Digital Music

With music constantly progressing artists are always trying to find new ways to create new sounds.   With the increased simplicity of music creation softwares such as Ableton and Logic it is becoming more and more popular to turn to your laptop as a means of creating music.  Artists such as Wise Blood, Dirty Beaches, and Flying Lotus create most, if not all of their instrumental elements to their songs solely on their computers.  Live shows from artists such as this consist of pushing buttons on launch pads at certain times in order to get the right clips of music to play.  This type of musical performance has been deemed unworthy by many who believe that this type of music requires less skill and cannot be considered “live music”.  However the musicians making this music believe that the performances that they do live are just as valid as those of a four-piece band “We create tracks in the studio in the normal fashion,” says J Tonal of The Flying Skulls. “They get broken up in to drum and bass parts, which get played live on the MPC, melody and lead parts which get played on the MS2000, and samples and other melody parts which get broken down into [Ableton] Live clips and played from [an M-Audio] Trigger Finger.”(createdigitalmusic.com)

Along with this new wave of electronic music also comes a very controversial musical topic, the heavy usage of sampling.  Sampling is when an artist takes a small clip of an existing song and puts it into their song as part of their own work.  By description this process probably seems like theft however when put into action sampling requires the artist to think outside the box of conventional music.  For example listen to the song “What Would I Want, Sky” By Animal Collective

And “Unbroken Chain” by The Grateful Dead

Although Animal collective took part of their song and put it in their own it sounds completely different and in no way sounds like they are stealing from The Grateful Dead.

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An Argument For File Sharing

Essentially music is an idea.  It retains no mass nor is it a physical object yet it is distributed and sold as if it is a tangible object.  With the growth of the Internet illegally acquiring free music has become easier and easier with virtually no risk of getting caught.  Many argue that illegally downloading music isn’t immoral by relying on the excuse like “everyone else does it”.  Slowly and steadily illegal downloading is becoming the norm, which begs the question, is illegally downloading music immoral/ stealing?

Many musicians would argue that they deserve to be paid for the art that they are investing so much of their time and emotions in.  The most famous case of this was the 2000 Napster controversy.  Officials had often overlooked the illegal music-sharing site until it was brought media attention by musicians who were angry about their music being distributed for free.  Among these musicians was Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.  Lars was the sort of a figurehead in the movement to sue napster for each individual song that they had “stolen” from artists around the globe “Napster hijacked our music without asking. They never sought our permission. Our catalog of music simply became available as free downloads on the Napster system.”(Lars Ulrich)  From the point of view of the artist it is very easy to see how illegally downloading music can be viewed as immoral and unfair however the view of some millionaire rock star is probably pretty filtered.

Artists posses a very jaded view of the piracy world.  Because this phenomenon is so new many of these artists are unfamiliar with how common of an occurrence piracy of all types is.  With this so called “evil” also comes good, by creating an infinite library of free music the internet has also created an infinite library of inspiration for upcoming artists.  Many people including myself don’t have an endless stream of money to spend on music yet it is something that a lot of people are very passionate about.  By having this library at our disposal free of charge the new generations of music will be able to progress music even further due to the easy accessibility of the music that they are inspired by.  After all who could complain in a world with infinite shared progressive music of all genres.

It can be argued that when the artists feel like their fans are cheating them they lose some of their motivation to create music.  However should money be the ultimate goal when creating art?  Although file sharing is technically illegal it is the spread of music that got these artists into making music in the first place.  It could be possible that illegal downloading is purifying the music industry by bettering the artist’s intentions when making the music.  After all a price cannot be definitely put on something that is transmitted over sound waves.

In most cases the amount of money being lost to these sites becomes irrelevant in the long run “I challenge record companies to show me evidence of a single penny they’ve lost due to Napster.”(Dave Rowntree Time Magazine).  The golden age of going to the record store to pick up your favorite artists new release is sadly over.  However some studies show that artists most artists actually end up making money from file sharing “ They sell more albums because people have the opportunity to download songs and entire albums for free. A study by Blackburn (2004), a PhD student from Harvard, found that the 75% of the artist actually profit from piracy.”(Wired)  This is because the music world is all about hype.  Artists are able o get their name out a lot faster with the use of file sharing due to the convenience of the file sharing process.  Look at it this way:  If there is an unknown artist that you are looking to check out and an artist that you already know very well you’re more likely to spend your hard earned money on something you really like.  But wit file sharing it is possible for you to also pick up the new artist’s work without even second-guessing yourself.  This in it self eventually leads to the growth of independent artists and will eventually lead to monetary gain.

Even when the music is paid for it is usually done through sites like iTunes where artists still only get a small fraction of the price paid and I don’t know about most people but I am definitely not losing any sleep over skimping some corporate music executive out of one dollar.

Stop Online Piracy Now Act

Illegal file sharing has gotten to a point where it is no longer looked down upon.  The majority of the music downloaded is in fact done illegally (63% illegally to 37% legally says a study done by the RIAA).  While this activity is technically a crime no one looks around them and sees themselves and their peers as criminals.  However, this may change in the near future due to a bill proposed to the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011.  SOPA or the Stop Online Piracy Act increase the amount of crackdowns on file sharing sites and raise the punishment for certain offenses to the point where certain file sharing related crimes could land you in jail with a felony.

The reason for this bill would be to eradicate the so-called immoral behavior that music piracy and file sharing is.  The people behind this bill believe that by making piracy a more serious offense they will be able to stop what they believe to be theft from artists around the world.

While at first this may seem like a good idea there are many things the SOPA doesn’t take into account.  For instance, websites such as legalsounds.com make it possible to “legally download songs for around 7cents each.  They do this by hosting their site in Russia where file sharing is legal as long as money is exchanged “Yes it’s legal, but not moral. Legalsounds does not pay royalties to the artists who make the music that they sell. They steal from the artists and make a profit for themselves. Do you really want to support a company that does that? So what if it’s legal according to the laws of Russia. Since when do the laws of Russia determine what is morally right or wrong? One common argument in many of these comments is that music is not worth paying for.”(songboom.com)  So by putting these laws into place SOPA overlooks one of the Internet’s largest strengths, the ability to adapt.

 

 

Honest Restrictions

Anyone who has the desire to pirate music is going to do it, it is as simple as that.  But what is really disturbing is that many people are actually being driven to music piracy out of anger and lack of musical freedom.  Most legally purchased music comes with built in software which makes it harder to share with others and cuts down the amount of music that can be pirated.  While this system may seem unflawed and a smart way to deter people from sharing their music this software hurts who it is trying to protect the most, the honest music purchaser.  Because most of the people who are using file-sharing sites did not obtain their music through legal means this software that prevents them from sharing their music (both virtually and physically) does not apply to them at all.  Rather the only people whom these restrictions are being placed on are the honest music “purchasers” who pay money for their product “only the legal users pay the price and suffer from the restrictions,” the study said. “Illegal users are not affected because the pirated product does not have DRM restrictions.”(Science Daily) It is this backwards logic that is making people make the switch to illegal file sharing rather than paying for something that they do not truly own.  Because literally anyone can figure out how to obtain free music this dilemma is solely based on morals and while people who purchase their music may feel as if they are doing good for artists the sense that they, “the do-gooders” are being manipulated heavily outweighs the desire to be a honest music purchaser.

You may think that these music restrictions put in place by sites like iTunes don’t effect the general public and are solely important to one of Americas many sects of music nerds, but this conception is wrong.  Almost everyone I know who has bought a new computer or iPod has had some trouble putting the music that they paid for on to their new device.  This is because most music that is purchased digitally has a limit to how many devices you can load said music onto “In many cases, DRM restrictions prevent legal users from doing something as normal as making backup copies of their music.  Because of these inconveniences, some consumers choose to pirate.”(Science Daily) If the music companies are going to keep up with this backwards system who is to say that pirating music is wrong?

 

The Morality of Piracy

Many believe that music piracy is immoral and to an extent can be considered stealing.  Sure in some cases it may seem as if this is the case but have you ever questioned who you are stealing from?  A statistic acquired from Wired magazine shows that a very small fraction of music that is paid for digitally actually goes to the artists “Most download retailers send about 70 percent of each sale to the record companies that own the music. Artists with 15 percent royalty deals get 15 percent of that 70 percent, or about 10.5 cents per dollar of sales.”(Paul Boutin).  This statistic disproves the common misconception that by pirating music, the public is taking money directly out of the artist’s pockets.

A popular solution the illegal piracy movement is the purchase of digital albums from websites like iTunes.  iTunes uses their very user-friendly interface in order to attract customers.  By creating a quick and easy way to purchase music easily along with instant gratification is what has started to make piracy less and less popular.  However iTunes, while a well put together and easy to use has many faults that many people may view as an infringement of their basic freedoms.  “Buy a song from Apple’s iTunes Media Store, for example, and you can copy the file to five computers but no more. That’s because the song comes with Apple’s DRM software, FairPlay, baked in, and FairPlay has its own ideas about what is and isn’t fair. but there’s something annoyingly unfair about FairPlay even in the abstract. You paid for the music. Who is Apple to tell you where you can and can’t stick it?  Consumers feel retailers are treating them like potential copyright criminals.”(Lev Grossman, Time)  When you buy something it should be yours to do with as you please but with iTunes’ built in DRM policy you are being denied that basic right.  It is the denial of this basic freedom that has turned people against organized and legal music downloading and back to piracy where even though they might have came across their music by illegal means they are still full owners of the material.

Downloading.

Essentially music is an idea.  It retains no mass nor is it a physical object yet it is distributed and sold as if it is a tangible object.  With the growth of the Internet illegally acquiring free music has become easier and easier with virtually no risk of getting caught.  Many argue that illegally downloading music isn’t immoral by relying on the excuse that everyone else does it.  Slowly and steadily illegal downloading is becoming the norm, which begs the question, is illegally downloading music immoral/ stealing?

Many musicians would argue that they deserve to be paid for the art that they are investing so much of their time and emotions in.  The most famous case of this was the 2000 Napster controversy.  Officials had often overlooked the illegal music-sharing site until it was brought media attention by musicians who were angry about their music being distributed for free.  Among these musicians was Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.  Lars was the sort of a figurehead in the movement to sue napster for each individual song that they had “stolen” from artists around the globe “Napster hijacked our music without asking. They never sought our permission. Our catalog of music simply became available as free downloads on the Napster system.”  From the point of view of the artist it is very easy to see how illegally downloading music can be viewed as immoral.

It can be argued that when the artists feel like their fans they lose some of their motivation to create music are cheating them.  However should money be the ultimate goal when creating art?  Although file sharing is technically illegal isn’t the spread of music why these artists got into making music in the first place?  Could it be possible that illegal downloading is purifying the music industry by bettering the artist’s intentions when making the music?  After all how can a price be put on something that is transmitted over sound waves and also the amount of money being lost to these sites becomes irrelevant in the long run “I challenge record companies to show me evidence of a single penny they’ve lost due to Napster.”(Dave Rowntree)
 

Rebellion.

As a general assumption people love rebellion. There is something embedded in each and every one of us that makes deviating from the social norm attractive. This seems to be true for teens especially. Groups such as Wavves, Death Grips Iceage, WU LYF, The Black lips, Justice, Times New Viking, and Tyler the Creator use profane and rebellious imagery in order to make their image more attractive and exciting to potential listeners. At some points this imagery is so over the top that it seems as if fans are no longer in it for the music but rather for the specific artist’s self image.
The best example of this is evident when examining popular musician Nathan William’s (Wavves) rise to popularity in the music world. What started out as a twenty something year old making music on garage band on a MacBook turned into super hyped underground sensation. However the music Williams was making was not extraordinarily breathtaking or original in any way. Rather the artist rose to fame based on what many believe to be his hip rebelliousness and ways of presenting himself.

As seen in the above promotional artwork for the musician the way in which the music is delivered is in a rebellious aesthetic. Many of the images seen (Upside down cross, drug references, pentagram etc.) appeal to the general attraction to rebellious ideologies that are prevalent in teenage culture. Many artists who are less focused on their aesthetic appeal and more focused on their actual music have become fed up with this new trend. This frustration is aptly portrayed in The Washington Post’s interview with Matt Whitehurst (Psycadelic Horsesh**t). Whitehurst sums up his frustration with bands like Wavves coasting off of their imagery to remain relevant by saying “in the last year due to a few figureheads talking a bunch of [expletive] on Terminal Boredom. And now it’s exploded into this thing there where Wavves is getting $30,000 to [expletive] crank out this [expletive] generic [expletive].”(Whitehurst) This example of the way that more talented musicians are being overlooked because of their image is the main problem with this new rebellion trend.

Although the rebellious aesthetic seems to be viewed as a negative thing it has also helped a lot of people find new music that they enjoy listening to by catching their eye and allowing them to discover something that they might not have otherwise discovered. I have been personally guilty of getting into musicians for this precise reason and ending up being really happy with what I had discovered.

After watching the electronic music group Justice’s music video for the song “Stress” I felt immediately drawn towards finding out more about this group.

Rather than the music the video’s violent and abrasive imagery is what initially made me take up an interest in the group and eventually become a fan of the group. I believe that this was no accident. I believe that this group made this video in order to grasp people’s attention therefore drawing in new fans. Although the video did receive a lot of negative response it did in the end grab the attention of a larger audience that wouldn’t have normally been acceptable.