Hey, Music Industry : Your Time Is Up

Alex Schaaf

While the whole subject of music downloading and the RIAA may seem like old news, with the first major crackdowns coming a few years ago, it seems to be a subject that will never leave the news.On the negative side, the RIAA made the headlines again a couple of weeks ago, winning a file-sharing case against a single mother from Minnesota to the tune of $225,000 in damages.

On the positive side (for us), performers like Prince and Radiohead are practically giving their albums away. Prince gave his latest album away for free in a British newspaper. Radiohead is offering their newest album, “In Rainbows,” for download off of their official website, for whatever price the consumer wishes to pay.

It is about time that the music industry sat up and took notice of how things should work. As a musician myself, I understand how not all bands can simply give their music away. People need to make a living.

For an up-and-coming indie band to get any notice, they need money. Sound equipment, band merchandise, gas money for getting to gigs — all of this requires hard cash. And the easiest way to do that from the start is to sell CDs.

But once a band becomes well known, starts touring around the country and the industry continues to charge $15 per disc, it just becomes unreasonable to expect consumers to support every band they want to. Radiohead made music executives around the world nervous last week when they released their newest album themselves, essentially for free.

This shows that big-name bands, as Radiohead is certainly one of the biggest out there, do not actually need our $15 for their albums. Most of their money is made off of touring, and the band doesn’t usually see much revenue from the CDs.

On the other hand, offering music for free or for a reduced price means more people will hear it, and that potentially more people will come and support the band on tour. Unofficial reports show that Radiohead sold 1.2 million downloads off of its website the first day it became available. To give some perspective, Bruce Springsteen is on top of the Billboard charts with his latest album, of which he sold 335,000 copies.
Personally, I try and support the bands I listen to as much as I can. Most of this comes from buying a ticket to a show, and going out and supporting them in that way. I buy albums that I know I will be listening to more than once through.

Many Lawrence students questioned in a recent survey agreed with this. “I feel that I have an obligation, as a struggling musician myself, to support the artists that I love,” said a Lawrence sophomore music major. “So if there is a CD that I really like that I got for free, I’ll buy it, even though I sort of already have it.”

But when I want to try out a new band, or expand my musical tastes, how am I expected to pay $15 per CD? If I was forced to only listen to as much music as I could afford, my musical knowledge would be severely limited. Some of my favorite bands, bands which I listen to over and over, I never would have heard of if I only had the option of buying their CD.

Taking a look at my own music library, if I had paid for every single song I own, I would have spent roughly $9,600 on music. The same applies to others. “If I paid for all the music I listen to, I’d be broke,” said a junior English major.

While $9,600 may seem like chump change to whoever sets our yearly tuitions, it is quite a bit more than I would be able to afford. The obvious solution to this is to limit my listening, to only own the music that I already know is good.

But what does that mean to a struggling band, trying to get their music heard? Everyone says, “Sorry, I already spent my money on bands I already like, I can’t afford to take the chance on you.” This, clearly, would not bode well for the music scene.
Of course, this is not to brazenly encourage illegal downloading. The first step, however, is to make the music industry giants realize that their current model of business is well overdue for a change.

Editor’s Note: Part 2 of this article to come next week; a closer look at Lawrence students’ music downloading habits, and how this compares to students from other schools.