downloading is just far too seductive for most people, who have no idea the blood, sweat, and tears that go into creating even albums that they don’t personally like.
I don’t think any further rambling will be productive on my part. Just know that, like you said, for most metal fans the love of this music is a passion that drives us to support the artists in our own ways.
“I feel that it enhances the value of the music TO ME, in the sense that I’ve made that investment of my hard-earned money on the artist’s work.”
This is a very good point. Perhaps it’s about redefining the culture of HOW we consume music (or even redefining music as something that isn’t just a commodity) to better balance the wants of the audience and the needs of the artists?
I don’t have any idea how to do that, obviously, but it’s something to consider.
I always pay for my music. I haven’t downloaded an album for free in over 10 years since I was a poor college kid. Now that my “holier than thou” attitude is fully on display, I can empathize with people who download. As mentioned above, a large number of metalheads download music, then pay for it if they like it. This is not a bad model. Streaming just doesn’t work for some. I don’t like it at all. I only do it on occasion. Metal fans in general are probably more likely to contribute to an artist than fans of any other genre. Of course, I have no figures to back that up. I could see the internal struggle from an artist’s perspective. “For the exposure” is bullshit. You put your time, effort, and energy into the art’ s creation. You deserve to get paid for its consumption. Music is not free.
Thank you or putting everything I said much more succinctly…
Oh, and just so you know, I pre-ordered the “Seekers” digipak and shirt combo. I do lfiterally put my money where my mouth is.
That’s awesome man, thank you so much. We sent out a big load of orders on Friday, and I’m sending out another bunch tomorrow, so hopefully it will be with you soon!
This seems to hit creatives at all levels, artwork of all types. I’m not really sure why people feel the need to spread content further when the artist themselves usually do an admirable job of making their stuff available.
I buy a TON of music, looking around my room would see the influence of NCS littering the floor and walls. But I have to hear a little bit first. When I was a teen I downloaded everything because I didn’t have any money. Now that I’m 32, I realize people must make a living and I take a certain amount of pride in supporting music and art that I enjoy. With my money this time.
This is one reason I’m a big fan of kickstarter, etc – yes, the system is imperfect, and open to abuse by snakes and charlatans, but it allows me to directly contribute to getting a record made, so the band isn’t at risk of getting fucked over, I can guarantee myself a copy straight away (it’s basically just a pre-order after all) and maybe pick up some cool merch in the process (which I’m also helping cover the up-front costs for).
Of course you have to have already built up a fanbase for this to work, so it’s not ideal for bands just starting out, but I definitely think it’s a good start to re-balancing the system.
Do pirates plunder what is offered for free (or name your price kind of deal) ? How many people pay in this situation? I buy music tons of music. It is a question of respect to the artists and myself. Stay true. Stand up and fight.
Oh yeah, I see LOTS of stuff up for illegal download that is available totally free directly from the artist.
Hence why it’s so galling to see people taking stuff done by bands and selling it on solely for their own gain.
Firstly, Seeker is immense – so it’s rather complimentary that it is getting pirated, though obviously not ideal. The film and music industry are going to have to find a way to deal with this. I know secure promo streams are one way but like another commenter said, the pirates may just be paying what they like for the files then sharing them for their own profit.
If that’s the case, then we aren’t really in a different world than when we used to share recorded tapes with our mates back in the day. It’s just the format, scale and proliferation that have changed.
The best you can do is appeal to the real fans who visit band camp and the record labels websites to sample the music of the bands they love, buy physical copies and merchandise.
The rest will be what it us and only time will tell as to whether the pirates of the record companies win the day.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks dude, I’m really pleased you (and others) like what we do. We plan to do more of it!
I will touch on one thing you said there if you don’t mind, the idea that this is “pirate vs record labels” – that makes it very hard to know which side to root for as we’ve been sold a narrative that record labels = “the man” and are therefore not to be trusted. But there are a lot of labels, particularly in the Metal scene, who care about their artists and who do a good job for their clients/roster, so it seems like a bit of misnomer to me, and another way that pirates try to justify their activities by spinning out a narrative that it’s them vs “the big corporations”.
And, as well know, it’s rarely the parent company themselves who absorb the hurt, but the people and the bands they employ.
One thing to remember is downloading is on its knees compared to its heyday. Nowadays, the competition is more a churning sluice of mediocrity, the consumer holds more power than ever, he whose attention is divided infinitesimally between micro-genres and specialist labels dedicated to underground scenes, oftentimes representing international acts.
Globalisation; increased manufacturing production; each has played a part in lowering the costs of producing a record in the modern era. There are more records being released in each passing year than ever before in recorded history. And so the idea of ‘exposure’ is a welcome one, if unsatisfactory.
Individuals of a band that bears the brunt of the cost of record production during a time of economic stagnation and real wages collapse. ‘Exposure’ does not fulfill the promise laid into such a self-identification project.
Those who claim to pay are in the deep minority. Mobile users now dominate internet usage and have no time nor space for files when streaming is easily available. Buying physical is for oldsters, those in their own loop, or heck, super fans. In today’s mobile society who has the effort to actually part with cash for something that they could find something similar to for free? There’s so much available, create a virtual paywall and people will find something else soon enough, and it’s forgotten.
For me, this is the crux, does the record rise above? Does the artist know if it rises above? I think universal acclaim is understood by anyone who encounters such a piece of art. When something is good, join the club. When something is great, enter the VIP room.
When something is outstanding, I’ll pick the hookers myself.
It’s definitely interesting to see the variance in opinions over the prevalence/severity of the downloading problem.
I’ve seen those who think that downloading peaked a while ago, and has dropped off a fair bit now to a more even equilibrium, but equally I’ve seen those who feel that illegal downloading is just as prevalent now as it ever was, and even though the paid alternatives have improved massively, they’re still not making a huge dint in the problem.
My last two albums showed up on dozens of torrent sites within 24 hours being released, which was kind of pointless since I released the albums as name-your-price (in other words, free) downloads. But I really don’t mind. I just want the music to be heard and the torrent sites combined generated thousands of downloads of both albums, far more than I was able to accomplish with Bandcamp, Facebook, and Twitter. 🙂
in 2017 a band making money off album sales is a dead concept unless this is coming from the sales of vinyl to collectors at shows, which is another market experiencing a resurgence, Aside from licensing, any band making a dime comes from touring, either a guarantee from the club or promoter or merch sales. I don’t have any morals to have a compass for, but if I were too, I would feel fine about downloading albums since I buy shirts when I go to shows, most of this is a mute point anyway since these are shows I am typically on the guest list for and most albums I want to hear are sitting in my in-box and sent directly from the labels themselves, smaller artists that are worth a damn I am hunting down and reviewing their albums anyway and half the time just streaming it from their Bandcamp as you really have to be good to earn a spot on my hard drive and even better to make onto my iPod. This sounds like I am downloading less music than I am , it’s typically an album a day, though there are typically 20 to 30 albums emailed to by labels so if I am downloading you album your are doing something right.
Hi Will, I’m afraid that a lot of what you’ve written there is just… wrong.
Lots of bands still make money off album sales, both digitally and physically, it’s just that piracy affects some bands more than others (and it’s not always predictable which ones in advance).
I’m afraid you’re just regurgitating the same old points people always use to justify illegal downloading – “oh, bands don’t make any money off this anyway, so it’s ok for me to do it since they just make all their money off touring and merch”. That’s a circular (and self-serving) argument.
You don’t have to look very far to see that this is just a very convenient excuse that doesn’t hold up – the stories of bands barely getting anything in guarantees, the dodgy promoters, the venues taking a cut of merch sales, the sudden unpredictable expenses that crop up and derail tours completely… these are all the realities of the situation currently, and it’s completely wrong to paint this black and white false narrative of “bands make money off touring, so it’s ok to download their music”.
What it comes down to is, people aren’t willing to pay money for music, but they then expect a band to travel and perform it to them still. And just saying “I bought a shirt, therefore I don’t have to pay for the music” doesn’t justify it either. You wouldn’t say that anywhere else, so why is it ok to do this to people whose music you claim to love and want to support?
That is an absolutely valid point, admission to a show and a shirt is often at least thirty bucks, how much do you expect from people? This is part of the problem, bands having an over inflated sense of self-worth.
Here is actually constructive ideas.Every person who buys a shirt should get a free download, or sell them with a beer ticket. You need to actually think about what the value of your product is, how much people are putting in for going to the concert, and appreciate people instead of belittling them because you believed them spending their evening and hard earned money to come support your band isn’t enough.
I am sure downloading is a problem, but you need to consider other perspectives instead of just arrogantly dismissing them.
Here is an idea, how about I pay yo
…fucking computer, anyways. yeah dude sure your band is great and all but stop being so arrogant and thank the people who came to support your band and got some merch, not put them down that’s just a dickish move. I doubt you’ll listen to any of this though so fuck me for wasting my time.
I have a very simple perspective on this issue, which I will freely admit might well be a more convoluted and possibly inconsistent perspective if I didn’t have the money to buy whatever I want:
The artist makes the music, and therefore the artist gets to decide how to distribute it. If the artist is fine with people downloading an album for free, then have at it — though I would argue it’s better to do that through the band’s own channel. If the artist and/or label wants to be paid for what they created and own, then downloading it without paying is theft, pure and simple.
You can try to dress that up and excuse it however you want, and try to argue that the bands must not know what’s what because the theft doesn’t really hurt them, but all of that is just an attempt to whitewash thievery (or more accurately, to smear it over with bullshit). It’s not your decision to make. It’s the artist’s decision. And that’s the beginning and end of the discussion as far as I’m concerned.
P.S. I recognize that the issue of what, if anything, a band should do when they’re victimized by illegal downloading is a different issue than the one I just addressed. I don’t have much to contribute to that question that hasn’t already been expressed in the original post and many of these comments.
i live in a third world country where EVERYTHING media related is pirated: movies, series, music, videogames, you go to a mall and the stores sell pirate movies, i mean the goverment does’t give a fuck. people stoped selling pirate music because it`s so easy to downloaded it, you have to be stupid if you buy it. and i dont know ANYONE with original merchandise. no movies, no music no nothing, and the problem is that the economy is soooooooooo fucked up that affording 20 bucks is a luxury, and if you want to buy online the goverment manage how many dollar you are allowed to spend a year, it`s fucked up. if i had the money i would like to support my favorite artists but these are just words and until i do something, it`ll mean shit. what i mean with all this is that piracy is necessary for me and most people in my country. now as an architect if i create something and someone riped me off i would be pissed off but at the same time i would like for everyone to enjoy of that either they know i made it or not. at the end it`s the artist choice, they are the ones that decide with their creation, if they want to sell only 100 copies on cassette to the people on the train at 12 o`clock in the morning it`s their choice, and the rest should just accept they are fucked up (sorry for the english, and please dont do anything regarding the record i havent downloaded it yet)
No worries man, this is definitely an important perspective to have I think, so thank you for contributing!
It is, most certainly, a tricky issue… I can only speak to my experiences with downloading.
Now… the actual downloading part, thats easy. Its stealing. Black and white. No more to be said.
Does that mean I don’t condone it? Or outright do it? No, it definitely doesn’t. Ive done it and will again.
I do not know where I would be, musically, if it weren’t for the downloading I have done.
Though not once did I ever convince myself that I was “helping” anyone by downloading it. Just helping myself.
What downloading has done, and again, no argument here for downloading, but what it has done is swell my actual physical record collection to a great degree. I had sold it all off before college. Never will understand why I did that, but since downloading days arrived my record collection has grown from about 100 records I saved from the purge to about 1000 records that I cherish to this day.
Of course, I was always a person who liked good packaging and loves having these artifacts on hand to peruse.
At this point in my life I don’t even listen to the records as much as mp3s are easier on the go, easier around my child, and allow me to make quicker decisions on what music directions to go on the fly.
Its also worth noting that I used to run a blog that was decently read, even by band members of the bands I was posting. I often thought “Oh, well, these are out of print/hard to find/super-unknown works by lesser known bands”
And that held true many a time. I think, back in those days, as downloading spiraled out of control for the music world, there werent any good options to the contrary. There was no Bandcamp. Thats for sure.
And so it was easier to find something downloadable then it was to stream it. Even then, I deleted things I didn’t like, bought things I loved, but there were definitely things that fell through the cracks.
Christ, even today, if a band doesn’t offer a download with a purchase of their vinyl format, its a blog thats gonna get me what I need. Thats kind of weird.
Spotify and AppleMusic have never appealed to me either. Ive always felt that was for the casual music fan an not the serious one. Someone that maybe was a notch between “radio listener” and “album purchaser”. Add to that the abysmal monetary elements and it just never seemed like anything I wanted to be involved in.
Nowadays, thanks to Bandcamp, I can listen to things without downloading them, I can come back time and again, as Im won’t to do, before finding that glimmer of love that will march with me through the rest of my days. I love that. I love Bandcamp. I love knowing my money is going to the bands much than anywhere else online. I love that the links are easy to share and update my friends with whats new and exciting.
I think I’m rambling at this point. Downloading is wrong. I wouldn’t be where I was without it. I try not to do it these days, but if its the only option to preview something than I will still do it, but I don’t keep much of what i don’t love and I buy much of what I love. Bandcamp makes this much easier to achieve than any music model before it
Also, your record is great and I bought it too. All bands should be gravitating towards Bandcamp and more and more merch should be sold through Bandcamp. Also, Bandcamp should toss me a few dollars now and again because I sing its praises nonstop to anyone who will listen.
Great work. Well worded article. Great music, I had no idea you were in a band.
I also post as DudeguyJones sometimes, so DudeguyJones/Blend77 are the same me. Tim.
There’s nothing you can do. You want to sue people? Good luck with that. Nobody in this genre makes any money selling albums anyways. My band’s album was all over the torrent sites too, but there was no band meeting about it, it was a given that it would happen. The band makes money playing shows and selling merchandise. That’s it.
Bands are to blame as much as the fans, many of which are in bands themselves. For one is an over inflated sense of self-worth, your basically unknown band is not worth 10 bucks for a download. Also, not offering a free download with an album purchase is just being cheap.
I also find it funny when people get all haughty about not downloading or streaming music. Probably a quarter of what I listen to is via streaming, from YouTube or Bandcamp. I also probably will end up spending close to a hundred bucks this month alone on shows and albums. Can’t buy it all, nor do I have the shelf space for everything I enjoy.