Recommended The Business

The Piracy Debate

Jeff, The Metalluminati

The piracy debate is definitely a polarizing argument in the music industry, even among the writers and staff of the Metalluminati. So, I figured it was time to lay out my opinion. Just remember: Wherever you stand on the debate, the overall goal to both sides of the argument is ultimately to defend and help artists, not tear each other down.

First off, let me say that I am personally against piracy — but to that end, there is a huge ‘however…’ As you all know, I started the Metalluminati to help artists, and I do understand both sides of the argument.

I have a 2 TB drive full of music I have personally paid for over the years. I bring artists food on tour, let them stay at my place if need be, help them every so often for free, and still even ‘drop money in the jar.’  At one of the recent CD releases I went to, I gave $20 for a $10 CD which had already been given to me by the band (for free) before it was released…just because. I am only saying this to explicitly lay out that I support artists in every way I possibly can.


Those Against Free Media

The biggest argument from those against piracy is that “it’s stealing,” and with this I agree. I have heard the “Randy Blythe argument” that it is :stealing burgers with the magic key,” I have heard it is ‘stealing from your momma’s purse,’ and I have heard it is ‘the lazy consumers that just want something free.’ There are also all the costs of tour buses, gas, set up, repaying recording costs, etc. They also say that an artist cannot survive or make a living in this environment. These are all valid points. Especially if you are in the mid range to larger bands with bigger tour budgets, bigger studio costs, etc. These guys are tied to large or major labels. And all of the money thrown out for these large tours – including traveling and recording costs – have to be recouped in some way.


Those For Free Media

The majority of these folks are fans, upcoming bands, and other people that see the changing market of music. The new industry is all about the free model. The problem with the music and movie industries is that they have been doing it the same way for so long, that they don’t know how to advance. There is no innovation, and very little change in their business models.

In the Tech Sector, free is actually the old model! There is a great article in Wired Magazine entitled Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business and this was written in 2008! The reality is that a lot of media companies, and even software companies, have modified and changed their business models to adapt for this. They use freeware, free versions, and other methods in order to get their product out there. They have even created shorter versions for people to check out first, and then have a “full” version as it becomes more popular. Out here, in Silicon Valley, the understanding of technology and market change is of prime concern, and “adapt or die” is seriously real.


What Does It Mean?

In my opinion, we have to understand the movement of progress and change. I know this is different, but if you made buggy whips during the day of horse and carriages, and then the automobile came around, you would have to adapt your business model to doing upholstery or something with materials that you already sourced or risk going out of business. Look at Kodak for example; they are in the process of bankruptcy because of the digital age. Sure film is better, but it is going out of style. And sure records were way better in sound quality than CD’s, but that changed as well. I recognize these examples are a format change and they are not exactly the same as the piracy issue. However, it does show that while we don’t like change, the only constant is change.

Also, I feel that if an artist wants to charge for their artwork or music, LET THEM! If you want it for free, don’t support them. This is simple supply-and-demand economics! What artists don’t see, is that all of those free downloads give them exposure. Exposure in areas they might never even get the opportunity to be heard. Even the major artists talk about how they are not getting all they can. But it is the free downloads that will translate to more fans: more fans that will go to shows and buy merchandise. Merch that the bands might not have sold and they may even turn into future purchasers.

Another thing that most artists don’t realize is that in the age of Google Ads and Google Search, if you are not giving it away for free in some way, all the “pirate” sites go to the top of the search results from all the downloads! When I recently worked with a band, I told them that they should market both ways — sell the album and give it away for free. They didn’t want to do the free part, but I respected that and helped them anyway. Not even two weeks later, when you typed in their band and album name into Google, the first four search results were pirate sites with thousands of downloads.

Google placement is huge in tech, and companies pay huge sums of money to get their brands listed high on search results. Now, if they had done both (free and sales) and advertised it, it would be way more likely that their sites would be at the top of the searches. Not only that, but they could have gotten real market research from those downloads.

Consider this, you have 20,000 free downloads with a site like Bandcamp, where the user has to input an email address and location. Bandcamp will give your band a great spreadsheet with all of your interested user’s information. So now you can see where your fans are, and keep them informed with monthly emails from a site like MailChimp. When planning your next tour, you can see which cities you should stop in by choosing the ones with the largest sample size. This can save you gas, lodging, and other expenses on the road. You can also provide promoters and clubs with your band’s draw in their city.

I know others will disagree with some or a lot of this and that is okay. We are all passionate about changing the music industry. Later, I will be discussing a lot more ways artists can utilize the new industry that is already on the horizon, whether we like it or not. Right or wrong, we must adapt to find new ways to monetize with innovative ideas — adapt or die.