If you don’t pay for music, please read this

David Lowery — the guy who fronted Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker and sang that song “Low” you have certainly heard if you grew up when I did — has written a just plain perfect response (via) to a 21-year-old NPR intern who blogged about having 11,000 songs in her music library and only having ever paid for fifteen CDs.

It’s excellent — respectful and thoughtful and knowledgeable, and most of all, it lays out a real clear, moral, human case for why it matters that we pay (or don’t pay) for music. I don’t think you can refute Lowery’s argument without wholly sacrificing the ethical high ground. You could argue some tangential points (could copyright law benefit from some rejiggering? sure!), but I don’t see how you could make a justifiable case that would hold up against his.

Here is the best part of his post:

The existential questions that your generation gets to answer are these:

Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?

Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?

Why do we gladly give our money to some of the largest richest corporations in the world but not the companies and individuals who create and sell music?

This is a bit of hyperbole to emphasize the point. But it’s as if:

Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!

Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!

I am genuinely stunned by this. Since you appear to love first generation Indie Rock, and as a founding member of a first generation Indie Rock band I am now legally obligated to issue this order: kids, lawn, vacate.

You are doing it wrong.

I am — sit down — certainly not a saint, and I’m not going to pretend all the music in my iTunes library is paid for. But a lot of it is, if only because I am old. And now a lot more of it will be, than would have if I hadn’t gotten this head-check. Honestly, it’ll still be way cheaper and way faster to acquire than it was when I was in high school and college, and I get to feel like a good person. Really, that is a pretty sweet deal. (I did just pirate-bay Led Zeppelin II, though, and I’ll probably keep it, and if you want my blessing to do the same, hey, you have it.)

6 thoughts on “If you don’t pay for music, please read this”

  1. For everyone that decides to turn over a new leaf, you could do a lot worse than starting off with a copy of Camper Van Beethoven’s “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart”.

  2. I’m not condoning theft, but there’s a simple supply/demand issue here: if one could magically clone hardware in the same way you can clone an MP3, one would never pay for an iPod again, either. It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about exchanging cash for value. People who still buy music aren’t buying music; they are buying the convenience of not stealing it.

  3. Yeah, Lowery addresses that point pretty well:

    “Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done.”

    I just don’t buy that convenience is a legitimate reason not to pay for something. I mean, I don’t think that argument holds up in most other circumstances.

    But more to the point, I just do not agree that it’s in any way inconvenient to buy 99 percent of the music you want these days. In fact, I would say that buying music through iTunes or Amazon is consistently more convenient than ripping CDs, torrenting, or grabbing files from friends, because the process is standardized and self-contained. Even using Spotify is, to me, kind of a pain in the ass.

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