Tag Archives: bob boilen

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.


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.


I stumbled upon this NPR article a few weeks ago and it’s since stuck in my craw. While I agree with one of the overall messages – it’s important to protect yourself in high-volume environments – I’m puzzled by the Bob Boilen’s seemingly surprised POV. I try not to get preachy about much, but earplugs and volume regularly lead me to filibuster. I know that I already have slight hearing loss in one ear, and I’ve waged an all-out preventative assault for the better part of the last decade.

Like the author, I regularly attend (and participate in) performances of varying kinds: clubs, large arenas, theaters, ampitheaters, museums, bars, etc. Some are quiet and cozy, others are deafening. When I’m preparing to leave the house to rehearse, perform, or attend a show, I always take a moment to assess the sonic environment I’m heading to, and almost never leave home without my earplugs (my own personal American Express). About 8 years ago I decided to spring for a pair of Etymotic custom-molded earplugs. It seemed a little much at first, but it turned out to be arguably the best $160ish I’ve spent.

Performing in loud ensembles was ~65% of my reason for the purchase, with the remaining ~35% stemming from my regular attendance of loud (mostly rock) concerts. Now, I do love many loud styles of music, but I tend to be extra cautious with the volume at which I listen to them. (My wife regularly snipes at me in the car or at home for having the music too low when listening.) I always enjoy listening to music (of course), but it should also be a comfortable experience. After all, if musicians and other audiophiles insist on investing in a great pair of headphones for private listening (I do love my Bose headphones), why not apply the same logic to earplugs and “public listening”? Similarly, consider bowling, an activity many Americans participate in occasionally. For most people, renting shoes and/or balls doesn’t really affect their enjoyment – they’re often there for reasons more social than sport. But for those with a love of the game who play frequently and with purpose, investing money in gear (ball, shoes, upkeep, etc.) is a no-brainer because it enhances the experience.

The big complaint about earplugs in general is that they distort the sound. True, $3 foam thimbles – like renting a bowling shoes for your ears – work slightly better than taping a pillow around one’s head. In that case, you get what you pay for. However that’s not at all the case when using earplugs that are actually meant for listening (as opposed to those meant to block out sound). I always tell people that wearing custom earplugs is the equivalent of simply turning down a volume knob on your ears. Everything comes through cleanly and as projected, only at a softer level. (Also, custom plugs come with adjustable filters for varying volumes.) In fact, I can often hear better with them in, as the natural distortion and fatigue is a non-issue.

I’ve seen many loud performances. (Korn & Staind touring with the Guinness-certified world’s loudest sound system, which was painfully loud even with foam earplugs, and Phil Anselmo‘s Down immediately come to mind.) The episode that most sticks out to me is my 8th TOOL concert (10.18.02). I eventually forced my way to the front row, but was located directly in front of one of the speaker stacks for a majority of the performance. I had a deeper-than-normal ear fatigue afterwards and was to see them again two nights later. In between, I attended a wedding and, seated near the DJ, I suffered a slight auditory meltdown at the reception. As a result, the 10.20 TOOL show was a turning point for me, as I’ve worn earlugs since and haven’t looked back. (Side note: My ears, mind, and body were much better off after that concert than the previous two nights.)

Granted, the Korn show I mentioned was a bit much, but for the most part some types of music just demand loud performance. Much of rock music is quite visceral and therefore physically engaging the audience is a factor – even when wearing earplugs, feeling the music’s vibrations run through your entire body at a live show is a truly wonderful feeling. But yes, there are many instances in which a band or venue is obnoxious (again see Korn), bordering on dangerous. (I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of this.) It’s a situation in which everyone – performer, engineer, listener – should and does have skin in the game.

While I’ve written most of this article from the audience’s perspective, I should also note that my earplugs have done wonders for gigging this whole time – standing amidst drums and amplifiers takes its toll quickly and aggressively. But since the original NPR article stressed the audience perspective, I opted for that arena.

I could go on and on. Truly. But since I want people to return to this blog from time to time, suffice it to say that the listener ultimately shares responsibility in auditory comfort. 🙂 And, if done correctly, it doesn’t have to compromise the overall experience.