Euphemistically Stealing

Yet another article was posted to NPR’s All Songs Considered blog Saturday morning concerning iTunes in the Cloud, specifically referencing Bob Boilen‘s transition. I’ve enjoyed reading the occasional updates on this, as I’m about to join iTunes Match myself. While I’ll continue to invest in physical copies and (paid) digital content, I’m augmenting my library with it. (As opposed to “making the switch” – I’m not trading one for the other.) I think it’ll be a great help while teaching, especially during my month-long study abroad program in Austria.

This article, however, was not by Bob but an intern, Emily White. In her article, titled “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With,” she made the decent point of iTunes Match not being a big deal because her whole library is already digital. Therefore, the transition from physical to digital is non-existent.

Beyond that, I was caught up in the twisted logic behind her music library: “I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs. […] But I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs.” At this point, Ms. White lists euphemism for how she “legally” acquired the rest of those albums:

• Kazaa (the only “illegal” ones)
• Gifts (no problem there, of course)
• “Swapped hundreds of mix CDs” (um…)
• A 15GB “deposit” onto her iPod (*raises eyebrow*)
• “I spent hours on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop…” (what?!)

That’s a list of euphemisms if I’ve ever seen one. “Words that hide the truth” were George Carlin’s greatest linguistic enemy (see my thoughts on him and his rant here), and also one of mine. The above list begets: “As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. […] But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums.” But she would like to pay for Spotify, hoping that the company one day includes a much better royalty payment system than its current iteration.

PUH-LEASE!

Really? I’ll not waste too much time re-treading every reason why I believe it’s important to pay for what you like, since regular readers of this blog probably know my stance well. I see and hear the “convenience” trope quite a bit, but rarely does it answer the question of how the fan will actually pay for the music. And the fact that this was so proudly and publicly written by an intern at NPR Music – a really solid source for a whole variety of music and music news – further flabbergasts me. “Hey, musician! Come play our Tiny Desk series. Don’t mind our employees that don’t financially support your primary creative mode of expression. Got any free schwag for them?” I was no fan of Bob’s article about concert volume – though it inspired me to write this post on noise protection – but at least he financially supports the art he loves.

Swapping mixed CDs and “ripping” music is still stealing. Yes, stealing is a harsh word. But let’s avoid the “soft language” (as Carlin put it), and opt for the “simple, honest, direct language.” In music school, I knew a bunch of classmates who would spend hours at the library ripping albums to their computers. Because music is an aural art, the listener isn’t physically touching the music while he or she listens. But if it were a book instead of a symphony it’d be a different story. Imagine walking into an English major’s home or office and seeing their personal “library” of thousands of photocopied books in 3-ring binders. Impressive? Meh, didn’t think so. Yes, check out an album or ten from the library. But if you like, get your own copy. Really, it’s not that hard.

Instead of going deep with artists or genres, I’ve heard many people refer to their music collections in terms of bytes. “Yeah, man, I have 20GB of jazz.” Cool. Have you listened to it all or know it well? Or did you get a 15GB deposit too? While I don’t like to part with my money, I enjoy paying because I then have a vested interest in the music. I paid for it, therefore I’m damn well going to listen to it. Even if it’s a blind purchase I end up disliking (which rarely happens), I’ll give it a couple good listens just to be sure. And if I like it, then it’s mine and I’m happy to have it. I earned that money, therefore earning that album or box set, and I’m going to take it in. It’s also why I don’t like to buy too many albums too fast. While I have a one album per week average, I’ve ended up recently falling behind on my listening because I’ve gotten ahead of myself with my purchases. Six new albums in the last couple weeks means that I just today listened to Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium, an album I bought two weeks ago. (It got lost in the shuffle.) When I say I have 1,XXX albums, trust me that I’ve listened to them all.

Beyond my ownership of the content, I want to support the musicians behind all of these recordings. Yes, Apple and the various record companies take a big chunk of change. I understand that, and don’t much agree with the ratio. This is where I empathize somewhat with Emily’s attitudes toward Spotify. But there are also other models. Louis CK wasn’t the first to totally manage the distribution of his content. Radiohead beat him to the punch with In Rainbows and then King of Limbs. And there were others before that. Yes, Metallica has more money collectively than they know what to do with. But what about those thousands of other lesser-known and unknown musicians out there doing the nitty-gritty on the road and at the local level?

Yadda, yadda, yadda…

I get it. People will steal music. It’s now part of the culture. But you’d think that, at the very least, musicians and those in the industry would perhaps participate in this tricky bit of commerce.

Pay for what you like. And, to NPR Music: get it together.

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