Friday, June 3, 2011

Effects of Illegal Downloading on the Music Industry with Interviews

The final project I worked on in my group was on the long-term affects of music piracy on the music industry, labels, and artists. Looking at the trends of music from 2000 to 2011, we wanted to capture the general feeling and decline of music sales since online servers like Napster and Pirate Bay. We set out to see if people were downloading illegally more than they were purchasing. To no surprise, the answers, surveys, and studies we did all pointed to people illegally downloading with seemingly no conscience about it. Why do we need anything else if it is in front of our fingertips in seconds and it's free? This is why a multi-million dollar band like Metallica has to sue Napster for copyright infringement.
I conducted three short interviews with three people covering different plains of the music industry. The three professionals interviewed are: Scott Vollweiler-owner of Broken Records Magazine, Mason Taylor-singer/songwriter and front man of indie rock band A’tris with expertise on social networking and music marketing, and Jon Santos-formerly signed by Wind Up Records in the early 2000’s with then band, Sevenwiser. I asked them all the same seven basic questions, and though biased because of their position within music, they gave great answers. The questions were:

1. What are your general feelings about music piracy?

2. Do you think it hurts or helps the artists?
3. Ultimately is piracy more of a problem for labels or artists?
4. What are ways artists can use piracy to their advantage if any?
5. Do you think it can be stopped? Should it be stopped?
6. Do/would you yourself download music illegally?
7. Do you think having something like iTunes deters people from downloading music?

Scott Vollweiler is the creator of Staten Island’s own Broken Records Entertainment. Within the company, Vollweiler has a magazine, recording studio, photographer business, and various other ventures. In just six years time the company has grown exponentially, and the magazine has featured some of the worlds biggest musicians like Aerosmith and Carrie Underwood to name a few. Vollweiler is no stranger to piracy. He was formerly in a band himself and is quite aware of the difficulties that come just with being a musician; let alone being in a place to create music.

His views on music piracy, as expected are strictly against it saying, “Music piracy is wrong. I know the music business is crooked, but bands that are trying to make it are losing their opportunity.” He explains that piracy can only hurt musicians and labels because newer bands will not receive the same support as major ones. He feels that although there are possibilities of piracy helping, it is unlikely saying, “A billion dollar corporation can easily go broke. Look at EMI, they've been bought twice.”

Vollweiler goes on to say that piracy will never be totally gone because “There’s always loopholes on the net.” He then admits he himself has illegally downloaded music in the past, but stopped once he started the company. He was able to understand the struggle of an artist a lot better. Lastly, he doesn’t feel iTunes deters people away from illegally downloading but instead provides a “happy alternative.”

Mason Taylor, the lead singer of A’tris is not in a signed band, so while his views on piracy tend to agree with Vollweiler’s, he finds a hope in it. When asked what his general feelings on piracy are, he said “It would be nice if people paid for music.” Interestingly enough, Taylor feels that while piracy hurts the artist, he also feels it greatly helps as well. He doesn’t doubt piracy negatively impacts the whole industry, but thinks there are ways for musicians to capitalize on it. “I don't believe that encouraging piracy is beneficial to artists. Promotions involving free or discounted digital components are a better solution in my mind as they can be structured advantageously for fans and bands. For example, an artist may offer a free download in exchange for a fan's e-mail address,” he said.

Sure enough, this is exactly like something A’tris is doing. Every Tuesday A’tris records a new song and releases an accompanying video for it on Youtube. Youtube is of course a free service, but A’tris also offers the instrumental track for free download if you join the mailing list. In the mailing list A’tris suggests listeners to take the solo track and record their own versions or covers of the song. Also in the email, they encourage the listener to check out and purchase some merchandise. At the end of the 52-week period of songs, A’tris will take the top viewed videos they released, and create an album off of those. This is a way to get fans involved with the creation of an their favorites band’s recording process. It’s a good way to entice an audience to give you a chance. They feel involved and want to invest in you.

As far as sites like iTunes and Amazon, Taylor had a lot to say,
“…Convenience is king. I believe that, if people are empowered to legally consume music when they want, the way they want, we will see piracy continue to decline. Already e-retailers like iTunes provide a frictionless solution for purchasing music. With Amazon and Google offering cloud locker services, and Apple rumored to debut a similarly but potentially more feature-rich option, I hope that we will see piracy further reduced by choice. 
On a side note, I believe it's interesting to note that Amazon and Google currently offer their services without label support. Apple is reportedly the only company that is moving into the cloud space at this time with signed agreements from the four majors. Choice is key. If people have more options, they may choose to exercise them.”

Taylor seems to be on the verge of something great, and really understands the concept of being an independent artist. A’tris will have no problems in continuing on with the growth of their music.

Jon Santos is a former touring and signed lead singer of once popular band Sevenwiser off Wind Up Records. Santos has heard his music played on The Punisher Soundtrack and in the movie Cursed. In addition to this his music has been featured in video games MVP 2004 I and Nascar 2005. He currently works as a producer/engineer and videographer/photographer in his Whitestone, Queens studio, 1176 Studios. At the moment he is filming a short show series on Youtube that has just been picked up by a small cable network, Hollywood Girl. Clearly Jon is no stranger to the music industry and media in general. More so than my other two interviews, he’s been there and done that. He perhaps had the strongest and almost angriest type of reactions to the questions.

His general feelings about music piracy are bluntly honest as he says, “ I’m really not a big fan of that. I don’t understand how people can feel good about themselves when they steal someone’s work. It’s the same thing as walking in to Best Buy and just taking the CD right off the shelf and walking out the door, is that right?”

Like Taylor, Santos feels that piracy is two fold as far as helping or hurting, “If a new upcoming band gets themselves out there a bit more by letting their music out for free and they pick up a few hundred or more fans then great for them. The problem at that point is you can’t track your sales and numbers and you can’t build much of an income to float the band.” Santos also believes that piracy has mainly killed the label, which in turn destroys the artist. Now instead of making money on music, the label takes a big chunk of what a band makes on touring and events, let alone having to split the money with your band mates. “Not unless you are Lady Gaga or any of them other big time artists that are making 90 million a year from sales and have crazy live shows, [are you making money]…good luck with that,” he said.

Santos feels very strongly about stopping piracy but isn’t quite sure of exactly how saying, “How about everyone just walks around and starts stealing people’s homes, taking their cars, not paying for anything; what will be the future for any of us at that point?  Can it be stopped? Not unless we stop technology and revert back about 20 years.” He doesn’t think it can be stopped in full, but thinks it can be slowed. 

These three music professionals have seen music from the inside and out and obviously know where the trends of music are going. The future is certainly not clear, but it has become increasingly difficult for an artist to make any money on their craft. Santos told me the most money he has made in music is through his placement in movies and games. I remember meeting Taylor and asking him what he thought the keys to getting your music heard was, he said “placement.” All of the ideas are the same, but none of the direction is clear. In the long run, music for sure is in a down place just like the rest of our economy. It’s up to the future of music to try and turn it around like A’tris is trying so hard to do. To quote Clay Shirky, “Nothing will work, but everything might.”  

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Justin! Thanks for inviting me to be a part of this!


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