Okay, so there have been some 36 hours of discussion (mostly civil and honest) regarding David Lowery’s response to the NPR intern’s blog about never buying music. Most of it – at least in my circles that are almost 100% occupied by musicians, songwriters, music industry folks, radio people, folks over 30, and the like – has come down on the side of Lowery. But not all of it, and quite honestly, I’m a bit shocked. I can’t believe how many people – musicians, songwriters, indie label heads, managers – are defending outright theft. Stealing is still stealing, right?

Was Lowery “picking on” Emily White? No, in fact he went to lengths to say so. He was using her blog post as a jumping off point regarding the the bigger issue(s) at hand.

Does the old model of the music business need changing? Yes. But validating or turning a blind eye to or simply saying “That’s the way it is now…genie is out of the bottle” is not the right direction. Have major labels historically “ripped off” their artists? To a degree, but they’ve also invested a lot more money into those artists than anyone except maybe the artists themselves and their parents did. Most record deals today (especially with indie labels) are much more equitable than they were in decades past.

Has there always been some degree of “stealing” of recordings? Yes. But there is a difference, believe it or not, to recording a song off the radio or “borrowing” some of your college radio station’s library or making a mixtape for a friend or even copying an album onto a cassette (or iPod) so you can play it in the car and what’s happening today. Today, after you log in to your torrent site, you click a few things and you dowload what might be the 10,000th copy of an album. And it’s exactly the same as copy number 1 (and the original). And it was free. No one got paid. Way to stick it to the “big bad record label”… You just stole from the artist too. And for everyone who has rehashed “Home Taping Is Killing Music” and the Metallica vs Napster fight from ages ago, it doesn’t matter what Napster/file sharing may have actually cost Metallica… Stealing is still stealing, right?

It doesn’t matter if you like or hate Lowery’s music with Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, replace “Cracker” with any band you do like. Does it hit closer to home now? Saying you’ll “make it up to them when they come around on tour by purchasing a CD or a t-shirt” is nice and all, but if the band doesn’t think they have an audience out there somewhere, they might decide to stay home and not lose money on the road. If that happens enough times, maybe they decide to call it quits and get a real job (not to imply that being a recording/touring band is NOT a real job). Thing is, a real fan HAS TO buy the records, buy the concert tickets and buy the t-shirts. If you (the real fan) don’t, your favorite bands will disappear. And, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are fewer and fewer people actually going out to shows.

Making money or not, a musician/songwriter will do it because it’s not just their craft, it’s their calling (to paraphrase a Mike Doughty tweet). They’ll write and sing songs till the day they die. Wouldn’t it be great if they could actually be fairly compensated for doing so? Maybe more of my old friends would still be making music full time instead of selling real estate and settling for being a “weekend warrior.”

No one is saying that any musician is “getting rich” from record sales. All they are asking for is a living wage. And for a musician to come anywhere near a living wage they have to fight for every dollar they get from record sales. And live shows where most don’t get a guaranteed amount at the end of the night, they get a percentage of the money that came in the door. And sales of merchandise (t-shirts, special package CDs, vinyl, hats, etc). And placements in TV shows, films and commercials. ALL OF THOSE TOGETHER probably don’t equal a living wage when you consider that most musicians don’t have health insurance (if they have any, it’s paid out of pocket) for themselves and their family. Most can’t get a mortgage to buy a house so they live their whole life renting. As I’ve mentioned before, for the vast majority of touring bands, they LOSE money on the road. Think about how much they have to spend on gasoline alone while on tour!

Just becuase you CAN do it (and know you won’t get caught) doesn’t mean you should. Stealing is still stealing, right? Yes, we’re in the 21st century and me and most of the people I know actually remember the pre-internet world and vinyl LPs and blank cassette tapes. It’s not a matter of “keeping up with the times.” It’s not a matter of just knowing what’s right (and I, like Lowery, believe that White does know what’s right) but doing what’s right as well. Recording artists should be fairly compensated for their work and investment in making a record (physical or digital). End of story.

There are a hundred reasons why the younger generation feels entitled to “get what they want, when they want, how they want.” And a lot of the blame falls on my generation who are their parents. But that’s a different discussion. I think part of why most of the younger generation doesn’t even consider what we’ve been discussing as “stealing” is that with downloads you don’t own anything physical. It doesn’t feel like you’re stealing someone’s work. It’s just a file of zeros and ones, no big deal. But stealing is still stealing, right?

And I’ll reiterate what I started my previous blog with: If a musician (or any artist) is not compensated fairly for their work, they will eventually choose another line of work. And in short order there will be no more artists. STOP STEALING MUSIC. If you don’t the music may not die, but it will only live on in the basements and bedrooms of the artists. And the rest of us will be left with cookie-cutter, banal, lowest common denominator crap. And our record collections.

The “older” Emily White’s open letter to the younger Emily White (EW2) “In Defense Of Emily White (The NPR Intern)”

Travis Morrison of The Dismemberment Plan’s essay “Hey Dude From Cracker, I’m Sorry, I Stole Music Like These Damned Kids When I Was A Kid”


I refuse to repost the link to The Lefsetz piece.

Robin Hilton’s All Songs Considered blog “A Perpetual Debate: Owning Music In The Digital Age”

5 responses »

  1. Tony Tedesco says:

    “But there is a difference, believe it or not, to recording a song off the radio or “borrowing” some of your college radio station’s library or making a mixtape for a friend” What exactly is the difference in this case (note that I omitted recording something you already paid for onto cassette or ipod etc..)

    • unkajeff says:

      I know what you’re getting yet, yes, they are all forms of stealing as well. But just the sheer scale of theft in the digital age is so far beyond what would have happened in the “analog age” of blank tapes. In a minute your new album could be downloaded by 100 or 100,000 or 1,000,000 people with no degradation in quality – meaning no reason to ever go buy a copy of your own – is the difference.
      Yeah, I may have made cassette copies of more than a few records in my college radio station’s library, but I eventually had to buy a “real” copy of pretty much all of them.

  2. John Easdale says:

    I read mister lowery’s piece, and someone forwarded mr. Lefsetz’ response…I sent Lefsetz the following:note; hope it’s not too long!

    You are funny…but I think you missed the point of Mr. Lowery’s letter, and I almost doubt you even read the whole thing…if you did (especially the bit about Mark Linkous and Vic Chesnutt), you are a heartless son of a bitch…
    The music business is and always has been a lottery, a crap shoot, and to be honest, truly GREAT music is almost never the top of the pops…60s and early 70s notwithstanding…Lowery has, and continues to, make great music, as do a multitude of fine artists…and since he grew up, like myself, at a time when music was a more highly valued part of the culture, he decided to “follow that dream”…and WON the lottery…he continues to tour and make “records,” which is pretty miraculous in and of itself. And, as an indie musician who has been riding the waqves for 20+ years, he has seen and experienced it first-hand
    Mr. Bob, I truly am happy for you and the fact that your own “screeds” are making you a living…gotta thank modern technology for that…because I would guess you couldn’t afford the printing and postage to mail your “letters” to everybody who ends up reading them…but your talent, as it were, is for typing, and I know there are a lot of people who can do that just as well, or maybe even better, than you can…do they, or should they, make more money than you?
    And is it even about the quality of your typing?
    I understand Lowery’s frustration, and if you don’t, you are an idiot…but I don’t really think you are an idiot; I think you are exactly like so many other media commentators/pundits, whose content is meant to engorge or enrage, but at any rate engage readers…
    and I know you are a great singer/songwriter, and your long and successful career in the music business as both an artist and an executive bears this out…
    in conclusion,
    all music is good
    not all music is great
    all great music does NOT necessarily sell millions, or even thousands…
    I know you can name hundreds of brilliant albums and artists that were never chartbusters…if that is the measure of quality, then the cast of Glee and their body of work is some of the greatest music of all time…
    …I’m not a subscriber, but I have seen you speak in person and enjoyed reading your stuff from time to time, but on this one, I think you are way off…
    john easdale

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